The Sad State Of Augmented Reality Video Games
Augmented reality is a simulated version of the real world that has become a staple of television broadcasts, most notably as the yellow first down marker in football games. You've also seen it on the news and reality shows like American Idol and Dancing with the Stars, whenever the overlay appears, urging you to vote. Suffice to say, it's improved the viewing experience tenfold.
Video games? Not so much.
Sony achieved a modest level of success with its PlayStation 3 title, The Eye of Judgment, a card battle game that works in tandem with the PlayStation Eye camera and specially marked cards to insert monsters onto the screen. The publisher would later use it for the PSP title Invizimals, a Pokemon style game that incorporates the handheld's camera peripheral, tasking players to find hidden creatures and then watch them duke it out; Sony also uses AR in EyePet.
Developers even brought augmented reality to the iPhone. THQ, for example, released Star Wars Arcade: Falcon Gunner, an App that literally puts TIE Fighters in a person's living room.
All of these games, while cool, failed to make a significant mark on the video game landscape. If anything, they were blips that quickly disappeared off the radar.
Now AR is front and center with 3DS and PlayStation Vita. Nintendo kicked things off with its newest portable, allowing users to scan AR cards to make favorite heroes such as Mario, Link and Kirby magically appear on their kitchen tables (or any surface, for that matter). Then Sony put the technology to work with Reality Fighters, a game that uses real time video as the backdrop, and Little Deviants, where players use the camera (and gyroscope) to locate and blast enemies.
While cool, all of these activities and games share one common thread: the lack of a big name franchise.
Thus far, no company has been willing to create an augmented reality video game based on a million selling series. Everything's a new intellectual property, which is usually a hard sell, even without AR.
What's more, publishers often go too far with the technology. Majesco's upcoming 3DS title, The Hidden, randomly generates missions based on real world locations a person visits, requesting that they return to defeat ghosts. It sounds good on paper, but in practice, running around a restaurant while staring into a 3DS (and being over the age of ten) may not be the best idea.
Ultimately, someone needs to step up and release a smartly designed AR video game backed by a proven IP. Nintendo would seem like an ideal candidate with its Pokemon franchise, as an augmented reality Pokemon Snap would generate some buzz.
For now, AR is a parlor trick, a special effect that's more of a novelty than game changing feature. It's time to change that.