Pete Davison: Nintendon’t

Posted on August 11, 2011 by

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So apparently Nintendo are under pressure from their investors to say sod the 3DS and start developing for smartphones. I can’t help but think that this is a really good idea. The 3DS was a bold experiment for the company, but it’s not going particularly well for them right now — hence the massive price cut. Said price cut still isn’t enough for me to want to purchase one, however, which I think is part of the problem. Nintendo doesn’t seem to know who the 3DS is for. Is it for the casual market, a la Wii? Is it for core gamers? Is it for people who played their DSes religiously?

The answer to all of those questions is a shrug of the shoulders and a non-committal “Idunno”.

The trouble is, of course, iOS and to a lesser extent Android. Why should people purchase a dedicated game system featuring an initially impressive but ultimately useless gimmick when they can have equivalent gaming experiences (albeit without the 3D) on their phones? The only real advantage I see of the 3DS (and, by extension, the Vita) over the smartphone platforms is the addition of physical controls — a relatively big deal, sure, but a lot of developers are getting wise to the best ways to work controls around a touchscreen now.

iOS and Android have a bigger ace up their sleeve than physical controls, though: pricing. This occurred to me today when considering the disgruntlement people expressed over Final Fantasy Tactics releasing at £10.99/$15.99 on iOS. Final Fantasy Tactics is about 14 years old, and was a full price title on its original release. It was then a full price title on its more recent PSP release before dropping down to around the $10 mark on PSN. The iOS port is more expensive than the PSP version, sure, but it has been revamped for the touchscreen — and rather well, I might add.

Still think it’s expensive? Let’s take a look at the one game people consider to be an “essential purchase” for the 3DS: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D. A game of an equivalent age to Final Fantasy Tactics. Given a slight makeover with some new textures, 3D graphics and an interface revamp, sure — along with the addition of the Master Quest variant that I’m pretty sure no-one ever plays — but still, in essence, the same Ocarina of Time we were playing on the N64. The price? $40.

Now hold on a minute. Suddenly Final Fantasy Tactics doesn’t seem like such a bad deal after all. If Nintendo are going to charge that much more for the privilege of having the game on physical media rather than a digital download, then I say bring on the digital future. If Nintendo are so stubborn as to remain dedicated to their own proprietary hardware, then they need to think about how they can be competitive. Because at the moment, they’re not — and the sales figures are showing that. Perhaps the 3DS will show a sharp upswing in popularity when the price drop comes into effect tomorrow, but said price drop still isn’t going to solve the system’s most critical problem — a lack of good games, and those games that are good released at a price way higher than you’d find similar experiences on the App Store — even the most expensive ones like Final Fantasy Tactics.

It’d be sad to see Nintendo crushed after they dominated the handheld market for so many years. But I have a feeling it’s going to happen — and the sooner they accept it, the better. I for one would certainly be very happy to see a Virtual Console app appear on the App Store, and I’d be delighted to play titles like Super Mario Bros., Castlevania and numerous others on the go. But I’m not buying a 3DS for the privilege — if Nintendo can’t accept the common knowledge that people of 2011 want fewer devices in their pocket, not more, then frankly they deserve everything they get.

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Posted in: Pete Davison