Archive for November, 2007

Mario Party 8 Is Boring

I’ve never put much time into the Mario Party titles, so when I sat down with the fam over Thanksgiving for a session of Mario Party 8, I did so with an open mind. I know that it didn’t get great reviews, but most complaints stemmed from the lack of innovation from the 7 previous titles. I figured that since this was my first time playing Mario Party, the lack of progression in the series wouldn’t be a problem.

Mario Party 8

But wow was I disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, the actual mini games are fairly entertaining. It’s the mindless ‘board game’ portion in between mini games that’s brain melting.

My biggest complaint is that everything (rolling the dice, character movement, cute candy animations, etc) takes. so. long. It’s quite frustrating.

The real fun of this game comes from the mini games. I honestly enjoyed the various tasks and competitions that Nintendo thought up – while they’re all very simple, they’re pretty unique and generally well implemented. With that in mind, every effort should have been made to make the board game part of the experience as quick and seamless as possible. In actuality, it is unfortunately neither of these things.

There’s a fun game hiding under the surface of Mario Party. It’s just that for every 30 seconds of good there are 5 minutes of absolute boredom.

NPD October 2007

NPD sales data for October was released today:

NPD October 2007 Totals

Software Sales
1. Halo 3 (360) 433.8K
2. Guitar Hero 3 w/ Guitar (360) 383.2K
3. Guitar Hero 3 w/ Guitar (Wii) 286.3K
4. Guitar Hero 3 w/ Guitar (PS2) 271.1K
5. Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (NDS) 262.8K
6. Wii Play (Wii) 239.7K
7. The Orange Box (360) 238.4K
8. Guitar Hero 3 (game only) (PS2) 231.7K
9. FIFA 08 (PS2) 129.7K
10. Brain Age 2 (NDS) 116.9K

After playing second fiddle to Microsoft’s Xbox 360 in September, Nintendo’s Wii came roaring back to a convincing first place finish. In fact, both Wii (519k) and DS (458k) saw big sales increases over September (30% and 15% respectively). Nintendo has promised an increase in supply of the still-supply-constrained Wii, and this is the first month we have seen the tangible results of this promise. In fact, this is the most Wii has sold all year (weekly). The 360 (366k) saw a hefty decrease after its successful September, but that’s to be expected as September sales were driven by the release of the mega blockbuster Halo 3. The PSP (286k) did very well in October and the PS2 (184k) continues to impress, while the PS3 (121k) again found itself at the bottom of the totem pole. No data for GBA was released.

NPD October 2007 Weekly

Nintendo will enter November riding a tidal wave of momentum. Wii and DS continue to excel, and both Guitar Hero 3 and Zelda did very well for their respective platforms (note: this is Zelda’s second month on the charts). If there’s any negative thing to be said about Wii, it’s that software (most notably of the 3rd party variety) has not sold very well in spite of record hardware sales. While Guitar Hero 3’s performance is a step in the right direction, November will be very telling in regards to Wii’s viability as a platform for 3rd parties. Expect Super Mario Galaxy to top the sales charts.

Microsoft is no doubt satisfied with 360’s sales in October. While statistically their console saw a 13% decrease (weekly) this month compared to September, that’s to be expected considering Halo 3’s massive popularity and influence. More telling is that 360 sold 100k more consoles in October than August (pre Halo), indicating an increase in general demand for the console. With Mass Effect and Assassin’s Creed due for release in November, I anticipate excellent sales throughout the rest of the year.

Sony cut the price of 80 gig PS3 halfway through October to $499 and released a new 40 gig PS3 at the end of the month for $399. Though the 40 gig version only accounted for two days of sales for the October reporting period, the PS3’s dismal performance must be troubling for Sony. Making matters worse, the new Rachet and Clank game, a flagship Sony IP, sold a paltry 75k copies. Not only is the PS3 not selling well, but core Sony franchises have yet to find an audience. While we won’t know the full scope of the PS3’s woes until November data is released (Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune will be a good barometer), its outlook continues to worsen. On the plus side for Sony, PSP continued its impressive sales run following the release of a new model in September and should do well throughout the holidays. PS2 will also continue its strong performance.

Storylines for November:

-Will Wii maintain its positive momentum?

-How much will Mario Galaxy sell? Will 3rd party titles find success?

-Can the 40 gig PS3 increase general demand for Sony’s flagging console?

-What will be the sales spread between Mass Effect and Assassin’s Creed for 360?

(thanks to sonycowboy at NeoGAF and NPD)

Initial Impressions: Mario Galaxy is Nintendo’s Most Potent Prescription

I’ve been smiling a lot the past couple of days. I picked up Super Mario Galaxy at midnight on Monday, and every time I play, I get this warm, fuzzy feeling – it’s like the world gets a little brighter and a lot nicer. And the happiness doesn’t stop when I turn the console off.

Super Mario Galaxy

I’m a big fan of Nintendo’s premier titles (Zelda, Mario, Metroid), but Galaxy is unlike anything I’ve ever played. It’s magical, beautiful, unusual, dynamic, and trippy. The music is gorgeous, the controls are spot on (as usual), and it’s simply a joy to play.

I’m only 20 or so stars in, so I’ll wait until I finish the game to render a final judgment. But I’ll take my time. Mario Galaxy is a bottle of happy pills, and I’m going to make them last for as long as I can.

Does Length Matter?

Call of Duty 4 was released last week to a wave of positive reviews. While the Call of Duty games are mostly popular for their robust multiplayer modes, I value them more for their visceral, engaging single player campaigns. Therefore, even amidst the launch excitement, I was a little disappointed by what I read about COD4’s single player mode – a play through on the standard difficulty is said to only last around 5 hours. Is that long enough to justify my purchase?

Call of Duty 4

I think it’s unfair to judge a game’s value purely on its dollar to hour-of-gameplay ratio. A fantastic 10-15 hour game (Resident Evil 4) is more valuable (to me at least) than a mediocre 30 hour game (Oblivion). Along those same lines, though, I would have loved Half Life 2: Episode 2 all the more if it had been more lengthy. As long as a game can be beaten in a reasonable time frame (winning at things is fun), more is usually better.

It seems to me that games are getting shorter, though. Halo 3’s campaign was over quickly, and the aforementioned Episode 2 and its companion piece Portal were relatively brief as well. This actually isn’t a bad trend in and of itself, as a number of notable releases in the past couple of generations have suffered from BGD (Bloated Game Design), and useless fetch quests and collect-a-thons are never a good thing (I’m looking at you, Donkey Kong 64).

But not only have games been getting shorter, they’ve also been getting more expensive – a new PS3 or 360 game costs 60 bucks (a 10 dollar hike over Wii and last generation games). This is worrying because it points to an increased focus on cutting edge technology at the potential expense of gameplay. But at this point, I don’t think there’s anything to get upset about. This fall and winter promise the most bounteous collection of quality games I’ve seen in many years, and as long as developers continue to make things like Super Mario Galaxy and Portal, I’ll continue to happily give them my money.

With that said, value is a relative measurement. Even though Call of Duty 4 is probably worth the 60 dollar entry fee, it’s still competing with other released and soon-to-be-released titles for my money (of which I have a finite amount). I had thought that COD4 was a definite purchase for me this year after its glowing E3 impressions, but I probably won’t pick it up until next year at the earliest. Too bad for me, I guess.

Predictions: NPD October 2007

It’s that time of the month!  NPD video game sales data for October 2007 will be released next Thursday.  My predictions are as follows:

NDS: 432,000 (+8.91%)
Wii: 400,000 (-0.20%)
360: 330,000 (-21.85%)
PSP: 210,000 (-7.73%)
PS2: 173,000 (+0.58%)
PS3: 123,000 (+28.77%)
GBA: 64,000 (+6.67%)

(Note: October is tracked as a 4 week month compared 5 weeks for August, so any comparisons between these months will be for weekly sales and not monthly totals.)

On the Nintendo side of things, I expect both Wii and NDS to continue selling well.  Handheld sales generally pick up in September and October, and though the DS saw no strong software releases, I expect a decent increase in hardware sales as people begin their holiday shopping.  GBA should see a similar boost.  Wii, on the other hand, is still supply constrained throughout the country.  Though sales in Japan have cooled over the past few months and some have predicted that extra units are being diverted to the US, I think that Nintendo is stockpiling consoles for the upcoming Christmas rush.  They have promised “unprecedented” supply for the rest of the year.

Xbox 360’s performance this month is hard to predict.  I grossly underestimated demand for the console in September – Halo 3 had a much larger impact on hardware sales than I anticipated.  As it saw only 2 weeks of sale last month, I expect Halo to still have a solid influence on 360 sales in October.  Further, The Orange Box (Valve’s 5-game compilation) released early in the month to fantastic reviews.  With this strong software support, Microsoft’s console should see only a modest drop off in sales after a fantastic September.

After a disappointing August and September, Sony dropped the price of the 80GB PS3 halfway through October to $499.  Further, they introduced a $399, 40GB version at the end of this reporting period (it will see only 2 days of sales in this month’s data).  The console should have a healthy increase in sales over September, but at ~125k a month, the PS3 remains far behind its competitors.  PSP, on the other hand, is coming off of a great month on the strength of the newly released PSP Slim.  Though the handheld will see a decrease in sales, it should be modest as holiday demand picks up.  Finally, the PS2 should remain constant after the release of Guitar Hero 3.

Actual sales data from The NPD Group will be released on Thursday, Nov. 15th after market close (4:00 PM).

Holiday Software Preview

Each of the next generation systems (360, PS3, Wii) has been out for at least a year, and that means that this holiday season is a pivotal time period for the three hardware manufacturers. But that also means that the collective userbase of the three systems is large enough that publishers feel a lot more comfortable about releasing their high budget games. While a number of key titles originally scheduled for release before the new year have been pushed to Spring, a lot of promising software is still set for release this holiday season. With that in mind, I’ve listed my 3 most anticipated titles below.

1) Super Mario Galaxy
Platform: Wii
Developer: Nintendo
Release Date: November 12th

I’m more excited for Super Mario Galaxy than I have been for a game in a long time. After a solid yet by-the-numbers outing on GameCube in Super Mario Sunshine, Nintendo’s flagship franchise has, by all early accounts, returned to form. And I couldn’t be happier. At their best, Mario games exude an unparalleled sense of wonderment. They always control very well and are always a blast to play. Simply said, they’re really, really fun. I can’t wait (8 more days!).

2) Assassin’s Creed
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3
Developer: Ubisoft
Release Date: November 13th

I’ve had my eye on Assassin’s Creed for a long time now, as Ubisoft’s Montreal team, best known for their work on the Prince of Persia trilogy, is handling development. In fact, this game seems like the natural extension of Prince of Persia’s game design – there is a large emphasis on platforming and acrobatic maneuvers, while combat is simple yet stylized. However, while the Prince games were very linear, Assassin’s Creed is very open ended in the vein of sandbox games like Grand Theft Auto. That is, players are given the freedom to complete any task in any order they choose. Set in the late 1100’s, the game promises to have slick production values and a lengthy playtime. I’m hoping that it lives up to its promise.

3) Mass Effect
Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: BioWare
Release Date: November 20th

The spiritual successor to Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic (and its sequel), Mass Effect is a similarly toned space opera where players take the role of a galactic peace keeper. The morality system from previous BioWare games returns in refined form, as does the manner in which players converse with NPCs (non-playable characters). While talking to other characters, players choose their responses from a number of different choices. If you’re mean to other characters or interrupt them mid sentence, they’ll get angry and stop talking to you. On the other hand, if you’re understanding and polite, they’ll be more likely to answer your questions. Coupled with an action oriented battle system, Mass Effect’s sprawling game world and epic narrative should a great game.

Other Promising Games: Call of Duty 4 (360), Batallion Wars 2 (Wii), Zack and Wiki Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure (Wii), Rock Band (360), Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles (Wii), Medal of Honor Heroes 2 (Wii)