January 15, 2005 - When Nintendo released their original black and white Game Boy in 1989 one can only wonder if they knew the impact they would have. For the last sixteen years Nintendo has not only led the portable industry, they have dominated it in such a way they could probably be accused of having a monopoly. No matter who charged at them - from Atari to Sega to SNK - Nintendo knew just what to do to win each fight.
Nintendo's newest portable may not maintain the "Game Boy" name, but it is clear that the Nintendo DS has been created using the skills and knowledge they've gleaned from nearly two decades of experience. With a touch screen, microphone and wireless gaming, the Nintendo DS is a big step forward for Nintendo, one they hope will keep them way out in front of the hand help market.
Although Nintendo has been the undisputed champion of the portable industry for sixteen years, they realize that this year might prove to be their biggest challenge yet. For in just a couple of months Sony plans on releasing the PSP, the PlayStation Portable. This will mark the first foray into the handheld market for Sony; one they have been working on for a number of years. The PSP features just about everything a gamer could want, from near-PS2 quality graphics to MP3 playback to a giant widescreen display; Sony has done its homework and concocted one slick piece of hardware.
As I started comparing the Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable, I noticed that this all seemed familiar. I wasn't sure why, but all of this seemed oddly familiar to me, as if I had gone through something exactly like this before. And then I realized that my mind wasn't playing tricks on me, but rather this was starting to play out similar to a battle Sony and Nintendo had a decade ago. To illustrate my point, I have decided to take a look at a few of the factors, both then and now, and see if history really is about to repeat itself. -Cyril Lachel
- The Dynamics -
THEN: In the mid-1990's Nintendo was on the top of the world, they had released two extremely successful consoles (the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Super NES) and were poised to rule the 32-bit/64-bit arena as well.
What Nintendo didn't expect was Sony's all-out assault on their user base, a battle that would end up leaving Nintendo trailing the PlayStation by a large margin for most of the system's life.
Up until that point Nintendo had controlled the industry; they set the tone for just about everything. Yet all of a sudden they had to play second fiddle to a company who had very little experience in the game industry. The success of the PlayStation changed the dynamics of the video game industry, and Nintendo has yet to fully recover from the cultural shift.
NOW: For over a dozen years Nintendo has defined the way we play portable gaming. Between their various incarnations of the GameBoy, Nintendo has always managed to come out on top no matter what the other companies threw at them. What Nintendo wasn't expecting was a major player, such as Sony, to wage an all-out assault on the very soul of the GameBoy product line. Sony wasn't going to deliver a portable that was slightly better, they were prepared to fight the current generation against 16-Bit Super NES ports.
Although there have been Game Boy alternatives in the past, none have had the momentum the PSP has. If it sells even half as well as analysts expect, will the PSP change the dynamics of the portable game industry? Or maybe, just maybe, the cultural shift has already happened and this is just going to be the first fight of this new generation.
- The Launch Line-Up -
THEN: The Nintendo 64 featured one of the best launch games of all times, Super Mario 64. It's a game that single handedly changed the way we played platformers forever. And not just that, it also introduced us to a whole new world of analog controls; something became standard on every system since. The Nintendo 64 also launched with Wave Race 64 and Pilotwings 64, games that managed to get the most out of the system while not overshadowing Mario 64.
Although there were a number of third party games available soon after the launch, none of them lived up to the levels of Mario, Pilotwings, or even WaveRace. Ultimately gamers were forced to either wait months before Nintendo released more long expected titles or buy every game on the system, no matter how bad they were.
NOW: The Nintendo DS is launching with one of the best games of all time, something that would normally be a major coup. Super Mario 64 may have at one time been considered the king of platformers, but times have changed, genres have improved, and Mario 64 just isn't the game it
once was. To further hit this point home Nintendo has decided NOT to equip the Nintendo DS with an analog control, the one thing that made Mario 64 work in the first place.
Along with the port of Mario, Nintendo DS owners have a choice of bad movie games (Spider-Man 2), lame racers (Asphalt Urban GT), and games we can't even describe (Feel the Magic: XY/XX). These are hardly the most inspired batch of titles, and it doesn't appear as help is on the way any time soon. Much like the Nintendo 64 days, the DS fans have to wait months before even a single new game is released. And to make matters worse, there are no firm release dates for any of the high profile titles we have all been waiting for.
- Huge Success with Few Games -
THEN: When the Nintendo 64 launched it broke all records and quickly became the fastest selling console of all time. This was in spite of the fact that it only offered a handful of games and only a few on the horizon. The very prospect of having classic franchises like Mario, Donkey Kong, Zelda, and Star Fox was enough for millions of people to invest in the system. But as the months went on and gamers began to notice the lack general lack of new games, the Nintendo 64 sales started to slump and ultimately lost that generations battle to the original PlayStation.
NOW: When the Nintendo DS launched it quickly became one of the best selling handhelds of all time, outdoing the predictions for both the U.S. and Japan. The very possibility of having new versions of Metroid, Zelda, and Wario Ware$ was enough to convince millions to invest the $150 into a Nintendo DS. But with months to wait before the games come and only a few major titles being released at a time, will the sales slump like they did for the Nintendo 64?