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Consoles For Christmas 2008 - The Mobile Gamer

Okay - we'll admit it - this last profile is a bit of a kludge. The fact is that there is no class of mobile gamer as such, as many people use handheld systems in the lounge as on the train. In general, though, the people who buy into handhelds are looking for the same things. They want games they can pick up and play quickly, wherever they are, but they also want games that can suck them in and keep them interested over a long haul. It never hurts to have games with the sophistication of 'grown up' console titles, but more simple or quirky titles are vitally important. There's also a growing interest in online play for handhelds. The Monster Hunter games haven't been as successful here as they have been in Japan, but Mario Kart DS was a hit partly because it offered online competition. Will it be long before we see a handheld Diablo clone? Even a handheld MMO?

The DS still reigns supreme in this arena. It hasn't been a vintage year for Nintendo's handheld, but Professor Layton and the Mysterious Village proves that the DS can still deliver new and surprising experiences. Trackmania DS is a fine conversion, and the release of GTA: Chinatown Wars should make the little fella seem essential all over again next year. Meanwhile a DS version of Phantasy Star puts online RPGs on the DS map. Guitar Hero: On Tour had its issues, but Guitar Hero: Decades will at least fix the track list. In fact, the only reasons not to buy a DS for Christmas are a) that you already have one and b) the knowledge that the enhanced DSi will be launched in the spring.

Well, okay, there are other options. Reports of the PSP's death have been exaggerated, but even with the new PSP 3000 model it's getting tricky to recommend an investment in Sony's handheld platform. Tricky, but not impossible. We've had a handful of good games this year in Patapon, Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core and the excellent God of War: Chains of Olympus, and next year brings us LocoRoco 2, Super Stardust Portable and Resistance: Retribution - the latter a real showcase title. If you still want a games machine that doubles as a portable media player, the PSP remains a solid bet.

Resistance: Retribution on the PSP looks good, but the DS is still the best handheld console.

However, the biggest threat to the DS comes from a rather more unexpected source. Like most people outside the cult of Apple I have some doubts about the iPhone and iPod touch as games platforms, but having recently seen Need for Speed: Undercover and an iPhone SimCity in action, these are rapidly being squashed. Apple still has a lot to prove in this area, and 1500 puzzle games and bargain-basement racers are no substitute for a dozen proper AAA titles, but the Apple touch platform is going to be one to watch next year. If you like games and you're getting an MP3 player for Christmas anyway, you might want to give this some thought.

Our choice: Nintendo DS

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