Video game handhelds didn’t die after all

When the beloved PlayStation Vita eventually died out, many blamed the rise of mobile gaming. “I think the PS Vita, while ahead of its time in many ways … launched at exactly the wrong time in terms of market opportunity,” former Sony vice president of marketing John Koller told The Verge about going up against smartphones. But despite the Vita’s demise, dedicated gaming handhelds didn’t die out — in fact, the space is arguably as vibrant as ever.

Valve just announced the Steam Deck, a chunky portable PC that looks like a Sega Game Gear from a parallel universe. It’s designed to let players take their Steam library of PC games on the go. Just a few hours later, preorders opened for the latest iteration of the Nintendo Switch, one that doesn’t change much aside from a bigger, brighter OLED screen and a kickstand that doesn’t suck. Meanwhile, Panic is planning to release the oddball Playdate this year, and Analogue is building possibly the most beautiful Game Boy ever with the Pocket, also slated for a 2021 launch.

Nintendo showed that there’s still a market for this kind of device. Nearly five years ago, the company completely changed its approach to hardware with a machine that blurred the lines between a handheld and a home console, and the Switch has since become a massive hit, moving more than 84 million units. Perhaps most interesting, though, is that the two hardware revisions since the Switch debuted in 2017 have both been focused on portable play. First, there was the handheld-only Switch Lite, and now the OLED version; a better screen doesn’t matter much if you’re playing the Switch docked.

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