Every year, video game publishers and developers get together at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, in Los Angeles, Calif., to show off their upcoming video games and hardware. This year’s show, held June 10 to 12, featured a deluge of information that could be difficult to follow. Here, we’ve compiled the most important news from the three major console developers—Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo—into one handy resource.
Video game system sales as they stood shortly before E3 2014.
In a world where hardcore gamers are increasingly sticking to their PCs and casual gamers are increasingly sticking to their smartphones and tablets, how have the console manufacturers tried to distinguish themselves? Let’s take 3,000 words to examine how the big three performed at E3.
After last year’s E3, Nintendo was criticized for relying heavily on sequels to its existing franchises. Plus, many of these sequels failed to put the Wii U GamePad’s various features, such as the touch-screen, microphone and motion sensor, to good use. Nintendo must have heard these complaints, because this year, it showcased a surprising variety of experiences and often emphasized how they use the GamePad.
Existing Franchises, New Twists
Not too many games are on the horizon for 2014. As expected, Nintendo announced a few new characters in “Super Smash Bros.” for the Wii U and 3DS, which are due out later this year. Some new mega evolutions were announced for the upcoming 3DS remakes “Pokémon: Omega Ruby” and “Alpha Sapphire” too, which will be available worldwide in late November. “Hyrule Warriors,” a Wii U blend of Tecmo Koei’s “Dynasty Warriors” and Nintendo’s “Legend of Zelda” series, will release Sept. 26. The action-oriented game has players taking down massive swarms of enemies. You can join a friend in co-op, one player using the GamePad’s screen and the other using the TV screen. One surprise though was the announcement of “Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker,” which features the titular Mario character navigating puzzle-filled mazes that can be viewed from multiple angles using the GamePad. Toad will get his chance to shine later this year.
This game builds on Captain Toad’s side levels from “Super Mario 3-D World.”
There’s much more in store for 2015, though. In “Mario Party 10,” one player with the GamePad will control Bowser, harassing the poor saps—I mean friends—they’re playing with. “Mario Maker” will allow players to create their own 2-D Mario levels using classic NES graphics or more modern visuals. They can be shared online. The puzzle-filled platformer “Mario vs. Donkey Kong for Wii U” will also feature level creation tools that put the GamePad’s touch screen to use.
We also have “Yoshi’s Woolly World,” which will play akin to “Yoshi’s Island” while offering two-player co-op and puzzles based around a yarn aesthetic. Kirby will receive a claymation-style sequel to the DS game “Kirby’s Canvas Curse.” Using the GamePad, characters will draw lines to guide Kirby through various levels. “Xenoblade Chronicles X,” a sequel to a critically-acclaimed JRPG for the Wii, has players exploring a sci-fi open world in giant mechs. A brand new “Zelda” game will also place emphasis on exploration, seeking to make the experience less linear than those of previous entries. Finally, there is also a new “Star Fox” game in the works that uses the GamePad’s motion sensor for steering, though little is known about it so far.
The third-person shooter “Splatoon,” which Matt Kamen of Wired.co.uk dubbed “the most fun game at E3,” has two teams of four facing off as half-human, half-squid creatures. The goal is to use Super Soaker-like guns, giant paint rollers, grenades and more to cover the most terrain with your team’s color of ink before time runs out. The GamePad allows for intuitive aiming, shows a handy map for evaluating the situation and lets you tap on a teammate’s icon to teleport beside them. Although the focus is on online play, there will also be a single-player campaign and a local one-on-one mode, as the game’s creators confirmed with IGN.com.
The Nintendo 3DS received some attention. A new game called “Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.” is being developed by Intelligent Systems, the makers of critically-acclaimed strategy games such as “Advance Wars” and “Fire Emblem.” The game blends a comic book style with steampunk aesthetics, which suits the bizarre storyline where Abraham Lincoln sends a task force to fight alien invaders. It also blends turn-based strategy combat with third-person shooting action sequences.
Nintendo also wants to reach out to gamers who criticize the company for being too “kiddy”: it will be publishing two mature-rated games. “Bayonetta 2” will include the first game on the disc, which should be helpful for longtime Nintendo fans who didn’t play the hack-and-slash prequel on the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. And from the makers of “Ninja Gaiden” we have “Devil’s Third,” a game that blends third-person shooting with even more hack-and-slash action.
“Amiibo” Toys Interact with Games on Wii U and 3DS
The video game series “Skylanders” and “Disney Infinity” have lines of toys associated with them. By scanning these toys into their respective games, players can access additional characters and other features. According to Game Informer, over 175 million Skylanders toys have sold, helping to turn it into a $2 billion franchise. Clearly, Nintendo saw potential in pursuing a similar idea with its iconic characters.
Dubbed “Amiibo” toys, these figurines are roughly as tall as your pointer finger. According to Nintendo, they’ll interact with multiple games. For instance, certain figurines could work with “Smash Bros. Wii U,” “Captain Toad,” “Yoshi’s Woolly World,” “Mario Party 10” and even the already-released “Mario Kart 8.” They are scanned into Wii U games using the GamePad, and a peripheral will be sold for the 3DS to allow scanning in those games.
In “Smash Bros.,” the Amiibo figure will store various statistics related to that character. The in-game counterpart can be customized, evolving overtime based on how these computer-controlled characters are used. Functionality in other games was not detailed.
The first entries to the series, consisting of 14 figures so far, will release alongside the Wii U version of “Smash Bros.” during this upcoming holiday season. Every character in “Smash” will eventually have an Amiibo, according to IGN.com. Pricing has yet to be confirmed, but it should be noted that “Skylanders” and “Disney Infinity” figures tend to cost roughly $12 each if purchased individually, though bundles bring that price down significantly.
Since Sony is selling more video game consoles than its competitors, its job at this year’s E3 was to keep its top spot by continuing to promote experiences that appeal to core gamers.
PlayStation 4, Few Exclusive Games
Some of the titles Sony showcased can’t be found anywhere but on the PlayStation 4.
For instance, “Bloodborne,” a spiritual successor to the critically-acclaimed “Dark Souls” and “Demon’s Souls” games, will only be released for the PS4. The open world adventure game will favor more aggressive combat strategies than its predecessors and feature a less sadistic difficulty level, according to director Hidetaka Miyazaki. “The Order: 1886” is a brand new franchise that is a “third-person action-adventure shooter,” according to the official PlayStation website. The player must use advanced technology to quell rebels within a re-imagined Victorian-Era London while driving away a mysterious outside force. The action-adventure game “Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End” will also be exclusive to the PS4. These games are due out in 2015.
“LittleBigPlanet 3” is a family-friendly game that allows players to create and share their own levels, spanning genres such as platformers, racers, puzzlers and more. It will enter our planet sometime this November. To add some variety to the gameplay, this entry of the series features multiple playable characters with their own unique skills. It will still support user-created content from the previous games, allowing for a huge level selection from the get-go. It will also be released on the PlayStation 3, though, which may give some gamers another reason to hold out on buying a new console.
Sony also showed “Let It Die,” a free-to-play horror game, and “ABZU,” a peaceful game featuring deep-sea exploration. The company wants to cater to indie developers—those making games with no financial support from publishers—and free-to-play games, which are especially popular in the mobile market right now. It did, indeed, briefly show a number of indie games at E3.
Remakes, Features Unique to PS4
Some games that will be remade for the PS4 include the critically-acclaimed “The Last of Us” as well as the original “Ratchet & Clank.” Surprisingly, “Grim Fandango,” a PC game from 1998 that blends clever writing and puzzles with a Day of the Dead theme, will be remade for the PS4 and PS Vita. Although the original game did not sell well, players might be more open to story-oriented experiences now.
“Grand Theft Auto V” will also be coming to the PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 with better graphics, though Sony promises that its version will feature some special “perks.” The new game “Batman: Arkham Knight” will be released on the same platforms and also feature PS4-exclusive content.
Sony also hopes to capitalize on “Destiny,” a high-budget first-person shooter that will feature an open world where humans must fight an alien menace. Although it’s being released for the Xbox 360, Xbox One and PlayStation 3 as well, Sony revealed that the game will be bundled with the PS4 when it releases on Sept. 9. This $450 bundle will include a white PlayStation 4 with 500GB of hard drive space, a controller, a 30-day voucher for the PlayStation Plus network, an HDMI cable and a copy of “Destiny.” Plus, the PS4 version of the game features exclusive items, ships, co-op missions and more.
Other games will be “timed exclusives,” meaning that they’ll debut on the PlayStation 4, but be available on other platforms later on. Paradox Interactive’s “Magika 2,” which is an open world adventure with four-player co-op and what GameSpot calls “irreverent humor,” will debut on Sony’s console and then make its way to the PC and Xbox One later. “No Man’s Sky,” a space exploration game, may follow a similar pattern.
PlayStation TV, PlayStation Now and Morpheus
Sony also announced that it’s bringing a microconsole, the PlayStation TV, to the United States, Europe, and Canada. It’s essentially a non-portable version of the PS Vita, whose sales have been unimpressive in part due to a limited selection of exclusive games. Only about a dozen Vita games were mentioned directly at E3, though Sony claims over 100 games are in development for it. Hook up the PS TV, and users can play any Vita game that doesn’t use the handheld’s microphone, camera or gyroscopic features on the big screen. If users have a PS4 hooked up to one television and would like to stream its content to another television in their home, the PS TV makes that possible.
The PS TV will also support the PlayStation Now service. The PS Now service will be available on the PlayStation 3, 4 and Vita systems, as well as on smart TVs, tablets and smartphones. According to Sony, if users have a bandwidth of at least 5 Mbps, they’ll be able to smoothly stream video games for the PlayStation 1, 2 and 3 to any of these devices. Users can either subscribe to the service or rent games for it on a per-game basis. Developers and publishers will set the rental price points, which will be as low as $2.99. The service’s full release is scheduled for July 31.
The Morpheus, Sony’s virtual reality headset, was available to try out at E3. According to Peter Brown, an editor at GameSpot, it’s currently similar to the Oculus Rift in terms of performance. The Rift is a VR headset in development for PCs that helped pique everyone’s curiosity about the technology; it too was at E3.
The Morpheus could help sustain the PlayStation 4 in the long term.
Credit: Game Developers Conference
The Morpheus can be used with the PlayStation Move, a motion-sensing controller like Nintendo’s Wii Remote, and the PlayStation Camera, which functions like Microsoft’s Kinect, in order to open up even more immersive experiences. While the headsets are coming along fine, no sort of release date or price has even been hinted at, so consumer versions might be a long way off.
Microsoft’s Xbox One, released last holiday season to compete with Nintendo’s Wii U and Sony’s PlayStation 4, is bringing up the rear in terms of total units sold. Sales could pick up as the console is released in more regions, but there are other issues that Microsoft felt the need to address at this year’s E3 in order to win over gamers.
A Console Dedicated to Video Gaming
The Xbox One’s marketing was criticized for focusing too much on extraneous features such as its ability to act as a set-top box. Some gamers even call it a “cable box” rather than a video game console. To combat this view, Microsoft focused its E3 press conference entirely on upcoming video games.
“Sunset Overdrive,” due out Oct. 28, is an Xbox One-exclusive that promises to be pure, crazy fun. Using insane weapons like a teddy bear rocket launcher, the player must take out humans that have been mutated by an energy drink. By using the Xbox One’s cloud computing, the developers will add pop culture references, social commentary and new features to the game’s open world as time progresses. It will also feature co-op play, a popular feature nowadays.
Another Xbox One-exclusive is “Fable Legends,” due out sometime next year. Microsoft showed off a new 4-versus-1 multiplayer mode. The lone player is like a malevolent god, deciding where enemies should spawn and where traps should be laid, to take out the four heroes who must work together to progress. While the premise sounds interesting, some are skeptical of how far the dungeon-crawling gameplay is deviating from the traditional “Fable” formula, which emphasizes exploration, customization and interaction with villagers.
Other One-exclusive games on the horizon include “Phantom Dust,” a remake of a 2005 Xbox game, as well as “Scalebound,” where a heroic knight will be able to transform into a scaly creature as he takes out huge monsters.
A new “Crackdown” game may use cloud computing to allow for highly detailed destructible environments. A Microsoft tech demo in April showed how cloud computing could calculate the individual movement of over 10,000 exploding chunks flying around at once without the framerate dropping. Whether or not the game would still be playable offline remains to be seen, but the development process has just begun.
Microsoft also has some goodies in store for fans of the popular first-person shooter series “Halo.” First we have “Halo: The Master Chief Collection,” due out Nov. 11. It compiles remastered versions of Halo 1 through 4 on one disc. Every game will be rendered in 1080p and run at 60fps, but players can switch to the original visuals whenever they please. They can also tackle the missions in all the games in any order they choose, and they can play all the games online.
This image compares the remastered graphics to the classic visuals.
It will also include an invitation to test out the beta for “Halo 5: Guardians,” which will begin Dec. 27. When the game is released in full in late 2015, a Halo-themed television series produced by Steven Spielberg will begin to air, according to IGN.com.
Xbox One: Games Not All Console-Exclusive
While Microsoft showed off many other interesting games at its press conference, it’s disturbing to see that many of the One’s games will be available elsewhere.
Some of the games will at least be exclusive to Microsoft consoles, the Xbox 360 and Xbox One. “Forza Horizon 2,” due out Sept. 30, is a sequel to an open-world racing game lauded for its gorgeous scenery, slick vehicles and realistic physics. A weather system will shake up the races by affecting the vehicles’ traction, and the on-floor demo suggested that there will be more off-road action.
“Fantasia: Music Evolved,” is a family-friendly music game inspired by the classic Disney films referenced in its title. It will be one of the few games to require the Kinect’s motion-sensing technology. Players will act like conductors as they bring fantasy worlds to life by waving their arms to a variety of music tracks—not many games put David Bowie alongside Mozart. Harmonix, the makers of “Dance Central” and “Rock Band,” will release the game Oct. 21.
Many of the games will be released for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC. These include “Evolve,” a sci-fi shooter that has four players teaming up against a player-controlled monster, and “Assassin’s Creed Unity,” which will be the first entry in Ubisoft’s famous series to feature a four-player co-op mode. There are also “Tom Clancy’s The Division” and “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt,” both of which will not be released until next year.
Some of the games will be released for the Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3 and PC. Yes, despite the Wii U’s impressive list of exclusive titles, many games will essentially be released on everything except it. These include “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare,” “Dragon Age: Inquisition” and “Far Cry 4.” “Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain” will be coming to the four consoles, but not PCs.
One of the most unique games that Microsoft presented, “Project Spark,” will at least remain within the company’s network of devices: the 360, the One, and Windows 8.1 PCs. It allows players to create their own games, including platformers, first-person shooters, board games, racing games and more. Each creation will be accessible on all three of the platforms, regardless of which device was used to make it. The PC and One beta versions already have one million creators, so the amount of variety in the game could be absolutely gargantuan.
Has Microsoft Done Enough to Distinguish the Xbox One?
Right as E3 began, Microsoft started retailing a version of the Xbox One without the motion-sensing and voice-controlled Kinect. While this removal makes the system more affordable, developers might be less inclined to use the Kinect’s unique capabilities if the device is optional. As The Motley Fool, a company devoted to investment analytics commented, Microsoft is now relying almost entirely on a small handful of One-exclusive titles to distinguish its console. For those who are OK passing on these games, there is little reason to purchase the machine.
Video games released on the previous generation of consoles are still selling decently, according to VGChartz.com. With many new games still coming to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, their owners may be content for now. And according to DFC Intelligence, which analyzes the video game industry from a marketing perspective, PC game revenues are beginning to surpass those of consoles—all the more reason why the Xbox One could use a unique edge.
Sony is trying to keep its console relevant with its virtual reality headset and variety of streaming services. Nintendo’s trying to keep its console relevant with its large lineup of exclusive titles, unique control inputs and Amiibo line of toys. Time will tell if these efforts are enough, but Microsoft has yet to demonstrate a long-term plan with its Xbox One.
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