Updated: August 10, 2021 5:38:01 pm
With the launch of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S last year and the uptake of mobile games due to the Covid-19 boom, the video gaming market has seen the biggest push in decades. But if 2020 was the year of next-generation consoles from Sony and Microsoft, this year will likely see the comeback of handheld gaming in a big way.
Portable consoles have raked up excitement before with the Nintendo DS, the PlayStation Portable, PlayStation Vita and the Game Boy. They had a huge installed base and consumers flocked to stores to buy games for the handheld consoles. However, the arrival of smartphones and the shift to mobile games have made portable consoles less appealing. But the launch of the Nintendo Switch four years back helped revive the conversation around handhelds. This year will see the launch of three new portable gaming devices.
While Nintendo will be releasing a new version of Switch with an OLED display later this year, Valve will bring its Steam Deck, a handheld device capable of playing console-quality PC games. Here are some of the most anticipated portable consoles set to arrive in 2021.
Nintendo Switch OLED
Nintendo will be releasing a new Switch model this fall, and while it brings improvements, it isn’t the mythical “Pro” version. It does not display games at 4K resolution, nor does it feature increased RAM or a new CPU. But it comes with a 7-inch OLED screen, an improved kickstand, better audio, a wired LAN port in the dock, and 64GB internal storage. Some might see this as a “lazy” update but the truth is Nintendo often releases new iterations of its consoles with minor changes. The idea behind adding the OLED model is to add incremental features to improve the experience. The Switch is a global phenomenon, and its ability to become both portable and home console makes it different from other gaming devices. The “Pro” model would have created more confusion in the minds of consumers who buy Nintendo consoles purely to play its first-party titles that don’t require high-fidelity graphics. The Switch OLED costs $350, and launches on October 8..
Valve Steam Deck
Nintendo isn’t the only company releasing brand new hardware this year. Valve, too, wants a piece of the pie in the bigger gaming market. Its Steam Deck is heavily inspired by the Nintendo Switch but caters to hard-core PC gamers. The hyped feature, of course, is its ability to play AAA-level PC games on the go. The Steam Deck is more powerful than Switch, and includes powerful specs, more storage and access to literally any PC game. But the intention behind the Steam Deck and Switch is different and so is the market demography. If Switch is Nintendo’s walled garden with games primarily designed for the hybrid console, the Steam Deck will play any PC game and will bring your Steam library anywhere. The pitch is right, and even if Valve copies the Switch’s design. Think of the Steam Deck as the Nintendo Switch of PC gaming, though it remains to be seen if Valve manages to standardise handheld PC console design. The Steam Deck will begin shipping sometime in December this year, but going by early hype, reservations are already sold out through mid-2022. The device starts at $400, and comes in at different price points and configurations.
An experimental handheld game console that’s neither the Switch nor the Steam Deck but an ode to the classic Game Boy. Enter Playdate. Developed by Panic, the publisher of Untitled Goose Game, the Playdate isn’t trying to replace the games you play on smartphones or dedicated gaming devices. Instead, it simplifies gaming and brings back the charm of portable gaming that existed in the early 90s. The charming and bright yellow-coloured device has a black and white display, a d-pad, A+B buttons, and a crank on the side that acts as a flip-out rotational controller. One of the unique aspects of the Playdate is the games being developed exclusively for the miniature-sized Game Boy-like device. Panic is promising 24 games as part of “Season One” but only two games will be delivered to the device every week over Wi-Fi for three months. Don’t expect PUBG or Call of Duty coming to the Playdate as the portable console is squarely focused on simple yet engaging games. Ever since Panic announced the Playdate in 2019, the device has caught the attention of the gaming industry. It’s a fun, little handheld console suitable for short moments rather than acting as a full-time gaming device. The system will cost $179, and is expected to ship before the end of the year. The company had begun taking pre-orders for the device last month.
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