February 14, 2005 | Category:

Games, Part 4: Handhelds

Before Christmas, the Nintendo DS was released in Japan. Not just another handheld, it represents a real evolution in the way in which people will play games; the first genuine game-changer since the original Gameboy.

Here is a product that has been designed to give users a significantly new experience, by providing them with new toys in hardware from the eponymous dual screen, to the touch screen and stylus, to the microphone, and the wireless hardware. Already people are coming up with innovate uses for these. Band Brothers turns any nearby systems into instruments for mini jam sessions (only one copy of the game is needed, the rest are suppled wirelessly). The new Wario Ware game is as mad as ever, mixing candle-blowing games (through the mic) with snow-boarding (touch screen), and getting progressively sillier. Metroid: Hunters, although the controls are being re-jigged, should be using the touch screen for first person aiming, beating mice for accuracy.

The hardware and software deliver a revolutionary experience. The price point is right. Support is coming from all corners. Know what? It doesn’t matter a bit.

The Sony PSP is coming. It doesn’t do anything particularly new in terms of gaming. It plays games, it has wireless, it has memory cards, and it has a very nice screen (you need to see one of these in action to understand just how nice). It’s not better, it doesn’t do anything significantly new, but it will win.

When Sony breached the mass-market for gaming a few years ago, they guaranteed themselves years of success. Each new machine is hailed as magnificent, whether it looks like a black heater or not. It doesn’t matter if it’s notoriously hard to develop for, or the controller is really quite poor and not up to scratch compared to a competitor’s previous generation. They can make it kill the battery in 2-3 hours and people will still clamour for it (as is the case with several prominent PSP launch titles). Until Sony shoot themselves in the foot through bad marketing (unlikely) or being stupidly restrictive with licensing (Nintendo’s own folly, but certainly more likely), they will own it.

Sadly, the masses equate Sony with cool and Nintendo with kids. No amount of revolution will take the crown.