So, Christmas is long over and the New Year has been rung in with many a drink and even more gaming. If you're familiar with videogame trends, you'll know that January isnít really the most active of times for our medium.
In fact, it's often downright boring. Companies rarely bother releasing big titles and things slow down to build up for the summer based expos/shows before the inevitable rush towards the autumn and winter markets. Admittedly, there's more on offer this month than the typical start to previous years (WarioWare: Smooth Moves is great fun, Lost Planet: Extreme Condition on Xbox 360 offers a short lived but lovely diversion, a new World of Warcraft expansion pack is on the way for PC owners, and Children of Mana on the DS is more than welcome), but it's still relatively slim pickings.
As such, there's not been a large amount to talk about when it comes to everyone's favourite white box. However this week, in a change from the norm, I'm going to run down a list of various items that have caught my critical eye of late. More bang for your virtual buck, so to speak. Well, more bang for your time, seeing as you donít pay money for the article. I'm sure you know what I mean. Onward!
- As previously noted, I've personally come to experience the vast appeal had by Wii across all ages during the holiday period. Over the space of three weeks, several families and a fair few friends have all played my Wii, and pretty much all were impressed by it, regardless of age (which was from seven years old to over 60), gaming experience (non to hardcore gamer), gender (more women have played it than men, which is a first for any games machine I've owned, including my DS) or even time of day (several examples have happily played around the 2am stage, with most of those being in the 50+ age group).
I've never experienced anything like it. When I asked why this wide appeal was the case, the answers were quite similar, suggesting a common batch of traits that appear to be hugely important to Nintendo's charm offensive. Firstly is that the Wii remote is utterly unthreatening as a physical form. Many hardcore gamers snorted at why Nintendo shaped its controller so, but it really does work on a base level compared to the numerous buttons offered by a typical gamepad (which would have gathered characteristic looks of apathy/disinterest if previous experience is anything to go by).
Secondly, motion control is indeed the way forward. Intuitive and tactile gameplay makes a HUGE difference. "You can just pick up the remote and play," was a frequent reply to my initial query of why they enjoyed it all so much. The reality is, explaining how to play certain types of game, e.g. tennis, with Wii doesnít take much less time than me explaining how to play something like Super Tennis or Virtua Tennis (after all, it's 'just' movement and around four button presses), but being able to perform certain actions via your own hand rather than a button is a world of difference to those who donít play games. Even for us hardcore gamers, the Wii remote makes even the most mundane thing entertaining if implemented correctly. You can count the number of successful bowling games in the medium on one hand (if that), yet Wii Bowling is one of the console's triumphs in expressing the philosophy of the machine, mixing instant appeal, sporting familiarity a fun image and immediate control feedback into an alarmingly attractive prospect. If I was paid a small sum of money every time I heard the sentence "now I wont ever need to go bowling again" in the past couple weeks, I'd been able to buy another Wii. Then probably still have enough left to hire security guards to protect me from the deluge of said family and friends who desperately want one.
- More information on Electronic Arts' The Godfather: Blackhand Edition has been released and subsequently shows some of the clear potential to be had in implementing Wii's tactile controls on to an existing third-person perspective game. Yes, it's still a port of The Godfather which means, yes, it has numerous flaws, but the idea of beating up opponents using a more varied type of motion activity (as previously seen in Wii Boxing, for example) could add a huge amount of enjoyment to the game. The trailer shows you'll have the ability to slap, push, punch, strangle and generally apply strong-arm tactics with the remote and nunchuck, along with Zelda style pointer aiming for gunplay.
Despite it all being placed in a port, these ideas are very natural to the Wii remote and could work brilliantly for the action genre. Between that and its rather excessive violence, Blackhand also puts to rest misconceptions of more visceral games not being made for Wii, even with morally dubious -at least via the vocal nay-saying majority- implications of physically moving your arms to bludgeon your foes into unconsciousness. With Nintendo trying to court Rockstar into making a Grand Theft Auto title for the machine, Blackhand gives us a skew-eyed glimpse into the possibilities. And while I doubt we'll be seeing any major inclusions to the GTA franchise on Wii any time soon, the prospect of a side story type title along the lines of Liberty/Vice City stories seen on PlayStation Portable isnít totally beyond the realms of implausibility. Especially when the designers will be looking at Blackhand and likely thinking "Christ, we could do so much betterÖ" Thoughts and talk are cheap, Rockstar. We're all waiting for you to personally prove to us your pimp hand is stronger.
- Recent chart progress of Wii software has shown generally typical progress where first-party titles are tracking much better than third party, but that's to say: 'welcome to the advantages/disadvantages of being on a Nintendo format'. Nothing too surprising, then. However, it has become clear the big N has improved its knowledge of regional markets and has more of a grasp on its reality than some of the average forumite zealots who disparaged the inclusion of Wii Sports (especially over Wii Play) in most territories, while keeping it separate in Japan. When it was announced Sports would be packed in, I read many complaints that they'd prefer Wii Play or maybe not any software at all. The bizarre thing is, despite Play's Japanese title translating into 'My First Wii', it's nowhere near as immediate or well rounded as Sports, proving to be a far trickier introduction to Wii's motion based gameplay. Donít get me wrong; Play is, in essence, very simple and has moments of brilliance (Shooting Range and Laser Hockey being among those moments). But when given to a typical non-gamer, the levels of error cause far more frustration than you may think. As great as Table Tennis and Laser Hockey are, they're far too twitchy and over sensitive for the casual hand getting used to Wii's tactile feedback - while other games in the collection donít have the same extent of depth compared to Sports.
Furthermore, the exercises in Sports are more self-explanatory through general knowledge when lending their tasks to remote. Play is entertaining, no doubt, but Sports is a veritable killer app in terms of execution and intuitiveness; either by comparison or standing alone. If you've not introduced a non gamer to Wii yet and you have both titles, give it a try and see which one they learn towards more; Sports or Play. I'd be willing to bet the former will win out nine times out of ten.
That said, both titles are turning into mass market sellers, hugely loved by the general public. In the West, non gamers seek Wii primarily because the compulsive Wii Sports is packed in, while Wii Play's free remote combination helps out with any controller deficiencies. Our Japanese brethren have been buying Wii Sports and Play in their droves, both showing well over 500k sold in the first four weeks of opening. While aimed strongly at the typical demographic that does well in Japan, I imagine the software will prove to have legs that will see sales stretch strongly for a while worldwide, complimenting each other not only in content but perception - as long as Play continues to offer a free remote. Not bad for games much of the hardcore dismissed prior to launch.
- In most territories, Wii's LAN Adaptor cable has still yet to go on sale. Japan has them in supply and apparently they work across regions, so importers and Ebay are still your best bet for now until the official ones come out in the West (anywhere between the next few weeks to a couple months, depending on who you believe). Codejunkies is offering an unofficial one should your patience already be wearing thin, although there's been next to no reports on its effectiveness. If anyone has bought one, feel free to share with the rest of us on how it performs.
- Tellingly, many of the high scores that sit proudly on my copy of Wii Sports are held by the fairer sex. And generally, I've noticed female gamers on Wii tend to be consistently better at Wii Sports than male gamers (donít be mad, guys). It's something that I've seen across many internet forums, where men -in all our glorious hubris and painful male pride- bet against female significant others only to come off much poorer for it. So a warning to would be chauvinistic gamers; you know what they say about a fool and his moneyÖ
- If you'll allow me a moment, I'd like to point you in the direction of imminent DS title;
Hotel Dusk - http://www.nintendo.com/gamemini?gam...oxuWnyXw-wSJg&. An adventure game cut from the same cloth as Trace Memory/Another Code, you guide an ex cop through a detective's mystery story. That itself isnít exactly a distinctive premise, but it's one of the freshest examples of how developers are taking advantage of DS' hardware. To play Hotel Dusk, you turn the DS on its side like book (the same way Brain Training does), and engage in gameplay similar to a point-click mechanism using the stylus. 'Tree dialogue' is predominant, with the multiple choices at the start of the game alone allowing for around ten different directions for things to progress, while puzzles and interaction are done via inventive use of the touch screen, offering an expansion on a long loved yet fading genre that's enjoyed a flash of exploration on Pocket PCs.
So you're probably asking what this has got to do with Wii. Well Hotel Dusk represents how far DS software has come over a short space of time, and something that will become equally evident in Wii's development cycle come the end of 2007 and into 2008. Hotel Dusk's developer, Cing, has made admirable progression in making use of DS' touch screen and stylus in ways few others have to date and creating what early reviews are saying to be a superb example of what can be done with the handheld when a little imagination is well executed. The same ethos is almost directly analogous to Wii, which is the perfect format to couple such advances in gameplay; the marriage of tried and tested genres, a relatively new control method and a new intellectual property to form something special. Hotel Dusk shows that not only is such a thing possible quickly, but also achievable via a relatively small independent company with comparatively little experience or a big name behind it. All it needed was talent and Nintendo's willingness to publish the results. And perhaps more excitingly, Cing is already on the verge of announcing a Wii title that should see release sometime within the next 16 months.
This isnít to say Cing is specifically working on an adventure title for Wii, or indeed anything related genre or format-wise to Hotel Dusk and Another Code. But if a modest developer can turn out something as accomplished as it has without the fanfare or cash flow a larger team would usually get, then it holds a substantial amount of promise for the future. Not just from Cing, but also other developers with greater resources. Something to consider next time anyone starts questioning the viability of unique, hardcore aimed Wii software for the year and beyond.
And with that thought, I'll leave you for another week. Hope you're all enjoying WarioWare. And if you're a little bored during this lean period and have some spare cash floating around, a copy of Hotel Dusk (and a DS if you've not already got one) probably wouldnít do any harm either. At the very least you'll be getting a good game, but at the most you'll be telling the games industry market forces adventure/point clicks arenít a thing of the past quite yet and you'll also help out Cing financially in preparation for that forthcoming Wii game. Who knows - this time next year we could be playing the fruits of that particular labourÖ
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