Dazcooke’s Video Game Land Review Of 2011

Welcome everyone, to the first of what I hope will become an annual event on this blog – my review of the gaming industry in the year that was 2011. On a personal note, it has been a pleasure to have consistently updated this blog throughout the year, and thank you to everyone who has supported it via constructive criticism, or even things as simple as comments and views – I hope to continue in a positive form next year. But alas, the world is bigger than myself, and that is what the focus is in this article.

It wouldn’t be a massive exaggeration to claim that this has been the biggest year for games in ages, certainly since the release of the Nintendo Wii in 2006. The overall calibre of games has been on a notable rise this year, with a handful becoming instant classics, and the industry as a whole has advanced even further to consolidate its place as a genuine rival to the other great entertainment mediums such as film. That is not to say the year has been devoid of mistakes and mess-ups; amongst the success stories, there are a quite a few cock-ups that are well worth mentioning.

To start this review of the year, I will do a brief overview of the big three and how they have coped this year, before looking at the industry as a whole and homing in on some of the big stories that have captivated us.

And so without further ado, let us start with the Big N…

NINTENDO

 It was predicted at the start of the year that 2011 was going to be of the utmost importance for Nintendo. The 3DS was launched worldwide in March becoming the first console to fully advocate the power of three-dimensional graphics, and at E3 they made the decision to throw the opening punches of the eight generation of consoles by announcing the successor to the very profitable Wii in the form of the Wii U. It hasn’t been all smooth sailing for Nintendo though…

The Fall And Rise Of The 3DS

Iwata: "People loved Avatar, they'll love 3D Gaming!" The Press: "Okaaaayyyy...."

The story of the 3DS this year has been quite bizzare. Nintendo had huge expectations for the handheld device, and yet for roughly half the year it sold woefully under forecasts. It only shifted 4.53 million units in the space of five months after its release, and not even the incentive of free games and applications could sway customers into buying the console. I think the problem was twofold for Nintendo – first off, many of the big name titles such as Metal Gear Solid 3DS and Mario Kart 7 were not made available at launch, and it meant that for the most part the launch was littered with sub-par third party efforts. The first must have title, the 3D remake of Ocarina Of Time, only came out in June meaning a lot of potential customers were left out in the cold waiting for some good games to play. It also didn’t help that at £200, it was a bit too pricey for consumers to pay halfway through the year for a handheld console. As a result, Nintendo took quite unprecedented action – they cut the prices less than half a year after release.

Suddenly, the 3DS was available for prices as low as £115, immediately making it a much more attractive proposition. Nintendo also wisely decided to compensate those who had taken the plunge and bought the handheld straight away by offering them 20 free games from the NES and Game Boy Advance era’s. As we hit Christmas, 11 million units have now been sold, the ever crucial Mario games have been released, and as a result it looks like the 3DS has finally taken off, although its long term impact is doubtful to ever hit the heights that the good old DS has.

Still waiting for Metal Gear Solid 3DS though…

The Wii U Creates A Commotion, And The Wii Refuses To Die

The last two generations have seen Nintendo lagging behind when getting their consoles out – Sony managed to get the PS2 out ahead of the Gamecube, and Microsoft snuck the Xbox 360 in a year before the Wii. It’s not surprising then that they wanted to grab the headlines at E3 this year, and the major focus of their conference (aside from pushing the 3DS as hard as they could) was the announcement of their brand new console – the Wii U. Uninspired names aside, it showed that Nintendo were taking the battle seriously; introducing overdue HD support, the Wii U will apparently support all your favourite Wii games and equipment, and via the new tablet like controller which was the major talking point of the conference, you can move games from the TV to in-between your fingers. Most importantly, Nintendo stressed that the days of limited third party support are over, even going to the lengths of introducing the President of EA to come and plug the console. It all sounds great then…which makes it all the stranger therefore that shareholders baulked at the idea. Shortly following the announcement, stocks fell up to 7% as consumers worried that the Wii U would not fulfil the promises that Nintendo had made of bringing back hardcore gamers. 6 months on, and we haven’t heard anything more about the Wii U, and in the meantime Nintendo announced first half losses of £578 million for the year.

Satoru Iwata must be thanking the gods therefore that the Wii continues to sell. Even though the gimmick of motion controls has long since lost its cool factor (as Sony and Microsoft have attempted to recreate the experience on their consoles), the little white block is still the dominant console of this generation adding another 10.9 million units this calendar year to its immense total. And this has all come about despite a lack of big hitting titles on the format this year. The only Mario title has been Mario vs. Sonic At The Olympic Games, and outside of the outstanding Xenoblades Chronicles there hasn’t been of much of note. As ever though, Nintendo have a hero to call on in times of need…

The Renaissance Of The Legend Of Zelda

Gold Zelda....She's the man...the man with wonky hat...(to the tune of Goldfinger)

Yep, when in time of peril, Nintendo can always rely on the kid in the green tunic to guarantee them sales and accolades. The fact that The Legend Of Zelda franchise on its own took up the opening 15 minutes of Nintendo’s E3 conference (complete with a damn impressive orchestra and even the man behind the legend himself, Shigeru Miyamoto) tells you everything you need to know about how important Link and Zelda are for the company. This year saw the release of Skyward Sword, which immediately dominated the review scores for the year and has been acclaimed in parts as the best Wii game in history, and even as the best Zelda game ever. This was alongside the aforementioned 3D remake of the ‘other greatest Zelda game of all time’, Ocarina Of Time, and a free download of Four Swords for those with a DSi. I confidently predicted earlier in the year that Nintendo needed new franchises to progress – that Skyward Sword has sold 1.8 million copies and won every award going shows you what I know.

Conclusion: It hasn’t been the strongest of years for Nintendo – they openly admitted they messed up with the 3DS, and they now face making a loss for the first time in thirty years. Christmas should perk them up, but they need to continue to support the Wii to its death and get the good titles out for the 3DS. The launch of the Wii U next year will be of vital importance, and they best hope that if Microsoft and Sony announce new consoles that they do not get forgotten about

SONY

 Over the last few years, Sony have quietly been grabbing themselves an ever increasing slice of the market, cutting even further into the base that the Xbox 360 has given Microsoft. The console that ‘only does everything’ entered 2011 therefore confident of success in its own quiet way. And everything was going swimmingly until April…

The PSN Fiasco

Rarely have I seen such a demonstration of colossal incompetence by a company like that displayed by Sony earlier this year. One day, gamers found themselves unable to log in to PSN, being met with an error code: 80710a06. Sony executives claimed that the service was merely undergoing maintenance, and that it would soon be up and running again. The truth was soon revealed that PSN had been hacked, and that near to 77 million accounts were under the threat of having details and confidential information accessed. Sony had not divulged this information until a week after the outage, causing a fair bit of anger towards executives. The outage lasted for 23 days, meaning that people who had bought a PS3 were unable to play online or access content such as Lovefilm or download games.

To their credit, Sony didn’t back down when the PSN service came back online; by using a ‘Welcome Back’ programme, people who had activated PSN before the outage were given codes to download a small selection of games on either PS3 or PSP for free, and people were given extra access to Playstation Plus. Thing is though, the codes were for the likes of LittleBigPlanet and Infamous, games that most self respecting PS3 owners would have already gone and bought. Overall then, it was a quite frankly a f**k up. Seems that no-one remembers it though…

The PS3 Picks Up The Pace

Despite the complete failure of the earlier year, the PS3 has ended up as the best selling console in the world this year, shifting 12.9 million consoles to just about put it ahead of the Xbox 360. Much needed price cuts were announced following GamesCom, and PS3’s finally dropped below the £200 in the UK, making it a much more attractive proposition with a good catalogue of games and Blu-ray capabilities. On the software front, Sony continue to find that the biggest titles of the year, including Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3 and Assassins Creed Revelations, are selling more on the Xbox 360 than they are on the PS3, but on the exclusives front Uncharted 3, Resistance 3, Killzone 3, LittleBigPlanet 2 and Infamous 2 all proved to be big hits.

The PSP Is Dead…Long Live The PSV?

It has everything...could this be the ultimate handheld device?

Sony also announced a new console at E3 this year – the long awaited NGP was finally unveiled as the PS Vita, and it’s a pretty impressive piece of kit. Featuring everything that the PSP had, and introducing more powerful processing innards, touch controls and a second analogue stick, it looks like it might be a more genuine competitor to the 3DS than the PSP was to the DS. The other element that convinces me is the titles that they have on board; 24 games were ready for the Japanese launch just a few days ago including portable Uncharted and Wipeout titles, and you can probably add a few more titles to the mix when it hits Europe and America in 2012.

Conclusions: Sony recuperated well from the PSN scandal and have finished the year on a relative high. The PS3 has continued to prove naysayers wrong with regards to its ability to provide all forms of entertainment, and I think that Sony will be able to comfortably get another year out of it before they need to announce the PS4 – but they need to match Microsoft stride for stride next year and close the gap on Nintendo

MICROSOFT

This year marked the 10th anniversary of Microsoft entering the games market, and they continue to march on strong with the elder statesman of the seventh generation, the Xbox 360. 2011 however marked a change in Microsoft’s marketing strategy as they move away from games to a more family orientated entertainment product.

Are Microsoft Forgetting About Games?

It doesn’t take a genius to see that Microsoft have changed their attitudes over the years. Just think back to when the original Xbox was introduced; the aggressive console design and advertising campaign all pointed towards the idea that the American company were after the ‘hardcore’ market, and for several years it is to Microsoft that this audience has generally drifted. Notable tweaks to advertising have been made however since the Kinect launched last Christmas, with the overwhelming focus being on full family involvement (a tactic that Wii has employed with great success at Christmas times), and the development of the Xbox 360 as ‘an entertainment hub’. Nowhere is this shown clearer that with the latest update to the Xbox Dashboard, where tabs for TV, Music and even a Bing search function must be scrolled through before you get to the games section. Even then, the games content is hidden under acres of adverts and pointless exposure. You might be lulled into thinking therefore that Microsoft have abandoned their primary audience: us, the gaming public. Well about that…

Never Fear…The Games Are Here

You could make quite a convincing argument that this year has seen the strongest line-up of games ever on the Xbox 360 – the likes of Gears Of War 3, Forza Motorsport 4 & Halo CE: Anniversary meant that the console was able to go toe to toe with the PS3 on the exclusives front, and crucially the big titles sold more on the Xbox 360 than on the PS3, including the best selling game of the year, Modern Warfare 3, and the best reviewed game of the year, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Xbox Live Arcade has continued to move on strong with the likes of Bastion taking this years plaudit’s, and with the promise of Halo 4 next year, you shouldn’t be short on games to play. The Xbox 360 has been behind the PS3 this year in hardware sales, but since Black Friday sales have seen a marked rise, and it will be interesting to see if they can just pip Sony to the post on New Years Day – I would put a quiet fiver on them doing it.

So About All Those Kinect Games…

The face of the average consumer when they are told a Kinect is a wise purchase...and also because it an excuse to use this picture

I have never like the Kinect. Granted, the technology behind it is impressive, and in action it does work quite well, but I have always seen it purely as a gimmick, even more so than the Wiimote – at least you can play games normally with it on the Wii. My suspicions have been proved true this year, as despite shifting a numerous amount of Kinect’s last year, Microsoft haven’t exactly showered it with quality titles to play. Fitness games sell well, but I’m not interested in that – where is my Gears Of War Kinect, or something or a similar magnitude? Until they get a genuinely playable title on the Kinect, I will continue to declare that it sucks balls.

Conclusions: The move towards entertainment worries me personally as a Xbox 360 owner who likes his games, but apart from that I will not deny Microsoft the success that they have garnered this year. Ensuring that Xbox Live didn’t undergo a hack like PSN was good to entice consumers, and the games this year have been overall excellent and preferable to play on the Xbox 360. Does the 360 have the legs to last another year? I reckon that it can, but I do expect the announcement of the next-gen Xbox at E3 2012 in order to allow a transition year.

OVERALL CONCLUSIONS

No one company has been exceptional enough to win the award of Best Game Company this year, and so my decision has been influenced by who was the most consistent throughout 2011. For me, Nintendo did not have enough big titles for the Wii, and their unwise decisions with the 3DS early doors means that they get third place this year. And sadly, the winner has been decided by default more than anything – Sony have had a great year, but the PSN incident is pretty unforgivable, meaning that the winner of the Best Game Company Award 2011 are Microsoft. Kudos.

A SHORT HISTORY OF EVERYTHING ELSE

PC Is Still The Place To Be

It’s been another excellent year for PC gamers. The big hitters such as Football Manager 2012, Battlefield 3 and Star Wars The Old Republic have all enjoyed immediate success, but this year it has been more of a story for less well known games. The Witcher 2 has swept awards this year in the RPG department, League Of Legends has evolved into one of the most popular free to play games in the world, and indie sensation Minecraft has rose a wave of success all through the year, finally getting released in full this November. Steam surprised everyone by making Team Fortress 2 free to play, and the likes of Skyrim have dominated the online service since its release. It’s all good news – so long as you have a computer with the specs to run stuff I suppose.

The Winter Of Great Content

If you have been a regular reader of my blog, then you will not how highly I have rated the release of games this year. Dead Space 2, Portal 2, LA Noire, Pokemon Black & White and…Zumba Fitness kept us mildly interested during the summer, and then developers have been stealing everyone’s money with such a wide array of great titles over the Winter period – Skyrim, MW3, Battlefield 3, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Skyward Sword, Mario Kart 7, Uncharted 3 and Batman Arkham City are just a few examples of the blockbusters that people have been playing this Winter, and this doesn’t even take into account the other great games which have flown just under the radar; the likes of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, RAGE, Saints Row: The Third, Rayman Origins and Professor Layton & The Last Specter. You’ve never had it so good

Will 2012 Be Even Better?

Well, if you believe that the world will end next year, then the odds are pretty low. Otherwise, there is an expectation that next year could at least match the quality of this year. Mass Effect 3 is already a frontrunner for Game Of The Year contender, and the likes of Halo 4, Far Cry 3 and Bioshock Infinite will surely run it close. We have the rebirth of SSX to look forward to, and RPG fans will be in heaven as Guild Wars 2 and Diablo 3 get released for PC, along with The Last Story, Final Fantasy XIII-2 and the Last Guardian for consoles. Annual titles like COD, FIFA and Madden will be all be on hand to satisfy their fans, and no doubt there will be more quirky arcade and indie titles to delight the niche audiences. Oh yeh, and we might just Grand Theft Auto 5 is we are lucky. Barring the Apocalypse, its looking good for 2012

E3: Returning To Memetastic Form

This year, I actually watched E3 all the way through for the first time with a bunch of friends, and while I reported on the news in a few write-ups, what struck me more than anything else was the embarrassing highlights of the show. Microsoft set the bar nice and early with the fistbump kids from Disneyland Kinect and the awful demonstration of Star Wars Kinect (notice a pattern there with Kinect?), and Ubisoft gloriously smashed into said bar with Mr Caffiene, a legendary presenter of such embarrassing proportions that you can slot him in there with the 2006 Sony conference as instant fodder for Youtube. Naturally, I’d love to have him back next year for more fun. On a sad note, Konami didn’t seem to want to repeat their hilarious live conference from 2010 and instead had a pre recorded segment where Hideo Kojima talked about his unique ‘transfarring’ idea that would allow you to get game data from a PSP to a PS3…only for Sony to steal the idea less than 24 hours later in their conference (also notable for the loud boos when the internet provider for the PS Vita). Lets hope for more memes this year

The Disappointments Of The Year

Guinness adverts have reliably told us for years that ‘Good things come to those who wait’. Spare a thought then for those people who have waited for Duke Nukem Forever for nearly 17 years. It came out this year, and perhaps predictably it was not very good, struggling to get over 50% in most publications. It wasn’t the only game to disappoint this year however; Dragon Age 2 flopped pretty badly, Need For Speed: The Run has failed to get the attention of its predecessors, Dead Island was released as a buggy nightmare, and Modern Warfare 3 was hilariously destroyed on Metacritic by user reviews.

TOO….MANY….HD REMAKES….

This has become my new pet peeve – a few years ago, it was despairing at the sheer amount of music games (of which there have been roughly none this year), then it was the sheer amount of zombie spin offs, and now it’s the sheer amount of games, some of them not even five years old, that are being remade with shiny new high definition graphics. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy playing old games, and some of these remakes have either greatly improved upon the original, or given consumers a chance to play games that were originally short in supply; like Beyond Good & Evil and Ico. But it seems that every week anew collection is announced, and a lot of them seem completely unnecessary – the likes of God Of War, Final Fantasy X, Jak & Daxter, Devil May Cry and Resident Evil 4 are still perfectly fine to look at on the PS2. I just worry that game developers are spending too much time tarting up old games rather than focusing on new, original and fresh ideas for games. I also note as I write this that the majority of these remakes are PS3 exclusives…maybe Sony have a problem with new ideas?

END OF YEAR AWARDS

To finish off, I’m going to give out a few accolades that are based on my personal opinion and therefore have no actual value…but hey, what is a review without prizes? Without further ado, here are the inaugural winners of Dazcooke’s Video Game Blog Awards!

Game Of The Year: For offering superb fun, it’s got to be The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Developer Of The Year: Rocksteady Studios, for Batman Arkham City

Best Xbox 360 Game: Gears Of War 3

Best PS3 Game: Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

Best Wii Game: The Legend Of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Best Handheld Game: Pokemon White

Best Song In A Video Game: Ancient Stones, by Jeremy Soule – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Best Graphics In A Video Game: Uncharted 3: Drakes Deception

And there we go then, another year has passed us by. I hope you have enjoyed reading this article, and I will see 2012 in with a smile. A Happy New Year to you all.

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