On Wednesday, Nintendo’s president Satoru Iwata declared his intentions to help the company post a billion dollar in profit by March of 2014. Which would be, if all goes well, a stark contrast to the previous two years of posting consecutive losses. Kotaku has pointed out that the Japanese media has already started speculating that if his goals are not met, Iwata will step down.
Nintendo, if its not clear by now, is in deep shit. In this year alone, it’s already operating at a nine month loss of $64 million dollars. The company has also cut sales expectations by 27% for the Wii U and 17% for the 3DS.
Long time fans will no doubt will disappointed and frustrated by this news.
And yet, no one should be surprised.
Nintendo started digging this hole for itself six years ago. In 2009, when Wii sales started plummeting in the absence of quality third and first person titles, the company should have acted. Iwata said as much: ” I think the current decline in hardware sales is due to the fact that there aren’t many big titles (at the moment).” The next year, sales continued to fall.
Figuring they should cut their losses and start from scratch, the company unveiled a successor to the Wii in early 2011: an underpowered “next-generation” console with a sub-HD tablet controller, no online strategy, no content strategy, and no strategy for luring game developers back to their side.
Iwata believes that Nintendo’s problems lie with lackluster releases and two separate divisions for consoles and handheld production.
Nintendo’s biggest problem is Iwata and the leadership at Nintendo being criminally out of touch with the market.
Consider this: With the Wii U, Nintendo’s heads finally conceded to the impact tablets have had on gaming. Their solution, however, was not to lure low-cost apps to their handheld platform, but rather awkwardly sticking a tablet screen on a controller.
A gimmick, one neither consumers nor developers seem to care about.
Or how about three years ago, when the consumer electronics industry was attempting to peddle 3D-televisions onto the public, Nintendo responded with the handheld device marquees by a glasses-less 3D experience.
Another gimmick, one that completely disrupted their ultra-profitable DS platform by simultaneously dating its predecessor and scaring off developers.
At no point have Iwata and company stood back and truly evaluated the rapid changes occurring in the video game market.
For instance, much of the Xbox 360′s current success lies not with gaming, but with media distribution. By Microsoft’s own admission the Xbox 360 is now used more as a video consumption platform than a video game console. Sony’s Playstation 3 is enjoying a similar transition, both as a Blu-Ray player and as the most popular method of watching Netflix. Both consoles also offer fairly stocked online libraries of current films and TV shows.
Nintendo never bothered positioning itself as a gaming hub, not unless you count their standard-definition Netflix app – which, for the longest time, could only be accessed through a mail-ordered DVD.
Last month, Nintendo released Nintendo TVii for the Wii U. It’s a one-stop app which turns the Wii U controller into a glorified universal remote, albeit with the ability to access apps for Amazon Instant and Hulu Plus. Netflix and TiVo won’t be supported until later in 2013. And, at present, there are no plans to support HBO Go, Flixter, Crackle, ePix, Fox, ABC, CBS, NBC, YouTube, Vimeo, ESPN, Xfinity, Comcast, Rogers OnDemand, Vudu, NFL Sunday Ticket, NBA Game Time, NHL Center Ice, MLB.tv, UFC… well, you get my point.
It’s a decidedly low-fi approach for an industry investing in 100% on-demand cloud streaming. Six years ago, Nintendo TVii would have been cool.
Earlier this month, Iwata revealed surprised over user demand for the Wii U’s deluxe package. As it turns out, Nintendo’s thought process was that consumers would be happiest with a console that included 8 gigs of internal storage, over the deluxe package’s 32 GB. “It was the first time Nintendo released two models of the game console at the same time,” Iwata toldReuters, “and I believe there was a challenge with balancing this.”
Would anyone be surprised that a consumer would choose to pay $50 dollars more for four times the storage? Both Sony and Microsoft offer consoles with 250 GB of storage (or higher) for similar prices.
In fact, did you know that Nintendo still doesn’t support unified gamer accounts across systems? Meaning, if your handheld is stolen, Nintendo will actually request a fucking police report before they release your content back to you.
Finally, in a sad attempt to stir up excitement for the Wii U, Nintendo made some questionable announcements last week; namely the promise of two Zelda titles (one being an HD remake of 2002′s Windwaker) and a handful of Mario titles. And yet, timelines for release, or any media (for that matter) weren’t present. Effectively, Nintendo announced future announcements of projects they’re thinking about. Better start saving up now, kids.
Ladies and gentleman, we’re staring at a husk – The dried outer shell of a company once considered the ambassador to video gaming.
Rather than promising to rally developer support, bring Nintendo’s online services in line with its competitors, increase app support for the Wii U, or create a content strategy, Iwata will simply hedge his bets on a new entry in a 17-year-old franchise. And with this, he expects to turn a profit of a billion dollars next year.
If I was Satoru Iwata, I’d start polishing my sword.
A brief aside: I generally hate ranking systems. Picking my five favorite albums of the year is easy, attempting to further categorize those choices into “the best” versus “not-quite the best” is what I’d imagine choosing between children is like. That said, to keep consistency with the rest of this feature I’ve ranked the albums below. Ultimately, the assigned numbers are meaningless. Just know they’re all really good, and you should give each one a fair shot.
As Kirby Ferguson‘s wonderful web-series points out:Everything is a remix. Music has always been the sum of its collective influences, and probably more so these days thanks to the ease of consumer electronics. In that sense, The Hood Internet are the poster boys for digital appropriation. They are by no means the first people to mix two songs, and not the last. However, I’d argue they’re currently the best in show.
The Mixtape Volume Six continues their yearly tradition of creating new from the old. What does Kanye West’s “Power” sound like to the beat of Snap!’s “The Power?” Pretty amazing, actually. How about Neon Indian’s “Polish Girl” mixed with Tyga’s “Rack City?” Better than either of the originals in my opinion. And so on, and so on.
This album – and it is one, even if traditionalists will disagree – is pure chaotic energy. From beginning to end its a seamless stream of fun; 27 variations on music you’ve heard before, in ways you’ve never heard before. It’s also free to own. How 21st century of these guys.
On my first listen-through of Lonerism, I kept asking myself what the hell this album sounded like? There was clearly a psychedelic-pop/rock influence, but from whom? Cream, perhaps? Pink Floyd, maybe? By the time I reached the album’s sixth track I didn’t care where the echoes came from, the album had sucked me, and taken on a life of its own.
And yet, the artistry on display was something of a nightmare for Kevin Parker – the man behind Tame Impala. For two years he struggled with the album’s production, often spiraling into bouts of depression over the sound. Curiously, I never heard the torture. Had I not read about it, it never would have occurred to me.
It makes sense in retrospect, that an album so sonically dense would be the product of a man slowly driving himself insane. Perhaps that’s why Lonerism has stayed with me all year, it’s become the soundtrack to my looming insanity.
A few years back when NBC’s Chuck got an extended stay of execution my friend proudly proclaimed, “I’m glad Chuck is back. It makes me happy.” Now, Brooklyn-based Tanlines are not on the brink of cancellation by a major television network, however, my reaction to this album mirrors my friend’s – It makes me happy.
Mind you, this is a tad odd considering Mixed Emotions is about a break-up. Sonically and lyrically, the material runs through a wide range of – get ready for it – emotions. And yet, there’s still something incredibly upbeat about the proceedings, as if a bizarre sense of hope, spurred on by the rhythm, runs through-out the narrative.
Ultimately its the production of the record that draws me in and keeps me coming back; A subdued dance album channeling 80′s era love ballads and piano synths. Or, more accurately, the kind of album you’d expect from a pair of Brooklyn-based hipsters – which is very much a compliment.
I guess you could say, Mixed Emotions makes me happy, even when it shouldn’t.
Perhaps time travel is possible? That could be the only explanation for Japandroids’sCelebration Rock, a kind-of adolescence-fuel battle cry we haven’t heard in sometime. It’s the kind of music that should company a Johnny Knoxville stunt, or line the background of aTony Hawk Pro Skater session. Basically, a reminder of simpler times.
That’s the beauty of this record, even if its material is carefully constructed to elicit a sense of teenage nostalgia – interestingly, there is some debate as to whether Brian King and David Prowse are musical genius or idiot savants – it never comes off as anything but genuine. It’s loud, unpolished, unabashedly fun and the kind of wake-up call kids need. If Celebration Rock causes even a handful of kids to pick up some guitars and start playing rock-music again, well, then we’re all the better for it.
Rock and Roll isn’t dead. It can never die, per se. But sometimes it needs a jump start. In this case, from a bunch of Canadians.
Despite Zach Braff‘s best efforts, I never fell head-over-heels for The Shins. Apart from a few solid singles (some not even featured of theGarden State soundtrack) I never fell in love with the whole.
So consider my surprise when I found Port of Morrow, The Shins first album in five years, to not only be the most consistent album I’ve heard all year, but also one of my favorites overall. Something just clicked here: the sound, the tone, the overall energy. A track like “No Way Down” perfectly personifies what I look for in great song – a catchy hook, a steady rhythm, and singable lyrics. Admittedly, a very ‘meat-and-potatoes’ approach to music, but I prefer to be entertained before informed.
The Shins is mostly the brain-child of James Mercer who started the band in 1997. He’s also the co-creator of Broken Bells, a project he started with Danger Mouse during The Shin’s five-year hiatus. That record’s energy and vibrancy carries over to Morrow, transforming what might have been just another indie rock album, to a more pop-fueled rock opus.
Then again, that’s just my perception on the matter. It’s possible I need to give Oh, Inverted World and Wincing the Night Away another chance. Until then, Ports of Morrow will stay as my baseline for what Mercer is capable of. I look forward to his follow-up.
This could possibly be the future of live music - and I’m kind of alright with that.
I know, boo, hiss. Everyone should hate Mass Effect because it took a chance and told an actual story. How dare they! As with the much-belabored Sopranos’ ending, Mass Effect 3’s legacy will forever be associated with the outcry surrounding its final moments. A shame, considering the journey still remains one of this year’s best experiences.
Unlike the lazy Mass Effect 2, which like most middle entries in forced trilogies had nothing to say, 3 delivers on the many promises outlined by the first title: namely the Reaper invasion and humanities final stand. It is as harrowing as it is sad. Comrades will die, Alliances will shatter and choices will need to be made.
At it’s core, Mass Effect always promised an above-average interactive narrative with some alright-shooting elements, and the third entry delivers on its promise. But it’s the impact of the ending, which I adore, as well final character moments and epic set pieces that keep the experience fresh in my find. Considering the title came out almost a year ago that’s got to count for something.
The story of Fez is almost as interesting as the title itself. Caught in development hell for the better part of four years - the brutality of which is captured in Indie Game: The Movie - its release marks an important step for indie game recognition, and a reminder that making art and making money are two very different things.
As for the game itself, its wonderful. A love letter to the 8-bit titles Phil Fish, the game’s creator, grew up with. A smattering of Mario here, a dash of Zelda there, all wrapped up in a smartly executed 3D platformer. Fez will also cause you to use your brain - a rarity these days. Be prepared to take lengthy notes while attempting solve the title’s less forgiving puzzles. And here’s a stunner - the game doesn’t include a single instance of gunplay. Truly the kind of game only an indie developer would dare make.
If there is one knock against Fez, its that the title’s developer, Polytron, signed a brief exclusivity with Microsoft’s XBLA platform. Redmond’s refusal to lower (or hell, waive) the cost of re-certifying patched titles has cost Fez the opportunity to fix several game-crashing bugs. How much money exactly? Try some $40,000*.
So in the end, much like it began, Fez’s tale ends in development hell. A shame, since somewhere in the middle, lies one of the best games of this year.
Previous entries in the Forza series have forced me to coin the ultra-hilarious phrase: Borza**. Get it? ‘Cause its boring. Yet, the same is true of all hardcore simulators. Yes, there is an initial rush of hitting 200 miles per hour on a straightaway, however, the glee is fleeting once one realizes that’s as good as the experience gets. That’s the trade-off with realism.
My preferred virtual driving experience generally mimics the testosterone-fueled world of, say, The Fast and the Furious series. Its not just about going fast - although Vin Diesel’s Dom Toretto does live his life a quarter-mile at a time - its about the circumstance leading up to those speeds.
And there in lies the success of Forza’s latest incarnation, subtitled Horizon after the fictional race-tournament it centers around. The goal of the game is not just high-octane thrills, although those are aplenty, its about shutting out the competition, proving you’re the best, getting the girl, and becoming filthy rich in the process. The American dream, really.
Where Borza 4 suffered from sleeping inducing repetition, Horizon mixes it up. You’re given a large stretch of Colorado to play around in. Streets and side-roads are repurposed for tracks during events, meaning you’ll rarely see the same track twice. Races vary from lap based, point-to-point, and occasionally you’ll even find yourself pitted against a propeller plane or hot-air ballon. Most importantly, events are short and to the point. No fifteen-lap endurances challenges here.
And yet, if none of the above sounds particularly innovative, it’s because its not. Horizon really is the sum of its parts. Together, everything works beautifully: The gameplay, the graphics, the sounds, et cetera. It’s the type of game consoles excel at. The kind of experience where you can sit back on your coach, kick your feet up, and take a shot at being the greatest driver around - until Horizon 2, that is.
My usual litmus test for game quality depends on how quickly I finish. If a title causes me to loose a week of my life, for instance, then it must be good. Considering I beat Sleeping Dogs after three days of relentless playing, and still wanted more, then it must be good.
And it is.
If this was an S.A.T. question, then Sleeping Dogs would be to Hong Kong cinema what Grand Theft Auto III was to Mafia crime fiction. In Dogs, you play as Wei Shen, a Chinese-American police offer gone undercover to infiltrate a Triad organization. Like The Departed, or more accurately the Chinese-film it was adapted from, the story involves much betrayal, sneaking-around, questioning of allegiances and, yes, karaoke.
However, what makes Sleeping Dogs a refreshing entry into the overly crowded open-world genre, is that doesn’t care to be included. Unlike Saints Row or Just Cause which specialize in the ridiculous, or the perennial Grand Theft Auto who watches the throne, Dog’s only interest is telling a good story and entertaining players.
As a result, the title never feels like its over-reaching, or attempting to shove in the kitchen sink. There are plenty of side-quests abound once the credits, although they’re all an organic extension of the universe. It’s taut in a way few open-world games have been lately. It’s also fun as hell. But if it wasn’t, why would it be on my end of the year list?
The hardest games to write about are the ones that do it all right. When your thesis for why someone should play a title boils down to, “Play this fucking game already, it’s fucking awesome!!!!”… you know you’re in trouble.
What is worth pointing out, however, is that XCOM: Enemy Unknown’s success comes from a strict adherence to its source material: a frustratingly enjoyable sci-fi, turn-based, shooter from the early 90’s. The core principles have remained intact, save for a few interface tweaks and an obligatory graphical overhaul.
Of course, this XCOM has the benefit of seeing what could go awry in a modern-day reboot of a much beloved franchise. You may have heard of the still lost-to-sea XCOM first-person shooter from BioShock II’s creative team. That title took everything that made the original unique and lovable, and needlessly flushed it down the toilet in favor of modern-day sensibilities.
Thankfully, the folks at 2K wised-up before throwing more money to the wind.
And while I generally dislike reboots, XCOM presents an entirely different argument: that good gameplay trumps brand recognition. That is to say, the reason why we still play StarCraft, Diablo and Civilization after all these years is because they got the mechanics of fun right all those years ago. Graphics get dated, but good ideas don’t.
So trust me when I say XCOM is good. Don’t read up about it, you’re likely to get intimidated by its seeming complexity. Rather, set aside an afternoon aside and prepare to save the world from the threat of extra-terrestrial invasion. You won’t believe the range of emotions you’ll feel from such a silly premise.
* Although, to be fair to Microsoft, Sony’s PSN platform charges similarly outrageous fees.
** To be fair, I’ve also coined the term, Gran Borizmo for the same reasons.
Because everything is better with dub step.