The proliferation of cheap games for Android and iOS tablets and smartphones has meant tough times for the dedicated gaming handheld. The Nintendo 3DS has its price slashed within months of release and the PlayStation Vita has been subject to many a gloomy prediction (including my own) thanks to a lack of support from retailers and a high cost of entry. These machines need a shot in the arm... a series of announcements that would make them relevant to gamers the world over. If ever there were a venue for such announcements, it was the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2012 (E3 2012).
I read articles and tweets, watched trailers and sat on the edge of my seat as liveblogs of the Big Three's press conferences hit the web. I waited for proof of life, for a reason to believe in the future of my favourite platforms; but the news never came.
With regards to the Playstation Vita, we may have seen footage of Assassin's Creed: Liberation, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale and had the announcement of Call of Duty: Black Ops: Declassified, but it felt like the system was glossed over during Sony's presser. Think about it: the handful of games, apps and functionality (Cross Play and PSone support) seen during the conference had been revealed before E3 2012 (in some cases, well beforehand). Even news of the incoming YouTube app hit the web before the 3 day event began.
Then we turn to the Nintendo 3DS, which fared worse than the Vita in terms of the amount of games on show. During the Nintendo conference proper, there was a scant showing for the portable with New Super Mario Bros 2, Paper Mario: Sticker Star and Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon being the only games shown in any great detail. Even with a third party sizzle reel Nintendo could only bring the 3DS game count to just over a handful on the day.
During the painful 3DS Software Showcase that was broadcast the following day, handheld enthusiasts were subjected to more forced chemistry between Nintendo's North American executive team. Even though we were treated to prolonged coverage of the three aforementioned and highly anticipated first party titles, we only saw hints of another handful of underwhelming titles being developed outside of Nintendo's stables. After more than two hours of woefully-delivered PR speak and carefully-edited videos, we emerged with just over ten titles to hold on for.
For the dedicated gaming handheld enthusiast, alarm bells should be ringing. With roughly forty titles on our horizon, and suspicious absences from Monster Hunter 3G for 3DS and Killzone for the Vita, I genuinely fear that our time may be at an end. Mario's master, Shigeru Miyamoto is hinting at a new generation of portables, but I can't help but feel that such talk is premature with two machines struggling to find support from developers thanks to the mobile and tablet goldmine still offering big dividends to all takers.
E3 2012 was Sony and Nintendo's chance to create enthusiasm for their handheld devices, but instead they got press attention for all the wrong reasons. Consumers need a reason to get excited for the Vita and the 3DS, or else we'll all be turning to our phones to get our game on. For me, that's a worst case scenario; as I love the responsiveness and sense of enjoyment that's only possible with buttons and sticks if you've got some to spare.
Are you a handheld enthusiast? What did E3 2012 mean for your passion?