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.

Amazing! Mostly.

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.

  • Tim

    A year ago I would heavily disagree but also having the xperia play and having enjoyed emulators, market games, and OnLive all for probably under the entry cost of shiny new vita or 3ds I completely agree…. Although I do believe the younger crowd (16 and below) is still open market for dedicated portable game console market… That and the hardcore gamers… Although I am 23 and the older I get the more of a casual player I become. Btw here is a hint… For xperia play users the volume rockers are the rb and Lb buttons on OnLive.

  • tanto

    Theres no point in reading a stupid article like this

    On what system could I of played valkyria 3 this year? dragon quest VI? radiant historia? patapon 3? mario land 3ds?


  • Hicken

    You MUST be joking. No, I’m not even going to question whether or not you’re joking; the only possible explanation is that you’re joking.

    You cannot compare gaming on ANY smartphone or similar device to the gaming you get on a dedicated handheld. Since the latter is designed to be a portable alternative to full-on home consoles, a competent handheld will pretty much always provide a better gaming experience than a smart-device. If you REALLY think that your Xperia would play Darksiders or LA Noire better than the 3DS or Vita, then you are not a gamer. I’m sorry if that offends you, but it’s the truth.

    What I would like for you to tell me is how well your phone does playing games when you’re not connected to OnLive, or how long the battery lasts while you play, or how you answer your phone and play at the same time.

  • Tim

    Vita and 3ds both last roughly 5-6 hours…. My xperia lasts the same AND offers me smart phone features…. And no one said the vita or 3ds couldn’t play LA Notre or Darksiders better than the Xperia… Because they can’t play them at all!

  • Tony

    I can see both sides of this argument. I have no doubt that the Vita will be an incredible handheld machine, just as the PSP was in 2005. And some of the exclusives looks genuinely brilliant.

    But, does that matter enough to make it successful when everyone and their dog has access to a huge library of dirt cheap games on their smartphone, on a device that they always have with them in their pocket? (And that’s without even considering a service like OnLive as mentioned in the article)

    Time will tell.

  • @Tim: Is THAT where they put the LB and RB? That’s a bit wierd. I would have preferred maybe two buttons on screen, that would have been much easier to reach.

    @Hicken: Why would anyone even play games on their phone and make a phone call at the same time? How long does your Vita last when you play games and watch movies at the same time? And how long does your 3DS last when you play games and browse the internet at the same time? They’re ridiculous questions, all of them.

    At the moment, Darksiders works perfectly well with the Xperia Play controls, bar the crazy choice of LB and RB buttons that once were volume control buttons and LA Noire is currently being rebuilt by Rockstar specifically for OnLive so that the game supports some touch screen gestures so I fully expect both of them to work just as fine on my phone as they do on any console thanks to OnLive.

    As it is, the Xperia Play is a pretty good gaming device on it’s own too. It can run games like Shadowgun and Grand Theft Auto 3, albeit with the occasional framerate drop, but nothing devastatingly bad. While t’s not the best phone on the market, all it would really take for a phone with specs as good as the Galaxy S2 with a built-in controller and I can see mobile phone-based gaming really taking off to a point where people will really question the reasoning behind ever wanting to buy a 3DS or a Vita.

    Also, what Tim said.

    @tanto: Had history taken a different route, you could have been playing those on a phone.

  • Omega

    If the author of this article actually played or had a vita or 3ds, he would probably toss his outdated smartphone in the bin.

  • I’ve played a 3DS on several occasions. It was cute, but I saw no reason to buy one because the line-up of games was pretty dire. This was before I even got an Xperia Play.

  • Jonathan

    “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.”

    So basically they’re not very alike at all, except that they both have games on them?

    I disagree 100% with this to be completely honest. I despise OnLive and everything it stands for, for example. It symbolises the end of consumers actually owning the products they pay for. Sure you can pay £20 for a full playpass on OnLive for *insert AAA game here* but what if in five years they decide to remove the game from the service? Your game is gone and so is your money. Imagine the Steam/EA palaver with Crysis 2 last year, it was removed from the service but people who own it can still play/download it.

    If something is removed from OnLive it’s gone forever.

    The other part of this, gaming on your mobile, is something that’s fun but it can never even touch the quality of games on a dedicated platform. I bought Game Dev Studio and it’s fucking great but I know I’d enjoy it ten times more if it was on the PC or a handheld gaming system. It could be more complex, bigger, longer and prettier. Like with all handheld games.

    @Tim Technically the Xperia isn’t playing them either, the OnLive servers are playing them and sending the footage to the phone. Good luck trying that on a 3G connection though, you’d need to use a wi-fi hotspot. Then again you might as well play it in your house on a proper TV and have a decent idea of what’s going on.

  • “The other part of this, gaming on your mobile, is something that’s fun but it can never even touch the quality of games on a dedicated platform.” Which is precisely where OnLive steps in. OnLive provides the service that allows you access to AAA games on your phone. Sure, it’s bit of a contrived way of calling your phone a gaming handheld, but you know what they say about the shoe that fits.

    “So basically they’re not very alike at all, except that they both have games on them?” I was trying to make the point that they both have gamepads and touchscreens and functionally aren’t so different.