Microsoft Vita? It could happen
17th Jun 2011 | 15:55
Even though Nintendo's Wii U seemed dominant at E3, it was actually portable gaming that came out on top.
Thrusting its head above water in what seemed like the dying moments, it took one last desperate gasp of air and happened on a lifesaving hunk of driftwood. Portables may still be struggling against the pull of choppy waters but I think conditions are about to improve and it won't be long before the handheld market is bobbing on a lilo in the sun, cocktail in hand.
That's when Team Xbox will get distracted from its game of Kinect beach volleyball, look out across the serene surf and start to fish out the Speedos. Those of you who print off all of my opinion pieces and read them before bed (hi Mum) will know that I've skirted around this issue before.
I also dismissed the idea of Microsoft entering the portable market pretty quickly as a bad one for gamers. At the time I felt like the combination of the Nintendo 3DS and the PlayStation Vita (then NGP) provided a rarely seen balance in the market. On the one hand we had Ninty's 3D mini-screen, with all the quality cartoon capers you can expect from the publisher and, on the other, Sony's much more photorealistic, FPS (and much more) ready machine.
Every corner of the hardcore market seemed catered for without too much toe-treading. Appreciation flooded through the CVG forums, washing away flaming competition, if only for a while. "Go and find your own friends, Microsoft," I wailed in not so many words. "Didn't anybody ever tell you three's a crowd?" The poor old green machine hadn't even asked to join the party. I must have been feeling paranoid that day.
Much like I am today, in fact. See, I've started fidgeting again, worrying about the prospect of Microsoft clambering into the portable pedalo. I can feel its eyes on the back someone's neck, even if it isn't mine.
I know, I know. Microsoft has even gone as far to snub any handheld intentions in the past but when you think about it, the prospect might soon become far too tempting. The PlayStation Vita is now on the final countdown to launch with some massive titles under its belt and Mario has at last made it to the 3DS party, a little out of breath and tipsy on pre-drinks.
Combined, the 3DS and Vita have managed to muster at least as much anticipation as the Wii U if not a tad more. But Wii U has a part to play here as well because, in a way, it comes with yet another Nintendo handheld. That's right, I'm talking about that ever so slightly confusing controller.
It may not have its own standalone titles beyond a few simple mini-games, but the Wii U can still deliver a handheld experience on top of the 3DS as well as interact in a multitude of ways with full-fat triple A titles on the larger console.
Strangely, that larger console is a part of this perfect storm as well. What's important is the fact that, as soon as Nintendo announced this new level of revolutionary console interaction, Sony came out and said it could do something similar with the PS3 and PlayStation Vita. In fact, even Nintendo implied it would be able to copy... erm... itself by making the 3DS communicate with the Wii U as well.
All of a sudden we don't have a focus on the main consoles with a couple of smaller boxes thrown in to the ring as a side show, we have a network of devices interacting with eachother and challenging developers to be creative.
It's not just about the handhelds in isolation any more. What Nintendo and Sony offer has all of a sudden much wider, especially when you consider a lot of PS3 gamers will be able to take their home console games on the move with PS Vita save game transferring next year.
And developers could be the real difference here. Right now Sony and Nintendo are going to be occupying the largest chunk of third-party brains, not simply because they have exciting new products to toy with but because they represent more opportunity, creative as well as financial.
In comparison, the Microsoft corner looks increasingly narrow both to consumers and developers. Kinect does one thing, the 360 does another; that's a really strong hand in a direct console v console battle but, by the time E3 shut its doors this year, the battle lines had been redrawn.
The platforms are no longer confined to their separate weight classes. The PlayStation Vita can work hand-in-hand with the PS3 and the Move to wow customers. The 3DS, Wii U and the Wii could potentially combine efforts to provide brand new experiences. The 360/Kinect tag-team is starting to look a bit outnumbered.
The tide is turning for handhelds and Nintendo and Sony are already heading in the right direction. If Microsoft wants to occupy the same waters, it's going to need to deploy a third sail to keep itself from slipping out to sea.