Archive for January, 2012

What It Comes Down to Is the Games…

Ridge Racer Screenshot

Ridge Racer: The Lucky Charm of a Sony launch

I admit to more than a little bias when it comes to my console purchases. I’ve never been able to afford every new console per generation, and as such there is always a combination of factors that goes into purchasing one. When I bought my Sony PlayStation, I was coming from the Sega Genesis. While the Saturn shared some titles with Sony’s system, Sony had things that the Saturn didn’t (and I had no brand loyalty to Nintendo, having barely played any Nintendo systems since the NES). Tekken, Resident Evil, Ridge Racer, and later Final Fantasy VII, were big factors in choosing the PlayStation over the Saturn, which on release lacked Sonic the Hedgehog, Streets of Rage, or any of the other Genesis titles I was familiar with. Perhaps if the United States had experienced the awesome Segata Sanshiro ads that Japan got, the Saturn would have been more successful and enticing. The Saturn had Virtua Fighter, Clockwork Knight, and the for 7-year-old me unpronounceable Panzer Dragoon at launch. So I went to where the cool new stuff was going, and that was the PlayStation.

By the next generation, I had become a huge fan of Resident Evil, and it was going to the GameCube. And thus, I was going with it, to the first Nintendo console I bought new. I followed one of my favorite series to the new system. And while I was there, I enjoyed Metroid Prime, Eternal Darkness, and Pikmin, among other titles unique to the system. However, I kind of felt that Nintendo dropped the ball when they released the Wii – since Zelda: Twilight Princess was available in a perfectly serviceable version for the GameCube, what reason did I have to upgrade to the new system? Although I would eventually get a Wii, the fact that there wasn’t some new and unique thing to make me make the jump was a big factor in not getting one at launch.

Zelda NES art

Nintendo has built a lot of its fanbase on its excellent first-party titles. Do other console manufacturers need to follow their lead?

In the interim between the GameCube and the Wii’s release, I also acquired a PS2. While I was initially not terribly impressed with its lineup, the PS2’s exclusives had really taken off. Devil May Cry, God of War, and  Silent Hill 2 and 3 were particularly tantalising. Even the exclusives I didn’t like (Kingdom Hearts and FFX, for example) still had plenty of worthy features if you liked that kind of game. By the end of that console generation’s life cycle, Sony had won me over.

Now, I can’t mention that console generation without mentioning the Xbox and why I never bought one. This is quite simple actually – it lacked any notable exclusives, at least any that I had heard of. Halo was popular, of course, but as a longtime PC gamer, I failed to see the point of buying a console to play one shooter when there were plenty of quality games like Half-Life and Unreal Tournament on the PC. The Xbox’s flagship titles, Halo and Fable, eventually made it to the PC anyway. This was probably the biggest reason I never bought one – give me a choice between playing the same game on a PC or a console, I’ll choose the PC version every time.

These feelings carried over into the next console generation. Sony already had the hook baited with promises of God of War III and a new Final Fantasy (which, of course, was before Final Fantasy went system-agnostic and before I saw how goofy it looked). In any case, the PS3 had exclusives and, with the precedent set by the previous Xbox, I figured if any exclusives I wanted to play on that system surfaced, they would eventually end up on PC. This turned out a little different than I imagined, including an abysmal port of the first Gears of War and an untimely port of the tepidly received Fable III (which Microsoft released on the PC without bothering to release the second game). I would have liked to have seen Halo 3 make an appearance on the PC, but even without their flagship title jumping ship, the Xbox 360 seems to be losing exclusives at an alarming rate.

Will Halo be able to survive as a franchise after Bungie left the franchise?

While it’s still the most popular system for multiplatform games like the Call of Duty series, what games does it have to entice gamers to purchase the next generation of consoles? Unless Microsoft nails down more exclusives, they may be in danger of losing their edge. That edge, as it stands, is a large user base – but if the only thing holding gamers to the system is a multiplatform game like Modern Warfare or Skyrim, what’s to stop them from moving to Sony or Nintendo’s new system if there are no titles to hold them down? Epic probably isn’t going to go on making Gears sequels forever. Bungie has moved on from Halo, leaving the series in untested hands. As much as I am opposed to the endless sequel bandwagon, it does help to have recurring series and familiar franchises ready to go when a new system launches.

Let’s face it, new systems do a lot better when they have new titles in classic franchises as opposed to new games people aren’t familiar with. Sony made a big mistake launching the PS3 with new (and cookie cutter) franchises like Resistance and Killzone, which to this day I still cannot tell apart.  The PS2 had launched with Tekken Tag Tournament and Gran Turismo 3. Where were those when the PS3 launched, and how long did it take for the PS3 to take off? While its high price point was definitely a factor, I remember being distinctly uninterested in the meager selection of titles available at launch. Exclusives are what allows the system to show off what separates it from the others. Multiplatform games typically don’t bring anything unique to the table between the different system releases. Nintendo’s one constant, one of the central reasons they’ve been so successful, is their exclusive franchises, as opposed to Sony and Microsoft’s reliance on 3rd-party developers.

Do the other two console manufacturers need to follow Nintendo’s lead on having strong, recognizable franchises?