Posts Tagged ‘Batman Arkham Asylum’

In case you haven’t noticed, I tend to leave day-to-day things like reviews and previews to the big guys – listed conveniently in the blog roll for you.  Servicey!  The fact is, the Kotakus and Joystiqs of the world do a much better job of breaking news and round-the-clock updates than I ever could, and their staffers just plain play more games than me.  A lot more.  I’ve also avoided the “Game of the Year” trope for many of the same reasons.  From a critic’s perspective, when you haven’t played everything (or even everything good) in a given year, how can you really say one game is The Best?

Games of Our Lives was my more personal attempt at naming a game to define a year.  Those picks have more to do with me, and what was going on in my life when I played each game, than what’s in the box.

This past year might just represent a new low watermark for my time spent playing games.  Getting a puppy and having a baby in the same year will do that to you.  But as a result, I feel like I’ve spent a much higher percentage of my play time enjoying games than ever before.  I didn’t slog through any games “just to stay on top of things” this year.  And I can’t think of any game I stuck it out with this year just so I could feel like whatever time I had already invested was well spent.  Got that, MLB ’09: The Show?!  As such, I think I actually have a better feel for what made this year’s crop of games fun than I’ve had in recent years, and am open to a lot more types of games – casual, hardcore, multiplayer, story-driven, PC, console, iPhone – it was all fair game for me this year.

Of course, this being the end of the 00’s, every big games publication and site spent the last few weeks rounding up the highlights of the  last 10 years.  Having written Games of Our Lives already, and the big guns all poring over a decade’s worth of history, it seemed way less intimidating to focus on the best game of this year.  And considering how the changes in my personal life affected my perspective on games, I may actually have different (perhaps even useful?) reasons for my choice.  So without further ado, the nominees are (in alpha order):

  • Batman, Arkham Asylum – Batman finally got the game he deserved this year, thanks to some ingenious use of the Unreal engine and a superb story from Paul Dini delivered pitch-perfect by quite a few cast members from Batman: The Animated Series. The Metroidvania emphasis on exploration and detective skills was such a natural fit for the Caped Crusader, it’s hard to believe it took this long for someone to make the match.
  • New Super Mario Bros. Wii – Mario’s been to distant galaxies, race tracks, and even his some old  Smash Brothers stomping grounds since the Wii was released, but Nintendo finally put him back where he feels most at home this year.  So much was written about this game’s chaotic 4-player simultaneous free-for-all’s that the sometimes brutal, sometime charming, always well thought-out level design got shoved out of the headlines.
  • Plants vs. Zombies – PopCap is an unapologetically casual studio, but the truth is more hardcore players completely dig their games than would ever admit it to their squadmates.  These guys are just razor sharp when it comes to figuring out where a few bells and whistles can turn a smooth playing, bite-sized game into an all consuming force of addictive wonderment.  PvZ’s sense of humor, learning curve, and seeding of truly awesome minigames coaxed me into installing a game on my PC for the first time since college.  Can’t wait for the iPhone port this year!
  • Uncharted 2: Among Thieves – The secret lovechild of Lara Croft and Han Solo, Nathan Drake, returns in a globetrotting adventure that tweaks and finesses Gears of War’s combat system, then drops the whole thing into a story that you actually WANT TO FOLLOW full of characters that you really do care about.  I know it sounds fundamental and very basic, but the attention to detail and commitment to characters really pulled this game over the top.

…aaand the winner is:

New Super Mario Brothers Wii

At the end of the day, I’m a total sucker for a new Mario game.  I loved Galaxy and Mario 64 as much as anyone else, but everyone’s favorite skilled tradesperson just plain feels better when he’s zipping along at full speed, cracking heads and gobbling up coins in that seminal console genre, the sidescroller.  It’s not just that the big N got Mario and Luigi back into their 2D stomping grounds – the charm of this game is that they put together such an outstanding collection of level designs and worlds to ensure they came back in style.

Considering the audience Nintendo is focused on these days, it’s no surprise that simultaneous multiplayer came first in marketing New SMB Wii.  But throwing 3 more players onto the screen doesn’t just add allies.  It completely changes the pace of the game, and the focus of the players.  The result is a party game that feels much more like a session with Rock Band than a traditional platformer.  It’s a blast to play with more than one player, and I’m honestly a little bit surprised we didn’t see an official hardware bundle this holiday featuring the Wii, the game, and 4 remotes.

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dpIt must be marketing week around here.  Only a few hours after I hit “publish” on my developers-are-the-best-marketers post, Sony announced a completely on-target concept: including the God of War III demo on the District 9 Blu-Ray movie disc.

I’ve seen a few fairly lame attempts to market games via home video, and vice versa.  Usually, it’s just a trailer for a licensed game in front of the exact DVD movie upon which the game is based, e.g., a non-interactive trailer for the Kung Fu Panda video game on the DVD movie release of Kung Fu Panda. Isn’t that a wasted effort? Are there really that many Kung Fu Panda fans out there that have no idea a video game exists?

What I like about Sony’s bundling is it demonstrates an understanding of the audience for both properties, and simply makes the introduction.  I didn’t see D9 in theaters, but some pretty smart cats I know thought it was a good, cerebral sci-fi movie.  Similarly, the God of War series has always appealed to a more sophisticated audience than your average brawler, with its operatic story of betrayal and redemption set against a faithfully presented backdrop of Greek myth.  It stands to reason that some D9 fans love Kratos’ exploits, whether they know it or not.

On the flip side, GoW is an established series with legions of fans, and their desire to play a level or two from the long awaited series finale (before it’s available for download) might jbat dogust lead them to a purchase of the District 9 Blu-Ray, even if they missed it in theaters. So, win-win for Sony, as D9 is a product of their Pictures division and GoW is an exclusive franchise that moved plenty of hardware last generation.

I’d really like to see this type of partnership explored further, especially with some less obvious (but perhaps more effective) pairings among multiple companies.  How about a demo disc for Batman: Arkham Asylum with every adult size superhero costume sold at Halloween USA stores this time of year?  Of course, physical media should be a non-issue here.  I’m willing to bet EA Sports and Stubhub would probably hit it off, so that way everyone that prints out their ticket to an NHL game could also get a download code for the NHL 10 demo on their system of choice.  The possibilities are pretty much endless here.

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ODST's won the day, but was September a turning point for Sony in the war?

ODST's won the day, but was September a turning point for Sony in the war?

The NPD Group’s US Video Game Report for September just hit my inbox last night, and it may be an early indicator of the exciting fourth quarter predicted by some pretty smart cats.  We saw increases across most categories from September ’08’s numbers, but not enough to pull the year-on-year numbers out of their recession doldrums.  However, Sony’s got several reasons to smile, in spite of Halo 3: ODST nabbing the top spot on this month’s Software Top 10:

Rank Title Platform Units
1 HALO 3:ODST 360 1.52M
3 MADDEN NFL 10 360 289.6K
6 MADDEN NFL 10 PS3 246.5K
9 GUITAR HERO 5 360 210.8K

Yes, there are only two PS3 titles in the top 10 this month, but looking at this list, you can practically see the purchase behavior!  Madden and Arkham Asylum both shipped to decent numbers on the PS3  in August, but not enough to overtake their respective Xbox 360 counterparts.  These particular games’ second month in the Top 10, despite the PS3’s much smaller installed base, is a clear indicator of a positive trend in hardware sales for Sony.  More casual gamers that only buy one or two pieces of software a year religiously get Madden, and strong word of mouth among hardcore gamers (not to mention a pretty good ad campaign) for Arkham Asylum has made that a must-have title for anyone just purchasing a current gen system.  So gamers that were holding out for a price drop seem to be gravitating towards the PS3, and they’ve essentially created their own hardware bundle in the process.

The price drop and slim hardware proved to be exactly the 1-2 punch Sony needed.  Take it away, NPD analyst Anita Frazier!

“Compared to last September, the PS3 was the big winner, more than doubling last year’s sales.  This portrays a very strong consumer reaction to the price decrease as August and September both realized a lift of more than 70% over the prior month.  This is the first month that the PS3 has captured the top spot in console hardware sales.”

It’ll be interesting to see if Microsoft rolls out a new hardware bundle or retailer discount for the holiday.  This very well could be the PS3’s year.

In other news, this month’s NPD report saw Wii Fit fall out of the Top 10 for the first time since its introduction 15 months ago.  Of course, it was immediately replaced in the Top 10 by Wii sports Resort.  But for a $90 game to spend 15 months in the Top 10, where even a soft month has the floor somewhere around 200K units, is impressive.  Just like the home crowd standing up for their starter during his 7th inning exit, I’ve got to salute Nintendo on this one.  Well done.standing o

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It’s been almost a year since I saw anything really compelling in games retail, so I was surprised to see a cool idea out of… Wal-Mart of all places.  I’ve only been inside Wal-Mart a handful of times, having grown up in southeast Michigan and thus buying everything at Meijer for the first 20 years of my life.  But Wal-Mart’s in-store “Family Night Center” sounds like it could solve some serious problems getting more casual gamers to warm up to purchasing more games throughout the year.

In a nutshell, it’s a section of the store that is full of products that could help plan a fun family night in, regardless of product category.  So you’ll find family-friendly DVD movies right next to the Doritos right next to Scattergories.  This being Wal-Mart and times being what they are, they put a $30 ceiling on everything in the section.  Smart.

If this section really takes off, it could mean big things for board and video games.  Settlers of Catan* is retailing for right around $30 now, and most of the games on my shelf could really use the boost that would come from being available at the world’s largest retailer.pandemic box

There’s tremendous potential here for the industry to embrace.  Last month, we saw Wal-Mart slash the price of Batman: Arkham Asylum at release in all of its Canadian stores to just above the $30 threshold for the Family Night Center.  It was so well-received, Canadian Gamestops had to follow suit.  I’m guessing this was a test from the überetailer to see how marquee games perform as a  loss leader in a non-holiday part of the year.

Wal-Mart tested lower pricing for the stellar Batman:AA in Canada

Wal-Mart tested lower pricing for the stellar Batman:AA in Canada

New revenue streams like in-game ads and microtransactions could make it entirely reasonable for a big publisher to put out a serious title at a price point of $30 or less, if it means achieving the scale that comes with prestige shelf position inside Wal-Mart.  We’ve already seen plenty of manufacturers create special versions of their product specifically to meet Wal-Mart’s pricing standards.  So by the same logic, couldn’t a developer like EA put together a much less feature-rich version of their next Skate game  for a lower retail price as a Wal-Mart exclusive, qualify for sale inside the Family Game Center (which no doubt boosts the hell out of sales), get a ton more customers into the game, and then reap greater awards by selling these consumers new skaters, outfits and levels a few dollars at a time?  Let’s talk, guys.

*In case you missed it, be sure to check out Andrew Curry’s excellent Wired piece on Settlers of Catan.  After years of reading about what a great game it is, and seeing so many outstanding videogame developers list Settlers among their greatest influences, it became my gateway into more elaborate games designed with adults in mind.

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We finally got the Batman game we’ve always wanted, with the superb Arkham Asylum from Rocksteady dropping this week.  The reviews are glowing, with some lofty comparisons and even “Game of the Year” buzz surfacing.  Going back to last summer with the The Dark Knight movie, we’ve seen two projects take on the Batman license and absolutely nail it.  Great!  The only hiccup is DC’s completely missing the opportunity for comics sales.

Anyone that picks up and plays Arkham Asylum this week would be completely and hopelessly lost if they were to read any of the flagship Batman books on the shelf of their local comic shop this week.  For the love of God, Bruce Wayne’s not even Batman right now*!

Dick Grayson and... Damian Wayne are Batman and Robin

Dick Grayson and... Damian Wayne are Batman and Robin

I’m not saying they should retcon all the events of Infinite Crisis just for the sake of Rocksteady’s game, but would it have killed DC Comics to align the current story arc in the ongoing monthly bat-books with something that resembled Arkham Asylum’s continuity?  I suppose it’s a bit of the tail wagging the dog, but last time I checked COMICS were facing some serious readership issues, while games have an abundance of players.

Marvel took a lot of flack for a similar issue with the core X-Men books around the release window for the first Bryan Singer X-Men movie in 2000.  Only a few characters from the movie were active in the books at that time, and the ones that were looked nothing like their silver screen counterparts.  The House of M has since learned their lesson, and got Spidey back in black just in time for Spider-Man 3.  They even got the last few occurrences of Free Comic Book Day to coincide with the release date of tentpole summer blockbusters starring a Marvel character.

I can’t wait to see the NPD numbers on Arkham Asylum next month.  I’m willing to bet at least the Xbox 360 SKU charts in the top 3.  Too bad none of those buyers could sustain their Batman fix with a nice, tidy jumping-on point into monthly Batman comics.

*For all the lapsed comic book nerds reading this, Bruce Wayne is dead.  In the comic book sense.  As in ‘nobody every really dies in comics**’.

**The REALLY lapsed comic book nerds will recall that this phrase use to read ‘nobody ever really dies in comics except Bucky.’  But he actually came back in 2008.  So, really, NOBODY dies in comics now.

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