Sony’s PlayStation 2 has had a remarkably long life for a home video game console. Released in 2000, it has sold over 140 million units. In Japan alone it has sold over 21 million units, and game developers continue to release new titles, even after Sony debuted its next-generation PlayStation 3 in 2006.
The times are changing, however, and handheld consoles are more and more often becoming the chosen platform for game developers.
By offering games that casual users are interested in, such as “brain training” games and cooking games, the Nintendo DS, released in 2004, has already surpassed the number of PS2 units sold within Japan for a total of 30 million consoles, or one for every four people in Japan. In turn the huge success of the console has attracted game developers who covet the large market.
The most surprising example of the change the DS has caused is Dragon Quest IX. The Dragon Quest series, which had been a home console staple for years, chose the Nintendo DS for its ninth installment, which was released last year to enormous sales.
The success of the DS has also made it difficult for other handhelds in the market; the PlayStation Portable (PSP), Sony’s handheld video game system, has sold half of the number of units the DS has. Possibly to help prop up the PSP in its battle against the Nintendo DS, Hideo Kojima, director of the incredibly popular Metal Gear Solid video game franchise, opted to release Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, due out in Japan on April 29, on the PSP rather than the PS3.
Kojima is a big proponent of handhelds, making it clear that he treated Peace Walker like a true game in the series, on the same level as a Metal Gear Solid 5 rather than as just a side story. Recently he stated that he believes the death knell for home consoles has sounded: “Gamers should be able to take the experience with them in their living rooms, on the go, when they travel – wherever they are and whenever they want to play. It should be the same software and the same experience.”
Kojima’s scouts must have been monitoring the action around Yodobashi Camera in Akihabara, a mecca for portable gamers. The front of the store is often the gathering place for groups of gamers who take advantage of the multiplayer functions of handhelds. Inside, there are PlayStation Spots where PSP users can connect and download demos. The release of Dragon Quest IX prompted huge crowds all searching for in-game items that required wireless interaction with other players. Peace Walker might be the next title to try and emulate the phenomenon.
Last Wednesday Konami held a media presentation that revealed the tie-in products for Peace Walker. In addition to Doritos, Axe, Pepsi, Mountain Dew and the Sony Walkman, Peace Walker will feature other video games. Video game magazine Famitsu leaked details of a tie-in with Capcom’s Monster Hunter series, and Konami confirmed this at the presentation. The lead character, Snake, will be able to hunt dinosaurs and roast meat as in the Monster Hunter series. There are also collaborations with Square Enix’s Front Mission Evolved and Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed. While the Assassin’s Creed tie-in is just a small part of the game, the combination with Monster Hunter, another popular game for the PSP with ad hoc multiplayer features, and Front Mission Evolved seem to imply that there will be a large multiplayer aspect to the game. Uniqlo/UT has also been recruited by Konami. They will release Peace Walker-themed T-shirts that players can load into the game. By entering a number from the barcode on the tag into the game, players will be able to have their characters wear a digital version of the T-shirt they just purchased.
Konami already has the next Metal Gear home console title in development (the title is Metal Gear Solid: Rising), and surely it will be a success, as most of the games in the franchise have been over the past decade, but unless gamers decide to start schlepping their PlayStation 3 systems out and about in Tokyo, it has no chance of becoming an ad hoc wireless phenomenon. With the help of dinosaurs, assassins and Uniqlo, Peace Walker still may.