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The Video Game Handheld War Part 8 September 25, 2013

Posted by Maniac in Histories, Video Game Handheld War.
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As we enter this eighth part of our History of the Video Game Handheld War, we’re going to continue our discussion of the Sony PSP and Nintendo DS generation.  The reason why I’ve chosen to break this particular generation into so many different parts of this ongoing series is because unlike most of the previous generations before it, a lot of events transpired during this past generation.  New hardware was getting released regularly, and the popular franchises that were coming over to the platforms were big events.  Each side constantly tried to one-up the other, but as we enter this latest part, the Nintendo DS was still far ahead of the Sony Playstation Portable.

The year was 2007 and Sony had just shipped a brand new model of the Playstation Portable, the PSP-2000, but many just simply dubbed it the PSP Slim.  By all intents and purposes it was an improvement over the original PSP, and immediately after launch, gaming journalists discovered that the games played on the PSP Slim enjoyed much shorter load times.  However, the PSP Slim was not without its problems as some players would find issues with the Slim’s LCD screen, and complaints of image ghosting started to spread.  However, the PSP Slim’s TV-out feature, which was compatible with both SD and HDTVs, made the ghosting issue a bit of moot point.

At around the end of 2007, Sony released their final first-party title for the Playstation 2, God of War II.  The game was the sequel to one of the PS2’s most critically acclaimed games, and it became one of the highest anticipated releases of the year, and one of the best selling on the PS2 that season.  While the game ended with a cliffhanger, the game’s manual hinted at the possible future of the series.  Gamers saw there was an advertisement for the next God of War game which made it clear that the series would be coming to the Playstation Portable.

Once again, just like with Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories, instead of jumping in excitement that one of Playstation’s most iconic franchises was getting a new title released on a portable platform, gamers complained like crazy that it wasn’t coming to a platform they already owned, like the Playstation 2.  However, when God of War: Chains of Olympus finally launched on the Playstation Portable, it got a huge critical response and many critics remarked just how well God of War’s core gameplay was able to be brought over to the Playstation Portable.  While it did not resolve the cliffhanger left at the end of God of War II, it served as an exciting prequel story which further fleshed out God of War’s characters, and had a pretty exciting ending to boot.  Players who picked it up were not disappointed, and the game became a hot seller.

In 2008, Nintendo decided that the time was right for a new DS revision.  The early buzz was that Nintendo was going to release a larger DS Lite model, but Nintendo chose to go a different route.  Once again, Nintendo was releasing a smaller and lighter model DS which would have slightly larger dual screens, but that wasn’t all.  This new model DS would also feature a dual camera system, giving players the chance to take digital pictures or to use the cameras during gameplay, and because of that, the new handheld revision was dubbed the DSi.  The downside was that the DSi would not feature a GBA slot, and any peripherals that would take advantage of it (including the required adapter for Guitar Hero: On Tour) would no longer be compatible.  This angered some of the DSi’s early adopters, as well as Nintendo loyalists planning to upgrade, but by this point Nintendo was no longer selling Game Boy Advance games, and most retailers were no longer stocking GBA games either.

With the release of the DSi came the end of the long reign of the Game Boy brand, one of the most successful hardware platforms of all time.  The DSi, like the DS Lite and Game Boy Color before it, once again shipped in multiple colors which offered players a small way to personalize their systems.  In Japan, the platform was a huge hit at launch, both from new customers and from already existing DS players who wanted to upgrade.  Nearly all of the launch units solid immediately.  When it finally launched in America, it shipped in two colors, a first for the region.

Reviews of the system were widely positive.  While the addition of the extra cameras wouldn’t win the DSi any major awards for great technical achievements, the DSi’s new online DSiware store alone made the upgrade worth the price.  While Nintendo chose to only release DSiware exclusive content and not full retail games through the service, the service was very successful and it gave Nintendo the opportunity to release new DSi content on a regular basis.  While the device only shipped with a finite amount of memory, Nintendo included an expansion slot for SD cards, which would allow users to hold more memory.  The downside was that the DSiware content was region locked, unlike retail DS game cards, and like the Wii, DSi purchases were locked to the individual handheld device.

Unfortunately, everything still wasn’t going well for the PSP.  By 2008, the UMD Video bubble had finally burst.  Far too wide a range of videos were getting released and the PSP’s market share was not large enough to buy all the titles that were being offered.  With Walmart having ended their support years earlier, the UMD Video market had started to stagnate.  On top of that, UMD was seeing a heavy competition on a medium without a physical format.  Apple’s iTunes store was offering digital downloads of movies ever since Apple released a color version of their highly successful iPod and with removable media overtaking the storage capacity of what could be held in a UMD, gamers decided that downloading multiple movies to a portable device instead of carrying around physical media was the better option.

Sony released one more incremental hardware revision to the PSP in the form of the PSP-3000.  By all intents and purposes, it was another PSP Slim, but it featured a slightly improved screen which lessened the ghosting images that many complained was a problem with the PSP-2000.  It was also compatible with nearly all of the PSP-2000’s peripherals, including the battery, Skype headset, and TV Out cables.

However, I would be remised to talk about the other big elephant that had entered the handheld space by this point, and that is the rise of the Smartphone and by 2009, both Sony and Nintendo had to sit back and take notice.  Smartphones had already hit the market with huge success, and it became clear very early that something like a brand-new iPhone could have just as much gaming capability as a portable game system could.  An iPhone user could wirelessly download anything they wanted to their phone in just a matter of minutes.  Previously, Sony had been one of the largest cell phone manufacturers in the world, and they saw this digital download craze as something they could bring to the Sony PSP in the form of an entirely new PSP hardware revision.  Would they succeed?  That’s a story for next time.

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