-3 in ’07

It is quite a relief to be done with that “my favorite seven games of 2007” endeavor, since as with everything I do I bit off more than I could comfortably chew and committed myself to something that probably should have been done much more concisely.

(For those who missed them somehow, here are the links from seven to one: Odin Sphere, Halo 3, Super Mario Galaxy, BioShock, Mass Effect, Etrian Odyssey and Crackdown. Oh, and the games that didn’t quite make the list for whatever reason.)

It was an interesting project regardless, simply because of the reactions it prompted: people telling me off for stressing that it was a list of my favorite games of the year rather than the “best.” People telling me off for liking different games than they did — I even received a lengthy and rather heated screed by email talking about how disappointing it was to see that I enjoyed Crackdown more than Earth Defense Force 2017. And, of course, the bizarre attempts to marginalize my personal opinions through strawman arguments and bizarre generalizations.

Ultimately all of this simply adds up to mean “people get angry when you have an opinion on the Internet,” even when you take pains to state that, yes, it’s just one person’s opinion. Which we already knew. I guess I just haven’t had enough verbal abuse, though, because it occurred to me that maybe it would be good to leaven the sweetness of my seven-part love sonnet to 2007 with a quick glance at the things that disappointed me most last year.

3. Games rushed for the holidays

Yeah, the image there is from Assassin’s Creed, but only because I’ve just finished it and it’s freshest in my mind. A quick survey of reviews from the end of the year will reveal plenty of games for which the general consensus is that they needed a bit more time to come together. But most publishers don’t care so much about polish or the delicate sensibilities of their developers or even the end-user experience — they have stockholders to appease, and nothing makes a stockholder crankier than falling revenue because a big Q4 release slipped into the next year. So we end up with games like Kane & Lynch, or Creed — games that could have been real gems for 2008 but ended up marred by massive flaws because they were pushed out the door for 2007. Even Mass Effect, which I thoroughly enjoyed, could have stood another few months of spit-shine to smooth out those framerates and physics glitches and audio irregularities.

Fortunately, this trend actually seems to be on the wane — tons of titles were pushed back to this year, from Metal Gear Solid 4 and Smash Bros. to lesser games like Army of Two. So maybe there’s hope?

2. Novelty stretched beyond the breaking point

Not so great, Your Majesty. Not so great.

I’ve mentioned this before, but the fact that I’m sick of Katamari Damacy breaks my tiny heart. How does something go from being the freshest, quirkiest, most original thing to hit the scene in ages to a stale, tired, unimaginative rehash in just three short years? The answer: poor publisher stewardship. Creativity and innovation are precious assets, but they can be spent quickly. Namco Bandai has burned through the Katamari series’ capital by ignoring what made the original so appealing — the fact that it was totally unlike anything else — and by returning time and again to a simple gameplay concept without adding anything substantial to freshen it up. To make it worse, the PSP and Xbox 360 versions play worse than the PS2 entries.

Certainly Beautiful Katamari isn’t the only offender. WarioWare blew my mind in 2003; and while the Wii version was certainly competently made, I had to struggle to finish the game for my review. It all felt so predictable and hackneyed. Cooking Mama seems likely to be the next victim — it’s become Majesco’s golden goose, the unexpected sleeper hit that rescued the company from insolvency, and I dread the inevitable annual updates for both Wii and DS (and who knows what else), each progressively less interesting than the next. Sigh.

1. Nintendo Wii

Yeah, Nintendo Wii disappointed me more than anything else in 2007. No, this isn’t about the system being underpowered, and it’s not some reactionary freakout about casual games killing the industry. On the contrary, I think those are actually two of the system’s strongest selling points: it caters to a different crowd than usual, and it demonstrates quite decisively that sheer graphical prowess isn’t necessary for good gaming. I’ll take Mario Galaxy over Gears of War any ol’ day, thanks. I’ve been an advocate of Nintendo’s outside-the-box approach since I took home my first DS in 2004 and watched my elementary school-aged cousins take immediately to it in a way they never had with any other gaming system. Wii has the opportunity to shake up gaming and force everyone to rethink what the medium is all about. And it’s doing that, to a degree. But….

I guess it’s Nintendo I’m disappointed in, not the Wii. The company has an amazing opportunity to revolutionize gaming (hence the system’s code-name!), and it’s doing a great job with its first-party content — games that give us new (and often better) ways to approach old genres, and games that ignore genre conventions to give us entirely new experiences. But look beyond the first-party content and the Wii landscape is bleak. Worse than it was on N64. Worse than on GameCube. At least with GameCube Nintendo made an effort to court big-name exclusives like Resident Evil 4. This time around it’s clear they don’t even care to try, and the resulting third-party content is overwhelmingly bargain-bin trash. Here’s a system that, by the numbers, has twice the horsepower of GameCube — yet inexplicably most games for the system look worse than low-budget Dreamcast software. And play much, much worse.

It didn’t have to be like that; the fact that Wii is an inexpensive system to develop for should have made it a safe harbor for small developers who can’t really afford to spend the money to create a high-quality HD title. But no, they’re mostly sticking with PlayStation 2, probably because it has a massive existing userbase (and no hardware shortages). Meanwhile, the opportunists see lots of hype for Wii, lots of inexperienced buyers flocking to the system, and Nintendo’s policy of letting publishers ship anything for the system regardless of quality. Dollar signs appear in their eyes: here’s a perfect opportunity to churn out crap that Sony’s approvals department would have nixed for PS2, taking advantage of consumers who don’t have a clue for how to go about shopping for good games, raking in tons of quick cash. Nintendo’s official line is that consumers will sort it out on their own — a typically glib mindset from their PR wonks, and one that’s likely to be true in ways they don’t anticipate. Consumers will sort it out on their own, but chances are that they’ll do so by deciding that these video game things aren’t that fun after all and they’d rather not waste their money on them, thanks.

Meanwhile, the shovelware ships at $20-30, meaning that anyone who wants to sell a substantial, well-made game for $50 is out of luck if the box doesn’t have Mario, Pikachu or Link on it. Zak & Wiki got great reviews… and tanked. Trauma Center doesn’t seem to have done so well. And No More Heroes might do OK in the states, but Japan was so disinterested that the director reportedly sat at a table for a launch-day signing in Tokyo’s Akihabara district and no one showed up. I don’t doubt that Wii will remain hot and profitable throughout 2008… but Nintendo had a truly rare opportunity with Wii, a chance to change the ground rules for hardcore gaming even as they birthed the casual market — a chance to have real, lasting, long-term impact, like the DS has done for portable gaming. But at this point, I fear, the damage is done, and the Wii market is destined to be a dumping ground for amateurish budget games. Nintendo’s stunning first-party games will be king of the hill as always, but that’s cold comfort when the hill turns out to be a heap of trash.

I had hoped for better.

(Dishonorable mention: The final boss of Metroid Prime 3, which took one of gaming’s most memorable villains and turned her into one of those generic “spin around the room” bosses that you’ve seen in a dozen crappy 3D platformers. I still haven’t finished MP3, actually, because I reached that last boss and was so disheartened by what they had done to Mother Brain that I didn’t couldn’t bring myself to hit “continue” when I died. What an abysmal finale to a great trilogy.)

41 thoughts on “-3 in ’07

  1. I had just been thinking about getting back to Metroid Prime 3, too…what a bummer. And regardless of the final boss, that game represents something else that’s wrong with the Wii. Nintendo should have promoted the hell out of that game, and it should have sold a lot better than it did (I seem to recall the original Prime selling quite well on GCN). As it is, I’m sure Carnival Games has long since left it in its wake.

  2. I’m still amazed and dissapointed that the final boss of Prime 3 doesn’t take place in a room similar to the one from Metroid and Super Metroid. It’d be tricky to pull off in 3D, but not impossible. I could come up with several ideas to make it work off the top of my head, so if they really wanted to, it wouldn’t have been a problem.

    And it really bothers me because I liked the final bosses of the other two games. I was expecting a lot from this one.

  3. Re: Wii.

    Funny how I echoed almost exactly the same sentiments (most of the Wii library is absolute crap, Nintendo lets publishers put *anything* on it, and it’s dragging down the few good original releases), and 3/4 of the Tyrants called me a Sony fanboy or a Nintendo hater for it. Portable shovelware is much less damaging than console shovelware, because of lower overhead costs associated with it.

  4. Gears of War can easily be interpreted as an argument for the ‘hardcore’ game, from the way that it’s both familiar (both in that many of the peripheral mechanics are shared by other games, and in that it’s dripping with cliches) and new; from the way it was used as the first must-have game for the 360; and from the way CliffyB’s brother decided to take a shot at the Wii, thus drawing the inevitable comparisons to his brother’s game.

    Pity that it’s crap.

    The best games, hardcore and casual, provide copious feedback for what you’re doing. Normally this is done through a HUD, but not always – witness Peggle, which breaks out into rapturous applause whenever you click the left-mouse button – but Gears of War takes the dialled-back HUD to avoid giving any feedback at all, instead of an opportunity to put the HUD information into the game world. Would it have killed them to come up with a way to represent you being out of cover, considering how critical it is for the gameplay? Perhaps some way that suggests that being out of cover is bad and will get you killed. This is stuff that the casual games almost always get right, and for some reason it’s been decided that ‘hardcore’ games aren’t simply more complicated, but they also have to be more obscure as well. The frustration means it’s fun, apparently.

  5. Muh? In Gears, when you’re ducking behind a wall, you’re taking cover. Not only does the body language of your avatar change, the controls also shift (the “feeling” of not being able to move around becomes palpable after you spend a little time in a good game).

    I have my own problems with Gears, but the HUD design wasn’t one of them. Games have been moving toward copious, cartoony feedback for a while, and for me Gears was a refreshing return to “just enough.”

  6. My only hope is the Wii will achieve a Renaissance in its second or third year, like the DS.

  7. It’s not so bad for me because my budget only allows for high-profile releases, but I’ve felt this too. They need some quality control now. And by now, I mean a year ago.

  8. You’ve hit a lot of things about the Wii on the head there, Jeremy. I’ve been working on this monolithic post for a site I write for about the state of the Wii in 2008, and things are certainly a bit grim.

    2008 is the make-or-break year for the console, and the time when either the bubble will burst, or the system will be poised to really take the crown. Unless Nintendo starts exhibiting even the tiniest bit of quality control and removing half of the shovelware from its shelves. The amount of trash that litters the aisles of every retail store is simply appalling, and the amount of people that become irate after their first five minutes with Chicken Shoot can’t be good for PR.

    Third-parties could really use the Wii as a phenomenal tool to put in a relatively small amount of money to make something entirely fresh and original, something that can only be truly experienced on the Wii (much like developers have done for the DS). Unfortunately, unless a little quality control is used in order to discourage the quick buck many people can make by porting off some sort of casual snooze-fest, we won’t be seeing many more risks taken like Zack and Wiki/No More Heroes. Especially if more retailers start removing the small handful of non-casual titles like GameStop (http://www.gamepro.com/news.cfm?article_id=158008) is reportedly doing

    We’ll see how 2008 fares.

  9. I agree that there are signs that you’re in cover – but I’m talking about at the start of the game, when people have no experience of the game and don’t realise how important cover is. The game does a poor job of communicating this, and expects players to make the effort themselves to reach out to the game. For many players, though, the actual reaction is ‘let’s play something else’.

    Also, I appear to be logged in as Ilchymis as well. I’m Merus, the lovable scamp.

  10. Amen to those words on the Wii 3rd party situation. I’ve kept myself from saying that around these parts to avoid sounding like a typical NeoGAFer.

  11. Oh, I see. Yeah, the tutorial could use a little help. I learned about cover the hard way over twenty minutes of getting blown up by moblins in that first big room with the low blocks (which, in retrospect, I think was the intention). Still, the game mechanics were relatively easy to grasp after that, and the $50 I put into buying the game required me to keep on trucking even when I wanted to give up. :)

  12. It’s scary to think that, less than 5 years ago, the idea that the 360 would be the least fucked up and least embarrassing system to own was considered ridiculous.

    Truth be told, I’m fairly happy with my Wii and DS, but that’s mainly because I could never hope to afford the other systems. And, y’know, the HDTV I’d need to make good use of them.

  13. “Wait, that was Mother Brain?”

    Well, it was an Aurora Unit, and the game makes it clear that Mother Brain belongs to the Aurora series. So… bleah.

  14. Didn’t the Federation install the Aurora Unit on Cloud City or whatever? That’d suggest that the Aurora Units are similar but distinct from Mother Brain, which performs the same function for Chozo-designed structures. It’d be downright odd for the Chozo to have installed a Mother Brain on Cloud City, then have the Federation come in, remove it, and install their own.

  15. Sobering words for any Nintendo fans (like myself), but it’s true. Nintendo’s poised to be one heckuva system – but if they continue to fall back onto the soft pillows of free money (from crappy 3rd party games), they won’t come near to being as effective and respected as they could be.

    Gaming desperately needs a revelolution, Nintendo. We need something more.

  16. The bosses in general in Prime 3 were dissappointing, the Ridley encounters being the highlight. They certainly paled compared to Quadraxis and Emperor Ing in Echoes….

  17. I’m still in the “there’s hope for the Wii” camp, but its nowhere near meeting the expectations it showed even back in the fall. I guess portable gaming really will be the last bastion for niche gamers.

  18. People keep bashing Nintendo for making the same mistakes, year after year. and year after year they keep making money, and seem perfectly content to do things the way they want.

    so what’s the point in bashing them?

    btw, IMHO the PC is already the bastion of niche gaming. lots of great indie pc games out there, with a somewhat thriving community surrounding it, especially overseas.

  19. I disagree.

    I would argue that the DS also started out in the very same boat as the Wii: Excellent 1st party titles, a few 3rd party gems (Phoenix Wright is to Wii’s Zack & Wiki, ironically both from Capcom), and dozens of trash. Do you think the DS was any different in its situation back in its first year, before Nintendo WiFi was set in place? Was it not the same for PS1?

    I think not.

    The Wii is still in it’s 1st generation parade. Mario Galaxy and ‘Wiki’ might show what it really is capable of, but those first gen nonetheless (Wii came out at the end of 2006). That doesn’t mean they made screw-ups here and there (as you said, Metroid Prime 3 is so-so and the numerous delays, while good for Mario Galaxy, were definately unwarranted for a title such as Brawl). Also, given something that was deemed a “fad” to to something having an established based, I’d say it’s quite an accomplishment.

    DS was also gear towards similar nongamers so I do believe that’s simply the start of a one-two punch for Nintendo…a second punch which is taking a seemingly long time…

  20. The difference, I think, was that the DS was routinely considered a novelty until the end of its first year, when it turned out the PSP was severely overhyped and the DS was underestimated. The Wii, on the other hand, was underestimated right up until the time it came out. The DS’s fortunes changed on the back of it not being considered ‘easy money’, so there was far less shovelware for the system. The Wii, on the other hand, now has to contend with continued questions of its viability one year in, and it’s harder to find good Wii games amongst all the garbage.

    I still think that install base is really all she wrote, but it’s not like Nintendo doesn’t have challenges ahead of it it needs to face. Iwata has shown that he’s willing to play hardball if the situation requires it, and frankly this is the most aggressive Nintendo’s ever been in the home market. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I doubt Nintendo’s going to take the ‘stick our head in the sand’ attitude that defined Yamauchi’s leadership.

  21. Nope, I’d already considered the DS comparison. By this point in the DS’ life — early 2006 — the system was in great shape, with a number of really great first and third party games available — Animal Crossing, Kirby, Castlevania, Mario Kart, Trace Memory, Meteos, Princess Peach, Electroplankton, etc. — and plenty in the pipeline. Wii has almost nothing worth noting in the works from 3rd parties, besides a few ports of games that underperformed on PS2. What do you intend to buy after Smash Bros? Mario Kart? Then what?

    More crucially, though, Nintendo hadn’t let the bottom fall out of the DS market at that point; even now people expect to pay full price for a 3rd party game. That’s the real problem. Even if they somehow manage to sway third parties back to Wii, who’s going to be able to make a profit when no one wants to buy a Wii game that costs more than $30?

  22. If I may, I’d like to make a side note from the conversation.

    I recently rented Crackdown after reading your end of the year countdown article, Jeremy, and I’m loving it. I’m normally not a big fan of “sandbox” games, strange as that sounds. Possibly because they promise a lot but offer little, but Crackdown was different. I’ve never had so much fun hopping around from one building to another, blowing up baddies along the way. It’s not perfect, but it’s addicting, and I have to thank you Jeremy.

    I also have to thank you for reigniting my interest for BioShock. I played it two seasons ago, saw the ending and avoided the game like a plague. But after reading your article, I picked it up again and forced myself to go through the medical hall (which I think is the most boring and contrived level out of the whole game) and found myself having fun again. Again, like Crackdown, it’s not a perfect game, but the world is so lovingly crafted that I ignored its faults and enjoyed the experience.

    All right, now I feel like taking a cold shower. I think I’ve strained my gratitude fount and need to put on some spite. I played Gears of War, man those controls were GOD-AWFUL! :)

    And I’m out!

  23. N’Gai Croal would probably say that the gaming press has a role to play in ensuring that good games succeed on Wii.

  24. I agree with Mersus. The bottom half of the DS’s 3rd part had fallen a few times before, as you’ve stated in the titles you mentioned. There weren’t alot on in-betweeners until now. It’s because of the installed base and the proven system viability that established the DS.

    Like the DS, the Wii is already showing those “lesser but unique” titles that could potentially attract people to it, such as the case with THQs “De Blob”. I admit, there’s not much to say about it yet, but from the looks of other gamesites impressions, it have progressed well in its deelopment.

  25. The kind of shit that the Big Evil N’s doing is what Atari did to kill video games back in the day. Good thing Sony and Microsoft are here this time around.

  26. That was about a year ago, so I’d say pretty good — the quality games were finally arriving, and it had a well-publicized slate of high-profile titles due in the coming year. I’d say its 12-month prospects were about as good as any console has ever seen. (Which is not so much the case now.)

  27. “What do you intend to buy after Smash Bros? Mario Kart? Then what?”

    Crap. You’re right. I’m kind of interested in de Blob, Wii Fit, Wii Music, and Crystal Chronicles, but who know when those will be out, or any good.

  28. Right now the 360 is the system to own, but the wii has it’s place. Last week I showed my mom Wii Bowling. She hasn’t played a videogame since Bubble Bobble on the NES, but in her first game she beat me and my 3 younger sisters. Not only that, she was trash talking the entire game. Maybe it’s for the best that Wii doesn’t have a service as good as Live.

    A couple days after that, my father, my aunt, and my 72 year old grandmother played bowling. She had some issues hitting the B button without hitting A, but she managed a 176 game, and I could tell she was enjoying herself, even if she did say “horse dick” multiple times in hungarian.

  29. Wii 3rd party games I’m looking forward to playing this year: Dragon Quest Swords, Rayman Raving Rabbids 2, Mario & Sonic at the Olympics, And Then There Were None, Harvey Birdman, PES 2008, Baroque, No More Heroes, Umbrella Chronicles, and so on. Yeah, I’m Wii backlogged. With games like these and things like Sam & Max on the way, I’m not worried about the Wii’s situation at all. Sure, I’d like to have a Metroid Prime collection with parts 1 and 2 with motion controls, and Bioshock with motion controls, and Portal while you’re at it, but I’m not hurt if they won’t come. Well, sure, it might not be a full-on Revolution, but I’m having fun.

  30. Re: Trauma Center, I’m not really surprised, because Atlus games never garner any mainstream attention, even though TC would have in a just world, just to show that good, hardcore 3rd party games on the Wii ARE viable.

  31. Oop, forgot to mention: thanks for the end-of-year rap up (pun), Parish. It was a good read, one of the few end-of-year things that was worth the time to read it even if you remember what happened that year.

  32. *after seeing the Ninja Breadman screencap*

    You’re definitely spot on about the latest Katamari. I can’t believe I know good people who paid their hard-earned money for the 360 version. Goddamn it, Namco. I have yet to try out Assassin’s Creed, but I heard the ending’s “french”, for lack of a better term.

  33. Oh common parish, that whole Fench surrendering is old. Besides, you’re a Yank: only Brits are allowed to make fun of the French.

  34. I’d also like to add Assassin’s Creed was produced by Jade Raymond, a Canadian. Michael Ancel has nothing to do with this game.

  35. Ubisoft Montreal did it. They may have French names, by that does not automatically mean they’re French. (Same thing with Peter Molyneux)

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