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Posts Tagged ‘Nintendo DS’

nintendo-ds-lite

I’ve been traveling a ton lately, so I’ve been neglecting the blog (lame, I know) and playing a LOT of games on the DS and PSP.  And I’ve been having a blast.

There’s just something very lo-fi and fun about whipping out a handheld when you have a few extra minutes – no need to log in to Live or see what the guys on your friends list are playing.  It really takes me back to the days of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Dr. Mario on the original GameBoy, in the backseat of my parents’ car.tmnt

This generation of handhelds is nearing its fifth year on the market, and I honestly don’t see them being phased out anytime soon – especially considering the current economic climate.  They’ve each been refreshed with newer hardware iterations over the last few years, and Nintendo’s upping the ante yet again with the DSi.  They’ve both had their time in the Rising Sun, with every new Pokemon and Monster Hunter Portable title somehow enticing millions of new hardware purchases upon release.

The PSP certainly had a hot launch year in the ‘States, but a series of odd hardware bundles and some barren years in the games department have put the very slick, sexy piece of hardware in a compromising position.

The DS has proven to be quite the cash cow for Nintendo on both sides of the Pacific.  A raft of too-cute kids’ games and shovelware may be a bit of a turnoff for hardcore gamers, but they’ve been duelly served with loving ports of SNES hits and great exclusives like the Pheonix Wright series – not to mention Nintendo’s own stable of tremendous IP.

Personally, I’ve always hoped for the best for the PSP.  It’s a really great piece of hardware, and the more recent versions have improved upon the battery life and tweaked some of the screen issues.  Playing through God of War: Chains of Olympus and GTA: Liberty City Stories shows what this system is capable of, and I feel more like a disappointed T-ball coach than an angry gamer when I see another lackluster season for the PSP come and go.

A flurry of good news for PSP owners broke late last week, with Sony’s John Koller revealing the (better late than never) PSP arrival of Little Big Planet, Assasin’s Creed, and the Rock Band franchise.

jerry_maguire-1In a seperate interview, Koller (friends call him “the faucet” ’cause he dispenses cool) confirmed that they’re pursuing developer Ready at Dawn for more PSP games.  That would be awesome because RaD’s Daxter and GoW: Chains of Olympus are two of the system’s shining stars.  Koller finished up his whirlwind media day with a pinky-swear to the entire community that Sony’s not bailing on the UMD format. That’s really awesome for me.  I have a UMD copy of Jerry Maguire and NEED Sony to stay with that format, or I may be forced to buy my 6th copy of that movie.

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I don’t have the time (or reflexes – zing!) to post every time Sony release a firmware update.  The latest update for the PlayStation 3, version 2.40, is actually a fairly big deal for Sony and the entire industry.

They might as well have called this update “the Xbox Live patch.”  It finally adds game-specific Trophies (mechanically the same as Live’s Achievements) so borderline OCD cases competitive gamers can scour their retail games and PSN downloads to truly complete every game, and compare Trophy collections.  The real innovation, however, is the ability to access the Sony Cross-Media Bar in-game.

In-game XMB means PS3 players can finally message their friends across the entire network, regardless of what game they’re playing.  So, a player who wants some live competition in MLB 08: The Show could pause the game and drop a line to challenge anyone on his friends list.  One of his friends playing Metal Gear Solid 4 could see the message, pop in MLB, and get a game of baseball going.  It seems arbitrary, but simple functionality like this made Xbox Live the gold standard in online console gaming. 

The PlayStation 3 has supported PSN friends list since launch day, but they’ve never really mattered until now.  Under the old method, you were more likely to find a randomly matched opponent on a particular game than you were to sign on and find one of your friends waiting for you.

In-game XMB also allows you to listen to your own music library while playing, but it’s tough for me to get too excited about it.  After all, haven’t we been doing this since the first time someone turned up the stereo while playing Tecmo Bowl in a dorm room in 1989?

The fact that the PlayStation Network is now a cohesive online community that operates across the entire PS3 games library significantly levels the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 playing field.  The question is, can Sony capitalize on it and bring hardware sales up to a more respectable level?

It would seem that Sony has two significant advantages over Microsoft.  First, PSN is completely free to use, while Xbox Live Gold accounts cost $50/year.  This could be a crucial point for Sony, provided they market it well (easier said than done) AND don’t screw it up with tiered service and pricing.  Qore, their online magazine with “subscriber benefits” like access to private beta tests, is off to a rocky start.   And who knows what Sony has planned with the introduction of their Home virtual world…

Second, Sony can leverage the PSP to expand the PlayStation Network and finally deliver the portability to PSN that Microsoft has been endlessly planning for Xbox Live.  It’s a big opportunity, as Microsoft has shown zero interest in producing a handheld of their own, and even allowing the Viva Pinata characters to appear in Nintendo DS games.  Also, the PSP looks to be on an upswing, with outstanding hardware sales in the fickle Japanese market, some critically successful games on the market and in the pipeline, and a winning hardware/software bundling strategy.

The all-but-confirmed Xbox 360 price drop can’t be far off, and Sony’s unlikely to follow suit.  They already are selling the cheapest Blu-Ray player out there, and have made no secret of just how much they need to recoup as much as possible from the PS3 development costs.  It should be interesting to see how they proceed, once the momentum of Metal Gear Solid 4 wears off.

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This week saw the official kickoff for ‘s Will Wright’s Spore, as the Creature Creator module was made available on quite a few platforms. While I wouldn’t quite say it’s the games industry’s Chinese Democracy*, Spore’s had its share of delays since being announced (and winning the “Best of Show” award) at E3 2005.

I’m thoroughly impressed with the way EA/Maxis has managed to keep the community’s interest piqued over the course of Spore’s journey from cradle to shelves. Will Wright’s been fairly reclusive since the SimCity days, and his quasi-vow of silence endured even during the development cycles of high profile titles like SimEarth and The Sims, after his rock star status had been firmly established. The long runup to Spore, however, has yielded unprecedented glimpses into Wright’s development process, through the eyes of the absolute best writers in games journalism.

Under normal circumstances, gamers would have given up long ago on a title that had this many public delays. But Wright’s reputation, candor with the enthusiast press, and build-ins for additional platforms, like the DS and iPhone, have bought EA/Maxis a reprieve in this case. Just last week, Wright even weighed in on the “games as art” argument in this gem of an interview with GameDaily Biz.

We won’t know until September if all the anticipation was worth it, but for now the project originally dubbed “SimEverything” stands as a textbook study in how to premarket a huge, genre-defining multiplatform game.

*For those scoring at home, Duke Nukem Forever is the game industry’s Chinese Democracy. A dubious honor if ever there was one.

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