Today is Kirby-day, lol – Also, Pandora´s Tower

January 28, 2011

Several coincidences clashing just after I wrote about a new business model for Nintendo yesterday. The company released its earning reports and Iwata himself said that the reason for why there´s only Nintendogs and Cats at the Nintendo 3DS´ launch is that they wanted to give third party-publisher a time to shine. Moreover, guess what game they announced today? Kirby for Wii! And it is not just some random new Kirby-game, it is the long-awaited Kirby GCN! A small teaser-video is on Nintendo´s website and the game looks fantastic, with classic Kirby-abilities all over the place.

Now, even more interesting, as far as I´m concerned, is the announcement of “Pandora´s Tower: Until I´m By Your Side Again“. No gameplay-details are known at this moment, but one artwork on the game´s website shows a rather pretty girl with a big tattoo, covering her whole back. What makes me extremely happy is the relatively “mature” art style. At the same time, the art makes it look like a new Monolith Software-game, and we all know how that turned out for the gorgeous looking Xenoblade, sigh. Still, the game is supposed to be released this spring in Japan, so maybe we´re lucky this time. For now, enjoy the girl and the music on the website.

Also mentioned in Nintendo´s earning report is the 25th Anniversary of The Legend of Zelda-series. It seems that the company has some kind of plans for the best franchise in the world (feel free to agree, hah!). With Ocarina of Time 3D getting a remake on the 3DS, Link´s Awakening being a launch-title for the handheld´s eShop and Skyward Sword hopefully coming out at the end of the year, the emphasis on Zelda seems apparent. Now let´s just hope that the newest member of the franchise honors its anniversary through quality!

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Event Releases – A business model for Nintendo

January 28, 2011

It´s really hard to decide what to write about these days. Just today, Sony announced its PSP2-handheld, which looks as hot and shiny as its predecessor did back in 2004. Then, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Swords keeps on feeling farther and farther away from its release-date. And lastly, the way Nintendo handles the Wii becomes odder with every day. And I guess that´s something I´ll write about, though I´ll focus on a specific part of the recurring dilemma: Nintendo´s third-party relations.

No matter what happens, Nintendo seemingly can´t win when it comes to third-party games. The GameCube was a powerful system, only bested by Xbox, and only got what was left over on the multiplatform table. The Wii is tracking on par with PlayStation 2 at the same time in its life, and release lists are empty. They´re simply empty, third parties refuse to deliver anything that goes beyond a cheap party-game. Even on the Nintendo DS, the de facto most successful videogame system of all times, western developers completely ignore the portable. Now, the 3DS is about to launch, but somehow I´ve got a bad feeling about the support of Capcom and Square Enix, especially when it comes to Sony´s PSP2, which will see their support, too, and likely an even better one. So, with all those examples of how Nintendo failed at gaining third-party support, what´s left to do? Is there no solution?

Well, there is. At least, that´s what I´d like to claim. And there´s even a bit of an early proof of what I´m going to detail when you take a look at the Nintendo 3DS´ launch-lineup. The big first-party titles for launch are some bizarre submarine-game and the cutey-cute Nintendogs-sequel. That´s it. Pilotwings Resort´s going to be released rather sooner than later, but the two biggest inhouse-developments, Kid Icarus: Uprising and Ocarina of Time 3D are delayed till after E3, as Reginald “Reggie” Fils-Aime announced just days ago. In other words: Nintendo is granting third-party developers/publishers at least half a year to fight software-sales out by themselves. And even afterwards, what is it that Nintendo has to offer? Remakes and an arcadey flight-shooter? We saw how well Sin and Punishment 2 sold …

But that is exactly the way Nintendo has to pan out its first party-releases! If they want to acquire third-party support, that is. The one old, big (,and stupid) argument that these developers always made is that Nintendo-fans only buy Nintendo-games. Be it because Nintendo-fans are such fanboys or because Nintendo-games are so much better in quality, you choose, he! Anyway, if there weren´t that many Nintendo-games to begin with, even the most rabbid fanboys will be forced to take a look at third party-offerings, if they want something to play. And if that were the case, no third party-developer would have the right to complain about some kind of unfair competition – there wouldn´t be anymore direct competition with Nintendo!

But wait! That leaves us with a question: How is Nintendo supposed to make money with software? You know, since they´re a gaming company first and foremost! That´s the tricky part, and it is a concept that could only ever work with Nintendo. Both complaint and necessity, Nintendo heavily relies on its famous IPs. Some are sick of them, others can´t get enough of them. And surely, the latter mark the majority.  But that is not a problem. Instead of handling its first party-titles like normal video game releases, just putting them out like any other developer does, Nintendo has to change their games´ public image away from the status of “just another game“, and towards something more similar to an event altogether. The best example to give you a better image of that concept would be to take a look at Dragon Quest. The mainline Dragon Quest-series is not just some game, it´s an event. We all know the photos of waiting lines in Japan. I don´t know if that´s still the case, but I believe to remember something about Japanese children getting one day off school whenever a DQ-game is released. That´s how much of an event that “game” is. Of course, it´s not necessary to take it that far, but it´s the same principle: Make your franchises into something special. Something gamers will look forward to, no matter the specifics.

Putting a bit more detail into that plan, think of it like that: Nintendo has several popular franchises. Those would be Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Smash Bros., Donkey Kong, Kirby, Mario Kart, Animal Crossing, Starfox, F-Zero, Pikmin, Pokemon. And many others. Now, if we remember the past few Nintendo-systems, there has almost never been more than one installment of each series, two at maximum. What to do is the following: Screw all possible spilled details about these games until shortly prior to their release dates. But do announce them a long time before the actual release happens. Also, pan their releases out evenly and scarce over the year. I would have to count all franchises to create a precise time table, but how about three games a year for each platform? That would mean that every four months, a new Nintendo-title is released, giving third parties a lot of time for their games. Meanwhile, Nintendo-fans have a release-list that looks like the following:

  • January #1: Kirby
  • July #1: Animal Crossing
  • November #1: Zelda
  • January #2: F-Zero
  • July #2: Pokemon
  • November #2: Mario

That would be Nintendo´s release-list for two years. And we would know of this list at least a year before the first game´s release. All we´d know would be “Kirby” releases next year´s January. We wouldn´t know what it looks like, what its subtitle is, or gameplay-ideas it incorporates. It´d simply be the “Kirby-day”. And all the details wouldn´t matter, because damn, it´s freaking Kirby! But maybe you´d have an easier time seeing the idea behind that concept if I used Zelda or Mario, but I think you get it. Let´s be honest: We weren´t interested or hyped for Twilight Princess because of “yay, transforming into a wolf!” or “hm, I´m really excited who this princess is going to be!“. We were hyped because, you already know it, IT´S ZELDA! The same goes for Mario, Metroid and most of Nintendo´s franchises. We´re interested because we know how great these franchises have always been, how they rarely disappointed. Details are unnecessary, and to get these games to the general public, a short marketing campaign shortly prior to release should be well enough. So, not only would it spare fans from spoiling themselves (thanks, Gametrailers, for spoiling me the Zoras in TP! Yeah, still bitter about that …), it´d also change how not only we, the gamers, view those Nintendo-games, it also would create an opportunity for both Nintendo AND third party-developers.

Seeing how Nintendo runs into problems sooner or later with every new console generation, how they cannot continuously support a system by themselves (not while satisfying enthusiasts) and how such planned out release dates would only help each IP´s installment to get all the polish it really need, that would be a concept to solve these problems. Just in case you think that would be too little releases, please take into account how Nintendo-games tend to be evergreens. A status that would only be strengthened by treating these titles as events. And if after all that Capcom, Square Enix, Electronic Arts, Activision or Konami are then still arguing about Nintendo´s software being too dominant, they can go **** themselves. Feel free to agree.


A Nintendo without a plan – question mark

January 16, 2011

In only three days, the highly awaited Amsterdam-event will take place, accompanied by a simultaneous event in the USA. It´s expected to give gamers outside of Japan all the details they want to know about exact launch date and price of the Nintendo 3DS handheld, as well as some deeper insight into the features of said device. Meanwhile, negative news about the nextgen handheld have come up and then there´s that highly successful home console, called Wii, that´s seemingly left out in the dark. Nintendo, what are you up to?

Remembering the first half of 2010 makes any Wii-owner feel warm inside. The year started in a fantastic way, giving us the unexpected sequel to Endless Ocean (Forever Blue), followed by the exceptional Silent Hill: Shattered Memories and Monster Hunter Tri, and culminated in the arrival of Super Mario Galaxy 2. Unique, high quality games all around. This year´s beginning makes Wii-owners feel confused and sad inside. The only announced Nintendo-games for Europe are Mario Sports Mix and Kirby´s Epic Yarn, both released in first two months of the year. Interesting third-party offerings are non-existent. Excuse me, dear Nintendo, but is that it? A multiplayer-game and gorgeous-looking, but short in content platformer?

Xenoblade and The Last Story still haven´t even been hinted at a western release, on the contrary, there have been hints that Nintendo has no plans to bring The Last Story to non-Japanese gamers, which makes any wishes for the less popular Xenoblade even less hopeful. Two quality Wii-titles remain. One is Dragon Quest 10, which maybe, and it´s a big, doubtful maybe, will be released this year in Japan, but definitely not anywhere else. The other one is The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Originally expected to be released last year, then delayed to a spring 2011 date, and following the latest comments and rumors now a holiday 2011-title. There is a dim chance that Zelda might see a release around May, but there´s really no factual evidence for that, just the history of The Wind Waker being released in May back then.

Some gamers on message boards claim that Nintendo simply makes use of its “no announcement until close to release“, but that doesn´t make much sense when it´s already January 2011 and we don´t even know any releases for time beyond February! And it´s not like there´s a big conference happening where Nintendo could make such announcements. The Amsterdam-event is unlikely to feature anything other than Nintendo 3DS, and GDC also doesn´t seem like the time and place to throw out a release-liste of yet unknown games. And so I don´t forget that one: 3DS was confirmed to be region-locked, might have shockingly bad battery life and might even use the same damn friendscode-system for online-gaming. The software-lineup so far looks fantastic, but the hardware kept looking worse and worse these last few days.

If worse comes to worst, we´re looking at a 2011-lineup that consists of Mario Sports Mix in January, Kirby´s Epic Yarn in February, then nothing until maybe November, when Zelda is released. Or Zelda might come out in May, leaving the latter half empty. All that with not a single high quality-third party title to fill the gaps. One may give it to Nintendo that E3 2011 could see several completely unknown new Wii-games (Cosmic Walker, come on!), but that still leaves all the months up until said event. If there is a plan, Nintendo does an exceptional job at hiding it from the public´s eyes.


New year – New hopes

January 7, 2011

The new year of 2011 has begun and left us with an interesting time shortly to come. The last year wasn´t necessarily spectacular, but it had its high times. The game that made me start this blog, Fragile: Farewell Ruins of the Moon, turned out to be a topnotch atmospheric experience, unfortunately suffering from out-dated gameplay mechanics. Monster Hunter Tri marked the first online-gaming experience that I totally loved. And Dragon Age Origins showed me that not all BioWare-games are that great. In the end, 2010 was a run-of-the-mill year for gaming as far as my gaming flavor is concerned. But what can you expect in a time where all available systems start to feel old in one way or another? The Wii´s graphics were old from launch onwards, but due to the lack of MotionPlus-based games, there really isn´t that huge difference in gameplay compared to other systems. Meanwhile, the HD-systems are spammed with known and already-seen experiences. Shooting someone just doesn´t get any fresher the tenth time, ya know. On the handheld front, Nintendo DS could never fully grasp my enthusiasm since I´m not much of a 2D-fan, and 3D-games on NDS aren´t exactly the most fun. Not to mention that I was severely disappointed by Dragon Quest 9, my first DQ-game. Maybe it really were the ugly visuals, because if I look at DQ8, I want to give it a try again. As every year, I´d like to take the time to express how I hope to see this industry heading more towards a gameplay-experience over the currently popular hollywood-experience.

Now, for the year 2011. Let´s not hesitate to start with the big one here: Nintendo 3DS is going to launch somewhere between March and April in both Europe and the USA. I might have mentioned it before, but I´m actively looking forward to become a handheld-exclusive gamer once this attractive piece of hardware finds its way into my hands. As said above, graphics on the NDS were always a problem for me, but that´s exactly where the 3DS comes in, offering pleasant 3D-graphics on par with GameCube/Xbox/Wii, even featuring certain effects that put it above those systems. Not only do 3D-games look nice, also Paper Mario looks just like its console-predecessors. Unlike any former Nintendo-system, the 3DS seems to get software-support from about every important Japanese publisher, and I´m looking forward to Resident Evil Revelations, Pro Evolution 3DSoccer (or Fifa, depending on what leaves the better impression on me), Dead or Alive Dimension and Street Fighter 3D (which, again, I´ll have to choose between the two). There´s also some fantastic stuff coming from Level 5, but I´ll stay away from getting too hyped about their announcements for now – you never know if their games will see a release in the west.

And then there´s Nintendo´s first-party offerings, of course. Surprisingly, Nintendo still has not announced a big 3DS-title. Sure, we have Kid Icarus, but that looks rather like a small title with its arcade gameplay. And we have the Ocarina of Time-remake, which I´ll be all over, especially if it features new content, but it´s a remake nonetheless. Same goes for the Lylat Wars-remake. There´s Mario Kart and Paper Mario, too, but I believe both will take some more time.  Nintendo wanted to have third-parties support the 3DS at launch, and that´s a pretty understandable course, then. But I can´t wait for Nintendo to get serious with their new handheld. I´m thinking along the lines of Super Smash Bros. 3DS, Metroid Prime 4, or a new Mario-platformer. Personally, I´d love to see the first 3D-Yoshi platformer instead, though. And don´t forget about new IPs! I´d always love to see RetroStudios get back to Raven Blade.

But it´s not all about 3DS – not yet. The Wii seems like a forsaken system in terms of software, even when its hardware-sales are through the roof again. I don´t know about Japan, but dear Nintendo, just release Xenoblade, The Last Story and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword in 2011, and I´ll have nothing but praise about the Wii´s 2011. So far, all we have is a delayed Zelda-game an Mario Sports Mix, hooyay! :/ Can´t remember the last time a system´s lineup could go that easily from yay to nay to yay to nay …

My Xbox 360 is waiting for exactly one game: Mass Effect 3. Let´s see if Bioware can really release it at the end of the year. I´m not a fan of the much discussed plot of gathering all the different races´ loyalty only to attack the Reapers in one big attack – feels too unbelievable for me that none of the previous galaxy´s  inhabitants would have tried that. But whatever BioWare decideds to go with, I´ll be there. Let me end it all with a bang – and show us Tali´s face FFS! The last game I´d like to mention is Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Much like the Mass Effect-trilogy, Deus Ex promises to be an incredibly immersive, interactive experience, both in terms of story and environmental interactivity. Will be bought for PC.

That´s it so far! The Nintendo World 2011-expo will start tonight, featuring playable 3DS-stations and presentations, and then on January 19th, Nintendo´s going to have a simultanous conference for both Europe and the USA, which is expected to tell us non-Japanese people all the final details we need to know about the nextgen-handheld. I also hope to see something from Zelda Wii soon, but I think that the less hype now, the better the game turns out in the end. Just remember the situation before The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess.

Happy new year, everyone!