Monthly Archives: June 2015

Nintendo E3 Impressions

With Sony’s and Microsoft’s excellent conferences having already worked E3 attendees into a frenzy, Nintendo took to the virtual stage Tuesday to deliver their annual E3 non-conference.  As is becoming tradition, Nintendo opted out of the standard live press conference and instead offered a canned video presentation, essentially an hour-long Nintendo Direct.  Did Nintendo keep the hype train rolling, adding to the momentum created by Bethesda, Microsoft, Sony, and other E3 presenters?  Did they deliver an impressive, jaw-dropping presentation that would earn them a stream of coveted “Nintendo Wins E3” tweets and headlines?

Well, no.

Nintendo’s presentation this year was, in a word, underwhelming.  Even disappointing, at least for Wii U owners.  Big 3DS fans, and especially fans of Japanese games, might have found more to like, but the presentation did not bode well for Nintendo’s home console.  So before we get into the Wii U announcements and start dissecting Nintendo’s performance, let’s take a look at the 3DS games Nintendo unveiled.

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(Also, let’s take a moment to wonder why the presentation was hosted by Muppet versions of Satoru Iwata, Shigeru Miyamoto, and Reggie Fils-Aime.  Muppet Miyamoto’s dressing room looked like some weird, Nintendo-themed plush love nest.  I briefly entertained the thought that Nintendo was building to the surprise announcement of a Muppets or other puppet-themed game, but no, they weren’t.  They just decided to transform their executives into puppets for some reason.  Idea: a Kinect game that you control by holding your hand in the air as if it were inside an imaginary sock puppet.)

Continue reading Nintendo E3 Impressions

Microsoft E3 Conference Impressions

Games.  Games games games games games.  Lots of games.  All of the games.  That was the message of Microsoft’s press conference yesterday.  Microsoft has been calling this the best games lineup in Xbox history, and while I haven’t gone through year-by-year and compared them, yesterday’s conference certainly made a strong argument.

The show of course featured all of Microsoft’s heavy hitters: Halo, Tomb Raider, Gears of War, Fable, and Forza.  The show opened with a montage of characters (and cars) from these franchises, and each franchise popped up at some point during the conference.  But in addition to these big, predictable titles, Microsoft dropped a number of surprises.  Let’s take a look at the blow-by-blow.

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The show kicked off with a trailer for Halo 5: Guardians.  I’ve never been much of a Halo fan – I’ve only played Halo 3 – but the game looks impressive.  With a couple of people onstage holding controllers, we were treated to a (presumably) live demo – the first of many throughout the night – of co-op Halo 5 gameplay, which we’re told is “seamless drop-ion, drop-out co-op.”  Microsoft also showed off the multiplayer, announcing a new Warzone mode with huge arenas and 24-player battles.  Without really knowing what I’m talking about, I would say that Halo 5 looks like a pretty good bit of fan service.

Then, with no fanfare, a trailer for a new Xbox One exclusive game started up.  The game is called Recore (or ReCore or recore) and might be my favorite moment from the conference.  This is a new IP, and while there isn’t really any information in the trailer, it does look pretty cool.  The trailer begins with a woman walking through a vaguely post-apocalyptic desert landscape with her robot dog.  The dog’s design is centered on a glowing orb – a “core,” if you will – and our heroes soon encounter a bunch of four-legged, spider-like robots with cores of their own, albeit a villainous red as opposed to the dog’s heroic blue.  The heroine collects cores from the slain robots, and when her dog is dies, she takes its core and slots it into a giant, inert robot, bringing it to life.  So obviously the game is going to center on these cores and your ability to move them from host to host.  I’m hoping for more details later in the conference, but so far I’m excited for this game.  I love to see new IP, I love robot companions and blowing up robot enemies, I love seeing female protagonists, and I love the visual style of this game.  I can’t wait to learn more about Recore. Continue reading Microsoft E3 Conference Impressions

Bethesda E3 Conference Impressions

We’ve had some little news drops over the last week or so, like the Fallout 4 trailer and the Smash Bros. Nintendo Direct, but with Bethesda’s press conference last night, E3 2015 has finally started.  And what a start!  Bethesda threw a lot of footage at us, a lot of which looked pretty great, and a few little surprises, too.  So let’s take a quick look at what we saw.

First of all, Bethesda employees get a lot of cool t-shirts.  I want all of them.  But anyway, the games.

I want that shirt.
I want that shirt.

The show kicked off with a pretty in-depth look at Doom, and it looks like a lot of fun.  Doom is not looking to reinvent the wheel; this game is aimed straight at people who loved the original Doom and Doom II in the early 90s.  Doom is a game about flying chunks of flesh, geysers of blood, double-barreled shotguns that reload in a fraction of a second, slicing through demons with a chainsaw, and exploding barrels.  The trailers Bethesda showed us – there were four of them – had buckets and buckets of that goodness.

It’s easy to criticize a game like Doom for not bringing anything new to the table, for not really innovating.  But there are tons of shooters every year.  Let someone else come up with bold, innovative gameplay mechanics that give you a first-person shooter experience unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.  Doom is a game for when you want to rip the arms off a demon and then beat that demon to death with them.  What Bethesda showed off last night looks like it’s going to nail the gory, comically over-the-top, fast-paced gameplay that Doom fans are thirsting for. Continue reading Bethesda E3 Conference Impressions

Backlog Adventures – Alien: Isolation

[Over the years, I, like many gamers, have accumulated a huge backlog of unplayed games.  Sometimes a huge open world RPG takes up hundreds of hours of my time.  Sometimes I get preoccupied chasing down every last star in a Super Mario game.  Sometimes a game comes out that I want to try, but not until its price drops.  Sometimes there are just too many games coming out at once.  Whatever the reason, I end up setting certain games aside and not getting to them until months or even years after they were released.  As I try to work my way through this backlog, I’ll post my thoughts here, in a periodic column called “Backlog Adventures.”]

Alien: Isolation is one of those games that gets me really excited until days before its release, when reviews begin to pop up and it starts to look like much of the game’s potential was left unrealized.  In days gone by, I would go to the local Blockbuster and rent a game like this; depending on how much I liked it, I would either buy it, keep renting it until I beat it, or return it after a few days.  But with game rental largely a thing of the past, games like Alien: Isolation get relegated to the ever-growing backlog, waiting until I can grab a used copy for a price that matches my expectations.

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Alien: Isolation was released last October, around the time I got my Xbox One, and was on my short list for First Xbox One Game.  Reviews scared me off, though, and I opted instead for Shadow of Mordor, which proved to be an excellent choice.  When I discovered that my local library had a copy of Alien: Isolation in its meager games collection, I decided to give it a shot.  After waiting for some chucklehead to return it five weeks overdue – (come on, buddy, you can buy it for less than you’re going to pay in fines!) – I finally got a chance to play it.  Would it be so great that I’d run out and buy it for its current price of $40?  Or would I play it for a bit and then return it, unimpressed? Continue reading Backlog Adventures – Alien: Isolation

Wii Hardly Knew U, Part 3

[Note: This is the third part of a multi-part post.  In the first part I looked at the ways the Wii ultimately was a failure, and in the second part I looked at the ways Nintendo failed to capitalize on the Wii, helping to create the situation they find themselves in now with the Wii U.]

With the hundred-million-selling Wii having largely faded from public consciousness, Nintendo in 2012 decided to release the Wii U.  Two-and-a-half years later, the system is struggling to reach the ten million sales mark.  Third parties have largely abandoned the console, and Nintendo doesn’t seem to have many bullets left in the clip, having already released entries in most of its major franchises.  It’s unlikely that anything is going to turn this ship around; no matter how good Splatoon is, it’s not going to send another ten or twenty or thirty million people out to buy a Wii U.  No, when all is said and done, the Wii U is going to go down as a failure.  But why did it fail?

Why the Wii U Failed

The Wii U has been a failure for a lot of reasons, some of them inevitable.  As we’ve seen, Nintendo gave up on trying to woo core gamers to instead pursue casual gamers, and by 2012, those gamers had moved on to smartphones and tablets.  Because of Nintendo’s inability to convert Wii owners into reliable customers, any attempt to leverage the Wii’s success to sell a new console was probably bound to fail.  Really, the Wii U falls perfectly in line with what’s been happening to Nintendo for basically ever.  Nintendo’s sales have been in steady decline for decades, the Wii notwithstanding.  Every Nintendo console, except the Wii, has been the worst-selling Nintendo console to date.  A single hit isn’t going to change that if it doesn’t address the core problems behind this decline.

(Data source: Nintendo)
(Data source: Nintendo)

So before the Wii U ever launched, there was a certain amount of baked-in failure.  But even if it was never going to be a Wii-sized, success, it could have been less of a failure.  For one thing, the Wii U probably should have come out sooner.  By the time the Wii U came out, the Wii was not only past its prime but had become something of an afterthought. Continue reading Wii Hardly Knew U, Part 3

Wii Hardly Knew U, Part 2

[Note: This is the second part of a multi-part post.  Check out the first part here.]

In the first part of this post, I examined how Nintendo, with the Wii, traded core gamers for casual gamers, a strategy that worked in the short term but cost Nintendo in the long term.  When smartphones and tablets emerged as a major gaming platform, especially for casual games, they left Nintendo with no market for their new hardware.  They sold over 100 million Wiis, but are struggling to sell one tenth as many Wii Us.  There’s obviously nothing Nintendo could have done to forestall the rise of the mobile games market.  But this doesn’t mean that the evaporation of Nintendo’s audience was a foregone conclusion.

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Could Nintendo have transformed the tens of millions of casual, first-time gamers who bought Wiis into a dedicated customer base that would reliably purchase new games and consoles in perpetuity?  Who knows?  It would be a tough job for anyone, at any time.  We can’t know how things might have turned out had Nintendo done this or that.  But we can see pretty clearly a number of ways Nintendo failed to support and take advantage of the Wii. Continue reading Wii Hardly Knew U, Part 2

Fallout 4 Trailer Impressions

After a surprise countdown showed up on Bethesda’s website yesterday and sent the Internet into a tizzy of Fallout 4 anticipation, the game’s official trailer dropped this morning.  It hits all the familiar notes, has a next-gen level of polish (kind of), and shows off a post-apocalyptic Boston.  There are a lot of fun little nuggets buried in this trailer, and now that I’ve had almost two hours to pore over it, here are my first impressions.

First, here’s the trailer, in case you missed it somehow:

This first thing that struck me is the vibe of the trailer.  It reminds me quite a bit of the excellent trailer for The Division that Ubisoft showed at last year’s E3.  That trailer had a camera sweeping through an unpeopled New York while a cool time-lapse effect showed the unfolding of some catastrophe through insinuation:

The Fallout 4 trailer achieves a similar effect, albeit with more conventional filmmaking techniques, cutting back and forth between the pre- and post-apocalyptic versions of Boston.  You see an empty crib in a dirty, abandoned bedroom, and then you see parents cooing over a newborn in that same crib.  I like getting these glimpses of the pre-apocalyptic, retrofuturistic world, and I wonder if we’ll get to visit that world in the game. Continue reading Fallout 4 Trailer Impressions

Wii Hardly Knew U, Part 1

Between the lackluster sales, the dearth of third-party support, the recent announcement of the Nintendo NX, and the indefinite delay of the latest Legend of Zelda game, it would seem the writing’s on the wall for the Wii U.  Though Nintendo insists that the NX won’t be a simple replacement for the Wii U (or 3DS), it’s hard to imagine a scenario where the release of the NX – whatever it is – ends up boosting Wii U sales.  After two and a half years and about 9.5 million units sold, we can confidently declare that the Wii U has been a commercial failure.

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Take a good look. It won’t be here forever.

 

Nintendo needs the NX to be successful.  The company remains committed to dedicated gaming devices, but another system that sells as poorly as the Wii U did will force them to reconsider that position.  So what should they do with the NX?  How can they avoid a repeat of the situation they’re in with the Wii U?  To understand that, we need to take a look at everything that went wrong with the Wii U.  And to understand that, we first need to hop into our DeLorean and look at the ways the Wii failed, and the ways Nintendo failed the Wii, because, in a lot of ways, the Wii is what put Nintendo in this mess.

[Note: This was originally going to be one post, but as I’ve been working on it, it’s grown to epic proportions.  So, I’ll be breaking it into a few chunks and posting the first couple parts while I finish the rest of it.  The main gist of the post is to look at the Wii U’s failure and consider what it means for Nintendo going forward, but it’s going to be a bit of a walk to get there.  In part 1, I’ll be looking at how the Wii failed.  In part 2, I’ll be looking at how Nintendo failed the Wii.  In part 3, I’ll be looking at how the Wii U failed.  And in part 4, I’ll be looking at what Nintendo should do going forward.  I aim to have all four parts posted by the middle of next week, but who knows, by then it might have grown into six or eight or fifty parts.  I spend a lot of time thinking about Nintendo.  Anyway, enjoy!] Continue reading Wii Hardly Knew U, Part 1