Future shock

2008 was an exciting time to be a gamer. Finally, two years after launch, the PS3 started coming into its own by delivering quality games such as Metal Gear Solid 4 and LittleBigPlanet.

2008 was an exciting time to be a gamer. Finally, two years after launch, the PS3 started coming into its own by delivering quality games such as Metal Gear Solid 4 and LittleBigPlanet. Sony also re-introduced rumble to their games with the Dual Shock 3, while continuing to develop their newest console’s online capabilities—even as the PSP languished out of the limelight.

Microsoft was no slouch either. The 360 continued to flatten Sony, carving out a larger piece of the market with substantial price cuts. Xbox was also the place to be last year for great exclusives such as the holiday sales juggernaut Gears of War 2, among many other games. Furthermore, Xbox Live continued to rule the online gaming arena.

Meanwhile, Nintendo easily outstripped everyone. With Sony and Microsoft fighting for the hardcore market share, the “big N” quietly shipped and sold around 7 million Wiis—with about 2 million consoles sold in November alone—thanks to the company’s new “cater to the casual” business model.

Unfortunately for Nintendo fans, that meant the Wii’s hardcore lineup was extremely limited. Luckily, Nintendo made up for its Wii shortcomings with a great year for the DS—everything from Final Fantasy, to Contra, to Castlevania (and several others) received stellar new titles for Nintendo’s handheld.

But as interesting as 2008 was, 2009 is shaping up to be even more so. It’s rumored that 2009 could well be Sony’s year (finally), but all three companies seem to be playing their hands pretty close to the chest. Nevertheless, the Vanguard has some predictions for the coming year. Read on …


What’s good:
In addition to some great third-party games from the likes of Capcom and others, for once Sony has some promising-looking exclusives, such as God of War III, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and InFamous.
What’s not so good:
Currently, Microsoft’s console is priced at about $100 cheaper (for one with a decent-sized hard drive) than Sony’s black box. Also, most, if not all, third-party games coming out for PS3 will also be released on the 360.
What to expect:
A PS3 price drop around summer; more emphasis on connectivity between the PSP and the PS3, as well as Sony’s failing social gaming experiment, Home; as well as developers getting more of a grasp on squeezing more out of the PS3’s hardware.
Company advice:
Stop being so damned high and mighty and drop the PS3’s price to compete with the 360. Now. Since Sony is already in the red, a cheaper console could yield enough additional units sold to make up for any losses, and in turn lead to more exclusive games for the system. Stop focusing on Home and PSP connectivity—the PSP is cool, but the number of must-buy games is anemic at best. Instead, focus more on the PS3’s online capabilities and vie for more downloadable content from companies striking deals with Microsoft.
Best bets: Uncharted 2, God of War III, Resident Evil 5, Street Fighter 4, Heavy Rain (PS3), Resistance: Retribution, Final Fantasy: Dissidia (PSP)
Wild cards: Bayonetta, Ghostbusters, Afro Samurai (multi)


What’s good:
Halo Wars (potentially), third-party games, Final Fantasy XIII (no longer a PS3 exclusive)
What’s not so good:
Aside from a slew of third-party titles, there’s not much exclusive for the 360 that’s all that promising … at least not that’s been announced.
What to expect:
Since most games are going multi-platform, Microsoft will probably maintain its lead over Sony, though the gap may be tightened if Sony can pick up steam. That being said, Microsoft will probably remain behind Nintendo, unless they roll out some big surprises at this year’s E3.
Company advice:
Stay the course. There’s not much for Microsoft to do (short of branching out to casual gamers), to keep its current second-place rank in the hardware race. Maintaining an edge over Sony as well as its dominant share of the hardcore market should be relatively easy, as long as quality, hardcore-friendly exclusives continue to grace the system.
Best bets: Halo Wars (Xbox 360), Madden ’10, BioShock 2, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (multi)
Wild cards: Velvet Assassin, Ninja Blade (Xbox 360), Batman: Arkham Asylum (multi)


What’s good:
Finally, there’s some good news for the Wii’s hardcore gaming market. There’s a new Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles game coming out, as well as the sequel to Treasure’s infamous Sin and Punishment and Sega’s ultra-violent, visually arresting Madworld. Nintendo is also slated to release the Motion Plus, a fine-tuned motion sensor attachment for the Wiimote, which could bring an end to sloppy waggle controls.
The DS front is looking promising, too, with new installments in the Pokemon, Grand Theft Auto and Suikoden series, as well as some good-looking niche titles.
What’s not so good:
The continuing, endless stream of horrible bargain-bin casual games designed to part unsuspecting consumers from their gaming dollar; a lack of solid first-party Nintendo games (as of yet) on the horizon; the North American launch of the DSi, which thus far seems only to bring useless picture-taking functions to DS games.
What to expect:
Nintendo’s lead will not ease up in 2009, regardless of what happens to Sony and Microsoft. However, the casual gaming craze seems like it might die down somewhat. Also, after last year’s lackluster showing at E3, expect to see some classic Nintendo series revisited again. After all, there was no Zelda game released in ’08.…
Company advice:
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. The casual game market may be booming, but its supremacy can’t last forever—especially not if innovation within the would-be genre starts to run dry. Don’t forget about the Nintendo loyalists that want to see their Wii used for more than year-old Super Mario Galaxy and Wii Fit and make some new Nintendo games they actually want to see. Finally, take a cue from Wario Land: Shake It! and release some more 2D games for the Wii.
Best bets: Wii Sports: Resort, The Conduit, Deadly Creatures (Wii), Pokemon Platinum, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (DS)
Wild cards: Onechanbara: Bikini Zombie Slayers, Madworld, House of the Dead: OVERKILL (Wii), Scribblenauts (DS)