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But a funny thing happened: The mass market discovered the joy of puppy love. Nintendogs, a game where you adopt and play with a virtual puppy, became a smash hit, helping the DS top 27 million units worldwide. Nintendo followed up the success of Nintendogs with Mario Kart DS and New Super Mario Brothers. All achieved remarkable success, critically and financially. The DS was the console to own, and it showed everyone that gameplay mattered more than graphics and realism. Just like that, fun was back.
While the DS has taken off into orbit, the PSP has been a bit of a disappointment for Sony and the third-party publishers that supported it. Trumpeted as the future of handheld gaming at launch, the PSP quickly gained the status of expensive paperweight to many gamers due to a paucity of attractive titles. Most of the PSP's catalogue were ports of games that could be found on the PlayStation 2. Original titles were few and far between. With a collective yawn, gamers voted with their wallets and put the PSP in a distant second behind the DS.
However, after seeing the success of original titles on the DS, Sony and PSP developers have realized that the market is in demand of original games. New, quirky titles such as Locoroco, Work Time Fun and Hot PXL have made or are making their way to the PSP. Once the bastion of console ports and ill-suited shooters, it is now becoming the home to creativity and uniqueness.
On an even smaller scale, companies like Digital Chocolate and Gameloft offer some unique and fun titles for the cell phone. Limited graphically, these companies get by on ingenuity to create games on the go. Despite being littered with low-quality ports and Tetris clones, the mobile industry is budding with optimism and has a bright future.
While the big kings of industry fight their console wars at the expense of fun, the mobile and portable field is taking gaming to new and exciting places, either by way of new input medium or by returning to tried and true low-tech methods of game design. One has to wonder how much market share they're going to have to take (mobile gaming is the fastest growing sector in the game industry) before everyone else starts listening.
John Scott is a contributor to The Escapist.