It's been a big week for big licenses on little consoles. BioWare’s Dragon Age: Origins was confirmed for handheld while EA’s Dead Space 2 and Medal of Honor reboot are both hotly tipped to arrive on all of the big handheld platforms (DS, PSP and iPhone, as if you needed telling).
It’s tempting to dismiss the idea of handheld ports of hardcore licenses as a bad idea, but the track record is extremely good.
There’s Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword, God of War: Chains of Olympus, GTA: Chinatown Wars, Assassin’s Creed II: Discovery, Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, Little Big Planet, Command & Conquer: Red Alert, Resistance Retribution, not to mention the string of Dragon Quest releases on DS. The list goes on and on.
Sure, there's the occasional exercise in stinking, malformed marketing fluff (I'm looking at you, Mass Effect iPhone). And there's the odd pig-footed cash-in with all the playability and enjoyment of a bouncy castle made out of granite (what’s the weather like on Helgan, Killzone Liberation PSP?)
For the most part, however, handheld consoles carry the weight of megaton titles with dignity, poise, and occasionally flair.
The prospect of making necromorph soup on the way to work is a compelling one, then. But does this mean that the handheld market is starting to outgrow the casual badge that’s been pinned to its front for the last five years?
What seems more likely is that the handheld realm isn’t growing out of anything - it’s just growing. Just as the PS3 and Xbox 360 are now recognised as essential parts of the living room, handheld consoles are becoming an increasingly relevant part of the gaming landscape as a whole.
Those looking for evidence of a change in the way the wind is blowing need look no further than EA.
The lapse between EA’s 2007 acquisition of Pogo (with the express intention of using it as a launching pad for casual games on casual platforms) to shifting its focus to bringing the home console big guns to the handheld gaming party feels almost abrupt.
Oddly, this mass miniaturisation of hardcore licenses doesn’t often flow in the opposite direction. Even the Monster Hunter games, a series synonymous with the PSP in the east, began life on the PS2 before finding a more long-term home in the portable world.
However, casual titles that started life on handheld consoles are increasingly getting caught in the firing line of the big bad gigantification ray. Dinner Dash, Zuma, Bejeweled, Brain Challenge, Puzzle Quest, Tower Bloxx Deluxe, Luxor, and Exit have all make the leap from the small to big screen, with loads more set to arrive throughout 2010.
That gap is closing, and though labels like 'hardcore' and 'casual' may continue to make sense when separating out gaming interests among consumers, their meaning seems set to become much less divisive when it comes to describing home and portable gaming platforms.
Perhaps the time for assuming that handheld consoles are chiefly fit for casual gamers is finally at an end.