Well, my friends, it appears that the Electronic Entertainment Expo of 2011 has come and gone. I can't say I was too excited over it, but I did manage to get a glimpse of some interesting games coming out this year and the next. My last blog detailed some of my personal game interests of E3, so now comes the second part---the consoles. Nintendo's console reveal was expected; you couldn't ignore the signs---the price drop of the Wii console, the Nintendo Selects line, and only Skyward Sword as a major Wii announcement. The Vita was also anticipated as well, eagerly awaiting to succeed the struggling PSP as quite possibly a major contender in the portable market---a boon enjoyed by Nintendo since the release of the very first Game Boy unit and an avenue in which their competitors have failed. Could the Vita be Sony's answer?
Who knows. Sorry if this blog came late, but after this I won't be talking about E3 anymore because it's over and done with. Without further ado, allow me to discuss my thoughts about the big showstealers of the event; Sony and Nintendo's new console unravels.
Exhibit 1: Wii U
At first glance, the Wii U almost looks like a first generation XBox 360 with a Wii disc slot. In a technical sense, it shares a lot in common with a next-gen system, even though Nintendo admits that game footage used to promote the system was, in fact, a demonstration of 360 and PS3 hardware. Still, we got to see tech demos of a Zelda game in action and a new Mario game that uses Mii characters. All things considered, it's pretty clear that Nintendo needs to lasso in a good share of the core gaming market while not alienating the interests of folks who do not normally play video games; the all-age, family-oriented demographic. Nintendo's been trying to balance these two wholy different categories for many years, and whether or not the Wii U can ultimately accomplish this--- we can't really say. But this doesn't mean there's no potential for third-parties to take this console more seriously than they did the Nintendo Wii. Industry luminaries like Ken Levine were discussing the potentiality of the Wii U, and some core game franchises like Ninja Gaiden III and Darksiders 2 (normally reserved for the 360 and the PS3) were confirmed for the unit. So I certainly expect a lot of buzz to surround the Wii U in the coming months leading up to its eventual release.
The tablet-controller is a cause for some concern, however. I can see how this would be of great interest to a non-gamer or even casual gamers, but a core gamer may not take too lightly to its overly-bulky design because they are so accustomed to smaller, straightforward controls. The sight of this thing is what caused investor confidence to drop in recent days, and the Wii U seems to be losing money before it even hits the shelves. Granted, the Wii U is still in its embryonic stage, and Nintendo has plenty of time to implement changes. One thing I might suggest if they want to fulfill their promise to the core gamer---design a specific controller for that audience, and keep the tablet for another. It would almost be exactly like the Cla$$ic Controller for the Nintendo Wii that offered an alternative to the Wii Remote and Nunchuck for most Wii games and nearly all of the Virtual Console lineup.
Seeing the Wii U at long last after months of speculation has brought some sense of closure, but it still left me with a lot of questions. Will backwards compatibility be an issue? Will the Virtual Console make a return? Is it possible to transfer old save data from the Wii to the Wii U? How will the tablet controller really factor into gameplay? And so forth. I'm sure you're all asking the very same questions. For now, Nintendo isn't saying much about it other than some stuff that many of us have wanted to hear; the emphasis on the core gamer, the inclusion of HD; among other things. With the Wii U, it's going to take some time and more demonstration of its capabilities.
Exhibit 2: PlayStation Vita
The PlayStation Vita, by all accounts, looks pretty cool. It shares a lot of the same gimmicks as the 3DS---one of the most notable features is the use of augmented reality. There's also a touch screen (like the DS) and, of course, a built-in camera (again, like the DS). But it's all PSP; right down to its initial design, which looks incredibly similar to its predecessor. Game media will consist of both flash-drives and digital downloads---a great sign considering the failure of the PSP Go. And it will have a greater emphasis on its compatibility with the PS3 (and vice versa)—including cloud saves for when you want to continue your save data at a friend's house. Not unlike the good old days of the PSOne memory cards, but a neat and welcome inclusion nonetheless. For its performance, it obviously overshadows the PSP, and the videos I've seen of it in action are quite impressive for a portable system. It's become evident that Sony wants to take a big bite out of the portable market in a concerted effort to shy folks away from the 3DS, and one way they're doing that is by matching their competition's price point at $250. A wise move. However, this only applies to one of two Vita models. The one costing $250 will have standard Wi-Fi, while the $300 model will have 3G support with stronger online capabilities and the functionality of a cell phone and blackberry. Delicious news for the tech-savvy, but the budget minded consumer, I assume, wouldn't mind the lack of 3G support.
My opinions of the Vita? Naturally, I'm interested in what it can offer beyond what I've seen. Yet, like the Wii U, I still want to know more about it before I'm willing to invest fully. Its initial success remains to be seen, as is Sony's ambitions to wrench away Nintendo's foothold on the portable console market. The PSP is a good machine in its own merit, but it hasn't been nearly as successful as the DS and all the other Nintendo portables that came before it. But, Sony isn't willing to throw in that towel just yet. After the embarrassing PlayStation Network fiasco that cost them millions of dollars, they're going to have to flex much of their resource muscle into this new unit to earn back consumer confidence and generate interest. And, like the PS3, they'll need to ensure the Vita's online safety against future attacks. To its credit, the Vita's got a lot of potential, and it's priced right, so it may very well be a consideration.
But as far as both consoles are concerned, everything boils down to the games. While it's too early for me to determine title interests for both the Wii U and the Vita, I am willing to delve into my research node in the coming months to see if these consoles and their respective libraries are right for someone like me. Chances are, (games willing) I'll probably invest in either or both of them. Of course, I can gush about how awesome the technology is, but none of it will mean a hill of squat if they don't have fun games to hold my interest. This has been, and always will be, the core principality of my gaming life, and it should be a central ambition of the industry if they ever hope to make money. It certainly doesn't hurt for a game console to have incredible innovative technology, but without great games to back it up, it'd be like Orange Tang. All color, no juice.
All things considered, it's looking to be an interesting year ahead!