Archive for September, 2008

Bionic Commando Is Finally Back

I was excited for the release of Bionic Command Rearmed, and as if it could sense my excitement, my 360 broke in August before the game released. I’ve been moving around for the past month, so I didn’t get my new unit back until Monday. First thing I did was jump into BC Rearmed, and it was like having a conversation with an old friend.

Bionic Commando was one of my favorite games growing up, and while I’m a little skeptical about the new 3d game due later in the year, I was expecting great things for this remake. I wasn’t disappointed. The game is just a blast to play, and at 10 dollars, I wholly recommend it to anyone (it was released on PC, 360, and PS3, so no one has an excuse to miss it).

The main game is better than ever (with multiple difficulty levels), and there are also 50+ challenges that have you competing with your friends (via online leaderboards) to achieve the best time. It’s a fantastic value.

Bionic Commando

While my 360 was busted, I picked up Okami again. I had started the game in April, but after mixed first impressions, I just couldn’t find the time for it over the summer. I’m glad I gave it a second chance. The game is definitely fun, and while it is eerily similar to Zelda in structure and gameplay, the story has a darker slant to it that sets it apart from Nintendo’s flagship series.

One odd thing about Okami is the pacing. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the initial conflict that shapes the narrative from the start is resolved ~10 hours into the game. There’s even a party in the main village.

In a way, it’s like playing after beating the last boss in a Zelda game, and that’s not a bad thing. I’ve always wanted to be able to walk around Hyrule after beating Ganon, and while I understand the payoff might not justify the extra development time, it would be fun to see how all the citizens react to the tyrant’s defeat.

Okami provides this type of end-game experience, but it turns out that it really isn’t the end. There is a whole new adventure waiting for me in a brand new part of the world. It’s pretty surreal, really. It’s like they just went ahead and included the sequel on the same disc.

I’m a little worried about the gameplay in this new section. Most of my inventory slots are filled up, and I’m concerned that the momentum of the first 10 hours won’t be mirrored by the second 10 hours. I’m game, though. We’ll see how it goes.

Revealing Interview With Peter Moore

Peter Moore is an industry journeyman. He was with Sega during the launch of Dreamcast, and then played a large part in their transition to a 3rd party software company when the system succumbed to PS2. Frustrated with the unwillingness of Sega execs to embrace Western influence, Moore teamed up with Microsoft, where Steve Ballmer, frustrated with the Xbox’s stagnating marketshare, hoped to kickstart their console business. Moore oversaw the launch of Xbox360, and then in 2007, he announced his intentions to leave Microsoft to lead EA’s sports division.

Guardian.co.uk has a great interview with him (part 1, part 2), where he chronicles his adventures in the industry. Much of the discussion deals with his time at Sega, though there are some interesting insights into Microsoft’s business plan after the launch of the original Xbox.

He wanted my attitude, he didn’t care what I’d achieved at Sega, he wanted to know how I was going to win for Microsoft, how we were going to take on Sony, how would we compete with – or acquire – Nintendo.

Though he does mention Nintendo here in a competitive light, it’s interesting to hear how Microsoft viewed the market as they planned the 360.

Interestingly, we were just completely fixated on Sony – Nintendo didn’t even come into the conversation.

It’s hard to blame them, of course. GameCube made money for Nintendo, but it was hardly the basis of a momentum shift. Sony had successfully owned the market with PS1 and PS2, and with Nintendo holding their cards close to their chest, what could Microsoft do?

NPD August 2008

NPD sales data for August is as follows:

Hardware Sales:

Wii: 453k
360: 195.2k
PS3: 185.4k
PS2: 144.1k
NDS: 518.3k
PSP: 253k

August 08 Weekly

Software Sales:

1. Madden NFL 09 (360) – 1,000,000
2. Madden NFL 09 (PS3) – 643,000
3. Madden NFL 09 (PS2) – 424,500
4. Wii Fit (Wii) – 394,900
5. Mario Kart Wii (Wii) – 328,700
6. Wii Play (Wii) – 200,200
7. Soul Calibur 4 (360) – 174,000
8. Too Human (360) – 168,200
9. Madden NFL 09 (Wii) – 115,800
10. Guitar Hero: On Tour (DS) – 111,200

Nintendo’s Take:

NDS saw a reasonable price drop in August, though it wasn’t outside the realm of the usual handheld fluctuation. Wii, on the other hand, saw a statistically significant drop in sales, though it was most likely due to supply fluctuations as opposed to any decrease in overall demand. Things will become more clear in the next few months as Nintendo ramps up supply to prepare for the holidays – expect a substantial improvement in September.

Microsoft Vs. Sony:

Microsoft has to be pleased with how things worked out for them in August. After finishing behind PS3 (again) in July, most people were expecting a similar result this month. And that was before rumors leaked early in the month of a September price drop for all skus. Usually, the announcement of an impending price drop poaches some sales from the weeks leading up to the cut. That Microsoft was still able to keep sales steady is a good sign for their market momentum.

Sony is in an interesting situation. Remember the launch of the PS3 a year and a half ago? The system was brought to market at a price that was not conducive to marketshare growth, and because of production hangups, Sony had to eat it for a while before they could justify dropping the price.

The rest of the year seems eerily similar to those launch months. Of course, the 10k difference in August is by no means a big deal. But if you consider the recent price drop for 360 (which was not accounted for in these numbers), then you have to expect a pretty dramatic difference in September.

Further, while PS3 has some great games lined up for fall, they don’t compare to 360’s lineup (at least in regards to their impact on hardware sales). LittleBigPlanet looks awesome, but it won’t push consoles. And Resistance 2 looks to build off of the success of the original, but even that won’t be enough to drive massive HW growth.

Sony’s best bet for the Fall is to continue to play up the Blu-ray angle to consumers. It’s of course important to simultaneously market PS3 as a gaming device (a tough balance to maintain), but Blu-ray is a feature that Microsoft seems unprepared to match. This is not a long term solution, though, as there just isn’t enough momentum behind HD optical media to drastically affect mindshare. But it may be enough to minimize Microsoft’s holiday advantage.

However it turns out, the next four months should be a lot of fun.

As always, thanks to NPD and the community at NeoGAF.

Predictions: NPD August 2008

NPD video game sales data for August 2008 will be released this Thursday.  My hardware predictions are as follows:

 

Predicted Total Hardware

Predicted Weekly Sales

% Change of Weekly Sales

Wii

596,000

149,000

-1.97%

PS3

216,000

54,000

-4.00%

360

200,000

50,000

-2.44%

PS2

151,000

37,500

-2.58%

NDS

630,000

152,000

3.62%

PSP

210,000

52,000

-5.41%

Notes regarding my predictions:

  • DS sales will see a small increase thanks to the new Pokemon DS Lite.
  • Sales for 360 will drop off thanks to the September 360 price cut, though demand for Madden will help to soften the blow.
  • PS3 will see a drop off in sales as well, as consumer interest from MGS will be all but diminished.

Actual sales data from The NPD Group will be released on Thursday, September 11th after market close (4:00 PM).

Madden NFL ’09 All-Play for Wii

There’s something compelling about the Wii Madden games, though it’s hard for me to put my finger on it. Maybe it’s the way that EA has mapped the controls to the Wii remote and nunchuk – none of the motions seemed forced, and actions like throwing a bullet pass or a lob are more immersive because of them. Or maybe it’s the balance that’s been achieved between an arcade experience and the simulation aspects that have made Madden so popular over the years. Whatever the reason, though, I’m happy to be back playing Madden.

After playing hundreds of hours with 06, I’d thought that I’d never have the urge to strap on the cleats for another go-round. And even though I took the bait in 07 at Wii’s launch, I never really got into that version. Further, I’ve always been intrigued by the 360/PS3 titles, but I’ve just heard bad things about the new engine (though it seems like some things have been remedied this year).

The core gameplay engine of Madden for Wii is not much different than what I played in 06 and 07, but EA has made the experience more streamlined. In-game cutscenes have been removed, and the general transition from one play to the next is much faster than before. While EA has focused a lot on production values and in-game presentation in the 360/PS3 versions, Madden 09 for Wii is all about the on field gameplay.

When you consider the more streamlined production values and accessible Wii motion controls, the game really plays like the logical extension of the Tecmo Bowl games on NES and SNES. Simplified play selection options have been introduced (though the complex, formation based selection method is still available), and even the graphics have been reworked to be brighter and more striking.

I love football (season starts tomorrow!), and the feature count of Madden for 360/PS3 is no doubt alluring. But there’s something to be said for a game that is simply fast, fluid, and fun to play, and Madden 09 All-Play hits the spot.