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CURRENTS
Issue #143
October 28, 2013
Tears for Fears
Front Page

Welcome to another issue of Currents, where video game industry headlines are broken down and editorialized. It's been an interesting few weeks for video game news, but my mind has kind of been preoccupied. While I realize that the holiday sales season is almost upon us and the release of two major consoles is on the horizon, I'm still racking my brain about what to do for Halloween night. I have a tradition of marathoning old horror movies and passing out candy to the kiddies, but I can't really do that this year since I've moved into a city apartment. It's a bit of a bummer, but at least I'm still planning to hit up a few Halloween parties. In the off chance that you aren't yet in a spooktacular mood, take a quick listen to this:

I'm not a huge Tim Burton fan, but do I ever love The Nightmare Before Christmas. It somehow manages to be the perfect Halloween and Christmas movie. This year I'm going as Clark Kent for Halloween because (a) I look scarily like him in real life, and (b) it is just as easy as wearing a Superman shirt under a nice suit. I'd love to know what you guys are up to.

If I could ask you readers some questions this week, they would be:

  • What are your plans for this Halloween?

  • Do you have any costumes in mind?

  • What was your favorite Halloween candy as a kid?

The Nintendo Wii U hasn't had the greatest year as far as console sales go. I'm sure this isn't a secret to anyone. Now a full year into its lifespan, this unorthodox video game system has only sold a fraction of what Nintendo was anticipating. In the past, analysts like Michael Patcher have attributed the Wii U's lack of momentum on a lack of consumer identity — almost as though the system isn't being purchased because the people who once bought the Wii see it as just another add-on. While I'll acknowledge that the Wii U's concept hasn't been effectively conveyed, I don't honestly think consumers are that stupid (regardless of how casual they may be as gamers). In my head, there are three major determinants of whether a console will be successful: price, hardware, and software. Not one of these elements looked tremendously appealing for the Wii U when it was first launched. The system cost too much, the "Basic Set" made almost no sense, UI was sluggish, launch games were few in number, and the system had way too many cheap ports of already successful last gen games. Things may now be different. In fact, the Wii U might just be poised to make a holiday comeback.

September showed signs of life for Nintendo's struggling platform, due in part to a successful pricing strategy. Sure, all they did was drop the price of the Wii U by $50, but that drop was for the already value-packed Deluxe Set (I'm assuming the Basic Set will be fading into obscurity). Furthermore, that deal includes a free game. You once had to purchase the system for $349 and ante up another $50 if you wanted a game other than Nintendoland. Now, you can pick up the best model of the console, the HD Remake of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, a digital copy of Hyrule Historia, and a customized Wii U gamepad for only $299. The deals are growing in number as well. The same bundle will soon be offered with New Super Mario Bros. and New Super Luigi U (that's two full games for the price of one). This strategy has proven to be effective, with sales last month up 300%. Providing the deals keep rolling and Nintendo pushes the Wii U's identity further, I can only see sales again increasing this holiday season. The Wii U hardware, on the other hand, has always provided some challenges.

In an age where tech specs have seemingly become paramount, the Wii U is at the bottom of the rung in almost every category. Wii U optical disks carry less information and other systems feature data utilities like DVR — the best the Wii U can do is annotated in-game notes shared through the Miiverse. The Wii U sports only a quarter of the RAM that its competitors are packing, the PS4 and Xbox One both have 500GB of memory while the Wii U has 32GB at most, and there are no cloud saves. You can't play Wii U games as you download, and Nintendo still insists on linking your content to the console itself instead of an actual gamer account. There shouldn't be doubt in anyone's mind that the Wii U isn't up to par with Sony or Microsoft's upcoming offerings as far as hardware, but that doesn't change the fact that the Wii U is still a next generation console.

EA, Activision, and Bethesda can argue the semantics of "Next Gen quality" all they want, but it doesn't really change anything. The Wii U, like the Wii, GameCube, and N64 before it, will always be considered to be "underpowered" next to its competition. That doesn't mean it has to be considered "bad" though. In fact, the hardware of the Wii U is quite unique. It offers something completely different — namely, a tablet-like gamepad — which its competitors simply can't emulate (SmartGlass has already been shown to be a halfhearted effort on Microsoft's part, and Sony needs gamers to actually buy the PlayStation Vita before it can be used in the same capacity). I certainly understand how easy it can be to get caught up in the superficial things like high-polygon character models, lens flares, and dynamic lighting, but the Wii U never needed "Next Gen quality" tech specs to play great games. The Wii U ecosystem, however, did require some polishing.

Until late this summer, the performance of the Wii U was kind of sluggish. You had to wait a minute if you wanted on the market place, you had to wait two minutes if you wanted to navigate the Miiverse, and you had to wait an atrociously long amount of time whenever the console had to update. There was a lot of waiting. That wait time has since been reduced, the UI has become more capable, there is more to do and see in the Miiverse, and the market place is much better at displaying content when you're browsing. The biggest threats to you actually enjoying the use of your Wii U have since been eliminated, but hardware and UI performance are only small components of what make a console sell. As Sega had learned shortly after they launched the Saturn in 1994, timing is important and consoles aren't usually successful without a strong library of games.

The Nintendo Wii U didn't launch with a system seller. Consumers weren't blown away by ZombiU, New Super Mario Bros. U, Nintendoland, or any of the last gen ports that were brought over. Most gamers were clamoring for a known franchise with a complete experience under The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario, Donkey Kong, Kirby, Metroid, Mario Kart, Star Fox, or Pikmin banners. We've since seen a slow rollout of quality titles, with Pikmin 3, Rayman Legends, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD, The Wonderful 101, and LEGO City Undercover all being well received by game critics and consumers alike. It would appear that the best is now yet to come for the console as Wii U Party, Wii Fit U, Super Mario 3D World, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Mario Kart 8, Bayonetta 2, Super Smash Bros, and X are all being prepared for this fall and into 2014. I can't say for certain that things will improve dramatically for the Wii U's games library, but better games usually dictate better system sales. To that end, better system sales usually lead to greater third-party support from all of those publishers who were quick to dismiss the Wii U as "Last Gen."

History makes fools of us all. It may be easy enough for some to point the finger at Nintendo and claim that they won't be in the gaming business much longer, but the companies has defied the odds more than once in the past. In fact, I'd argue that no other industry player has been as successful as Nintendo in the face of overwhelming doubt. When the Nintendo DS was first released, critics everywhere scoffed that its horsepower was nowhere near that of the PSP and that the handheld's dual screens were too gimmicky. The Nintendo DS has since become the company's greatest handheld success of all time, with an impressive 154 million units sold. The same doubtfulness ran parallel to the launch of the Nintendo 3DS. Because of its hard first year, Michael Patcher infamously claimed that Nintendo was dead in the water — stating that the PlayStation Vita was destined to rob Nintendo's market share. The 3DS has since sold 32.48 million units while the PlayStation Vita has floundered. The point I'm trying to make is that most of the industry know-it-alls have been wrong more often than they have been right, especially in regards to Nintendo's performance. Maybe this holiday season will sway their opinions though.

The Wii U has had an undisputedly hard year and holiday season success is by no means guaranteed. Nintendo still has to work hard to communicate the value of the device and ensure that the best Wii U games are well advertised. It is possible that the Wii U could be relegated to the background as the PS4 and Xbox One fight it out for launch supremacy. However, the release of the highly anticipated Super Mario 3D Land may just give the Wii U the leverage it needs to find its audience while the competition is busy being marginally better than each other. Never before has this console been so well primed for a holiday season. Let's hope Nintendo is smart enough to take advantage.

Sources: Nintendo, GamesIndustry

Filed under the category of "people apparently aren't allowed to have opinions," Yakuza series producer Toshihiro Nagoshi shared his thoughts on a few mainstream game series at Japan's Otemae University in 2011. That footage was recently shared by the popular Japanese online forum 2ch and Kotaku. Weirdly enough, his two-year-old comments have touched a nerve and a virtual lynch mob is now forming. Why, you may ask? He isn't a fan of the Grand Theft Auto series. That's it. Literally, a two-year-old news story about someone disliking a popular video game franchise has gamers all over the world in a tizzy.

During a Q&A session with students of the university, he was asked what he thought of the Call of Duty series which eventually led to a few comments about his personal sensibilities and why Grand Theft Auto isn't for him. "Of course, there are a lot of different tendencies in games," he mentions. "I once publicly stated that I hate Grand Theft Auto and got a lot of backlash from the internet. I still hate it. And if I were asked if I think it's a good game, I would say it's an excellent game." Nagoshi recognizes the high quality of the GTA franchise, but is against what the games tend to promote. "I simply can't bring myself to promote the emotion that killing is fun and committing crimes is fun."

This has led to a fair amount of scrutiny towards Nagoshi and the Yakuza games. To many, it would appear that Yakuza and GTA are two-sides of the same crime-based game coin. However, it is pertinent to remember that in Yakuza characters tend to die in cut scenes, and the overall casualty rate in each game is relatively low. There also exists a strong moral code with most of the Yakuza, which the protagonists and deuteragonists of GTA have typically lacked. Finally, death in GTA is more of an active element, whereas in Yakuza that kind of conflict is reactive. People still die, but the approach is far more passive.

Nagoshi went on to state that he understood different creators have their own different preferences and some might share his stance and others might not. "I think that's a good thing. I'm simply saying this is my opinion. But creating things requires resolve — for better or for worse — and sometimes that can cause misunderstandings. I just hope that you all won't be swayed if such things happen and continue to pursue what you believe in." He simply accepts that different people like different things. Regardless, and ironically, most angry internet commentators have chosen to simply ignore most of his comments and spit vitriol over his two-year-old disliking of the GTA series.

He's since been called a hypocrite, a video game snob, jealous of GTA's success, xenophobic, racist, and much worse that I honestly don't care to mention in this article. Would you believe that the original Kotaku report had to begin with, "Hold on. Don't start sending hate mail to Sega just yet. Let's hear the man out." Seems pretty illustrative of how video game news sites have come to expect modern internet reactions today. Personally, I wanted to highlight this inane story because it highlights the vapidity of online gamer extremists today. No one should be crucified for having a difference of opinion. There is a difference between disagreement and condescension.

Sources: Kotaku, 2ch

The last time I wrote about the Sonic Cycle, I received a number of wonderfully abrasive comments and argumentative emails. Naturally, I've decided to once again dip into the pond of hatred to make a bold statement: the Sonic Cycle was never "broken" and continues to this day. Yes — I've played and enjoyed both Sonic Generations and Sonic Colors. In fact, the high quality of both games made me hopeful that we had moved past Sonic Team's dark ages. The sad reality, however, is that Sonic: Lost World for the Wii U and 3DS are nowhere near the quality anyone was hoping for. The Wii U version has certainly received more praise than its handheld counterpart, but those reviews have been mixed at best and numerous complaints have been levied at its design decisions, unwillingness to push the series forward, speed of gameplay, and nonsensical narrative. For all the beauty Sonic: Lost World boasts, this game is being received as "fairly average" and further solidifies the concept of our favorite speedy blue hedgehog being trapped in a cycle of disappointment.

For the uninitiated, the Sonic Cycle is a popular video game trope wherein expectations for the Sonic the Hedgehog series are risen upon game announcement and promptly squashed at released. Gamers enter this cycle excited at the lack of side characters in game screens, and being wowed by teaser trailers full of pretty colors and going fast. The fatigue sets in as more screens are released with pictures of friends new and old, with questionable gameplay decisions thrown in for good measure. Upon release, reviews slam the game, fans are massively disappointed, and gamers everywhere claim that they will never be disappointed again. Both iterations of Sonic: Lost World has followed this pattern to a tee, with the Wii U version's quality likely to negatively impact the console's holiday season and the Nintendo 3DS version taking a heavy beating from critics.

Naturally, I don't expect everyone to listen to reviews and I know how dedicated the Sonic fan base is (after all, they managed to survive the man-made disaster that was Sonic '06). People will buy this game. People will like this game. That doesn't change the fact that Sonic is still having a 3D identity crisis. I'm not one of those people who believe that Sonic was only good in the 90s as a 2D sprite. However, it's clear that something is wrong when the unanimous opinion is that Sonic either feels too slow or too fast and unwieldy in a completely 3D environment. Game design has to be properly oriented to fit the goal of the game. Based on what I've played of Lost World, the game definitely had promise but didn't push the innovation envelope far enough. Too many classic 2D sequences break-up an otherwise refreshing 3D experience, which needed some polish in itself. Personally, I'm hopeful that the next major Sonic title attempts the same 3D concept with a more refined focus. For the time being though, the cycle continues.

Source: SEGA

A few months back, I covered the PlayStation2013 event in which the PlayStation 4 was finally revealed alongside a handful of PS4 games. One of those games was Capcom's action-RPG PS4 exclusive, Deep Down. Longtime readers of this column may recall me having a few reservations based on the too good to be true graphics and seemingly staged CGI sequences. The game certainly looked interesting, but at that time I called it out as presenting a Killzone 2-like CGI teaser trailer as though it were "in-game footage." I'll be the first to say that I have made some mistaken assumptions in the past. You can thank my cynical side for that. However, based on the recently released Deep Down multiplayer footage, I would argue that I was spot on in this instance.

The recently published gameplay footage certainly still looks decent. The in-game lighting is dynamic, the graphics still boast a high polygon count, and there didn't appear to be any frame rate slowdown. That being said, it also looks extremely underwhelming when compared to what was originally shown. The fire effects are completely different, the "in-game footage" UI has definitely gone through a radical change, and the environment no longer looks realistic. In fact, everything has a very glossy sheen to it — almost if though everything were made out of polycarbonate. The more interesting actions presented in the trailer were almost certainly also scripted, as your character apparently can only attack and defend as you would in any other third-person action RPG. I'm not pleased, to say the least.

There's no denying that final product could be good. Deep Down might be a fantastic game — a Dark Souls killer, even. Unfortunately, that doesn't change the fact that what we've seen today does not look half as good as the "in-game footage" we saw several months ago. I'm sure Capcom will eventually say things like "development direction was altered" or "that trailer was a proof of concept," but I honestly don't care. I don't like being lied to. As I've said about GearBox's trailer for Aliens: Colonial Marines: don't piss in my face and tell me it's raining. If your game isn't quite ready to be shown, don't show it yet.

Source: Capcom

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?

  • New Aliens Game?
    Alien: Isolation is a recently trademarked title filed by Fox for use with computer game and video game software. Anonymous sources have claimed that Alien: Isolation will be an across-gen first-person shooter (FPS) developed by the British studio Creative Assembly. Likelihood? Extremely high. We know that this is going to happen, not that it makes much sense. Aliens: Colonial Marines was a commercial and critical failure. Fans have been let down too many times, so I'm not sure why Fox Interactive is even interested in beating this dead horse.

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,

Trent Seely

Stalk me on Twitter: @InstaTrent

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