Talking Point: Is the DS Dead at Retail?
Posted by James Newton
Console's heyday is over
Nintendo's DS has had unprecedented success at retail, becoming the world's biggest-selling handheld and shifting millions of copies of unusual titles including Nintendogs, Brain Training: How Old Is Your Brain? and the Professor Layton series. Now, however, with the 3DS on the horizon it looks like the machine's headed to pasture, with major retailers ignoring high-profile titles and diminishing store display space.
As with every other popular console, the rush to develop cheap games resulted in a flood of mediocre titles, with Ubisoft's Imagine series proving one of the most popular and hard-wearing (Ubi recently announced the series will make the leap to 3DS.) In amongst the sea of poor games, the quality third-party titles sank without trace, never selling well enough to justify second print runs: this seeming lack of interest then justified the retailer's own apathy, making them less likely to stock similar titles again. The DS was on a downward slope, and now sits firmly at the bottom.
Inazuma Eleven is a good example of what went wrong: a football RPG from Level-5, developers of the Professor Layton games, it released in Europe this week but has been all but ignored by retailers. Internet giants Amazon and Play.com don't appear to be selling the game directly, with only Games Basement appearing to sell the game from within the UK. At first it appeared the game was imported from Germany, where the game seems widely available, but we were informed this stock came from Nintendo UK.
Marketing for the title has been non-existent, with no sign of it in any magazine, on TV or online, seemingly condemning the title to the void into which too many other DS titles have fallen over the years.
It's not just Inazuma Eleven that's suffering from retailer apathy: Capcom's upcoming Okamiden will also be missing from major retailer Gamestation's shelves after the company decided only to stock the title online. Despite plenty of coverage for the title in gaming media, plus the Okami name that many gamers love, you won't be able to find one of the DS's most promising third-party titles in any of Gamestation's 250+ stores.
Golden Sun: Dark Dawn, the long-awaited third entry in Camelot's RPG series, was so poorly supported by retailers it failed to chart in the UK Top 40 in its first week of release, only managing a frankly terrible 28th place in the DS-specific chart.
It's certainly not that the DS lacks an audience for traditional Japanese RPGs, as the success of Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies proves, racking up over 1 million sales worldwide since its launch in July 2010.
However, the success of Dragon Quest IX is surely the exception to the rule. On the whole, retailers have simply lost interest in Japanese-developed DS games that don't feature Mario, Link or Pokémon, while gamers hungrily await the next quirky release that delivers on the promise Nintendo made before the console launched: innovative games from the world's greatest designers.
Locating the best DS titles has always proved difficult – many gamers can tell tales of searching high and low for Chrono Trigger, Phoenix Wright or Castlevania – but with worldwide sales in the region of 145 million consoles you'd think retailers would be keen to stick with the console for as long as companies continue to publish games for it.
If this is, indeed, the end of days for the console, what is its legacy to gamers? How will it be remembered?
While the pre-owned shelves of retailers will continue to creak under the weight of I Did It Mum! and its ilk for years to come, the collections of true gamers gleam with gaming gems. The console has excelled in many genres, but it's likely to be immortalised as a format on which the RPG truly flourished: innovative titles such as The World Ends With You rub shoulders with classic fare like Final Fantasy IV, and the upcoming Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation should cement its position as the favourite machine of many RPG fans.
Of course, the limited print runs of many games generally results in one outcome: increasing prices over time. While bricks and mortar retailers may be losing interest in DS games ahead of the impending 3DS gold rush, make the most of the console's enormous back catalogue: our DS game reviews will help you decide what to pick up, with links to retailers to help you find it cheaply too. Of course, there's also our Top DS Toilet Timewasters article to help you enjoy some latrine leisure time.
The DS has had a good run: six years, 145 million consoles sold and some of the greatest handheld games ever, but the machine's run of overwhelming dominance is at an end.
How do you think the DS will be remembered in years to come? Will its catalogue of copycat kids games be at the forefront of your mind, or will you look back happily at the hours spent exploring exciting new worlds? Join the debate in the comments below.