Today is arguably the most significant day in 2013’s gaming calendar. Exactly one week after Sony gave the console industry a much-needed boost with the record breaking North American PS4 launch, and one week before it hopes to repeat the trick with the system’s European release, it’s Microsoft’s turn to hog the spotlight as it makes its own jump into the next generation.
While the company’s extensive marketing muscle and extravagant launch celebrations across the globe will ensure that much of the coverage offered to games focuses on Xbox One’s release, readers of sites like this one will know that new consoles only tell half the story of this magical month. Just as excitingly, today also marks the release of three games that run rings around the vast majority of next-gen launch titles.
Unlike the first wave of Xbox One and PS4 games, these titles also show their more mature host platforms at their best. Alright, it’s true that Super Mario 3D World does little to utilise the GamePad in innovative ways, but after a disappointing launch year for Wii U, Nintendo finally has the killer app its console has been sorely missing. I can only hope the game’s review scores are matched by stellar sales and that it helps to shift a ton of consoles.
Like 3D World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds has attracted rave reviews. Following a slow start, not all that dissimilar to Wii U's, 3DS sales have rocketed this year thanks to the regular release of critically acclaimed software. The likes of Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D, Animal Crossing New Leaf, Pokemon X & Y, and now Link Between Two Worlds have made it a vintage year for 3DS.
In LittleBigPlanet developer Media Molecule’s excellent, Tearaway, Vita too appears to have found the game it has been missing since launch--something perfectly crafted to the handheld’s unique form and capabilities. It’s disappointing that the title missed its original October release date because it may get overlooked in all the next-gen bluster, but hopefully it will achieve decent sales over time. Either way, it’s another one of those standout, non-traditional first party games you just have to love Sony for backing.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m super excited about next-gen consoles, and there's nothing quite like unboxing a new piece of hardware, but the truth is I’m most excited about the promise of future games and experiences on Xbox One and PS4 than I am about what’s available at launch. Tony Key, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Ubisoft, recently explained why console launch games are so often underwhelming.
"Right now, all publishers are transitioning their development resources," he told GamesIndustry International. "For a game like Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag, most of the sales are still going to be on current generation platforms. We can't make a version for PS4 or Xbox One that's so wildly different that we can't market them together. So, for now, developers and designers are focused on making a game that works really well on all of the systems--but as we transition resources to the next gen, it's going to be more difficult to do that because the power of these machines is going to allow so much more creativity."
It's here that you look for console exclusives to pick up the slack, but with a few exceptions like Killzone and Forza, these have been largely underwhelming. Yes, Ryse is a technical showcase for its host platform, but it’s gameplay rather than graphics that stands the test of time, so it seems likely that we'll remember Tearaway and Super Mario 3D World more fondly in years to come than we will Crytek's Roman revenge tale, or indeed Knack, which was directed by Mark Cerny, PS4's lead system architect. That said, today is an amazing day to be a console gamer no matter where your allegiance may lie.