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The Video Game Handheld War Part 6 September 7, 2013

Posted by Maniac in Histories, Video Game Handheld War.
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The latest Video Game Handheld War was in full effect and the Nintendo DS had struck first blood.  Pretty soon, Nintendo had a hit in the handheld market with the release of Nintendogs, which did a great job in getting players to adopt the format and would go on to become one of the best selling titles for the entire DS platform.

On the other hand, all was not going well for the PSP.  After a successful launch, Sony’s PSP sales started to slow down.  Gamers knew their major problem was that they had a much more expensive platform with only a few titles that could take advantage of it.  While the DS had the same problem, it could rely on its Game Boy Advance slot to appease players until the DS library was expanded, which could play any Game Boy Advance game without much of a problem, a smart move on Nintendo’s part as they were still releasing new titles for the Game Boy Advance for some time even after the DS’s release.

The PSP on the other hand was seeing decent sales for PSP versions of their more popular franchises, and to everyone’s surprise, gamers found something special included with their copies of Wipeout Pure.  Some industrious players discovered that the game’s DLC menu functioned very similar to a webpage, and they determined that with a little ingenuity, they could get the PSP to visit any webpage they wanted to without the need to alter the system in any way!  Players were excited at the chance to have a mobile web browser that could run off a wireless internet connection, and the PSP could do it.  Not too long after the browser was discovered in Wipeout, Sony officially updated the PSP’s firmware using the device’s WiFI connection and made the platform’s Internet Browser accessible from the system’s menu.  Sony didn’t charge any extra for the update and all PSP’s were able to download and install it.  This kind of development was quite common for PC users to expect, but nearly unheard of on a gaming platform, let alone a portable one!

The UMD movie format was a very surprising development in the early days of the PSP.  Sony noted that they had a lot of success at launch by choosing to bundle copies of the Spider-Man 2 movie with the PSP on the UMD format.  A lot of early PSP adopters were choosing to buy the system just so they would have a way to watch movies while on the go in near DVD quality.  Unlike the game component of UMD, Sony chose to release the movie specifications for the format openly, allowing any movie studios who wished to release content on the format the opportunity to do so.  A lot of different movie studios showed interest in releasing content for the portable platform, but they were cautious about moving too much content for a platform that could be just having a brief boom.  If the format failed, the studios stood to lose a lot of money in the costs of unsold manufactured discs.

On UMD video’s official launch date only two movie studios were willing to invest in the UMD movie format at launch, Disney and Sony Pictures.  Some launch titles for the format included recent hits from the studio’s back catalog including Hellboy: Director’s Cut and Kill Bill Vol. 1, and to everyone’s surprise the format had a great launch.  The studios did a great job by picking some popular titles for the format’s launch, expecting that many gamers would be interested in rebuying their movies to play them while on the go.  Picture quality was pretty good on the PSP’s screen, and while Sony chose to release their films on a cropped widescreen format to fit them to the PSP screen, Disney decided to release their films in full widescreen, and let the user choose for themselves how they wanted to display them.

Game developers had more power to spare with the PSP’s system architecture and they were ready to release some titles that would truly take advantage of everything the PSP could do.  Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories may have seemed like it would be a smaller game, but it turned out to be a full fledged open world prequel to Grand Theft Auto 3.  All of Liberty City was completely recreated in detail, and while many players wished the PSP had a second analog stick, the camera control worked very well.  Planet Moon Studios, who had announced around the time of the PSP reveal that they would be a PSP exclusive studio, released Infected.  All of the great humor that Planet Moon had been known for was intact, even though this would be the most violent game that Planet Moon had worked on to date,

While the PSP was trying to make it clear to gamers they could produce a console experience on a handheld device, Nintendo knew they had a handheld system with a unique control system and display, and they were going to make every one of their games to be a unique DS experience.  In late 2005, Nintendo released Animal Crossing: Wild World, a portable entry in their widely successful Animal Crossing series and one of the first games to take advantage of Nintendo’s Wi-Fi Connection, which allowed DS players to play their games online.

Both the PSP and the DS systems were selling.  The games that were coming to the platforms were getting critical hits, but Sony just couldn’t shake the fact that the DS was far less expensive, and had a unique control system that people were enjoying.  Sony decided to release a special bundle for the holiday season that would include a PSP with a whopping 1GB Memory Stick.  The bundle cost $299 US, but this was in a time when flash memory was very expensive, and some people thought of it as a decent deal since they would need to have a Memory Stick with decent storage capacity in order to get the most out of the PSP’s capabilities.

The first year had ended and the Nintendo DS was still ahead of the Sony PSP.  While Sony was still behind in the first year, the UMD format was a surprising success and more movie studios, including Warner Bros, were starting to release movies for the PSP alongside their DVD versions.  But this war was just beginning, and both Nintendo and Sony had a lot more planned for the road ahead.  Stay tuned for next time, when we talk about Nintendo’s first major hardware revision to the Nintendo DS, and how Sony’s UMD bubble finally burst.

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