Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The "Next Generation" 5 years in

[Written in February 2010]

It has been 5 years since the current generation of home consoles began with the Xbox 360 in 2005. A lot has happened over the years. We've seen online gaming explode in popularity, graphics almost reaching photorealism, and the rise of downloadable games. However, with all these technological advancements, have videogames truly gotten better? Does this current generation of consoles deserve to be called the "next generation"?

My answer is a reluctant "yes", simply because, in my opinion, this generation just barely qualifies as "next generation", for nearly every game made these days could have been done in the past. Sure, they wouldn't have been as pretty, or had the best internet functionality, but what do those two things matter when considering the game itself?

Videogames are meant to be played. Lately, it feels like I'm watching more than I'm playing in videogames. Videogames like Mass Effect 2 and Metal Gear Solid 4 simply came across as a chore, because while the games have detailed graphics and high production values, when it came time for me to take control, the game just felt so basic; thereby making the gameplay simply a means to progress the story, rather than something to be experienced. In so many games these days, it feels like you "play to watch", rather than "play to play" like it should be. Story is an important part of videogames, but games should always be equal parts story and gameplay; and if there must be a focus on story, the game better be an RPG. When I play an action game, the gameplay should be the main highlight.

Simply put, I am very disappointed with this generation of videogames. This disappointment stems from the standards that have been set by the past generations and this current generation not meeting those standards. This current gen has seen many, many great games, but very few have been truly impressive.

This is a result of game developers focusing too much on technology, which is taking away the originality and style that developers had in the past.

For example, look at Capcom's Street Fighter IV. Street Fighter IV is a huge step backwards from the masterpiece that is Street Fighter III: Third Strike. Gameplay, style, music, whatever you look at, Third Strike did it better than SFIV. This was due to Capcom's decision to appeal to a mass market, and induce nostalgia by esentially remaking Street Fighter II: The World Warrior. Furthermore, Capcom has ditched 2D sprites for 3D models, which further appeal to the mass market.

In the past, there were revolutionary games that set standards of how we play games. Games such as Metroid Prime, Shadow of the Colossus, Okami, Pikmin,Metal Gear Solid, Viewtiful Joe, SoulCalibur, and many more. These games set standards because they took many risks in their design and brought fresh ideas to the market. Now the market is saturated by sequel upon sequel, which only improve upon their predecessors through better graphics without truly advancing gameplay.

Unfortunately, this generation has seen a decline in the diversity of videogames in the market as well, with RPGs being a rare sight now, as well as pretty much any genre that isn't a 1st or 3rd person shooter. This market is dominated by one thing: the almighty dollar. The result is killing off developers left and right, and causing developers to take very few risks; which is a shame.

I have enjoyed many games with generation. The highlights of this generation for me have been Bayonetta, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Super Mario Galaxy, Muramasa: The Demon Blade, the World Ends With You, SoulCalibur IV, WarioWare Smooth Moves, King of Fighters XII, Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm, Valkyria Chronicles, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, and Uncharted 2. But, the true standouts of this generation are the games that I play and realize that I am truly playing a "next generation" game, these games are:

-Bayonetta: gameplay, gameplay, gameplay, that is what Bayonetta delivers in spades above every other action game in existance. Bayonetta's gameplay depth showed me what was possible with a lot of creativity, superb design, and great execution. It helped that the game was gorgeous as well, but the gameplay was the first great step forward that the 3D action genre needed this generation.

-Super Mario Galaxy: Galaxy was truly a game from Nintendo, because there was so much gameplay diversity in Galaxy that it felt like a completely fresh experience. The gameplay design of Galaxy is simply genius, and really felt like a step forward in game design after the stellar Super Mario 64.

-Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm: I am no fan of the Naruto manga series, but this game is something to be admired by every game developer on the planet due to CyberConnect2's incredible graphics and animation. This game brought cel-shading to the next level, and is not only well detailed, but is almost unbelievable in motion; rivaling that of animation. The animation in this game is beyond anything any other game has accomplished. Omitting the factor of art direction, NUNS is the best looking game out right now; and I think the only game to surpass it will be it's sequel.

-The World Ends With You: an incredible gaming experience that completely takes advantage of it's hardware. Every facet of the DS hardware was used in TWEWY to great effect, from the incredible graphics, fantastic soundtrack, and superbly executed gameplay. TWEWY is a shinging example of how to use the freedom given to you as a game developer and let your creativity flourish.

My disappointment has been explained in my other blogs, so I will stop here with the complaints.

I am very critical when it comes to choosing which games to play, especially in this current generation. I believe there is so much more than can be accomplished with modern consoles, but very few are taking advantage. However, the future is looking rather bright with Metroid: Other M and Zelda Wii coming from Nintendo, Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 from CyberConnect2, Final Fantasy XIII and Versus XIII from Square-Enix, Vanquish from PlatinumGames, and several mystery titles that could be legends in the making, such as MistWalker's 'The Last Story', Monolith's 'Xenoblade', and Vanillaware's next game.

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