As the year comes to a close, every media outlet and blogger is looking back and examining the top games from the past 12 months. While we here at VGW are doing that and more, we also wanted to take the opportunity to update our grades that we dished out at the mid-year mark. Earlier this year, despite the catastrophic crash of its online infrastructure, Sony was able to lead the pack with one of the greatest half-years of exclusive titles we’ve ever seen.
Now that the dust has settled from the busy holiday 2011, it’s time to look back and see what Microsoft and Nintendo did to close the gap. Again, as I did in my mid-year grading, I won’t just be looking at what company released the best games. I’ll be looking at how the companies addressed any issues that presented themselves in the first half, how they kept their user-bases excited to turn on their machines, and, of course, how well the companies made their consoles and handhelds the ones to own. Please note that sales and future hype will also play a minor role in the grades the companies receive.
After having a meager exclusive line-up in the first half of 2011, Microsoft really beefed up their Xbox 360 offerings. September saw the launch of Gears of War 3 – the delay of which paid off, as it may be the best exclusive title console has ever seen — October, the release of Forza Motorsport 4, and November, the launch of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary.
Xbox Live continued to lead the pack in terms of providing the best online console experience. The app offering is something that Microsoft has grown over the past year, as they challenge Sony’s “it only does everything” promotional campaign. With unrivaled service, as well as the new ability to watch television through the console itself, the Xbox 360 is becoming a strong, all-in-one device. Before the year closes out, users will be able to watch pay-per-view UFC fights, which is something that has never been offered through a console before.
The latest Xbox Live Dashboard update proved, once again, that Microsoft understands the organization that gamers desire for an entertainment device. The dashboard is both accessible and aesthetically pleasing, which is something that the Microsoft’s biggest rival, Sony, has failed to do with its flagship gaming device’s operating system.
While motion controls really fizzled on the whole in the latter half of 2011, the Xbox 360 managed to not only release a decent collection of noteworthy games on its Kinect, including The Gunstringer, Fruit Ninja Kinect, and Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster, but also include optional Kinect functionality into several of its more hardcore games. The fact that Microsoft did not force-feed the Kinect’s features down the throat of the hardcore gamer is reason enough to attract praise. The idea of giving the hardcore gamer ways to enhance their experience in optional, non-intrusive ways, such as what was included in Forza Motorsport 4, and will be included in Mass Effect 3, is the way motion controls should work.
Microsoft may have had a strong second half, but the first six months were kind of rough in the exclusive titles category. The fact that Sony had so many titles coming out exclusively for PlayStation 3, while Microsoft failed to release much of anything is cause for concern. Even so, Microsoft’s sprint to the finish with Xbox 360 and Kinect makes it a very strong competitor heading into 2012.
First Half Grade: C+
Second Half Grade: A-
2011 Final Grade: B
The first half of 2011 was far from favorable for the legendary gaming company. With the Wii bringing next to nothing to U.S. consumers, and the 3DS launch bombing hard, nobody could have foreseen the bounce-back that the company saw in the second half of the year.
Nintendo’s strength has always laid in its exceptional first-party titles, and that was on full display in the holiday months of 2011. What made holiday 2011 so special for Nintendo is that the company was able to deliver on both of its active systems. The Wii received the much-anticipated Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, as well as the surprisingly awesome Kirby’s Return to Dreamland, which made many dust of their Wii and delve back into the wondrous world of Nintendo console games.
The 3DS holiday line-up was able to turn a disastrous launch into a strong first-year library of games. While Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D and Star Fox 64 3D were solid remakes, the release of Super Mario 3D Land gave the 3Ds its first solid must-have title, along with the equally exciting Mario Kart 7.
The 3DS has momentum on its side at this point, with sales and positive reviews rolling in, as well as Nintendo making amends with scorned early adopters with the 3DS Ambassador program, the sky is the limit. Sure, the Vita may give the less-powerful handheld a run for its money, but catering to a different market than Sony’s upcoming handheld, as well as possessing a much lower introductory price, might just save Nintendo’s handheld.
The Wii may be all about the past, but with the Wii U coming in 2012, prospects are bright for Nintendo. The renewed commitment to supporting both first and third party titles will be the catalyst for success in the next generation of Nintendo consoles. As long as the company sticks to that commitment, the Wii U looks to be the right next step for Nintendo, as it will look to bridge that impossible gap between hardcore and casual gamers.
By pulling a 180 in the second half of 2011, Nintendo was able to salvage one of the most abysmal years for the gaming giant. By continuing to support the 3DS through upcoming titles like Metal Gear 3D, Kid Icarus: Uprising, and Resident Evil: Revelations, Nintendo might have a juggernaut of a handheld on its hands. Here’s hoping the developers don’t rely on the gimmick of 3D as much as they did the gimmick of motion controls on the Wii.
If the first half of 2011 wasn’t a complete and total waste for the Wii and 3DS, Nintendo would be rivaling Sony and Microsoft in 2011. Unfortunately for fans of Nintendo, 2011 just wasn’t a great year for the company, and the record losses reflect that.
First Half Grade: D+
Second Half Grade: A-
2011 Final Grade: C
After a turbulent, yet very strong first half of 2011 for Sony, many were left wondering how on earth the company could keep up the pace throughout the holiday season. The answer: they couldn’t. While Sony’s second half wasn’t bad, it didn’t equal the greatness of the onslaught of exclusive titles we saw in the first half of 2011.
Holiday 2011 was a good one for Sony, with Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception and Resistance 3, as well as the re-releases of the God of War series, and the cult classic Team ICO games, hitting shelves, legions of PlayStation fans enjoyed the exclusive titles. Unfortunately, in terms of exclusive games, Sony may have had the worst holiday 2011 line-up of the big three. Keep in mind that this was one of the strongest holiday seasons of all-time, so even a below average holiday schedule by this year’s standards is great.
Sony unfortunately had a few misfires this second half, as well. The latest entry in the usually spectacular Ratchet and Clank series, Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One, was more lukewarm than great, and the hyped Medieval Moves: Deadmund’s Quest fell very flat for the PlayStation Move. Unfortunately, falling flat is nothing new for the PlayStation Move, as the motion platform failed, yet again, to find a true identity in the second half of 2011. The platform should be praised for the audience it has found in the first-person shooter community, as the Move Sharpshooter continues to be a popular input method for games like Resistance 3, Killzone 3, and GoldenEye 007: Reloaded.
With the Vita scheduled to release in holiday 2011, as well as the Sony PlayStation 3D Display, this was supposed to be the year of hardware for Sony. The 3D Display released and proved to be more than just hype, but the Vita never saw the light of day in the States in 2011 (unless you count deadmau5′s joke about losing his in a cab after the Spike Video Game Awards).
Perhaps it’s for the best that the Vita was delayed in the United States, as the Japanese launch spurred complaints both in the hardware and the software. The news surrounding the Vita has slowly grown worse as the cost of admission has soared to new heights with the announcement of the overpriced memory cards. In addition, reports of poor battery life, as well as firmware issues, have come out of the Japanese launch.
Even with all of its apparent problems, the PlayStation Vita will inevitably be one of the most coveted devices of 2012. With a sleek design, a do-it-all features list, and one of the strongest launch line-ups the gaming world has ever seen, the PlayStation Vita appears to have learned from the 3DS.
The only question that remains for the Vita is: how much customers are willing to spend on a handheld gaming device these days? With iPhones and iPads featuring hardcore games like Grand Theft Auto III, Infinity Blade 2, and Sonic CD, many consumers may want to spend a bit more on those, rather than buying a device that is mainly used for gaming.
The hardcore gamers will likely still gravitate towards the Vita, but, as the sales numbers showed in early 2011, $250 was too much for the 3DS, will Vita’s price (plus memory card) be too much for the gamer population? Sony will have to answer those questions in early 2012, but as far as 2011 is concerned, with such a strong first-party line-up, as well as a strong recovery from the PlayStation Network crash, this was a great year for Sony.
First Half Grade: A-
Second Half Grade: B
2011 Final Grade: B+
Please note that the final grade is not necessarily an average of the two half-year grades.