Nintendo's 3DS sales are strong but we're witnessing the end of the gaming handheld

New Nintendo 3DS

The 3DS may no longer be the spring chicken it once was, but there's life in Nintendo's handheld yet as it's been announced that the handheld has just passed 60 million sales worldwide.

The news that its console has sold over four times the amount of its closest competitor, the PlayStation Vita, should be reassuring to Nintendo but it's clear that the handheld market is no longer what it once was.

For comparisons sake, the DS and PSP had sold around 125 million and 50 million units respectively, meaning this handheld generation has seen just under half of the sales of the last.

Mobile killed the handheld star

In light of this drop it's not surprising that neither Sony nor Nintendo is even hinting that they might one day bring another handheld console to market.

In fact Nintendo is instead throwing its weight behind gaming on mobile phones with the recently released Miitomo, and has mobile versions of Pokemon, Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem on the way soon.

From Desert Golfing to Monument Valley and Hitman Go, mobile gaming has seen some excellent titles come its way. The days of half-baked versions of Solitaire are thankfully behind us.

But it's hard not to miss the days of the 'proper' handheld game, portable versions of Motorstorm, Ratchet and Clank and Uncharted that attempted to bring a full console experience to you while you wiled away a long train or plane journey.

The biggest success stories on handheld have always been the more casually focussed titled like WarioWare and Lumines, but I've always had a soft spot for the games that felt too big for handheld, the games that were impossible to play for short spurts on the bus, but that took on a life of their own when you had a long journey to kill.

The end of big mobile games?

My fondest handheld memory is for Persona 3 Portable, Atlus' port of its 100 hour JRPG masterpiece that was originally released on the PlayStation 2.

When I found myself facing an hour long commute every day for three months one summer, P3P was there to entertain me for the entirety of my train ride.

It's complexity kept me far more engaged than any mobile game ever could. I'd get stuck in boss battles that would last an entire train ride, or get sucked into crafting menus and become completely blind to the world around me.

One day I sat down with my PSP only to look up what felt like a moment later to find myself pulling into my destination.

Another day I was so involved with the story mission I was undertaking that I got to work and immediately locked myself in the bathroom for ten minutes to finish a battle sequence.

Our mobile future

But now as mobile gaming takes over, the era of the massive handheld game is unlikely to continue. Mobile games are good for games with simple controls that can be played for a quick five minutes, not the hours I used to spend on my PSP.

Disappointingly, the one attempt to combine a mobile phone with the handheld console, Sony's Xperia Play was met with a muted response and the experiment has not been repeated since.

I'm not one to claim that mobile gaming isn't fun or engaging. I loved 80 Days and still occasionally dip into a couple of rounds of Desert Golfing.

But it seem that for the time being at least that this is the end of the era of the massive handheld game. An end to the Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walkers and Person 3 Portables, the Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories and the Daxters.

At least we've got another Pokemon game to look forward to. That'll take the edge off somewhat.

Jon Porter

Jon Porter is the ex-Home Technology Writer for TechRadar. He has also previously written for Practical Photoshop, Trusted Reviews, Inside Higher Ed, Al Bawaba, Gizmodo UK, Genetic Literacy Project, Via Satellite, Real Homes and Plant Services Magazine, and you can now find him writing for The Verge.