Posts Tagged ‘Xbox’

top-8-2017I’d considered doing a post about the best games of 2016, but honestly, not much grabbed my attention in 2016. As a matter of fact, I have played exactly zero of the games on Metacritic’s Top 100 of 2016. That said, 2017 already has a handful of games I’m pumped for. This is my personal Top 8 so far, with the only caveat being that there has to be firm information available about a game for it to have made this list.

injustice-28. Capcom versus Marvel Infinite / Injustice 2
I’m not a fan of fighting games, but both of these titles have caught my eye. Admittedly, it’s almost solely due to the rosters that are likely to be included in these games, but both are sequels to games that have been generally well received and, should I pick up a fighting game this year, it will be one of these two titles. I’ve also long wished I could really get into a fighting game, so maybe the time is right with one of these two.

prey7. Prey
Of the games on my list, this is the one that we know the least about. Still, what little we do know has me very excited. I’m quite the fan of games that give you an open world, limited only by the abilities you’ve acquired, which is exactly how the developers have described this title. I also like the promise of a strong narrative with some horror elements. I’ll admit to never having played the original Prey, but it doesn’t seem like this is a direct sequel. This game could work its way off my list as more info is made available but, for the moment, I choose to remain positive.

nioh6. Nioh
Nioh has a few aspects that appeal to me. I’m always a sucker for a good hack’n slash game, and that’s exactly how Nioh has been described. I’m also drawn to the idea of a dark fantasy version of 1600 Japan. The fact that this title includes some RPG elements doesn’t hurt it either. Much like Prey, I could still waffle on this title, but for the time being, if I have some extra funds in the early part of the year, I may very well be picking this game up.

re-vii5. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
RE4, in my opinion, is the high bar for the RE series to date. RE5 kept the play style of RE4, but wanted to be more of an action game. It was so mediocre that I’ve avoided RE6 to date. RE7 has my hopes high though. What has been shown of the game looks creepy. RE creepy. The first person perspective, a perspective I’m normally critical of, looks to work extremely well with the environment/setting of RE7, a dilapidated plantation in LA (I live in the south and still find that disturbing). I’m really, really hopeful that RE7, with a new cast and storyline, will bring back what made the Resident Evil franchise so well known and popular for so long.

yooka-laylee4. Yooka-Laylee
A game inspired by and considered a spiritual sequel to games such as Donkey Kong 64 and Banjo-Kazooie/Banjo-Tooie that has even been developed by former employees of Rare that worked on these past games. Really, I shouldn’t even have to write anything else here. So-called collectathons have fallen out of style, but were very common (and much loved) during the N64/PS1 era. They appeal to my personality type, so I could never get enough of them. Also, to this day, DK64 and B-K are a couple of my favorite games. Picking up a game that plays like those, but updated for this era is a no-brainer.

horizon-zero-dawn3. Horizon Zero Dawn
Horizon Zero Dawn simply looks beautiful. I want to play it just to wander around the game world. The fact that there’s a story, large mechanical dinosaurs, and side-quests are gravy. HZD is an Action RPG, which is my absolute favorite genre of video games (JRPGs are a close second), set in a post-apocalyptic world that finds you essentially on your own against monstrous machines, with multiple ways in which to defeat them. I don’t often take risks on new games, but this is one title I’ll be pre-ordering very soon. It looks that good.

zelda-botw2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Zelda games seldom disappoint, but after Skyward Sword, there were growing cries for the Zelda formula to be shaken up. Enter Breath of the Wild. This looks like a Zelda game that would have been designed by Monolith Soft or Bethesda. It is an open world title that lets you tackle it in any way you see fit. Hyrule is in ruins. Link has been asleep for quite some time. Calamity Ganon has decimated the land, and is now sealed in Hyrule castle as he could not be defeated, yet his power continues to grow. That’s your story, and how you progress is entirely up to you. How you complete the game is so arbitrary that Eiji Aonuma (producer) has stated that you can complete the game without actually playing through the story. Nintendo has made some missteps with their console development, but their ability to develop excellent games has never been called into question. Breath of the Wild looks to be yet another jewel in Nintendo’s game development crown.

nier-automata1. NieR: Automata
Yes, that’s right. If given a choice right now between Breath of the Wild and Automata, I would take NieR. Understand, I adored the first Nier. I completed it four times to see all of the narrative the title had to offer. I never expected to see a sequel, even a non-direct sequel, so the announcement of NieR: Automata caught me completely by surprise, and my excitement for it has only grown since that announcement, and has now reached a fervor since I played through the demo this morning. Playing much like the original Nier, with the added bonus of having Platinum Games on board handling the combat, Automata takes place much later in the same world as Nier. Machines have driven mankind to the moon, and androids have been sent to do battle with the machines. It is these androids that you will control (with “2B” apparently being the primary character). In regards to the narrative, Nier (and Drakengard, from which it originates) are noted for dark storylines, and I expect nothing less from Automata. It is the story that hooked me on Nier so completely. It may not always be happy, but it is deep and engrossing, and I will happily take a deep, dark story over a shallow, happy one anyday. It’s going to be a long wait until 3/7/2017.

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From the grave

Almost Made It: de Blob, Okami, F-Zero, Ecco the Dolphin, Bubble Bobble, Contra, Mana, Startropics, R-Type, Adventure Island
Not Franchises, but Need a Sequel: Ghosthunter, Sphinx & the Cursed Mummy, Dante’s Inferno, The Wonderful 101, Enslaved

Legacy of Kain8. Legacy of Kain
Last Entry – Legacy of Kain: Defiance (2003)
Legacy of Kain began life as an overhead styled game called Blood Omen for the Playstation, where you played as newly minted vampire, Kain. While popular, its sequel, Soul Reaver, is where the series truly pulled me in. It was the Ocarina of Time to Blood Omen’s A Link to the Past (strictly in regards to game style). It also began the story that would permeate the remaining entries in the series, which ended with Defiance in 2003. The problem is, Defiance didn’t exactly wrap the story up. Oh, there’s an ending, but there are threads for future stories that have yet to come. The only news available for Legacy since 2003 is an MMO Game called Nosgoth that was ultimately shut down. It was only mildly related to the overall series, and was not developed by Crystal Dynamics. Considering the popularity of the Legacy of Kain series, it is surprising that it has remained dormant this long, but those of us that are still fans of the games still hope to see a more definitive ending to Kain (and Raziel’s) journey in Nosgoth.

Blaster Master7. Blaster Master
Last Entry – Blaster Master: Overdrive (2010)
If you don’t know Blaster Master, stop reading this blog, go find a copy (check the Virtual Console/eShop), and play it. Then come back. Everyone else knows Blaster Master. You play through an open world via a side-scrolling/overhead shooter hybrid style. You’re goal? To get your frog back and stop some radioactive mutants from taking over the Earth. Blaster Master is a classic that saw entries on the Sega, GBC, Playstation, and a remake via WiiWare (which is pretty darn good, FYI) and has been praised for level design as well as seamlessly merging separate game styles into one game. Aside from the remake, the last actual sequel was the PS entry Blaster Master: Blasting Again, released in 2001, which received average reviews (but which I thoroughly enjoyed). Blaster Master is a franchise that is so well know that I’m rather amazed that nothing new has been developed since 2010. The gameplay style(s) scream 3DS. Still, sadly, it seems that there is currently nothing on the horizon for this beloved series. *Note: Blaster Master received a wonderfully corny Worlds of Power adaptation. If you can find a copy, I strongly suggest reading it.

Baldur's Gate6. Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance
Last Entry – Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 2 (2004)
I realize that Baldur’s Gate is hardly a forgotten series, but I’m speaking specifically of the Dark Alliance series developed for consoles. As I’m not much of a PC gamer, Dark Alliance was my only foray into the world of Baldur’s Gate, and I loved it. Dark Alliance is an overhead hack and slash RPG with character selection. The original was extremely well received, even winning a Role-Playing Game of the Year Award. The sequel was also acclaimed, though it was noted that it added very little to the gameplay of the original. The primary reason I feel this series needs a new entry is that the second title ended on a cliff hanger. You’re shown that someone has been working against you behind the scenes, yet you’re not shown who it was. It also stings that a third title was in development but cancelled solely due to legal issues. Every now and again, news crops up on a Dark Alliance 3, but it’s generally just wishful thinking or unsubstantiated rumors. I still hold out hope though, that I’ll one day get to play through the conclusion of the story from Dark Alliance and Dark Alliance 2.

Darksiders5. Darksiders
Last Entry – Darksiders II (2012)
Really? 2012? It seems so much longer. Regardless, Darksiders burst onto the scene in 2010, bringing us an apocalyptic Zelda-esque title. You play as War, the horsemen, who has been summoned by someone, and is accused of beginning the Apocalypse early. You’re then given a chance to prove your innocence and find the true culprits. While the story does give you answers, it never feels finished, and the ending scene hints at the arrival of the remaining three horsemen. Darksiders II takes place concurrently, placing you in the role of Death, and opens up more of the story of the franchise. Since then, we’ve been left to wonder exactly what became of the four horsemen at the end of the original game. Development of a sequel has most likely been held up by the selling of the license due to a bankruptcy. This franchise came to mind for two main reasons: the plot is surprisingly deep, and the gameplay is both varied and familiar between the two titles. There is also the fact that the other two horsemen, Strife and Fury, have not (yet) been playable characters. I’m excited to see their interpretation in the franchise, and how the gameplay will be adapted to their “powers.” Recent news regarding Nordic Games (the owners of multiple THQ licenses), seems to indicate that the wait for Darksiders III may not be that long.

Lufia4. Lufia
Last Entry – Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals (2010)
Lufia was one of the premier RPG’s on the Super NES, before finding a home on the Gameboy/DS systems, but has been quiet since Curse of the Sinistrals (DS) in 2010, itself being a remake of Lufia 2 (Super NES). The fact that Lufia remains knows is even more surprising when you consider that it has received no eShop/digital distribution of the original titles. The franchise is running solely on the fact that it was so good on the Super NES (the DS remake was just average). This is a series that could benefit greatly by returning to its roots via a 3DS title. Speaking strictly of feasibility, I can’t imagine a full-fledged console Lufia title simple because the budget would be insane, hence a smaller title on a handheld. I’m sad to say that I missed out on Lufia for the most part, and would jump at a chance to play the originals or even a proper sequel. With any luck, Neverland hasn’t forgotten this gem of a series.

Mega Man X23. Mega Man X
Last Entry – Mega Man X8 (2005)
If you don’t know what Mega Man X is, see my note on Blaster Master above. Mega Man X is Mega Man’s cooler, older brother. Keeping the conventions of the original series, robot masters, excellent platforming, multiple weapons, Mega Man X added enough new aspects to seem familiar, but not identical. Like many side-scrollers, Mega Man X fell out of favor as 3-D gameplay became the new norm. The one foray in 3-D for Mega Man X was…disappointing at best. Mega Man X8 was somewhat of a return to form, but something still felt a bit off from the initial titles. While the original Mega Man series saw two “old school” sequels released digitally (both being very good), Mega Man X has continued to be MIA in terms of a new title since the release of X8. Capcom could please many people by taking the Mega Man 9/10 route with X and designing an X9 that looked and played much like X – X3 on the Super NES. After the success of Mega Man 9/10, I’m actually still shocked that X9 hasn’t come down the pipeline. It’s simply hard to believe it wouldn’t be a success. Mega Man is a beloved icon. A new game in the X series should be a given at this point.

Metroid2. Metroid
Last Entry – Metroid: Other M (2010)
First of all, Federation Force is not a Metroid game. Yes, it has the title, but it has no Samus Aran. It is not a Metroid game. We will not discuss this further. Anyways, Metroid is one of Nintendo’s golden franchises, and has been universally acclaimed with virtually every release (Other M being the exception to the rule). At this point, the future of Metroid is very cloudy. I’m certain there will be a proper sequel, but I have no clue if it will go the route of Fusion/Zero Mission, or take the FPS style of the Prime series. Either would be welcome by fans of the Metroid series. Other M left a bad taste in the mouths of most Metroid fans, and one has to wonder if it’s negative reception isn’t what has caused Nintendo to step away from Metroid for a six years. If that’s truly the case, Nintendo need only to look at Fusion or Prime 3 to see that the series has had only one hiccup in its entire history. One misstep is not enough reason to shelve a premier series that features a game that many consider to be one of the two or three best games ever made (the fact that you’re not sure if I’m speaking of Super Metroid or Metroid Prime speaks to the high quality of Metroid titles). Metroid turns 30 years old this year. Nintendo has remained silent on this fact. I’m hopeful that they’re saving something for the NX reveal but, despite my normal optimism, I’m not holding out much hope in this case.

Castlevania1. Castlevania
Last Entry – Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 (2014) / Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia (2008)
I must clarify here. I’m speaking not of the reboot Lords of Shadow series, but of the original series, which last saw an entry in 2008 with Order of Ecclesia. Until Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, the Castlevania series was know for level based platforming. Symphony of the Night adopted a style similar to Metroid, featuring an open world that became more accessible via the collection of abilities or items, coining the Metroidvania term for this type of game style. Symphony of the Night was so extremely popular that virtually all Castlevania titles from that point on adopted the same style, excepting some 3-D titles that received mixed reviews, but which I enjoyed. Yet, despite each successive title being similar in style, the design of each game managed to feel fresh and new each time. In 2013, the series was re-imagined for the Lords of Shadow series, going from open world platformer to a 3-D level based game. The Lords of Shadow games are fine games, but titles such as Dawn of Sorrow and Order of Ecclesia scratched an itch that few other games relieve. Castlevania made #1 on this list because I’m skeptical that we’ll ever see another title that matches the quality the series was once know for, if another title at all. Konami has publicly stated that they are shifting focus to mobile games, meaning that Castlevania may be put on the shelf for quite some time. There is a glimmer of hope though. Long time Castlevania producer, IGA, has developed Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night for all current consoles. Due out in March of 2017, Bloodstained is described by IGA himself as a spiritual successor to Castlevania and is using the Metroidvania style. I’m certain I’ll download this title, but it still makes me sad to think that we may have realistically seen our last Belmont. Our last Castlevania.

Launch

The Xbox One launched earlier today, completing the new console launches for this generation. Also, earlier this week, a very close friend mentioned that he’d always wanted a Game Gear just to be able to play Mortal Kombat. Granted, Mortal Kombat wasn’t a launch title, but these two things did make me think about a trend in recent console launches.

None of these consoles launched with a title that is considered a “must have” game for that console. Part of this is the fact that so many games are now cross-platform, meaning that no matter how good a game is, you can probably pick it up for the other console as well. But I’ve also noticed that in recent years, it seems that consoles have begun to take the limelight away from the games. At one point in time, the push was all about the games. Now, it seems that the console itself is the focus and the games, while there and well made, are almost secondary. This was never more evident than in Microsoft’s unveiling of the Xbox One.

In my mind, a must have launch game is a console exclusive. It’s a game that sells a console. It can be boxed with the console or sold separately. We’re just not seeing that anymore. For the Xbox One, what is that main title? Ryse: Son of Rome? I’ve heard quite a bit about it, but I wouldn’t call it must have and I’m not picking tons of hype around. The same is true for Dead Rising 3. Regarding the PS4, maybe it’s Knack. Again, it’s a tough call, made tougher by the fact that if we accept my definition of a the launch game needing to be console exclusive, there just aren’t that many exclusives. Taking the WiiU into account, the game is a bit easier to identify as they launched New Super Mario Brothers U with the console, but it was hardly an evolution of the series, as we’ve come to expect, and based on sales, certainly wasn’t a must have game that pushed the console.

Well, it is pretty.

Well, it is pretty.

So little grit. I didn't expect that.

Colors other than Brown and Sepia? This obviously isn’t an “adult” game.

Beyond the cross platform availability of games, I believe that this lack of the must have launch game can be traced directly to the shrinking technological gaps between consoles. From the NES to the Super NES to the Nintendo 64, there were major leaps in what the consoles could do, and the Mario launch games with each of those consoles reflected those advancements. The games were a showcase of what the console could do. Now, granted, these were usually packed in games, but even had they not been, the hype around them would have been enormous (maybe not so much the original Super Mario Brothers for obvious reasons) and they still would have moved consoles. Also, since packed in games are a dying tradition, I think it’s perfectly fair to make this comparison, even if we just look at the hype and excitement surrounding the packed in games. Apart from Nintendo, I can point to the Sonic titles for Sega (Sonic Adventure definitely comes to mind), and Halo for the original Xbox.

The best recent example of this is probably Wii Sports. When Nintendo launched the Wii, they were banking on overcoming an underpowered console (compared to its contemporaries) with an entirely new kind of input. Wii Sports, which was packed with the Wii, brilliantly showcased what the Wii controls were capable of and how they differed from how we were used to playing games. Including it with the consoles was a shrewd move by Nintendo for that reason, but I do wonder how it would have sold had it not been included with the console. A budget price of $20 to $30 probably would have moved it well. Still, even with my Nintendo fanboy glasses on, I can’t even say that Wii Sports equals those past must have titles.

Almost a tech demo, yet one of the best selling games of all time.

Almost a tech demo, yet one of the best selling games of all time.

We haven’t had that new input or technological gap that created that must have or must play game this generation. These consoles seem to just be turbo charged versions of their previous incarnations. Even the WiiU gamepad and Microst’s Kinect 2.0 have failed to create a buzz about new ways to input you controls. While I may have showcased Wii Sports above, I think the last truly must have game that launched with a console was Halo for the Xbox. Based on the current trajectory of gaming consoles, I also think it may be the last must have launch game we’ll see.

Pong

Hey, did anyone else realize that two new consoles are about to launch? Who knew!?

In honor of the launch of the XBox One and PS4, I’ve compiled a list of the 8 Best Console Launch Games. This isn’t a list based entirely on which games are the best, but is more about how important the games were to their consoles and the era they were released in, as well as the legacy the games have developed.

This was the hardest list I’ve compiled because of the different factors I was taking into account. I’m sure I have some questionable entries here and three of the top 4 could easily have been rearranged (though #1 was a lock). One anomaly I noticed was the lack of entries for the most popular systems (and none for a Sony system), but based solely on launch titles, nothing seemed to jump out at me, which I believe is a sign that their best games came out after the system launch, which isn’t unusual. Also, only one system scored two entries, which I questioned, but ultimately felt was warranted.

I’ve taken all regions into consideration, but believe that virtually all of my picks were launch titles for all regions. Also, these were true launch games, none of that “launch window” nonsense.

Altered Beast8. Altered Beast (Sega Genesis)
Porting an Arcade title to their new 16-bit console was a great move by Sega with the launch of the Genesis. It gave them a proven title to sell and allowed them to showcase the graphical difference between this system and the NES, as it would be a while before Nintendo would counter with their own 16-bit system. I still hear people gaming today that refer to this port as one of their favorite games on the Sega Genesis. That alone shows how impactful this game was.

Red Steel7. Red Steel (Nintendo Wii)
Ultimately, this game has not stood the test of time and never lived up to what most of us hoped it would be, but for the launch of the Wii, it was both an example of how the new Wii Remote pointer and motion control functions would work and a “hardcore” title for Nintendo to market, as the stigma of Nintendo making “kiddy” games was pretty popular. For all of its faults, Red Steel did give gamers an entirely new experience at the launch of the Wii, which is exactly what Nintendo was after.

Perfect Dark Zero6. Perfect Dark Zero (Xbox 360)
Microsoft were coming off a fairly successful Xbox system and were launching their next system a year ahead of competitors. This title allowed them to showcase the power of the 360 and utilize their newest in-house studio: Rare. Purchased from Nintendo (essentially), Rare was put to work on a sequel to a much loved Nintendo 64 classic. Much like Red Steel, this game did not meet expectations (due to being rushed, I’ve read, among other things), but hype counts for something, and Perfect Dark Zero had the hype and helped drive buyers to the stores upon the launch of the Xbox 360.

Sonic Adventure5. Sonic Adventure (Sega Dreamcast)
Poor Sonic. He hasn’t had a good few years, and while the downfall started here, the promise of Sonic in a 3D environment generated massive excitement. It also helped that the Dreamcast delivered graphics unlike anything seen on the current systems (N64, PS) over a year before it’s competition would launch. While this would be Sega’s last console, for a while, it seemed like the Dreamcast would be a major seller, and quite a bit of that success can be attributed to Sonic’s first 3D outing.

Wii Sports4. Wii Sports (Nintendo Wii)
If Red Steel showed how a traditional game could work with new controls, Wii Sports is the game that showed off the versatility of what the Wii Remote could do. On the surface, it may appear to be little more than a tech demo, but Wii Sports was a brilliant pack-in by Nintendo. It allowed them to immediately show the consumer how much differently the Wii operated and controlled compared to previous systems and allowed them to completely differentiate the Wii from the Xbox 360 and the PS3, which is something they needed to do in order to give consumers a reason to choose them instead of, or in addition to another console.

Halo3. Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox)
You’re the new kid in town. You’re taking on two established giants in Nintendo and Sony. How do you set yourself apart? Easy. You launch one of the most popular FPS games ever created. Halo allowed Microsoft to show everyone they were serious with their new console, the Xbox, and gave them immediate credibility in console game development. Full disclosure: I don’t actually like Halo, but to demean this game or what it meant for the launch of the Xbox would simply be foolish and dishonest.

Mario 642. Super Mario 64 (Nintendo 64)
Super Mario 64 wasn’t the first game to do a 3-D world, but it was the game that set the standard. This game makes the list at #2 not necessarily because of what it did for the Nintendo 64, but more for what it did to move games from side-scrolling to 3-D movement. Super Mario 64 truly showed how controls could work in such an environment as well as making great strides with how to operate a camera in this setting. Remembering how little they had to draw from, it is quite amazing how well Nintendo developed this game and how playable it remains today.

Super Mario Brothers1. Super Mario Brothers/Duck Hunt (NES)
Has any game ever had more riding on its shoulders than this game? When this launched with the NES (along with the NES Zapper and Duck Hunt), the video game market had crashed only a few short years before. Consumers were very wary of buying into a new system so soon, much less one from a company that to that point had only developed a few Game & Watch handhelds. It can never be overstated how important this game was in giving the consumers trust in the gaming industry once again. In addition to accomplishing that, this game, much like Super Mario 64, set a standard for gaming. Once again, with very little to draw on, Nintendo managed to design a game that, despite it’s limitations, is still playable and enjoyable today, nearly 30 years later.

SMB (NES)SMW (SNES)SM64

I still remember it very clearly. It was during the Gamecube/PS2/Xbox era of gaming. Rumblings had really just started about the next generation. I was discovering the glory that was Resident Evil 4. I was having a rare discussion about video games with my wife and I posed the question: At what point are graphics good enough?

See, I’ve always felt that gaming moved into 3-D worlds a generation too soon. There were great games on the Nintendo 64, Dreamcast, and Playstation, but many of them are difficult to revisit now because, honestly, they are ugly. Even classics such as Super Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time suffer from a bad case of the uglies upon a revisit today. It doesn’t mean they aren’t good games, it just means the presentation is extremely dated. I’ve never noticed the same about Super NES and Sega Genesis games, but I feel it’s because they work on a 2-D plane, meaning that sprites were much simpler, but also seemed more detailed b/c they were viewed from only one angle. Donkey Kong Country is still a beautiful game. Super Metroid is still striking when I play through it. This all changed, for the most part, upon the release of the Nintendo 64, PlayStation, and Dreamcast. We were thrust into a new world. At the time, it was gorgeous, but that hasn’t lasted.

Back to my main point. I posed this graphical question to my wife for a good reason. Up to that point, a new generation was simply about power and graphical prowess, such as the move into 3-D I outlined above. Sure, there was some innovation with controllers or the medium (cartridges versus discs) but not too much beyond that. The Xbox really pulled in online gaming, and the PS2 dabbled in it. But those systems, along with the GCN, were beginning to age and everyone was anticipating E3 because we knew the new systems would be on display. At what point are graphics good enough?

I'd have been happy with this level of graphics, honestly.

I’d have been happy with this level of graphics, honestly.

I was quite happy with the graphical power of my GCN and PS2. Sure, they could be sharper, but that wasn’t reason enough for me to spend a decent chunk of money on a new system. There had to be more. To their credit, Microsoft and Sony innovated by marketing their gaming machines as media hubs. Both could play movies, stream music, play Netflix, etc… Online play was standard and extremely easy. These were no longer ‘just’ gaming machines. They were now media machines, and that’s not a bad thing.

The surprise of the three was Nintendo. Nintendo took a massive risk with the Revolution (and I still prefer that name to Wii). They were coming off a third place finish in the console wars with the GCN. What could they do to shake up the race? They gave us the Wii.

The buzz from E3 was almost immediate once Nintendo fully unveiled the machine and the motion controls. It was unlike anything else being presented. Power and HD capabilities had been sacrificed for pricing purposes (so they say). The buzz, though, was all about the input. No other console could do the games the same way the Wii could do them (six-axis controller doesn’t count). Upon it’s release, it was an immediate hit and was virtually impossible to find. I pre-ordered one, having shifted from my “why would I want to upgrade for graphical purposes” attitude.

Again, I still find this impressive, but I also grew up with 8 bits.

Again, I still find this impressive, but I also grew up with 8 bits.

You know the story from there. It sold amazingly well, but never achieved much of the promise many of us thought it had. The controller was eventually refined further with WiiMotion Plus, but only very late in the Wii’s life and not even required for most games. The Wii’s success eventually gave us Kinect and Move, the former being the more successful of the two (and now required for the Xbox One). Imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery.

Microsoft is now banking on the media center aspect of their next console, the Xbox One. The PS4 is pushing the same. The WiiU is more powerful than the 360 and PS3, but will probably be behind these new behemoths yet again, power wise. The thing I’ve noticed though, is that neither of these put a huge emphasis on graphics. As a matter of fact, it took Microsoft 30 minutes to ever touch on video games. It’s also worth remembering that both Microsoft and Sony say they’ll support their current systems for at least a few more years.

Maybe I’m old fashioned. I’m currently 31 years old, but I do try to stay “up” on my technology. Still, I’ve no desire for my gaming machine to be my media center. At the end of the day, I just want to play games, and I’m wondering if that isn’t being somewhat overlooked now. By Microsoft and Sony in their efforts to make their machines more than just gaming machines, and to some degree by Nintendo in their efforts to catch lightening in a bottle again with unique interfacing and controls. All three are searching to some degree for an advantage that games alone can’t give them. They can’t trumpet just power anymore, because I think we’ve finally gotten to the point where they have realized that graphics are good enough.

Last week, Microsoft finally pulled back the curtain on their much anticipated Xbox 360 successor, now named the Xbox One. To say that reactions around the internet were tepid would not be doing reactions justice. Negative voices always seem to overpower positive in volume, if not number, but I feel it’s safe to say that negative reactions were larger in number as well. Moving beyond general reactions though, what does this mean for what Microsoft is doing and for gaming consoles from this point on.

It took 28 minutes for Microsoft to discuss games for the Xbox One (and am I alone in thinking X-One is a better name?). Prior to that, they focused on streaming movies, running your cable television through your Xbox, and how a required Kinect sensor would make watching TV easier via the use of voice and motion controls (yes, easier). I won’t pretend that the 360 or PS3, and even the Wii to some extent, were 100% dedicated gaming machines. Heck, when my 360 is on, it’s for Netflix streaming about 1/3 of the time. Up to this point in time, however, these systems still existed primarily to play games. The extras (Netflix, IE, Facebook, etc…) were just that, extras that could be utilized. With this console, I feel that Microsoft sent the signal that they are broadening their scope to the point that “gamers” will no longer be the most sought after consumer group, but will be equal with those looking for an all-encompassing media machine.

Is this a mistake? Not necessarily. Nintendo expanded their focus with the Wii and scored a huge win, though the difference there is that they sought to turn non-gamers into gamers, whereas I don’t believe Microsoft is searching for that. Microsoft wants to cater to existing audiences by expanding their machine, as opposed to expanding the audience with the machine.

Of the games shown, one was an FPS (the next iteration of Call of Duty), while the others were sports games. Again, there’s nothing at all wrong with that. EA sells a butt-load of these games and it’s probably a sound strategy on their (Microsoft’s) part to showcase a special agreement for timed exclusivity (I think, need to follow up on that one) of future sports titles. The downside to this focus is that they chose to showcase games that feature very little innovation over what is offered in this generation. Innovation isn’t a must for all new games, but when showcasing a new console, isn’t it important to display what makes it different from the competition? Yes, these games were gorgeous, but that alone leads to the question…

When are graphics no longer enough? I asked my wife this towards the end of the Gamecube/PS2/Xbox era, prior to the unveiling of the Wii/PS3/360. It was a legitimate question then and remains one now. Nintendo leaned heavily towards reduced graphical power with a new input method and scored big. The 360 and PS3 started with the status quo, but eventually followed suit with Kinect and Move respectively. Now, Kinect 2.0 expands and improves upon the original, and that is innovation outside of graphical improvements. Again though, how will they be implemented? I feel that Microsoft chose a very safe route with what they showed, game wise, by really focusing on the the graphical abilities (individual arm hairs!).

Now, in conclusion I’ll openly admit that I’m making many, many assumptions off an hour conference. Microsoft can, and probably will, address many of these issues at E3 in a few weeks. The bigger picture is that the new normal seems to be that gaming consoles have to be more than gaming consoles. I really don’t understand this, and judging from the reactions of committed gamers, I’m not alone here. I like to play games. I’m not concerned with accessing Facebook (I can do that on my computer), checking sports scores (I have ESPN), or having someone pop up on my screen while I may be watching a movie. This isn’t appealing to me. I want games, and if you want my money at this point, you have to make those games be worth that money, not make the console a multi-media machine. Sorry Xbox, I may end up owning your newest sibling at some point, but it will always be for the games, not for the bells and whistles your console throws at me when I’m not playing those.