Depending on how you look at it, the game console wars just took another turn with the launch of the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One consoles. What is even more amazing is the close and fierce competition between these two consoles in price, design, specs, and game varieties.
How do these two consoles stack up against one another?
Playstation has always been primarily a gaming device and the PS4 stays true to the cause. The console and controller have been completely redesigned. A new controller, the Dualshock 4, comes with improved ergonomics with slightly indented trigger buttons while the analog sticks have a slightly elevated rim to keep a player’s thumb from sliding off.
Other improvements to the controller include a touchpad and a light bar. The touchpad dominates much of the middle space but is fairly responsive to touch especially for in-game navigation. A Playstation camera, sold separately, allows the console to detect the movement and depth of field in front of it via the light bar.
The PS4 comes with an additional app, the Playstation App, on both iOS and Android, which lets you carry your game beyond the big screen, on the go. You can purchase and download games for the PS4 on the move and even play from where you left off right within the app.
Xbox One comes in a completely new design in comparison to the previous Xbox 360. Xbox exclusives like Halo may not be motivation enough for you to purchase the console, but the added features like voice command support and motion control to the system via the Kinect will definitely make you want to reconsider your options despite the $500 price tag.
What really sells it for Xbox One though is the fact that you can use it for more than just playing games. The machine comes with a cable port for watching your TV. What is even more interesting is the fact you don’t need to switch between the game and the TV. Simply tell ‘the One’ what you wanna watch. For instance, you can say, “Xbox, Watch ABC” and it will switch.
Other services you can access include Amazon, Hulu, YouTube, Netflix, Xbox Movies. You also no longer need to fire up services like Skype and Internet Explorer separately. These have been integrated with the One and you can pull them up onto the big screen just as fast.
The Xbox One also comes with the SmartGlass app for Android, iOS, and Windows.
The question of which is better, the One or the PS4, is hard to answer when you have two big players with two big consoles. Never before has gaming had two such stand-out consoles to choose from. The Playstation 4 has the best bits gleaned from three generations of systems while the Xbox One offers much broader experiences.
Recently, I was looking at the new apps featured in the iTunes App Store and one got my immediate attention. It wasn’t for the name (I had never heard of it before) – it was for the price. The game was $19.99.
My immediate reaction was “Wow! That is never going to sell.” Then I looked at the company making it: 2K games, a reputable gaming company. I was intrigued. I used to buy their sports games for the Xbox. The game is XCOM:Enemy Unknown and the description describes it as a game that has come from the PC and console world. A search at Amazon.com shows the game costs about $30.
The app price brings an interesting situation to the App Store. Most apps are $4.99 and less, and many of those are just $0.99. Consumers are familiar with paying low prices for iOS apps, myself included.
Now there is a $19.99 app which is probably console quality available for the iPad. Will customers be willing to pay that much for an iOS game when other ported games are priced at much less? I bought LEGO Batman for $4.99 and it was just as good as any console game I have played. Would I have paid $19.99? Probably not. If apps start having a higher price tag, I (and probably many others) will start buying a lot fewer apps.
I am not saying every app should be $0.99. I’m just saying that higher prices will mean fewer sales in the long run. Developers should be able to charge what they feel is right for their apps. It is the consumer that will decide if the price is right in the long run.
XCOM already has over one thousand ratings in the App Store, and you cannot rate an app without buying it, so it is definitely selling. How much? I don’t know and probably never will.
This app could be the experiment that other companies have not been willing to take and it might be the app that changes app pricing of the future. If it sells well, other developers might start pricing their console quality apps at similar prices.
On a similar note, Knights of the Old Republic by Aspyr was recently released at $9.99. It is not $19.99, but $9.99 is a big jump in price from the $0.99 game. That is another game I have played (on the Xbox) and it is great. Is it worth $9.99 on the iPad? For me, the answer is no. This game was originally published in 2003 on the Xbox. That makes it ten years old. While it is a console quality game, and I game I would love for my iPad, I will not be paying $9.99 for a ten-year old game and a game I have already played. However, there are many people who will buy and have bought this game for the iPad already.
Could this be the end of the $0.99 app in App Store? Only time will tell, but this is an interesting experiment for the iTunes App Store and other mobile platforms too.
Nintendo has always been slightly behind the pack in terms of online offerings. While downloadable content (DLC) for existing games is something very familiar to users of Xboxes, PS3s and even iPhones, Nintendo’s forays into DLC have been cautious and, at times, rather shambolic.
Yes, there were new “coin rush” packs for New Super Mario Bros 2 on the 3DS last year, but these added very little to the game. Then came the Wii U implementation of Zen Pinball 2. This was endlessly delayed, and when it finally arrived the process for buying and downloading tables was unbelievably convoluted, resulting in justifiably critical review scores.
Now, in what Nintendo has coined “the year of Luigi,” arrives New Super Luigi U, Nintendo’s first substantial DLC offering. Essentially a “bolt on” for the New Super Mario Bros U launch title, the DLC consists of 80+ new levels, which are played as Luigi and “remixed” from the original game elements. The game, however, takes place on an identical world map.
Initial skepticism is justifiable here. If you’re playing on the same world map, then just how new is New Super Luigi U? Well, the good news is that all the levels are brand new. Yes, they reuse the music and graphical elements from the original game, but there’s no doubt you’re playing on completely new levels – but more of that later.
Unfortunately, Nintendo still haven’t quite got the hang of making the installation of online content feel like anything other than a chore. Up until the Wii U, one of the benefits of choosing a Nintendo gaming platform was speed. Nintendo was always a case of cartridge / disk in – switch on – start playing.
Now, with HD graphics, correspondingly large data files and system updates, the Nintendo experience is all much more PS3-esque, and that’s not a good thing.
To get going with the New Super Luigi U DLC, the process was something like this:
Switched on, visited eShop, failed to find DLC, found a notification telling me to update New Super Mario Bros U, started the game, waited for the update to download, waited for download to install, restarted the game, tapped the icon to download the DLC, got sent back to the eStore, paid for the DLC, waited for the DLC to download, restarted game again, waited for DLC to install, finally found ourselves able to play.
Why, Nintendo, could I not have just visited the eStore, purchased the DLC, and been sent away to wait for half an hour while the console dealt with all the other stuff?
After a frustrating download experience, it was pleasing to find the game exceeded expectations. New Super Luigi U is a hardcore platforming experience; something akin to a long lost cousin of the fiendishly difficult “Lost Levels” from 1986.
Every level is short, and comes with a time limit. In addition, Luigi’s slower, floaty motion makes him harder to control. Note that this isn’t a criticism of the controls at all, it’s just that Luigi controls very differently to the Mario we are all so used to. As such, it’s essential to adapt one’s playing style to a character that can float and jump higher, but also seems badly in need of some brakes!
The end result is frantic and frustrating; you probably won’t expect to fall to your death within seconds of starting the first level, but you probably will! Yet, in that classic Nintendo way, you’ll never feel it’s unfair. This is exactly the kind of punishing platforming that veteran Nintendo fans have been looking for, but it’s fair to say that the level of challenge may be a little high for those relatively new to the 2D Mushroom Kingdom.
As Nintendo’s first foray into full-blown DLC, New Super Luigi U is a great effort. The level designs have clearly been crafted lovingly to create a serious challenge that frustrates but makes you smile at the same time. If you need something to tide you over until Nintendo catch up with their frustratingly slow Wii U release schedule, this is just what you need.
Just be aware of the need for patience while you download and install. While Nintendo still lead the way in level design and inimitable quirkiness, they still have serious catching up to do with their online ease-of-use. If you think it will annoy you too much, you may be best to wait until the green-packaged retail release of the game arrives later this year.
For the gamers out there, the thought of one of their most beloved gaming systems being unnecessary (gasp) is a virtual slap in the face. It’s easily accessible, relatively inexpensive, and opens our TVs up to the world of the internet.
But when not playing video games, how much does Xbox Live’s capabilities really have to offer us? Despite the constant access to play your friends at weapon-toting games or “party” watch movies – that’s when you and others watch the same movie at the same time, despite being in different locations – it’s a program that’s surprisingly limited.
Sure there’s ESPN channels, including live event streaming (not to mention watching the same game the next day without the need of a DVR), but that’s only if your internet provider also subscribes. So, despite the fact that you’re paid up, if say, Joe’s Internet Shop or Sally’s Cable Access isn’t, you don’t get any ESPN benefits … at all. It’s likely that larger companies will offer the program, but there are no guarantees, and nothing contractually obligating each provider to maintain Xbox Live access. For many, it’s luck of the draw.
Xbox Programs Plus
Next, look at other programs that are offered, such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, or movie rental – all require a paid or per-use membership. Sure that $50/year fee may not have sounded bad at first, but that’s on top of any additional subscriptions; Xbox live only allows you to access these outside programs, not to use their services.
Now back to video games. For avid gamers, it’s likely a worthy service. But for the rest of the population, we may just be better off using an internet capable DVD player, or a one-time payment box that doesn’t require additional fees. While I can’t speak for the gaming community (there’s obviously something there; the program continues to thrive year after year, despite the same consul being in production for nearly eight years), I can speak for the non-gaming community, and we say we want more – or rather, less. No more double subscribing to ESPN to get the same service everyone is paying for. No more gouged fees. And no more constant updates during the middle of shows; it’s just another unnecessary interruption.
But until a better option exists, one where gamers and non-players alike can intermingle and benefit from the same programs, it’s likely the service will continue to stay in place.
I’m a huge Nintendo fan, and have been since the 1980s. Nintendo gaming has given me an abundance of wonderful memories: from my first race on Super Mario Kart on the SNES, via Mario’s groundbreaking first 3D outing on the Nintendo 64, to the wow-factor of swinging a virtual tennis racket using the Wii Remote.
I’m remained fiercely loyal to Nintendo over the years, and despite occasional flirtations with other consoles, Nintendo’s uniquely quirky style of gaming has always been my preferred leisure companion.
So, it’s with regret that I feel compelled to have a bit of a whine about the current state of play in the world of Nintendo. I own both of Nintendo’s current consoles: the 3DS and Wii U, and I’ve enjoyed many hours with both. But certain things need to improve, or Nintendo’s in danger of being left behind in the next round of the console wars.
Here’s what I think Nintendo must do:
Invest in user interfaces
I said myself (above) that I love Nintendo’s quirky style, and it’s something that’s strongly in evidence within their console menus, right down to the cute download animations.
I don’t have a problem with this, but I do have a problem with the slow UI on the new Wii U. In a world where people are used to the instantaneous nature of their iPhones and tablets, long waits to access system features on a “next gen” console don’t look good at all. Nintendo-haters have, for a long time, referred to Nintendo consoles as “toys” and “kids games,” and slow cutesy menus are hardly going to change their minds.
Improved retro game support
Nintendo’s extensive library of retro games forms an impressive heritage, and is one of the strongest trump cards the company has to play.
Why, then, was there no Virtual Console service ready when the Wii U was launched? Why do people who’ve already downloaded retro games on their Wii have to go through a horribly unintuitive process to migrate them to their Wii U? Why is the Wii integration on the Wii U so clunky, and almost as much hassle as using an emulator?
Most importantly, where they are available, why are Nintendo’s retro games not priced in a way that reflects the fact that they are, in the main, decades old? Many people downloading them will have already purchased them at least once in another format – and the prices should reflect this.
Nintendo could make so much more of their back catalogue by making it easier and more economical for people to actually play the games.
I would have been one of the first people to defend the choice of a 2D Mario launch game. Now that I’ve played actually played New Super Mario Bros U, though, not so much. This game should have been huge and varied, and not what is essentially a game of the same size and structure as all the other New Super Mario titles that have gone before, albeit one hidden behind an attractive world map.
Nintendo Land has been fun, but hardly shows off the new hardware and is, essentially, a mini game collection. What has truly impressed me? Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed, a third-party game, and a short demo of Rayman Legends. The latter is truly inventive, in the way that New Super Mario Bros U really should have been.
I appreciate that it’s early days for the Wii U, and that more first-party content is imminent, but Nintendo need to work fast. This year’s E3 conference is only 5 months away, and will probably bring news of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox 720. If Nintendo haven’t brought many more people on board by then, they could have a difficult time in the coming years. As yet, they haven’t done quite enough to persuade this loyal fanboy to start persuading the haters.
Puzzle games are delicate creatures. They require a careful balance of difficulty: too easy and players get bored, too hard and players get frustrated. To grab the largest audience possible, most puzzle games steer towards “too easy”.
Partly because the tuning is difficult, it’s rare to see new puzzle concepts (the other big reason is that designing puzzles is difficult in general). Developers tend to play it safe, leaving gamers with a lot of boring games that retread old concepts.
Hundreds by Semi Secret Software, is a new entry into the genre that presents a great look and some new ideas. Unfortunately, in trying out their new ideas, the developers forgot to make the game engaging.
The premise of Hundreds is very simple – tap numbered bubbles until the sum of the bubbles equals one hundred. The bubbles grow as you tap them and if the bubble you’re tapping touches another bubble while you’re tapping it, you have to restart the level.
Each level adds different obstacles to make preventing bubbles from touching more difficult. Difficulty ramps up gradually, making the game friendly to casual gamers. Levels follow a pretty standard formula: A new concept is introduced, and the next few levels build on the concept before switching to a new obstacle type.
Hundreds is advertised as being relaxing, and I think it succeeds in that regard. A simple, muted aesthetic, paired with the ambient music and sound effects create a calm environment that other puzzle games would do well to mirror.
Unfortunately, I found the gameplay a little too relaxing, bordering on boring. While some of the levels were interesting, I struggled to play more than two or three levels at a time before becoming disinterested. The sense of engagement that exists in a game like Bejeweled (not the freemium Bejeweled Blitz, that game is trash) or even mahjong just isn’t there. I rarely felt compelled to keep playing.
One benefit to this lack of engagement is that the game is very easy to pick up and play in short bursts, which fits the mobile space well.
Pricing & availability
Hundreds is available for iOS devices through the App Store for $4.99.
I was able to get Hundreds on sale for $2.99 and looking back, I think it should have been a dollar less. For $4.99, there’s just not enough interesting substance or replay value. Maybe the cost is justified by the volume of levels, but I’d rather spend my $5 on a spicy chicken sandwich than the 100 levels of “meh” that Hundreds supplies.
The launch day for the new Nintendo Wii U saw my wife and I rush out to buy one like excited children. As committed Nintendo fans we had waited eagerly for our chance, and we were lucky enough to find one in the first shop we visited. With time off work booked in advance, specifically for this moment, we drove quickly home to get started. This article discusses our first month with the new console.
My first observation when rooting through the box was that our shiny black premium console is a serious fingerprint-magnet. I was also quite surprised by the size of the new tablet-based gamepad. It’s far larger than I expected, but not to its detriment – the gamepad is well-built and very comfortable to hold.
I was already aware of the day-one software update. This multi-gigabyte download attracted criticism, but anyone who understands technology should be forgiving. The consoles were probably boxed up far in advance of the final firmware being ready, so I was patient through the download and installation, which took just over an hour.
The Wii U’s TV remote integration must be mentioned here. All it really does is allow you to use the Wii U Gamepad as a TV remote, to change inputs and volume, but it work seamlessly. You really have to own one to know how it changes things in your living room, but read on to the conclusion to find out more.
It’s Mario Time
New Super Mario Bros U, the latest 2D Mario platform game, took up all of our initial hours of gaming. We swooned at seeing Mario in HD for the first time and enjoyed and cursed the “old-school” difficulty level in equal measure. I must confess, however, that we felt some disappointment on completing the main game within about 20 hours of play.
I was quite disappointed by this. Many criticized the choice of a 2D Mario platformer for the launch of a “next gen” console. While I had no objection, this game needed to be truly epic and, to be frank, it just wasn’t. Extra bolt-on modes do not make for an enormous game, and we were surprised and disappointed to find New Super Mario Bros U on our eBay pile long before Christmas day.
Christmas marked our first opportunity to put some serious hours into Nintendo Land, the Wii U’s closest equivalent to the “entire family can play” simplicity of Wii Sports.
Nintendo Land is tremendous fun, and despite the individual mini games being more complex than swinging a virtual racket, the whole family did get involved and enjoy the experience.
What surprised us was that the single player “attractions,” particularly Balloon Trip Breeze and Yoshi’s Fruit Cart, grabbed more of our family’s attention than the much-hyped asymmetric multiplayer options like Luigi’s Ghost Mansion. We passed several hours working away at each other’s high scores, rather than chasing each other around maze environments.
While it’s true to say that the Nintendo Land disk has spent little time inside our Wii U since the Christmas flurry of interest, we’re far from done with it just yet. I think the game may have more longevity than Wii Sports, in our house at least, so this is quite a triumph for Nintendo.
We didn’t expect miracles from this multi-format game, so we were surprised and delighted when it delivered, for us, the most impressive gaming experience so far on the Wii U. The game’s fast action actually gave us a hint of what our “next gen” HD hardware could do. Nintendo really shouldn’t have left a third-party to show us the capabilities of its new hardware, but that’s for another time and another article.
We also spent some time with a couple of demos: Fifa 13 and Rayman Legends, the latter instantly becoming one of my most anticipated games of 2013 thanks to the variety shown in just three demo levels.
Finally, the Miiverse needs a mention. This friendly and lighthearted social networking platform is truly unique. The ability to comment at certain points of the gaming experience is more engaging than you would expect, and it’s fascinating to interact with people cursing the same level as you are. I’ve only scratched the surface of the Miiverse so far, but am impressed with what I see.
The Bad Bits
It’s not all been fun and games. Transferring all of the retro Virtual Console games from my original Wii was slow, hateful and unnecessarily convoluted. It seemed like a slap in the face as reward for the serious sums I have spent on these downloads.
In addition, the lack of any real Wii integration with the new Wii U menus was a disappointment. Instead, you must effectively reboot into Wii mode if you want to use any old Wii games – it’s clunky and unappealing.
My final disappointment is the lack of any Wii U Virtual Console at this stage. Making 15-year-old games available for download should not be complicated and I actually think it inexcusable that Nintendo didn’t have this ready for release day.
There’s a lot we love about the Wii U, and bizarrely it’s the universal remote functionality that I mentioned above that deserves a special mention. The simple ability to switch on the TV and change the input to the Wii U without a remote means that all you have to do to begin gaming is grab the Wii U gamepad. This, somehow, ends up makes using the console more of a daily activity that it would have been otherwise. It’s an incredibly clever move from Nintendo.
Gaming wise, the Wii U has pleased me, but Nintendo desperately needs to keep the games coming. Right now, I’m playing a couple of indie games downloaded from the eShop (Nano Assault Neo is my current choice), but when they’re done, I’ve played everything I want to. I really don’t want to see a console I was so excited about lingering unused beneath my TV. If Nintendo had some retro games to tide me over (Gamecube titles please!) then this would be less of a concern.
So, I’m happy with the Wii U, but at the same time feel I need a little more convincing. Please don’t let me down, Nintendo.
The recent explosion of indie game development has produced a ton of amazing games and has revived several older game styles like the side-scrolling platformer (VVVVV and Braid being good examples). Unfortunately, those of us who were fans of arcade shooters like R-Type and Raiden have been left mostly in the cold.
Jamestown is a vertical scrolling shoot’ em up (“schmup”, if you’re fancy) which, according to Final Form’s website, is set on “17th-century British Colonial Mars”. The setting and narrative don’t make any sense, but they work as an excellent spoof on the horribly translated and often bizarre Japanese games in the genre.
Gameplay is simple: You are put in control of a ship. The ship has guns. There are enemy ships. They also have guns. Shoot the enemy. Don’t get shot.
Each level consists of waves of enemy ships followed up by a level boss. There are only a handful of levels available, but multiple difficulty settings, bonus challenges, and ship selections add variety to the game.
The brevity of a single play-through may not make much sense to someone new to the genre, but this is a game that’s meant to be re-played ad infinitum, building twitch skills and becoming in-humanly masterful at avoiding enemy fire.
The artwork, soundtrack, and gameplay are all excellent and fit together well. Pacing is perfect and it’s obvious a lot of work went into timing and designing each level.
The one piece that doesn’t quite work is the co-op mode. Huddling around a keyboard with three of your best bros, while true to the game’s arcade roots, just doesn’t sound like much fun (all of those bros take up quite a bit more space than they once did.). Even playing with two players on the same keyboard was a bit cramped.
An online co-op mode would take this game from “very good” to “almost perfect”. It’s possible that the high-speed, low-latency nature of the game may make this challenging from a technical perspective, but it would be an excellent addition.
It’s no great secret that developers and publishers in the video game industry would like to see an end to the used games market. The reasons for this are obvious: while everybody gets paid when a game is bought brand new, no one involved in the process of actually making the games get paid when it’s bought and sold for a second time.
However, there are several reasons why a healthy used games market is a good thing for the industry, and who knows how many gamers would give up on what is an expensive hobby if the chance to buy and sell games was removed. Unfortunately this isn’t stopping the efforts to curtail the market, with publishers such as EA making it harder to justify buying used games. And if Sony has its way the next generation of consoles could kill the market once and for all.
Used Games Market
Currently the used games market is huge, with a majority of gamers splitting their purchases between new and used titles. In the U.S. the used games market is worth at least $1 billion, and that’s a healthy chunk of the overall market. As well as big-name retailers and independent games stores offering trade-in value, there are the online marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay.
While there is one obvious downside to this situation (as outlined above) the developers and publishers seem to be blind to the upsides. For example, if a gamer sells a title on after finishing playing it, they’re likely to plow the money gained back into the industry by buying a new game. It also means people are more likely to gamble buying a full-priced title as they know they can offload it for a fair price if it fails to live up to expectations.
This reasoning has made no difference to the overall anxiety amongst industry people, and most are clearly keen to force gamers to buy new rather than used. The latest weapon in this fight – which has already seen online functions limited to those who buy games brand new – is a new patent applied for by Sony just a few months ago.
As dissected by NeoGAF it would see RFID tags embedded in all new game discs. The hardware would have the ability to read that tag and determine whether the game should function on that particular console. A new game would be tied to one console, with used games becoming unusable or, at the very least, having some functionality removed.
Sony is expected to launch the PlayStation 4 in the next 12 months, so it’s entirely possible such a system for identifying used games is already in the works. Microsoft is also gearing up to launch a new console, and there have been constant rumors that the next Xbox is also going to stifle the playability of used games. So the next-generation could potentially be a fatal one for the used games market.
If this turns out to be the case then I suspect many gamers would have to think long and hard about whether they’re going to continue to invest time and money in their hobby. If just one of the next-gen consoles included anti-used games measures then the other is likely to win big. If they both include such a system then no one wins, especially not consumers.
I’m always worried when developers port their games from the original platform to a new one. Console to PC, PC to Mac, console to mobile; whatever the case, the results usually suck (especially Mac ports). The new platform rarely gets the same support or attention as the original, and the ported game usually runs much slower because it’s running through some sort of emulator like Wine or DOSbox.
That being said, I hope other developers are paying attention to Supergiant Games’ release of Bastion on iOS. This is the rare case where the ported game may be better than the original.
Bastion is an action RPG in which you are put in control of a character named “The Kid”. An apocalyptic event has occurred in the near past and it’s your job to “make things right” by collecting various items throughout the game world. There are several mini-game challenges that help build proficiency with the different weapon types that are introduced, but you’ll spend most of your time running through the levels, killing monsters.
Gameplay is straight-forward and seems to be a mix of equal parts Zelda and Fallout; it’s hack, and slash, and shoot. Weapons, skills, and even the buildings at your home-base can be upgraded as your character levels up.
Variety can be added to combat by mixing up different sets of weapons to match the fighting style you prefer. My preferred kit was the machine gun and a blow torch, whereas one of my friends liked using the pole-arm and a sniper rifle.
Bastion originally debuted on Xbox Live Arcade and was built around the Xbox controller. The crew at Supergiant have done an excellent job in revamping the control scheme for a touch device. The controls are intuitive, frustration-free, and fun.
If I were to choose one word to describe the game, it would be “polished”. The art design, music (seriously, this is one of the best game soundtracks… ever.), narration, and controls are all top-notch and draw you into the game. Played on the iPad with a set of good head phones, the gaming experience is more intimate than on a TV screen or computer monitor, more akin to reading a good book. This is where I think the iOS port improves upon the original. It’s a more personal experience.
The one area of the game that falls short of the rest is the story, which is oddly something that many critics have praised. Compared to a game like Braid (or literally any decent book), the narrative is a tad generic and falls apart toward the end of game. If you come away from the game thinking “that was profound”, I recommend reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan as a comparison of something that’s truly thought-provoking.
None of this stopped me from pulling out my guitar and learning all the songs from the soundtrack though.