From perplexing, headache-inducing near-flop to something that Nintendo can now confidently call a “powerhouse,” the 3DS is one of the more impressive video game turnaround stories in recent years. Some, myself included, have wondered about any company’s ability to sell a dedicated portable gaming device in the smartphone era, but Nintendo has bucked that predicted trend and made a system worthy of Nintendo’s impressive portable pedigree.
Meanwhile, the Playstation Vita isn’t in nearly as bad a position as it once was, thanks to PS4′s remote play capabilities and games like Tearway, but it’s still far from something we could call a raging success. It’s certainly nothing next to the 3Ds, which just crossed 11.5 million lifetime sales in the US alone. The key to this difference, as it would turn out, isn’t that complicated.
Software drives hardware, as the old saying goes, and no company adheres to the old maxim more than Nintendo. That’s why the company has jealously guarded franchises like Mario, Zelda and Pokemon for decades now, and why the only way to play as some of the most iconic characters in gaming is to buy a piece of Nintendo hardware. This year saw several must-have releases on the 3Ds, from Pokemon to Animal Crossing to Legend Of Zelda: Link Between Worlds, and it would appear that legions of gamers used one of these titles for their moment to pick up a new system.
The Vita, on the other hand, just hasn’t come up with the software it needs. Tearaway was one of my favorite games this year, but it’s still not enough. Struggling platforms need the helping hand of a well-established name to drive large numbers of new sales — new IP, no matter how well-executed, is easier to launch on something with a sizable install base. Final Fantasy was more important for driving hardware sales, even if that franchise has seen better days.
What’s more, those 3DS games just feel appropriate for a mobile platform, with their isometric viewpoints and more easily consumable play sessions. The Vita is designed to be a tiny console in your hands, rather than its own creature. Between cross-buy and remote play, it exists mostly as an accessory for people that already own a Playstation, but the 3DS stands on its own, and that’s why its succeeding.