You know what? I don’t think I want a 3DS or a Vita anymore. Not now that I’ve had some hands-on time with the future. By “the future”, I do of course mean my shiny new phone — a Sony Ericsson Xperia Play. You may recognise that model of phone as being the one with the gaming controller built into it, on a tray that pops out from the back of the phone in the same way that other phones might have a pop-out keyboard. I’ve had mine for about a week and up to now I’ve been content enough with it to say that I love it both as a phone and as a gaming device — but right now I’m willing to bet that it might just well be the future of gaming.
There were a number of reasons behind this; the first of which being that OnLive, the games streaming service, recently released an Android app that allows you access to the service and play their games through it. While it doesn’t run on all phones – I’m looking at you, previous phone — it does run on the Xperia Play and I have to say that it’s pretty mind-blowing. I mean, full AAA games! On my phone! Isn’t that insane?! If I told you at the start of 2011 that by the end of the year I’d be able to play something like Darksiders or L.A. Noire on my phone, you’d have choked on your smoked breakfast kipper with laughter. We all eat kippers for breakfast, right? Yeah, neither do I.
Anyway, there’s currently only one thing stopping the OnLive app from being truly amazing. Because you’re playing on a touchscreen, the controls are all virtual thumb sticks and buttons. While this isn’t so much of a problem for games like LEGO Batman, which has a really simple controller layout that really only makes use of the thumb sticks and face buttons, and Defense Grid, which has been fully reconfigured to support touch input and thus doesn’t have any on-screen controls at all, it’s a massive pain in the rear end for Darksiders. Take a 360 or PS3 controller and try cram all of its buttons on to a 4″ screen and you’ve got an idea of what you’ve got to work with. Of course, this isn’t a problem for Xperia Play users since they can use the pop-out controller — if you’ll excuse the fact that OnLive doesn’t seem to have noticed the phone’s lack of the “RB” and “LB” buttons yet. Not everyone has an Xperia Play though.
The other thing that made me think was the price I was paying for some pretty high quality games in the Android marketplace in general, and this applies in the iTunes store too. For a few pence you can get some awesome games like Hard Lines or Age of Zombies and spend hours running (rectangular) rings around your opponents or mowing down legions of zombies respectively or you can spend a few quid more and get the likes of Grand Theft Auto 3 or Dead Space. This observation reminded me of a Penny Arcade comic:
What I’m trying to say is that I now believe that the future of portable gaming lies in phones. In terms of hardware functionality, how is my Xperia Play so different from a 3DS? Take away the novelty of the features, namely the second screen and the 3D effect and the difference is almost negligible, when you excuse the actual technical specifications of each one. The touch screen, control pad and motion controls are all there, are they not? I’m sure it would have been an entirely different story had the 3DS and the Vita had some kind of integrated phone functionality — multi-function devices seem to be the way to go these days. Just look at the PS3 and the Xbox 360; each one is a games console, a DVD player, a music player and general entertainment centre all rolled into one. The PS3 can even play Blu-rays!
You can keep your fancy glasses-less 3D and rear-mounted touch pads, I’m already way ahead of you.