The next couple of years could well be an exciting time for the gaming public. Not only are the current generation of consoles at the top of their game, but the Wii U has just been announced, with all the new ideas that it will bring, and its announcement may well kick-start a rush between Sony and Microsoft to be the first to launch successors to the PS3 and Xbox 360.
PC gaming could also see a resurgence, with the computer versions of this year’s releases such as Rage and Skyrim looking significantly prettier than their counterparts on consoles. Aside from all that, though, within the next six to nine months, the market place will see some new competition between handheld systems.
The 3DS, of course, has been on sale since March, and they’re everywhere you look. Aren’t they? It’s true that the launch didn’t quite have the resounding public impact that Nintendo may have hoped for, something that has largely been put down to a poor launch line up of games. Is that really the case, though?
Super Street Fighter IV 3D is readily accepted as being the only star in a dark void of averageness. Pilotwings, Nintendogs + Cats and Ridge Racer 3D are all decent games, but certainly not system sellers, and this is where the next few months are vital for the 3DS.
It’s difficult to see why Nintendo even chose the spring to sell its little 3D wonder. March was, of course, too late for Christmas presents (and probably even leftover Christmas money), and the lack of either family friendly or hardcore gamer friendly titles seems to have put a lot of people off the relatively high price tag.
Your affluent techie or gamer may well have purchased one at launch, but what I continually hear is that the allure of its Augmented Reality games and Streetpass functions have meant that, more often than not, these machines don’t even have a game in the slot. It has also been stated many times, but iPhone and, to a lesser extent, Android gaming has taken a lot of focus from dedicated handheld games machines. The 3D is a draw, and does genuinely impress, but for how much longer, once new glasses-free 3D devices become available?
Of course, all this could change very quickly. Most people forget that the original DS was a slow starter, and it wasn’t really until the lite version launched, along with a second wave of games including New Super Mario Bros, Brain Training, Nintendogs and Mario Kart DS, that sales really took off, and it became something as likely to be seen in a retirement home as it was in a playground or an office canteen.
For the 3DS, there are several games on the way that may excite people about the system again. You probably don’t need to know the titles, but I’m going to list them anyway. Kid Icarus: Uprising, Ocarina Of Time 3D, Star Fox 64 3D, Super Mario Bros, Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D, and Mario Kart 3DS.
It’s likely that most of these will be cast-iron classics, with Shinobi 3D, Resident Evil: Mercenaries and Sonic Generations also sounding interesting and potentially a step up from the launch games. That all of these titles are to be released within the next six months, with titles like Paper Mario, Luigi’s Mansion 2 and Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance on their way next year, is really quite staggering.
This Christmas could, in fact, be the ideal time to pick up a 3DS in the UK. The PlayStation Vita (don’t worry, I’m coming to that) will probably launch in the spring next year, a few months later than in Japan and the US, but it will be very much on Nintendo’s horizon even in Europe.
Marketing wisdom would suggest that Nintendo would want to push as many 3DS systems into eagerly waiting hands to maximise game sales, and likely impact the sales figures of the Vita. After all, if you’ve just got a new handheld at Christmas, why would you buy another one three months later? I would predict a small official price reduction as well, and maybe even a games bundle. At £179.99 for the console, along with Mario Kart or Super Mario 3D, for example, would surely see sales improve, and would differ psychologically from the £229.99 price for a Wi-Fi Vita.
Ah yes, the Vita. I told you I’d come to that. A portable gaming powerhouse with specs roughly equivalent to a PS3. Who wouldn’t want one?
The system itself certainly seems well designed for gamers, with titles that look as good as early PS3 games, twin analogue sticks, front and rear touch panels and Sixaxis motion controls. What we’ve seen of the games so far indicates a merging of traditional console gaming with new fads like augmented reality and multi-touch. This could be a winning strategy, as gamers have been complaining for years that genres like first person shooters are almost unplayable on handheld due to poor controls.Uncharted: Golden Abyss seems to be the poster boy for the launch of the machine, and if it isn’t there on day one I’ll eat my Playstation Move controller (I wouldn’t miss it much, to be honest). The graphics seem very reminiscent of the first game in the series, with novelties like tracing a route up a wall or rubbing an ancient map providing some sense of freshness.
Wipeout: 2048 is also a fair certainty for launch, and Wipeout games have always worked well on handheld consoles. Then we have Little Deviants, Sound Shapes and LittleBigPlanet, among others, which seem to use the new control options offered by the Vita well.
I’m certain that the Vita will impress on its launch, and that it will play host to a great many triple-A games in its lifetime. New Killzone, Call Of Duty and Resistance titles have also been announced. Another potential plus point is the backwards compatibility with PlayStation Store PSP games, and also games purchased through the new Playstation Suite service.
As a previous owner of both an original PSP and PSP Go (don’t laugh, I got 10 games free, okay?), this appeals a lot, as I will be able to play games I had given up, never played or forgotten about from a couple of years ago for free. Part of me asks why I never played them much in the first place, but at least I have the option to increase my Vita games collection straight away, even if I have to take out a second mortgage to fund a memory card large enough to hold them all.
As impressive as the Vita is, though, the question remains the same: who will buy it? It’s all very well for gamers to appreciate the graphics, have fun with the new control schemes and try out AR features, but who is going to pay the rather large figures to own one?
In that sense, on its launch next year, the Vita could run into the same problems as the 3DS. Handheld consoles are different from consoles by their very nature. Whereas the majority of 14 to 35-year-old males probably own a home console, they certainly aren’t all regular gamers. They’ll indulge in a spot of FIFA now and again, some online games of Call Of Duty, and a large number of them are happy. They certainly aren’t really the market for spending over £200 on a machine to carry around in their pocket that isn’t a phone.
I would certainly class myself as a big gamer, but even I don’t play handheld games that much. I take one with me when I’m travelling, or sometimes play one in bed or on the sofa when ,y wife is watching something on TV, but the vast majority of my gaming takes place on a TV screen. My phone (currently an Xperia Play, which I’ll be writing about soon) is really my main portable entertainment device.
Bearing that in mind, I need two things to convince me to buy a new handheld: a reasonable price, and games that excite me. Right now, I’m reserving judgement on which (if any) of these two machines will take my hard earned cash…