Welcome to a new issue of Currents. It's unfortunate that it's taken so long to hit the site, but I'm currently in the process of settling into a new full-time job and moving into an apartment. Life is crazy, but I'm happy to report that it's also really exciting. I did manage to make a solid dent in my massive backlog in the past month and have found myself feeling nostalgic for some Sega Genesis blast processing. Recently, I purchased Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection for the PS3 and it's effectively kept me from my packing duties. It was all worth it though, just to hear the sweet sounds of Green Hill Zone again:
Replaying the older Sonic titles has got me thinking about the dreaded Sonic Cycle and the future of the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, but the primary focus of this issue of Currents is the Wii U — to which Sonic Lost World is exclusive. Yes, the Wii U has faced quite a bit of criticism as of late. Some would say it's deserved, but I'm not so sure.
If I could ask you readers some questions this week, they would be:
- Do you own the Nintendo Wii U?
- Why did you buy it or choose to not buy it?
- What would it take to make you a Wii U owner if you aren't already?
Cynicism in the video game industry is nothing new. There isn't a single popular video gaming journalism website that doesn't have a forum full of wannabe industry analysts. Normally, I don't mind seeing a bunch of passionate gamers arguing about upcoming releases and new system capabilities, however, this culture where everyone assumes they understand the complexities of the video games business has a mean double edge. The Nintendo Wii U is a case-in-point.
Is the Wii U going to kill Nintendo's console business? Will Nintendo accept that they've failed and become a software company like Sega before them? Nintendo can get by on the 3DS's success for now, but will they discontinue the Wii U? Can the Wii U even recover at this point? Is anyone else tired of seeing these headlines everywhere? Gamers and analysts like Michael Pachter are freaking out over a system that hasn't even been out for an entire year. I'm not blind to the fact that the Wii U isn't faring as well as its predecessor, but that's just the problem here; gamers are gaging the Wii U's first year success and Nintendo's financial future on the Nintendo Wii's tremendous success.
At just over 100 million units, the Nintendo Wii is Nintendo's best selling console of all time. That isn't by a slim margin either; the closest contender to the Wii's unit sales would be the original NES at approximately 61 million units. That's a 40 million difference, and the NES was considered a pretty massive success at the time. So massive that early 90s industry analysts assumed that its follow-up, the Super NES, would blow those numbers out of the water (after all, it did have "Super" right in the title). It didn't. In spite of being a pretty fantastic home console, the Super NES sold roughly 10 million units less than the NES. The 64-bit era was soon to come and surely a 3D Mario title would lead to insane worldwide sales, right? Nope. The Nintendo 64 sold almost 20 million units less than the Super NES. It was a rough time for Nintendo, but analysts predicted that the next generation would be a time of greater prosperity. Unfortunately, the Gamecube would go on to sell about 10 million units less than the Nintendo 64, with total sales sitting around 22 million units sold worldwide. Looking back in time, it's pretty clear that Nintendo's success has never been consistent. However, that has never really been a problem for the console manufacturer.
Nintendo will keep doing their thing, regardless of what the Pach-Attack thinks.
People like to forget that the Gamecube, which was Nintendo's least successful home console, was still profitable for the company. In spite of growing competition from Sony and Microsoft and every industry analyst professing the end times for one of video gaming's oldest companies, Nintendo pressed on. As a result, we got the Luigi's Mansion series, Eternal Darkness, the Metroid Prime series, the Animal Crossing series, the Pikmin series, and a ton of amazing entries in the Zelda, Mario, and Resident Evil series. Nintendo has never given a damn how other companies were doing or what critics have had to say — the company's focus has always been on the games, and even their least popular systems have had enough first party winners. Much like the Gamecube in its formative years, the Wii U has yet to make a solid impact, however, its still running a profit for Nintendo.
That said, who can really say that their system is going to be another Gamecube at this point? Disregarding the fact that the console hasn't even been out for a full year yet, the Wii U is doing just as well in Japan right now as the PS3 was doing at the same point in its lifespan. I don't have to remind anyone on the atrocious first couple years the PS3 faced, but it did eventually pull out of its funk and has since sold over 75 million units worldwide. Hell, Nintendo's current handheld, the Nintendo 3DS, had a tremendously slow start and yet is currently selling like hotcakes. Can we really count the Wii U out now based on nine months of so-so reception?
I don't think we can. Even if the console never has an amazing install base and is sequestered to third place behind Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo will continue to make games worth playing. They don't have to win over everyone's heart to make a profit and as long as they do make a profit it will be business as usual for the gaming giant. So what if this is another Gamecube? I own a Gamecube and haven't regretted it. Hopefully, I'll find myself not regretting the purchase of a Wii U in five years time.
It seems like something new is learned about the Xbox One every week. By "new," I actually mean that something I thought was true about the system, based on Microsoft's own press releases, is subject to corporate retconning. The latest entry in a series of backtracking has to do with privacy contention: Kinect's inclusion in every shipped Xbox One console.
In the past, Microsoft has claimed that Kinect had to be a part of the package because its many features were essential for system control and enjoyment. With so many people sharing links about the NSA going through their emails or being able to track them by the pictures taken with their smartphones, privacy has become a growing concern. Microsoft indicating that they had the ability to spy on you through your Kinect led to a lot of people taking issue with the included sophisticated camera peripheral.
In an IGN interview with Xbox corporate VP Marc Whitten, the company revealed that the Kinect is no longer a requirement. "Like online, the console will still function if Kinect isn't plugged in, although you won't be able to use any feature or experience that explicitly uses the sensor," said Whitten. Gamers won't have to turn their Xbox One on or off via voice control, or use gestures to navigate menus. Additionally, users will have the ability to turn the sensor off through the system settings, which Whitten said would prevent it from collecting any information (although its IR functionality will still work). It's interesting to see yet another instance of post-announcement PR maneuvering, but this does make the Xbox One a more appealing console in my eyes.
The PlayStation 4 also has a camera, but Sony chose not to ship it with the console. This has been one of the reasons why people believe the console is about $100 cheaper than the Xbox One, but it seems like not forcing the hands of gamers is a strategy that has worked for Sony thus far. Maybe this will lead to future Xbox One bundles that don't include the new Kinect. That said, I'm hopeful that Microsoft now understands the importance of social license when implementing restrictive policies, and errs on the side of caution in the future.
There's this thing in colloquial video game theory known as the "Sonic Cycle." It's a theory that has a scarily accurate chronicling of the pattern of fan release expectations before a new Sonic the Hedgehog title. Naturally, the cycle starts with the first bits of info on a new Sonic game. In those first glimpses, we see a lot of fast-paced actions in colourful environments and none of Sonic's lame friends. Hopes are raised and fans begin to speculate the triumphant return of the world's fastest hedgehog. Then something awful happens: fans see more of the game, with Sonic's third person controls looking just as broken and more of his lame friends entering the fray. By the time the game hits retail, fan hopes have flatlined and reviews slam the game.
The only game to subvert this cycle, in spite of the inclusion of a bunch of new lame friends, was Sonic Colors for the Nintendo Wii and DS. Colors somehow managed to make 3D Sonic gameplay work. That success was a marked improvement over Sonic & The Secret Rings, Sonic & The Black Knight, Shadow the Hedgehog, Sonic Heroes, Sonic Unleashed, and 2006's Sonic the Hedgehog, but it has remained short lived. Don't get me wrong, I very much like Sonic Generations. Sadly, I like it for all of the retro 2D bits.
Sonic Lost World is now on the horizon and the dreaded Sonic Cycle remains stuck in my head. Sure — the initial screenshots intrigued me, but I've also been fooled by early information before. We've also seen several new random and colourful antagonists announced since and gameplay that looks solid, but a bit too slow for a hedgehog that is supposed to break the sound barrier. As a longtime Sonic fan, I gotta say — I'm nervous for this release, especially where it bears such a close resemblance to the Sega Saturn's cancelled Sonic Xtreme.
With the 30th anniversary of Sega's entry in the console market, Sonic the Hedgehog series producer Takashi Iizuka recently sat down with Famitsu to discuss the future of the franchise. "Yes, I believe some people may ask 'Will you be able to show how fun Sonic can be using a 360 degree stage?' just like how some asked 'Will it really be possible to have it in 3D?' which was the kind of question that helped in the creation of Sonic Adventure," said Iizuka. "I believe Sonic Lost World will deliver a new experience for everyone."
A new experience for a 3D, third person Sonic the Hedgehog sounds great. So far though, I'm still not very convinced that Sonic feels right in that environment, however, I can't say that I would know how to balance dodging enemies and walls that bring you to a dead stop while controlling an extremely fast blue mammal.
Stop, Square Enix. Stop it. I can't handle this abusive relationship anymore. Anyone who knows me, or has at least perused my RPGamer Staff Bio, will tell you that my favourite RPG ever is Secret of Mana for the Super NES. I love this game. The atmospheric music, colourful graphics, addictive gameplay, and interesting plot has led to me replaying this classic roughly thirty times. Naturally, I'm a big fan of the entire Mana series, however, it's clear that its heydays are long gone.
Sword of Mana, Secret of Mana, and Legend of Mana may be widely celebrated, but the franchise has been marred by omissions and misfires for years. Seiken Densetsu 3 (often referred to by fans as Secret of Mana 2) is considered to be among the cream of the crop and yet has not seen an official release outside of Japan. Children of Mana, on the other hand, was indeed released in the West. Unfortunately, it was also an uninspired dungeon crawler that even die hard fans would describe as mediocre at best. Friends of Mana was cute, but only released to mobile phones and even then, only in Japan. Dawn of Mana was beautiful in its aesthetics, but was seen by many as an uninspired Kingdom Hearts clone with a too heavy focus on physics. Heroes of Mana was a decent strategy RPG, but no one really wanted that game. In fact, you could have easily replaced all Mana references in that game with another existing or even new franchise. Finally, Circle of Mana was a card-based social RPG for the GREE mobile platform (you have no idea how much it pains me to know that this title exists at all). Suffice to say, being a fan of this franchise isn't exactly easy and I'm not sure I can handle much more abuse.
Recently, our friends at Siliconera discovered that Square Enix registered a trademark for Rise of Mana in Europe. Square Enix has also filed a trademark for Rise of Mana for use with video games and computer software in Japan. Furthermore, Square Enix re-registered the franchise name, Seiken Densetsu, earlier this year. It's apparent that something might be happening again in the future. To some, this brings excitement. I am not in that camp. The Sonic Cycle has nothing on the Mana Cycle.
This is a newer section of RPGamer's Currents where we take a hard look at some video game industry rumors and attempt to assess how plausible they are. Nothing in this section has been officially confirmed, but who knows which rumors will float to the surface as fact in the future?
- The PlayStation 4 Coming October 21
According to one mod-verified neogaffer named Nealand Liquor, an unnamed Sony console will be released October 21. Likelihood? No clue. It could lead to some pretty interesting Black Friday sales if it's true, but it seems like a fairly early launch and these "sources" don't seem tremendously solid.
- Amazon Developing an Android Console
Game Informer has reported that Amazon will be releasing a new gaming console by Black Friday this year. Likelihood? Doubtful. Amazon has been pretty hands-off with Android. When they released the Kindle Fire, they did so in an isolated Android environment that excluded a large section of what was available in the Google Play marketplace. Also, profitability in Android Gaming has yet to be seen.
That's it for this issue of Currents. You'll see another issue again in a couple weeks, but stay tuned to RPGamer for all the latest RPG news, reviews, previews, and interviews.
Your dork from the Great North,
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