MEANWHILE, THE OTHER GUYS…

A lot has happened in the world of gaming since my last post, so I’m hitting the ground running, so to speak.

Who are “the other guys?”  As we rush headlong into the release of the Playstation 4 (November 14th) and the Xbox One (November 22nd), the other relevant actors in the gaming stage are not standing still.  Some of them are just following their business model, which just happens to affect gaming, while others are clearly reacting to the incoming Sony and Microsoft hardware.

In the latter camp is Nintendo.  With its Wii U just sitting in stores, and stagnating Nintendo 3DS sales in the U.S., it clearly needed to do something before Sony and Microsoft stole Christmas 2012 from under them.  With this in mind, about a week ago, the company announced a price cut for the Wii U… it’s phasing out the $299 white Wii U, and moving the black Wii U Dekuxe bundle to that price point.  While the Wii U has drawn a lot of undeserved hatred (mostly from Xbox 360 and PS3 fans who don’t like Nintendo franchises anyway.  It has been my experience that the Wii U naysayers have never actually used one)  it’s a truly next-generation console with a lot of compelling features.  Its Netflix and Hulu Plus apps are the best of any platform, and let you stream content to the tablet controller with just a touch of the gamepad, and it’s powerful enough to run Bayonetta 2 at 1080p and 60 fps.  However, with the PS4 and Xbox One looming ever closer, only time will tell if sales will pick up at that price point.  As an additional incentive, Nintendo is releasing a Legend of Zelda:  The Windwaker HD Wii U Special Edition bundle at the same $299 price point.

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Nintendo also announced a new version of their handheld, the Nintendo 2DS.  Its basically a Nintendo 3DS, but in a non-clamshell form-factor and with the Sharp 3D screen removed, which allows Nintendo to sell it at a lower price point of $129.  It also allays the fears of parents who have held off on buying a 3DS for their kids 5 yrs old and younger because ophtalmologists and neurologists have said that the 3D effect is bad for their eyes and brains.  It also means 3D is basically dead, and 3DS owners won’t get any more 3D games.  Whether that matters to you is something you have to decide for yourself.

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Sony also had some Tokyo Game Show announcements, and more than a couple of surprises up its sleeve.  Apart from announcing that the PS4 would launch in Japan on February 2014, three months after its North American debut, the company also announced a new, cost-reduced PS Vita (unofficially called the PS Vita Slim).  Sony has streamlined the Vita’s chip internals, and removed its AMOLED screen and replaced it with an LCD one, at the same $199 price point.  The new version of the handheld will be available in a variety of new colors.

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But Sony’s big surprise was the announcement of the PS Vita TV, a micro-console to compete with Apple TV and Roku, as well as the inexpensive Android-based consoles like the Ouya, at a $99 price point.  It’s compatible with PS1, PSP and PS Vita games (except the ones that require the handheld’s touchscreen or touchpads), and will support the usual TV streaming apps like Netflix and Hulu Plus and others.  The PS Vita TV is Japan-only for now, but it’s pretty clear that it’s part of Sony’s world-wide media strategy.  It’s also a terrific PS4 accessory, since it lets you stream PS4 games to TVs in other rooms of your house.

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Finally, Apple held its long-awaited iPhone Event this week.  The company announced two new models, as expected:  the iPhone 5s and the iPhone 5c.  The current iPhone 5 has been discontinued, though the Apple 4s will live on as a carrier giveaway with 2yr contract.  The iPhone 5c is a plastic, cost-reduced redesign of the current iPhone 5 aimed at China and emerging markets.  Since it contains essentially the same Apple A6 processor as the current iPhone 5 it’s of limited interest from a gaming perspective.  The iPhone 5s it’s a different matter, though.  The new device, though sporting the same screen resolution and an almost-identical form-factor to the current iPhone 5, will be based on Apple’s new A7 64-bit processor, couple with a more advanced GPU.  The end result is the most advanced portable gaming machine on the planet, as verified by Chair, makers of the new Infinity Blade 3, which will be released alongside the iPhone 5s and iOS7, the new version of Apple’s mobile device OS.

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The developers at chair have hinted that the iPhone 5s’ graphics and gameplay capabilities might rival even the Xbox One and PS4 (which, as I have discussed in previous posts, are actually not all that powerful, due to the weak AMD Jaguar CPU).  Though we don’t know exactly what the A7 chip is packing under the hood, outfits like Chipworks and Digital Foundry will undoubtedly tear the chip apart after launch and let us know its findings.  My guess would be an ARM Cortex A53 or A57 based CPU coupled with a PowerVR 6 GPU, but we’ll see.

OTHER STUFF

It seems that Xbox One and PS4 pre-orders are still open, and have yet to run out, contrary to what retailers had said before.  Microsoft has even stated that it expects to have units available for walk-in customers, not just pre-orders, which to me sounds like weaker demand than expected.  It till be interesting to see if Xbox One and PS4 sales match expectations, or if they will stall soon after launch, just like what happened with the Nintendo Wii U.  I have Google Plus friends who fully expect this to happen, saying that the game console is dead, killed by the PS/Steam, smartphones and tablets.  I like game consoles, but I’m sort of an old-fogie gamer… my 12 year-old son is more excited about his gaming PC w/ Steam and his iPad than his PS Vita these days, so it will be interesting to see what happens in that regard.  Disclaimer:  personally, I want the PS4, the Xbox One and the Wii U to succeed, but that’s just personal preference.

THE GAME OF THE WEEK

The game of the week is The Walking Dead on PS Vita.  It’s an old game available for almost every platform, but it’s awesome for playing on the Vita in a dark room, and it offers the choice of console or touch controls, which I love.

THE MMO OF THE WEEK

The MMO of the week is still Final Fantasy XIV:  A Realm Reborn.  A few of my Google Plus buddies have given up on the game due to the login issues, but they have finally been addressed.  Square Enix finally added more servers, and even a much needed AFK-player-kick function that logs them out after thirty minutes.

Honorable mention goes to World of Warcraft, which has been packed since the last patch.

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