Archive for October, 2008

Fresh

I finished Braid, and I still have no idea what the story is about. There’s no linear narrative to speak of, but the various bits of story littered about in small bits of text are strangely moving (considering their lack of ultimate coherence).  The last gameplay scene is particularly stirring. If you haven’t given the game a shot, you really should.  It’s a unique, fresh experience that deserves the chance to impress you.

Braid does a good job of not overstaying its welcome. It never lingers on a puzzle concept for too long, and while I get a sense that the developer(s) might have been able to squeeze some extra puzzles out of the various gameplay mechanics (the slowdown aspect in particular), I appreciate the tendency towards lean design over needless bloat.

As the date of the New Xbox Experience approaches, I find myself becoming progressively more frustrated with the current dashboard.  It’s dreadful, really.  Navigation is a chore, and everything just feels very clumsy.  I’m still a little worried that the new UI will just be a fresh coat of paint over the same, broken workflow.

– the Sign Painter

Too Human Not Too Bad

I finished Too Human the other day, and all things considered, my early play impressions held up for the entire game. Too Human does a lot wrong, but it also does a lot right. A choppy frame rate, clunky animation, and poor lip synching are balanced by great music, a fantastic loot system, an intriguing story.

The thing that really strikes me about Too Human is that the game takes itself unusually… seriously.  Things like Netzsche quotes and allusions to Norse Mythology provide a context unlike most other games (even the more narrative driven titles), and though such conceits push the game to the brink of self-importance, there’s no denying that the end result is, at worst, interesting and, at best, extremely compelling.

Too Human is not a great game – there are just too many flaws that dampen the experience. It is, however, an interesting game, and sometimes that’s more than enough to justify the experience.

NPD September 2008

NPD sales data for September is as follows:

Hardware Sales

(Note: September was tracked as a 5 week month, whereas August was tracked as a 4 week month. All % calculations are adjusted to account for weekly sales, not monthly totals.)

Wii: 687k
360: 347.2k
PS3: 232.4k
PS2: 173.5k
NDS: 536.8k
PSP: 238.1k

NPD_September08_WeeklyTotals

Software Sales

Overall Top 20 Video Game Titles

  1. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (360) – 610k
  2. Wii Fit (Wii) – 518k
  3. Rock Band 2 (360) – 363k
  4. Mario Kart (Wii) – 353k
  5. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (PS3) – 325k
  6. Mercenaries 2: World in Flames (360) – 297k
  7. Wii Play w/ Remote (Wii) – 243k
  8. Madden NFL 09 (360) – 224k
  9. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (Wii) – 223k
  10. Madden NFL 09 (PS2) – 158k
  11. Madden NFL 09 (PS3)
  12. Lego Batman (PS2)
  13. Super Mario Sluggers (Wii)
  14. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (PS2)
  15. Kirby Superstar Ultra (NDS)
  16. Mercenaries 2: World in Flames (PS3)
  17. NHL 09 (360)
  18. Lego Batman (Wii)
  19. Lego Batman (360)
  20. Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway (360)

Top 10 Wii Titles

  1. Wii Fit
  2. Mario Kart
  3. Wii Play w/ Remote
  4. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
  5. Super Mario Sluggers
  6. Lego Batman
  7. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09
  8. Madden NFL 09
  9. Super Smash Bros. Brawl
  10. Rock Band

Top 10 Xbox 360 Titles

  1. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
  2. Rock Band 2
  3. Mercenaries 2: World in Flames
  4. Madden NFL 09
  5. Lego Batman
  6. Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway
  7. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
  8. Infinite Undiscovery
  9. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09

Top 10 PS3 Titles

  1. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
  2. Madden NFL 09
  3. Mercenaries 2: World in Flames
  4. Lego Batman
  5. NHL 09
  6. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
  7. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09
  8. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
  9. Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway
  10. Silent Hill: Homecoming

Top 10 PS2 Titles

  1. Madden NFL 09
  2. Lego Batman
  3. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
  4. Mercenaries 2: World in Flames
  5. TNA Impact
  6. God of War II
  7. NCAA Football 09
  8. Guitar Hero: Aerosmith
  9. WWE Smackdown vs. RAW 2008
  10. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

Top 10 Nintendo DS Titles

  1. Kirby Superstar Ultra
  2. New Super Mario Bros.
  3. Lego Batman
  4. Mario Kart
  5. Guitar Hero: On Tour
  6. Spore Creatures
  7. Mario Party
  8. Mario and Sonic: Olympic Games
  9. Mystery Case File: Millionheir
  10. Imagine: Babyz

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Bullet Points

  • Wii and DS continue to outpace the competition. While it’s tough to nail down the exact numbers for each platform every month, it’s not exactly rocket science to figure out that Wii and DS will be tops for the foreseeable future.
  • 360’s price drop had a solid (modestly better than I expected) impact on total sales for the month.
  • As expected, PS3 sales were completely flat month over month.
  • NDS and PSP were victim to the standard September sales drop for handhelds. Expect sales to pick up again leading up to the holidays.

NPD_September08_Totals

It’s hard to ignore that Microsoft has positioned 360 to have an excellent finish to the year. While I still contend that a price drop in May (alongside the launch of Grand Theft Auto 4) would have had a more pronounced effect (both in respect to marketshare AND mindshare), this price drop will still have a lasting effect on hardware sales.

Sony has made it abundantly clear that they are concerned, in the short term, with stabilizing costs to the extent that they can start to turn a profit on PS3 unit sales. With that in mind, there’s very little that the company can do to counter the 360 price cut – all they can hope for is that Microsoft will muck up their supply situation again.

NPD_September08_Monthly

Further exacerbating Sony’s dilemma is the global economic slowdown that has been so apparent over the past few months. We’ve all come to grips with the fact that the video game industry is very price driven (though anyone who believes that Wii’s success is due to price advantage alone is fooling themselves). Thanks to Microsoft’s price drop, PS3 is (again) clearly the most expensive console on the market, and that will make the machine a tough sell throughout the rest of the year.

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

Too Gooey

I spent some time with Too Human last week, and despite my negative biases going in, the game has made a great first impression on me. While the cutscenes and graphics are generally unpolished (Baldur is stuck deep within uncanny valley), the general gameplay has proven to be pretty addictive so far, and a lot of that has to do with looting.

To preface this, I am not a huge RPG guy. That is, while I’ve enjoyed a number of turn based and action RPGs, I usually find the stat management and loot upgrades to be the least satisfying aspects of these games. But with Too Human, Silicon Knights has crafted a very satisfying loot system, and I’ve spent about as much time in the menus as I have playing the game.

I think a lot of my enjoyment comes from the fact that loot is additive. Unlike a lot of RPGs, there are not a lot of tough calls to make in Too Human when it comes to changing your character’s gear. When you get a new weapon or piece of armor, it’s either better than what you had before, or it’s worse. There’s very few tradeoffs that you have to make when upgrading to a new piece, and while some people might miss the subtlety, the streamlined nature of upgrading keeps things from becoming too overwhelming.

World of Goo (WiiWare, PC) was released yesterday, and I’ve loved what I’ve played of it so far. I’ve been intrigued by the game since it was announced last year, and reviews from Eurogamer and IGN have just added to my hype for the title.

World of Goo

The first thing that really jumps out at you when you boot up World of Goo is the level of polish, and that’s not even considering that the game was made by 3 people. The graphics are great, the music is superb, and the controls work perfectly. I don’t have a great sense of the puzzles yet (I’ve only played a small amount), but I absolutely love what I’ve seen so far.

Predictions: NPD September 2008

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

 

Predicted Total Hardware

Predicted Weekly Sales

% Change of Weekly Sales

Wii

588,000

145,000

+3.84%

360

320,000

80,000

+31.15%

PS3

232,000

58,000

+0.11%

PS2

163,000

40,750

+-9.51%

NDS

630,000

157,500

-2.76%

PSP

282,000

70,000

-10.83%

Notes regarding my predictions:

  • All console platforms should see a bump in total sales in September, though note that September is tracked as a 5 week month (compared to the usual 4).
  • 360 will see a large increase thanks to a sizable price drop accross all SKUs.
  • DS and Wii will return to pre-August levels of total sales.

Actual sales data from The NPD Group will be released on Thursday, October 16th after market close (4:00 PM).

Iwata Asks: Wii Music

The latest addition of Iwata Asks is about the soon to be released Wii Music, and it seems like Shigeru Miyamoto (General Producer) has had a pretty big emotional stake in the game’s creation.

Iwata: I wonder what, exactly, has excited you so much. Is it because something you always wanted to make has finally been accomplished?

Miyamoto: I suppose so. I strongly want everyone to understand this game. Earlier you said this may be my life’s work. This game may be exactly what I’ve wanted to accomplish all this time. It may also be a reaction against my complex about musical instruments.

Wii Music

Thanks to an over-the-top unveiling at E3 2008, Wii Music has been almost universally shunned by the gaming press. Expecting a Rock Band like experience, most gamers were disappointed to find that the game values creativity (of a sort) over timing. In fact, most modes in Wii Music have no scores to speak of. Instead, players press buttons and manipulate the Wiimote as they please (depending on the instrument you’re playing), and the software translates that into sounds that “work” within the song you’ve chosen to play.

At first, this sounds stupidly limiting – it’s like the game plays itself. But in reality, it’s a pretty interesting and unique angle on the music game genre. Instead of forcing you to adhere to a specific note chart, the game allows you freedom to play a song the way you want to (to an extent).

Miyamoto: When it comes to music games, as opposed to music for games, a lot of good games have been developed that require pressing buttons in line with a musical score, but they don’t represent the idea I have of music very well.

Further, you can record various tracks for any given tune. Perhaps you’ll want to lay down a drum track for the general beat, and then use other instruments like guitars and horns to round out the melody. Songs can also be sent to friends, and they can add tracks of their own. This asynchronous collaboration is intriguing, and I bet some great compositions get put together this way.

I don’t think Wii Music will replace an experience like Rock Band (which is completely awesome), but I also think that it is a very compelling (and Nintendo-like) take on a well established genre. I welcome that.

Grapple Happy

I’m still having a blast with Bionic Commando Rearmed. For the first time in recent history, I’m replaying a game – I started a playthrough on Hard immediately after I beat the game on Normal. I’ve still got one more level to play, and then I’m going to finish up the Challenges (I’ve done about half of them so far). All in all, it’s probably the best game I’ve played all year.

I downloaded Braid the other day. I only played through a level or so, but the game definitely seems intriguing – there are some really unique time manipulation puzzles, and I like how controls and game mechanics are introduced the player in a very organic way. There’s no tutorial to speak of, and the player is expected to pick things up as they go along. It’s a very refreshing experience, and it’s an extremely beautiful game to boot.

Braid

Keep your eyes peeled over the next few weeks for news on all 3 consoles (and handhelds). Nintendo has a press briefing on Thursday (some news might trickle in tonight), and the Tokyo Game Show is later this month (Oct. 9th – 12th). Some rumors are circulating of a DS redesign/upgrade, and there are reports of a number of games that Sony will be unveiling at TGS.

A new article from WhatTheyPlay claims to have the scoop on Nintendo’s next console, due out in 2011.

While our sources are reluctant to be too specific about “Wii HD,” they have been able to divulge some (albeit predictable) generalizations. High definition visuals are assured, as is a greater emphasis on digitally distributed and backwardly compatible content, indicating that the new system will feature some form of local storage medium such as a hard drive or large flash memory solution. It has also been indicated that Nintendo’s emphasis is again on what the consumer will hold in their hands and interact with, rather than the “console” itself.

Nintendo is supposedly giving presentations about the new console to various publishers, which is interesting (if true). Nintendo is famous for holding their cards close to their chest, though it’s possible that they are championing the new console’s backwards compatibility to assure publishers who might be hesitant to put a lot of money behind Wii titles in fear that the underpowered console might exit the console race early.