How many genres does handheld gaming lay claim to? Is it a case of anything big consoles can do, handhelds can do too, and more?
Of course not. There is nothing a handheld console can offer that comes close to the cinematic majesty of Uncharted 2, the uncanny valley realism of Crysis or the adrenaline rush of Burnout Paradise.
What it does offer, however, is a much more continual sense of reinvention. The sequelitis that living room consoles are often accused of is a much less widespread infection in the mobile and handheld realm.
Because the games are often so much smaller in scope, good mobile and handheld game designers are able to fully realise their idea’s potential the first time around.
What exactly could a sequel to Fieldrunners or Flight Control bring to the experience that isn’t there already? Why shoehorn ill-fitting ideas into such a licence when you can just make something completely new, that better suits the genius new gameplay mechanic you just dreamt up?
Due to the drastically smaller investment it takes to make a handheld game over a home console one, the portable side of the industry is less risk averse than its rather more staid home-bound big brother.
This means that rather than add a multiplayer mode and a new number to the suffix of a game, handheld developers can be slightly more indulgent and creatively free. They are unencumbered by the weight of the terrifying financial ramifications that often face games designers working on the PS3 or Xbox 360.
As such, the mobile and handheld game industry occupies an odd place for game industry professionals. It's a proving ground for new talent looking to show their hand.
Conversely, it's also a respite avenue for beleaguered designers looking for an opportunity to once again fully flex their creative muscles, without having to play to a demographic or plug genre holes for a large multi-national publisher.
There is a trade-off, of course, and we know what you're thinking: "Sure, Katamari Damacy is great and all, but it’s hardly Half Life 2 or Ocarina of Time."
There are various things to consider here.
Innovation or depth. Which makes the better game? Modern Warfare 2 has precious little innovation gameplay-wise, but has depth in droves. Zen Bound on the other hand, offers a one-dimensional challenge, but spades of gameplay innovation.
It’s ultimately a case of apples and oranges, but in an industry so transfixed with superficial attempts at innovation (name one genre that hasn’t had the pleasure of a waggleified version over the last two years), it’s worth noting how much more breathing room the mobile and handheld game industry allows.
There is a genuine sense of creative freedom afforded by the relatively low development costs ascribed to platforms like the App Store and PSP Minis. Innovation for innovation’s sake and the saturation of sequels just isn’t the lay of the land.
As mentioned in a previous article, hardcore, console-like titles are ever more prevalent on handheld consoles these days. As a result, so too are sequels (the iPhone has recently received Brothers In Arms 2, Need for Speed Shift and Assassin’s Creed II, all being notable examples).
The crucial thing, though, the thing that makes the handheld games market so very special, is that almost every month, a compelling new franchise – if not a compelling new genre (or hybrid genre) – is born.
What matters is that in terms of exploring interactive mediums, the handheld side of the game industry finds itself uniquely equipped to bear the weight of the sector's many astonishingly creative minds, and if that isn’t something worth shouting about, then Mario knows what is.