Back in 2010, when Sony announced that it was moving its PlayStation Store updates to Tuesdays from Thursdays, it seemed like a good idea. While the company claimed that the move had nothing to do with getting ahead of the Wednesday updates that the Xbox LIVE Marketplace has, beating Microsoft to the punch wasn’t a bad by-product. Getting releases before the 360 does can get impatient consumers to buy earlier on the PlayStation Store instead of waiting the 12-18 hours to get it on the 360.
Unfortunately, there’s still a very large obstacle that Sony still hasn’t managed to overcome after all this time: its inconsistency in its update time for the Store. Sometimes it’s early afternoon here on the East Coast. Sometimes it’s around dinnertime. Still other times, it’s later at night after many have retired for the evening. Compare this inconsistency to Microsoft’s clockwork in updating the Xbox LIVE Marketplace. Every Wednesday morning between 3-6am Eastern, the Marketplace updates… without fail.
It’s unacceptable. It’s also indefensible.
Add monthly PSN maintenance to the equation, including half a day’s worth on Monday 4/15 and more maintenance during Tuesday night, 4/16. Maintenance after maintenance, which then led to still more maintenance in the overnight period between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. What the heck happened to damage the network that was supposedly being serviced during most of April 15th? Worst of all, publishers missed out on a solid 8-12+ hours of sales for their digital games and add-ons because of Sony’s problems. Perhaps the update goes through overnight, but it’s more likely to be up after Microsoft has already done the same for its Marketplace. Advantage lost. Well done.
Not that Xbox LIVE is immune to downtime– the service took a digger on the 13th and was problematic for some users into the 14th, which basically killed at least half a weekend of play. However, there’s no denying that Xbox LIVE is functioning more often than PSN is. There’s no monthly scheduled maintenance to speak of, where users are required to log in beforehand or else be locked out of the service until the maintenance ends. Even as a Free XBL user, my access to leaderboards and to the Marketplace is rarely affected. Certainly not monthly or even bi-monthly, as PSN is. And, again, the Marketplace updates in the same overnight window every Wednesday. No delays. No excuses. It just happens.
With as much as people are hyping Sony for a big comeback this generation with the PlayStation 4, I sure hope that the company works out and eliminates this need for constant maintenance and figures out how to properly and consistently update its digital marketplace. It’s not 2008 anymore. It’s 2013. Somebody needs to identify what the issues are, correct them, and position the service as a value and not a technical hindrance as the new platforms step forward later this year. It can’t be that hard. Microsoft and Nintendo both update their digital marketplaces consistently and promptly. There are no valid excuses to explain why Sony cannot do the same.
When my rather scathing opinion piece about the PlayStation 3 was recently syndicated on Game Critics, some rather hyper-defensive comments resulted. I’m going to address these people en masse, directly and firmly:
My piece was never meant to be one of persuasion or of taking sides in some console war that some people are still fighting for some ridiculous reason. It’s all well and good that some of you are taking up your verbal swords and shields in Sony’s honor here, defending your purchases and console preferences. Your opinions are noted, your objections are on the record. Good for you that you’re happy with your PlayStation 3 experiences.
As a consumer, I’m disappointed and stand by my criticism. Unless Sony proves to me that its next console will be a different and personally more acceptable experience, I’m not buying it. For the record, I’m still disinterested in the Wii U and have skepticism about Microsoft’s new platform. There’s a good chance that I don’t buy any of the next-generation hardware and decide to go completely retro. But let’s address the complaints…
“Your Xbox 360 broke. How is that better than your still-working PS3?”
You’re right. My Xbox 360 did break after 42 months. I’m aware of the lack of hardware reliability. I’m not at all happy about losing more than 170 downloaded games. At the same time, when the 360 did work, it was a really good experience for me. It hit on all of the key points that I wanted in a console: I preferred the Achievement/Gamerscore system over the Trophy system, there are a lot more arcade/coin-op conversions via Xbox LIVE Arcade than there are via the PlayStation Store, and multiplatform games run better on the Xbox 360 hardware (which I’ll come back to below).
The Multiplatform Mess
I don’t care honestly who is at fault for substandard multiplatform games on the PlayStation 3 console. My experience remains that a majority of these multiplatform titles are worse than their Xbox 360 counterparts. Your mileage may vary, but to me, it’s been average to awful. That sets a scary precedent for the next console generation; if third-party publishers choose to stick with Microsoft as a lead platform, then it’s not at all out of the realm of possibility for the Sony versions to run worse. As a consumer, this is not what I want. I want the platform that runs the majority of games best. Right now, unless Sony proves otherwise, that’s likely to be Microsoft. Sorry, Sony fans. If you want to blame Bethesda and Treyarch for poor versions of games, go right ahead; they deserve it. That changes nothing for me, however, because these awful versions are still what the PS3 experience includes, and it’s a turn-off.
Mandatory Installations? “Go make a sandwich.”
I will continue to harp on the mandatory installation issue. Save your “replace your hard drive” or “make a sandwich” excuses, because I’m not hearing them. If disc-swapping means that I save spending extra money that I would spend on a game instead on a new hard drive which I have to install myself and could potentially damage my hardware if I err, then I’d rather do that. That’s my prerogative as a consumer. I don’t feel that extra charges on top of the money I already paid for my hardware and that I pay in games should be necessary. If you have the money, ability, and tools to do a hard drive replacement… all power to you. I’d much rather not break my hardware, and I’d less rather have to sink even more money into the console when 120GB really should be more than enough when I’m talking about disc-based games.
“What do you mean PlayStation 3 exclusives aren’t good?” (Insert list here)
In terms of PS3 exclusives, I again remind you that your mileage may vary. You may like them, and that’s fine. They did very little for me over the course of the PS3 lifespan. Metal Gear Solid 4 and the Yakuza games are the extent of the PS3 exclusives that got my attention. Even if the 360 had fewer console exclusives that attracted me, the fact that it runs multiplatform games better– which accounts for the vast majority of software– tips the scale away from the PS3 for me. I’ve already listed the games that interested me; if others interested you, that’s fine. It’s irrelevant. I don’t want to or need to be converted.
“Trophies and Achievements are stupid.”
Same idea goes with the poorly implemented Trophy system. Good for you if you feel that Achievements or Trophies shouldn’t matter. I won’t try to change your mind, because you have a right to feel that way. The idea of earning Achievements and Trophies to me promotes replayability and entices me to try all kinds of games. The Trophy system is cumbersome (always syncing) and to me isn’t as organized as the Gamerscore and Achievement systems that Microsoft has set up. Some older PS3 games don’t even support the Trophy system, whereas all Xbox 360 games do. That’s a selling point for me. If you like the Trophy system, good. I don’t. Sorry.
Here are a couple of parting shots for the Sony Defense Force:
- When making a list of PS3 exclusives, don’t include The Last Guardian until it’s got a release date at the very least. Citing one of the biggest instances of vaporware over the course of this console generation isn’t going to help your case one bit.
- Learn to accept that, just because certain instances don’t happen to you or affect you, other people may have dissimilar experiences. Skyrim on PS3 never had problems for some and yet others had serious problems, for example. Think before invalidating anyone’s testimony.
The funny thing about all of this is that I used to be such a stalwart Sony supporter. I still adore the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 platforms. And yet now that I’m disappointed and unhappy with the PlayStation 3, I’m termed a “fanboy” by self-deputized members of a company defense force. Reaction without research or even knowing who you’re picking a fight with is such a silly thing, and for what? Because one person prefers another console over yours?
Apparently, yes… and that’s too bad.
Since becoming a PlayStation 3-only owner, after my Xbox 360 tanked on me last month, it’s become apparent how much that at least some PS3 versions of multiplatform games are sub-standard. Frame rates falter, some visual effects don’t look quite right, and a smattering of other issues put these games a notch below their Xbox 360 counterparts. There are notorious examples of PS3 sub-standard offerings, such as the ill-fated version of Skyrim. There’s growing chatter that Black Ops II has notable issues with crashing and with online connectivity.
All of these things leave me to question whether buying into whatever follow-up console that Sony decides to offer when the next generation arrives. As a consumer, Sony has managed to damage my trust and confidence several times over the course of this console generation. The Trophy system never compared to what Microsoft initiated with its Achievement system, and felt more forced than useful. Forced installs of on-disc software continue to force me to decide what to delete in order to make room for new things. Monthly (or more) firmware updates and surprise patches mean that there’s often a waiting minigame to be played before getting to enjoy the real game you want to play. The PSN hack of 2011 and its associated outage still cast a specter over the online experience. On top of all that, many multiplatform offerings are clearly “second class” versions of games that run better on the Xbox 360.
I had chosen to dump the PS3 back in February of 2009, when I got my Xbox 360. I didn’t feel that there were enough reasons to own both consoles. Aside from Metal Gear Solid 4, the exclusive offerings weren’t strong enough for me and I was more interested in what the 360 had to offer. There were more arcade games, for example, on the 360. I liked the idea of Gamerscore and being able to track Achievements for all games, rather than the select few that supported Trophies for the PS3 at the time. Games like Bioshock and Dead Space ran better on the 360, too.
But in 2010, I got a new PS3 as a birthday gift from family. There was newfound momentum with exclusives like God of War III and improving versions of MLB: The Show. After a year away from the PS3, I was happy to give it another chance and see how Sony would fare given that sales had bounced back somewhat after a mid-year price cut in 2009. It was nice that I got my previously-bought digital games back, too. I used the PS3 primarily as a console for exclusives, leaving multiplatform games to the Xbox 360. That worked for awhile, until my 360 began failing early this year. I began getting more multiplatform games for the PS3, and I tried to get used to the difference in quality.
I haven’t been able to do it.
There are exceptions to the lower quality rule, thankfully. Zen Pinball 2 is on par with (or even slightly better than) Pinball FX2 on the Xbox 360. Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage and Dynasty Warriors 7 both run better on the PS3 than the Xbox 360. Many downloadable titles run pretty much the same on both platforms. Unfortunately, retail releases– notably the AAA ones– suffer in performance and quality, and the excuses aren’t acceptable to me.
Obviously it’s too late to expect changes now, but if you ask me which of the next-generation consoles that I would buy, it would have to be whatever Microsoft offers. That’s kind of a shame, considering how much of a supporter and fan that I was of PlayStation platforms for 10 years. Both the original PlayStation and the PlayStation 2 are great platforms. I’ve amassed hundreds of games for both as part of my current collection. The PlayStation 3, on the other hand, has been more disappointment than it has been great. I’ve been underwhelmed by it, and that leads to my consumer vote of no confidence when Sony finally announces that its new platform is ready.
I’m sure that others will disagree with this sentiment, considering it too harsh or making judgments before we really know what Sony will offer. Some will offer the same excuses that I’ve heard for years, about how the PlayStation 3 is harder to program for or that developers aren’t putting enough of an effort in to make the multiplatform versions comparable. I’m not speaking for an entire community. I’m speaking for myself, as one person. Sony has lost me, as a valued customer, unless it can prove unequivocally that the next generation will be different… because they have underperformed in all phases during this generation to the point that the PlayStation 3 is a “second class” platform that could never realistically compete with either the Wii or the Xbox 360.
Pinball Arcade is a very good explanation of why Farsight Studios– the team behind the excellent Pinball Hall of Fame series– has been out of the spotlight for quite some time. Rather than producing a new disc-based experience with several tables to choose from, Farsight has borrowed a page from Zen Studios and has delivered an experience that is very open-ended with more tables expected in the coming months. The overall Pinball Arcade package doesn’t have the bells and whistles that Pinball FX2 has, but it does deliver realism with proper ball and table physics and actual tables straight out of the arcade.
Pinball Arcade costs 800 Microsoft Points via Xbox LIVE Arcade, or $9.99 on the PlayStation Store. The purchase entitles players immediate access to four tables: Tales of the Arabian Nights, Black Hole, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, and Theatre of Magic. The first two tables should sound familiar to those of you who have played the two Pinball Hall of Fame games. Arabian Nights was part of the Williams Collection and Black Hole was found on the lesser-known Gottlieb Collection. The other two tables are completely new, and they’re quite good. Two more tables, Medieval Madness (a returning table from the Williams Collection) and Bride of Pinbot (a new table) will be the first DLC tables available, likely arriving in May.
Of the four initial tables offered in Pinball Arcade, Theatre of Magic is the most attractive and most accessible to all skill levels. Scores are high, flippers are long, and the table objectives are pretty straightforward. Racking up a billion points or more can be a common occurrence once you learn the ins and outs of the table, and there are some neat secrets to unlock. Ripley’s Believe It Or Not is another very good table, although it’s not nearly as easy to learn. It does have a rather interesting sense of humor and a jewel collection system that can open up some nice bonuses, such as double scoring, Super Jackpot shots, a Million Plus shot, and more. Black Hole, for the uninitiated, is highlighted by a separate lower playfield that is basically played upside down. Flippers are at the top and having the ball drain without opening the right outlane gate (via drop targets) beforehand leads to disaster. Finally, Tales of the Arabian Nights challenges players to collect jewels and save a princess from an evil genie. A spinning lamp shot in the upper middle of the playfield is key to earning big end-of-ball bonuses and learning the timing for specific ramp shots is vital to mounting a run at a high score.
One fact needs to be understood when talking about Pinball Arcade: It’s not Pinball FX2, Marvel Pinball, or Zen Pinball.
Zen Studios has made very impressive strides in delivering quality pinball experiences, but Zen’s strength has been making pinball accessible to everyone and very social. If you try Pinball Arcade after having spent many hours playing Zen’s pinball games, you’re going to probably get rather angry. Balls tend to be lost a lot quicker. Scores tend to be lower on at least three of the four current tables. The social element has been replaced by a crude user interface that doesn’t really promote a community. At the same time, for those players out there who have had experience with actual pinball machines, Pinball Arcade is very close to the real deal and a fair amount of skill is required to score well.
The ball physics in Pinball Arcade are slower than what we’ve seen from Zen Studios. It will take time to adapt to the slower speed and calculate shots accordingly. Some players may prefer Zen’s faster pace, but faster and lighter physics aren’t realistic. If you’ve had a chance to hold a pinball before, you’d know that they’re quite heavy. Heavier objects tend to move slower. It’s not impossible for ball speeds to increase, especially when it’s been affected by bumpers or gaining speed off of a ramp, but speeds on actual pinball machines tend to be a bit slower than what we’ve seen in most pinball simulations.
The physics engine in Pinball Arcade is excellent, but the game isn’t without its problems. Some players may have a hard time finding a camera angle that is comfortable. Varying camera angles for plunger skill shots are missing, for whatever reason. This leads to a lot of trial and error when trying to execute them. There are also some bugs that can affect the game, such as balls hopping over flippers. So far, these haven’t been anything more than an annoyance; however, until a patch resolves bugs like these, it’s important to note that they do exist.
Each table is accurately modeled after its real-life counterpart. You’ll notice little visual touches like light reflections and moving parts on certain playfields. In my experience, the frame rate has been very consistent, even in multiball situations. There have been times when the action will stop for a moment, especially when balls are being launched into multiball play. This has thrown off my concentration at times, but it hasn’t been a game-breaking problem. The in-game scoreboard has been smoothed for high-definition. I tend to prefer the option of keeping it more pixelated, but no such option exists here. This is a minor stylistic quibble, but one that I was nonetheless surprised to see.
The sound and music for each of the four tables is accurate and authentic. Aside from Black Hole, the other tables all have great music and voice work to hear. The mechanical sounds aren’t quite as crisp as we’ve been hearing in the last few tables from Zen Studios, but this isn’t a dealbreaker by any means. It is worth noting that Black Hole has a very droning, robotic sound that plays repeatedly in the background. It probably will drive many to turn the volume down before long, but it’s certainly authentic.
I realize that Pinball Arcade isn’t perfect, but its flaws don’t prevent a recommendation from me. It’s realistic, authentic, and makes players work hard for their leaderboard spots. It doesn’t have the social or community feel that Zen Studios has worked hard to implement for its pinball experiences, but Farsight Studios does have a solid foundation in place with actual tables and the most realistic physics engine around. Whether you’re an old-school arcade rat like me, or if you’re just a fan of pinball in general, Pinball Arcade is worthy of your 40 quarters.
Note: Playing time was spent on the Xbox 360 version, which was self-purchased on April 4th. The PlayStation 3 version is available now.
I’ll admit this: I was not at all a fan of the new swing and putting systems implemented in Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf 13 after playing the demo and after the first hour or so with the Collector’s Edition of the game.
Nothing felt intuitive or appropriately introduced, so the change was jarring after what’s generally been the same old thing for the past few years. I was forced to learn things on the fly, such as how the game wanted the swing to be and how to adjust properly for certain situations, like elevation or in-between distances for certain clubs. I understand that golf is a game of trial and error, and that mistakes in swing mechanics or choosing the wrong club for certain situations can be costly, but Tiger 13 really hammered that lesson home early on. If you asked me for a recommendation after the first hour, I would have said to stick with last year’s game.
That first hour has given way to multiple hours of play with Tiger 13, and I’ve learned many of the nuances of the game’s new mechanics. I had to figure out when to transition from my backswing to the followthrough without executing too much. I still struggle with the putting, which is quite difficult to nail down due to timing issues, but my success rate is growing. I’ve become more consistent with my shot quality, I’ve learned how to calculate carry and distance a lot better, and as you can see in the image above, I even carded my first ace. I’m liking the game a lot more than I did and think that the new mechanics were a great decision. It’ll be a bit of a challenge to go back and play older games with the older swing, calculating power and distance by the backswing instead of where I’m aiming and hitting the “perfect” shot. The core gameplay here is the main argument for recommending Tiger 13 for a purchase. It’s a battle at first, but is rewarding for those patient enough to learn how to leverage what’s new.
The career progression in Tiger 13 is better than last year, which is another point in the game’s favor. Each step in the career progression is longer, and it’s now possible for an amateur player to qualify for The Masters if he or she wins the final event of the Amateur Tour. It’s possible to win The Masters as an amateur and earn a PGA Tour Card on the spot, but if not, possibilities such as exemptions for certain PGA Tour events and/or a spot on the Nationwide Tour await. Winning The Masters as an amateur isn’t necessarily the best outcome for a player’s career, as it’s impossible for a player in that situation to qualify for any other major event in that first season. A Top 100 ranking is required to qualify for a major, and I couldn’t crack that barrier until the FedEx Cup postseason events occurred… despite winning all but one event.
Unfortunately, recommending Tiger 13 isn’t clear-cut as the game has issues with bugs and is as much a display of golf as it is a devious microtransaction strategy.
I don’t know how some of the bugs made it into the final version of Tiger 13. There are issues with commentary stuttering and skipping, automatic replays after shots show completely different outcomes, crowd reactions are woefully inconsistent, and there are times when the game actually alters your lie or position after shots. I could see these things happening a time or two, but the frequency of these bugs appearing during my personal experience has been very surprising. One instance was an automatic replay that triggered after I knocked an approach shot stiff, within 2 feet of the hole. The replay showed a ball that landed a good 10 feet from the hole, causing me to scratch my head. The replay of my ace showed a ball that didn’t even go in the hole. Yes, that’s right. I got robbed of my replay on a hole-in-one. It’s frustrating.
The microtransaction strategy is apparently in response to negative feedback from many players and reviewers to forcing additional DLC courses into last year’s single-player mode. The idea is that coins can be earned during regular gameplay, and that these coins can be used to purchase rounds on DLC courses so as not to have to pay for them. Any course that is “fully mastered” by way of accomplishing a certain list of objectives is unlocked for good. These objectives for full mastery require multiple rounds in many cases, and the coin cost for successive rounds on DLC courses increases significantly. This means that a lot of course grinding is necessary to earn enough coins to earn these additional rounds. Yes, technically it’s possible to earn all of the courses, but that requires a steep time investment. Of course, rather than grind, you can buy the courses outright… which is what EA wants in the first place. Thankfully, this year’s game does allow for locked courses to be swapped out of PGA Tour seasons for unlocked courses. The game makes it a point to tell you that you don’t have the right course, however, and asks if you want to buy the course first.
The microtransactions don’t stop there, either. Pins are now power-ups that work for a limited number of uses. Some pins add value to stats, some affect playing conditions, and others add XP or Status Points (for online-based Country Clubs). Coins earned during gameplay can be used to buy new pins or refill tokens for existing pins, but that becomes a conflict when you’re trying to budget those coins for playing on and unlocking additional courses. Collecting the pins can be somewhat addictive, especially since some pins have varying tiers of strength or effect and collecting pins for holes on one course can have a big effect on end-of-round rewards. I like the way pins have changed from decorations in last year’s game to a boost this year, but the conflict is hard to overlook.
Since I bought the Collector’s Edition of Tiger 13, I got some extra courses that “regular” players didn’t get. What surprised me was that the Par 3 course at Augusta National wasn’t included in the regular version and is DLC. Considering that the Par 3 competition is synonymous with The Masters experience, this wrinkle is in bad form. If Augusta National is– or continues to be– the highlight of EA’s golf franchise, then the decision to take out a part of that experience is questionable at best. I was also surprised that EA actually decided to market its “authentic Green Jacket presentation” from the Collector’s Edition as DLC. Those of you who didn’t get it aren’t missing much, aside from 30 seconds of Jim Nantz narrating over a generic cinematic of your created golfer in his Green Jacket as he or she stands in front of an oddly swaying group of unrecognizable former winners. That’s it. Really.
If you didn’t buy last year’s PGA Tour game, then I can recommend this year’s game a little more. The new swing mechanics really do add to the experience once you learn how things work. The new career progression is fun, and the mix of new and repeat courses is a good one. The bugs are tough to overlook, and there are instances where the in-game caddy offers some truly mind-boggling advice, but I’ve had a lot of fun with Tiger 13 and my enjoyment level is actually rising as I play it more. Having said that, if you still have last year’s game and enjoyed that, I don’t think there needs to be any urgency to upgrade– especially at full price. Since any DLC courses purchased for Tiger 12 don’t carry over, you lose them in Tiger 13.
Personally, I’m in a similar situation to that of Kotaku’s Owen Good. I like Tiger 13, but Tiger 12 is going to remain in my library. Last year’s game, to me, did a lot of things right. The caddie, while occasionally annoying, served a solid purpose as he set up shots when I needed them. I loved the focus on Augusta National, chasing Tiger Woods through Masters history and feeling some reverence for one of the most recognizable venues in golf. Hopefully next year’s game can take what worked over the last two years and combine that into one of the best golf games ever designed. Until then, I have two very good to great games to tide me over.
Note: I strongly recommend reading Owen’s review and this one by Destructoid’s Samit Sarkar. Both offer deeper perspective and individual views on Tiger 13, and raise some great points about the microtransactions I mentioned and more.
With a revamp of Zen Pinball due in a few months on the PlayStation 3 and the impending release of Pinball Arcade from Farsight Studios around the same time, Creat Studios has thrown its own set of flippers into the pinball arena with Pinballistik. Creat has some interesting ideas at work here, but the execution is unfortunately a step backwards for the genre with poor ball physics and vague table objectives that kill any semblance of table and scoring progression.
Buying Pinballistik ($4 on the PlayStation Store) includes only one table, called Circle The Wagons. The table has a Wild West theme and has its share of ramps, drop targets, and capture holes. There are several table goals that players can accomplish, but it’s not always clear how to do so. Some are obvious; for example, the Royal Flush mode is triggered by lighting all of the spinners and then hitting the Saloon ramp shot to get the ball to a smaller upper playfield where a series of drop targets guards a capture hole. Others, like the Revolver Multiball mode, aren’t at all intuitive and almost require players to read the instructions to figure them out. This was a problem with some of Zen Studios‘ early pinball tables, as well. Unfortunately, Creat didn’t do their homework when working on table design, and it shows.
Ball physics are a major problem in Pinballistik. The ball feels like it has very little weight to it, which leads to rates of speed that you just don’t see on an authentic pinball table. It’s more difficult than it should be to line up or plan shots, and even when your positioning is right, the ball sometimes doesn’t carry the momentum it should into ramp shots. There are also too many instances of the ball jumping off of the table or strangely kicking back into play from the outhole back through an outlane. Worst of all, the frequency of balls shooting down the middle or down through an outlane to the drain seems a bit high. Pacing is almost punitive, like a pinball machine at the local arcade that wasn’t level and seemed to steer balls down the side.
The poor physics model is exacerbated when playing Pinballistik‘s Battle Mode. In this mode, two players face off on an extended variation of the table at the same time. One player controls the flippers on the left side, and the other player gets the flippers on the right. It’s a big challenge to track what’s going on, as balls fly all over the table– and sometimes from your side to the opponent’s side, or vice-versa. It’s chaotic, which might be what Creat was going for. Unfortunately, with floaty physics and so much going on at once, it feels like a battle of attrition rather than a challenge to score well. Having a ball drain can take points away from your score, and when it’s out of your control, the experience just feels unfair.
Speaking of scoring, don’t expect very high scores when playing Pinballistik. Unlike Zen Pinball or Marvel Pinball, you won’t see scores in the billions here. My scores average between 2-3 million, and considering my averages in just about every other pinball game available, that’s low. This isn’t necessarily a fault. High Speed and Pinbot, two popular pinball tables from the ’80s, routinely had high scores average less than 10 million. It is, however, a problem when the low scores result from a lack of directed scoring opportunities. It’s possible to just keep the ball alive with flippers and randomly hit things to rack up scores, but the best pinball tables have clear scoring opportunities… and Pinballistik simply doesn’t have these unless you do a pretty intense read on each table’s feature sets and how to do things. It doesn’t feel intuitive at all, and that’s not fun.
There are two other DLC tables that you can add to Pinballistik for $3 each, but neither one is a marked improvement over Circle the Wagons. In fact, they’re arguably worse. Sector X is a dull sci-fi table that has even more vague objectives than Circle the Wagons. Made of Money is a table all about glitz and cash, with a somewhat interesting lower playfield that breaks up traditional play when triggered. Sadly, neither table fixes the pacing as balls drain far too quickly. The Battle Mode for the Made of Money table has a “Change Sides” sequence which can take you by surprise, but with so much going on, it seems that all you can do is keep tapping the flipper buttons and hope for the best.
Visually, the tables look decent enough. The level of detail isn’t on par with the other pinball games available, but the themes are varied and the tables are colorful. There are several camera angles to choose from, and the animated dot-matrix scoreboard is authentic with different animations that occur based on actions from the table. There’s no slowdown to speak of, including during multiball situations. One detractor is that there are some playfield effects that can sometimes interfere with keeping tabs on the ball. On the Circle of Wagons table, for example, a dust storm that can be triggered completely obscures the middle of the table and can hide the ball. This can make for late reactions as the ball shoots down towards the flippers and can be costly. Target overlays, like UFOs, mounds of cash, or Can-Can girls, don’t always work well and can redirect the ball in a negative way.
The sound is probably the best part of the package, surprisingly. The music for the Circle the Wagons table feels like it could have been pulled from a Wild ARMs game, which is not a bad thing. Table sounds like flippers, bumpers, and drop targets are generally authentic. There’s some sporadic voice work, and a few familiar sound samples for those with a discerning ear… such as a sound effect lifted from Nick Arcade on the Made of Money table or a sample of Offenbach‘s Infernal Galop (from Orpheus in the Underworld) for the Can-Can mode on the Circle the Wagons table.
If Pinballistik had come out before Zen Pinball, it might have been perceived as a better experience. It’s far from unplayable, but it’s also a giant step in the wrong direction when compared to the other pinball options available. Even with some unique modes of play like the flawed Battle Mode or setting timed or score goals to change up the usual “lose all of your balls and it’s game over” mentality, the game’s flaws win out. Unless you’ve tired of Zen Pinball, Marvel Pinball, and Pinball Hall of Fame and just have to have a new pinball game to satisfy your steel ball cravings, your quarters are better spent elsewhere.
My latest Armchair Analysis piece has been posted at KmartGamer, as I react to Sony‘s move to drop the price of the PlayStation 3 this week. I hope that you’ll give it a read and see what you think, as there are some good and not-so-good ramifications from the decision… which is long-overdue and one that I’d predicted would happen a couple of months ago.
So… my timing is a little late, but I was dead-on with the drop amount. I’ll take batting .500, thanks.
Consumer response to the cut has been favorable so far. IndustryGamers is reporting that Amazon has shown a significant increase in PS3 unit sales, which is a natural occurrence for price drops. August’s NPD report will show improvements for the PS3, which should break the 200,000 mark and has an outside shot at overtaking Xbox 360 unit sales for the month. It’s not a definite, but it’s not impossible, either. What remains to be seen is whether the trend will be sustained through Q4. Multiplatform games seem to go hand-in-hand with Xbox 360 sales, and Gears of War 3 will stem any potential sustained run at the top of the NPD charts by the PS3 in September.
Thanks for following my work on KmartGamer and here at Consoleation. Look for more League of One content on KmartGamer soon, plus some more insights on games gone by for the PSone and PS2 here on my home blog. It’s a really exciting time in my writing tenure, and I’ve got my fingers crossed that more opportunities are coming. In the meantime, feel free to send a shout to me on any of your favorite social networks: Twitter, Google Plus, or Facebook.
Looking at the calendar, we’re less than two weeks away from what will be one of the most important E3 events in recent memory when it comes to what I call the Hardware Trinity– that is Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft. Each of the three companies have issues to address. Nintendo is facing lackluster 3DS hardware sales and the lame-duck status of the Wii until its new platform is launched. Sony has to deal with the aftereffects of one of the largest online security breaches in history and major losses in the last year. Microsoft may seem bulletproof, but the stagnant nature of the Kinect sensor and a slow trickle of software for it call into question the viability of the technology.
Here are some expectations as to what each company will deliver in their press events in order for each to bring its “A” game (in order of occurrence):
At first glance, Microsoft should be able to break out of the gate at 9am on the morning of June 6th with guns blazing. I’m fairly certain that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 will be one of the first things shown. Microsoft is going to work with Activision to push Modern Warfare 3 very hard for the next 5 months, and Activision should be more than happy to take the stage for the company that’s currently got all of the sales momentum going for it. Obviously, Gears of War 3 will play a major role in the press event as well. There will be other “core” games shown; I believe that Microsoft learned its lesson after last year’s event skewed almost exclusively away from the “core” crowd and felt eerily similar to Nintendo’s 2008 E3 presser that felt almost one-sided (Vitality Sensor, anyone?). No Halo presence at E3, despite the importance of the IP to Microsoft, doesn’t seem likely. The question is… in what form will we hear about it? New game? HD remake of the original? We will see.
The one thing that Microsoft must do is to re-ignite interest in the Kinect sensor. More games are needed– and more quality games are needed, to be more specific. Games that come off as Wii ports are not going to hold anyone’s interest, especially when you consider that the Wii is almost at the end of its lifespan. More original software, including games that are going to interest more than just the passing game player, has to not only be announced… but shown and available for demonstration. It’s true that Microsoft wisely marketed the Kinect and it sold a ton of units; however, what was the last genuine killer app for it? Dance Central is now 6 months old, as is Kinect Sports. As time marches on and new games continue to appear at a snail’s pace, the relevance of Kinect will gradually ebb. Consumer confidence and excitement in the Kinect peripheral must be restored, and quickly.
One last thing to be on the lookout for is some kind of new hardware announcement. Rumors have been flying lately, ranging from a full-on successor to the Xbox 360 to another Xbox 360 hardware revision that adds 3D support. While the exact nature of the rumors has been scattered, the theme has been the same. The other thing that has me leaning in the direction of some sort of new hardware announcement is the extremely limited attendance list for the press event. This makes me think that something big is going to go down that Monday morning, and it wouldn’t shock me at all if it was hardware-related. Stay tuned.
To say that Sony has had a rough past six weeks or so is an understatement. Granted, PlayStation 3 hardware sales for April were promising– thanks to Mortal Kombat, Portal 2, and SOCOM 4– but having no online network for nearly a month and still being without the PlayStation Store (and its associated revenue) is damaging on many levels. Sony has become an easy target for the press and has spawned doubt from its userbase. Sony is hoping that its showing at E3 will wipe the slate clean and set focus on games. There will almost certainly be a segment of the press event that serves as an apology for what happened, but will quickly move forward from that… and it’s the right move.
I’m still expecting a $50 price drop for at least the 160GB PlayStation 3 SKU. Some believe that Sony can’t afford it after recent events, but I think it’s a necessity. The PS3 platform– despite its quality software exclusives and free-to-play online service– needs a kickstart to renew consumer confidence and enthusiasm. I’m not sure that other SKUs will follow suit, but I’ve been calling for this drop over the last few months and E3 is the perfect backdrop for price cut announcements.
The press event should revolve around three main topics: PSN, PS3 software (especially exclusives), and NGP. I’m not sure of the order, but all three of these are major facets of Sony’s business plan for the rest of 2011 and beyond. Sony will rally behind the re-opening of the PlayStation Store with news of some kind of exclusives there. PlayStation 3 retail software exclusives, like Twisted Metal, Uncharted 3, Resistance 3, and others, will be talked up and demonstrated or shown. As for NGP, there are lots of variables at play. Release date, pricing, and launch software are all likely to be covered. Price is the variable that concerns me the most; if the 3DS is struggling at $250, it stands to reason that a $300 NGP will do the same in a challenging economy… even if the software lineup is good. Despite my concerns, I think that $300 to as much as $350 is where the NGP will launch. Timing is less certain to me. Will Sony have enough software in the chute to realistically launch this year? I’m not sure. My gut is leaning towards an NGP launch in 2012, but I will not be shocked if a late November/early December launch window is announced.
After the incredible runs of success that the Wii and legacy DS platforms had, saying that Nintendo is “in trouble” is a silly statement; however, Nintendo is now facing a period of uncertainty that hasn’t been seen in some time. The Wii lovefest is over, even in the face of price cuts for hardware and software. The 3DS has stumbled after a quick start. As we await the unveiling of Nintendo’s next platform, what the company announces for the next 6 months will be very important. Will more titles be added to Nintendo’s budget line of Wii software? Will Nintendo announce price drops for the DSi platforms? Where are the 3DS games that will convince consumers to part with $250, which amounts to being the most expensive Nintendo portable in the company’s history?
What Nintendo announces for specifics when it comes to its new console will be incredibly important. At this point, I am predicting that the price will be at least $300. In fact, my prediction is $349.99 for the hardware. This would be a gamble in several respects. For starters, it would be the most expensive hardware that Nintendo has ever released. It would also, despite being the newest console on the block, be the most expensive one on the market. Perhaps the power of the hardware will justify the price, but anything over $300 is unprecedented for Nintendo. As for the launch date, 2011 doesn’t seem likely at this point. March 2012 seems to be the earliest launch date for the hardware, but that’s atypical of Nintendo’s console launch strategy. Many of Nintendo’s consoles have launched either late Q3 or sometime in Q4. If Nintendo sticks to that schedule, 2012 could be far too late given that the Wii continues to sink in hardware sales with each passing month. Even a title like The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword isn’t a definite system-seller for a console that’s clearly on its way out… but more on that shortly. As with the NGP, I won’t be shocked if Nintendo’s new console hits this November… but I don’t see it happening. Launch software is anyone’s guess.
While it’s certainly way too early to dismiss the 3DS platform, it’s painfully obvious that Nintendo is going to need to take a fair amount of time during its press event to show the audience that new software is coming– and soon. Yes, Ocarina of Time is coming in a few short weeks. More remakes are following, too. And then? Aside from the Resident Evil and Metal Gear Solid IPs, what else do we have? A new Mario game is certainly important, and Kid Icarus will likely wow the crowd (again), but the real problem is consistency. The conveyor belt of new releases needs to be running more consistently to fire interest. I think that this will happen, but Nintendo must hammer this point home and show a stronger commitment to the platform than it has so far.
That leaves the future of the Wii, and honestly, there shouldn’t be much of an expectation. Whether it’s due to market saturation or the expiration of a fad, the Wii seems to have run its course at retail… at least in terms of hardware sales. The result of price cuts to $150 remains to be seen, but there were cuts in April and yet the Wii finished behind the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. This indicates to me that sales will continue to be flat. Wii Play Motion may sell well, but won’t move hardware. The release of Skyward Sword is still very much up in the air; in fact, I still believe that there’s a better than even chance that the game won’t make it to the Wii at all. Nintendo has promised some Wii news, and absolutely must deliver that news by way of compelling software and not trumpeting more movie-licensed games since that’s about all that can be seen on Coming Soon lists for the platform. If Nintendo isn’t launching its new console this year, the company is in danger of losing consumers to Sony or Microsoft without good reasons to buy or keep the Wii.
The E3 press events set the stage for the actual show. They’re where most of the news and announcements come from. They set the expectation level and get people and press buzzing. Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo will each have a chance to bring their “A” games. The time for preparation is almost over. Starting on June 6th, we’ll all be keeping score.
As the PlayStation Network enters its third consecutive week of downtime, there are some signs damaged relations between Sony and PlayStation 3 software publishers and developers… as well as with consumers. It’s a battle that is being fought on multiple fronts, and the casualties mount with each passing day.
Damage to the relationship between Sony and PlayStation 3 owners is the most obvious. There are more questions than answers as to when the PlayStation Network is going to come back online, and consumers are losing their patience despite promises of free games and free trials of premium services. Anecdotal reports of PlayStation 3 systems getting traded in towards Xbox 360 units are gradually increasing in number. Message boards and news articles are becoming populated with more and more vitriol towards Sony’s handling of the whole situation. Consumers are unhappy with being unable to redeem preorder bonus codes, and this may turn into a nightmare when L.A. Noire hits stores next week with its preorder DLC. The scales are tipping more towards angry reaction with each passing day, and it’s certainly possible that Sony won’t be able to win consumers back even after service is restored.
Sony may also have to deal with damaged relationships with developers and publishers. Representatives from Capcom and THQ went on record this week mentioning that PlayStation Network downtime has cost their respective companies at least some revenue. Q-Games‘ Dylan Cuthbert (of PixelJunk fame) went on record with IndustryGamers to suggest that Sony may risk losing developer support if they don’t do something to help offset the loss of revenue caused by the extended downtime period. Several notable software releases have been adversely affected by the downtime; Mortal Kombat, Portal 2, and Brink all boast significant online multiplayer components that have been rendered effectively useless with the PlayStation Network. So far in the public eye, developers and publishers are generally taking the high road; however, it’s not a stretch to think that there’s more than a little tension going on behind the scenes as alternate revenue streams have dried up thanks to the suspension on PlayStation Store operations. Until that service is restored, consumers cannot purchase downloadable games or DLC add-ons… and that’s potential revenue that might never be recovered.
There’s also the retail angle to consider. Edge reported that trade-ins of PlayStation 3 units are on the rise and that Xbox 360 software sales are up. Call of Duty: Black Ops is the prime example being used in the article, and the numbers are eye-opening. Look at these sales splits for Black Ops in the UK before the PSN downtime and then afterwards:
- Week ending March 16th: Xbox 360 49%, PlayStation 3 37%
- Week ending March 23rd: PlayStation 3 52%, Xbox 360 40%
- Week ending April 30th: Xbox 360 59%, PlayStation 3 30% (1st week of downtime)
- Week ending May 6th: Xbox 360 66%, PlayStation 3 24% (2nd week of downtime)
You know, Sony, we’ve been close consumer friends for a long time now.
It’s been almost 16 years since I first got hooked on this PlayStation console that you started selling back on September 9th, 1995. Ridge Racer was something else, and when I heard that the best version of NBA Jam: Tournament Edition was coming on launch day, I was sold. Sure, we had a minor quibble right away when your hardware and my Zenith TV decided to disagree and cause my screen to bounce up and down… and, for the record, when I called you on launch day to see what you could do, you were clueless. That turned out to be OK since I bought my first gaming TV not long after and we were best buddies again. I must have really used my PlayStation a lot because the full-motion video would skip sometimes with repeated play. Turns out the PlayStation had this overheating problem and that turning the device on its side was a remedy. That was pretty slick. I wound up just replacing my launch unit with a new model, which was new for me since none of my previous consoles ever had a problem. I forgave you for that, too, since the software for the PlayStation was pretty damned impressive. In fact, some of the games still are… even to this day. I mean, come on! Final Fantasy VII, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Metal Gear Solid, Ace Combat 2, NHL ’98, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, and dozens of other titles spent countless hours spinning in my PlayStation’s CD drive. I still have a PSone, in fact.
I did cheat on you a little bit, Sony, when Sega launched the Dreamcast in 1999. I felt bad about it, but the Dreamcast was the real deal with visuals that blew me away and with games that made me smile. The Dreamcast was enough for me to pass on the PlayStation 2 at launch. You got your revenge, though, when SEGA threw in the towel on the Dreamcast in early 2001. You accepted me with open arms when I bought my PlayStation 2 in February of 2001 and gave me goodies like Ridge Racer V, NHL 2001, and Swing Away Golf. Sure, new games took their sweet time in arriving for a few months, but when they did… WOW. Metal Gear Solid 2 was fantastic. The Burnout games were incredible. Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance opened up a whole new genre for me. Unfortunately, we did quarrel again when your hardware crapped out on me again before long and my blue-backed CD-based games wouldn’t work. I eventually wound up spending money on three different PlayStation 2 units. Looking back on it now, I see that you were just preparing me for this current console generation when we’re lucky if units last for 12 months. I guess some lessons have to be learned the hard way, right? Despite our quarrels, the PlayStation 2 and I have had a great relationship. In fact, I will likely buy one more new unit before the consoles are retired. You’ll be happy to know that my PlayStation 2 game collection is near 100, Sony, and I’m proud to share that information even if the console barely has any relevance anymore.
When you announced the PlayStation 3, Sony, I was mad. It wasn’t because I didn’t like what you were offering. The technology was really cool, and this new Blu-ray technology seemed like it could take off. The problem was the price, which had extended into 3DO territory. It was ridiculous since your other consoles were half the price. I tried my best to hold out, but, as usual, you won me over and I had a PlayStation 3 in my living room by the end of 2007 along with something called Rock Band. Our friendship was quickly renewed, although it didn’t take long to sour a bit once again. Microsoft was kicking your butts pretty good with their Xbox 360, and Nintendo was killing both companies with its waggle-fest called Wii. I felt like many of the games were sub-standard ports of Xbox 360 games, and your answer to Microsoft’s Gamerscore and Achievement systems was inconsistent and lacked the sense of accomplishment that I was looking for. PlayStation Home made no sense to me at all, other than being a drain on my hard drive, and I just got bored with and disinterested in the PlayStation 3. Break-ups happen, as you well know, and I broke up with my PlayStation 3 in 2009. It wasn’t you, Sony… it was me. I became consumer friends with Microsoft, and we clicked.
You must have sensed that I’d been unhappy, because then things started to happen with the PlayStation 3 that again attracted my interest. God of War III looked amazing. Your baseball games were (and still are) second to none. Uncharted 2 was everything I wanted from a sequel. I could almost hear Kazuma Kiryu from Yakuza 3 telling me that I needed to get another PlayStation 3. You opened the original PlayStation software vault and made some excellent games available for cheap downloads. You knew just how to win me back, and you did last year. As with almost every other console that I’ve owned with your name on it, Sony, my new PlayStation 3 was flawed… but your repair team came through and fixed the unit and our relationship. You didn’t care that Microsoft and I were consumer friends, as long as you could be part of the group, too. For that, I even decided to kick you an extra $50 to be part of your special club, called PlayStation Plus, and being a member was really great.
We were good, Sony. We were good.
Then came April of 2011, and it all unraveled. Your online PlayStation Network became known as the PlayStation Notwork as “maintenance”– or DDoS attacks, as most of us call them– took the service offline. I don’t play online much, but I like leaderboards and, as you know, I like giving you money for your games and add-ons. I don’t like digital distribution, but I couldn’t deny you. You had been training me to accept it, and I begrudgingly had come to be accepting. When PSN is down, though, I can’t buy things and I can’t update leaderboards. It felt to me like you were lying, and I don’t like to be lied to. It’s a trust thing, you understand. If you promise me something, even if you don’t say so in as many words, you need to deliver it as consistently as possible. Microsoft does this, and we’re cool… so it bothered me that you couldn’t for whatever reason.
To make matters worse, some of my friends and colleagues on Twitter alerted me to an announcement that you were taking PSN offline– again, “for maintenance”– at a time when some big releases had just hit stores. You said that it would only be a day or two, but two turned into four, and four has become eight. Then you come out this week and drop the bomb: PSN got hacked, and my personal information could be compromised as a result. Somebody out there could see where I live, use my name and date of birth for identity purposes, or even possibly have my debit card information.
I know that you’re sorry, but sorry doesn’t fix this. I understand that it’s not entirely your fault, but you failed to protect the personal information that I gave you in strict confidence. I don’t see how I can trust you now with my personal information, Sony… at least for the near future. You can promise me the world, profess that the problem won’t happen again and that you’re going to do better this time, and even offer me words of sympathy and regret… but how can I honestly believe you? You were deceitful when you were DDoS attacked, you were deceitful when this security breach occurred, and then you were painfully silent for days before finally telling me what happened.
Friends don’t lie, Sony. Friends don’t leak my information to anyone unless we agree that it’s all right to do so. Friends at least offer me the chance to understand when they screw up instead of hiding in fear. I know that you’re not really my friend, Sony, but we had something good.
I hate to do this to you, but we’re taking a consumer relationship break, you and I. I’m not going to dump you again– not yet, at least– but if you’re really sorry for what happened, you’re going to have to prove it to me and then give me time to see if I can forgive you. Make me feel valued and important again. Make me feel secure that my information is going to be safeguarded better. Make me believe that you’re changing for the better. If you can do that, we’ll see what happens. Maybe I’ll turn my PlayStation 3 on again and see how my online friends have done in Marvel Pinball. Maybe I’ll poke around the PlayStation Store again, although I’ll have to find one of your PSN cards if I buy anything. No offense, but you’re no longer getting my debit card information, not even out of personal convenience. That ship has sailed.
Who knows? Maybe we can work this out and become consumer friends again. I think that, deep down inside, I really want to be… but this is the way that things have to be right now. I know that this isn’t entirely your fault, and I hope that you catch the jerk who wrecked this for everyone. For now, Microsoft and I are going to hang out more. I’ll still read your e-mails and am sure that you have some exciting things still in store for E3 despite this crisis that I’m looking forward to seeing. I’m rooting for you.
In the meantime, it’s your Move, if you’ll pardon the pun.
Win me back one more time.