Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Nintendo: 3DS and Wii U

I happened to serendipitously catch Nintendo's E3 press conference today.  I tuned in a few minutes into it while Shigeru Miyamoto flexed his arm and remarked on how strong he was getting from playing Zelda Skyward Sword. 

Overall, I thought the conference was really well done.  From what I have heard about the other console's conferences, it sounds like Nintendo's may have been the best this year, in terms of sheer surprise and big name games.  Love or hate Nintendo, there is no denying that they are an extremely intelligent company when it comes to providing growth to the video game industry.  In the past several years alone, Nintendo has managed to capture a much larger user base than ever before, making the Wii a household name.  By catering to these "casual" gamers, that includes families that may get together to play, young and old, it has lost some of the "hardcore" gaming crowd.  That hasn't affected the Wii's success in terms of sales though.  By focusing on essentially a different target audience all together, the Wii enjoyed multiple years without any strong competition.  This was brought about by Nintendo's forward momentum when it comes to innovation.

However, Nintendo seems self aware.  It knows that it alienated a good portion of its past user base by focusing primarily on the casual audience.  What was so stellar about their conference was that, while we have yet to see delivery, they have at least addressed plans to fix or drastically change a few of their plans to remedy the majority of issues people ever complain about when it comes to Nintendo.  This shows that they are truly aware about the gripes their consumers experience, and want to do something about it. 

This started with the emphasis on new A-lister games for the 3DS portable system.  I have yet to buy the 3DS (I live several months at least in the past when it comes to games, remember?  That makes the 3DS not nearly ripe enough for the pickin' just yet).  I have noticed the general consensus was that, while it is a cool enough device, the major problem has been the shortage of games for it.  Sure, everyone has known that a remake of the famed Zelda: Ocarina of Time is on the way for this summer, but what incentive has there been really to buy a system without games  worth playing?
Well, it is clear that Nintendo has been hard at work to fix this issue, by announcing many games that will be out by the end of the year.  They announced more first party titles to come out within 6 months than I can ever remember coming out in such close frequency.  A new "tricked out" version of Mario Kart will be coming out that looked pretty fast paced.  Of course Kid Icarus will be coming.  Star Fox 64, one of the greatest N64 games will also be getting the 3DS treatment.  An aforementioned Mario title that was alluded to with a tail in its title was revealed to have a lot of Super Mario 3 themes to it, which looked absolutely awesome and really peaked my interest.  As well, for the niche fans that fell in love with Luigi's Mansion on the Gamecube, a sequel, Luigi's Mansion 2 will be out before the end of the year, among other games.  This is definitely a lot of first party titles Nintendo is promising that will quickly fill the gaping hole in terms of 3DS content.  Some of these games may even convince people who had never intended on playing a portable system to jump in.  This is just what Nintendo wants, in its efforts to compete with its past performance with the DS sales.

Next, Nintendo announced the new home console, Wii U.  A lot of people are apprehensive of the name, as well as myself to an extent, but it's obvious why they chose it.  Because the Wii was about "We" and the addition of U makes the experience about "You."  Well at least that's what they said in the conference.  I assume it is mainly for marketing the Wii.  Sony has been doing it for years, tacking on a number to the end of Playstation.  Xbox has done it with it's 360.  The Wii has captured so many consumers that Nintendo would be illogical not to consider a way to use the Wii name to help its newest system.  Wii U even rhymes with Wii 2.

Anyway, they emphasized that two words could be associated with the new system.  "Deeper and wider."  The function of these words were used to describe and solve another issue of Nintendo's of recent years.  They want to bring back the hardcore crowd of gamers.  They admitted that the gaming industry has yet to capture both sides of the spectrum on one console, but believe that the Wii U is it.  Deeper game quality that gamers would never have thought they would realize, as well as a wider array of options (catering to the casual gamer).  The Wii U sports better graphics than its predecessor, either on par of better than the current HD systems.  This was a concern of gamers with the Wii, being that it does not display in high definition be default and the horsepower leaves something to be desired.  It also has an innovative controller with a 6.2 inch touch screen that allows the player to utilize different views within the game, or play the actual game that is on the television screen.

Nintendo also emphasized that 3rd party support is strongly backing them, by a montage of 3rd party presidents complimenting the Wii U.  They even had the EA president come out and announce a full backing of Nintendo.  This checks off another concern that has been associated with Nintendo for years, the lack of 3rd party support.  Nintendo didn't centralize on the topic of internet too much, but people speculate that it will have better support for online, which would solve yet another issue Nintendo has faced.

Overall, I was surprised at the quality of this conference.  Some people are excited about the news.  Others I have noticed are annoyed or indifferent towards it.  It is obvious that for better or worse, today Nintendo unveiled some major news to the gaming community.  Time will tell if this will prove to be just another gimmick, or if this innovation will lead games into the next generation on a high note, leaving other companies trailing behind and trying to catch up.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Video Game: Borderlands

A friend of mine and I just finished going through the game Borderlands on the PC in co-op mode a few days ago.  I really liked it and recommend you try it out if you haven't done so already.  I think Borderlands could best be described as a fusion between many other popular game elements and tying them into one cohesive game.

 Borderlands is a first person shooter with fairly tight controls.  It also has the look of a wasteland, bandit like enemies, and the words "The Vault" that all evoke a sense of a post-apocalyptic fallout setting.  It incorporates talents and leveling up like an RPG.  Depending on which of the four characters you pick, you will have a host of different talents to try.  For instance, the Soldier has the ability to throw a sentry turret out for a time to attack enemies, while the Hunter has a bird companion that can be set off to attack.   As well, you upgrade your armor, which works like a Halo rechargeable shield, as well as grenade upgrades, class mods and of course a plethora of choices for weapons.


= Borderlands?

The game is stylish, with cel shaded graphics and a rock like soundtrack that compliments the action.  The game's storyline isn't its strong suit, but in the case of a game like this, that isn't much of a problem.  The storyline, to me anyway, seemed there to loosely connect the player with a sense of involvement and forward momentum, but the game really seems a lot more about leveling up and upgrading your equipment, trying out new weapons and the like.  In all honesty, in this department, it reminds me of a first person version of one of my favorite games of all time, Phantasy Star Online.  In both games, there is a vague story about what you are doing, but in the long run, the emphasis is on character progression and fun gameplay.  I think Borderlands pulls it off well.  After you finish the game, you can run through it again on a hard-mode to continue to level up and find even more fantastical weapons.  There is also a host of downloadable content that can be acquired separately or by buying the game of the year edition.  Like many games, I made the purchase on Steam during a ridiculously good deal, which I always condone doing.

The developers, Gearbox, are the same group that inherited and put the final touches on in a sense, Duke Nukem Forever, to be released soon.  After playing Borderlands, I have a new-found respect for the development team and am a little more anticipatory of the return of Duke.   Here's hoping that game will turn out all right and Gearbox will show consistency with quality!  Once again, if you are looking for a game that blends many gameplay elements into one union and pulls it off famously, try out Borderlands.  It is a fresh take on tried and true game-play.