It’s not a secret that I love portable gaming machines. As a kid, I brought my Game Boy with me everywhere. I was an only child who found himself constantly in long stretches of time with nothing to do but play video games, and having an adventure I could keep in my pocket was important to me. Some of my favorite games of all time are Advance Wars, Link’s Awakening, and Golden Sun. You could say I’m a fan of tiny wars and small-scale adventures.
That focus on small-scale is essentially the opposite of the modern gaming landscape. The closest thing the current console generation has to a dedicated handheld system is the Nintendo Switch, which can function out of its dock as essentially a giant Game Boy Advance. However, the Switch’s best games are sprawling, 3D adventures that are more at home on the living room TV than in your pocket.
Are Small Games Dead?
Thanks to the massive jumps in computer chip technology in recent years, developers aren’t saddled with the same limitations for handheld systems that they once were. The Switch, which isn’t even sporting cutting-edge tablet tech, can easily handle games like Breath of the Wild and Mario Odyssey.
For some gamers (like me!) this is as much of a blessing as a curse. While I love a good open-world journey as much as the next player, I also love having smaller-scale, pixelated experiences that I can play on the go.
For some time, I worried that the lack of limitations would mean that games could only keep getting bigger. Who wants Link’s Awakening when you can play Breath of the Wild? Well, Nintendo clearly heard my pleas, because 2019 saw a port of the Game Boy classic come to the Nintendo Switch.
However, there is more hope on the horizon for the future of small games: alternative consoles.
Two hotly-anticipated alternative consoles are in the works for 2021 release dates. The first is Panic’s Playdate, an adorable little yellow handheld system that will retail for $150.
The device will be given waves of new games on preset dates (hence the name) and features a minimalist display and even an adorable little crank on the right side. For many gamers, the concept of a tiny portable system that gets waves of new small games periodically is just what they needed for their downtime.
The system also serves as its own devkit, allowing enterprising users to make their own games with the system. Needless to say, this is exciting for any fans of old-school Nintendo-style handhelds. What’s more, Panic’s entry isn’t even the only love letter to the classic Game Boy coming out this year.
The Analogue Pocket, from the lauded hipster hardware team at Analogue, promises to scratch that nostalgic itch in a big way. Rather than sporting new games in the style of Game Boy games, the system is an all-in-one home for Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance Games.
It can play cartridges from all three systems and sports a vibrant, gorgeous display. Of course, pre-orders sold out within minutes of going up, as is par the course for the modern era.
The Future is Adorable
These adorable and stylish alternative consoles won’t be outselling the Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5. The Nintendo Switch will remain the premier handheld gaming console.
But for a subset of nostalgic gamers who love small-scale handheld experiences, the future is adorable. And apparently bright-yellow, because that’s the only color the Playdate comes in for some reason.