It’s not my intention to start off on a dour note, but I confess to having a love-hate relationship with PlayStation’s apparent love-hate relationship with handhelds. The company kicked things off with the aptly named PlayStation Portable in 2004, followed later by the PS Vita in 2012. And despite its unceremonious end, you’ve probably heard a fair number of times that the Vita was ahead of its time. This was proven somewhat by the runaway success of the Nintendo Switch, and now once again with PlayStation announcing its own Project Q.
The PS Vita came around the time that smartphones were up and coming. And alongside it were mobile games, considered by many at the time to be the next frontier of gaming. On one hand, hindsight is 20/20 and the current cesspit of monetisation machines that is mobile gaming is bare for all to see, with real gems being few and far in between. But on the other, one can argue that it’s because some of the higher ups at Sony got a glimpse of the future, but didn’t brace hard enough for the passing tidal wave, that the Vita got washed away as a result.
Fast forward to 2017, and Nintendo launching the Switch. Beyond the detachable controllers and the dock for outputting to an external display, it does basically everything that the PS Vita does. But for Nintendo, the Switch was its primary piece of hardware, and therefore had plenty of first party titles to prop it up. Sony handhelds, on the other hand, would be lower in priority compared to the home consoles. And it didn’t matter anymore that this was a time where people are starting to see the mobile gaming market for the gravy train that it is.
Now, over a decade after the PS Vita was born, we see PlayStation unveil Project Q. This was announced not as the company’s third try at a handheld, nor is it a competitor to the Nintendo Switch, or portable PCs like the Steam Deck or ASUS ROG Ally. Instead, it will solely be a companion piece to the PS5, an accessory to Remote Play the console’s games. It can do only that one thing, which smartphones can already do with the Remote Play app.
Actually, it can do one thing that smartphones cannot. And that is providing all the magic of the DualSense controller while you’re gaming remotely, without needing the controller itself. Which, to say the least, is a hard sell at best. Because as much as the DualSense – specifically its features – is what really makes the PS5 next-gen, that feels too weak a justification to try to sell another piece of hardware. This is especially when you consider the fact that most people will have a smartphone that is capable enough to support Remote Play, and can achieve the same results with a third party DualSense phone mount.
Streaming is also not necessarily the best way to experience gaming for one simple reason – latency. Even when connected to the same WiFi network, and with the two pieces of hardware being in the same room as the router, you’d be hard-pressed to get a smooth experience consistently. While this can work fine for games that allow you to take your time like turn-based RPGs, you are basically guaranteed a frustrating experience for action games like Devil May Cry V or God of War.
So what we’re left with, as far as Project Q is concerned, is a piece of potentially expensive tech that does something that can already be done with existing hardware. This would have been fine if it could stand alone as a handheld gaming machine but, at least according to the recent PlayStation Showcase, it cannot. Ultimately, we’re left with hardware that cannot function without a PS5, and its one gimmick can be replicated with a DualSense phone mount. Sure, its price has not yet been revealed, but if it costs way more than a DualSense controller, then the value proposition is just not there.
Compared to the PS Vita which could both stand alone as well as serve as a Remote Play extension for the PS4, and we once again see the value of the handheld that came before. But in the end, it was doomed by a number of factors, from its timing against the mobile gaming market and the overwhelming success of the PS4. Unless Project Q ends up being able to stand alone as a gaming handheld, then all it will be is a reminder of that unfortunate fact.
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