Even though the century is young, there have already been a number of big announcements from major players in the video game industry. Few people saw Rare's break up with Nintendo coming, and even less could have predicted that Sega would get out of the hardware market all together. These are just a few of the stories that gave us something to ponder and discuss; events that probably aren't that big in the grand scheme of things, but certainly seemed like they were at the time.
Knowing what we know now, I figured it might be fun to take a look at some of these recent announcements and how they fared. Perhaps Rare would have been better off sticking with Nintendo, or maybe they should have gone third party like Sega. Over the next five pages we will dissect
Read on to see what this is all about!!
all of these big stories and determine whether it was a good idea or bad idea, in something I like to call a Report Card.
Of course, I'm not the first person to use term "report card," internet users old enough to read this should be familiar with their importance in school. They let your parents know how you're doing, so they can figure out the proper way of motivating you. We thought this was a good idea, and came up with a feature that will remind you just why report cards suck.
Note: The grades are not determined on what I think of the news, but rather how much of their intended goal they have fulfilled. If a company announces they are going to release 75 games this year, but they only manage to get 5 out, chances are they will get a failing grade
Report Card: Square and Nintendo
We introduce one mean dude who never quite looked this impressive on the 8-Bit Nintendo Entertainment System!
Though role-playing games weren't popular at the time, the genre was just starting to pick up some speed when Square said goodbye to Nintendo. With a trio of Final Fantasy games, Chrono Trigger, and even Super Mario RPG, it was clear that Square was the best, and most versatile role-playing developer on the planet. At the time Nintendo didn't know what they had lost, but over the next decade Square would help create a global demand for a genre only the Japanese had cared about.
For the good part of a decade these two giant companies exchanged dirty looks, never talking out, but never acknowledging the greatness, either. For years gamers wondered if these two companies would ever see eye to eye, and perhaps put their differences behind them. Well, for millions of loyal Nintendo fans, 2003 was the year they had been waiting for. Not only did Square announce their plans to work with Big N, but they even released a few games.
Current Situation: Within months of Square and Nintendo announcing their reconciliation, the companies had titles on the market. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance resurrected a popular PlayStation role-playing game and upgraded it for the 21st century. They also found time to release the long-awaited next installment to the Secret of Mana franchise, Sword of Mana.
Things were a little slower on the GameCube, unfortunately. Loyal console gamers didn't have a chance to play a Square Enix home game until earlier this year, and what they got was generally regarded as a disappointment. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicle may be
The epic battles found in Final Fantasy XI won't be making their way to the GameCube any time soon!
named after a popular franchise, but fans had problems with the non-traditional game play and expensive multi-player set-up.
Future Prognosis: Though Square-Enix has promised more titles for Nintendo systems, they have yet to announce anything other than a GameBoy Advance sequel to Kingdom Hearts. True fans of the role-playing giant would be better to look towards Sony's PlayStation 2 for the AAA titles, like Final Fantasy XII, Kingdom Hearts 2, among others. While it's certainly nice to have Nintendo and Square back to a civil relationship, you have to admit that Square is doing as little as possible to move this friendship to the next level. Without a few big announcements at E3, one can only wonder if this truce was nothing more than window dressing.
Report Card: The Rebirth of SNK
SNK has so many beautiful game characters, it's extremely difficult to narrow it down to one!
Though almost everybody knows about the Neo*Geo and at least a few popular SNK titles, few are aware of the soap opera-like life and death struggle they faced only a few years ago. A lifetime of debt, poor decisions, and money problems left SNK in ruin, left with bankruptcy as their only salvation. A year later, thanks to the help of companies like Playmore, SNK was given that extra life they were so desperately waiting for. This new incarnation promised to be smarter, and embrace the current media with as much gusto as they could afford.
Current Situation: Many would argue that SNK's recent selection of home titles have lacked the excitement of other next generation games, but at least they are releasing games. SNK has had something of a checkered past when it came to home systems (other than their Neo*Geo console, of course). Back in the good old days of 16-Bitters, third party companies like Takara were forced to scale down games to release them on the Genesis or Super NES. And it didn't get much better in the 32-Bit era, when SNK seemed to only release ports of their dismal 3D titles. So maybe the bar was just set too low, or maybe I'm just nostalgic, but whatever the case, I'm happy just to be getting arcade ports of fun, if only niche, 2D games.
Though the critics dogged it, SNK thanked their fans by releasing a two-for-the-price-of-one package of
King of the Fighter ports, smacked with a budget price from the get-go. And other titles, such as Metal Slug 3 and SNK vs. Capcom, will feature online features thanks to the Xbox Live. It's also worth mentioning that SNK impressed not once, but twice with top notch GameBoy Advance versions of King of Fighters.
Future Prognosis: Just as long as SNK can keep up releasing arcade ports, their fans will continue to be pleased. The critics will always protest that 2D fighters are pass?, and there is no place for King of the Fighters sequels, but there's a market for it, and a surprising amount of gamers who prefer it to the 3D extravaganza of Soul Calibur II. It may not be a majority, but there's certainly enough room in this world for both kind of gamers.
SNK has promised a number of new titles, a few even using Atomisware, the Sammy engine that was used to create games like Guilty Gears XX. With a new, better graphic engine, and online play, the future could be very bright for SNK . as long as they play their cards right and don't mess it up like they did in the past. For now it seems like they have a pretty secure footing, though.
Report Card: Rare & the Xbox
Joanna wonders if she overpacked for her duck hunt!
If it felt like a heart attack when Square left to make PlayStation games, then chances are Rare jumping ship probably made your heart stop and blood run cold. These are companies that for the good part of two decades have been the best of friends. Together they developed a few of the most memorable mascot games of all time, many of which would inspire countless clones.
In the past Nintendo had relied heavily on Rare's reputation for high quality titles, especially when it came to 3D titles. It's hard to imagine what would have happened to the Nintendo 64 had Rare not been on board with games like GoldenEye 007, Conker's Bad Fur Day, Perfect Dark, and Banjo-Kazooie. And let's not forget that Rare was responsible for most of the Donkey Kong games we know and love. So when Microsoft ended up buying into the company responsible for Diddy Kong Racing, I think it's safe to say that an entire generation of Nintendo fans felt as if they had just woke up in some strange parallel universe.
Current Situation: So far Rare has only released one Xbox game, the instantly forgettable Grabbed by the Ghoulies. I think most gamers are willing to give a company like Rare a pass when it comes to misses, since when they hit their mark it's usually far and away better than anything else on the market. Rare's current problem, though, is how to get gamers interested in their two other games, the quirky but ultimately dull Kameo: Elements of Power, and the Conker's Bad Fur Day remake, Conker: Live & Uncut. Both games could shape up to be major titles, but the prospect of a Star Fox Adventure rip-off and a remake of a three year old Nintendo 64 game doesn't do much for me.
No matter how good the Conker remake is, it's still going to have to compete with Ninja Gaiden, Halo 2 and all of the other big Xbox titles of 2004!
Something else that has to be thinking about is how little press their games are getting compared to the other big titles on the Xbox. Compared to Halo 2, Splinter Cell: Pandora's Tomorrow, Fable, and Ninja Gaiden, Rare's offerings have received very little coverage. Had this line up been for the GameCube, it would seem plausible that they would be the AAA titles that everybody is talking about. The stakes are higher on the Xbox and it's not good enough to just release good games, you really have to be on top of your game if you want to compete with the likes of Halo 2. So far Rare has proven to not be up to that challenge.
Future Prognosis: It's up in the air on how gamers react to Rare's somewhat shaky start on Microsoft's super system. A lot of gamers are just waiting for one of Rare's big titles, a game that would be a major coup against all the competition. Unfortunately Rare's sequel to Perfect Dark won't see the light of day for at least two years, and will probably ship on something other than the current generation Xbox. It's yet to be seen how long Rare's back catalog of classics will hold up before gamers get restless for another gem.
Report Card: Arts & the PlayStation 2 Online
The conceptual artwork for Medal of Honor: Rising Sun is better than the actual game!
If you ask Microsoft, their 2002 launch of the Xbox Live went off without a hitch. With dozens of companies and over 50 online titles, the company responsible for Windows had a reason to be excited; they had a success on their hands. But while tens of thousands of people flocked to game stores to see what the hype was all about, one thought continued to linger: Where is Electronic Arts?!?
Although Madden was online on the PS2, Xbox owners weren't privy to the same play modes. At first it was just a silent agreement, but due in part to the constant questioning, Electronic Arts officially signed an exclusivity deal with Sony at E3 2003. This agreement would keep EA's online titles only on the PlayStation 2 for the foreseeable future. Considering the software giant's enormous clout in the game world, this had the potential to be a devastating blow for Microsoft's upstart online venture.
Current Situation: In a lot of ways 2003 wasn't the strong year Electronic Arts had hoped for. Need for Speed Underground didn't hit the high water mark left by 2002's Hot Pursuit 2. Likewise, Medal of Honor Rising Sun couldn't hold a candle next to Frontline, widely considered one of the PS2's finest first person shooters. But while their software wasn't as solid, there was no questioning their undying support for online games.
The truth is, no matter what kind of game you liked, chances are you would be able to play it online. Everybody expected EA's always popular sports titles to be playable online, but few expected games like the Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King, the Sims: Bustin' Out, and Everything or Nothing to follow suit. It's too early to tell if this will inspire other publishers to include features on all titles, no matter if they are only two player games.
It would be wrong to simply talk about the surprise online games without mentioning all the high quality titles you can also play against friends all around the world. Games like SSX 3, which is not only the best snowboarding game currently on the market, but also the our Second Best Game of 2003
Beyond Good & Evil is also on that list of the Top 20 Games of 2003, but unlike Need for Speed Underground, nobody bought it!
(if you believe this article). Or NFL Street, the game that NFL Blitz always wanted to be, and still one of the best multi-player games on the market. There is also their huge line-up of traditional sports titles, such as Madden and MVP Baseball 2004, each with downloadable rosters and the ability to use the voice chat. In almost every way Electronic Arts is show all other third parties what is needed to make successful online games, hopefully it will lead us to a future of exciting multi-player options.
Future Prognosis: So far Electronic Arts is pretty hush-hush, but most people are excited for this year's entries in the popular sports series. There has also been a lot of rumbling about a new Need for Speed title, and even a sequel to GoldenEye featuring the villain the started it all (in the movies at least), Dr. No! But no matter what games Electronic Arts has in store for us, there's a pretty good chance they will all be online, which is what's important.
The wild card is Microsoft, who may still have enough money and power to snag a few online exclusives. It's not unreasonable to think that if EA's stock starts to fall, they may consider taking advantage of the Xbox. In a lot of ways Electronic Arts is the power player in this deal, and Sony knows it. If EA were to take their online games over to Microsoft it would cripple Sony's hopes for maintaining dominance in this newly waged online war. It's yet to be seen how loyal Electronic Arts is, but judging from their track record, I'd say that PlayStation 2 owners will have this one argument for some time to come.
Report Card: Sega as a Third Party
Sonic gives you the finger and the fat!
For a lot of gamers who grew up with 8-Bit systems, the rivalry between Nintendo and Sega was legendary. For years they tried to outdo one another, with mascots, with systems, with accessories, and even advertising . Nintendo vs. Sega was a battle like no other in video game's short history. Perhaps that's why it was so shocking when after four consoles, two portables, and countless add-ons, Sega decided to get out of the hardware market completely.
Sega realized that the video game industry of the late 80's and early 90's was not the same industry at the start of the 21st century. Companies like Sony and Microsoft were entering the market, and with their almost unlimited money and clout, Sega feared that their little Dreamcast may not be able to withstand the battle. Sensing defeat, Sega surprised us all (including its competition) by announcing that they would only be working on software from now on. And that's precisely what they've been doing for the last few years.
Current Situation: There's no denying that a lot of Sega's third party titles have been exceptional games proving that they are the masters when it comes to game design. But then, in the last few years there have been a lot of stumbles, perhaps even more than your average company would have. Few people would argue that Sega will always have great games, but have they lost their touch? Should a well established company like Sega have this many duds?
Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution ended up winning over critics to become one of the best fighting games of 2003, yet Sega GT Online could barely provide the online experience it's title promised. Panzer Dragoon Orta resurrected a series many thought was long
dead, yet Vectorman didn't make it past last year's E3 before being cancelled. It has been a very hit and miss year for Sega, to say the least.
Future Prognosis: Assuming that Sega can tough out some sluggish sales and disappointing earnings, I suspect we'll see the return of the cutting-edge Sega we all grew up loving. Besides their sports line-up, Sega has a number of exciting titles including the rebirth of the OutRun franchise. So far American audiences have been luke warm about sequels to classic games, but I have a feeling that this game could turn things around.
Sega's number one job should be finding somebody to police the quality control. There's no excuse for games like the King of Route 66 to find their way to the market, not at full price at least. If they can find more games like the upcoming, and spectacular, Astroboy game for the GameBoy Advance, then we could see the second coming of one of the greatest developers of all time.