Nintendo and Sony recently added what are more or less welcome additions to their line-up of handhelds. Sony also surprised consumers with its reveal of Vita TV; a clever little box that will enable gamers the ability to stream videos, PS4 games, PSP games, and PSone games. Ignoring the limiting amount of onboard storage, the device’s ability to play Vita games offers an enticing entry point for would-be Vita gamers at the low price of $100. It’s a respectable way of expanding “Vita” to be a brand and not just a handheld that got a lukewarm reception. Couple that with the $129.99 2DS, a hinge-less, 3D-less 3DS, and the handheld market seems to be switching gears to afford consumers options. But the sudden about-face on the part of both companies seems to have some gamers feeling irritated. Have Sony and Nintendo essentially flipped-off early adopters of this generation of handhelds? Will a fragmented market bring you turmoil? Well, it depends on how well the units sell and how much you liked the 3DS and Vita to begin with.
A compelling feature of the 3DS lies in its, well, proper utilization of 3D. The Star Fox remake springs to mind as a title that saw impressive gains in the presence of 3D. The upcoming Link to the Past sequel, A Link Between Worlds, will also employ interesting use of 3D, as Link sports the ability to become a 2D painting within the game world.
One of the most compelling features of the Vita lies in its non-button control options. Games that have already been released on Vita are hit or miss regarding compatibility with the new device. Some of the more popular titles such as Uncharted, Gravity Rush, and Hot Shots Golfs will not work well, or at all, on the new device. Games that rely heavily on motion or touchscreen controls will lose essential parts of gameplay when transferred to the Vita TV.
Sony does intend on countering the problem in some ways, allowing the DualShock 3 Sixaxis controller to handle some of the gyro controls of the Vita while also allowing gamers to click in R3 and L3 to bring up a pointer that will enable clumsy handling of only some of the touchscreen features. Almost all of the original Vita hardware reviews praised the utilization of the rear touchscreen, so it’s depressing to see it overlooked in this next iteration of the Vita.
Perhaps you’re thinking, “So what?” or, “Wait…can’t gamers choose the console they want depending on how highly they value these features?” Well, yeah. Consumers can, and there is certainly a decent back library of titles that will satisfy all parties. But going forward, we should consider the interests of developers, who have also been given options: use all the features, potentially in innovative and engaging ways, or alienate a portion of their demographic?
Basically, if Vita TV and the 2DS sell well enough to become a viable consideration for developers, they may be forced to appeal to the lowest common denominator when developing software. I fear an era where games may have enhanced features for the Vita that are translated poorly to the Vita TV, if they’re present at all, such as dumbed down versions of the touch features that hinder the game contrary to the original intent. With Sony’s push for indie titles, I worry that we may be missing out on some exceedingly unique titles. Of course, indie devs may have more freedom to ignore the Vita TV altogether, so we’ll see the direction that goes in.
Meanwhile, I wonder why the touchscreen-enabled DualShock 4 controller will not be compatible with the tiny console at launch. It seems like that could help smooth over one of the largest shortcomings of Vita TV. The fact that a Vita itself can be used as a separate controller doesn’t help relieve any of the frustration, either, because the price of the handheld, in addition to the price of Vita TV, makes it an unlikely option for a majority of consumers: a majority of consumers who have already shown a lack of interest in the Vita itself.
The long and short of it is this: The handheld market is doing an about-face, and fans of its old direction may be out of luck. In terms of business, it makes sense, because the Vita isn’t exactly successful, and the 2DS will actually engage a whole new audience for Nintendo. But for fans of the old direction, I fear you may be out of luck. The market has voted, and the corporations have responded in kind. The world just isn’t ready for “gimmicks.”