TThe past year was a great year for handheld gaming regardless of how small your hands are. With the Playdate, Steam Deck and an amazing explosion of retro consoles, there was an overwhelming amount of mobile gaming goodness in 2022. And cloud play only encourages more innovation. Even though Sony still hasn’t revived the Vita, it feels like the handheld market is in the throes of a renaissance — so let’s celebrate the milestones of the year right here.
December is a significant month for handheld gaming. On December 12th 2004, Sony launched the PlayStation Portable in Japan. The Vita was then introduced in Japan on the 17th of December 2011. These consoles were a hit with gamers, developers, and critics. However, Sony was unable to invest in handheld gaming due to a poorly planned marketing strategy and its failed cloud ambitions. RIP, etc. Basically, for the past decade we’ve been waiting (very patiently, mind you) for a breakthrough mobile device to finally make this industry viable again.
The handheld market has finally become a reality in 2022. Mobile play was pioneered by the Switch over the past few decades, and major corporations like Valve have finally gotten in on the act. Cloud gaming is now firmly established. Major companies like Razer are entering the market for mobile Android and Linux devices. In the meantime, underground companies such as Analogue, Ayaneo, and Panic continue to produce high-quality handhelds that can be used for retro, PC, and indie gaming.
But of course, Valve’s Steam Deck dominated the portable conversation in 2022. The Steam Deck is big, it’s heavy, it doesn’t have a great battery life – and it’s everything PC players have been waiting for, apparently. Valve began rolling out the Steam Deck back in February. It had already shipped over 1 million Steam Decks throughout the western world by October. There are plans to expand into new regions. The Steam Deck comes in three flavours, with prices ranging between $400 and $650. This makes them more affordable than handheld PCs from companies such as Ayaneo. It comes with Steam pre-installed, but it’ll also run Windows if you really want to spend an afternoon screaming why? Place the machine on your lap.
Imperfect though it may be, Steam Deck proved there’s heat in the handheld PC market in 2022. It’s a relatively accessible way to play PC games on a portable screen, and it successfully combines the Steam software with decades of hardware research at Valve. The Steam Deck is a great start from a company that’s known to lose focus easily, so hopefully it doesn’t all end here.
Even if Valve is too distracted to create a Steam Deck 2.0, there are many other companies that are keen to take up the thread in mobile PC space. Ayaneo is the most famous brand. It was founded in 2021 after an Indiegogo campaign raised more than $2million. Ayaneo continues to improve on its original PC device, with sleek, Switch-sized devices that can run titles from Steam and Epic Games Store. The Ayaneo Air Pro starts at $700 and can technically handle high-fidelity games, though you’ll likely have to lower your framerate, resolution and expectations. The beefiest Ayaneo, the Next Pro, starts at $1,500 and it’ll run anything a Steam Deck can, but without the extra bulk.
Ayaneo makes extremely cute gadgets and the company is emerging as Valve’s main competitor for portable PC glory. The Ayaneo 2 is poised to pack even more power into a sleek package, though it’ll have a price tag of $1,000, at least. The exciting thing here is that there’s actual competition in the handheld space – companies are investing in mobile hardware more than ever, and not just when it comes to PC play. New mobile processor upgrades have enabled a number of devices to be powered by the latest updates. These new devices can be used for retro and cloud gaming.
The market for retro handhelds will be thriving by 2022. It will cover every era, from NES to GameCube, at relatively low prices. We got this year the Retroid Pocket 3 (NES to PSP) and the Miyoo Mini (NES to PSP). The Pocket 3 is an Android-powered, $120 handheld. The Pocket 3 can run some PS1 games and costs around $60. For more modern emulation experiences, there’s the Odin by Ayn, which can run PS2 and GameCube titles at 1080p on a 5.9-inch screen. The Odin ranges in price from $200 to $290, depending upon the model. The general rule for retro handhelds is that the hardware becomes more expensive with each passing era.
The Analogue Pocket is featured in the honorable mention section. It plays physical cartridges from Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance and Game Boy Boy Boy. It is about the same size as a classic Game Boy. The Pocket was first shipped by Analogue at the end 2021. It enjoyed a successful year with many more orders and accessories expected in 2023. Pocket is a special little handheld that breathes new life into classic cartridge libraries, and it comes with a price tag of $220 – which is just about what a Game Boy would cost in today’s coin.
OK, that’s enough about the past. If 2022 has proven anything, it’s that portable gaming has a strong future, and this is going to include cloud and phone play. Sony finally figured out cloud technology this year. Microsoft continues to expand its vast cloud network that is intrinsically linked to Game Pass. Our slowly encroaching subscription-based future has created a rich environment for Android- and Linux-based handhelds that don’t need a ton of on-board processing power, as the Steam Deck does. Logitech recently dropped their G Cloud Gaming Handheld at $350. Razer Edge is an Android-based handheld that starts at $400. It will begin shipping in January.
Razer also introduced the Kishi V2, a $100 gamepad that transforms your smartphone into a cloud-gaming device. Backbone offers a similar product for Android and iPhone players. This year, the company released an officially licensed version. PlayStation gamepad Only for iPhone. Smartphone gaming will only grow in popularity as mobile processors improve and cloud technology stabilizes. Already, major entertainment companies such Netflix have joined the fray. Netflix has brought a number of highly acclaimed games to the market, such as Kentucky Route Zero, Breach into the Breach And Spiritfarer onto mobile devices this year, And it’s introduced gems like Poinpy and Hello Kitty Happiness Parade.
Finally, I’d like to take a moment to honor Playdate. This brilliant business-card-sized indie gaming machine came out in April; it costs $180, it has a crank, and it doesn’t fit into any existing video game category. Playdate is a shining example of innovation. It’s an open-source, crank-powered piece of magic offering some of The most unique experiences the video game industry has to offer, distilled on a miniscule, monochromatic screen. Playdate is pure joy in a tiny yellow package, and for me, it’s the Standout handheld in 2022
And that’s a wrap. Here’s to you, handheld gaming. We thank you for an amazing year. May 2022 bring more creative ideas to this sector. Cheers to the years and all that lies ahead.
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