Tuesday, January 30, 2007

WarioWare and Wii win toy fair award

Nintendo of Europe has won a ´Toy Award´ at the International Toy Fair in Nuremberg for both the Wii console and ´WarioWare: Smooth Moves´.

The combination of hardware and software won in the category ´Trend + Lifestyle´ out of a total of 223 new products by 163 manufacturers that are presented at the show. There are 8 categories in total.

Here is the official statement by the jury. They were probably having too much fun playing the game to spell its name correctly.

The jury selected the “Wario Wear: Smooth MovesTM” game together with the console from Nintendo; here the player dances, boxes and jumps through 200 crazy microgames. Fast reactions and smooth movements are called for.

The jury chose the product because the play concept of Wii tends to encourage playing PC games in groups instead of alone. In addition, the product not only appeals to player types with an affinity to PCs, but also to new age groups – a real lifestyle theme. The innovative controller – for more fun and movement – and the “Wario WearTM: Smooth Moves” represents a return to the more classic games in the game console segment.

The award will be presented tomorrow. Winners are allowed to print the ´ToyInnovation quality label´ onto the product. Obviously, there is also some significant media coverage involved.

The fair officially opens its gates on February 1st.

EDIT Thanks to Joystiq, MaxConsole and GoNintendo for linking to this story.

Sources: International Toy Fair, Nintendo of Europe - press server (registration required)

Friday, January 26, 2007

Almost five games sold per Wii console, more than six in the Americas

Nintendo has sold 3,19 million Wii consoles until the close of the calendar year. A phenomenal 17,51 million software units were sold alongside them, the company´s third quarter financial report (PDF) details.

Doing my own maths here and discounting the 2,05 million copies of ´Wii Sports´ that were bundled with the console outside of Japan (see below), 15,46 million software titles were sold, making for a phenomenal software tie-ratio of 4,85 (games sold per console). Here are the official figures:

Wii Hardware (in million units)

Japan: 1,14
The Americas: 1,25
Other: 0,80
Total: 3,19

Forecast until March 2007: 6,00

Wii Software (in million units)

Japan: 4,33
The Americas: 9,02
Other: 4,16
Total: 17,51

Forecast until March 2007: 21,00 (excluding bundled titles)

From this point on, I am doing my own maths again, but this is not exactly rocket science. I am now subtracting the amount of consoles sold from the amount of software sold for all regions outside of Japan, in order to discount the bundled title ´Wii Sports´. One copy was included in every hardware bundle in the Americas and Europe, so this will result in the amount of software actually sold over the counter.

Wii Software (excluding bundled titles, in million units)

Japan: 4,33 (not bundled, no change)
The Americas: 9,02 - 1,25 = 7,77
Other: 4,16 - 0,80 = 3,36
Total: 17,51 - 2,05 = 15,46

I am now calculating software attach rates (tie ratios) on the basis of the above figures, i.e. for both the software sales figures including and excluding bundled titles.

It is a simple matter of dividing the amount of games sold by the amount of consoles sold, resulting in the figure of games sold per console.

Wii Software attach rates (including bundled titles)

Japan: 4,33 % 1,14 = 3,80
The Americas: 9,02 % 1,25 = 7,22
Other: 4,16 % 0,80 = 5,2
Total: 17,51 % 3,19 = 5,49

Wii Software attach rates (excluding bundled titles)

Japan: 4,33 % 1,14 = 3,80 (not bundled, no change)
The Americas: 7,77 % 1,25 = 6,22
Other: 3,36 % 0,80 = 4,2
Total: 15,46 % 3,19 = 4,85

You can tell my maths is correct by a simple cross-check: Compare the tie ratios for both the Americas and Europe in the two tables above. The figures excluding bundled titles account for exactly one whole game less than the inclusive figures - that game being the bundled title.

´Wii Play´ bundle distorts figures slightly

A tie ratio of 4,85 is a phenomenal figure, but there are a number of things to bear in mind. One, almost every Wii user will have opted for the ´Wii Play´ and extra controller bundle, which should account for the strong tie ratios in both Japan and Europe.

However, the tie ratio is strongest in the Americas, where that bundle is not yet available. More than six games were sold per console there, which sounds almost incredible. I have checked and double-checked the figures, though, and it must be true - or there is a typo in the financial report, which is very unlikely.

Virtual Console games included?

There is the theoretical possibility that Nintendo chose to include Virtual Console game sales in the Wii software sales. The version of the report available to me makes no mention of Virtual Console game sales.

Kotaku claims that the full report makes mention of 1,5 million Virtual Console games sold, though. If those had been included and even if all of those sales had occured in the Americas, you would still arrive at 6,27 million games sold in that region, making for a tie ratio of just over 5 (a little over a full game less). So, even if they were included, VC game sales would not distort the figures much.

It also seems unlikely that Nintendo included the VC games. The company only expects to have sold 21 million games by the end of March - if the above figure did include Virtual Console games, then the forecast should be a great deal higher, I believe.

Can review units have pushed software sales?

We should, however, make some allowances for industry analysts, members of the press or other professionals who may have received a review console from Nintendo and have bought their own games over the counter. This is the only reasonable explanation I can find for the high attach rate in the Americas.

Tie ratio to drop significantly

At any rate, the tie ratio is set to drop sharply. Nintendo expects it to drop to around 3,5 by the end of March. They expect to have sold a total of 21 million games (excluding bundled titles) by then. Divide that by the amount of consoles expected to be sold up until that point (a total of 6 million worldwide) and you get a tie ratio of 3,5.

It is also common sense that the tie ratio must drop, if every American that already bought a console last year really splashed out on slightly more than six games each. That should be enough to keep them busy until the second half of 2007 when we will see a tidal wave of blockbuster Wii titles coming out.

EDIT The same document has now been made available on the Nintendo of America press server. Unfortunately, there are no further notes that help clarify the discussion (see comments) whether the ´consolidated sales´ only refer to units being sold to retail, not to the end consumer.

Source: Nintendo Co. Ltd. Investor Relations (PDF)
Thanks to: Kotaku

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Rumour round-up

While the proverbial ink on the last rumour round-up is barely dry (or, rather, the html code has barely settled down), there are fresh rumours to mull about. Here we go.

1.) ´Firefox´ browser for Wii in the works

A Wii version of the popular ´Firefox´ browser will be released soon, blogger GamingPhreak reports, claiming confirmation by Nintendo president Satoru Iwata himself but providing no link or further information.

The free Firefox browser will be available as a free download for Wii owners. It features a scrolling method called ‘Motion-Browse’ which allows you to use a combination of buttons and wrist flicks to navigate the web. Text input has also been simplified with predictive text that works with the wiimote to enter text at an astounding 50 words per minute. That’s faster than most people type.

The current browser is provided by Opera and it was widely believed that it would remain exclusive, although the official press releases by both Nintendo and Opera fail to mention any exclusivity involved in the partnership. However, I find it difficult to imagine having a ´Firefox Internet Channel´ next to the ´Opera Internet Channel´.

EDIT This one is just a joke. I just spoke to the blog´s owner, Jeff Couret, and he confessed to the story being fake. He made it up. Either that or Couret went to school with Iwata and sang in the same glee club as him.

EDIT Just for the record, we now have a denial from an Opera employee. Soon I will be able to post an exclusive statement directly from Mozilla.

EDIT Well, here is the final word from Mozilla. They don´t, but they would.

According to Christopher Beard, vice president of products, Mozilla is not working with Nintendo currently, but would be happy to see Firefox on the Wii.

2.) Nintendo revising Wii controller

Nintendo is working on a revised version of the Wii controller, Japanese gaming magazine Game Labo apparently claims in the rumour section of its most recent issue.

The controller will be lighter, feature better grip and will be rechargeable, the magazine allegedly specifies, according to German news site GameFront (no permalink available, search for entry ´Überarbeitete Wii-Fernbedienung geplant?´, dateline 23.01.07).

While such a revised controller may appear not all too likely (given the plethora of third party controllers and accessories that deal with the issues mentioned), Nintendo has just updated the Wiimote straps a third time.

Source: GamingPhreak, GameFront (German)
Thanks to: MaxConsole, MaxConsole, GoNintendo, Pallab

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

PS3 to launch in UK on March 23rd?

The PlayStation3 will launch on the 23rd of March for a retail price of £425, the reputable EDGE magazine has learned.

We have been advised by a source seeking to remain nameless that PlayStation 3 will "definitely launch in the UK on March 23 at £425".

Semi-official PlayStation blog Three Speech is promising that an official announcement is due within days - and views the rumoured launch date as the most likely.

The announcement is more likely to be made Thursday or Friday of this week now. (And we’re sticking with the previously mooted March 23 launch date as 99% certain!)

If true, the £425 price tag will be hanging on the 60GB model (since the 20GB model will not be avilable for the UK launch), which approximates to $842,75 or €647,10. The prices in the Euro zone are still expected to be €499 and €599 for the 20GB and 60GB model, respectively.

I will be honest with you: I did not expect Sony to stick to the March launch date. Various sources had given rise to speculation that the PS3 will be delayed a third time in Europe. Most recently, Sony Corp. head honcho Howard Stringer himself mentioned April as the European launch month, which was later corrected to ´spring´. It seemed as if the company was intent on opening a back door, trying to magically turn their commitment to a specific month into a much more flexible promise of launching within a season.

Now it appears as if SCEE was going ahead with March, after all. It still remains to be seen, however, whether the company will be able to move large enough shipments to the territory. Japan received less than 100.000 consoles, while the US got less than 200.000.

Of course, we are further down the (production) line and Sony has apparently overcome the worst of the problems. Bear in mind, though, that European units need to be PAL-compatible. Shipments that were originally destined for either Japan or the US cannot simply be re-allocated. The European launch shipment must be a dedicated one and, thus, the number must have been set in stone for some time now.

My guess is that Sony will not be able to rally more than 300.000 units for Europe. They will sell out, though, which will at least be some good news for the battered company.

EDIT The story has now been confirmed. However, putting my estimate to shame, Sony has announced they will be able bring a million units in for the European launch, the bulk of them going to the UK. That is some amount. If true, I stand corrected.

Source: EDGE magazine
Thanks to: CVG, Anonymous

Miyamoto to hold GDC keynote

Nintendo mastermind Shigeru Miyamoto is set to hold the keynote speech at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. The hour-long keynote will take place on Thursday, 8th of March, at 10:30am and is entitled ´A Creative Vision´, as the GDC page details:

In his keynote address at the 2007 Game Developers Conference, Shigeru Miyamoto will reveal how a singular creative vision drives his work, not only in terms of his world-renown software, but also in generating key technologies, including the current global phenomena, Nintendo DS and Wii. And he will challenge the audience to apply his approach in their own distinctive styles.

Source: GDC
Thanks to: Joystiq

Monday, January 22, 2007

´Metal Gear Solid 4´ no longer PS3 exclusive?, part III

After recent renewed speculation on the matter, Hideo Kojima himself has failed to put the rumours to rest that ´Metal Gear Solid 4´ may be no longer a PlayStation3 exclusive.

Speaking to GamePro, the acclaimed game designer politely voices some criticism against the PS3 controller´s lack of rumble, goes on to say that he does not yet have any details on Sony´s online plans and that he may consider a ´Metal Gear Online´ just as well for Xbox360 and Wii. He also confirms that he will work on Wii projects.

Most importantly, though, he says that ´MGS4 is actually for the PS3 only,´ adding a significant ´so far´. Here are the relevant excerpts:

I really miss the rumble feature, and I already said to Mr. Kutaragi that I want the rumble feature back. (...) Sony has not really spoken with us about their online plans. What I have is Metal Gear Online, and I'm always thinking of how we can conduct this plan on the Sony platform.

One example is the PSP game Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops. That's, in a way, one our plans for MGO that we have in mind. It's not about the platform. In an ideal MGO world, no matter what the platform is -- PC, Xbox 360, PS3, handheld, Wii -- we wish that we could create a kind of community where everyone can play. That's kind of the MGO way of thinking. (...)

Wii! [laughs] Yes, I will do it [develop for it]. I'm saying this every day. [laughs] But first, I have to face this giant that is called Metal Gear Solid 4, so until I'm finished with that, I can't do anything. (...)

Of course I don't actually work with all the programs, so I can't tell you specifically what's difficult [about writing code for the PS3]. But overall I think it is difficult, of course. But if it's easy and simple, then how can you differentiate from other games? Other people will do the same thing as you. Therefore, we're trying to use [the Cell's] difficulty to create something different.

If I say too much, Mr. Kutaragi might get really upset. I think that the PS3 is difficult to work with, but so was the PS2. (...)

I do have strong interest in creating something for the Xbox 360. In the US and Europe, it is selling, and I think it will sell a lot this year as well. I'm a fan of Gears of War as well, it's very interesting.

Frankly speaking, I want to create something on the PC. It's a multi-platform [format]. I've been regularly studying work on the PC anyways, and I want to provide something as a world-wide platform because of the consequences with timing on the PlayStation platforms, MGS4 is actually for the PS3 only so far.

Kojima´s statement is the next best thing to an outright confirmation that ´MGS4´ will make it to other platforms. And there has been circumstantial evidence already. An industry insider claimed in late December that an Xbox360 version had already been approved and, two months prior to that, gaming magazine EGM popped the question ´Metal Gear Solid 4 on Xbox 360?´ on its cover.

In my mind, soon it will be time to take that old ´rumour´ tag off of this story and paste a brand new ´news´ tag alongside it.

Source: GamePro
Thanks to: Maxconsole

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Rumour round-up

There are a number of Wii rumours around, some of which you may not have come across yet. Concerning the ones you may have already read about, I have tried to provide you with some more exclusive background information. Here goes.

1.) New ´Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles´ info

Apparently, new info on ´Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles´ has been leaked via a Japanese GeoCities page, translated by NeoGAF forum member King Zell. Here is the summary:

* The game´s story is not a side story, it takes place between ´Code Veronica´ and ´Resident Evil 4´.

* There are three main characters, one of them being Jill. Wesker is likely to be another.

* Game system follows ´Resident Evil 4´.

The first Wii installment of the series (called ´Biohazard´ in Japan, if you did not know) is due for a 2007 release. See the teaser trailer and a brief trailer snippet.

2.) Mario delayed, Online gaming tidbits

´Super Mario Galaxy´ (working title) has been delayed until Christmas 2007, according to South African gaming site SAGN. They are kicking around a number of other rumours, all apparently from a Nintendo employee, summarized here:

* Nintendo´s online gaming network is ready.

* ´Mortal Kombat: Armageddon´ will feature online gaming.

* ´Metroid Prime 3´ will launch between April and June.

A few things do not add up here, though. According to their information, ´Metroid Prime 3´ will be the first Wi-Fi enabled game and is expected to launch between April and June. But they also note that ´Mortal Kombat: Armageddon´ will have online gaming functions. However, that game is expected to launch before April (according to Nintendo´s own third party list (registration required). So how could ´Metroid´ be the first online game, then?

Also, they talk about Acclaim publishing the title when it is published by Midway and should also be published by them out there in South Africa (which the game´s product page on a Pretoria-based shopping sites seems to verify). The site remarks that Acclaim is ´secretly working´ on the title, whatever that means. They also note that they are ´pretty sure´ about the above info, apart from the ´Mortal Kombat: Armageddon´ online functionality, which they call an ´Über-Rumour´.

EDIT ´Über-Rumour´ indeed. Ed Boon jost told Gamespot that ´Mortal Kombat: Armageddon´ will feature no online components:

The online components of the Wii were not ready for us when we would have needed them in the development cycle.

3.) Nintendo mystery sequel to be announced

Japanese magazine Nintendo Dream has apparently revealed that ´the sequel to a popular series´ will soon be announced for Wii, as German site GameFront reported (no permalink available, search for entry ´Nintendo Dream: 'Nachfolger berühmter Serie wird bald enthüllt'´, dateline 18.01.07).

This story was picked up by our good and eagle-eyed friends over at GoNintendo and then hit Nintendo Wii Fanboy, who suggest titles like ´Donkey Kong´, ´Pikmin´, ´Nintendogs´, ´Kid Icarus´ and ´Startropics´.

I would like to remind readers that the original source clearly states that it is a series. And it need not be a first party series, either. Perhaps this rumour should be read alongside Capcom´s Keiji Inafune (´Lost Planet´, ´Dead Rising´) confirming that the company has an unannounced Wii game in the works.

The rumour mill is working at maximum capacity on this one. YouTube user Vulgairesmachins seems to want to suggest that Nintendo second party developer Camelot is working on ´StarTropics III´ for Wii.

´StarTropics´ was originally released on the NES in Europe and North America in 1990 and was developed by Nintendo, according to Moby Games.

4.) EA and Konami working on more exclusive Wii titles

IGN´s current Wii-k in review mentions a number of rumour tidbits.

* A publisher of a Wii launch title apparently kept that development team together to develop a follow-up, similarly to EA´s Madden Wii team.

* Konami will announce a brand new IP for Wii within two weeks.

* Midway will hold a special event in Las Vegas soon with ´Mortal Kombat´ expected.

* ´Metroid Prime 3´ may be delayed until the end of the year.

* EA will announce a brand new IP for Wii before March.

EA working on more Wii games should come as no surprise, really. Already in late November, the company´s CEO Larry Probst revealed to acclaimed videogame journalist N´Gai Croal that there would be a number of exclusives.

We are doing a Wii-specific Sims SKU that will launch mid-year in 2007. We have some things in the pipeline that are Wii-specific, that we think are going to appeal to that demographic pretty successfully. You'll see us have products and franchises that are also on other platforms, but there are some things in the pipeline that are Wii-specific. (...)

Let's say that we do 12 or 13 SKUs next year on the Wii. I would imagine that about ten are products that appear on other platforms, and there might be two or three Wii-specific products, including Wii Sims.

Sources: NeoGAF forums, SAGN, GameFront (German), IGN, Gamespot
Thanks to: AMN, GoNintendo, Nintendo Wii Fanboy, Infendo, Wii Fan Boy, Tactics, Serpent01

Friday, January 19, 2007

´Warhawk´ downgraded to download-only midi-game?

Incognito Entertainment´s high profile PS3 title ´Warhawk´ appears to have been downgraded to a downloadable midi-game. There will only be four missions and online gaming may not be implemented, Bruce Kelly from Rumor Reporter claims to have learnt from someone directly involved in the game´s development.

The game was having trouble finding focus. Differences of opinion over its direction ultimately led to a few employees being let go (who, however disgruntled they may be, are not the only source of this story) with a new director being brought in from SCEA’s Santa Monica studio. (Not David Jaffe, who is still hard at work on Calling All Cars.)

Rather than spend even more money trying to make the game into something it was having trouble aspiring to, the decision was made to make the game smaller, more focused, and most controversial, available only on the PlayStation Network online store.

On the NeoGAF forums, SCEA´s David Jaffe failed to disband those rumours:

While I may not be able to give away the details, what I said is accurate. Killing titles is not something any company does lightly. Lightly killing a game from a studio as experienced as Incog? That's even more rare. I think you guys will be happy when you play the game in question tho. Very happy. (...)

Sony Network Store is not a dumping ground for the 'not good enough' titles of the world. That's like saying THE SOPRANO'S wanted to be a movie but had to settle for HBO. Not saying all the games reflect that level yet-and that is OUR job to prove to you that downloadable games are JUST as good as retail games, just different- but I hope when we do start continually putting out games of a high quality that this view will change. And I can tell you, in Santa Monica we approach EVERY downloadable title we make with the same passion, love, and dedication to the craft as we do every full 60 buck retail product.

In December, Sony already downgraded Gran Turismo HD the same way. This game had been as much a showcase title as ´Warhawk´, featuring heavily at last year´s E3.

This is the second highly anticipated first party title that is downgraded in that way. So is the PS3 software line-up dwindling? Among the canned PS3 titles are NBA Live 07, Killing Day, Endless Saga and two Japanese RPGs.

Also, a number of previously thought PS3 exclusives are now multi-platform, most notably GTA4 and ´Assassin´s Creed´ (with the Xbox360 version apparently even boasting superior artificial inteligence). Most importantly, Sony appears to have provoked losing those titles themselves. Unsurprsingly, other developers, like Koei, followed suit. There are also continuing rumours about Metal Gear Solid 4 becoming a cross-platform title.

So, yes, the list of PS3 games has gotten slightly shorter, as has the list of exclusive titles. Let us not forget, though, that there are still a number of great PS3 exclusives to be released this year: Lair, Devil May Cry 4 and Heavenly Sword are sure to become top-sellers on the platform.

Effectively, it is all down to hardware sales and tie-ratios influencing publishers to concentrate their efforts on one platform or another. With the development of a blockbuster title taking at least one and a half years, the changes publishers are implementing now will not show until mid-2008.

As far as hardware sales are concerned, I still believe that we will only start to see a winner emerging by the summer. And we won´t know for sure until after Christmas.

Sources: Rumor Reporter, Joystiq, NeoGAF forums
Thanks to: Joystiq, Joystiq, Simon Phoenix

Monday, January 15, 2007

BREAKING NEWS: Newell calls PS3 a "total disaster"

Gabe Newell, founder and president of Valve, has called the PlayStation3 a ´total disaster´ and urged Sony to can the entire project.

Newell spoke his mind in an interview with Game Informer and went on to say that Wii will probably overtake the Xbox360 this year.

Gameinformer: What about the PS3?

Gabe Newell: The PS3 is a total disaster on so many levels, I think It's really clear that Sony lost track of what customers wanted and what developers wanted. I'd say, even at this late date, they should just cancel it and do a "do over". Just say, "This was a horrible disaster and we're sorry and we're going to stop selling this and stop trying to convince people to develop for it". The happy story is the Wii. I'm betting that by Christmas of next year, the Wii has a larger installed base than the 360. Other people think I'm crazy. I really like everthing that Nintendo is doing.

The above quote is legit. I was just on the phone to Game Informer and they confirmed that Newell actually said the above.

Now, we know that Gabe Newell is not exactly a PlayStation3 fan. In late 2005, he talked about PS3 development and how difficult it is. Back then, he accused Sony of deliberately complicating their platform in order to snatch more exclusives (or, at least, accepting that as a desirable by-product). He said:

I totally see why Sony wants people to write code that runs on seven SPEs and a central processing unit, because that code is never going to run well anywhere else. They are saying: ´Make your code not run on anything other than one of ours. We´re betting that we will have market share that´s so high that anybody will have to write code for our platform and other people will just starve the air from the other platforms by absorbing everybody´s R&D budget and making their code less portable.

But even given his critical stance on the PlayStation3, calling the project a ´total disaster´ and asking Sony to can the project only months into the console´s lifecycle is another level entirely - and one that will make an impression on the industry at large. Just what the consequences of Newell´s words may be, I cannot fathom. But there will be consequences, I am sure. Other developers, publishers and trade people will listen closely to what he has to say.

Whatever the outcome, though, Sony will not be able to shrug that one off so easily. After all, Gabe Newell is one of the industry´s most influential developers. And because all of Valve´s projects are entirely self-financed, the studio does not need to be coy about biting the hand that feeds them - because they feed themselves.

Interestingly enough, Newell has some very kind words in store for Nintendo´s Wii. Knowing that Valve is not keen on console platform development in general, I have to remain skeptical, but I can see myself running around my living room wildly swinging a crowbar.

EDIT Added the link to the story on the Game Informer page.

Source: Game Informer
Thanks to: Gek54, Codename Revolution

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Wii review

Finally, here are my impressions of the Wii and some key titles after owning the console for just over a month. While this is undoubtedly not the first review you have read, I hope to offer some new insight. There are also some in-depth impressions of WarioWare and Wii Play, which have not yet been released in the US, I believe.

Wii Hardware and general remarks

As you know, I was able to play Wii as early as April and many more times leading up to launch. But it was not until I actually received our test console in the newsroom and then bought my own a few days on that I got a real understanding of Nintendo´s new console.

Let us start with the system menus. I absolutely love browsing them. Those little jerks from the Wiimote when navigating across selection fields are amazing and illustrate how desperately motion sensitivity and rumble feedback need one another - undoubtedly the PS3 will offer a far less immersive experience on this count alone.

Also, the speaker in the Wiimote proves to be a revolutionary and innovative feature. The first time I really noticed it was in Red Steel, reloading the Uzi. In Tennis, the ´twock´ that you hear feels so natural that I never consciously noticed it until now. But regardless of whether it is implemented in a more subtle way or whether it is obvious, this feature really helps to further immerse the player in the game.

The key ingredient of the Wii experience is the control mechanism being so intuitive. Basically, the Wiimote does reset twenty years of videogame controls to create a level playing field. Suddenly, my mum can beat me at bowling, because she can draw on her experience of having been bowling in real life. It does not matter that she has never played a videogame before. Players need not learn any ´unnatural´ movements (like pressing three buttons while moving both analogue sticks against one another). You really just pick it up and do what comes natural.

While online gameplay is sorely missed for the moment, the online functionality that we already have is fun, different and promising. If only Nintendo opts for console-specific friend codes, the Wii will surely have a chance of selling the most consoles this generation. It is a truly revolutionary system with some compelling games and functions.

By now, I own around a dozen games, some of which I will go into detail here.

Wii Sports

I would never have expected a pack-in title to offer this much depth. Calling this a collection of mini-games does not do this game justice at all. While owning a pretty large selection of software titles already (around a dozen by now), I still find myself playing Sports the most.

Starting my career as a bit of a crack at tennis, I have since come to love every single one of the five games on offer. At first, I believed boxing to be a bit boring, but it also turns out to be quite challenging with ducking and defending motions so well implemented. Baseball is a sport that is of virtually no interest to Europeans and still it is great fun.

Perfecting each sport is quite a challenge and the player discovers amazing depth of gameplay, be it special serves in tennis or the right way to get a strike in bowling. Consider the following scoreboard from my family Christmas session.

My girlfriend leads the chart with a whopping 212 points after scoring seven strikes (three of which were doubles) and three spares. I came in a humble second with six strikes. And here is me scoring six strikes in a row just two weeks afterwards.

What I am trying to illustrate here is the long-term playability of the game, which is quite impressive. You really do become much better over time and I am still improving every day.

Wii Sports is, quite literally, a must-have title. But even if it was not, it would be (if you are still with me, here). Put differently, no wonder the Japanese are buying it at a rate that puts Zelda to shame.

Wii Play

The big disappointment of Wii Play is that it only supports up to two players. While that makes some sense as far as table tennis is concerned, it does not for most of the other games. Other than that, it is a must-have (especially considering that it only sets you back $10).

Clear highlights are pool and laser hockey. Table tennis is also a great game, but is quite hard to learn. Something like ´Find Mii´ may look like a childish and simple idea, but turns out fun and highly addictive. ´Tanks´ is both great fun and uncannily well designed. I already have silver or gold medals in each one of the mini-games and am still quite ambitious.

It is important to note, however, that Wii Play does not have the gameplay depth of Wii Sports. Play really is just a collection of mini-games, albeit a good one.

Zelda: Twilight Princess

So much has already been said about this game and I do not see the need to repeat all the rave reviews. I have missed a thorough appraisal of the game´s art direction and graphics, however, which are both outstanding. It is the best example that a low polygon count can be balanced out with beautiful textures and lighting maps, as well as simply stunning animation. Obviously, this is a must-have. It may even be called one of the most immersive games of this decade.

Red Steel

Red Steel is a game that has split the punters like no other game I have seen before. I believe to have seen ratings as low as 45% and the top marks were around the mid-nineties.

Incidentally, I started thinking the game was trash, after encountering a major bug right at the beginning. I backed myself into a niche and could not get out again. Did you notice the ´restart from last savepoint´ option in the menu? A flawless game could do away with such an option - and Red Steel cannot. Also, the cutscenes are an insult. The general idea behind them (still artwork shot with a moving camera) is not bad in itself. The execution is horrible, though.

After playing through a third of the game, however, there were no other such bugs. I have also come to appreciate the depth of gameplay. Learning katana skills is great fun and works well. The destructible environments are... well, really destructible. And the art direction is also pretty good. It oozes style and shows off some very nice level design. And, again, a low poly count is compensated by good textures and nice lighting maps. The explosions, for one, are spectacular. On a by-note, the music is great, ranging from powerful, almost meditative oriental chants to Japanese girlie pop.

I also really like the controls. I already thought they had nailed it when playing it back in April last year. And my opinion has not changed since then. I understand not everyone feels this way, but it works great for me. My hit rate is above 30% for some levels and I find the gameplay very fair and rewarding.

So while this game does have its flaws, I still rate it a must-have. Best FPS to date (and will be until Metroid comes out, for sure).


This is the looker of the launch line-up (though Europe is still to get it). I played this at a preview event in early December on a huge plasma set and the graphics were amazing. Nice blur effects for the nitro boosts, especially. Controls are nice, steering wheel add-on recommended. Another must-have in my book.

WarioWare: Smooth Moves

Having received an advanced copy of the game two days ago, I have already played through most of it. It is slightly different to the previous installments in that individual minigames are only playable for three levels, rather than a series in themselves. At the same time, there are special minigames that do not appear in the actual game but pop up once a level is completed. A good example is the table tennis tower (think Breakout and Pong), which is amazingly addictive.

My fear is that the game is hopelessly short. But it does make great use of the controller and is tremendous fun. It also seems that playing through it once unlocks a multiplayer mode. In that case, this is another must-have.

Far Cry Vengeance

While I love the menus and cut-scenes, the in-game graphics are, at times, simply insulting. Shadows of trees and bushes are often composed of gigantic pixels with no anti-aliasing.

The control scheme is bearable but falls short of better implementations as in Red Steel. We all knew that the console would get its share of cheap ports and this is one. I am glad to have received my test copy but rate this as ´non-buy´.

Conclusion: Nintendo´s intentions materialize

Wii Sports consistently attracts colleagues and friends of mine that have never played videogames before, just like Nintendo intended. I have just spoken to a middle-aged security guy here at RTL who I played a quick game with about a month ago. He bought the console two weeks later. What is more, he bought only the standard bundle with no extra controller and no extra game and he is happy with it. Of course, he plans on getting the controller and Wii Play bundle soon, but I believe it is perhaps the most crucial feature about the Wii that the $250 console bundle is sufficient for people to take home and have weeks of fun with. This sets Wii apart from any other console on the market.

Incidentally, said security guard repeatedly commented on the great graphics of the console. And this, again, is Nintendo´s maths adding up. Is there really such a great difference between, say, ´Motorstorm´ and ´ExciteTruck´ on a standard television? Is ´Metroid Prime 3´ not set to be a similar visual feast as ´Halo 3´, again on an SD set? Whatever your opinion on this matter, I definitely do not think that we have been shortchanged on graphics. I look at a number of games and say ´wow´.

The most compelling argument, however, is that the controller is amazingly intuitive and, as a result, games are so much more immersive when played on the Wii. I have yet to meet a person that can resist trying out the Wii. And I have yet to meet a person that does not consider getting one for themselves. All in all, it seems that Nintendo´s intentions for the Wii are materializing. I, for one, have never played a console this often.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Playing the numbers game

After alleged NPD sales figures leaked via CNBC ten days ago (the authenticity of which NPD denied), GameDaily now has some official data concerning hardware sales in the US for the month of December. Here it is:

NPD Sales figures, December, US

Xbox360: 1,1 million (4,5 million in total)

Wii: 604.200 (1,1 million in total)

PS3: 490.700 (687.300 in total)

These figures do not necessarily contradict the earlier ones, which also included the month of November (though, again, it appears that NPD distanced themselves from those figures). Here they are again:

NPD Sales figures (alleged), November 1st - December 24th, US

Xbox360: 2 million

Wii: 1,8 million

PS3: 750.000

The only notable discrepancy is with the latter PS3 sales figures and the console´s total sales from the former batch.

The Associated Press (via Yahoo News) further reported on the official sales figures from Japan.

Enterbrain Sales figures, November - December, Japan

Xbox360: --- (290.467 in total)

Wii: 989.118

PS3: 466.716

Again, take into account that Nintendo only went on sale there on December 2nd. AP comments:

The figures fall short of the 1 million consoles Sony predicted it would ship domestically by year's end.

Earlier this week, Sony said it met its shipping target of 1 million PS3s in the United States in 2006. But the combined U.S. and Japan total puts the company well below its global shipping goal of 2 million.

Nintendo, on the other hand, managed to again raise their profit outlook significantly, as Reuters reports. Apart from the Wii´s successful launch, DS sales are still going strong in all three territories.

Sources: GameDaily, Reuters, The Associated Press (via Yahoo News)
Thanks to: Joystiq, Joystiq, Some Guy

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

GameStop COO confirms that Wii is beating PS3

A GameStop exec has confirmed that Wii is currently outselling the PS3. The group´s COO spoke to the New York Times.

Daniel A. DeMatteo, vice chairman and chief operating officer at GameStop, said Thursday that for the first time last week there were PlayStation 3 consoles in stock at hundreds of the company’s 3,700 outlets. Not so for the Wii, which costs $249 and is still flying off shelves.

“We got some in yesterday in really limited supply, and they virtually disappeared,” Mr. DeMatteo said.

This comes only two days before NPD is scheduled to publish the first reliable sales figures and after speculation about waning PS3 interest became widespread.

Source: New York Times
Thanks to: Gamespot, MaxConsole

Sunday, January 07, 2007

PS3 demand already in decline?

When the first reports of PlayStation3 units sitting on store shelves surfaced, I ignored them. They originated on forums and blogs with little or no credibility and it was impossible to substantiate them. Now, however, at least some reports appear to be true.

There are still plenty of fake stories out there, as we shall see below, but consider the following reports by reputable media.

PS3 available on BestBuy.com ... still

One of our sources says, "It would appear that nobody is really buying them. As of today, my store only had somewhere around 12 units left, but other stores were in the 30s."


PlayStation 3 -- a Bust or a Boon for Sony?

Blogs, recently filled with stories of gamers on the hunt for PS3s, are now littered with accounts of stockpiles of the machines uncovered at major retailers. Even scalpers have returned machines they picked up before the holidays to sell on Web sites like eBay but failed to unload.

One slightly frustrated wife of a wannabe PS3 scalper who didn't want to be identified said her basement was cluttered with several units they hoped to return after the demand for the machines took a post-holiday nose dive on eBay.

ABC News

Plenty O PS3s But No Takers

I can tell you is that the Best Buy near my house had 31 Playstation 3s sitting in a lovely wall o' consoles this morning when I swung by the store. Many, if not all of them, were the 60GB model. (...)

I can't help but wonder if this seeming lack of interest in the PS3 at Best Buys is because of a general post-holiday buying drought or something more about the system itself. It certainly doesn't look good, especially when coupled with the details were reported on last week about the PS3's grey market.


Those PS3s Sales Look Sluggish In Japan!

Well, the PLAYSTATION 3 is selling. And we'd be bullshitting you if we said it wasn't. Thing is, the PS3 ain't exactly flying off the shelf. Sony hit Japan with a huge year-end shipment (one of the biggest since launch apparently). The Wii was nowhere to be seen and sold out at multiple location. And the PS3? Both 20GB and 60GB units remained unsold.


At the same time, there are plenty of unsubstantiated reports by individual gamers. On blogsites like Korexz, video and photographic evidence is being passed around:

Digg users are linking to in-store snapshots of piles of unsold PS3 consoles, like this one:

On some, desperate notices are attached that make me question their authenticity. Which store would attach flimsy, hand-written notices to inventory, pretty much begging the customers to buy stock?

A similar picture was published on Tejan´s blog under the heading ´PS3 Sucks´.

Unfortunately, Joystiq reprinted the above without considering the possibility of it being a fanboy fake (adding an ´allegedly´ does not cut it here, I am afraid).

So we need to activate our bullshit sensors when coming across apparent proof of consoles sitting on store shelves. There are plenty of fake images above to prove that point. However, articles by the likes of ABC News and Kotaku prove that not all PS3 consoles are selling through immediately, as seems to be the case with Wii in the US and Japan.

Alongside these reports, the console continues to get more bad press with Kotaku quoting a GamePro article in which Hideo Kojima says he is not interested in HD at all and the additional storage capacity of Blu-ray discs does not get him all uppity either.

Ultimately, I blame the PS3´s software library for the shortfall in demand. Apart from ´Resistance: Fall of Man´, there appear to be no must-have titles on store shelves. What is more, coming titles like ´Motorstorm´ have had their own share of bad press recently. This is not to mention the ongoing Killzone 2 controversy.

Incidentally, the retail situation in Germany is a different story. Wii units appear to be readily available in larger outlets located in major cities. They are being sold, according to the sales clerks. But you do get to see the odd stack of Wii boxes.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

New PS3 and Xbox360 versions on the way?

An author over at technology blog Gadgetnutz has learned that a stripped-down entry-level PlayStation3 is on the way, citing ´his network of industry insiders´ as the source of the rumours.

Sony is rumored to be making drastic changes to recapture the market before losing even more of it's command share to the likes of Nintendo (the success story of the holiday season) or the XBox 360 (still suffering in the land of the rising sun, but gaining momentum everywhere else).

In a move that is "aimed at family pricing," Sony is rumored to be working on a Playstation 3 that does not include the Blu Ray drive. Whether this will result in the current low-end model having a change, or a newer "entry level" Playstation 3, remains to be seen.

However, in order to abandon the BluRay drive, current PS3 games would also become incompatible with the new console. Games would have to be refitted to standard DVD discs to be playable on a PS3 that would ship without a BluRay drive.

A much more likely story appears the Engadget report about a new Xbox360 in the works, photographic evidence included.

Ever wonder why Microsoft hasn't released an HDMI cable for the Xbox 360, or whether the AV port was really capable of digital out? Well, here's your answer: we landed pictures of what appears to be the second Xbox 360 -- the Xbox 360 v2, if you will -- codenamed Zephyr. (...)

The long rumored about and awaited update to the console won't just feature a new, cooler 65nm processor, it's also finally added an HDMI port for full digital 1080p pleasure, as well as a 120GB drive, just what the doctor ordered.

Source: Gadgetnutz, Engadget
Thanks to: LVzx2, News4Gamers, Joystiq

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Wii outsells competition

Market research firm NPD has released the first reliable sales figures of the holiday season and Wii is the winner.

NPD Sales figures, November 1st - December 24th

Xbox360: 2 million

Wii: 1,8 million

PS3: 750.000

Please bear in mind that Wii and PS3 only went on sale November 19th and 17th, respectively. The figures were released through a CNBC video report (registration required) entitled ´Gaming Wii-nner´.

On G4´s Feed, presenter Layla Kayleigh commented:

For the holiday crunch, [the Wii] doubled the sales of the PlayStation3. In just one month, Nintendo has come shockingly close to meeting half of the Xbox360 sales over a whole year.

EDIT NPD has denied that their official sales figures have already been made available. Yahoo News reports:

Several mention December sales figures for Sony's PlayStation 3, Microsoft's Xbox 360, and Nintendo's Wii published by research group NPD. But according to NPD spokesperson David Riley, NPD has yet to release December's numbers.

"NPD's December/year-end sales data will become available January 11," he said.

Source: CNBC (registration required)
Thanks to: Joystiq, RegHardware, Steezy,

Ubisoft homepage adopts Nintendo layout

The German version of Ubisoft´s homepage has adopted the same layout as Nintendo´s Wii homepage. Take a look at these screens:

This is quite obviously a deliberate adoption of the same graphic layout. Consider the colours (a cyan blue against a white background), the font, the beveled frames and especially the hatched tabs.

What is going on? Why would Ubisoft want to copy Nintendo´s graphic layout? Google´s cache (retrieved on December 27th) already bears the design. So this has been online for a while already.

Obviously, Ubisoft and Nintendo have entered into a strong partnership since the Wii has been announced. But bringing their homepages in line is pretty weird a move in my opinion. I will try and contact Ubisoft tomorrow to see why they chose to copy the layout.

EDIT I just spoke to Ubisoft Germany´s head of PR and he was unaware of the new layout. He will ask the company´s webmaster about this when he returns next week.

EDIT I have just come across Ubisoft´s international Wii line up page, which also mirrors the design of Wii.Nintendo.com. So this appears to be a wider campaign to market Ubisoft´s Wii titles in Nintendo´s design and layout.

Sources: Ubisoft Germany, Nintendo Wii