Is it time the Xbox brand went portable?

Why taking the lucrative step of opening up its suite of ready-made downloadable content for on-the-go gamers is a logical choice for Microsoft.

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The Independent Tech

 

As I sat and played Fez, Polytron’s rather fantastic platformer as recently released on Xbox Live Arcade (review to follow shortly), from the comfort of my sofa, my thoughts turned – it being a Sunday – to work; more precisely to the tangled intersections of overland and underground rail travel that lay in wait for me.

Anyone to have played Fez for themselves might indeed have noticed the marked correlation between the interwoven connections of the game’s stages and the chaos of London’s infrastructure – lucky for Gomez, Fez’s unassuming hero, he doesn’t also have to deal with the chaos arising when overpopulation and a creaking public transport system collide.

But how much more bearable would Monday’s commute be if I could take Fez with me, to while away those delays at dreaded red signals and mitigate the unpredictable wait for connecting trains? ‘Not so’ says the man at Microsoft, presumably happy to let Apple, Android, Nintendo and Sony do battle for hearts and minds on the go – but wouldn’t Fez, and indeed the majority of XBLA releases, work perfectly on a handheld?

Take for example the unassuming size of your average XBLA release, with Xbox 360 hard drive space at a premium for most users Microsoft have been keen to keep the size of their machine’s download-only content on the small side, another convenience if and when it comes to porting that content to a handheld device.

Then there’s the bite-size nature of much of Arcade’s releases, a perfect fit for portable gamers who might not have time to make a distant save point before their final stop. The likes of Bastion, Shadow Complex, Joe Danger, Limbo, War of the Worlds, et al, all presenting forgiving modes of play with autosave points in abundance, and all without long, drawn-out plot expositions which so pad-out home console releases (we’re looking at you Metal Gear Solid).

With Sony’s PSP, and more recently PS Vita, Microsoft at least has a tester out there to see how such a device might work. Sony’s machines are at their cleverest when used in conjunction with PS3, with an increasing number of PSN titles including versions compatible with both home and portable consoles.

A similar system whereby XBLA games are compatible across devices – something akin to Blu-Ray discs shipping with a bundled DVD and digital copy of the same movie – which then synch your progress would not only give the user incentive to buy, but also ensure players find the time to actually get through to the end of their purchase.

What kind of shape might such a device take? Well, who knows what novelties the unofficially coined Xbox 720 might bring. While almost certain to contain some sort of integrated Kinect-type technology, there’s no saying the technology giant will stop there – and surely the lucrative step of opening up its suite of ready-made downloadable content for on-the-go gamers seems a logical choice.

Whether that’s through an extension of the domestic console itself (something along the lines of Wii U), or a separate (but compatible) portable console, or even a licensing agreement with a third party, is up for debate. Whatever the case, isn’t it about time that Xbox fans got their chance to play their favourites whenever, and wherever, they want?

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