Sony's PlayStation Vita emerged as a Japanese frontrunner from this week's Tokyo Game Show (TGS), leaving Nintendo in a dire situation with its intrinsically flawed 3DS.
Vita, the successor to portable gaming device PSP, was confirmed for a December 17 release in Japan at TGS, with two Sony presentations showing the company understands fully what a portable gaming device needs to be in the post-iPhone world.
Firstly, there are two versions. Both have WiFi, but the more expensive - £30 pricier at about £230 - has a 3G connection. Sony announced at the show that Vita's 3G, in Japan at least, would adopt a pay-as-you-go model, skirting the need for expensive user contracts.
The move differentiates the machine from iOS and Android phones, meaning it can be always-on in a way perfect for games: you pay up front for time online, not for data used.
Vita can be connected always and everywhere. 3DS has no 3G option at all.
Secondly, Sony has gone to great lengths to ensure Vita has a full suite of social networking apps, showing it's cognizant of the expectation to be able to tweet or update Facebook from any mobile device.
Thirdly, Vita is extremely powerful, far more so than iPhone 4 and competitive gaming handsets, and comes replete with just about every input imaginable; it has twin thumbsticks, physical buttons and even a laptop-style trackpad on its rear.
It clearly provides an experience you'll never get on a mobile phone, and in the current handheld gaming market that means everything in terms of survival.
Sony was strong in Tokyo this week, showing it's developed a strategy to enable to Vita to exist in a brutal market opposite the likes of Apple and Google.
Nintendo, on the other hand, has been caught woefully short in the mobile games space with 3DS, it's current console, and its TGS presentation did nothing to allay fears that the Japanese giant is facing a real disaster with the machine.
Following news that 3DS sales have tanked since it launched in March and Nintendo was to slash its price as a result, both gamers and the trade alike were looking to company president Satoru Iwata to announce game-changing moves in Tokyo: instead we saw the leader attempt to fix the broken handheld with lick and spit.
3DS only has one thumbstick compared to Vita's two. This means it's ill-equipped to play modern 3D games, which traditionally use the left stick to move the on-screen character and the right stick to move the game's camera. Following considerable push-back on the decision to leave off a second stick, Nintendo announced at TGS a frankly hideous plastic add-on, called the Slide Pad, in an attempt to bring 3DS up to date.
This won't work. Adding functionality to games machines in this way rarely does. The major problem with augmenting games hardware post-launch is that software developers can never be certain the player has bought the peripheral. From a business perspective, developing a 3DS title with two thumbsticks in mind makes no sense: what happens if the gamer only has one?
The rest of Nintendo's conference was terrible. Iwata and friends announced a Misty Pink 3DS for release in Japan in October, and showed off a couple of "girl" games. Not even the Nintendo faithful were convinced.
Iwata's TGS trump was confirmation that the next in the Monster Hunter series - an 18 million unit-selling handheld phenomenon in Japan traditionally played on Sony's PSP, will release apparently exclusively on 3DS.
Shares in Capcom, Monster Hunter's publisher, cratered as a result.
If there was ever a clear indication that 3DS's time has already passed, it was that the crowd refused to even applaud Iwata until the Monster Hunter announcement. Conversely, Vita was so popular at the show that organisers were forced to close down demo queues due to demand.
Nintendo may have ruled the current hardware generation with Wii and DS, but it's terrifying to see just how quickly stars can rise and fall in the video games space.
3DS imploding, Vita burning bright: expect Sony to confirm western launch details in the coming months.Suggest a correction