Wii U – the next gen alternative

I have decided not to purchase a PS4 or Xbox one this Christmas and between the Wii U and my Steam enabled PC I am happy for a year or so with my gaming needs.  I have had my Wii U since launch and in that time I have built up a collection of games with the majority being first party Nintendo games and some third party games.  I am impressed with the system overall and here is why…

Firstly, it is fully backwards compatible with the Wii and you can transfer all of your goodies to the Wii U.  Couple this with upgrades for Virtual console games on the Wii U at discounted prices puts Xbox one and PS4 to shame.  Also, all accessories are compatible with the Wii U such as the Wii Remote, balance board and nunchuck.  Finally, off TV play is a great feature to keep your family happy by freeing up the TV.

The Wii U is now selling for an attractive price, if you shop around the Premium bundle can be had for £200 or with a bunch of games for £250.  Also, games such as Arkham City, Black ops 2, ZombiU and Assassins Creed 4 can be bought close to £13 brand new each.

It has streaming apps such as Netflix and Lovefilm with good second screen functionality.  I hope Nintendo can build on this in the future.  Miiverse – this has a great gaming community that is moderated by Nintendo and is a great forum for finding out about new games or marvelling at the artistic talents of fellow gamers.

Much has been talked about with regards to the Wii U graphics and the capability of the system.  You will find them hard to fault with stand out titles such as Pikmin 3, Windwaker HD, Rayman Legends and Wonderful 101 showing the full artistic talents of both first party and third party developers.  The use of shading, lighting, anti-aliasing and smooth frame rates are very impressive and help to create a cohesive gaming world.

Finally the games:

Pikmin 3 – more of the same but graphics and gameplay are king.

Nintendoland – local multi-player is fun during get togethers.

New Super Mario Bros U – great fun in local multi-player.

Zelda Windwaker HD – Is there anything else that needs to be said it is a Zelda game people?

Earthbound – Great RPG for the hardcore Nintendo fans.

ZombiU – highly underrated survival horror game, worth playing on chicken mode as more ammo and guns are available.

Rayman Legends – one of the true highlights great as a single or local multi-player game

Wonderful 101 – Great fun once you have mastered the controls and gorgeous graphics.

 

Games to look out for:

Wii Fit U

Wii Sports HD

Super Mario 3D World

Mario Kart 8

Trine 2

Earthbound

The Wii U is not without its faults as a online multiplayer games console it is not on par with PS3 or Xbox 360 (but a free service nonetheless).  However, this all depends on what type of gamer you are and how you play games.  I do not participate in online gaming very much due to time constraints and I am generally not a fan of playing online.  However, as a local multiplayer console or playing solo there is a lot of fun to be had.

To sum up give the Wii U a chance this Christmas you maybe surprised with what Nintendo have to offer.

Why control schemes should be standardised?

I have been playing games for approximately 30 years in that time I have switched from a joystick with one button, to a nes controller, a megadrive controller and then to a Gameboy and snes controller before moving onto the Dualshock controller.

For the past 5-10 years we have seen a standardized button layout emerging from all three games console manufacturers. Apart from the Wii; all controllers have at least 4 face buttons and two shoulder buttons with a combination of twin analog sticks and a cross keypad. It seems that Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony are all in consensus that the controller has been somewhat standardized with maximum number of buttons achieved and manageable for any gamer in terms of dexterity.

Therefore, it begs the question why we haven’t reached a point where a first person game or a platform game has the same control scheme? For example, recently playing Bioshock infinite the change weapon button is RB (when playing on the Xbox 360) when compared to say Battlefield or Call of duty this is usually the Y button. Instinctively, I always manage to press the Y button before realizing that this is the melee button. Take the zoom function when you are using a scoped rifle. On one game this is accomplished via holding down the left trigger (with the right trigger for firing your weapon). Yet, some games think it is suitable to click on the right controller to zoom in such as Uncharted or Gears of War.

Nintendo are not far behind with their confusing control schemes try playing Super Mario 3D land where the L button allows you to do the stomp jump whilst on New Super Mario U this turns into the twirl move. This can be very problematic when playing both these games at the same time. A problem I have come across whilst helping my niece through some of the difficult levels on Super Mario 3D land wherein my niece ridiculed me for stomp jumping thin air and that I was an incompetent gamer. Mario is near enough identical in the way he moves, behaves and controls in both games.

Fifa and Pro evo is another example where this occurs. I used to be an avid Pro Evo fan before switching to Fifa and then back again due to Fifa 13 crashing all the time. On Fifa you shoot with the A button whilst on Pro Evo this is the X button. Why can’t they both be the same? I know there is an alternate control scheme in Fifa but every time you play local multiplayer you have to ensure you switch control schemes depending on the person who is playing the game and whether that player is a Pro Evo or Fifa player.

To sum up my gripes; I don’t have the time or patience as an older gamer to move between control schemes and having to adjust the way I play each and every game. Also, the fact that I have a range of devices i.e. Wii U, PS Vita, PS3, Xbox 360 and 3DS I would like controls to be standardized so no matter which console I am using i.e. if I am playing Mario on 3ds it is the same as on the Wii U. If I am playing Metal Gear, Deus Ex or Half-life control schemes are similar. Granted some games differ in terms of functionality and features therefore, in order to change the control scheme there has to be a really good reason to do it and it has to be intuitive/second nature in the way the controls work.

Animal crossing New Leaf (so shiny)

Animal Crossing New Leaf is my game of the year so far. It sits above Bioshock infinite and The Last of Us for me and here is why. (Spoiler warning)

I never played Animal Crossing Wild World and only played the primitive Gamecube version. However, since its 3DS release late June, I have played this game constantly at least for an hour a day on the commute to and from work. This is a game similar to Dark souls and Monster Hunter and is only rewarding based on the effort put into it but without the difficulty curve.

The masterstroke of you being the Mayor in your own random map makes it all the more personal to you. You can mold the town to how you see fit. My town currently sits as an expensive place for purchasing and selling items and a very green place with lots of trees bearing fruits such as oranges, pears, coconuts, bananas and cherries. It is currently moderately developed with a TV screen, a water well, a fountain, a statue, fire pit as well as a tent area among other things; I am still working on developing the town further with a third bridge.

I am compelled to visit the town everyday to see what the shops have in store for me with their daily refresh of shoes, shirts, hats and furniture with some being Nintendo themed (the ultimate fan service). Not sure how Nintendo manage to make merchants such as Timmy and Tommy Nook seem so cute and adorable – who practically rob you with their prices. Also, my daily fruit picking (I have had many a strange look from fellow commuters) and fossil digging allows me to afford all the luxuries of making my house bigger and developing the town further. Not to mention chasing insects and going fishing to keep me occupied and making daily contributions to the museum.

The endearing and yet charming world is realized once you’re allowed to visit the small island. Here you are introduced to Kapp’n who takes you to the small holiday island in his boat singing a soulful song about life (a developer’s life lesson message). Some of the songs really do pull on your heartstrings and at one point I nearly welled up with tears in my eyes – and I can’t say that about many games I have played (Journey being one of them). Visiting the island is equally rewarding and hunting for rare insects and taking the fruit back home with you to grow and sell adds to the diversity. Furthermore, mini games are available, via the previously retired mayor that allow you to purchase items such as a Wetsuit.

The cheesy yet entertaining Dr Shrunk is another person to visit on a daily basis (after 7pm) give him a snack and he will tell you a joke. Which can be funny and also, a head in hand experience. Receiving letters and gifts from villagers and solving their micro problems passes the time as well – if only real life was this easy.

I feel I have only scratched the surface with this game and would like to see how the town develops in different seasons.
My only gripe is that the tools menu shouldn’t be part of your inventory as this limits your ability to carry items. All I can say is that I feel happy visiting the town on daily basis after a stressful day of real–life work and ultimately isn’t this why we play games in the first place? Nintendo, I salute you for a job well done!

Why Hello Kitty is enough?

Last Christmas my brother bought our niece a Nintendo DSI console for Christmas.  She is 4 years old and into anything Pink and likes playing with dolls and such as normal kids do at that age.  She used to play with our consoles quite a bit hence why my brother purchased a Nintendo DSI.

She played with it for a few hours; using the camera and Flipnote apps.  My brother bought Nintendogs and a bunch of other games appropriate for a 4 year old., carefully picking critically acclaimed games (as we like to think we know a bit about games).  None of them have interested her and she has played them for 30mins each and has never picked them up again.

A few months later I saw Hello Kitty birthday adventures! going for cheap.  All kids her age are going through the Hello Kitty fad at the moment so I took a punt full well knowing that this would a poor game for someone who is a gaming veteran such as myself.

However, after presenting it to my niece she was immediately excited.  A few hours later she was still playing on it.  As far as I was concerned this game was very poor in quality.  But who can argue with a 4 year old.  She was happy roaming around the Animal Crossing-like environment.

I usually turn my nose up to dross such as this but if it makes a 4 year old happy who am I to argue.  Now I know who buys these type of games :)

It looks like Nintendo are turning into Sega.

It was a tall order for Nintendo to produce a sufficient successor to the best selling games system the Nintendo DS. Last year they bet their cards on 3D to revolutionise mobile gaming and solely 3D.

We already had 4 versions of the DS and I think the ‘DS’ Brand name has maxed out its potential. It is now no longer unique in the world of gadgets where multitouch capacative screen is the norm on all mobile devices and the humble stylus with a resistive screen now seems out dated. Archaic even. Add to this; the design of the console is no different to that of a DSI and to the average consumer this does not look like a new device but simply an evolutionary upgrade. Furthermore, considering that ‘DS’ is used in the brand name this only adds to confusion. The price £220 on release and the woeful battery life only add further pressure to the 3DS not succeeding not to mention the anaemic release schedule. Consumers aren’t stupid and will not pay double the price for a device that isn’t much difference to a DS. Yes the new Nintendo 3DS does have a slide pad; yes it does have a larger screen; yes it does have a gyroscopic sensor and renders games in full stereoscopic glasses free 3D. We were promised a varied amount of passive content being wirelessly delivered to our consoles. But in reality all we have gotten so far is some rubbish magic trick videos, music videos by an unknown band and Oscar Oasis (which is rubbish but each to their own). I would have much preferred passive downloads of game trailers, demos and 3D film trailers. Streetpass was fun while it lasted but has not been refreshed or updated with new content. It’s as though Nintendo has gone to sleep.

In August 2011 we received a price drop where the Nintendo 3DS could be picked up for a limited time low price of £110 if you shopped around. But this was to clear the initial batch of stock which was lingering around Nintendo’s distribution centre unsold. Granted it has gone up in price a little since then hovering around £125-140. Now we are seeing that the 3DS has double its sales and looks to be back on course for now.

What surprises me is that the DSI was still selling reasonably well; understandably it was near to the end of its lifespan but there was no panic button for Nintendo to release the 3DS early and could have instead dropped the existing DSI prices further to boost sales. This release seems out of character for Nintendo who have never in their history rushed a console for a quick release. I can only imagine that the pressure was exerted from their shareholders (who are notably richer since 2004) and the press being negative towards Nintendo and urging them to release a new handheld console to compete with Ipod/Iphone type devices. Which in my opinion is a different market altogether.

I think the Nintendo 3DS hardware needed to be more radical rather than evolutionary. Basically, Nintendo needed to rethink and redefine the mobile console gaming space completely and released a console which was future proof for the next five years similar to the DS and Gameboy. Maybe they should have got rid of the bottom screen and bit the bullet by making the console both 3D and multitouch on the same screen. Also, adding a second analog stick for 3D specific games would have done wonders. Multi touch use for games that require it without 3D. Removed the cheapo rubbish CMOS cameras to save on costs – apart from the AR cards this feature has not been supported that well. Released an eShop with a three tier approach for cheap budget games, virtual console and full retail games. Supporting MP3 files for music and allowing an open source media player such as VLC. Better online support and obviously a new brand name. There also, needed to be a new way to interact with the device which both Nintendo and Sony have failed on in both the 3DS and NGP and they do not improve what the mobile phone devices offer currently.

On top of this a Slider pad peripheral has been rearing its ugly head on the internet; this basically adds a second analog stick to the device and appears to turn your square 3DS into a GameGear of sorts. What isn’t clear as of yet is whether this is a compulsory upgrade for us early adopters and Nintendo admitting that their console wasn’t quite ready for launch. Or whether it has been created specifically to use with Monster Hunter which is awful to play with one analog stick. Admittedly I am open to the idea of adding a second analog stick and it does make a lot of sense but not at the expense of adding extra weight, dimensions and destroying the aesthetic of my 3DS.
This past year has shown me evidence that Nintendo are struggling in this new age where there is a heavy reliance on third party software. A lot of the Nintendo franchises have been milked to death and there doesn’t look to be anything revolutionary coming from Nintendo HQ. I guess it is sign of the times the market is very segregated and fickle at the same time. Maybe Nintendo need to work more closely with third parties and hand over more of their franchises or initiate the creation of new franchises which they aren’t able to support in-house.

I love my 3DS to bits and I do see the value in 3D and playing Ocarina of time only verifies that this is the future but I think the console needed to up its game. There are whispers of a redesigned console which will be a slap in the office for anyone who has bought the console thus far. Let’s hope it is not true and that Nintendo focusses its efforts on producing great software and reasons to own and buy the console in the first place much like the original DS. For better or worse the hardware has been released and unique content is the only thing that matters.

The untimely death of Okami…

The original Okami was released back in 2005 just at the time when the PS2 was running out of steam and gamers were looking to move on to the next generation.  The timing of the release played an important part to the success of this game.  Commercially it failed and did not sell many copies around 600,000 both on Wii and PS2.

Critically, it was adored by all and remains a game with both iconic and cult status.  Most critics at the time rated it higher than Zelda: Twilight Princess.   I played this game from start to finish and it is one of the finest Action/Adventure games I have ever played.  Okami was not a commercial success and this forced the closure of Cloverfield studios.

Okami was later converted to the Wii by Capcom.  It kind of made sense as the paint brush mechanic would work well with the Wii remote and the demographic would run out and buy this game.  The Wii version enjoyed little success partly due to a quiet launch with no marketing campaign to back it up and partly it was lost on a casual audience who were content with Wii Sports, MarioKart and Wii Fit.

Not having learned their lesson with their past two failures; Capcom tried their luck with the Nintendo DS.  This was in development for roughly two years and again was released with little fan fare or marketing hype.  Secondly, to kill Okamiden’s chances of success even further the timing was completely off as the Nintendo 3DS was released a week later back in March 2011.  Granted that there are millions and millions of DS’s out there, together with 3DS being backwards compatible with the DS the timing was way off.  Maybe they should have held back and released a 3DS edition instead, we all know that the 3DS is starved of quality games at the moment and Okami would have shone brighter than others.

I feel sorry for Okami as the art direction, originality and gameplay mechanics should be experienced by all gamers.  Maybe a 3DS version would prove successful?

PSP Vita to be releases in Japan 2011 (why not)?

Back in early June 2011 at E3 Sony announced details for the PS Vita.  This is Sony’s successor to the original PSP introduced in 2005.  It boasts a 3 cell processor (similar to the PS3 which has 7), touch screen interface, 5inch screen, touch sensitive back panel and also, including the all important second analog stick.  Sony further announced that the PS Vita would be released in Japan December 2011.

This sounds daft to me.  Why you may ask?  At this current moment in time the PSP console is selling extremely well in Japan due to the many iterations of Monster Hunter which allows co-operative local play for up to four players.  The co-op feature is heavily used in Japan where gaming is more socially acceptable and played in public places such as Cafes.  The PSP, in Japan anyway, is in the best shape it has ever been where it is currently outselling the Nintendo 3DS and is constantly top of the hardware charts list in recent months.

Games that appeal to the Japanese hardcore such as Gundam, Arcane Slayer, Tactics Ogre, Dynasty Warriors and Final Fantasy Dissidia show that there is still a market for Japanese centric games which the PS3, 3DS and Wii are currently lacking.

Therefore, my suggestion to Sony would be to release in the US markets first then Europe where the original PSP is experiencing a downturn due to lack of developer support both first party and third party.  Secondly, consumer interest has peaked and the PSP is looking worse for wear as it is being superseded by newer technology such as mobile devices, tablets and of course the 3DS.

I think the Japanese market still has another year to run for the original PSP.  The PS Vita could suffer a similar fate to the PS3 whereas it was introduced too early and harmed its sales as the PS2 was still selling in high numbers.

Arcade revival (in handheld form)

All hail the mobile gaming revolution. As the dwindling figures started occurring circa ‘92 for the local arcades due to the 16 bit era matching the performance of arcade quality games such as Street fighter 2 (ok near arcade quality). The gaming industry thought this was the end of the arcade business as we know it. Initially, during the period of 1994-2000 we experienced a lot of arcade ports onto consoles this was primarily driven by Capcom, Namco and Sega with games such as Tekken, Soul Calibur, Sega Rally and Final Fight to name a few. This was mainly due to a backlog of (over the last 10 years) arcade games that were easily transferrable for the console experience. This missed out on the key factors for me such as the price, accessibility, competitiveness and social element of arcade gaming. It didn’t feel quite the same. However, once the arcade scene was deemed not to be profitable outside of Japan a shift occurred for all developers and publishers to concentrate on console gaming. As we have observed it takes a lot of investment of time and money to produce a console game with longevity, great graphics and mass appeal. This marked the end of the so called ‘arcade experience’ as it could not compete with traditional gaming. Granted the introduction of the Xbox 360 back in 1996 introduced arcade games back into the fold. However, mostly these were games of yesteryear and were more of a novelty serving the already present gaming audience. Games such as Geometry Wars proved there was a market still for arcade games. Once the Iphone (and later Android) was introduced with throwaway priced games starting from ‘FREE’, back in 2008, we experienced smaller developers reigniting the arcade experience all over again. I would describe the arcade experience as being: • Accessible • Anyone can play • Chuckable games • Little investment needed in time and money • Gimmicky • Short games • One more go factor • Socialising with fellow arcaders • Competitiveness • Unique interface When you look at the above list you can see that this transfers over very well to mobile gaming. Games are cheap; require little investment time and for the most part little money as well. They have the social element buttoned down such as competing against friend’s high scores and sharing. Lastly, they are accessible due to the wide adoption of mobile smartphones. I can name a few games true to this formula such as Cut the rope, angry birds, Jenga, Doodle Jump, Bejewelled and Tiny wings. I enjoy console gaming but sometimes it is nice to know while sitting on the train or waiting for someone you can quickly fire up a quick game of Angry birds. Long live arcade gaming.

Gaikai – a platform agnostic solution for the future gaming needs

I have just played the demo version of Mass Effect 2 on the Gaikai website; judging from the website it’s an impressive user of today’s technology for streaming a game in real time in your browser thus making it a platform agnostic solution.  Theoretically you should be able to play games using OSX, Linux or a Windows system using any choice of browser albeit Chrome, Firefox, IE, Opera or Safari.

All that was required was a visit to the website and install the Gaikai Java applet which is similar to most other plug-ins to play video or music such as Flash or Quicktime.  There is no need for special hardware such as excess RAM, dedicated graphics card or a powerful CPU.  Instead the Gaikai technology uses your PC as a thin client to stream the display data whilst the actual game is hosted and played on the Gaikai servers.

This is similar to the Onlive solution however this will require you to purchase a special box and controller to access it unlike Gaikai which will support your mouse and keyboard as standard.  I am sure in time there will be controllers that will be made compatible with this system.  The closest example I can think of is Facebook which currently offers only the most basic arcade/console games and takes up minimum hardware power.

At the moment the Gaikai platform headed by (Dave Perry) is marketed as an advertising platform for accessing game demos but this has been downplayed somewhat.  The potential for this technology in the coming years, due to the trend in an ever increasing oversaturated OS market, seems to make sense.  As the internet browser is common place and a powerful application among all devices; it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out this is where we are heading for PC and mobile gaming in the future this is why HTC have invested heavily in OnLive.  Similar to streaming media platforms such as Netflix, Napster, Spotify and Qriocity all games will be available in a large library ready for the gamer to play.

The only question remains is how to generate sufficient revenue and profits from such a platform?  Personally, I think games 3-5 years old should be available as part of your monthly subscription with each publisher getting a share based on how much their games are played and you pay extra for any new release games.

I don’t think it will put out Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft anytime soon (let’s face it they are great at what they do and have a very successful business model) but Gaikai will be a great platform to provide accessible gaming and help grow the gaming community further whether it is farmed out on a publisher by publisher basis or becomes a competitor to Steam.

The defamation of DJ Hero and to a lesser extent Guitar Hero

Activision have put an end to DJ Hero and Guitar Hero for good after sucking as much money in a short period of time as possible.

Being the savvy gamer I purchased DJ Hero from Game last week.  For £40; the package included the turntable controller, DJ Hero 1 and DJ Hero 2.  A bargain – I thought it was worth a punt at that price as I read some great reviews for it.  There was a barrier to entry for me previously; as the prices around Christmas time (£80-90) were extortionate.

The game itself has the same mechanic and feel as Guitar Hero but being a DJ provides a different element.  As you are more in control of the way the music sounds rather than simply hitting buttons.  Scratches, cross fades and sound effects provide variation in the gameplay.  With the difficulty curve hiked up you have to be quick with the timings of the cross fades.  I am really enjoying this game and I would definitely recommend to anyone aged 25-40 and here lies the problem.

The conundrum with DJ Hero is that it was always a niche product for a niche audience being a late 70′s/80′s child I grew up with music such as Grandmaster Flash, DJ Shadow, LTJ Bukem and the late 80′s/90′s rave scene where the DJ was at the forefront and pioneering dance/hip hop music.  So the appeal of DJ Hero was there from the start.  I don’t think this is the case for the younger generation who look up to Pop Idols.

Activision are to blame for destroying the Hero franchise.  If they were smart enough they would have combined both games into one.  I think users would be happy to choose the instrument of their choice be it guitar, drums, piano, mic or turntable.  Releasing a cloned game every year is not justifiable and introduction of cheaper DLC content would have been better a better strategy to refresh the aging playlist.  It’s bananas that a Guitar Hero track costs the same as an MP3 file.  At least with an MP3 you can use as you like.  Enough of Activision bashing for now.  I blame the general gaming audience, ultimately, who are happy to part with their cash for the same game every year.