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1:09 PM on 02.06.2014

U-Fail: Why the Wii U Isn’t the End for Nintendo

We can barely open our RSS feeds these days without being slapped on the chops by some headline about the end of Nintendo. The company with a veritable army of industry geniuses and the organization directly spot responsible for the renaissance of the videogame industry after it fell flat on its shovelware-laden ass in the 1980s seems destined for the fail of a century. 
Or does it? Is Nintendo really about to let its beloved plumbers go down the drain? Let our favorite green-clad adventurer fall on his sword? Let that airborne fox of theirs do a fatal barrel roll? Or are the hyped media headlines just to boost the click through-rates and grab attention? Well, probably the best way to start is with some solid facts.
Waning Nintendo Sales Figures
Currently, the Wii U is Nintendo’s flagship console. With its simplistic “Fisher Price iPad” tablet-for-a-controller, it’s lagging behind in the sales department. What about Nintendo’s three-dimensional pocket rocket, the 3DS, you say? Same thing, albeit not so badly. There’s nothing wrong with being optimistic in general, but arguably the sales projections took things a little too far.

Nintendo expected Wii U sales for March 2013 to April 2014 to hit 9 million units. In the light of poor sales and the fully-raging console wars, it slashed that number, down to 2.8 million. The Nintendo 3DS didn’t take such a big hit, but projections went down from 18 million to 13.5 million.

When the Wii U originally launched, it sold around 400,000 units. Compare this with the PlayStation 4 for example, that hit 4.2 million units by mid-January. These are not sexy numbers for Nintendo’s board meetings (granted, Nintendo has never truly claimed to be sexy).
Where Did Nintendo Go Wrong: Graphics?
After the stomping success of the Wii, Nintendo proved that a console’s success wasn’t simply down to the amount of horsepower inside these little boxes of geeky joy. Graphics, are not the be-all-end-all, even if some PC gamers may disagree. Is it possible the manufacturer underestimated the necessity for at least some decent horsepower?
Nintendo’s a combination of a software and hardware brand. This lack of horsepower is fine for the Pikmins, Marios and even Zelda’sof the world. But military first person shooters and other complicated games perhaps left developers feeling a little alienated from the platform. Imagine what Battlefield 4 would look like on the Wii U? But hey, we can always hold out for Nintendogz…

Where Did Nintendo Go Wrong: Controller?
Did this oversight go hand-in-hand with an underestimation of how key a role the Wii Mote played in the success of the previous console? Okay sure, tablet devices are popular these days, but do we necessarily want a second (or indeed, a third) to enjoy video games on our TV via a console?

Nintendo made a name for itself many things and just one of them is its obscure, innovative peripherals and interfaces. The downside of this is, of course, it’s basically a hit or miss deal. Because you just don’t know how well-received it’ll be by the gaming community unless it’s some super-sick ninja gadget of unimaginable amazingness. Nintendo sometimes hovers dangerously close to the gimmicky side.
A Different Species of Gamers
Some Nintendo franchises resonate strongly with the core gamer, Zelda being a good example. Also, many have a solid mass appear like Wii Sports. But key 1st party titles alone simply aren’t enough to fuel the entire lifespan of a console. They may be almost enough to justify purchasing the unit for a handful of hard-core fans with tri-force tattoos on their forearms, but that’s as far as it goes.

While the Wii did a phenomenal job grabbing the casual market and turning the masses into “would-be gamers” they seemed to forget that casual gamers in general don’t care about upgrading their system. Not surprisingly, casual gamers tend to take the ‘if it isn’t broke’ approach when it comes to gaming. With the core gamers seemingly neglected for so long it’s no wonder the Wii U didn’t sell well.

Many argued the explosion in mobile gaming wasn’t enough to affect Nintendo’s sales figures, but with standalone GPUs in cell phones and tablets becoming increasingly powerful, it’s now difficult to ignore the data. When you consider 2013 saw 1 billion smartphones and 200 million tablets sold, how many of these do you think grabbed the attention of the very same younglings that would have been consuming cartridge classics on the NES 20 years ago?
Nintendo Isn’t Going Anywhere…
In spite of lackluster sales, Nintendo isn’t going anywhere soon. Including the original Nintendo DS (which sold 150 million units in 10 years), the company has literally hundreds of millions consoles out there producing many tens of millions of game sales every year. With such a considerable empire and some of the greatest minds the gaming industry has ever produced in its top positions, it’s only a matter of time before this great company stages a comeback. Hopefully it will rectify the atrocity was the Virtual Boy and jump in on the immersion bandwagon we’ll all be enjoying in the near future.

6:00 PM on 01.21.2014

What Exactly is a "Real Gamer?"

Are you a “real gamer”? How can you be sure? Maybe you think you’re a real gamer, but you actually don’t fit somebody else’s definition of a real gamer. Maybe you’re love for videogames is newly found, and you think you’re a real gamer, but actually there’s this whole other gaming world to which you’re completely oblivious.As ever, it’s the tricky subjects that has The Ultimate Gamer team in heated, fervent debates this week. The idea of what constitutes a “real gamer” us up there with the trickiest of them. Nature Vs nurture? Is morality objective? Should euthanasia be legal? Wtf do people watch the X-Factor?
Perhaps more importantly, it’s a question that potentially creates a divide amongst the gaming community. And maybe that’s a bad thing. But what even is a “real gamer” in the first place?

Is it a Matter of Genre?
Some genres are considered more “serious” than others. For example, an avid Bubble Bobble player is arguably less of a real gamer (whatever that means) than the average Starcraft II addict. But then, many people play who consider themselves real gamers enjoyed a good session of Bubble Bobble back in the day, glued in front of their Sega Master System on a Sunday afternoon. But then, what about people who play nothing but ARMA? This are a very serious video game. But are they real gamers by default? Some say they’re not because that’s the only game they ever play and they apparently just want to kill each other in as realistic a setting as possible. Some people argue the Call of Duty Players are “not real gamers”, but then someone else who plays almost nothing but Counterstrike 1.6 is a real gamer. We guess it’s not down to genre.
If one thing’s for sure, whoever these “real gamers” are, there seems to be some animosity between them and casual and mobile gamers. Hey, we’re all gamers here, right? Are these casual, CoD-playing, mobile gamers really just a bunch of lowly noobs?
Why all the Gamer on Gamer Hate?
We’ve all been in the situation. We attend a party, get chatting to a stranger, there’s a potential for geeking out. Cool. We ask if they’re a gamer, secretly hoping we don’t get laughed at. “Oh yeah, I am!” they reply. Excellent! We get ready to ask if they’re following the development of Fez II, but they keep on talking. “Yeah, I play Wii Golf… Sometimes Mario. Nothing else really…” Ugh.
These days, a similar situations happens with mobile or casual gamers. Maybe it’s Farmville, maybe it’s Candy Crash. Puzzle Quest is a best-case scenario. These people are not considered “real gamers” by many, but ironically they’re doing a great service to our industry.
Real gamers are being born left right and center. The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 smashed the launch sales figures of their respective predecessors many times over. Where are these new gamers coming from? We cited the TED statistic before that planet earth now spends 3 billion hours a week gaming. Market research shows the number of Americans playing videogames exploded to hundreds of millions around 2008 shortly after the original iPhone was released.
Casual Gaming: The Gateway Drug
Digital distribution platforms brought to the living room by Sony and Microsoft, offer a myriad of casual games on the big screen. Many of these titles range from Bubble Bobble-esque creations marketed right alongside endearing indie successes such as World of Goo. It’s only one or two stepping stones until you’re looking at Fez and Super Meat Boy, and how can someone not fall in love with games like that?
Casual and mobile games may be mostly enjoyed while “dropping the kids off at the pool,” but we believe they’re also serving as a gateway drug. Maybe it’s the metaphorical marijuana leading unsuspecting gaming-addicts-to-be onto their harder, syringe-based fixes? The kind offered by the Starcraft II, Battlefield 4 and World of Warcraft sessions we all feast upon like insatiably hungry, ravenous gaming junkies (we bet MAVAV think so…).
It’s good for the Industry
 Perhaps more importantly, these budding gamers are pumping serious amounts of cash into our most beloved of industries. Surely, this can’t be a bad thing? The Ultimate Gamer team feels we should be encouraging and nurturing the newcomers to our favorite hobby and rejoicing in the fact that billions of hours each week are being invested wisely into this most noble of pastimes. Less hate, please. More gaming love. Gamers of any creed or preference are very welcome on our blog.
Now, if you’ll excuse us, it’s time for a number 2 and some Fieldrunners…   read

12:36 PM on 01.17.2014

Top 11 Characters to Define 8 Years of Last-Gen Consoles

Aaah, the next-gen consoles. After a great deal of anticipation, they’re finally current-gen consoles. We’re sure you’re enjoying yours as much as we are. We can stare longingly at high-definition YouTube videos ‘till we’re blue in the face. But nothing quite compares to jumping in and experiencing those graphics first-hand. But what about the last-gen machines? That was a pretty spectacular decade, right?

Many of those games will hold a special place in our hearts for decades to come. This depending on your age, that decade may have marked a significant part of your educational years, one or two long-term jobs or maybe even a relationship (if you’re lucky) with a certain gamer girlfriend. More likely, it was the person you were always making excuses to so you could find more time bonding with your favorite videogame protagonists… Or antagonist if you’re anything like some of our more nefarious coworkers here in the office.

Either way, here are The Ultimate Gamer team’s top 11 videogame characters from this outstanding decade. We had enough arguments pinning down the top eleven, so we left it there and they’re in no particular order….

1. Marcus Fenix: Gears of War

Rumor has it that Marcus Phoenix’s jaw was previously employed as an anvil in an old-school blacksmithery in rural England. Who would have thought? Also featured in our article Top 10 Gaming Badasses article (along with one or two others on this list). Oh, and also the time when we projected the game onto a 40-foot wide building for some supersize widescreen action… we spent many hours staring over the shoulder of this is epitome of a soldier hero.


[b][i]2. Sackboy: Little Big Planet
[/i][/b]Ok, so he’s not quite the raging war machine Fenix might be, but this little son-of-a beanbag played an important role in the previous generation. There were even schools that bought PlayStation 3s so that kids could create calculators and other things in the digital confines of Little Big Planet. Surely that feat alone makes it worthy of the putting this iconic videogame on our list, does it not?

3. Nathan Drake: Uncharted Many cynics were skeptical about Uncharted was it first announced. The game looked like a visual glory fest trying to appeal to be a male Lara Croft but with her….. more endearing qualities. Drake is the every man’s man, taking on the kind of Indiana Jones style adventure we all wish we could experience IRL. The way the sequences were framed and the way our vulnerable hero stumbled on through the hardships holds a special place in our hearts.


4. Tim: Braid
Braid was a very special videogame indeed. Leading up to the release of this title, the indie scene was bubbling furiously under the mainstream surface like never before. It felt like this was the first title to really smash through the surface and achieve great heights. It played a big role in paving the way for the mass consumption of the incredibly inspiring world of indie games; a contribution to the industry that’s difficult to overstate and that we’ll always be grateful for.

[b][i]5. Commander Shepard: Mass effect
[/i][/b]Shephard. He was a man. She was a woman. Blue alien sex happened. Our respective commanders stayed with us through three incredible titles, offering some of the best sci-fi action ever conceived in a videogame. Mass Effect set the bar unfeasibly high. Our individual roles within the dynamic stories as tangoes with the press, the politics and baddies offered up in the franchise’s game universe were truly unforgettable.

[b][i]6. GLaDOS: Portal
[/i][/b]When the Valve’s Orange Box title was released on the Xbox 360, the days were young for this of generation consoles. We all enjoyed Team Fortress 2, but GLaDOS with her satirical, dark sarcasm and cake-hustling promises came from a voice that will be recognized instantly by gamers the world over until the day we die. The character was refined beautifully in Portal 2 to and we can only hope for more in the future.


[b][i]7. Captain John Price: Call of Duty
[/i][/b]Call of Duty. What can we say? Love it or hate it, this game may have had more of an impact on the gaming industry and civilization as a whole than any other that has come before it. Captain John Price is arguably the pin-up for this most infamous of videogames. He’s earned a place on the list.


8. Master Chief: Halo
What Call of Duty took to all kinds of next level, Halo arguably started. The previous generation of consoles saw this franchise go from strength to strength and it seemed like just about everybody and their mothers (often literally) were jumping on board. It brought online FPS multiplayer to the masses in a digestible way that opened up countless thousands to our favorite hobby, helping them understand what it means to be a gamer.

9. Kratos: God of War
The God of War series for the PlayStation 3 is a franchise that’s genuinely difficult to overstate how ludicrous the epic it really is. What an unrivalled demigod deity of the badass. Kratos worked his way to the ends of the multiverse as he got manipulated like a pawn of the Gods, taking on the most powerful beings ever conjured up by the great human minds of the history books. We loved puzzling and pounding our way through a graphically spectacular and thoroughly gripping gaming experience.

10. Elizabeth: BioShock Infinite
Arguably the life and emotional soul of the game. We couldn’t go through the article without giving Elizabeth a mention, not least of all because BioShock should be here, too. Watching this innocent, charmingly naive youth develop into a courageous adult was a pleasure and a wonderful experience to enjoy in between mowing down endless scores re-animated soldiers.

11. Clap Trap: Borderlands
Ah, Clap Trap. The little robot that has delusions of grandeur and who’s only weakness was stairs… Next to electrocution, explosions, gunfire, rust, corrosion, being kicked a lot, viruses, being called names, falling from great heights, drowning, adult onset diabetes, being looked at funny, heart attacks, being exposed to oxygen, being turned down by women and pet allergens… Anyway, he deserves a solid mention if only because he stood out as the comic relief in a game full of comic relief.

The next 10 years promise to deliver some truly incredible gaming experiences. We’re looking forward to the various journeys and pwnage this next decade brings us. And here, at the beginning of that road, we turn around briefly to pay homage and salutes to those fond memories of nostalgic goodness we leave behind.   read

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