I've seen a lot of things happen in the game industry over the past 20 years, but one thing I never expected was a game company president cutting his salary by 50% because his new system is off to a slow start. That's exactly what happened in late July when Nintendo president Satoru Iwata announced a drastic reduction in the price of the Nintendo 3DS from $249 to $169 (effective August 12). Coming off the huge success of the Nintendo DS, the 3DS' early struggles show just how much has changed in the handheld gaming market over the past few years. Now, devices like the iPhone, iPad, and Android phones compete for your gaming dollars and sometimes offer even better graphics than what you can get on a Nintendo or Sony device.
Where is the handheld market heading? Below I'll give you a rundown of what's new for 3DS and DS later this year, and also preview the next big handheld that may come out by the end of 2011: Sony's PlayStation Vita.
NINTENDO 3DS & DS
A few months before release, I knew the 3DS was going to have some challenges. The hardware was interesting and unique with a great "wow" factor thanks to glasses-free 3D. But, there was a much bigger problem: a lack of good launch titles combined with overpriced games like Steel Diver. In truth, there still isn't a must-have 3DS game, although the recent re-release of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a great way to relive the Nintendo 64 classic. Still, besides launch games like Super Street Fighter IV 3D, the 3DS software lineup has been weaker than Princess Peach's pipe-cleaner arms. As a result, less than one million 3DS systems have been sold in America since March.
Mario arrives on the 3DS in November with Super Mario 3D Land.
One of the most inventive games set for Vita is Sound Shapes.
How does Nintendo plan to boost the system's fortunes? Look for what Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime calls a "rapid-fire succession of great games" due this fall. Specifically, these are the big titles for the holidays:
Super Mario 3D Land: Coming in November, Super Mario 3D Land is a blend of 3D gameplay and 2D Mario features like jumping on a flag pole to end a level. Many of Mario's famous suits will make appearances as well, including the Tanooki Suit from Super Mario Bros. 3 which let Mario fly through the air (but apparently he won't be able to turn into statue form). I recently had a chance to play an early build of this game at Comic-Con 2011, and it is classic Miyamoto. The 3D effect isn't particularly important to the gameplay, so much so that I found myself playing the game in 2D and having a lot of fun without the 3D gimmick.
Kid Icarus: First teased at E3 2010 when the 3DS was announced, Nintendo's Kid Icarus finally returns in an all-new game, nearly 20 years after the previous adventure. Based on Greek Mythology, this game stars Pit, an angel-like character who can battle enemies on the ground and in the air. The aerial combat is the big feature here, and it looks great in 3D as you fly around the screen and fire arrows and other weapons at a host of enemies, including the ultimate boss, Medusa. Kid Icarus is a game targeted at core fans who remember him from games like Super Smash Bros., but the actual gameplay is quite intuitive and straightforward for more casual gamers. Multiplayer is also supposed to be included in the final release.
Mario Kart 7: What would a Nintendo system be without a new Mario Kart game? You'll have to wait until December for Mario Kart 7, but this 3D entry in the series does have some great new twists in addition to the usual banana peels. First, there's a new hang glider attachment for karts along with more customization for tires and other car parts. Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto is also promising new underwater levels, which should change up multiplayer battles quite a bit.
If you haven't upgraded to a 3DS, the Nintendo DS still has a number of titles due for release later this year (and, if you upgrade to a 3DS, remember that the system is backwards compatible with DS cartridges). Big DS releases this year will include Kirby Mass Attack (September), which is a blend between a Kirby game and Lemmings. Here, you control a swarm of up to 10 Kirbys using the stylus. If you're a fan of adventure games you can also check out Professor Layton & the Last Specter, a prequel to the original hit adventure game set four years before the rest of the series. This brain-teasing game includes lots of logic puzzles. It was released in Japan a few years ago but is only now making its way to the U.S.
THE SONY VITA
Sony will be releasing the successor to the PSP sometime before April 2012 for only $249. So far, the actual release date for America is vague, although the PS Vita should at least be out in Europe or Japan by the end of December. In many ways, the Vita is a dream system for core gamers with two analog sticks, a touch screen, beautiful hi-def graphics, and 3G functionality via AT&T. But, since good PSP games have been few and far between, will the Vita have the games to back up the technology? It's too soon to tell, but Sony has made some impressive announcements so far, including news of a new Call of Duty game for Vita, as well as an original BioShock adventure from Irrational Games.
Here are my two favorite Vita games to keep an eye on, as both should hopefully be ready for the system on day one:
Uncharted: Golden Abyss: The screenshots look like they are from the PlayStation 3, but let me assure you that Uncharted: Golden Abyss is running on PS Vita. What I like about this game is that it's a full-blown Uncharted adventure with motion-captured cutscenes and lots of storytelling, all set before the events of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. While it remains to be seen how epic the action sequences will be on the Vita, the core gunplay and traversal gameplay felt solid when I went hands-on with Golden Abyss at E3 2011.
Sound Shapes: The screenshots might not look exciting, but let me assure you that Sound Shapes is a game you have to play and hear to understand. Created by Jonathan Mak, the man behind the whimsical and inventive Everyday Shooter for PSN, Sound Shapes is a puzzle game that turns music into levels. Simple rhythms are translated into platform game levels where you jump or move an object to the beat. Sound Shapes' biggest feature comes in the form of user creation. You can use the game's front and back touch pads to create levels and music which can then be shared online.
That's it for this month, but make sure to follow me inside the GameFly App or on Twitter @geoffkeighley. Next month, I'll take you through the must-have games for one of the busiest holiday seasons in gaming history!