Debate: Handhelds vs Consoles

Due to the blog entry on an ideal gaming platform for Nintendo two weeks ago, I decided to spend most of the Tuesday blogs on debates between two different game types or forms of technology. As it’s the first Tuesday of November, I will begin the debate series. Whether or not if some issues outweigh the others, the statistics on advantages and disadvantages on all of these debates will result in a Win-Win situation, with one of the nine issues being a tie. Even if I try to stay unbiased on each side, I still pick a winner between on of the two (but you would know what will win judging by the entry from two weeks ago).

The first debate is on both types of gaming platforms. One type has the Wii U, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and all of their predecessors, such as the Xbox 360, PlayStation 2, and Nintendo 64. This also includes the lesser known ones such as the Sega Saturn, ColecoVision, and even Virtual Boy. The other side has the 3DS, the PlayStation Vita, their predecessors, and even those outside the gaming industry such as iPhones, Androids, and iPads. That’s right! This debate is Handhelds vs Consoles.

Every generation from 4th Generation and up, Nintendo has released a handheld for every console they released. We had two major families, which were the Gameboy Family and the DS Family. The Gameboy Family is broken down to two different groups, which include the GBs and GBAs. The DS Family include the DS group and the 3DS group. Of course, we had improved variations of each group, including the Gameboy Color, the Gameboy Advance SP, the DSi, and the new 3DS. The consoles, however, had only one kind per group, and only one group per generation. As they are the oldest in the gaming industry, they released six different consoles, starting with the 8-bit system with simplistic controls to the handheld-console hybrid that we know as the Wii U. There was also Sega, Sony, and Microsoft in the gaming industry. But this debate isn’t about which company is the best. It’s about the larger home platforms and the smaller and portable gaming platforms.

There are nine issues where the handhelds and consoles compete with each other. Since I’m better at knowledge over Nintendo than I do with the others, I would primarily use Nintendo for the examples of the handhelds and consoles on both debates. I might even tell a story in relation to each debate that contradicts the winner.

Issue # 1 – Portability

The first issue in the Handhelds vs Consoles debate is the portability, whether or not you have more freedom of location when playing. In both systems, you can play anywhere at anytime. Either way, limits do exist, but how strong are the limits on portability on both systems?

For consoles, this is a major disadvantage. You can bring them anywhere you want, but in order for them to work, they have to be plugged in at all times. Not only they have to be plugged in, but they also have to be hooked up to the TV. So if you bring your system anywhere, you better hope there is a TV you can connect to. We don’t have them in cars, nor do we have them outside. At least hotels have TVs, but I don’t think you would be safe to connect the consoles there either, unless if you want to pay extra for the hotel room, if they charge more to do this. Therefore, the best place you can play them at is a TV at your house. Not just any TV, but only one TV at a time. That means, you have nowhere else but the living room, bedroom, or game room, or wherever the TV is to play the console. If you need to pause, you have to leave it unattended before going somewhere else. Basically, you have no freedom of location when you play the consoles. The older systems, such as the GameCube and PlayStation 2, have wired controllers instead of the wireless controllers we are used to nowadays. That means we have even less freedom. Not only you can play in only one room, but also in one location at a room. Adding insult to injury, consoles are unplayable when there is a power outage. If the storm knocked out the power, or if it’s too snowy outside, or if there is a rolling blackout occurring, you can’t play your consoles.

Now here is an interesting story. I somehow bypassed this disadvantage before, but only when I was 12 to 14. When I had my own GameCube and my own portable DVD player, I was able to play anywhere as long as my DVD player and GameCube were both plugged in while the GameCube was plugged into the AV cable to the DVD player. The game appeared on screen. There’s no need to do that anymore since handhelds have improved while we have the Wii U.

For handhelds, this appears to be an advantage rather than a disadvantage. Regardless of the state of battery, handhelds have more freedom when playing. You can play them anywhere, not just in one room. Since there’s no need to plug in a handheld system to a TV and see what you’re doing, the battery is the only limit when playing anywhere. You can play while in the car, play in the hotel, play outside, play at the dinner table, play at a restaurant (I actually played Happy Home Designer at IHOP before), play in bed, and even play when you’re watching others play their video games. But there are some places you should never play a handheld system in. You wouldn’t do it in the shower, on a roller coaster, while walking, in school, or at a movie theater. Either it can be lost easily or it can cause a distraction. They are lighter than consoles, and they’re more playable than the older consoles. And what if there’s a power outage? The only electronic devices power outages don’t affect are wireless electronics, including the handheld gaming systems like the 3DS and iPad. Of course, if you have a low battery, you might need to plug the system into a charger and into a wall. That is when freedom is absent.

To sum up the advantages and disadvantages when discussing portability, the handhelds are better than the consoles in every way. We’ll even have to ignore my story on how I bypassed the disadvantages.

  • Freedom: handhelds – wireless, can be played anywhere in one room; consoles – must be plugged into a TV.
  • Location: handhelds – can be played anywhere as long as it’s in a suitable location; consoles – must be played in one room
  • Playability: handhelds – can be played whether or not you’re near a source of power, if your battery is good; consoles – cannot be played during a power outage.

Since handhelds win in each property, they win against consoles in this issue. Winner: Handhelds; Loser: Consoles.

Issue #2 – Power Source

The second issue appears to contradict the advantages and disadvantages of portability. The source of power determines how long you can play a video game platform based on the power limits. Handhelds can be played anywhere while being powered by battery. On the other hand, consoles have to be plugged into the wall and to a TV in order to play.

So we know that in order for consoles to work, they have to be plugged into the wall or a power bar that is plugged into the wall. At the same time, they need to be hooked up to the TV. But here’s the catch. While the consoles can only be played when plugged into a power source, there’s no limit in how much power it uses. There is another constraint, and that is overheating. But even overheating doesn’t mean the source of power is limited. It means you can’t have it on all day if you want to avoid overheating. When it gets hot, it’s best to turn it off, but there’s nothing to charge. Cartridge players like the Nintendo 64 don’t really overheat when being on for too long, but that’s not a good idea either.

Now let’s take a look at the handhelds. Even if they can be played anywhere, their only source of power is the battery inside. A battery or battery box is a power source, but batteries don’t live forever. In fact, if they’re used all day, they have a limited lifespan. Older handhelds like the Gameboy family require the two changeable batteries. What happens when they die? They have to be replaced. Newer handhelds like the DS family (including the 3DS) have the chargeable batteries, where they can be recharged after dying. So if the battery runs out, they have to be plugged in to charge. What’s even worse is that some programs use even more battery. Depending on the screen’s brightness, the speaker’s volume, and how much data is being used at once, more battery is consumed when more power is used. The longer you have the system on, the more the battery drains. To cut back battery usage, you would have to use less memory at once, as well as to lower the volume and tone down the brightness. Connecting to the internet uses even more battery. Another problem with battery life and recharging is that battery life shortens after frequent charging. So you may have a top battery life of eight straight hours at launch when using full power. After one to two years, depending on how much you use it, the top battery life is down to four straight hours. If the battery life continues to get short, it’s best to replace the battery.

It appears that the Wii U is in the zone of doom here. Since it’s a handheld and console hybrid, the gamepad requires charging batteries while the CPU needs to be plugged in.

Time for another recap. Consoles appear to have an unlimited source of power when plugged into an electrical source that is always fed power 24/7 while handhelds have to rely on the limited-life battery as their source of power. Winner: Consoles; Loser: Handhelds.

Issue #3 – Interactive Trading and Wi-Fi

When you play games like Pokémon and Animal Crossing, you would realize that Pokémon, villagers, items, and Bells would need to be traded with someone else. This is a short issue to debate on since there’s not much to talk about here, but here’s the catch. Newer handhelds and consoles can connect to the internet. You can do online multiplayer in order to do some trades or interactive play.

This might seem to be a tie, but handhelds actually excel further in this field. When you play online games, you might bump into a few strangers that you don’t know too well. This is especially true with consoles, even if there’s more than one console at home. That means, the only online play you will have is faraway online play, where your only trading partners are strangers on the internet. Handhelds allow you to do this too. However, they also have local play, where you don’t have to play online, but you can play wireless games with other players in the same room. In that case, you won’t be playing with online strangers anymore. However, they may have better service than local players since they (local players) may not have the items you want or want the items you have. But the handhelds have both options. Winner: Handhelds; Loser: Consoles.

Issue #4 – Size of Games

This issue compares game sizes between the handheld and its console counterpart. If you noticed, because handhelds are smaller than consoles and have smaller units, handheld games had always been smaller than console games when it came to data. Even if handheld games are bigger than they once were, they still haven’t caught up with their console counterparts. Back in the NES days, console cartridges can hold up to 4 megabytes. The maximum data a Nintendo 64 cartridge could hold was 32 megabytes. Animal Crossing: New Leaf takes up one gigabyte (1024 megabytes of data) on a cartridge that is even smaller and thinner than a Nintendo 64 cartridge. However, the average Wii U disc can hold up to 25 gigabytes, compared to the 8GB 3DS cartridge.

It’s an interesting coincidence that the larger electronics units can be plugged into a larger screen and play larger games while the smaller electronic units have a smaller screen and play smaller games. Winner: Consoles; Loser: Handhelds.

Issue #5 – Video Game Franchises

This issue isn’t about what platforms have better franchises. It’s about what platform is better for a specific video game franchise. Regardless, some franchises are better for the handhelds while others are better for the consoles.

Video game franchises that tend to be better on home consoles than handhelds are generally platformers, shooters, management games, party games, and action/adventure games. This may include creation games and indie games like Minecraft. The franchises that are better suited as handhelds are retro games, RPGs, virtual life, puzzles, and trading games. We’re going to look at Nintendo’s franchises on this.

The majority of Nintendo’s franchises appear to work better on consoles than handhelds, but two notable ones are the Legend of Zelda and the Mario franchises. If you have noticed, the handheld Zelda games (Oracle of Ages, Oracle of Seasons, Four Swords, The Minish Cap, Phantom Hourglass, and Spirit Tracks) did no better than the console games (Legend of Zelda, A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword). The same is true for the Mario series. A majority of all of the Mario platformers, including the five 3D platformers of the series, are on the consoles and not the handhelds.

The minority of the Nintendo franchises, more particularly Pokémon and Animal Crossing, actually did a lot better on handhelds than on consoles. Pokémon is the second largest video game franchise. Although there are six series of handheld video games, not including remakes, there are currently over 20 handheld Pokémon games, including remakes, and separated counterparts (like Pokémon X is a different game to Pokémon Y). There are fewer console games for Pokémon than handheld games (including Hey You Pikachu and Pokémon Snap). Animal Crossing may have started off from the consoles, but they have done better on handhelds. Wild World is the highest selling game of the series, and New Leaf outsold the GameCube version and City Folk combined. The GameCube version only sold 2.32 million copies worldwide by the time the GameCube was discontinued. Happy Home Designer isn’t even four months old in Japan, and it has surpassed 2 million copies worldwide. This implies that AC is better for handhelds than consoles, but there are several other reasons why.

Even though I like 3D platformers, tycoon games, and family-friendly multiplayer games, I excel very well in Animal Crossing more than I do in the other franchises. This time, there is no winner or loser to the debate, but it looks like the consoles are leading the debate. But video games in general are more fun for the handhelds. Winner: Tied; Loser: Tied.

Issue #6 – System Sharing

We spent a while on issues based on whether they’re better for trading or for larger games, while talking about how much freedom you have on each, so let’s move to another issue. This time, there are facts on whether you will need to share a console or not, as well as the handhelds. Neither would require sharing if you’re an only child or if you have no children. But what if you are a child and have brothers and sisters?

For consoles, this sounds like bad news. Remember in an earlier issue when I said that consoles have to be plugged into a TV to work? Because of this, it’s not really cost effective to have more than one console of the same in one house. But what if we do? We still have to share if there’s only one TV. You can have more than one TV for every copy of one console you have at home, but you can’t have more than one copy of one console for every TV. So you will have to stick with one console of the same kind. The reason why this is more of a disadvantage for consoles is that you have to share it with your siblings. You will have to take turns with other siblings when they want to play. The more siblings you have, the worse this situation is. Chances are, you might get into a fight with them over turns, or who is a better player, or other things. This situation would be worse for games like Animal Crossing if you had only one town or one game save. What if you owned the town and you have to share with others? The others can do stuff you don’t want them to do, which includes cutting down trees, running on your flowers, or do other damage.

You would be even more damned if you had to share one handheld with others. But here’s the good news. You’re only forced to share consoles for one reason – it’s because they have to be plugged into the TV at all times, as there aren’t enough TVs for more than one console of the same kind. You can have 5 3DSs for every TV you have in your house. It’s more cost effective to have one handheld per child than it is to have one console for every two children if you have 4 or more children. They don’t even have to share the games. They can have their own copies if they want. That means one virtual town per capita, all four characters are theirs, and they don’t have to take turns or worry about others messing with their towns.

Here is an interesting story about me. When we got our new house when I was 12, my two siblings and I got our own GameCubes. It means I have my GameCube to myself as my siblings got their own GameCubes. This means there was no fighting over one console. Nowadays, there’s only one Wii U in the house. Due to the limits of how many consoles can be plugged into a TV that can be shared, it went to my room, and I was forced to hog it to myself. When I was younger, I used to fight over a console. Now I want to share, but there’s nobody else to share my Wii U with.

This time, it’s an instant win for the handhelds. I know it sounds selfish if it’s an advantage that you don’t have to share a handheld system, but you don’t have to worry about taking turns or fighting if you all got your own handhelds. Winner: Handhelds; Loser: Consoles.

Issue #7 – Multiplayer Gaming

It appears that both the consoles and the newer handhelds have multiplayer, including online multiplayer and offline multiplayer. I would honestly prefer offline multiplayer since online multiplayer requires playing with people you don’t know. I think Call of Duty is a trash game, and it’s not because of the content or the fact that it’s a first person shooter. The online community is horrible. While there are some nice people, including kids, there are a lot of horrible people. They have a microphone on, and you can hear their whining if things don’t go their way. Playing Call of Duty offline, even on multiplayer, would be better. But this issue is about what systems are better with multiplayer games.

Since the era of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), console gaming had always included multiplayer. The Nintendo 64 was the first console to have up to four players. The GameCube may be the first Nintendo console to have a wireless controller, but the Wii was the first to primarily wireless controllers. Still, only four controllers at once can be connected to a single console.

How do handheld multiplayer games work? For the longest time, you could not connect to other Gameboys. Thanks to the Download Play for the DS and 3DS (as well as the interactive trading like we see in Animal Crossing), you can connect to other DSs. I don’t really know how download play works, but here’s the problem. When you play with other DS or 3DS players locally, a drop in connection would disrupt the multiplayer game. That means, the party is over. But for consoles, as long as the console is on, you can keep playing multiplayer games without worrying about connection issues. And it’s not as difficult to set up.

The only way the handhelds can win this battle is when you talk about the split-screen. If you don’t like seeing the screen split into two, three, or four, the handhelds are perfect since there are no split-screens. Everyone has their own screens. Winner: Consoles; Loser: Handhelds.

Issue #8 – Privacy

Sometimes, gamers would like their own privacy as they don’t like having others watching them. How much gamer’s privacy would you have if you were playing the consoles? What about handhelds?

Since consoles have to be hooked up to the TV, there’s one more advantage eliminated. Not only you have to play in one room when there’s power and that you have to take turns, but privacy is under turmoil. If you don’t mind people watching you play video games, then this shouldn’t be a problem. But if you don’t want others watching you play, or if you want to be alone when playing, you might struggle with that. Granted, if you have your own bedroom with your own TV and your own Nintendo 64/GameCube/Wii or whatever you have, you will win this battle. But most consoles are put in shared rooms, such as the living room or the game room, or whatever you have. And sometimes, bedrooms have to be shared too. If you want to play alone, you may have to kick other people out of the room you’re playing in, which would be unfair to the other person. You might even get into a fight over sharing rooms, just like sharing consoles.

People can’t watch you play handheld games unless if they want to rudely watch over you or if you want to show others what you did. If you don’t want people watching you, just don’t sit too close to them. Since handhelds are on a smaller screen, it’s not possible for others to watch you play. This will give you privacy when playing your 3DS or Gameboy, whatever you have. And what if you want to be alone? You can get up and walk to another location. But this will be a disadvantage if you’re in the car or on an airplane (though it doesn’t matter as much).

In my personal view, this is starting to become a disadvantage because I do want to share what I did in Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer to my family members. The 3DS doesn’t have text messaging like the cell phones, and I have to give my 3DS to others if they want to see. However, I can share what I did through 3DS image share on Facebook, so this paragraph is a silly argument against the handheld.

To sum this up, privacy is a problem when playing on the consoles. You can’t bring your consoles everywhere if you want to be alone while others can still watch you play. The opposite is true for the handhelds. Winner: Handhelds; Loser: Consoles.

Issue #9 – Screen Size

The last issue is on screen size. Handhelds have their own screens, which are smaller. Consoles have to be plugged into the wall and hook up to the TVs, which have bigger screens.

You may have heard the saying “the bigger, the better” before. This is true for screen size. With the new flatscreen TVs, consoles have much better TVs to hook up to. You can play on 36-inch screens, 48-inch screens, 60-inch screens, or even 72-inch screens. Playing too close to a screen may hurt your eyes, so sitting back as far as possible is better for you while you can easily see what’s on screen.

Another advantage of the larger screen is that they have better resolution. HD works on smaller screens too. However, on the larger screens, the resolution is even better because more detail can be put on larger screens. That, and there’s more memory in larger electronic devices. HD games take up a lot of memory.

Now for handhelds, they may have their own screens, including their touchscreens, but their screens are smaller. You can’t sit far away to see a smaller screen. You can’t even sit far back to touch the device, so you’ll be forced to look up close to the screen. It’s not good for your eyes to look at electronic screens all day, especially with the new LED technology. LEDs are very bright, and brighter lights aren’t good for your eyes in general. Good thing you can adjust brightness, so when you’re in the sun, you can play at maximum brightness while in the dark, you can play at minimum brightness to keep the balance.

Handhelds have been more beneficial than consoles, but not in this issue. This may be the biggest problem with handheld devices. The largest screen for a handheld device is an iPad screen, and it’s not even as big as the TV screens of the older, 1930’s TVs. Winner: Consoles; Loser: Handhelds.


That’s all for the nine issues. To wrap this up, every advantage a handheld has, it’s a disadvantage of a console. And for every advantage a console had, it’s a disadvantage of a handheld. Throughout the whole debate, handhelds are better than consoles when it comes to freedom of location, interactive play, personal property, and player privacy. You can play handheld games anywhere without sharing your devices with other people or having others watch you. And you don’t have to play with online strangers when you trade from system to system. Consoles are better than handhelds when it comes to power source, game size, multiplayer games, and screen size. You can play bigger video games all day without worrying about battery limits on a bigger screen. And multiplayer functions much better on the consoles. As for the video games that function better on each, games from the Mario Series and Zelda Series are better for the consoles while games related to Pokémon and Animal Crossing do much better on handhelds.

But here’s a question you can answer. What would you play more? Would you rather play on the bigger screen, or in any location, including transportation and hotels? It’s your call, but here is my opinion.

To be honest, I actually thought the best video game libraries came from the consoles and not the handhelds, more particularly the Nintendo 64 and (in case of Super Mario Sunshine) the GameCube. The Nintendo 64 has the best video game library out of all consoles in my opinion. The GameCube was the runner-up. In fact, prior to the 7th generation, the consoles have been better than the handhelds. The handhelds were nothing but on/off pixels with 8-bit music. The NES was better than the Game & Watch, the SNES (which I never had any experience with) was better than the Gameboy, the Nintendo 64 was better than the Gameboy Color, and the GameCube was better than the Gameboy Advanced. Starting with the 7th generation, handhelds are becoming better than their console counterparts. Handheld systems have gotten a lot better over time. Now we have brighter screens, less pixelated games, and are able to play games as big as the Nintendo 64 games, but with better graphics. And we have more menu apps like computers had. So yes, handhelds have greatly improved over time, including their libraries. But console libraries for the Nintendo have gone downhill since the end of the N64 days.

Another reason why I thought the console libraries were a lot better was because of the limited palette of games I played on the 3DS and DS. I don’t play Pokémon, a lot of the games I played for both systems and the Vita weren’t that good, and many franchises are better suited for consoles than for handhelds. You might be shocked that I said that because this whole entry is written by an avid Animal Crossing player who written three AC-related FAQs on GameFAQs, once a member on Bell Tree Forums with a TBT People’s Choice Award for “Biggest Animal Crosser”, and has made two Animal Crossing blogs on this site. Yes, I major in the AC series better, but I honestly thought that consoles had better libraries overall. But the AC franchise undoubtedly had better games in the DS family than on the post-N64 consoles, according to both my preferences and popular opinion. Yes, I play Animal Crossing a lot, and I had more experience with ACNL and ACWW than their console counterparts. But that’s pretty much the only handheld games I played and liked.

While the consoles had better video game libraries, the idea behind handhelds are a lot better. I like to play anywhere without needing to take turns when playing. Yes, the battery problem may be the biggest liability, but I just like playing anywhere I want. Heck, I can even play DK64 and Super Mario Sunshine anywhere if they were rereleased for the newer handheld systems. And did you know that some N64 exclusives like Pokémon Snap and Hey You Pikachu are better for the 3DS than for the Nintendo 64? It’s true.

And the winner of this debate is:


Feel free to comment. I would love to see your opinions on what you like better.


One thought on “Debate: Handhelds vs Consoles

  1. Nice article! For me, it’s definitely NOT an issue of what’s “better” because it ultimately comes down to user preference. Plus, handhelds vs. console are two very different things so I find it hard to even compare objectively. It’s like comparing oranges and apples – they’re both fruit, yes, but that’s where the similarities start and end.

    I feel like the library between consoles and handheld is so varied and I use both for different things. If I want a cinematic, deep experience then console for sure. If I want a quick, easy, digestible gaming experience, then handheld. That’s not to say that there’s a lack of “cinematic” or AAA games on handheld, but I just think of Uncharted, which wasn’t “bad” on the Vita, but it was nowhere NEAR as good as it is on the PS3. It’s also an issue of hardware, which is another reason why I can’t really compare them objectively. Consoles are meant to be so much more powerful than handhelds so the games reflect this, but again, this doesn’t mean that handhelds “lose” in anyway. There are games that I think are perfectly suited for them, like Lumines for the Vita. I can’t even imagine playing that on a TV screen with a controller.

    I also find that handhelds have much MUCH less support than console (unless you’re Nintendo where there’s about an equal amount, but they’re not my favourite console, handheld, or company so I can’t really say much about them). The majority of the well-known developers are creating gaming experiences for the console, so that’s just generally where I go (also, this comes down the user preference in games as well, which is another reason why comparing consoles with handheld is so weird for me. I generally play Gears of War, Halo, Borderlands, Elder Scrolls, etc., all of which are on console. While Borderlands was ported to the Vita, this actually diminished the experience and I hated it, which just proves that consoles and handhelds are too different and the games have to be catered to two different experiences in order to be effective).

    In terms of sharing, it’s funny that you bring it up. I find that it’s so much harder to share a handheld experience – are 5 people really going to crowd around a tiny 3DS screen? On the other hand, who doesn’t have memories of playing Super Smash Bros. or Goldeneye on the N64? Even if someone wasn’t playing because there weren’t enough consoles, handhelds are much more of a personal experience whereas consoles are more open.

    That’s not to say that consoles and handhelds don’t have their own identifiable intrinsic value or features that differentiate it from each other, but I don’t necessarily see it as being “better” in an objective (or even subjective) point. It just “is.” A handheld is MADE to be more portable because that’s it’s function. A console is less portable because portability is NOT its function and it was never designed this way, but the hardware power IS one of its functions.

    Ultimately, I don’t have “loser” or “winner” in comparing consoles and handhelds. It’s like comparing a cheeseburger with pasta. They’re both great, some people like to eat both, some like cheeseburgers more, but that doesn’t mean pasta’s disgusting :3

    So to answer your question, lol, I like consoles better, I play on handhelds more, I love both.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s