One thing I’ve long regretted about being too poor to afford a PS3 or 360 is not having access to the rich and exciting range of low-priced download only software the HD consoles have enjoyed over the years. It’s not that the Wii hasn’t had an alternative but the games on WiiWare never enticed me in the same way. With the Wii U here I’ve been anxious to catch up with what I’ve been missing and the darling of the Wii U eShop’s early days is this dazzling puzzle platformer from developer Frozenbyte and it’s easy to see why. Continue reading »
He’s been at it just as long as Mario but Sonic’s history of racing games doesn’t hold the same pedigree, which is odd given that speed is his whole bag. It began on the Game Gear with the Sonic Drift games which pitted the blue blur and pals in karts. They hopped out of the vehicles for Sonic R which stunk up the Saturn and more recently there have been the underachieving multi-format Sonic Riders games and Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. Can this newest effort, a follow-up to that last, finally hit the spot? Continue reading »
Wii Sports revolutionised social gaming in 2006 by appealing to the masses with an intuitive new controller and a large amount of the credit for the success of the Wii can be levelled at the decision to bundle it with the console. Now Nintendo are innovating again and are clearly hoping to repeat this success with Nintendo Land, another minigame compilation designed to introduce players to the new-fangled Gamepad, the only difference is that Nintendo Land is a much better game. Continue reading »
That’s a bit more like it. 2011, though not without its difficulties (including two of the most problematic and stressful house moves of all time), was a considerably better year than 2010. Highlights included my moving to London to live with great buddies Ryan and Tom, flying to New York for a week for my brother’s wedding and the admittedly faltering launch of the Nintendo 3DS.
Any new piece of hardware launching is a special occasion but Nintendo’s new handheld got off to an inauspicious start in a debut year marred by start-up problems. A day one line-up and launchw window devoid of any must-have titles, the eShop delay, disappointing early sales, all signs of a flop. Not even the wonderful The Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time 3D could improve the system’s fortunes enough to avoid a drastic price cut and the unveiling of the aesthetically displeasing Circle Pad Pro was as good as Nintendo admitting they’d ballsed-up the hardware design. What a difference Mario makes. With Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 finally available the fledgling console’s fortunes have been transformed and sales figures have skyrocketed to record-breaking levels. The Wii meanwhile seems to be on its last legs with flatlining sales and a damaging shortage of quality new titles. However The Legend of Zelda – Skyward Sword gave the Wii faithful reason to be cheerful before year’s end. Finally the DS, the little handheld that could, has been coasting along to a dignified death as its more advanced successor gains steam, throwing up a few more well-received games to take it into its dotage. It hasn’t been the easiest year for Nintendo but in this time of transition for the company they’ve kept things ticking along in preparation for a crucial year ahead.
Due to wallet restrictions I’ve been less than ambitious in my pursuit of new games this year. Of the titles I picked for my Top Ten Most Anticipated Games of 2011 there’s still two I haven’t got round to buying, two that have been delayed to this year and one (the second DS Fire Emblem title) that was never released in the UK (which made me equal parts sad and angry). I still plan to get Okamiden and Kirby’s Epic Yarn as well as Sin and Punishment – Successor of the Skies, a game still left over from 2010, as soon as I can afford them. However I won’t let my woeful lack of new game acquisitions stop me from announcing my Game of the Year. Ideally I’d like to wait until I’ve reviewed every 2011 release I have managed to get my hands on before declaring my decision but this is the first of five annual posts I have in the pipeline and I don’t want them to get backed up. Plus I don’t think there’s much chance of the four games with reviews pending (Super Mario 3D Land, Mario Kart 7, Star Fox 64 3D and Xenoblade Chronicles) supplanting either of my choices for GOTY and runner-up. So without further ado…
Rose Red Prince’s 2011 Game of the Year
The Legend of Zelda – Skyward Sword (Wii)
As you may have guessed from my Skyward Sword review I like Zelda quite a lot. Each new instalment is the cause of much fevered anticipation and this time was no different. Skyward Sword may have had its shortcomings but it was still a massively high quality experience packed with innovation and excitement built on a strong foundation of new and existing gameplay mechanics. The big draw was the brilliantly realised Wii Motion Plus sword combat which singlehandedly vindicated motion controls as a legitimate part of hardcore gaming but the game made bold steps in other areas too introducing a host of new concepts and focusing on diversity for a varied, compulsive experience. The bold, impressionistic art style, orchestrated soundtrack, increased difficulty and massive length all went towards a hugely satisfying package that should not have left any stalwart fans feeling short-changed. A worthy, if predictable winner. Read my full review here.
Runner-up: The Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time 3D (3DS)
It’s going to be an interesting year ahead for Nintendo with the 3DS gathering pace and a slew of big new titles on the way. The handheld faces stiff competition from Sony’s PlayStation Vita which launches soon and with Smart Phone gaming proving more and more lucrative it looks like Nintendo might not have it all their own way this time around. The big new development however is the Wii U which is set for release in the second half of the year. Nintendo’s first HD console will have to be very special indeed if it is to keep up with rival machines with Microsoft set to reveal the successor to the Xbox 360 at E3. Promising a renewed focus on core gamers and online functionality and with pioneering new technology the company might have enough to beat the highly-stacked odds. No first party games have been unveiled as yet and the final specs and complete functionality of the machine remain unknown but with great strides being made with the 3DS’ online features and industry insiders making promising noises the signs are good. I’ll be revealing my Top Ten Most Anticipated Games of 2012 in due course.
As always 2011 never saw me going without a good book to read either in bed, during lunch breaks, on the train (including, newly, the London Underground) or wherever the urge takes me. The year marked the end of an era with the sad death of Brian Jacques aged 71. Brian’s work on the Tales of Redwall inspired my lifelong dream to be an author and though the quality of his long-running series dropped off in his later years they are books that will always keep a fond place in my heart. I am still working my way through the series one by one, something I’ve been doing since 2010 and with seven books still to finish they’re set to keep me occupied for some time to come. Once again I didn’t read a single book published in the preceding twelve months so instead my Book of the Year and runner-up are the best titles I discovered for the first time in 2011.
Rose Red Prince’s 2011 Book of the Year
High Rhulain – Brian Jacques
After a succession of so-so additions to the Redwall saga this little doozy popped up and rediscovered a little bit of what made the series so special to begin with. Featuring an effortlessly likeable heroine backed up by a diverse and balanced cast of memorable characters and a refreshing focus on adventure High Rhulain turned out to be the most eventful and enjoyable title since The Legend of Luke and a possible indicator of Jacques starting to find his form again. I’ll have to plough on through the last few tales to see if it was a one-off or the start of a Renaissance. Either way it qualifies for my Book of the Year. Read my full review here.
Runner-up – The Borrowers Afloat – Mary Norton
Hopefully I should be able to get the last handful of Redwall titles reviewed by 2013 so you can expect more of Jacques’ work to feature on the site in the coming months but I’ll be sure to spice things up and read the odd book by other authors at some point, maybe.
It’s been an odd year for films with few standout blockbuster releases that achieved critical acclaim to match ticket sales. With dull predictability, movies like Transformers – Dark of the Moon and Pirates of the Caribbean – On Stranger Tides both made worldwide gross of 10 digits as did the rather more deserving Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. But it was darker, more artistic films that found the most praise from critics with films like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Drive and We Need to Talk about Kevin among the most revered. Animation is my big thing and it’s been a decent twelve months with corkers like Disney’s Tangled, Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin – The Secret of the Unicorn and Ghibli’s Arrietty leading the way ahead of good sequels like Kung Fu Panda 2 and Cars 2 (which no-one seemed to like but me). I’ve seen enough films last year to make a list of my Top Ten Films of 2011 so you can expect to see that in the near future.
There are lots of exciting films on the way in 2012 including some major heavyweight franchises. In the world of animation it looks like this year could turn out to be something of a Renaissance for stop-motion, which makes me very happy indeed. Instead of going into detail here let me invite you to check back soon for my Top Ten Most Anticipated Films of 2012.
And what about me? I’m already working hard to get ahead and make some career progress and am pursuing a number of different options. I haven’t written for either of my two novels in a while but, time permitting, should be getting back on that horse soon too. My New Year’s Resolution this time last year was to go to the cinema more often. I definitely kept that one. This year I’m resolving to be bolder in everything I do. So get used to that. And get used to this blog’s crisp new look too.
Another E3 has come and gone and as usual the video game industry’s foremost event where developers and journalists gather to show off and play the newest hardware and software was not short of talking points.
Being a massive Nintendo fanboy I will, of course, be focusing on Nintendo’s showing but it would be remiss of me not to give some mention to Microsoft and Sony so here goes. Microsoft was the first hardware manufacturer to take to the big stage and although their press conference featured the news that the Halo franchise is returning with a remake of the original game and an all new trilogy including a teaser trailer for Halo 4 a lot of the online reaction to the company’s performance was pretty negative. I didn’t see the conference but it seems the company disappointed its fans by concentrating on casual games for its Kinect hardware. I did, however, watch Sony’s press conference live and the PlayStation manufacturers seemed to do rather better. The president of Sony Computer Entertainment of America, Jack Tretton opened the brief with a sincere and admirable apology to Sony fans for the PlayStation Network’s well-publicised outage. With that necessary issue neatly handled the focus shifted to the company’s upcoming handheld hardware and successor to the PSP. The handheld’s new name PlayStation Vita was announced and a number of games that exploit its nifty technology were demonstrated. The revelation that AT&T would handle the machine’s telecommunications was met with an amusing smattering of boos but when the competitive price of $249 was greeted warmly when it was announced. What the conference lacked was big announcements. With the exception of Sly 4 the conference had little for the hardcore gamer to get excited about in an E3 uncharacteristically devoid of big surprises.
Nintendo’s was the last big press conference taking place on the Tuesday morning in LA. It was known long before the show that the company would be unveiling its new console to replace the Wii and rumours had been swimming around the net for weeks speculating what it could do, the most convincing of which suggested the new controller would feature a sizeable touch screen making it vaguely reminiscent of the Dreamcast controller.
The conference opened with a great musical tribute to the Zelda series for its 25th anniversary. A live orchestra played a medley of classic tunes from the series while a montage of clips from the games played on the big screen culminating in the first showing of the newest trailer of Skyward Sword. Zelda remained the focus of the show and we were told of Nintendo’s plans to celebrate the anniversary detailing plans for a series of concerts dedicated to the series and revealing that The Legend of Zelda – Four Swords will be made available as a free download for the 3DS. Nintendo’s new handheld took centre stage after that and we were given a taste of the big first party franchises upcoming for the system including Star Fox 64 3D, Kid Icarus Uprising, Mario Kart 3D and most importantly Super Mario 3D as well as revealing Luigi’s Mansion 2 for the first time.
Nintendo saved their biggest news for the end and their new HD console, dubbed Wii U was finally showcased. As rumoured the console does feature a large touch screen in a design that resembles an iPad. The new controller also features forward facing cameras, a gyroscope, a microphone and a traditional button setup including two circle pads, D-Pad, four face buttons, two shoulder buttons and two triggers. We were given a fair amount of detail regarding what can be achieved with this system such as the possibility of switching gameplay from the TV to the controller screen, a feature useful for when someone wants to use the TV for something else whilst you’re playing. We were given a few tech demos and a promising list of big third party titles in development for the system including Batman Arkham City, Assassin’s Creed and Dirt but there was nothing on any first party titles except that Masahiro Sakurai’s team will soon begin work on a pair of new Smash Bros. games for both Wii U and 3DS. We didn’t get a clear idea of the machine’s specs either. There was some confusion among the watching public regarding the showing as Nintendo showed nothing of the actual console during its briefing leading many to mistakenly believe that the Wii U was nothing but a new controller but Nintendo officially released shots of the console itself after the show to allay these fears.
It was a good show, maybe the strongest of the three but it wasn’t as good as last year, nowhere near. I was hoping for more big game announcements for new and existing consoles but Nintendo chose to leave its announcements until after the show. The promise of new Kirby games for both Wii and DS were quietly shown alongside Mario Party 9 and a similar looking game called Fortune Street that matches Mario characters with Square Enix ones. The best news was the confirmation of Pikmin 3 for the Wii U but I was hoping to see a new Star Fox or Fire Emblem or at least news that the newest Fire Emblem game for the DS will see release outside of Japan. Most frustratingly though we still don’t have any news on a new F-Zero game. Nintendo’s futuristic racer is one of their best and most consistently excellent franchises, my favourite after Mario, Zelda, Metroid and Fire Emblem and we haven’t seen a new entry in the series in ages.
So what about the Wii U? I’m cautiously excited. The name is pretty bad but the tech is highly intriguing. Nintendo’s demos caused quite a stir by showcasing some of the possibilities for the new controller. Since the show we’ve gained a bit more information about the console. It seems each one will probably only support one of the new controllers with existing Wii controllers necessary for multiplayer games. The console won’t play DVDs or BluRays but, we’re promised, will feature a much more robust online setup. There are some concerns regarding the timing of the console since rumours regarding the specs suggest it will be roughly on a par with the PS3 and Xbox 360 although some sources claim it will outstrip them a fair amount. Either way Nintendo could still find themselves lagging behind in the hardware stakes if either Sony or Microsoft decide to one-up them in the near future. Still, the prospect of Nintendo franchises in HD is too good to ignore, a point most obviously shown by an HD Zelda demo. The demo is not that of a new game in development but an example of what the series might look like in HD. It featured an interactive movie of Link fighting a giant spider that allowed the player to alter things like lighting in real time. We’ll have to keep our eyes on the Wii U as we near its release next year.
In terms of software the 3DS was at the centre of attention for Nintendo with its big names attracting plenty of praise. Super Mario 3D is looking great mixing some of the conventions of Super Mario Bros. 3 with the design ethic of Super Mario Galaxy. The fixed camera limits the sense of freedom found in Mario’s non-stereoscopic 3D games so far but Nintendo have always put plenty of effort into their mascot’s games so it should be great. Mario Kart 3D looks like a fairly typical game for the series except for a few additions. Your kart will become a glider when making big jumps and gains a propeller when underwater as well as featuring the option to swap different machine parts. Let’s hope Nintendo gives the title a deeper one-player mode than the series is known for too. Star Fox 64 3D is looking great as the second big N64 remake to hit the system and the announcement of Luigi’s Mansion 2, though not what I most wanted still looks like a fun follow-up to a fine title.
The star of the show for me was undoubtedly The Legend of Zelda – Skyward Sword. The Wii was given very little attention at the show but this last big release still yielded plenty of praise and has me very excited. The new trailer is great, finally giving us a look at Link’s world above the clouds. Skyloft is a fair bit smaller than I was hoping but it looks like an interesting community and the bird riding gameplay looks a lot more fun than Wind Waker‘s sailing. At the this stage it bears a striking resemblance to Skies of Arcadia. I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. The new trailer featured the same theme tune as before, the same music from the last trailer, which, it was discovered a few weeks ago, is actually Zelda’s lullaby backwards. Zelda herself features in the trailer, playing the part of Link’s childhood friend as she did in Minish Cap. Her new design resembles her character art for A Link to the Past and I have to say she’s adorable. We also were given a first proper look at the new villain, Lord Ghihiram who featured in a gameplay demo on the show floor. He seems an interesting baddie at this point perhaps filling the same role as Zant in Twilight Princess. We were also given an idea of the game’s structure. It seems the line between dungeon and overworld will be blurred in this game and the story will see you revisiting dungeons (which I called). It’s looking brilliant, the stylised graphics may lack technical greatness but they’re lovely to look at nonetheless and by all accounts the Motion Plus swordplay is fantastic. The game looks set to eclipse Twilight Princess which suffered from a lack of defining features. Hopefully Nintendo will give it the same depth and originality of Majora’s Mask. We can only wait and see.
So that’s how E3 2011 panned out. It wasn’t the best show we’ve seen down the years but it certainly had its moments. We’ll wait and see what Nintendo does with its new hardware and keep a close eye on its games until we return to LA next year.