Handheld

June 10, 2014

Nintendo Digital Event Aftermath

 

Nintendo held their digital press event this morning and while there was a few surprises and some light shed on a few titles in development; it was lackluster over all. Don’t get me wrong I love Nintendo, but they had the same symptoms that both Sony and Microsoft had, the 2015 delay bug. They are coming off a hot title for the Wii U, if the event showed more titles that are coming this year, they could have made a difference in the Wii U’s fate. Though we are getting some good looking titles this fall, but they are scarce and the lack of third party support isn’t helping. But lets get to what they should because it is good, but it again needed to be sooner than later.

 

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS – Two new characters were announced, your Mii and Palutena (from Kid Icarus). The Mii’s will be able to take on three varieties; brawlers, sword fighters, and gunners. You can choose 4 special moves for your Mii from 12 different choices. The 3DS version of the game has been delayed from summer until October 3rd, 2014. The Wii U version is on track for holiday 2014 but I wouldn’t be surprised if it slipped to early next year.

Amiibo – A new line of NFC figures coming for the Wii U. The first title to implement this toys will be Super Smash Bros.

Yoshi’s Woolly World – The new Yoshi title that feels like a spiritual successor to KIrby’s Epic Yarn. There will be 2 player co-op and guess when it comes out, 2015.

Captain Toad’s Treasure Tracker – Captain Toad’s great levels in Super Mario 3D World are getting their own title with Captain Toad finally getting the spotlight. The game will be out this holiday.

The Legend of Zelda (Wii U) – The first video was revealed and the game is gorgeous. The game will also take an open world approach versus the typical formula. The visuals are somewhere between the original Wii U E3 demo and Skyward Sword. It will be out in 2015.

Bayonetta 2- Finally showed off gameplay and looks amazing! I was a big fan of the original and great news for those who never played the original; the original Bayonetta is being tossed into the box with Bayonetta 2. As another bonus, there are Nintendo themed costumes in the original game. The Bayonetta package will be released in October 2014.

Pokemon Omega Red and Alpha Sapphire – The remakes are coming this year and they are looking great with the new visuals in line with X and Y.

Hyrule Warriors – The smash up between Dynasty Warriors and The Legend of Zelda is coming to our shores! It will be out on September 26th, 2014.

Kirby and the Rainbow Curse – A sequel to the DS cult hit Kirby Canvas Curse and it is coming to the Wii U, next year. 2015

Xenoblade Chronicles X – The Monolith soft’s long awaited game formally known as X, looks to be wrapping up development and will be out in 2015.

Mario Maker – A game in which you can build your own Mario courses. The layout is very simple, like a new age Mario Paint. The game will be able to play the levels in both classic Mario and “New” 2-D Mario form. The title will be out in 2015.

Splatoon – A new IP and a game I am legitimately excited for this title. It is a 8 player, 4 vs 4, territory based shooter. Yes, Nintendo is making a shooter; but like Nintendo fashion it is colorful and looks like a massive load of fun. The trailer is below and it looks fun. This was the height of the NIntendo Press event for me, though it won’t be out until 2015.

June 3, 2014

And the Delays keep coming…

 

2014 was looking like a great year for games. We had big hitters such as Batman: Arkham Knight, The Witcher 3, Tom Clancy’s: The Division. The Order:1866, The Elder Scrolls Online (console version), and many others. The latest title slipping in to 2015 is Batman: Arkham Knight. Thought this makes my fall release schedule a tad easier on the wallet, this was my most anticipated title of the year. So now I have Destiny, Assassin’s Creed: Unity, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Evolve, Smash Brothers Wii U, Lord of the Rings: Shadow of Mordor, and the recently announced Forza Horizon 2 to look forward too. Not a bad line up of games to get me though the cold winter, but the Dark Knight will sadly be missed. I agree that game creators should take their time, more time could mean a better, more finished product. Here is a list of everything that has been pushed back so far.

 

-Batman: Arkham Knight (PS4/One/PC) – 2015

– The Elder Scrolls Online (PS4/One) – atleast 6 months, could be December, my money is on early next year.

– Tom Clancy’s: The Division (PS4/One/PC) – 2015

– The Witcher 3 (PS4/One/PC) – February 2015

– The Order:1866 (PS4) – 2015

– Steam Controller (PC) – 2015

– Mad Max (being developed by Just Cause 2 developer Avalanche Studios) – 2015

– Half-Life 3 – 2054

 

Hopefully with E3 a week away, we see some more concrete titles coming this fall, and more reason to put money down on a new console. Even if 2014 does end up on the weaker side, 2015 should be a smashing year for gaming. If any other delays are announced I will update the article.

May 12, 2014

Gaming in Stereo: The Lineage of an Assassin

 

Assassin’s Creed is one series I never tire of. Some may argue that the yearly titles are starting to set in franchise fatigue, and to a point, I agree. But unlike other yearly releases, they are given ample development time, they are always trying new ideas and mechanics (some that stick and others that only appear once), and the sheer amount of content you get can be staggering. To me, they are like taking a walk through a history book, but with fun action doodles in the margins. I am currently working through Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, since I play these on the consoles I waited till I was able to play the PlayStation 4 version of the title to jump in. For a cross-generation title it is quite stunning. Black Flag has been a dream come true since I finished Assassin’s Creed 3. One of the standout elements from AC III was the naval battles, which in Black Flag, take the forefront. As a bonus we received one of the best pirate themed games of all time, something Disney (Pirates of the Caribbean) could never deliver. Jesper Kyd has helmed most of the series as composer. Kyd composed the scores for Assassin’s Creed, II, Brotherhood, and shared duties on Revelations with Lorne Balfe. Balfe scored parts of revelations and Assassin’s Creed III. I have shared Balfe’s work on AC III on a previous Gaming in Stereo. Assassin’s Creed: Liberation, a spin off of AC III that landed on the PS Vita (later consoles and PC) was scored By Winifred Phillips. Black Flag was scored by Brian Tyler, known for the excellent Far Cry 3 soundtrack. Though some people, myself included, were a little disappointed when Kyd didn’t return for Assassin’s Creed III, but I feel it was for the better. Kyd did a great job differentiating the sound of AC and AC II, and I feel fresh composers did the same for the following titles. Today we are going to look at those different sounds with some tracks from Black Flag and Assassin’s Creed II.

 

Jesper Kyd – Ezio’s Family – Assassin’s Creed II

This track is simply beautiful. With the piano, stings, and vocals it feels very fitting for renaissance time period. Since the Assassin’s Creed series is a tale of two time periods, one modern and the other a historical point in time, the track adds an electric guitar element at the (2:44) mark. Easily one of my favorite tunes from this series, enjoy!

 

Brian Tyler – Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag Main Theme

Brian Tyler captured the escapades of Edward Kenway perfectly with this theme. The drums and violins give a sea shanty feel, breathing a sense of playfulness in to the tune. The frantic drums at the (1:29) are the highlight, but like the game, this feels fun. You can feel in the music that Kenway likes his “privateer” lifestyle, though the game does have its more serious moments as well.

 

Bonus Track: Brian Tyler – On the Horizon

I am going to let the bonus track speak for itself. There are epic drum sections later in the piece, so listen for those. This does show a more serious side to Black Flag, enjoy!

May 7, 2014

Nintendo Post Loss, Wii U needs help

 

Nintendo had a rough fiscal year to say the least. The company reported today that they have ended their fiscal year with a net loss of $230 million (23.22 billion yen). Both the 3DS and Wii U had smaller figures than the previous year as well, thought the 3DS performed better than its console brethren. The 3DS sold 12.24 million units, selling 13.95 million the year before. The Wii U on the other hand sold, 2.72 million systems, that number is world wide. The Wii U sold 3.45 million units the previous year. Wii U software did produce a few million seller titles; typically in the industry, for a AAA title, a million units units is the goal. That number though, shrinks and increases depending on a lot of factors such as development cost, marketing cost, if it is a worldwide release localization takes money as well. GameSpot has the top selling Wii U games to date and they include New Super Mario Bros. U, Nintendoland, Super Mario 3D World, New Super Luigi U, Wii Party U, and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, all of those titles have sold a million plus units.  The 3DS software had incredible numbers with Pokemon X and Y selling a monstrous 12.26 million copies. Other top selling games include Animal Crossing: New Leaf hitting 3.8 million units sold; 2 million unit sellers include Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, and Mario and Luigi Dream Team. The success of the 3DS does excite me for the future of handheld gaming. The numbers may slip a little but there is still life in it despite the mobile market.  The Wii U on the other had has a host of issues and there are ways of rectifying the situation without dumping the hardware in favor of something new.

The Wii U is a unique case. It came off the “selling like hotcakes” Wii and follow up numbers typically falter,but not like this. The Wii U was never going to sell the same as Wii. I worked games retail during the life cycle of the Wii and judging from the people I sold units to, they were happy with their singular purchase and would not be back for the next gen. Nintendo didn’t bank on the casual audience and that was a positive for the Wii U. When coming out of E3 2011, Nintendo wanted the “hardcore” gamers back that they had possibly pushed off with the Wii. One problem with the console is the name. The title “Wii” still seems to carry a stigma with gamers as something casual, and for the casual Wii U was confusing. Was the Wii U a peripheral that you bought for your Wii? Would the Wii U games work on the Wii? Why is it a new system, but most of the games still use the Wii Remote? The Wii U, like the 3DS initially, needed to be branded something different. With Sony, you know the PlayStation brand, but know that the larger number on the end of the console name is the newest console. The Wii U needed to be named anything other than what it is, that was problem number one.

Number two is with the controller set up. The gamepad has shown some brilliance. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD shows some massive potential, as well as titles like ZombiU and The Wonderful 101. On the other hand, a lot of Nintendo’s own titles don’t take full advantage of the gamepad. Any of the Mario titles for example, only use the second screen as a way to play the title without the TV and it feels like a wasted opportunity. Bringing the Wii remote back for anything outside of backward compatibility was another mistake. Motion gaming was a fad, much like rhythm games, they had their time in the sun and now are done. Even the power of Microsoft’s Kinect 2.0 for the Xbox One is trying to find relevancy outside of being a microphone to shout commands at the console. Nintendo brought out a 360 styled controller dubbed, the Wii U Pro Controller. The Pro Controller should have been the only other option outside of the gamepad. One, maybe two controllers per console life cycle; more than that you are just going to confuse consumers.

Problem 3 comes with multiple parts and it all focuses on software. Software pushes hardware, it is as simple as that. Nintendo, since the N64 days, have a had a problem with 3rd party developers. Whether problem being the hardware difficult to develop for, no post kit support, bad relationships, or just not going after 3rd party developers, they have a serious problem. Sony and Microsoft have good first party support, but with out the support of publisher and developers like EA, Activision, Ubisoft, Sega, Capcom, and the like; their boxes would have no traction as well. Nintendo has some of the best, if not the best, first party games on the market, but as we see, with out those third party titles, your ship can sink rather fast. During a PlayStation 4 press event, the lead architect, Mark Cerny, was telling a story about the PlayStation 3 and how hard it was for developers to makes games for it because the dev kits came with huge manuals, written in Japanese, and their tech support was horrid. Nintendo needs to see that they fit into a global gaming market. They need to cater not only to Japanese developers, but European and North Americans alike. Software droughts are common in the industry. Typically July through August is the lull the industry takes as it comes off spring releases and heads towards the fall and winter extravaganza. The drought for the Wii U, though has seemed longer than most. We had the launch titles, then a few titles in March, and then had to wait until August for Pikmin, October for Zelda, and December for Mario. There have been virtual consoles releases and some downloadable titles such as NES Remix and Toki Tori to fill gaps, but there is too much time in between releases for people to loose interest. The 3DS had banner titles from start to finish last year, Nintendo needs to treat the Wii U just the same. The final problem to the software puzzle is IP’s (intellectual properties), though they have some of the most beloved IP’s in gaming, they need to bring fresh ones to the table. Nintendo is capable of creating fantastic games in design and art style, but fail to bring anything new to the table in terms of new properties. Pikmin was incredible on the GameCube. F-Zero and StarFox showed what the SNES could do as well as showing Nintendo is more than Mario. Metroid and Zelda have grown into adult staples that provide deep game play, darker visuals, and content. Where has this creativity gone? The Wonderful 101, Eternal Darkness, Bayonetta 2, and XenoBlade Chronicles are excellent examples of 2nd party gaming that Nintendo has help flourished. Nintendo is in need of a renaissance. It needs to keep making its core titles, bring back franchises that haven’t seen the light of day in over a decade (F-Zero, StarFox, and the like), work directly with some developers to make strong 2nd party titles. The original PlayStation, during its console cycle, was the the new kid on the block, was less powerful than its competition, used a new physical format (to gaming anyways), and flourished because of the software. Software is the key to making a console successful no matter the odds. Nintendo have two heavy hitters and fan favorites still to come that could put the Wii U back on track. The impressive Mario Kart 8 hits stores at then end of the month, and Super Smash Bros. is coming this winter. Nintendo needs to complement these titles with some surprises at E3, and those titles need to be out this year.

I write this article as someone that cares for Nintendo and wants to see their home console business flourish. I have always been a fan of Nintendo, choosing to get Nintendo consoles first over the competition, and supporting them when everyone else is spelling doom. I bought a Wii U and a 3DS at launch, and love them equally. I don’t think Satoru Iwata needs to resign; I don’t think they need to give up and become 3rd party developers; and I don’t think making mobile titles is going to help in any way, shape, or form. They need to focus on software for the ailing console first and foremost. For the Wii U’s successor, they need to evaluate their business plan, the development, and their relationships with third party developers. Nintendo isn’t going anywhere. The 3DS is raking in cash and the company has enough cash reserve and equity that one failure will not sink the gaming giant. They do need to pull in more talent and exclusives. Shigeru Miyamoto is one of the best designers of all time, but is also 61 years-old. Buying a studio with fresh talent such as Monolith soft, Platinum Games, or even a larger company like Sega or Capcom could be beneficiary. You would have that talent under your banner, plus their IP’s would be exclusives. The industry needs Nintendo, just like it needs Microsoft and Sony. The big three all have their strengths and their weaknesses. They all bounce off each other and it drives creativity, innovation, and competition. I can not foresee a gaming industry without Nintendo, Nintendo just needs to either find a power-up for the Wii U, or grab a 1-up and start fresh; either way, the big N is here to stay.

March 7, 2014

After 19 Years Jack Tretton is Leaving Sony

 

As of March 31st, Jack Trenton, the Sony Computer Entertainment of America CEO is stepping down. This was a mutual decision by Tretton and SCEA to not renew his contract after 19 years at SCEA. Jack Tretton has seen four PlayStation consoles launch with his time at Sony, and with this past E3, became the gamers CEO, closing the Sony event to massive applause. He has taken his fair share of criticism, especially during the early life of the PlayStation 3, but has always had this humble appeal. I have always had a liking for Jack and his interest in gaming and the PlayStation brand. There are some CEO’s in this industry that come from the outside and lack the qualities Jack has displayed over the years. He will be missed in the indusry and we here, wish him the best of luck on any future endeavors. Current COO of SCEA, Shawn Layden will be moving to the CEO vacancy. Layden is a 15 year veteran at PlayStation. He will assume the roll on April 1st.

February 6, 2014

Amazon has bought Double Helix

 

Late yesterday, Double Helix, the studio behind the Killer Instinct Revival on the Xbox One, was purchased by Amazon. The online retail giant has been in the rumor mill as of late, with rumors speculating a possible android based console or becoming a publisher. This is not the first games studio that Amazon has purchased. In 2008, the retailer bought Reflexive Entertainment. Double Helix has a rather stable, if not unremarkable, resume. Double Helix was formed by the merging of Shiny Entertainment and The Collective. They recently have had success with the revival of the Rare fighting franchise, Killer Instinct, and were picked by Capcom to revive the Strider franchise. Previously they had two titles in established franchises that were mildly received, Front Mission Evolved and Silent Hill: Homecoming. Outside of those titles they have had a string of movie tie-in titles that were poorly received. Microsoft has responded to Games Industry International about the transaction saying “”We want all of our loyal fans to know that the Killer Instinct team at Microsoft is not changing and that the franchise will remain with Microsoft Studios. We remain dedicated to delivering a great experience and plan to announce our new development partner soon. We’re excited about the future of this popular franchise.” It will be interesting to see what comes of this, if any rumors come to light. The Strider reboot that Double Helix is putting the finishing touches on, will be downloadable, which will be available on February 18th and 19th, 2014. The title will be available for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC. The title will run you $14.99.

February 5, 2014

Gaming in Stereo: The Ambiance of a Hunter

 

It has been quite some time since the last music article I posted and I apologize. With the busy holidays and my wedding coming up in just a few short months, my schedule has been hectic, but enough excuses, lets get to some tunes! Both tracks today are from the same ReMixer, Argle, and come from OverClocked Remix. Both tracks are from the Metroid Prime series, a series that I love to death and hope that Retro and Nintendo can bring a new spin on the Prime series to the Wii U. One interesting fact about Argle’s remixes is that the original tracks had a faster tempo, the remixes have a slower tempo making them feel more ambient in nature. The tracks have plenty of layers and surprises ranging from acoustic guitars, chip tunes, and pianos; though they do retain their electronic feel. Listening to these tracks over and over makes me want to fire up the Wii and play through the trilogy again, maybe a good way to spend the weekend.

 

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“Relics of an Ancient Race” – Metroid Prime – Argle

Starting with a warble, the track quickly kicks into gear with vocals and effects accompanied by chip explosions. The ambiance this track makes with the stings and stead drum beat is awesome, making the track feel like you are exploring worlds from behind visor. Heavy guitars and the melody pick up at (2:30) and finishing with some very nice harp and piano work around the (4:30) mark. The soundtrack to the Prime series is already rather heavy with electronics and ambient noises, and to remix that is quite a feat that shines through the remix.

 

“Bogged Down” – Metroid Prime 2: Echoes – Argle

I love the organ implementation in the beginning of the track and it follows through out. This track has more heavy guitars than the previous track but fits with the darker image the followed Echoes. Hitting at the (2:28) mark, a beautiful piano production takes over the melody. Finishing off the track at the (4:00) mark, a suave acoustic guitar finishes off the melody. This track has as much variety as the previous track. Enjoy.

January 28, 2014

Sly Cooper Hitting Theaters in 2016

 

Sony has announced its next CGI animated film, Sly Cooper. Ratchet & Clank was announced last year, this year we have Sly Cooper, hopefully next year we get a Jak & Daxter film rounding out the PlayStation 2’s platforming trio. The film is being developed by Blockade Entertainment and Rainmaker Entertainment, both who are behind the Ratchet & Clank adaptation. The first thing you will notice is the art style is a bit different, and they are wearing pants. Though I am not completely sold on the art style yet, it may grow on me, the trailer definitely captures the feel of the games. Another thing fans of the games may notice is that Chris Murphy (Murray) and Matt Olsen (Bentley) seem to be reprising their roles, as for Sly, it doesn’t sound like series regular Kevin Miller. The voice is close, but not enough. I got into the series late, I bought the HD collection and Thieves in Time on the PlayStation 3 and enjoyed the games immensely. The movie will be in 3-D and conventional 2-D as well and will release in 2016. I am curious if this and Ratchet & Clank score big in the box office and are received well critically, could they change the tide for video game based movies? I am pumped for both movies, check out the trailer below.

 

January 8, 2014

Post Holiday Numbers, They Might Surprise You.

 

Here we are in the first full week of 2014 and the holidays have come and gone. There were two brand new console launches at the end of the last year after the longest console cycle in the history of the industry. All three parties, Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony all posted good numbers, in some cases, depending on region. Lets take a look at the numbers by company.

 

Sony – Touting huge numbers since the launch of the PlayStation 4, one million in the N.A. on launch day, they finished 2013 with a staggering 4.2 million units sold. In the same time sold 9.7 million units of software, both digitally and physical, and had a 90% percent increase in PlayStation Plus memberships. Now that last number needs to be taken with a grain of salt, the PS4 now requires PS+ to play online and there was a 14 day trial pass included with the console. None the less, with the free titles across all the Sony platforms, PS+ pays for itself. Congratulations Sony.

 

Microsoft – Microsoft had an impressive end to their holiday as well with a grand total of 3 million Xbox One’s sold worldwide. It was unknown how much of the PR blunder that happened this past summer and being $100 more expensive than the competition would effect numbers, we are seeing the result. 3 million is quite an impressive number and congrats to Microsoft on a fast start, it will be interesting to see more of a breakdown once the December NPD numbers come in and Microsoft will go over their own sale data on the 23rd.

 

Nintendo – The little engine that could, is finally producing, in Japan at least. The 3DS and Wii U had strong performance ending the year in the Japan with the 3DS and Wii U outselling everything else, but here is the catch, the PS4 is not out yet in Japan. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds was the top in the post holiday week as well as four other 3DS games and three Wii U titles. The numbers came from the Japanese magazine Famitsu via Games Industry International. It will be interesting to see what happens to the Wii U once the PlayStation 4 launches in Japan, which will happen in February. Japan has been primarily good to its home grown companies, supporting Nintendo and Sony, while leaving Microsoft struggling in every way possible. It is unknown what Nintendo did this holiday in the States, we may have to wait for the NPD numbers to determine, I know I bought Wii U and 3DS software, so did my family as well as a Wii U.

December 31, 2013

Free With Your Subscription: January Edition

 

Happy New Years to all, this coming year starts off with a bang on the consoles. There are plenty of free games to be had in the first month of 2014 and show off some of the best games of the past year and a half. Xbox Live’s Games with Gold is finally paying dividends for being, well lackluster for many months. Though I have both the games that are available, but very happy more people will get to play them. PlayStation Plus is giving us 3 games for the PS3 that are some of my personal favorites from this past year. The Vita and PS4 offerings are a bit light, though there could still be some to be had. Here is the list of what you will get, and again, these are in no particular order aside from the Xbox 360 titles.

 

Xbox Live: Games with Gold

January 1st-15th – Sleeping Dogs – What used to be True Crime Hong Kong, was dropped by Activision only to be later picked up and published by Square Enix. This was one of my favorite titles of 2012. United Front pulled off the perfect open world kung fu movie, with likable characters, a great combat system, and a fresh location. If you have yet to play this game, I implore you to give this a try. The game sold moderately well, but was still considered a success. This game alone is worth the $9 a month for Xbox Live, Microsoft has done well by offering this stellar title.

January 16th-31st – Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light – Coming from the 2010 Summer of Arcade, this title is bit of a departure for Lara. Guardian of Light is a cooperative twin stick shooter/adventure title. I have been waiting since 2010 to play this great title with some of my friends, and now it will be free. The game features online co-op, it is a blast despite the odd genre for the venerable heroine.

 

PlayStation Plus

PS3 – Bioshock Infinite – There is nothing that I could say to make this game more appealing. Download it, play it, love it. Now, to be fair, it is a bit more combat heavy than Bioshock 1; but the story will definitely catch you off guard. Also, this game needs to be played for Elizabeth, she is one of the most endearing characters of the year.

PS3 – DmC: Devil May Cry – I review this game earlier this year, and aside from a few minor faults, I felt this was as good, if not better than previous entries. The combat is strong, the soundtrack is amazing (Nosia and Combichrist), and the art style is fantastic. If you have PS+ and are a fan of the Devil May Cry series, please give this a shot. Ninja Theory is one of my favorite developers that spawned from this gen (well formerly Just Add Monsters), and this is one of the their best efforts to date. Put the old Dante aside and give it a go.

PS3 – Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons – This game was a title in Microsoft’s Summer of Arcade this past year, and landed on the PSN a month later. The game is developed by Starbreeze Studios, another of my favorite dev teams (Riddick titles, The Darkness, Syndicate (2012). I recently bought the game during a sale, and it is something that should be experienced by every gamer. The game was co developed with Swedish Film director Josef Fares, and has you controlling two young brothers as they go on a quest to save their dying father. The controls are unique, as you will be controlling each brother with the analog sticks, and their actions with the triggers. The game is as emotional as Bastion or Limbo and hope you check out this wonderful title that may have flown under your radar.

 

PS4 – Don’t Starve

PS Vita – Smart As…

PS Vita – Worms: Battle Islands – Worms is always great, it’s on the go, and require very little from your memory card; sold.