Sony Vita in spotlight at Tokyo Game Show

By Yuka Ito

Asia's biggest annual video game industry event is underway in Japan with games for phones and tablets challenging traditional console kings Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo.

Nearly 200 hardware and software makers gathered for the four-day Tokyo Game Show at Makuhari Messe convention hall, where gamers had their first chance to try out Sony's next generation Vita console.

Gree, a rapidly growing Japanese social networking service set up in 2004 offering games for mobile phones, made its debut at the show with one of the biggest booths.

As models dressed as game characters walked around the hall amid the clatter of electronic noise, the mood was far from the kind of Japanese restraint that followed the March 11 earthquake and tsunami six months ago.

Nintendo did not take part in the annual event, but held its own showcase on Tuesday as it looks to revive sales of its struggling 3DS console that boasts three-dimensional images without users having to wear special glasses.

One of the big attractions was Sony's Vita console, which does not hit stores in Japan until December 17.

Among the titles the new console boasts is Reality Fighters, in which players can create their own combat avatar.

The game allows users to map their face using one of the Vita's two cameras, select from a range of body shapes and weapons and even use their current surroundings as the backdrop for the battle.

The Vita is the latest step in Sony's drive to push a library of content through its game consoles, smartphones and tablet computers as it faces competition from Apple's iTunes and App store and hardware rivals such as Nintendo.

The PS Vita features a five-inch multi-touch OLED (organic light emitting diode) screen with a pad on the back for "touch, grab, trace, push and pull" finger motions. The handset also has front and rear facing cameras.

Users will be able to use the device to watch videos, listen to music, connect to internet sites and social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

The Vita's launch comes as both Sony's PlayStation and Nintendo's gaming models are under increasing pressure from cheap smartphone games that can be quickly downloaded and played, as well as social networks.

Nintendo cut the price of its 3DS game console by up to 40 per cent only six months after it launched due to weak sales.

On Tuesday it announced some upgrades to the device, a new pink version targeted at women and 30 new game titles to help drive hardware sales.

Reflecting the popularity of social games, the number of game titles for smartphones rose to 98 at this year's show from 50 in 2010, and those for tablet PCs, such as Apple's iPad and Android-powered machines, hit 29 from 18.

"Video games used to be the domain of keen users willing to spend tens of thousands of yen," said Yoichi Wada, chairman of the Computer Entertainment Supplier's Association, the organiser of the event.

But the market is now expanding for casual users as smartphones gain popularity, Wada said in a keynote speech.

Yoshikazu Tanaka, Gree's founder and chief executive officer, said the company was expanding its global operations, building offices in such places as San Francisco and London.

"Our vision is to create services that can be used by one billion people," in the next three to five years, he said.

"Smartphones are offering the opportunity. We should get the chance to please one billion people and change their lives."

On show Thursday were blockbuster franchises such as Metal Gear Solid and Monster Hunter as well as more unique applications.

One app helped people coordinate their daily outfits. Also popular were musical games exploiting the popularity of pop stars such as girl group AKB48 or virtual ones such as hologram idol Hatsune Miku, aimed at young Japanese men.

The Tokyo Game Show opens to the public from Saturday. Organisers expect up to 190,000 people to attend.

- AFP

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