Unbutton This: Portable Gaming In A Buttonless Future

When it comes to handhelds, most people ask the same question: how long until companies go 100 per cent digital?

We, on the other hand, decided to go one step further: when will hardware manufacturers ditch buttons entirely?

If you’re on the Nintendo and/or Sony side of the fence, the concept of a portable system without buttons probably sounds preposterous.

For iPhone and iPad owners, it’s a way of life. Millions have adapted to devices that lack traditional d-pads, face buttons and triggers while enjoying hundreds of quality games purely based on tilt and touch.

Thing is, not once have we yearned for the press of a B button, the tangible feel of plastic and the subsequent depression as we push it with our thumbs.

Simple to use. Elegant. Portable.

If anything, buttons get in the way of innovation. Now, it’s all about gyroscopes and touch screen feedback, not cheap inputs that have been around for more than 30 years; taking into account the birth of arcades and consoles.

This is why we feel bad for Sony, as the publisher finds itself in a far worse position than Nintendo. Sony wants to compete with 3DS, but also smart phones. Thus, we have the PlayStation Vita, a portable system that is by far the most confusing in history, at least to casual and non-gamers. How the company plans to market the machine (which supports buttons as well as two touch inputs and a gyroscope, among other features) remains to be seen.

To that, we say nix buttons entirely. There’s no point having them on a handheld. One could argue that doing this would cripple the amount of portable first person shooters, but come on. Name one portable FPS that changed the industry or deserved tons of fanfare. Besides, developers continue to make strides in the advancement of virtual analogue sticks, but we’d argue that first person shooters don’t even belong on these types of systems, even 3DS.

PlayStation Vita is part iPhone, part PSP and equally parts intimidating.

For Nintendo fanatics, a loss of buttons would spell doom for the likes of ZeldaMario and Pokemon, right?

Absolutely not. If anything, it would inspire Nintendo to dream up new and exciting ways to play, despite the fact that numerous role-playing and adventure games exist on the App Store, all of which work just fine with virtual d-pads and buttons, a fine substitute for the real thing.

Bottom line, simplicity is just one of the reasons why people love playing video games like Angry Birds on the iPhone and iPad. The barrier for entry is so low that they get the hang of controls within minutes.

With 3DS, having buttons means sacrificing the potential for a larger touch screen.

Even better, consumers receive a much bigger screen, since companies don’t need to place buttons around it.

Most importantly, a new generation of players will grow up in an era where touch and tilt become the standard. Once that happens, you can kiss those cheap pieces of plastic goodbye.

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