With the recent launches of the new iPad, PlayStation Vita and the increasing fortunes of Nintendo’s 3DS, coupled with the ever expanding number of mobile apps, handheld gaming is experiencing something of a sweaty palmed renaissance. While modern handheld consoles are more visually savvy, mostly modelled with a nod towards the obelisks of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, the industry’s early attempts at hand held gaming sophistication were ugly monstrosities with Greenpeace angering levels of energy consumption. Despite their limitations, few can deny the plethora of gaming greatness that graced these iconic devices.
Tetris, to this day, the bastion of on-the-go gaming, still delivers with its simplicity of design and compulsive replay value. Slot an oddly shaped block into another to make complete lines and earn points. Genius. As the speed increased, so too did the pressure of placement and woe betide you if you got one of those awkward shapes; you all know which ones I’m referring to. The game always seemed weighted unfairly against you. No, I am not paranoid! Regardless of the incredible difficulty there was always the desire to return to the magic of its alluring shapes and unforgettable melody, do, dah dah, dee dee: you can fill in the rest. While Tetris still finds success on every conceivable platform, countless other contemporary handheld games and designers owe a debt to its timeless playability.
Bomberman, by no means, strictly limited to handheld gaming was at its best, and worst, on the Gameboy Advance. Far too much of my time was dedicated to battles with friends in our sixth form common room, trying to best their quick reactions with perfect bomb placements. The inevitable humiliating defeats were plentiful. The few moments between the grim realisation and the fatal explosion seemed like a tormented lifetime. Simple, fast paced and highly addictive, Bomberman had all the qualities necessary to be a handheld blast … I know, I know.
An instant classic on every Nintendo platform, Mario Kart found a new height of glory on the GameBoy Advance. An unadulterated example of gaming goodness, you simply can’t fault its elegant karting brilliance, aided by the ability to wire (yes wire) four consoles together for epic friendship ending battles which made you late for lessons; obviously I’d never blame Mario for my lower than expected A Level mark, probably.
Lemming’s has had many outings, but non better than on the Atari Lynx, possibly the ugliest of all handheld gaming platforms, discounting the Nokia N Gage, which was just wrong, like a smurf in jeans. Depressed by eons of evolutionary mishaps (seriously, green hair?), the Lemmings have decided to find a path to their own destruction. Success came from gently nurturing the critters towards safety, taking the least possible amount of diminutive mammal casualties. The number of interventions was limited as was the battery life of the console, giving little time for Lemming loving. Nevertheless, Lemmings on the Lynx was a dream.
Handheld gaming is here to stay and by all accounts just keeps getting better. We’re likely to see eye-popping graphics, longer battery life and greater convergence with our other media. Although Angry Birds may have been this generation’s answer to Tetris, it’s not likely to be remembered in the annuls of gaming history with the same fondness as many of the handheld classics which preceded it.