The landscape in video games is always shifting. Generally these shifts are predictable and welcome. However, when we look at handheld video games, the emerging environment is one in which a classic tenant of games is dragging its feet to the guillotine.
Handheld games have never held the main market share in the video game industry, but they have always been too significant to ignore. It’s for this very reason that Sony decided to hop into the handheld game years after they could have or should have. There was a gap to fill that Nintendo—banging their head against Game Freak’s door asking for more Pokémon—wasn’t fulfilling. But now it looks as if Sony will soon be the lone wolf in the handheld sphere, going head to head with the juggernaut that is the iPhone 4S.
Can the Vita hold its own against something that already resides in so many pockets? Is there a possibility that another company could get into the game? We take a look-see at these and other questions while we analyze the future of handheld games.
The future of the 3DS is shaky at best. Right out of the gate it was clear that the system was going to struggle, and only months after its release, the price dropped from $250 to $169, reflecting poor sales numbers. A number of factors have contributed to the lackluster fan reception of the 3DS including inadequate developer support, god-awful battery life, and a simple lack of options exacerbated by only having one joystick and limited graphics.
The 3DS has fallen victim to the classic Nintendo trap – innovating but not advancing. By adding glasses-free 3D, Nintendo fulfilled a decades-long dream first experimented upon with the Virtual Boy. Unfortunately, the system itself doesn’t offer nearly enough to attract the major developers it needs to succeed. Fortunately, this may be changing as Nintendo is making desperate attempts to salvage the system.
After the price drop, Nintendo announced an add-on that, while ridiculously stupid, represents a step in a positive direction. By adding an additional joystick, the 3DS will be easier to port games to from the PSP or Vita, as well as drawing more developers who actually like to use both axes. What the add-on really represents is the death knell for a stunted system and the inevitable upcoming 3DSi, with two joysticks, extended battery life and a collection of games people actually want to play. So for anyone looking to update their DS, I’d recommend holding out for a 3DS that doesn’t suck.
I’m man enough to admit that I’ve had trouble getting on board with any Sony products since the PlayStation 2. Yes, I love my PS3 and my PSP, but I’m not in love with them. However, I can definitely see myself falling head over heels for the PlayStation Vita. The Vita takes care of all of my requirements for a long-term relationship:
Sony has a long and storied history of developers who are definitely on board to make more games and the Vita isn’t doesn’t require a massive leap for developers such as a full shift to 3D. This doesn’t mean the Vita fails to innovate; in fact by adding another joystick, motion control, a touchscreen, and a touchpad on the back of the system—thereby finally utilizing the pinky and ring finger for video games—Sony has guaranteed many more options and possible games for the system. Not to mention the option of AT&T 3G, which means it can do just about anything on earth except make a phone call. Unless, you know, it had Skype…which it does.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, even if no one released a single game for the Vita, it would still be worth buying. The added capabilities mean its uses expand even further from just playing games and surfing the web. Add to this the slew of already-announced titles and you have just about the only handheld gaming system worth buying.
What can be said about the iPhone 4S that you don’t already know? It’s one of the single most impressive pieces of hardware ever made. It serves as an exclamation point to Steve Jobs’ incredible life. And as much as it kills me to say it; it’s the future of handheld gaming.
Although core video game players are loath to admit it, the iPhone has been turning grandfathers and soccer moms alike into “gamers” for years now. Just like Farmville, Angry Birds is in fact a video game, and every person playing it is now—for better or worse—a part of our ranks. Apple certainly realized this and made a serious effort to turn the iPhone 4S into the best gaming phone since the N-Gage.
With the capability for voice commands, motion controls, a touch screen and one of the most frequented online store in the world, the iPhone 4S simply cannot fail. Add to this the fact that Apple is actively boosting their game offerings by supporting more serious games like Chair Entertainment’s Infinity Blade and its upcoming sequel, and you have yourself what very well could be the last man standing in the handheld console war.
A new entrant to the market?
Perhaps the iPhone doesn’t have to be the end of handheld gaming. The only thing the field needs is fresh blood and there are a few companies that would be perfect contestants.
Yes, I know this is a brilliant moniker, but—full disclosure—it may have been inspired by overconsumption of alcohol. Microsoft has more than enough resources and capabilities to create a handheld gaming system to dovetail with the 360. As longtime supporters of cloud gaming, having a handheld Xbox as part of the Windows Media Center family would be a welcome addition for Microsoft. Streaming games from an Xbox over a Wi-Fi connection, watching Netflix or syncing with your home PC would all be sexy possibilities for a handheld Xbox..
Kindle Fire/iPad 2,3,4,5
Hopefully I’m not the only person welcoming the addition of an actual competitor to the tablet industry. The Kindle Fire, utilizing Google’s Android OS and weighing in at a reasonable $199 is the perfect answer to Apple’s tablet juggernaut. What we can expect is to see between these two is a struggle that will hopefully benefit the gaming sphere. Though neither of these tablets is built primarily with games in mind, we can still expect to see a few developers spitting out some great cheap-bite games.