2012 is nothing more than a memory now, and while we’ve given out our Game of the Year awards, as well as our E.T. Awards (for the worst of the year), it’s time to look back at how each of the big three did this year. When mid-year grades were assigned, all three seemed to be running a fairly close race, with Nintendo still lagging behind due to the lack of information on the Wii U. Now that the Wii U is available, however, that has certainly changed things up a bit.
The holidays brought on some stellar releases across each platform, and with this generation appearing to come to an end in the next couple of years, the big three intensified the fighting for position. In addition to that, Sony spent much of its year attempting to boost sales of the struggling PlayStation Vita, while Nintendo focused on two recently released gaming systems.
As I reiterate each time I hand out these grades, this is not about any one factor. Sales certainly play a role in the grading, but not as significantly as one might think. Instead, these grades are most heavily weighted based on how strong of a case each company made to tell gamers that their consoles and handhelds were the ones to own. Also factored into the equation is how well the company handled any potholes in the road, as well as how the company looks going into the new year.
Check out the grades I handed out to them below and let us know your own thoughts down in the comments section.
As was mentioned in the mid-year grade piece, Microsoft flew mostly under the radar this year as far as large announcements were concerned. The Surface tablet released as one of the first major credible threats to the iPad’s throne, but glitches as well as a lackluster offering in the app store have allowed the iPad to continue dominating the tablet gaming market.
On the console side, however, Xbox Live lost little ground in the competition for best online service. The service remains by far the most stable, but unfortunately, Microsoft seems reluctant to embrace the inevitable future of digital sales. While Xbox Live Arcade offers a robust list of digital-only releases, Microsoft has yet to bring the concept of Games on Demand to where it should be. Retail games have the ability to eventually make their way onto the digital marketplace, but Microsoft has not brought any new releases onto Games on Demand on launch day, a perplexing move, when Sony has been doing so for over a year now.
While on the topic of Xbox Live Arcade, Microsoft did do an outstanding job putting digital content on sale. While not anywhere near as superb as Steam’s industry-leading sales on digital content, Xbox Live Marketplace did end the year by discounting some of the most popular items of 2012 by 50%. Included in the sale were popular items like The Walking Dead episodes, Skyrim DLC, as well as several popular Xbox Live Arcade titles. With Microsoft making such a strong case for digital support, it seems odd that they would so thoroughly embrace one aspect of it, but completely neglect the other.
The game releases of 2012 proved to be kind to the Xbox loyalists. Between Halo 4, Forza Horizon and The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition, Xbox 360 had a decent lineup of exclusive releases. The downside to this, however, is that 2013 doesn’t look to hold too much in way of excitement for the console. With Gears of War: Judgment launching in March 2013, fans of the console will likely need to wait until E3 2013 before hearing any big news regarding the rumored next Xbox console, which Microsoft has already begun teasing. 2013 could prove to be a big year for Microsoft, but not until after E3.
First Half Grade: C+
2012 Final Grade: C
Nintendo had, by far, the most to gain from 2012. With 2011 seeing the tumultuous launch of the 3DS, and November 2012 welcoming the Wii U into the wild, Nintendo had to worry about righting the ship of its most recent handheld device, all while answering questions regarding its new home console. Luckily for the legendary company, the sales of the 3DS have strengthened, and thus, the platform has stabilized. There are still questions as to how the handheld will sell going forward, but for now, it would appear as though Nintendo has done a good job turning things around for its glasses-free 3D device.
The company found itself coming under fire in June for announcing that it would be releasing a hardware update to the 3DS that would include a bigger screen. The announcement of the 3DS XL caused message boards, social networking sites and article comment sections to overflow with complaining, but once the dust settled, and people actually got their hands on the 3DS XL, gamers and critics alike found themselves praising the updated device for its screen, as well as its added comfort. Unfortunately, the 3DS XL does not include a second Circle Pad, which means that those who owned the Circle Pad Pro for their original 3DS would still need to buy a special Circle Pad Pro designed specifically for the 3DS XL.
The biggest factor in how well Nintendo’s 2012 went is the way the Wii U was handled. Up to the day it launched (and even beyond), mass confusion existed about what the console was even capable of. Outside of the hardcore gaming community, there are still those who think that the Wii U is simply an add-on to the original Wii console, proving that Nintendo needed to do more in way of marketing. In addition, analysts were predicting the console to sell out across the nation through Q1 2013, but poorer than expected sales meant that the consoles were readily available in retailers such as Target, Best Buy and GameStop as early as launch week.
To Nintendo’s credit, the company did put out a console that silenced many doubters. The Wii U proved to be a nice step up in terms of innovation, and in turn, Nintendo has shown the potential that the console has. Once more games release and the market recognizes the potential of the console, Nintendo will likely have another winner on its hands. The company just needs to hope that developers continue to support Wii U so strongly, as support for Wii has dropped sharply over the past three years.
Whether you had a 3DS or a Wii U, there were enough exclusive releases to justify the purchase. The Wii U may be slightly less justifiable, but with New Super Mario Bros. U making waves for the series yet again, and the lauded ZombiU bringing a mature and unique experience, Wii U had two very strong games releasing on day one. On the 3DS front, players were treated to New Super Mario Bros. 2, Kid Icarus: Uprising and Resident Evil Revelations, while DS players received Pokemon Black/White Version 2.
As with all Nintendo consoles and handhelds, the future is bright thanks to the promise of more first-party titles in 2013. While this will always be true, as gamers anxiously await the newest entries in the Zelda, Mario and Metroid franchises, little is set in stone at the moment. Rayman Legends and Pikmin 3 look to be the biggest upcoming releases, and we know that a new Super Smash Bros. game is in the works, but until then, players will be left with their previously released titles.
First Half Grade: C-
2012 Final Grade: C
Sony seemed poised to have an average year, but following a stellar mid-to-late year push, the PlayStation maker may have had the biggest turnaround of any of the big three gaming companies. The Vita was a serious concern, primarily due to the current landscape of the handheld market, but by the end of the year, Sony had turned the struggling Vita into a device worth owning.
Sales remained poor for the expensive Vita, but the release schedule has picked up significantly over the past few months, and with PlayStation Plus making its way to the Vita, the Instant Game Collection made the $50 a year for both PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita seem like a steal. In fact, the introduction of the Instant Game Collection on both platforms may have been the biggest step in the right direction for Sony’s online services since PlayStation Network was first implemented.
Sadly for Vita owners, each time it looks like the platform is about to its big killer app, it fails to meet expectations. We saw this first with Resistance: Burning Skies, which was critically bashed, and Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, which received mixed reviews, but no bigger disappointment hit Sony’s handheld quite like Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified, which has been called “The Worst Game of 2012″ by many outlets.
The list of exclusives for Sony in 2012 was enormous: PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royal, Persona 4 Golden, Sound Shapes, Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, Journey, Twisted Metal, Starhawk. Also, Sony continued its tradition of re-releasing hits from the past with its HD Collection line. While some of these exclusive titles didn’t live up to the hype, Sony made sure that its platforms were full of releases that generated excitement.
Going forward into 2013, PlayStation 3 owners have three major releases to look forward to. The most obvious game comes from the makers of the iconic Uncharted series. Naughty Dog will be releasing its post-apocalyptic zombie survival tale, The Last of Us, this May, and Beyond: Two Souls, from the makers of the divisive Heavy Rain, will look to “wow” fans a bit deeper into the year. Not only that, but the God of War prequel, Ascension, will hit this quarter as well. Nostalgia lovers will not only get to relive the Hitman trilogy, but also one of the biggest cult classics of all-time in Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix. Rumors are also circulating that the new PlayStation console will be revealed at E3 2013, meaning that Sony is poised to have another excitingly huge year.