The Year Ahead in Handheld Gaming

In 2023 companies like Valve, Nvidia and Razer will try to usurp Nintendo's long held portables throne.

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Image: Valve

Andrew Liszewski has been covering and reviewing gadgets—everything from headphones, to e-readers, to drones—for over 16 years, but his favorite topic and pastime is handheld gaming. If you’ve got a tip, a story idea, or a pitch, you can reach him at andrewl@gizmodo.com.

The Top Story:

Although cheap LCD gaming devices with frustratingly limited gameplay were a hallmark of the ‘80s, handheld gaming finally found its footing with Nintendo’s Game Boy in 1989. It was followed by the GBA, the wildly successful Nintendo DS, and eventually the Switch, which made Nintendo’s flagship console games completely portable, and helped the company dominate the portables market.

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Over the years, several companies have released competing products to challenge Nintendo’s dominance of the handheld gaming market, including Sega’s Game Gear and Sony’s PSP and PS Vita, but Nintendo has always come out on top, with competing products disappearing from stores. That changed in 2022 with the arrival of Valve’s Steam Deck, which is capable of playing AAA PC titles on the go, and devices like the Logitech G Cloud, which simply stream processor-heavy and graphically-intense console titles from the cloud.

Past challengers to Nintendo’s portable crown lacked compelling game libraries to woo gamers, but this new generation of handhelds have access to an ever-growing collection of PC, console, and even mobile games. In 2023, we expect to see several more companies announcing and releasing portable gaming devices with specs and performance that could already be several steps ahead of what Nintendo potentially has planned, as well as cheaper devices compatible with the best games on the market by leveraging the power of the cloud. Mario, Kirby and Link may have finally met their match.

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What We’re Waiting For:

  • The Nintendo Switch, the Nintendo Switch Lite, and even the Nintendo Switch OLED are all starting to feel extremely dated. Rumors have swirled for the past few years about an upgraded Pro version of the handheld, and 2023 seems like the perfect time to release it, as Nintendo finally faces serious competition in this space. But will it finally pack some serious processing power, support 4K gaming, and run more than just games?
  • Even if it was a little rough around the edges at launch, Valve’s Steam Deck made a big splash in 2022, with the company quickly improving its features, functionality, and battery life through regular software updates. Valve will continue to improve the Steam Deck this way into 2023, but rumors are already swirling about potential hardware updates too. A Steam Deck with an OLED screen? We can dream.
  • Hot on the heels of the Logitech G Cloud is the Razer Edge, arriving early in 2023. It’s a game streaming-focused tablet compatible with the Razer Kishi V2 Pro controller that features a 2400x1080 AMOLED display and a 5G mobile connection so you don’t have to stay tethered to your home’s high-speed wifi.
  • It’s not just big tech companies like Valve, Logitech, and Razer that are trying to drink Nintendo’s milkshake. Highly capable portables have been pouring out of China for years, and companies like Ayaneo, ONEXPlayer, GPD, Anbernic, and AYN will have countless more handhelds enroute for 2023 capable of making AAA gaming titles playable on-the-go.
  • Can you imagine life without video streaming services like Netflix or Disney+? Eventually we’ll think the same thing about game streaming. Waiting hours for a game to download, or inserting a game on a plastic disc into a console, is going to seem antiquated one day. Right now Microsoft and Nvidia dominate the space, but we’re excited for other companies to also introduce game-streaming platforms in 2023.
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Unconventional Wisdom:

Will devices like the Steam Deck or Razer Edge take a significant bite out of Nintendo’s handheld revenues? Not for a while. Flagship titles on the PS5, Xbox Series X, and PC are visually stunning, but the extreme popularity of mobile gaming, including smartphone titles that simply have players dragging pieces of candy around on screen, are evidence that most gamers care less about graphics, and more about addictive gameplay—and that’s where Nintendo excels.

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Tears of the Kingdom, the sequel to the brilliant The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, is arriving next year, and unless the game is a struggle to play on the aging Switch hardware, it’s going to sell even more consoles for Nintendo. And if the rumored Nintendo Switch Pro doesn’t come with specs beyond what the competition is already offering, Nintendo will probably still sell millions to a devoted fan base it’s cultivated for years. However, Nintendo’s online services have always been disappointing, and if it ignores game streaming for too long, it could finally find itself behind the times in this space, and unable to catch up.

People To Follow: 

  • Retro Game Corps - Russ Crandall not only obsessively tests and reviews handheld gaming devices in very thorough YouTube videos, their website is also packed full of excellent tutorials and guides, particularly for those wanting to get into retro gaming and emulation.
  • Taki Udon - If there’s a handheld device you’ve read about and are interested in buying, there’s a very good chance that Taki Udon has tested it and shared a video of their findings on their ever-growing YouTube channel.
  • Retro Dodo - Although Brandon Saltalamacchia’s website and YouTube channel do tend to cater to gamers interested in retro gaming on-the-go, Retro Dodo is still one of the best sources of handheld gaming reviews on the internet, written by a team that’s tried them all, knows what’s best, and what to stay away from.
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Companies To Watch:

  • Nintendo - It’s the reason handheld gaming is where it’s at today, and has remained a household name in video games for almost 40 years.
  • Valve - It made its name with a PC game called Half-Life, but as the creator of the Steam Deck, it’s one of the few companies pushing the limits of what handheld gaming can be.
  • Microsoft - With mountains of money, Microsoft succeeded in becoming a big player in console gaming with the Xbox, but it’s also at the forefront of what the future of gaming could be with the Xbox Cloud Gaming service.
  • Nvidia - The company’s GeForce NOW game streaming service is the only real rival to Microsoft’s offering, now that Google has taken its Stadia ball and gone home. Will the company introduce its own hardware to lure players to its service?
  • Google - A company notorious for killing off popular services that aren’t as successful as it thinks they should be. Does the death of Stadia mark the end of Google’s game streaming ambitions, or is there a replacement already in the works?
  • Razer - The Razer Edge is one of the most highly anticipated handhelds of 2023, but the company has actually been working to improve mobile gaming for years now with its snap-on smartphone controllers, including the recent Razer Kishi V2 Pro. Will we see even more mobile gaming hardware announced in 2023?
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A Longshot Bet:

After tip-toeing into making its biggest money-makers available on iOS and Android mobile devices with games like Super Mario Run and Mario Kart Tour, Nintendo is going to jump into game-streaming head first with a service that will put Breath of the Wild on your smartphone amongst other devices. Joystick drift isn’t a thing if you abandon hardware completely.