tLast year was a stellar one for mobile gaming, no matter the size of your actual hands. Between Steam Deck, Playdate, and the explosion of vintage consoles, we’ve received an embarrassing amount of mobile gaming quality in 2022, and cloud play encourages more innovation. While Sony hasn’t revived the Vita, it looks like the mobile market is in the midst of a renaissance — so let’s celebrate the year’s milestones here.
December is a landmark month for mobile gaming. Sony released the PlayStation Portable in Japan on December 12, 2004, and then debuted in Japan on December 17, 2011. Both of these consoles were huge hits with gamers, critics, and developers, but a disorganized marketing plan and failed cloud ambitions kept Sony from investing in the game. Mobile games after the Vita. RIP, etc. Basically, for the past decade, we’ve been waiting (very patiently, mind you) for a groundbreaking mobile device to finally make this industry viable again.
Finally in 2022, the mobile market is streaming. The Switch has paved the way for mobile play over the past few years, and huge companies like Valve are finally getting involved. Cloud gaming has found its footing, and the Android and Linux mobile market is crowded, with major names like Razer participating. Meanwhile, more underground companies like Analogue, Ayaneo, and Panic are quietly churning out high-quality mobile hardware for retro, PC, and indie games.
But of course, Valve’s Steam Deck has dominated the mobile conversation in 2022. The Steam platform is big, heavy, and doesn’t have great battery life — which is all PC players have been waiting for, it seems. Valve began rolling out the Steam Deck in February, and by October had shipped over a million of these monsters across the Western world, with plans to expand into additional regions. The Steam Deck comes in three flavors ranging from $400 to $650, making it more affordable than current laptops from companies like Ayaneo. It comes with Steam pre-installed, but will also run Windows if you really want to spend an afternoon screaming. Why? in the device on your lap.
Imperfect as it may be, the Steam Deck has proven to be hot in the laptop market in 2022. It’s a relatively accessible way to play PC games on a portable screen, and it successfully combines Steam software with decades of hardware research into Valve. The Steam Deck is a great start for a company that’s known to lose focus easily, so hopefully it doesn’t end here.
Even if Valve is distracting from creating Steam Deck 2.0, plenty of other companies are keen to pick up the thread in the laptops space. The most prominent name is Ayaneo, a brand that took off in 2021 thanks to an Indiegogo campaign that raised more than $2 million. Today, Ayaneo continues to iterate on its original PC with sleek Switch-sized hardware capable of playing titles from Steam, Epic Games Store, Game Pass, and other hubs. The Ayaneo Air Pro starts at $700 and can technically handle HD games, though you’ll likely have to lower your frame rate, resolution, and expectations. Ayaneo’s most powerful software, Next Pro, starts at $1,500 and will run anything the Steam Deck can, but without the extra bulk.
Ayaneo makes very attractive gadgets and the company is emerging as a major competitor to Valve in the laptop space. The Ayaneo 2 is poised to pack more power into a stylish package, though it will be priced at least $1,000. The exciting thing here is that there is actual competition in the mobile space — companies are investing in mobile devices more than ever before, and not just when it comes to PC gaming. Recent upgrades in mobile processors are powering a slew of new hardware designed specifically for legacy and cloud gaming.
At the end of 2022, the retro handheld market is fertile, covering every era from NES to GameCube at relatively affordable prices. On the side of things from NES to PSP, this year we got the Miyoo Mini and Retroid Pocket 3: the Miyoo Mini costs around $60 and has a modern dual-core processor that can even handle some PS1 games, while the Pocket 3 is an Android-handheld that costs $120. dollars. For more modern emulation experiences, there’s Odin by Ayn, which can play PS2 and GameCube titles in 1080p on a 5.9-inch screen. Odin costs between $200 and $290, depending on the model. For older mobile devices, the general rule is that the hardware gets more expensive as the age progresses.
In the honorable mention section, we have the Analogue Pocket, which plays actual physical cartridges of the Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance and, not surprisingly, the size of a Game Boy classic. Analogue began shipping the Pocket at the end of 2021 and it’s sold out completely, with more orders and accessories coming in 2023. The Pocket is a special little portable device that breathes new life into classic cartridge libraries, and it comes in at $220 — roughly what a Game Boy would cost in today’s currency.
Well, that’s enough about the past. If 2022 proves anything, it’s that mobile gaming has a strong future, and that will include cloud and mobile play. Cloud technology is finally reliable enough that Sony caught it this year, and Microsoft continues to grow its massive cloud network, which is intrinsically linked to Game Pass. Our encroaching subscription-based future has created a rich environment for Android and Linux mobile devices that don’t need as much processing power on board as they do on Steam Deck. Logitech recently dropped the G Cloud Gaming Handheld, which costs $350, while the Razer Edge is an Android handheld that starts at $400 and is expected to start shipping in January.
This year, Razer also released the Kishi V2, a $100 gamepad that essentially turns your smartphone into a cloud gaming device. Backbone makes a similar product for iPhone and Android players, and this year the company released an official license PlayStation gamepad Only for iPhone. As mobile processors continue to evolve and cloud technology becomes more stable, smartphone games as an industry will only grow, and mainstream entertainment companies such as Netflix are already joining the fray. Netflix specifically launched popular games like Kentucky Road ZeroAnd the in breach And the spiritfarer on mobile devices this year, and it has been rendering like a gem Poinby And the Happiness Parade Hello Kitty.
Finally, I’d like to take a moment to honor Playdate. This awesome business-card-sized indie game machine was released in April; It costs $180, has a crank, and doesn’t fit into any current video game category. Operating history embodies innovation. It’s an open-source piece of magic that cranks and delivers some of the most unique experiences the video game industry has to offer, distilled onto a small, monochrome screen. Playdate is pure fun in a little yellow packaging, and to me, it is the Handheld Standout for 2022.
And this is a file. Here’s to you, mobile games. Thank you for a great year, and may the momentum of 2022 continue to generate creative ideas in this area. Cheers to the years and games to come.
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