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.
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.
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)
I don’t get it, 2K Games and Gearbox Software.
I spent $60 on your Game of the Year Edition of Borderlands for the PlayStation 3. I was happy to double-dip on Borderlands, given how much I enjoyed it on the Xbox 360. In fact, according to my Raptr data, I spent 55 hours playing it. I was looking forward to playing it again on my PlayStation 3, with all of the DLC this time. I was a little concerned when I opened the case and saw a DLC voucher inside; after all, a Blu-ray disc has a ton of room… so including the extra 4.41GB of DLC on the disc should not have been a problem. Still, I was fine with letting the download go while I slept overnight.
After going to the PlayStation Store and entering the voucher code, I was surprised to find that it didn’t work. I grumbled, and tried again. Same result. After a brief Twitter exchange, I decided to let things go until morning, figuring that very few people bought the game at midnight and that things would be fine later.
Now it’s past noontime here, and the code still does not work… and I am justifiably angry.Even though the problem now looks like an issue on the PlayStation Store side of the house, since I see that others are having the same issue, I hold 2K and Gearbox responsible. What good reason is there to not have the DLC on the same disc? There isn’t one. It’s meant to dissuade trade-ins or buying used. Instead of having all of the content available on physical media, give a one time use code (that may or may not work) and let the consumer take the 4.41GB hit on his or her bandwidth cap. Buying the game used simply means that you are buying the same game that’s been out there used for nearly a year but with different artwork.
I understand that, if this situation resolves itself, there’s still a $10 savings buying the GOTY version of Borderlands for $60 versus buying the standalone game for $30 and the four DLC add-ons for $10 apiece. I don’t get, however, why some GOTY versions of games (like Oblivion for example) have the DLC content included within physical media for immediate installation while others resort to Voucher Roulette. I bought this game new, and yet have to jump through hoops to access the content that I paid for. What’s worse is that half of the paid content is digitally distributed, which will require at least an hour of time to download and install. All of the Borderlands GOTY content, between the PS3 mandatory installation and the DLC, consumes a whopping 7.11GB of hard drive space. I’m not sure that I see the value of the this package when all is said and done. I’m now soured on the experience, have to wait for a resolution, still have to devote the time to download and install the DLC, and saved a grand total of $10 versus buying a la carte. If I could return the game, I would… but because it’s a problem with the DLC and not the game, I’m stuck with it.
Publishers and developers need to stop catching consumers in the crossfire when it comes to their War on Used Games and the battle with resellers. Had they not been fighting this war, I’m willing to bet that the content would have been on a disc instead of via a 12-character code that’s still worthless 12 hours after buying the game and removing the seal. I did nothing wrong. I spent money on your game and bought it new… and yet I am treated to this experience?
Tell me why I shouldn’t have just bought Borderlands used, and then bought the DLC that I wanted for it.
There isn’t a good reason why, other than wanting to make even more money on assets that have been around for some time already– which you would have gotten from me when I bought the DLC. Instead, I played by the industry’s rules and got burned in the process. I don’t want to hear arguments about who is at fault. I don’t want to hear how “stuff happens” and that the situation will be fixed. If I buy a game at the full $60 price tag that the industry seems to think it deserves for providing us with such fantastic entertainment, then I expect to have access to what I have paid for.
I shudder to think what Sony has done with its Uncharted 2 Game of the Year package. How much of that will be voucher-only? Will they work?
I’m pretty much done with GOTY packages after this mess, personally… and my distaste for this console generation and the industry’s blatent lack of regard and respect for its consumers continues to grow. It’s appalling.
I talked last week about something called an HD Tax, which is what I define as the extra $10 that Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 owners are paying for software versus what consumers paid for games a generation ago. This extra cost tends to accumulate over time, so if you average buying one new game per month, you wind up spending an additional $120 over this time five years ago. While some games have arguably “earned” the right to charge this premium, many others (take the recent disaster Iron Man 2, for example) don’t. While this tax/premium seemed like a more reasonable idea at the start of this console generation, times have also changed since then. Unemployment is hovering near 10% nationwide, the cost of living has increased, and disposable income is decreasing. This partially explains why some consumers look to buy used, as it’s money saved and still allows for the ability to play newer or recent games at a lower price point. I know that I’ve gone over this argument a few times here, but it’s a prelude to a related topic that’s at the center of today’s opinion.
Inexplicably, we’re seeing the average price of downloadable titles marching higher. Both of last week’s Xbox LIVE Arcade releases– Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition and RayStorm HD– were priced at 1200 Microsoft Points, or $15. These examples are the most recent evidence that the $15 mark is the new standard for these games, after $10 (or 800 Microsoft Points) was the standard for a majority of the Xbox 360′s life span. In fact, in the platform’s infancy, there was a decent split between $5 retro/arcade titles and $10 original releases… but titles like Braid and Shadow Complex broke the previous $10 barrier and sold for $15. We’re not only seeing the new $15 price point become more prevalent, but we’re seeing that the quality of these apparent premium releases is arguable at best.
While I’ve not yet played Braid, reviews and impressions that I’ve read seem to indicate that the game is worthy of the premium price point. Shadow Complex was a fantastic game with decent length and options that certainly earned the $15 that I spent on it. Conversely, releases like 0 Day Attack on Earth, NBA Unrivaled, Invincible Tiger, and Fret Nice don’t come anywhere close to deserving a $15 premium. Other games in the $15 range, like RayStorm HD and Scrap Metal, are questionable at best. Of the 21 XBLA titles released so far in 2010, 9 of them are $15 titles– that’s 43%. Compare that with 24% of XBLA games released in 2009 (21 out of 91) that were more than $10, and you see a significant increase. Almost double, in fact.
The price point for RayStorm HD was quite unsettling to me, as the cosmetic changes are not all that drastic and that the new modes of play really don’t break any new ground. Considering that you can buy Taito Legends 2 for the PlayStation 2 for less than $10 new and that RayStorm is but one of 39 total games included on the disc… $15 is rather steep. Yes, it’s got Achievements and Leaderboards, but are the additions made to the original arcade version of RayStorm that significant? I don’t think so. 0 Day Attack on Earth is another example of fleecing; it’s short, repetitive, and relies on expensive paid DLC to extend the experience… and you’re still expected to pay $15 for the base game. Where’s the precedent here? Is it because the game uses satellite imagery of actual cities for background visuals? I certainly hope not. There’s just no rhyme or reason to what qualifies as a $15 game anymore. It used to be the exception, based on a variety of factors. Now it seems to be more of the norm, a 33% increase over what XBLA consumers have generally been accustomed to paying for quite some time now.
Speaking of paid DLC for XBLA games, it’s getting ridiculous. Square-Enix is getting a reputatiion for gutting content from their XBLA releases in order to resell that content as DLC shortly after launch. Many of these games are Taito offerings, like Bubble Bobble, Arkanoid, and Qix. This is not to say that paid DLC has not existed previously for XBLA games, but these examples are the most egregious ones. The base games may sell for $10, but the DLC is $5 or more in order to make the game complete. Capcom’s DLC releases for Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10 are clear revenue builders and arguably should have been part of the original releases as space was never an issue. For publishers, these are great ideas… but unsuspecting consumers are getting fleeced, and there’s no end in sight to this trend.
I’ve always been a proponent of downloadable games for services like Xbox LIVE Arcade or the PlayStation Store. These can be impulse purchases and some of these games can really be impressive, like Battlefield 1943 or Shadow Complex. As prices begin to creep up to the $15 range, however, the danger exists that there will be less impulse and more caution on the part of consumers. Downloadable games are not refundable and you can’t trade them in or sell them, so you’re basically stuck with what you buy. Dropping $5 or even $10 impulsively on a game and walking away less than impressed stings a bit less than dropping $15 on a stinker like 0 Day Attack on Earth or NBA Unrivaled that you inevitably either wind up deleting or just forgetting about… and consumers won’t forget after they’ve been burned. If $15 is going to become the new standard, then the level of quality needs to be higher. Something has to give.
As prices go up, it becomes harder for me to be an impulse buyer. The same situation applies to the HD taxed disc-based games and to downloadable titles… in fact, it applies more strongly for downloadable games in my case. Unlike the price of gasoline breaking through psychological barriers like $3 and $4, $15 downloadable games aren’t necessities. I’ll simply learn to play what I have and wait for the right title to come and earn my $15. Killing off the impulse in consumers has the potential to hurt the market in the long run, but the industry will continue to be to self-centered to notice until it’s too late.
Flight combat games have been somewhat lacking during this console generation. Yes, we got Ace Combat 6 for the Xbox 360 and Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. for both the PlayStation 3 and the 360… but those have been the most notable in an otherwise unremarkable few titles that represent the genre.
Until now, that is.
Afterburner Climax is a conversion of a SEGA arcade game that loses almost nothing in its trip from the arcade to the home. There are no in-depth stories and no characters to identify with here; it’s you, your plane, and swarms of enemies out to shoot you down and sign those checks that your body can’t cash. The game itself is rather short and may seem limited, but unlockable medals and options and an ever-changing leaderboard add enough replay value to justify the $10 asking price. While fans of the classic SEGA arcade game (and SEGA Genesis sequel) likely won’t need any additional motivation to buy Climax, gamers that are new to the series will also have plenty to be impressed with here.
Unlike Ace Combat 6 or H.A.W.X., Afterburner Climax is purposely fast and extremely busy. Dogfighting isn’t the idea behind this game; it’s more of a rail shooter. That means that there are plenty of targets to take down including jets, choppers, SAMs, flak guns, and more. Most of the action comes at you, so you must be quick on the trigger in order to shoot the enemies down before they do the same to you. As you lock on to enemies, you can fire salvos of missiles to blast them from the skies or to incinerate ground targets. In addition, large groups of enemies can be locked onto at once by activating Climax Mode, which dramatically increases the missile lock reticle and can help to eliminate mass threats with extreme prejudice. This mode can only be used sparingly and must be recharged over time once it’s deployed. Defensively, having missiles fired directly at you means that deft maneuvering is required to avoid getting killed out there in the unfriendly skies. Virtual pilots have to ability to roll their craft (by moving either left or right and then steering hard in the opposite direction) and can speed up or slow down in brief bursts as needed. Some stages also demand precision steering to avoid collisions with the environment.
Afterburner Climax has multiple modes of play. Arcade Mode is exactly what it sounds like, as players attempt to clear all of the stages of the game just like in the arcade. This mode has limited continues, but the difficulty level can be tweaked to suit the player’s level of experience. As progress is made in the Arcade Mode, special customization options open up. These EX Options become unlocked as various milestones are established; for example, getting the Game Over screen enough times allows you to set the number of continues– or available credits– higher. Other EX Options include the ability to have your machine guns fire automatically and for your craft to travel at its fastest rate of speed at all times. Unlocking and then adjusting these options can make the Arcade Mode an entirely different experience than when you first play it, and the game’s branching pathways make for a unique experience for the first few playthroughs.
These EX Options, however, have no bearing on the other mode of play in Afterburner Climax: the Score Attack Mode. Score Attack has a preset difficulty and unlimited lives, so unless you give up, you will beat the game every time. Beating the game isn’t the goal of Score Attack, though. It’s all about getting the highest score possible and earning bragging rights via the worldwide leaderboard. Although there are infinite lives here, Score Attack is far from easy. Extra objectives, known as Emergency Orders, must be completed to earn the highest scores, and these are not easy at all to achieve. One such mission has you trying to shoot down a speedy enemy prototype plane before it escapes, while another requires you to shoot down a fleeing stealth bomber using nothing but your guns. Figuring out which of the branching pathways can lead to higher scores is also a key element in charting well, meaning that a few runs in Score Attack are necessary to achieve the best results. Depending on how you fare, different medals can be won and added to your collection. This criteria includes how well you are graded afer each stage, how many enemies are shot down, how much you use Climax Mode, and so on.
Visually, Afterburner Climax is quite impressive– especially for a downloadable title. The game’s framerate is a solid 60 frames per second, and that’s in spite of multiple planes, missiles, and various particle effects that are all on-screen at the same time. Driving rainstorms, volcanic areas, enemy bases, and nighttime skies over a bustling city are just a few of the theaters of operation that you’ll be flying in.The explosions are violently beautiful to behold, and details such as missile trails and damaged planes are easy to miss while playing but will catch the eye of even the most casual observer. In the sound department, pilot chatter and the concussive sounds of explosions and ammunition are accompanied by one of two soundtracks which includes a remix of the Afterburner II OST.
There’s a lot to like about Afterburner Climax. It is the arcade game, minus the interactive cabinet with moving parts. Playing through the game is a thrill ride, and setting new high scores in Score Attack is a notable accomplishment. The game also has a fair number of Achievements / Trophies to unlock, and range from easy (such as pulling off your first roll) to hard (ranking AAA in Arcade Mode). Don’t be deceived by the relatively short length of the game during a playthrough; it’s repeated play and improving skills that unlock some of the game’s cooler features and customizations, and that leads to even more replay value. Following hot on the heels of Capcom’s Final Fight: Double Impact offering, Afterburner Climax successfully brings the arcade home once again, with no quarters or tokens required other than the $10 cover charge.
I was able to spend some time early this Friday morning checking out some of this week’s offerings on the PlayStation Store. Here’s what I picked up:
- Burnout Paradise Party DLC ($10): While I don’t envision have offline multiplayer sessions here in the office, spending $10 on Criterion’s newest DLC seems fair after all of the free stuff that Burnout Paradise owners have been showered with since the game’s release. The game’s newest update weighed in at nearly 250MB, but I didn’t have a chance to check out what was added. I plan to spend some time with Burnout Paradise next week.
- Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds DLC (New Course: Golfasaurus-Rex B.C.C. – $5): Since I’ve already committed a fair amount of hard drive space to this game, and since I like dinosaurs, this seemed like a perfect fit. I didn’t have time to check it out, though.
- 3-on-3 NHL Arcade ($10): See below.
- MLB 09: The Show Demo (FREE): See below.
Now then, here are some raw impressions from my time with both NHL Arcade and the MLB 09 demo:
- 3-on-3 NHL Arcade: I am a huge fan of hockey video games. One look at my overall collection would tell you that; hell, I still own a ton of PSX hockey games, including all of EA’s hockey offerings– including NHL Rock the Rink, which was horrible. I had high hopes for NHL Arcade. A successful pick-up-and-play hockey game would be great to play in spurts and I’ve been a fan of arcade-style hockey games since the Blades of Steel and NHL Open Ice coin-ops. My big problem with NHL Arcade is that it feels too skewed towards checking and hitting; playing online, the goal seems to lie more in hitting your opponent. Checking is a part of the game, but so is passing and scoring. The one-timer mechanic feels broken and shouldn’t be for an arcade-style game, and scoring feels more difficult than it should be.
- I was extremely impressed by the MLB 09 demo. Visual improvements over last year’s game become apparent almost immediately. Lighting effects are much more pronounced, facial mapping seems more lifelike than ever (check out Scott Kazmir of the Rays for an example), there’s now real-time deterioration of the dirt in the infield, and more. The game’s presentation is still the best in the business, from stat overlays to solid commentary to replay transitions and cutscenes. One scene shown after a strikeout had a manager blowing up at a player for lack of patience. The solid gameplay returns, too. It took a little while to adjust to the speed of the opposing pitches, as I was swinging early a lot, but once I made adjustments, I was able to hit better. In my game, I won on a walkoff home run… and there’s no better feeling that that. I cannot wait for the final version of this game.
The PlayStation Store continues to impress me with generally solid offerings almost every week. There have been more hits (Magic Ball, Mahjong Tales) than misses (PowerUp Forever) as of late… so, in spite of publishers using the PS Store to fleece gamers out of money for costumes and other items that should be included within a game to begin with, there are still quite a few reasons to invest your time and money in checking out what’s available.
Finally, the moving process has come down to the last 96 hours of work. There’s been a ton of packing and moving unnecessary stuff into storage (since I’m going from a full apartment to a two-room living space), and that’s going to be continuing through Thursday. I’ll be offline from Thursday afternoon until at least Saturday (January 31), but the movers will be here on Friday and I’ll be “officially” relocated then. After that comes the unpacking and setting everything back up again. Fun. This will indeed be my worst week in a while; between working an extra karaoke show last night, recovering from this cold that won’t go away, and the general aches and pains that come from moving a ton of stuff… I think I’m going to need a vacation after this week ends.
I do thank those of you who have been checking things out here recently, and I promise that things will be back to normal in within another week or so.
Here’s what’s been going on in my absence from writing:
- Rediscovery: I’ve rediscovered my PlayStation 3 recently, and it’s been nice. My PS3 collection has swelled to number 15 games, and it’s been quite a while since I’ve shown more than a passing interest in the console– aside from watching movies on it. I’m giving Fallout 3 another go (more on this shortly), enjoying Ridge Racer 7 (as I’m a huge fan of the series), and hitting the links with Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds. What’s even better is that we’re on February’s doorstep, a month that is set to deliver Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection and Street Fighter IV. Welcome back to the fold, PS3.
- Fridge-cleaning: An unfortunate result of adding these new games is that many of them required installations to my PS3 hard drive, and my free space is a shade over 18GB… and that’s after deleting a lot of downloadable games that I bought from the PlayStation Store (such as Ratchet & Clank: Quest for Booty, Mortal Kombat II, and others). I suppose that buying a bigger hard drive should be in the cards, but I am not a good person to perform any kind of surgery on my electronics.
- Boo-thesda: This story is the reason why Fallout 3 will be the last Bethesda game that I purchase. Look… I’m fine with other platforms getting the DLC expansions as they were promised, but not bothering to patch Fallout 3 to remove level caps and allow players to keep playing after the game’s ending on the PS3 is inexcusable. Why the slap in the face to all of the PS3 owners who dropped $60 on the game? Did Microsoft slide Bethesda a little more money? Did the game not sell enough units on the PS3 side? I have no idea and won’t hypothesize here, but if you’re a multiplatform publisher, there’s no reason to arbitrarily decide which platforms get patches like this one. I’m seriously contemplating unloading Fallout 3 now for decent trade-in value and 5GB of my HDD space back after hearing of this.
- Xbox Update: Recent additions to my Xbox library– which now outnumbers on PS2 library– include Capcom Classics Collection Vol. 2, The Simpsons’ Road Rage, Forza Motorsport, and Super Monkey Ball Deluxe. I saw a copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Battle Nexus for $10, but I don’t know if I could justify the $10 just because I wanted to unlock and play Konami’s TMNT arcade game.
That’s about it from here for now. During the move, I’ll still be active via my Twitter feed… so,. if you have a Twitter account, drop me a quick 140-character hello. If not, drop me a comment here and I promise to reply as soon as I am able. It’ll certainly be nice to not having moving as part of my daily recap come next week. Unpacking may be a big part of it, but I’ll take that over moving. Ugh.
Oh, and before I go… even though I’m pulling for Kurt Warner to lead the underdog Arizona Cardinals to victory in Tampa on Sunday… I just don’t see it happening against that vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers defense. Pittsburgh will force Arizona to try and win the game on the ground and will key on the Cardinals’ wide receivers (like Larry Fitzgerald), and unless Edgerrin James can find some holes, I think that the Cardinal magic ends Sunday.
Pittsburgh Steelers 31, Arizona Cardinals 21.
I am writing to you to lodge a complaint about PlayStation Store updates. I’m certainly happy with the content, but I have to say that your window for updating the store is horribly inconsistent. Is it too much to ask to upload updates at the same time every week? I know that some weeks have more content than others; in fact, your expected releases for this week in particular (with Crash Commando, Penny Arcade Adventures Episode 2, Castlevania Chronicles (PSone), and more) are killer, but it’s now past 6pm EST and there’s nothing.
How about sending mass e-mails to users when the upload is complete? No more mysteries. No more refreshes. We know it’s ready because you tell us it’s ready. Is this a problem because you worry about too much traffic to the store at once? Otherwise, I don’t get all the secrecy and inconsistency.
I don’t think that I’m the only one who spends his Thursday afternoons checking his PS3 every 20 minutes to see if the update has gone live. Let’s stop the nonsense and either set a definite update window or send notifications.