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Nintendo, Sony: Let's talk for a sec--just you and me. Look, guys, over the past couple of years, you've had a great run. Nintendo, your DS has tons of games, a wide variety of unique stuff that's a blast to play. Sony, your PSP is a gadget-lover's gaming tool, with everything from Skype to Internet-radio support (oh, yeah, and you have some cool games, as well). But unless you both do something in 2009, the iPhone and iPod Touch will soon become the top dogs in handheld gaming.
Apple, the same folks who have pretty much ignored games since I played Marathon on a Mac, came on strong in 2008--and now Nintendo and Sony must consider the iPhone a legit competitor. The proof: Apple's iPhone/iPod Touch games start at a buck (going up as high as $10), and games have flooded Apple's App Store since it opened its digital doors in July.
Nobody at either company has asked, but here's my free advice.
Nintendo: Get that new DSi to the United States, on the double! The bigger screens and the 256MB of memory are a good start, but we need to see a Wiiware-style channel where people can easily download DS games directly onto their handheld no matter where they are, stat! Also, while I'm mentioning it, set it up so that we can run said downloaded games directly from SD Card. Another quick thought: Don't try to out iPhone the iPhone. If you're going to build in MP3 functionality, maybe you should at least support the MP3 file format. (AAC only? Really?)
Sony: Admit that UMDs need to be thrown down a hole with all those Betamax machines. The UMD optical drive sucks power and doesn't deliver high-capacity storage compared with what even cheap flash memory cards now offer. You're better off bundling a streamlined system with a hard drive. Want to sell people games at a store? Sell them on Memory Sticks--as you probably should've done in the first place. Or take further advantage of the online store, which has already done a bang-up job offering PSP games as digital downloads.
The PSP has had a tough fight against the Nintendo DS since its launch. That said, as a gadget-head, I love all the connectivity features that sync up the PSP with the PlayStation 3. If Sony can create more games and applications that tether the two devices together, you might still make a case for PSP owners.
Both: The best advice I can give to both Nintendo and Sony is to remember your roots. I did a story a couple months back celebrating the indie community that has rallied around the R4 cartridge as a legitimate homebrew gaming tool. That same group is always looking for new ways to mod the PSP, as well. These dedicated coders do it simply for the love of games (or to build their resume for getting into the gaming biz). Open up the doors, and let people who want to make all sorts of apps release them into the wild. You want to vet them for quality control? Go right ahead.
Way I see it, Apple has the right idea. The code is out there for people to play with, and I'm seeing tons of cool, free, and cheap applications just waiting to be downloaded. Want a taste of what's available? Read on to learn more about the best iPhone games of 2008.