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Video Game Handheld War Part 11 September 11, 2014

Posted by Maniac in Histories, Video Game Handheld War.

When we last left the Video Game Handheld War, Sony launched their second dedicated gaming handheld platform in the form of the Playstation Vita and it was practically dead on arrival. The system and its peripherals were just too expensive at launch and many players believed that after Nintendo’s 3DS price drop, Sony would respond with one of their own and chose to wait. Even though the handheld’s biggest launch title, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, received some favorable reviews from the gaming press, in gamers’ minds it did not merit an investment in the product just yet. Stock of the Vita gathered dust on retail shelves for weeks. Everyone expected Sony to announce a price drop at E3 2012 but strangely it didn’t happen. To further hurt the Vita’s chances, Sony didn’t impress much in the form of any new Vita games at the show. The biggest takeaway we got from that show was Sony’s promise there would be Vita connectivity with future PS3 titles. While none of the mainstream press mentioned it at the time, I had seen a similar tactic years before. Nintendo had brought GameCube connectivity features to the extremely popular Game Boy Advance, hoping to increase sales of the floundering console. It may have sounded like a gimmick at the time, but Nintendo was able to do some pretty creative things with that connectivity feature in games like Four Swords Adventures and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. In hindsight, Sony was not able to do much with their connectivity plans. They were able to offer some decent features, like cross platform multiplayer for select games but that was about it. At least they were willing to offer cross platform digital purchases, ensuring any digital games purchased on different platforms would be playable on any Sony hardware a player owned without forcing their customers to rebuy the same game multiple times. While it was certainly very consumer friendly, to this day neither Nintendo nor Microsoft will allow software purchased on one platform to be played on a different platform without making you rebuy it, it didn’t add much to enhance the multiplatform gaming experience.

Nintendo meanwhile had a great E3. To show off how strong their handheld platform had gotten since it’s price drop, they dedicated a separate live show exclusively to show players all of the upcoming 3DS games and Nintendo had a lot of surprises ready for that show. Tons of new games were shown at the separate presentation hosted on the first day of E3 including New Super Mario Bros 2, Luigi’s Mansion 2: Dark Moon, and even a new Castlevania game. They also announced they were enhancing their digital download service capable of offering full retail titles for digital purchase. 3DS owners interested in purchasing all their retail games digitally would have done well to purchase a new High Capacity SD memory card, because Nintendo was planning to offer New Super Mario Bros 2 on digital download the same day and date with the game’s retail launch.

However Nintendo’s handheld release schedule for that year did not revolve entirely around the 3DS, there was one major release coming to the DS by the end of 2012. Well to be clear, there were actually two major releases for the end of 2012, Pokémon Black 2 and Pokémon White 2. That 2 is not a typo, these were the very first direct sequels to a Pokémon generation Nintendo ever released and continued the story of the fifth generation games. Nintendo was also planning to release two digital applications to the 3DS’s online marketplace which would tie into Pokémon Black & White 2‘s release, Pokémon Dream Radar and Pokédex 3D. So while the games would play just fine on the Nintendo DS for all current DS owners, 3DS owners would be able to download some extra applications which could enhance their gaming experience. Heck, the original Pokédex 3D application was totally free.

While the DS was still going strong, the PSP on the other hand was just plain dead. Retail stores, if they had any left over PSP games in stock, was trying to get rid of them at heavily discounted rates. If you were able to find them, games like The 3rd Birthday and Dissidia 012 would be at some pretty reasonable prices. It was also a great time to buy some last minute peripherals like spare batteries, earbuds, and tv out cables for the PSP because they would not be restocked.

With the PSP on the way out, the Vita needed to step up to the plate to keep retailer confidence. So what was next for the Vita in the form of new exclusive games? A new Resistance title. The Resistance franchise had garnered a dedicated following since Resistance: Fall of Man launched alongside the PS3. In fact, I believed that game was the best PS3 title until Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was released in 2007. Sadly, the franchise’s creator, Insomniac Games, had moved on and Sony had put the franchise in the hand of another developer to produce the Vita exclusive title, Resistance: Burning Skies. Sony put a lot of hype into promising great things from Burning Skies but when it launched in June 2012 reviews of the game ranged from lukewarm to abysmal and it was not the system seller Sony desperately needed. The aftermath of the game’s failure was so bad many are worried it may have killed the Resistance franchise.

As the summer progressed, Nintendo had another huge announcement ready to go, they were preparing to release their first hardware revision for the 3DS. That announcement shocked just about everyone, since it hadn’t been that long since the 3DS launched, but Nintendo was ready. The new 3DS was larger and would feature a larger screen, making the handheld’s 3D effect much easier to see. It would also have an improved battery for longer gameplay and standby times. Nintendo even got rid of the 3DS’s annoying collapsable stylus, instead the XL would come with a solid full sized stylus. The new handheld was called the 3DS XL and the price would be $199 US, still $50-100 less than what the Vita was selling for. It would even come stock with a 4GB SDHC card for storage, offering an improvement over the 2GB cards which came standard in the original 3DS. About the only problem gamers had with the XL was that it lacked a second analog stick, and the new form factor made the XL incompatible with the 3DS’s Circle Pad Pro peripheral. However, most 3DS games were designed around a single analog stick and proponents of the platform didn’t believe this was much of a problem. Current DSi and 3DS owners would even be able to fully transfer all their save data and purchased content to the 3DS XL without much issue, making it a logical upgrade in the minds of many Nintendo fans, and gaining the interest of gamers on the fence about investing in the platform.

The 3DS XL launched in August 2012. On the same day, Nintendo released the highly anticipated title New Super Mario Bros 2, the sequel to the DS’s biggest selling game, at retail. Just as promised, Nintendo made it the first 3DS retail game to have a day and date launch online, and gamers were happy to be offered the option. This was the kick off point of a revamped 3DS eShop, and more 3DS retail games would be coming to complement the NES, Game Boy, DSi and 3DS downloadable titles the service already offered.

To compete with the launch of the 3DS XL, Sony had…nothing. After the failure of Burning Skies, Sony was unable to bring Vita games to the platform at the same pace that Nintendo was getting games for the 3DS. Gamers were not adopting the platform if it wouldn’t offer games and developers weren’t willing to take a risk on a platform with such a low install base. About the only thing that was in store for the Vita in the immediate future were ports. Meanwhile Nintendo was swinging hard with regular releases for the 3DS on the horizon. As 2012 came to an end, not only was it clear that Nintendo was keeping its crown in the Video Game Handheld War, it was possible that the Vita no longer had any chance in being even remotely competitive against Nintendo for the rest of the handheld generation!

However, total dominance in the handheld space wasn’t good enough for Nintendo, and little did they know that as 2013 began, the conditions were right for Pokémania to have a resurgence not seen since the year 2000. All it needed was a little announcement by Pikachu to kick it off. Stay tuned, dear readers. I’ll share that story with you next time.


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