One hardcore gamer’s unlikely journey to Nintendo’s softcore platform.
Consider my background. I’ve never owned a Game Boy, being something of a Sonic fan in my formative years; I’ve always selected games that looked and felt different with every console generation, instead of sticking with the familiar tubby plumber and his presumably Stockholm syndrome-suffering cretin of a princess. Not that I didn’t play Nintendo’s games every once in awhile and enjoy them. Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time hold a lot of cornerstone gaming memories for me, and there were always the after school sessions with Mario Kart 64 and the granddaddy of modern shooters, Golden Eye 007.
But overall I’m not exactly part of Nintendo’s core fan base, and when you’re a long time gamer who’s not a member of Nintendo’s core fan base the likelihood of you purchasing one of their machines – over companies you’re already familiar with and whose products you love – will most assuredly plummet.
Nevertheless… Here I sit, playing New Super Mario Bros. 2 and Sonic Generations in eye-stinging stereoscopic 3D. How the hell did this happen, I wonder, especially when I was looking up prices on the PlayStation Vita less than two months ago.
It turns out that I’m not alone, either. A fair few of us ‘hardcore’ gamers have started migrating to ‘softcore’ games, not least because Nintendo looked at the number of 3DS units they were selling and decided a price cut was in order. Between a hundred and thirty and a hundred and fifty pounds for a little handheld gaming system is a good fit for a lot of us who couldn’t be bothered to fork out a few hundred for a decent tablet device.
The last handheld system I bought was a PSP, a platform I’ve spent countless hours with and had no cause to regret purchasing. Sony are a great company for games, but when push came to shove and it was time to decide where to land my next investment in virtual entertainment I switched to Nintendo’s handheld machine. You see, the problem is almost the same as the one SEGA faced when they released their Saturn console back in the 90’s, in that Sony have relied far too heavily on their brand name.
There are other factors that drove me into the colourful and overtly cute realm of Nintendo, linked with this mistake.
First, the damage to our wallets: as I type these words the PS Vita commands a price of around two hundred to two hundred and thirty pounds sterling, nearly a hundred pounds more than the standard 3DS unit. I don’t doubt Sony’s technology is superior; there’s certainly much more scope for game development with the PS Vita with its leaning functionality and rear touchscreen, plus it looks absolutely gorgeous to the naked eye. But all I can see there is potential for greatness, rather than a superb machine with a strong line up of games. Plus, if I spend a little more than Sony’s asking price I could buy a good quality tablet PC, so why bother, right?
About two decades ago SEGA made almost exactly the same blunder, releasing the Saturn with a much higher price tag than their competitors (who, at that time, were Sony with the PlayStation) and a line-up of just a few mediocre games. Sony brought one of their staple franchises, Uncharted, to the fore of the PS Vita’s games line-up, along with Black Ops Declassified, but for some reason neither of these has me excited and reviews are somewhat ambivalent. Nintendo, on the other hand, have been reaping the profits of yet another Mario game and the ever-popular Mario Kart sequel.
SEGA weren’t as sensible with the Saturn as Sony have been with the PS Vita (there were no Sonic games at release) and through a series of ill-timed events (Sony’s entrance into the games market), circumstances (the Saturn was notoriously hard to program for) and marketing decisions (SEGA released their machine without giving Western developers early access) it wasn’t long before their console sank without a trace.
While Sony hasn’t come remotely close to the same ridiculous levels of this blunder, it’s very easy for us to look at the PS Vita and draw parallels as time goes on:
Why, at a time when developers and publishers aren’t exactly willing to take risks on making hard copy products they fear won’t sell, is Sony sticking resolutely to its guns and refusing to lower the asking price of its machine? It’s obvious a lot of us would buy one if we thought it was worth the money, but there’s a vicious circle starting up now where third-party developers are noticing a lack of traction on Sony’s device and are thus reluctant to commit to making anything for it.
It would be a shame to see the PS Vita flounder on the shelves for a couple of years only to vanish with just a few decent titles to its name. As a member of the ‘hardcore’ gaming crowd I can see a lot of potential in it and a lot of room to broaden its appeal, and what makes me annoyed is the fact that I would go out and buy one tomorrow if only it had more of a presence behind it. As it stands, the poor PS Vita comes off as a less than cheerful canary down a mineshaft. Developers and publishers have been attempting a lot of half-hearted or half-arsed projects lately, trying to find a point in the market where they can thrive, but we all know how well some of these have turned out. Look at THQ and their ‘uDraw’ tablet.
This is all sounding like I resent the fact that I chose a 3DS over a PS Vita, but I don’t; I’m having a great time playing on Nintendo’s platform and, to be honest, after all the ‘hardcore’ content I’ve been through on the Xbox and PlayStation models it makes for a welcome change.
What I’m expressing here is a desire to see Sony grab this opportunity to save their handheld device, first by lowering the price so it can compete with the 3DS, second by announcing a much stronger array of downloadable and hard copy content. Then – and only then – will the buyers come out to play and I will most certainly be among them.