With this years E3 rapidly approaching, more and more attention is being paid to Nintendo’s new console, the Wii U. Last week a leaked photo of the revised tablet controller revealed that yes, this is to be the systems official name. You can call me a fan-boy if you like, but I have been playing Nintendo games since I was a child. I started off with an SNES; where Mario World, Super Metroid and Star Fox (called Star Wing in the UK for some reason) kept me entertained for many a long hour. When I was a few years older my parents brought me an N64 for my birthday and I remember games such as Goldeneye, Banjo Kazooie and Orcarina of Time wowing me and my friends with their chunky, polygonal graphics. This was the golden age for Nintendo. There where other Sega and Atari systems out at the time but no-one really cared about them. Every conversation was about Zelda or Goldeneye. Sadly this time did not last and I was lured away by the PSOne and the Final Fantasy series.When the Gamecube was released I put my faith in Nintendo once more and like many people was quickly disappointed. The problem with the Cube was not so much the library of games or its processing power, it was just a bit… meh. There was nothing stand-out about the system when compared to its competitors. Sure Zelda, Mario and Metroid where all there, but that was not enough to sell the system at the levels Nintendo needed. Its leaders seemed to realise this, and thus a few years later the Wii was born. Although only a fraction more powerful than its father, the uniqueness of its controls and accessibility for none gamers made it a smash hit. Despite the vast quantity of mediocre shovel ware and fitness/cooking sims, the Wii had secured its place in the market, creating a goldmine for Nintendo to rival that of the Pokemon crazy.
No joke for this one… its too serious.
So now we have the Wii U and my one main thought about it… What exactly is it for? This is the question I think will be asked the most and probably one Nintendo should be the worried about. Put simply, I cannot work out what sort of market this new machine is aimed at. On the one hand we have the new tablet controller. This the feature Nintendo has been pushing the most. So far evidence/fan theories suggest that it will have features such as being able to shift the game play to smaller screen, scanning physical items into the game world (ala Skylanders) and dynamic virtual controls. The way Nintendo has positioned the controller in the spotlight and not the system as a whole suggests to me that they are once again trying to sell it like the Wii, as a new way of playing games. The problem with this is that I am just not sure if a tablet controller is new and exciting enough on its own to sell a whole new console. Its not like touch controls have never been done before (see the DS/Vita/iPad) and I just do not feel that it will be exciting enough for people to want to replace their original Wii with it. The new market the Wii opened (and to a lesser extent the DS) was one that appealed to people who would not normally play a video game, ie, those not so technologically inclined. We have all seen the photos of the old folks playing Wii Sports in their care homes and I just cannot imagine those same people buying a Wii U just because it has a tablet. If anything a tablet is likely to put that audience off.
So if the specialist controller is not enough to move the system then what other selling point is Nintendo relying on? Is there some secret about the main console they have not revealed yet? Will they shock everyone at E3 by revealing the controller is the console? Because that would be awesome. A fully wireless system that can connect to a TV would certainly have that unique edge Nintendo needs to find again, although I highly doubt such a reveal is likely. So assuming Nintendo does not have a Shyamalan esq twist to stun us with, what else is there?
Well on the other hand we have the machine specs. One of the criticisms of the previous Wii was that it did not have enough to please hardcore gamers. It simply did not have the power to compete with the Xbox and PlayStation, also its online service was not up to scratch to handle the popular FPS games that where becoming all the rage. In my opinion however this was a none issue. Even if you could not afford more than one console at least you had a choice. Also with the 360 and PS3 there was little market room for a third hardcore device and really there still is not. Nintendo are trying to rectify this complaint now by providing a machine with power rumoured to be somewhere between half and twice that of the Xbox. Here I think the company needs to be very careful. Stepping back into the hardcore arena with anything less than twice that of current systems and people simply will not be interested enough. Half the power and the Wii U will be a joke to graphics hungry gamers. Also they had better be sure their online service is perfect from the start. No-one is going to payout for a new system on which to play Colonial Marines if it is sub-standard to what they already own, even if it has a funky new controller. On the subject of which, I am not sure how gamers who are used to the solid PS and Xbox controllers will take to it. Look at Sony and Microsoft’s and the basic twin-stick shoulder-trigger design is very similar. Unless Nintendo’s tablet is more comfortable then it looks I cannot imagine it being adopted for serious competitive play.
Could imagine this man buying one…?
The point I am trying to make with all this is that Nintendo is currently engaged in a two-tier approach to selling their Wii U. In one way they are trying to sell it to the same causal crowd who brought their previous inventive system, but in another way they are trying to appeal to the more seasoned gaming veterans like myself who perhaps grew up with their products but then moved on. What worries me is that I am not sure this approach is focused enough. By trying to appeal to everyone Nintendo could well end up with a unit that does many things but none of them well enough to compete. But maybe I am not being optimistic enough. Maybe the company which gave us the NES, the Gameboy and the Wii can pull off this hybrid console. Unfortuantly then I remember that this is the same company that also brought us the Gamecube, the Gameboy Printer and (gulp) the Virtual Boy. Then I long for my childhood and my N64 again….
Pictured: The empty space that replaced Virtual Boy…
Halo is still a solid shooter without the complexity of more modern entries, which will suit some more than others. The story still carries enough entertainment to make it worth playing for either the first or second time, while the graphics have been cleaned up significantly. There are few other additions and the lack of mulitplayer seems strange, but is understandable given the popularity of Reach. The game instead carries the Anniversary DLC map-pack for Reach, allowing for the traditional maps to be played online. Unfortuantly this game is not full £40, but would have benefited from being a downloadable title.
Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts lacks the humour and charm of the earlier games but makes up for it with its ability to create hundreds of insane vehicles; which is what you will probably spend the most time doing. The collection aspects of the previous games remain intact with the player taking part in races and other challenges to win Jiggies, vehicle parts or notes. There are only five (although large) worlds to explore, so things quickly get repetitive. Controls can be awkward at times, but overall the game is reasonably good fun if a bit disappointing compared to previous.
In the last few weeks since its release I have been considering whether or not to purchase the new PlayStation Vita. Like most men from my generation I am an avid gamer who has built up a modest collection of modern and retro games. I have kept all my old consoles, including my original Super Nintendo which often gets brought out to sit alongside its next generation successors. Whilst most of my childhood centred around Nintendo, in my adult life it the PlayStation that reigns dominant. My PS3 gets more use then any other my previous consoles (mostly because it has a blueray player), however its my PSP 3000 I have the most affection for. Although its generally regarded as having lost out to the Nintendo DS (which in fairness has a much better library of games in my opinion) its collection of decent RPG’s, the ability to watch video and run PS One Classics all kept me going during years of commuting.
For all these reasons I should be pretty excited about getting hold of a Vita. Except I’m not. Its not that I actively dislike the machine itself; I think the idea of playing home-quality games on the move is awesome, but its the changes to a form of media I love that I am reluctant to encourage.
I know what you are up too, inanimate gizmo…
For me the Vita is the first glimpse of what is likely to come with the next era of gaming. Maybe I am just old fashioned and still clinging to my childhood, but I don’t like the way things are looking for the future and its mostly thanks to the internet.
To begin with there is the lack of actual games. You are probably all thinking; ‘but the Vita has a bunch of decent launch titles’ and this is true. But what I am actually referring to is the dreaded ‘cloud’. I mentioned this in my top 10 things I like/dislike about the internet as a joke (so you had all better have laughed…) but this is a real concern for me. Currently most of the Vita’s title are available as cards, you buy them in a shop, plug them into your console and enjoy some Wipeout. However all the titles also available in the PlayStation Store for download, straight from day one. This is the first time I know of (with the exception of the OnLive system which I will come too later) where this has happened, and if the rumours about the next Xbox are true, this is likely to be how will be purchasing all our games in future.
Download on demand games are not a new idea and do have advantages. For the example the ability to store multiple games on a single unit is extremely useful for people like me with to many games and to little space to store them. This is the model the music industry has adopted and distributors like iTunes have been a big success. However, a video game is by no means the same thing as a music track.
To start with there is the price. The average game brought new can cost nearly £40 (although this does seem to be rising to £45-50) while a single music track can cost as little as 25p. With the economy not looking to improve any time soon, that’s a lot of money to spend on what is a luxury item that does not technically exist. Also with a download there is no flexibility in the price. If Sony or Nintendo want £50 for game that is what you will have to pay. There will be no pre-owned games to find on eBay, no competition between shops to drive down prices. In fact most stores are already starting to close down and this will likely finish them off. Thats not only sad for nostalgia-philes like me but also staff who will be out of work there.
Hey money! I remember money!
I have heard arguments that pre-owned games are affecting developers negatively, as they receive little to no money from re-sales, however I do not think that removing the ability to buy pre-owned titles will be of much help. For a start, game developers do make money. No-one runs a business in an area where there is no profit. Next, if you are going to force me to pay full price for a game, it had better be damn good. Occasionally I will buy a game brand new, even pre-order it, as long as it is something that excites me and is something I really, really want. All my other games are second hand. Most are games I brought simply because they were cheap and would never have purchased them otherwise. Surely some people buying your game cheap is better than no-one by it at all.
The other thing that makes downloading a game different from downloading something like a music track is the sizeof file involved. With my average connection in my average area of England, the average full size game (say about 3 gigabytes) can take over 6 hours to download. That means leaving your notoriously over-heating-prone device on for lengthy periods of time. You can of course pause your download or run it in the background, but previous experiences have proven this to be troublesome and even more time consuming. There is nothing more annoying then trying for 8 days to download Phantasy Star Online, only to have a lost source error appear at 97% (true story).
This leads me to my next point about the Vita, which is the heavy reliance on online services in general. Since the Dreamcast, consoles have been providing us with the ability to take our wars, races and even Pokemon battles out into the cyber world of the internet. Hours spent on Call of Duty and Street Fighter 4 have shown just how enthralling online mulitplayer can be, as there is nothing more fun then beating someone you know is a real person. My issue with online connective comes down to heavily it is implimented into everything.
Go, ninja killer flame-ape!
The Vita has been highly praised for its power to connect everywhere thanks to its 3G model, NEAR tool and access to a range of services. All of this is great, but its only as great as the network which support it. As you can tell from my afore alluded too download times, my home network is not great. So imagine my frustration every time I buy a game and find it has not been finished properly and needs me to install a whole catalogue of updates. Or even more annoyingly, when coats my screen in registration forms and DLC adverts every time I load Need for Speed (EA, I swear I would punch you if you where a real person…) Also what happens in the future if we move into games that require an online link to be unlocked and played each time, much like DMR protect movies do now? What happens if games are not even downloaded, but streamed over an OnLive style connection? I do not want to lose access to my game library every time my WiFi blips, one of the service providers goes bust or someone cuts a cable with a spade. By the way, just what will happen to all those games I brought if OnLive closes down anyway?
Even if you have the best connection in the world, and Vodafone invents a away of sending data that never ever fails, I still would not be convinced that integrating the internet so widely into gaming is such a good idea. Sure, seeing news and leader boards scrolling across the start screen is a great way to feel involved, but as someone who likes collecting video games I am not entirely sure how I will be able to continue this into the next generation. Will Sony’s servers still be around in 20 years? Will my Vita be stuck waiting to install an update that will never come? We will have to wait and see if the hardware survives first. Also I cannot help but feel that it encourages laziness in developers. Even now its painfully obvious when games are rushed out and then patched retrospective with updates. Charging extra for DLC which should have been in the main game (hello Mass Effect 3) and focusing all attention on the mulitplayer experience at the expense of the single player all result in a poor overall expirence. If you want to make a multilayer game that’s fine, but instead of a half-baked single player campaign why not include all that DLC you were going to release separately? Would Skyrim have been better with an online co-op mode? Actually that might have been awesome, but not if they had to remove half the map to do it.
The other big selling point of the Vita is the touch screen and rear sensory pad. Uncharted: Golden Abyss is one of the early launch titles for the Vita and as such is filled with distracting moments which require you to tap or swipe the screen, simply for the purpose of showing what the Vita can do. It seems every system since the Wii and DS has had to implement some form of alternative control and there is no sign that this is likely to change in the future. This would be fine as long as it is done well (see Skyward Sword, WarioWare et al), unfortuantly past experience show it probably wont be. With the PlayStation Move, Xbox Kinect and even the Wii MotionPlus failing to deliver the goods in terms of an exciting new game-play, hard-drives filled with forced and meaningless shovel-ware appear to be the fate of the future.
All that being said, once I can get my mind past these issues there is no doubt that PS Vita is an impressive piece of hardware. Until a few months ago it would have been more powerful then my laptop, which is kind of amazing when I think about it. However as with all new things in the world technology it represent a change, a moving away from the way things used to work and that naturally makes me uneasy. The problem in this case is that video games are very much defined by what they were in the past; a world of cartridges, controllers and creativity. I do not think everything about modern gaming is bad, its not, I just fear that once we start to move away from those defining aspects we will lose everything that the game industry used to be. The simple joy of going to the game store will vanish like the record shops and all that will be left with another hollow form of bland, restrictive, mass produced media. But on second thoughts I guess that was always the destiny of the gaming industry anyway, so I might as well embrace it. Buy a PlayStation Vita, because its the future of gaming.
RIP old console/dvd thing.