Look Who's Come to Play

by Mike Orlando - July 14, 2001, 10:50 pm PDT

Sony used to be a company who pumped out mediocre software with an immense third party backing. Oh how times have changed.

Man, there are some things you’d never imagine being said. What will the next Sonic game look like on Nintendo’s upcoming system? What will be the best selling GameCube launch game, which (barring any Space World announcement) will not feature a Mario title? Some of these questions are proof that times have indeed changed, whereas others reflect the companies or developers themselves changing. Recently, I had an epiphany, which falls into both of the previously mentioned categories. I never thought I’d be thinking, let alone agreeing with this discovery, but after really thinking it out, I've come to the realization that my original instincts were correct.

Nintendo needs to step up their first party efforts, as they are currently looking to be overshadowed by Sony’s first party games.

Yes, you read that right. Ah, that was fun. Huh, what are you still doing here? My reasoning? Seriously?? You guys always surprise me!

Alrighty then, it all began August 25th, 2000…

Here I am sitting at my computer, it’s 2am, and I am dead tired. Only myself and three other compadres have been updating Nintendojo during the biggest night of a Nintendo site's life for months upon months. Our man we sent down to Japan can’t get online, so we’re forced to update using info from all other sites. Surprisingly, we worked so efficiently as a team, we registered ourselves as one of the three best Space World sites (next to IGN and Gamespot) according to Shugashack. But I digress. After the contorted expressions temporarily frozen on my face (thanks to the system and controller’s look) wore off, and I was finished licking the Zelda screens featured on my pitiful monitor, I decided to look at the games from a North American launch standpoint.

Metroid! Very nice Nintendo, THIS is what we need. Metroid is probably as perfect as you can get, when it comes to factoring in marketability, the desire for the title (as it was surprisingly not released on the N64, which lead a healthy life), and the fact that it would not seem stale, nor viewed as a rehash. While a game like Earthbound has a cult following, the popularity of the franchise would not guarantee the same amount of success as the Metroid title brings, whereas Smash Brothers and Wave Race, while being spectacular titles, didn’t feel new or fresh. So far, so good.

Luigi?? He’ll just be part of the Mario game right? Right? What the hell am I thinking, I’m delirious. Put down the Diet Pepsi, Mike, you’ve had enough. A Nintendo launch without Mario? Ha!

Zelda!!! It won’t be launch, but hot damn that looks incredible. I can’t wait for it.

Meowth? Music? Gun! Ah well, it’ll sell to the masses for sure. All I want is an online Pokemon RPG, Nintendo. And make sure to include the word “massive” in the title.

I’ll save you from anymore delusional smart ass remarks, but basically my feeling coming away from the Space World event was with the little Nintendo had shown, they have proven they are bringing back their big franchises early, and therefore guaranteeing immediate success. This success would ensure userbase and thus the option to branch out into new and unsure franchises, like Pikmin.

Fast forward to E3 2001. A few more titles are shown, but the key focus here is the shipping dates of the announced. After Space World in my mind, the GameCube launch was featuring Mario, a Pokemon game, a highly toted Metroid game, and countless other Nintendo winners and huge third party support with an early Zelda to boot. Now while we obviously don’t have all of the info, we’re looking at no Mario game, but a Luigi game, no Pokemon game as of right now, a Metroid game that is getting smeared by the majority of the press (I’d like to point out that Planet GameCube has NOT posted any of these stories or rumors), a new franchise (Pikmin), a couple of prettied up sequels (SSB:M and Wave Race), and possibly a very cool looking horror game and a Zelda-esque Star Fox title.

Now believe me, I’m going to end up buying all of those games. Nintendo will have no problem marketing Smash Brothers and Metroid to the public, Wave Race should sell fine, but look at the rest of the titles. I, as a gamer and an avid Nintendo fan, love the fact that they’re not going the generic route of a new Mario platformer, a Pokemon game, etc… but my opinion or money definitely does not equate compared to the overall consensus of gamers (especially casual) everywhere. How will the public take to a Luigi game? A game that looks like a Resident Evil clone (but is so much more)? Pikmin? Again, while the chance that it will become a multi million seller is there (as the game is incredibly fun), will the appeal to your average mall lackey be there? This is partially what worries me. While I will enjoy Monkey Ball more than Tekken or DOA2: Hardcore, the gaming public (judging by sales) won’t. Nintendo has definitely shown me that they are separating themselves from every other developer out there (thus the slogan), but they definitely have not shown me that it is a strategy, which will prove to be more effective than just creating great games with a proven franchise, and creating a handful more within five years.

Now keep in mind I’m just talking November 5th here, as we’re all well aware that Mario Kart, Zelda, 1080, F-Zero, and the like are coming to the console, as well as mainstream titles like Sonic and Crash Bandicoot. I’m just worried about Nintendo’s launch.

So how does all of this tie into my Sony thesis? Allow me to take a look at a handful of recently developed Sony made (internally and 2nd party) Playstation 2 titles. Mainly, Twisted Metal Black, Gran Turismo 3, Sky Odyssey, ICO, and Fantavision. Sony has done what I had expected Nintendo to do with their early GameCube games. Provide variety, freshness, risks, solid gameplay, and known, renowned, and marketable franchises. Fantavision is the equivalent to Pikmin in my mind when it comes to launch titles. Both haven’t really been seen anywhere before, and are great risks. Did Sony pull Fantavision off? Don’t ask me, I haven’t played it. Judging from the stacks of pre owned copies of the game that are in my store, I’m going to say it was more of a niche title, than anything, whereas Pikmin (judging from the build I played at E3) has the potential to be voted Game of the Year. Regardless, the overall images of the two games to casual gamers everywhere right now can be regarded as similar to identical.

Next, we have Sky Odyssey, a game published by Activision in North America, yet developed by Sony. Though it is by no means a classic, it is definitely one of the few sleepers in the PS2 library, as the gameplay foundations are solid and make the game fun to play without losing the challenge. While the graphics decided to take a vacation on this one, it still doesn’t shatter the image of a fun experience.

So by the first four months, we have two Sony developed titles that have not sold well, and are appreciated by few. Typical Sony first party, right? The company that released crap like Twisted Metal 4, Jet Moto 87, GameDay 2001, Cool Boarders Infinite + 1, etc. What’s this, Twisted Metal: Black (5)? Hmm, made by the people who made the first two, eh? I guess I’ll pick it up and give it a whirl!

The textures are blurry. Online play will not be available until the fall. One more thing, this is one of the greatest games I have played in a long time. Sony (SingleTrac/Incognito to be exact) has released a game that not only features a huge license, but also delivers when it comes to image, gameplay, and variety. Well, they did this with the PSX sometimes, no big deal, right?

Fast forward one month, GT3 is released. Now I understand if you’re not into car sims, but the fact is this puppy is selling like hotcakes, and that’s not because of a famous super hero license slapped on a shoddy product. The game is solid, breath taking, marketable, everything. Reviews are scratching the ceiling, PS2 owners are raving, and the commercial actually made me do a double take before I realized I was watching game footage instead of an actual race. Wow, Sony is really picking up steam, I tell myself. But what do they have next? I scan the upcoming release list for Sony games, and nothing of interest pops up. Oh well, so much for the theory that Sony’s becoming a formidable threat when it comes to in house games.

Out of nowhere, ICO walks up, bitch slaps me in the face, asks me if I like it, and then laughs when I say yes. This game has been getting next to no coverage on any site or magazine Sony related (especially surprising considering it’s being released quite soon), and as I sat in my living room playing the demo (on the newly released PS2 JamPack), I found myself comparing it to my expectations of the next Zelda. Few games are able to grab my heart and my mind and run away with them (urge rising to make joke about Cheney and Bush…). Zelda: Ocarina is a fine example, and barring any disaster, ICO is looking to be the next one. As this is a Nintendo related website, I’m not going to preview the title, but once you’re done reading your daily fix of PGC, please go to a Sony related site and check it out, so you can get a better grasp on the game. And for heaven sake, watch some movies of the thing, as the screen shots don’t do the game justice (in fact, they make it look worse than it is). Better yet, if you own a PS2, buy the JamPack now. The atmosphere, visuals, and gameplay mechanics are brilliant (this is judging from a demo!), the originality featured in premise and character designs are strong points, and the title is looking to be one of those classics that you just don’t forget.

What does this all add up to through my eyes? Basically, Sony has really wowed me with their recent games, as they’ve gradually built up from a nothing title, to a niche title, to an amazing game, to a near perfect game that concurs the genre, to a title that has the potential to reach even higher than perfect for myself. There are titles like GT3, Wave Race 2, and 1080 that can perfect a genre and become legendary games, and then there are games that offer an emotional experience. For me, it was Ocarina, for others games such as Final Fantasy 1-7 or 9, the earlier Metroids, and so on. Games that offered heart in their stories and gameplay, games that drew you in and made you part of the game, made you really god damned care if you fell into the hole and died. ICO has this potential for me, which came out of nowhere.

Looking at the GameCube launch, I’m thinking the only one that has a chance could be Metroid. And while Half Life decided to bend the rules, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to find the same “experience” with a FPS. Now granted, there’s a chance a Mario could be announced at launch, or a handful of other games come Space World.

I’d also like to point out that I’ve given Sony over eight months of which their system has been available in North America to take these steps, whereas Nintendo still has less than four months to even release their system Stateside. My main point is that Sony has really improved their image as a developer to myself, and many people who were mocking them early last year for rehashes and overall horrible games. Last August, I had the image set in my mind of Nintendo releasing all of their big franchises during launch, or shortly thereafter, so they could have a large installed user base ready for their brand spanking new unique games, whereas now those roles have been reversed.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think Nintendo has been, and still is the best videogame developer in the world. The fact (or at least opinion) is, Sony has really upped their own efforts, while boasting an impressive install base and third party developer support list. Whether a Mario, Pokemon, or Zelda title will be released at launch or closely after is up to Nintendo, but I’m beginning to worry that Nintendo may not reform to suit the needs and ideals of the gamer and consumer with $500 to blow come November.

Kudos to Sony for their recent work and effort, I hope you guys keep it up. You may now send any hate or flame mail to orlando@planetgamecube.com.

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