Once relegated to our parents' basements and local arcades, gaming is just about everywhere nowadays. Where once you'd see businessmen reading a newspaper on the subway, you're now just as likely to see them slaying dragons on their daily commute - all through the magic of handheld gaming.
Where Nintendo's market-leading DS line of portables as well as Sony's struggling PSP (PlayStation Portable) were once the status quo for game geeks on the go, two new entries from Apple, namely the iPod Touch and the iPad, have single-handedly redefined the idea of portable gaming - in all the right ways, albeit at a premium.
Here's a look at what's hot on the market right now.Nintendo DS
Since its debut in 2004, the Nintendo DS has gone through three strikingly different iterations and sold more than 135 million times. Offering dual screens with one placed above the other, the DS introduced us to the world of touch screen gaming years before it became ubiquitous to mobile phones. DS is also responsible for providing gamers with countless memorable games starring Nintendo all-stars like Mario, Link, and Kirby and, more recently, "old-fogy" gems like Brain Age, America's Test Kitchen and 100 Classic Books (which you simply read, not play).
While earlier models are still available at some retail outlets, the current generation of DS is the Nintendo DSi
(pictured). Unlike its predecessors, the $150 DSi features two digital cameras, supports content storage, and allows players to download new games directly, digitally, through Nintendo's own online DSi Shop.
More recently, Nintendo has released a variation on the DSi called the DSi XL. As the name would suggest, the DSi XL is a larger device with bigger screens. This allows for a more comfortable viewing experience, again with the fogy appeal but attractive to any player who doesn't enjoy squinting. So long as you're willing to sacrifice the convenience of a smaller size, the DSi XL is a solid choice.
For the gamer who already has everything, it's worth noting that most games retailers are preparing for the upcoming release of Nintendo's next handheld iteration, the Nintendo 3DS. Launching in March 2011 and expected to retail for just under $300, the 3DS will remain compatible with all current DS and DSi software while introducing gamers to true 3D gaming that doesn't require glasses. It's exciting but a pricey proposition-in-waiting, which is why today's DSi is still your best bet.iPod Touch
Few thought a competitor would ever come along to take the handheld gaming crown from Nintendo, but in its brief three years in existence, Apple's iPod Touch has arguably done just that. With more than 50,000 games available for download, many of which are available for as little as 99 cents (and some are even free), the iPod Touch manages to offer up the exact same gaming experience as its iPhone counterpart but at a fraction of the price (because it's not a phone).
The device itself has no buttons for gaming, relying entirely on a Multi-Touch screen that allows owners to use more than one finger on screen at any given time. The swiping, tapping, and sliding mechanics of touch screen gaming most commonly result in simple pick up and play casual experiences, but the iPod Touch isn't without its racers, action games, and first-person shooters, too.
With prices starting at $230 for the 8GB model and going up to $400 for the 64GB model (Canadians add $20 or $30 because Apple hasn't checked the exchange rate lately), iPod Touch is also the more expensive portable game experience. But there's value in the proposition.
In addition to its capabilities as a gaming device, the iPod Touch manages to cater to a wide variety of needs, making this less a handheld gaming console, more a pocket computer. iPod Touch owners can enjoy music, watch movies, send e-mail, browse the web, and partake in any of the 300,000 apps available to them. With apps that range from spreadsheets to calorie counters and everything in between, there's seemingly no limit to the options available to iPod Touch owners.
Already in its fourth generation, the most recent iPod Touch features a gyroscope that allows for more accurate tilt gaming, a high resolution "retina display" that allows for stunning visuals, and a more powerful processor than its predecessors that allows developers to push the hardware to new limits and deliver some other prettiest games your pocket has ever seen.PSP
Fighting an uphill battle in the handheld gaming market since its 2004 debut, the PlayStation Portable still remains a great choice for action gamers looking to get their fix on the go.
Offering a handheld experience that's much closer to the home console experience than any other device on our list, the PSP thrives on original portable adaptation of popular gaming franchises like Metal Gear Solid, God of War, and Kingdom Hearts.
When buying a PSP, consumers have a fairly wide selection of devices to choose from. The most recent technical evolution of the PSP is the PSP Go, a sleek device with a slide away gamepad, and one that doesn't take physical media, instead relying on digital downloads exclusively. This digital content dependency is something of an Achilles' heel for the PSP Go. Without physical media, players are stuck with their purchases rather than having the ability to resell, buy used, swap with friends, or simply rent in the first place. Worse yet, many of the PSP's earlier games haven't been made available digitally, rendering the device little more than a frustration in the eyes of its owners.
Because of Sony's stumbling with the PSP Go, it's far wiser to purchase earlier PSP hardware like the PSP-3000 at $170. The PSP-3000 comes in a number of color combinations and special editions, the most outstanding of which is the God of War: Ghost of Sparta PSP System Entertainment Pack
for $200 (pictured), which includes two of the best PSP games ever made, plus a movie.iPad
Jokingly referred to by many as little more than a giant iPod Touch, the iPad is the first truly successful tablet device aimed at the consumer market. Offering a 9.7-inch display, the iPad has changed the way its owners do everything, from reading books and browsing the web to playing games.
Capable of running every game on the App Store (including those designed for the iPhone and iPod Touch), the iPad also features its own exclusive selection of games that take advantage of its unique display. Notably, the device's size has allowed for comfortable local multiplayer experiences. As such, classic experiences like board games have found a perfect digital home on the device.
Don't think this means the iPad is all Snakes and Ladders, though. Many successful iPhone games get reworked for the iPad, factoring in the larger screen when rethinking their games for the device.
While still a relatively new device, consumers can pick between iPads with a variety of storage sizes and wireless configurations, with prices starting at $500 for the base model up to a whopping $830 for the fully-loaded iPad (Canadians can add $50 to those prices, or cross-border shop). Some models of iPad allow owners to access the internet via Wi-Fi and 3G (so long as they pay a monthly fee for the access), while more inexpensive models offer only Wi-Fi internet access.
Or just doll up what ya got...
If you have the game system all taken care of, check out www.MyTegos.com
, which allows you to upload your own images or photos and have them placed on a form-fitting decal for just about every device known to man, including all handheld game systems and a thousand other devices. The custom "skins" are then mailed to you or the recipient of your choice.