Monday, April 6, 2009

Sane Gaming: Third Parties

Here we are on Wednesday night, and it's time to bust out that third promised post of the week. I plan to get back to the usual scheduled two next week. Tonight, in continuing to catch up, you get the fourth planned substantive post in the "Sane Gaming" series, which was originally intended to be posted last week.

This time, after lots of conceptual and ideological discussion of this fun electronic interaction-based medium, we're going to be getting down and dirty with a look at numerous individual third party game developers/publishers and discussing their decisions and overall performance this generation, citing many specific game examples. After all the discussion of the individual first parties, this is a necessary follow-up.

(And in the end, I'm finally getting this posted on Sunday night. It's taken me days to finish this ridiculously long post. Considering its length, you may want to read it incrementally, as opposed to trying to wade through all of it at once. This post is structured as so to make that an easier task. This is my Frankensteinian monster.)

Capcom - Given how much they've come up in the past posts on the topic now, I figure they're a good place to start. This generation, they've been woefully inconsistent, and often appeared to more or less be nestled firmly in Sony and Microsoft's pockets against better business sense, the two companies being known for openly paying third parties for exclusive software support. Following strong all-around software support on the Gameboy Advance, they scaled back DS support - undoubtedly under Sony pressure and payment - to focus on numerous financially unsuccessful PSP releases, like most PSP software. (The only exceptions being their portable Monster Hunter titles, which managed to strongly defy the usual PSP software sales trends.) On the DS front, as has been mentioned before, they've largely stuck to Mega Man series spin-offs - variations on the fairly mediocre and relatively rehashed ever-ongoing sequels to the Mega Man Battle Network RPG series they started on the Gameboy Advance, as well as action-oriented Mega Man Zero/ZX series titles - and the Ace Attorney series (Starring Phoenix Wright and Apollo Justice, and soon in his own spinoff, prosecutor Miles Edgeworth), the latter of which being far more noteworthy as game releases go, the Mega Man series having largely degraded in quality over the years.

Throughout this generation, Capcom's largely deferred to the limited scope niche interests of Sony and Microsoft's consoles and their smaller user bases. They began the generation with the Xbox 360 releases of Dead Rising and Lost Planet, plenty understandable early generation exclusives, not unlike the exclusives they'd provided Sega's Dreamcast when it launched the previous generation. In 2007, they released the messily named Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo HD Remix as a downloadable title on the PS3 and 360, beginning their history of focus on downloadable game support on the less profitable platforms over the Wii - another of their poor decisions this generation. They also released brutal PC-style point and click adventure game Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure, the first of their original lower-budget Wii titles (And their first original in-house developed Wii game), to critical acclaim. Capcom made no effort whatsoever to advertise the game - as they've largely refused to advertise their Wii titles, effectively asking them to make less money, while pouring massive scale advertising budgets into their PS3 and 360 titles (Conversely after having not done much to promote most of their few non-PS2 releases the previous generation) - and in seeing initial slow sales by word of mouth, the online gaming masses rushed to declare the game a failure and "proof that core games don't sell on the Wii." (A common mantra from the niche crowds desperate to see the PS3 and 360 overtake the Wii as the dominant system despite their absolute stagnancy in they offer in terms of gaming experiences.)

This postulation wasn't grounded in reality, of course, when Capcom didn't push the game at all, and by nature it was a very niche title that wouldn't have been doable - and wouldn't have sold due to its cute cel-shaded visual style - on the other two consoles. This idea was counteracted earlier the same year when Capcom released a Wii-enhanced port of Resident Evil 4 from the Gamecube with the added content the PS2 version had received - making the Wii version the definitive version of the game - at a budget price and saw it sell over 1.5 million copies within a few months. Zack & Wiki gradually picked up steam in sales despite its overall niche status and became a cult sleeper hit, turning a solid profit, leading to Capcom of Japan praising the title's success. Capcom of America, contradictorily, sent out one of their spokespeople just weeks later to call the game a failure and question the sales potential of the Wii base - a first of many moves in more recent years to raise questions about the competency of the Capcom USA staff, as they've openly established themselves as being rather antagonistic towards the Wii (Unlike the other two), and either a) completely out of touch with the reality of their successes on the Wii due to serious communication problems with the Japan branch, or b) think so little of the Wii audience that they think they can get away with openly lying to us as they have. (Even in recently claiming that Street Fighter IV "wasn't designed to run on the Wii," when it's been common knowledge for years that it was developed for an arcade board directly based on the Wii hardware, and the original development team's commented on in the past that it could comfortably run on any console this generation.)

In 2007, Capcom also released a low budget - though still certainly quality - arcade style rail shooter in Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles (Which they're now planning a sequel to, Darkside Chronicles, both games outsourced to developer Cavia), telling a different side to the stories of several of the much-beloved zombie-filled Resident Evil games, which despite the heavy criticism it came under for being a rail shooter instead of a Resident Evil 4 style official numbered sequel, was still well received and sold over a million copies, turning a strong profit. They also released the follow-up to Devil Kings on the PS2, Sengoku Basara 2 Heroes, on the Wii in Japan with the original Devil Kings included as unlockable on the disc, but they simply decided not to bring the game west. (Sadly likely due to the lack of success the original game had on the PS2 here.)

Then in 2008, Capcom released several more Wii titles: Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law (Essentially a console take on the portable Ace Attorney series centered around a popular Adult Swim series, which ultimately didn't sell well due to its niche appeal. This also was the result of the game being an outright lazy PSP port, in which Capcom didn't even fix the video compression. And they decided to go to an impersonator rather than paying Stephen Colbert to voice Phil Sebben. It was developed by High Voltage Software, who have since gone on to be a strong Wii supporter.), Okami (A top-notch port of the brilliant PS2 action adventure game (Completely rebuilt by developer ReadyAtDawn) with incredibly improved controls (Motion controls add a lot to the intensity of combat, and vastly improve the paintbrush element of interaction with the game world), a title I personally highly recommend, especially now that it's dropping to budget price range. It sold better than the original PS2 game, in its Legend of Zelda-esque gameplay appealing more to the Nintendo audience, though its sales were overtaken again when Capcom finally cut the original PS2 game's price to budget level later in 2008, and neither was a huge hit in the end due to a complete lack of advertising on Capcom's part.), and a shovelware title based on the Neopets online game franchise. They also released Mega Man 9 as their first and only original downloadable WiiWare title - a ground-up first new NES style Mega Man title since Mega Man 6 released in the mid-90s. It was a brilliantly done title with fairly unbalanced gameplay as a result of putting more instant death spikes and pits everywhere than any of the original NES titles saw. It was a real nostalgia fest that went on to become the #1 selling WiiWare title since the service's launch back in May 2008, and still holds that title. While it was a WiiWare exclusive in Japan, as soon as the game was announced for WiiWare in the west, the PS3 and 360 crowds pitched a fit and got Capcom - already bent in their favor here - to release it on Xbox Live Arcade and PSN, where the game largely didn't sell well at all, because those audiences largely didn't start gaming in the 8-bit era and have no nostalgia for that particular visual style. Ultimately, those crowds indicated that they didn't want Mega Man 9 themselves so much as they loathed the idea of the Wii getting a much-anticipated game as an exclusive.

The same year, the PS3 and 360 received: Devil May Cry 4, a PS3 port of Lost Planet (Which didn't see sales anywhere near the original 360 release, the PS3 in general being incredibly difficult to make money on), several more downloadable titles (Mostly exclusives, in the Rocketmen games, Wolf of the Battlefield, 1942, Bionic Commando: Rearmed (Which didn't sell well after much hype, as it was a franchise only Nintendo fans were asking for a revival of, the series having been known best to NES fans - those who played the NES are a tiny minority in the HD gaming crowd.), and Age of Booty), and MotoGP 08. In Japan, they released a Wii port of the Gamecube Resident Evil 0 game with new controls, and the excellent fighting game Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Cross Generation of Heroes. (The former of which is coming west later this year, and the latter of which is still up in the air, but supposedly intended for western release as well.) Notably, there's a huge divide in software support focus when Mega Man 9's been more profitable on WiiWare than their PSN/XBLA titles in their focus on the other consoles' downloadable game services, and Tatsunoko vs. Capcom was literally Capcom's first of their two high-budget A-level development titles on the Wii, after focusing countless more on the high definition consoles.

So far Capcom's been rather lopsided in their focus yet again this year, with Capcom USA's Christian Svensson (Who does pretty regular PR for them) getting a lot of blood boiling in looking for every excuse to marginalize the Wii and talk down to its owners as though they don't "deserve" Capcom's games, despite a distinct lack of effort on Capcom's part on the console compared to the other two. (Though in contrast to that, despite that lack of effort and their numbers of ports on the system so far, aside from the Neopets game, Capcom has yet to release a bad game on the system.) This year, they began with releasing the pretty, but fairly average and unbalanced Street Fighter IV on the PS3 and Xbox 360, while making excuses for why they didn't release the game on the Wii right alongside the other two, as would have been doable, and should have been done - there's no excuse for the decision they made there. Then they released Dead Rising: Chop Till You Drop on the Wii in February, a reimagining (Done with a low budget by TOSE, developer of the Stafy series of Gameboy Advance and DS platforming adventures starring Stafy the starfish, the first DS title of which will be coming west later this year.) of the original Xbox 360 Dawn of the Dead style story of a journalist trapped in a mall overrun by hordes of zombies, fighting his way through three days of story in the zombie masses, rescuing survivors and contending with vicious psychopaths. The game was regularly trolled as soon as it was announced because the Wii version lacks the 360 original's zombies visible standing around in the background, giving one the impression of there being more enemies than there were. (That said, the Wii version itself in no way lacks in enemies to fight. And Capcom's online marketing of the game was essentially a self-sabotaging trainwreck, with a tremendous amount of unprofessional behavior, and focusing on screenshots and video footage and did a poor job representing the full gameplay experience. It came off as though Capcom - in the US especially - wanted the game to fail in order to justify a lack of Wii focus. Despite that the game itself was ultimately a quality title.) The Wii version also took away the constantly-ticking in-game clock that made the original game stressful to play, and allowed players to tackle the story on their own time, giving them the freedom to spend more time exploring and fighting zombies, in addition to far more save points than the original 360 game had, making it much more convenient to play. The zombie AI was also vastly improved over the 360 original's, where the zombies would often ignore you completely, even if you walked right in front of them. Taking a page from Resident Evil 4 and adopting its control scheme, the zombie hordes - though largely only visible closer up, and still there in numbers close to the 360 original's - pose much more of a threat on the Wii. In a lot of ways that matter, the B or C-level team Capcom assigned to Dead Rising: Chop Till You Drop actually paid attention to complaints players had with the original game (Including the fact that unless you had an HDTV, you couldn't read any of the on-screen text in the 360 original, while that's no problem on the Wii.) and worked to give the Wii an improved version of the game. But because the graphics took a hit - and didn't get the development budget and time they'd have needed to make the graphics look more impressive on the Wii - and the game wasn't the 360 original, the game was met with a tremendous amount of outrage, with Xbox 360 fanatics crying that the Wii version was "ruining" the series, when in many capacities the Wii version's a better game overall. Once the game was released, the controversy blew over, but Capcom USA's predictably made no effort to advertise the game in the west at all, so its sales are simply gradually tracking a gradual incline towards sales numbers similar to Zack & Wiki's.

Fairly recently, Capcom released Resident Evil 5 as a long planned exclusive for the PS3 and Xbox 360, with gameplay modeled in many ways to appeal to the Gears of War crowd, and has been received largely as being a step back from Resident Evil 4 while trying to emulate Resident Evil 4 - the traditional PS3 and Xbox 360 controls for the game don't hold up well at all next to the Wii control scheme for its version of Resident Evil 4, and Capcom's said they aren't opposed to adapting a Wii version of the game at some point, so we may see that yet, though more likely than not relegated to a B or C-level development team again. They released a Wii version of MotoGP recently which wasn't advertised, and ultimately shredded by critics - a second piece of shovelware from Capcom for the Wii crowd. And they have a downloadable game, Flock, once again planned exclusively for the HD consoles, while continuing to ignore WiiWare after praising Mega Man 9's incredible success on there. In Japan, they have a port of the PS2 game Monster Hunter G - complete with online play - planned for a Wii release this year, with no word on a western release. But their biggest announced Wii title otherwise this year is their only other A-level development game than Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, Monster Hunter 3, which is scheduled for release in both Japan and the west later this year. Despite the Bionic Commando downloadable game's lack of success, they're also releasing a PS3/360 exclusive disc-based Bionic Commando game, showing again a distinct lack of good business sense on Capcom's part this generation. And they've got several other high budget PS3/360 games planned for release in Dead Rising 2, Lost Planet 2, and Dark Void.

All the while, their only other announced Wii game due out later this year is an action game called Spyborgs, which they took out of the public eye for retooling after the mixed reactions its original 2008 trailer received. Capcom's said they have more planned for the Wii than they've announced, but overall, above all other third parties, they've been clinging almost desperately to the HD systems against better business sense, and a lot of Wii owners have been getting very frustrated with the treatment and condescending attitude they've been on the receiving end of from Capcom.

(There's a lot to say about Capcom. Don't worry, I'll be discussing the rest in shorter form now, but Capcom's had this kind of thorough analysis and criticism coming this generation.)

Konami - While their DS support has been just fine, Konami's Wii support has been decidedly lacking and half-hearted for the most part as well, compared to their PS3/360 efforts. They got started on the Wii with Elebits, a cute and thoroughly enjoyable sort of first person science fiction hide and seek game directed by Shingo Mukaitoge, who seems to have a lot of interesting and refreshing gameplay ideas. Then in 2007, they released another Mukaitoge game, the adorable Dewy's Adventure, a challenging tilt-control-based platformer where you play as a drop of water who can freeze himself or turn himself into vapor in order to affect the environment around him. Both are challenging games with plenty of depth and the ability to create your own levels and share them with friends online, but were largely overlooked by the market due to their cute and quirky design. (As well as a complete lack of advertising of any kind.)

They also introduced their brilliantly deep Power Pro baseball series to the west on the Wii as MLB Power Pros, but that series has mostly been ignored for the Power Pro series' definitive cute art style, in favor of baseball games with more realistic graphics. The Wii's also received some of the best versions of the Pro Evolution Soccer games in recent years, which tend to sell better in Europe than the US. And the Wii has largely been the natural home for the Dance Dance Revolution games this generation with two Hottest Party installments and a recent Disney Mix, though at this point, Dance Dance Revolution isn't anywhere near as popular as it used to be.

And while the Wii's had some definite half-hearted efforts from Konami, they haven't really put themselves fully into the high definition systems' camps either, with all three consoles receiving more releases of classic Konami games than high budget new titles. In 2008, the Wii received Lost in Blue: Shipwrecked, a Wii version of their cult tropical island survival life sim series with decidedly very dated low budget graphics, but I haven't played it yet to judge the gameplay, which could certainly redeem the poor visuals. I've only played the first of the Lost in Blue DS games, and that was certainly a lot of fun. Around the same time last fall, they brought the PS3 and 360 Silent Hill: Homecoming, the latest main series Silent Hill series. But the game received a very mixed reception, the original creator and director having left the popular horror series after the second title, the series said to thusly have dropped sharply in quality since. And just in the past 24 hours, Konami announced a full ground-up remake of the original Silent Hill on the Playstation for the Wii, with the series' clunky combat removed in favor of focusing on avoiding combat with the series' bizarre monsters. A major gain from Konami there.

Konami released the much-anticipated Metal Gear Solid 4 as a PS3 exclusive last summer, to much fanfare and outrage at anyone who dared to criticize the game for the fact that it was mostly an incredibly poorly written 20-hour movie with 5 or so hours of extremely clunky PS2 era gameplay tacked on with pretty graphics. In order to achieve full profitability, Konami had to sell advertising space in the game, loading it with references to real world products - Apple computers, Playboy magazine, and others.

Then they released Rock Revolution later in 2008 in an attempt to compete with the popular Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises. The game didn't measure up on any console, and bombed everywhere. (The song selection was poor, all the music was done by cover bands, and the instruments weren't any good.) They also released a Powerstone-style Castlevania fighting game spinoff on the Wii - Castlevania Judgment - later in 2008, which was largely slammed for not being a main series title and feeling more like a fan game with its completely redone character designs. (Which took more after the anime and manga series Death Note than the actual established Castlevania series lore.) But with fun online play, it seems to be a pretty decent purchase overall, and one I plan on picking up myself when it gets cheap enough. Conversely, Konami announced a 3rd 3D Castlevania series game for the PS3 and 360 exclusively - a major mistake after both of the decidedly average 3D PS2 games bombed and were largely reviled by the fanbase because Castlevania doesn't work very well when it isn't done in 2D. After the PS2 games - Lament of Innocence and Curse of Darkness - failed to turn a profit, releasing a high budget follow-up on the niche PS3 and 360 consoles is essentially Konami choosing to flush money away that they're never going to see again on that game.

Ubisoft - Ubisoft's a publisher the Wii crowd online's largely learned to love to hate. Mostly because they're one of the most openly antagonistic publishers toward the Wii, having effectively announced that it "only draws casual gamers who don't buy core games!" Something contradicted by the fact that one of their best-selling Wii games is brilliant punk game director Suda 51's ultra-violent core-oriented No More Heroes, which tells the wild story of a lightsaber-bearing loser-turned-assassin's humorous and at times almost poignant efforts to become the #1 killer in the southwestern town of Santa Destroy. (Ubisoft's biggest mistake there was not bringing over the comic book style original Japanese game manual, which provided a bit of backstory.) They also saw a great deal of success with Red Steel, a fairly often criticized but nonetheless fun first person shooter with swordplay elements that was a big hit back at the Wii's launch.

Most of what they've released on the Wii has amounted to half-assed versions of Tom Clancy games (In fact, they only released a single Tom Clancy Wii game, then focused those works entirely on the HD systems and ignored the Wii on that front after a single poor effort that they didn't promote.) and general military shooters in regards to which they focused their efforts on the PS3 and 360 versions. Amidst those and some rather poor non-traditional gamer oriented titles like the "Imagine" series, they've released some quality party games in director Michel Ancel's Rayman spinoff series, Rayman Raving Rabbids, starring demented screaming rabbits that've managed to become amongst this generation's most charming new mascot characters.

Other quality games they've released include: the quirky Japanese adventure The Dog Island, a decent take on The Price is Right, the best version of Shaun White Snowboarding (Complete with full balance board control support to replicate more of a home snowboarding experience), Tenchu: Shadow Assassins (The latest in the popular cult stealth series about espionage and assassination in feudal Japan), and Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars Director's Cut.

And they've released some games with good ideas that didn't work out so well, like Nitro Bike. (Which people had higher hopes for, as it was developed by Left Field Studios, the developer behind the quality ExciteBike 64 N64 game.) And frankly, pretty much all of their military shooters fall into this category. Their HD system support has largely amounted to better quality Tom Clancy style military shooters and espionage games, as well as a new Prince of Persia title that wasn't very well designed and didn't ultimately sell very well when it launched for this past holiday season. And in 2008, they released their insanely hyped Assassin's Creed, only for the game itself to turn out to be a big mess, both conceptually and in terms of incredibly repetitive and otherwise frequently poorly thought out gameplay.

There's at least a couple of stars on the horizon from Ubisoft for Wii owners later this year as well. The first comes in the form of a Super Smash Bros.-esque Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game coming later this year, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Smash Up. They even have some of the Smash Bros. Brawl team working on the game, and online play plans, so it could potentially be the first new Ninja Turtles game worth owning in years. The second of these stars is the first Raving Rabbids series action adventure game, Rabbids Go Home, another Michel Ancel title focusing on the Rabbid characters embarking in a shopping cart on an adventure to collect junk to build a tower to their determined home - the moon. A quirky and potentially very fun premise, which will probably be the first Rabbids series game I pick up myself with its single player gameplay focus.

Square-Enix - Square-Enix is the result of the first major merger in console and portable gaming, back in the earlier 2000s, which was pretty much the beginning of a long line of developers merging together as the gaming industry has begun to consolidate into a handful of third party developers and publishers. (This is not a good thing, or any sign of a healthy industry. It's not exactly coincidental that we're seeing an unhealthy industry at a time when so many developers are fixated on unsuccessful, expensive console development.) Squaresoft was going bankrupt following the release of the first Kingdom Hearts game on the PS2 and the massive failure of the theatrical release of their CGI Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within movie, when the entire world didn't rush out to see and love the movie as they'd expected after the inordinate amount of undeserved praise Final Fantasy VII received, taking the company mainstream. Enix swooped in from a much better financial position with their Dragon Quest series insanely popular as ever in Japan, and negotiated a merger with Square. Whoever did the negotiations at Enix obviously wasn't very good at their job, as Square ended up effectively dominating Enix in the merger despite Enix technically having the upper hand on every front in the merger, and they ended up with Yoichi Wada running the newly merged company - the same president who ran Squaresoft into the ground and whose focus on franchising and beating game series to death for profit ran off Final Fantasy series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi and has led the merged company into a downward trend in profits again, investing insane budgets in games and not seeing the sales they expect anymore. (Especially with the attitude now pervading the PS3 and 360 crowds against Japanese games, and Japanese role-playing games - or JRPGs - in particular, in blind favor western games and RPGs that are frequently just as poorly written, and more fixated on "realistic" graphics.)

Despite their biggest and most hyped titles being focused on the PS3 and Xbox 360, Square hasn't seen much success there this generation at all - Silpheed failed to turn a profit, and Infinite Undiscovery and The Last Remnant both ended up being fairly so-so games that didn't make a dime, either. Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi's faced problems making any money at all on the exclusive JRPGs Microsoft has paid his new studio - Mistwalker - to develop exclusively for the Xbox 360 as well. Instead of successfully widening these consoles' user bases as the games are intended to, we're just seeing the 360 and PS3 crowds indicate that by and large, they aren't interested in Japanese RPG games. (Unlike the Wii, where there's a proven profitable market. Even most recently, Star Ocean 4 dropped to massive hype and then completely bombed when it hit store shelves and won't make a cent. Tri-Ace is largely dead to me at this point though, since they made a point of ruining the Star Ocean series - the one previously strong ongoing franchise they had to their name - with a terrible retroactive plot twist in the third game.) Despite all the hype and money they've poured into the upcoming HD Final Fantasy XIII and its Versus spinoff, they seem to be completely confused about what they're doing with their gameplay with the series now, and they've poured so much money into it that it's incredibly unlikely that it'll ever turn a profit, simply becoming a massive black hole attached to the company.

And as a result? Square-Enix has begun to sharply turn their focus to the Wii, in openly acknowledging the console's position as the market leader. Their first Wii release was Enix's Dragon Quest spinoff, Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors, a first person arcade-esque on-rails action RPG where you explore the country side and various dungeons as you further the story, improving your protagonist's strength as well as his chosen companion for that gameplay run, and exploring and buying better equipment, like traditional RPGs. It was the first successful, profitable role-playing genre game of the generation. Since the Wii solidified itself as the market leader by a huge margin, Enix announced plans to make Dragon Quest X exclusively for the Wii following this year's release of the series's 9th installment on the DS, which is a huge Wii third party gain.

Square's own Wii offerings have amounted to a bunch of quality Final Fantasy spinoffs so far. At WiiWare launch last May, we got Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King, an enjoyable kingdom-building simulator based in the more fantasy oriented Crystal Chronicles spinoff universe - truer to the original Fantasy Fantasy setting than the main numbered series, which is largely centered on non-specific sci-fi-esque settings in recent years, and has as a result lost much of its imagination in its locales. They also released a spinoff last summer in Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon, a turn-based dungeon-crawler in which you explore massive randomly generated dungeons as the series' cute Chocobo bird mascot. I played through it earlier in the fall last year, and while it's not the hardest "roguelike" dungeon-crawler I've ever played, it's certainly a good introduction to the genre for newcomers, and a fun experience all around with an interesting setting. The main story's a little short and overly angsty at times for what it is, but the game's a pleasant experience overall with a fun little online card battle system you can play as well. And just recently, they released Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time on both the Wii and DS (With the Wii version having slightly better visuals. The DS in general has received very strong support from Square-Enix this generation, while their few PSP games haven't been particularly remarkable or good, largely focused on the Final Fantasy VII fanatic crowd that'll buy anything with that game's name attached.), a free online co-op oriented game where you create characters from the four main Crystal Chronicles setting and either play through the story in single player or freely log online to join up with friends to explore the world, take on dungeons, and follow the story together. That's one I'm personally looking forward to playing online with friends if I can snag a copy soon.

Coming in the future, they've got a great looking Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles action RPG focused on gorgeous Wii visuals coming in The Crystal Bearers. And on WiiWare, they've got a version of Crystal Defenders coming (Which is also hitting PSN and XBLA), as well as western exclusives in Final Fantasy IV: The After Years (A sequel to the SNES classic Final Fantasy IV, starring the son of two of its lead characters) and Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a Dark Lord.

So while we haven't been getting hugely hyped Square-Enix games so far, they've provided some strong Wii support and it's only going to get stronger. They serve as a good example of a third party that's actually coming to understand the current market situation and smartly adapting to it instead of blindly clinging to Sony and Microsoft.

Electronic Arts - EA's been a pretty good Wii developer so far, and they're another of the developers to openly acknowledge it was a mistake to prematurely declare the PS3 and 360 the generation's victors, and have now switched the vast majority of their development to the Wii. Their flagship Madden games have seen mixed sales so far - the Xbox 360 versions of the popular football titles still dominate in sales, as they're paid to push those versions as the "main" version of that series, but the Wii versions have as of far been well done games with some unique features, but also games facing some flawed online issues and an issue of removing content from the PS3 and 360 versions in the Wii version, in an effort to push it as a more "casual" versions, which has only served to confuse consumers. (That said, the Wii versions of the Madden games have still found an audience, and one that should be expanded further, being solid, functional games.) The sports genre in general should be all about motion controls in gaming these days, as ridiculous as it is to still play that sort of genre with analog sticks and buttons alone now. And they've announced plans to overhaul the Wii focus of the series in possibly dropping the confusing "All-Play" name this year and giving the Wii versions a unique visual style - a gamble the results of which are hard to predict. But in order to capitalize on its profitability, EA really needs to do all they can to push the Madden games on the Wii as primary releases in the series and make them stand out as more appealing than the HD versions - this means making sure they fully polish the online play before release, and don't cut content. There's no good reason to cut content when they could easily keep all the same features in all three, then add additional exclusive ones to the Wii to take advantage of things like its Mii avatar system, features like WiiConnect24, and motion controls.

EA's released a number of quality Wii games so far in the town-building oriented cute MySims spinoffs of the Sims series and a few other Sims titles on the system, SSX Blur (Which, years later, just begs for a new Wii exclusive SSX series sequel with balance board support, being a great snowboarding series), and The Godfather: Blackhand Edition, which is widely regarded as the best version of the original Godfather Game. (Though its poor sales led to The Godfather 2 game being PS3/360 exclusive, despite Wii demand for more Grand Theft Auto style sandbox games.) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix made for a quality free-roaming role-playing game that allowed you to fully explore a massive, gorgeously rendered Hogwarts as well, and The Simpsons Game is said to be pretty good too. Medal of Honor Heroes 2 was the first online first person shooter the Wii saw as well, courtesy of EA, a first to fill a notable gap in the system's library where the HD consoles are oversaturated with online FPSes. (Which is funny, considering that traditional controllers are pretty terrible for FPSes, while the Wii's controls are amazing for the genre.) Its biggest downfall was in being a direct PSP-to-Wii port with no graphical upgrades to suit the Wii. (Another trend we're seeing is that half-assed third party efforts that don't treat the Wii like the graphical powerhouse it's capable of being don't sell well either. Wii owners largely don't buy games that treat the system like its hardware is weak.) EA's also brought the generation's definitive golf games with online play to the Wii in its most recent Tiger Woods games. (It'd be great if they finally made a full on Wii hockey game as well - at this point I'd even kill for a simple Wii Sports style pick-up-and-play hockey game, as I find that kind of game more charming and appealing to me personally than most serious sports games.) Simcity Creator brought the Simcity series to the Wii as well, with some classic PC-style gameplay. In 2008, the Wii also received Skate It, an exclusive version of the HD systems' Skate, which allows the use of the balance board for its skateboarding gameplay. (Though apparently it has some control issues that should have been worked on before release.)

In 2009, they released SimAnimals - an animal-based Sims title as an answer of sorts to the Xbox 360 and DS Viva Pinata titles. It didn't get advertised, and seems to not have gotten much attention, but certainly looks potentially fun. They released NASCAR Kart Racing on the Wii this year too, a Mario Kart style NASCAR racing game which, honestly, I'm not interested in, but people seem to like. And later this spring, they're going to release Boom Blox Bash Party, the sequel to Stephen Spielberg's unique and great Boom Blox puzzle game about knocking down stacks of blocks, in additional strong Wii exclusives.

They've also had some missteps on the Wii with Boogie, which had a great concept, but didn't work well in execution. (Its sequel fixed many of the issues, but got virtually zero press, and bombed at retail. Pretty much what happens when you make tween girls your main focus with a game.) EA Playground seems to be a mixed bag too, but potentially worth playing.

Their support for the others contains a lot of the same sorts of games they've released for the Wii, but with less variety, mostly amounting to sports games and some military FPSes with a few others like the Need for Speed racing series and an occasional Lord of the Rings game. And of course, the popular Rock Band music game series is on all three systems.

EA has several more Wii titles announced for later this year: Dead Space Extraction (A rail movement based Wii prequel to last year's popular outer space survival horror game on the PS3 and 360, which is clearly getting a lot of hard work put into it.), G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (Undoubtedly a release intended to tie into the upcoming movie. They've announced plans to parody the '80's cartoon's public service announcements within the game, and if you point the Wii remote upward in-game, the Wii version will thusly announce "Yo, Joe!"), and Spore Hero (An adventure game based in the Spore universe, developing your creature.).

Sega - Following their longtime rivalry with Nintendo, after the Dreamcast failed to turn a profit (Following profitability problems with the Saturn, Game Gear, and Genesis add-ons in the 32X and Sega CD), Sega ended up withdrawing from the hardware game and becoming a third party software developer. Tainted by a great deal of disdain from the Sony and Microsoft crowds, "disgraced" in falling out of the hardware competition and being marked as one of the older juggernauts to look down on - for many of the same reasons the Sony and Microsoft fanatics hate Nintendo - Sega's gone on to find more of an audience with the Nintendo crowd than the other two. As a result, they've been one of the best developers and publishers for Nintendo's platformers this generation, producing quality games, advertising them, and proving repeatedly that when a company actually tries to make quality software to compete with Nintendo's games and advertises it, it's very possible to find plenty of success on the Wii.

Following strong support for Nintendo's classic game download system - the Virtual Console - from the Wii launch onward, Sega brought Sonic and the Secret Rings (One of the better 3D Sonic titles, loosely based on the Arabian Nights stories), Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games (A milestone title officially bringing Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog characters together for the first time at the Beijing Olympics), Ghost Squad (A fairly direct port of the classic cheesy arcade rail shooter, with great multiplayer), and NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams (The long-awaited sequel to the classic Saturn adventure) to the Wii in its first full year on the market.

In 2008, Sega released Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity (The sequel to the previous generation's cult Sonic racing game), The House of the Dead 2 & 3 Return (An enhanced port of the 2nd and 3rd House of the Dead arcade rail shooters with some extra gameplay modes.), Sega Superstars Tennis (A tennis game featuring a variety of Sega mascot characters), and the best version of the multiplatform Sonic Unleashed. (Which features an odd gameplay element in shifting between fast-paced platforming gameplay and melee combat as Sonic transforms into a "Werehog" throughout the game.) Sega also released Let's Tap in Japan in 2008 - a very quirky title based on setting the Wii remote controller on a box and tapping the box to control the game. Let's Tap has since been confirmed for a western release in 2009.

So far in 2009, Sega has released the critically acclaimed House of the Dead: Overkill (The first new House of the Dead series game in recent years, which was recently admitted to the Guinness Book of World Records for having the most foul language of any game ever made. The series was reimagined to have a grindhouse film feel to it. Sega's praised the game's strong sales.) on the Wii, as well as Sonic and the Black Knight. (A stylistic follow-up to Sonic and the Secret Rings set in an Arthurian legend setting, featuring sword-based combat. The game's received a heavy amount of criticism, and I haven't played it yet personally, but from what I've been able to glean from gameplay videos, it's more of the same kind of fun from Sonic and the Secret Rings. The media's openly hated Sonic the Hedgehog in 3D for many years now, and it seems as though Black Knight was particularly maligned because it dared to break from the formula they love to despise. Another reminder why it's best to make up your own mind about the quality of games and never pay too much attention to the gaming media in its complete lack of real objectivity.)

Sega's also publishing new titles this year by Platinum Games - the new game development studio formed by the remnants of Clover (Which developed Okami, Godhand, and the Viewtiful Joe games before Capcom ditched the studio after deeming their titles as being profitable enough in only gaining the niche audience they did.) and some of the best minds in game development today. (The best formerly in Capcom's development pool.) They began with MadWorld on the Wii, an ultra-violent and challenging beat 'em up starring a guy with a chainsaw for an arm, with a very stylized black and white graphical style highlighting the red blood. Comedians Greg Proops and John DiMaggio provide a commentary track for the game, riffing on the events going on within the gameplay itself, adding a very sort of meta comedy element to the title. (Sega has already deemed MadWorld a hit as well.) Later this year, they're publishing Bayonetta (A new action game by the creator of the Devil May Cry series, who walked away from that series after the first game, having intended for it to only be a one-shot game.) on the 360 and PS3, as well as Infinite Space (A very indepth space opera role-playing game about exploring the universe in a fully customizable ship and building a crew) on the DS, which is due out in the west this fall.

From what they've confirmed so far, later this year, Sega will be releasing Virtua Tennis 2009 (The latest in their highly regarded tennis series) and The Conduit (An extremely highly anticipated first person shooter with top notch graphics and excellent online play with Wii Speak voice chat - something high quality to fill the online FPS void on the Wii. It's developed by small time studio High Voltage Software, which has provided numerous worthwhile Wii titles so far, and openly expressed discontent with the brush-off the Wii so frequently gets by larger developers in favor of the high-definition consoles.), as well as Mario & Sonic at the Winter Olympic Games (Another Olympics game, this time set at the Vancouver Winter Olympics). They'll undoubtedly announce more at the game shows later this year.

Some less than brilliant decisions on their part included remaking the original Saturn NiGHTS into Dreams game exclusively for the PS2 in Japan without giving it a western release or a Wii port, as would have made even more sense as well. Developing Valkyria Chronicles - a tactical gun-based role-playing game - exclusively for the PS3 was also a huge mistake given the established track record of JRPGs not having a profitable audience on either of the high-def systems. (And to top it off, the threw some Skies of Arcadia character cameos into the game, which comes off as insulting considering that Skies of Arcadia was only available on the Dreamcast and Gamecube - not gamer bases that're buying the PS3.) Making Virtua Fighter 5 a PS3/360 exclusive wasn't a brilliant choice with the poor sales it saw as well. Sega also published some bad movie license games, based on Iron Man, The Golden Compass, and The Incredible Hulk in recent years. And they also revived the Golden Axe series on the PS3 and 360, but didn't do a particularly great job with it - the game was critically panned and sold poorly. Not the audience to target with classic remakes, and unfortunately the game really could have used more time in development to polish the gameplay. Their Phantasy Star RPG franchise has been largely squandered in online-centric titles after abandoning the original series timeline and single player focus after the 4th title on the Genesis in the mid-90s.

There have been rumors of other possible future Sega Wii projects - in particular, a collection of the two Shenmue games on a single disc and a Wii-exclusive sequel to the phenomenal Skies of Arcadia (Which originally released on the Dreamcast, then saw a successful and fantastic director's cut release with additional content on the Gamecube as Skies of Arcadia Legends), and a new game in the Dreamcast and Xbox Jet Grind Radio/Jet Set Radio skateboarding and graffiti series - but no official details on any of the three have surfaced. (Talks of the Jet Grind Radio sequel have been shot down for now, after some concept art surfaced.)

Personally, I'd just love to see Sega and Camelot Software Publishing work together again - as Camelot has expressed an interest in doing so, having previously been a part of Sega - and produce some new Wii/DS canon sequels to the classic Shining series titles on the Genesis, Sega CD, and Sega Saturn. Since Camelot split from Sega after the Saturn, Sega abandoned the original setting, ongoing story, and memorable gameplay at the Shining series' roots and turned the series into a bunch of derivative hack-and-slashers that've made longtime fans of the series rather unhappy. It'd be a dream come true to see follow-ups to Shining Force 3 and Shining in the Holy Ark, returning to the original setting and beloved gameplay styles with Camelot. In the least, Sega's brought all three of the classic Genesis titles in the series - the first person dungeon-crawler Shining in the Darkness (Where the series began), its tactical strategy oriented follow-up Shining Force, and my personal favorite in the series, Shining Force 2 - to the Wii Virtual Console. The same goes for the classic Phantasy Star role-playing series - they haven't released a single non-online play focused game with a real story in the series in over a decade. (Though as of the release of the first game on the Virtual Console later this month, all four of the fantastic original games will be available for download on the Wii.)

Namco Bandai - Namco Bandai's the result of another major industry merger that, again, is reflective of a less than healthy current state of the video game industry. They've been rather inconsistent in regards to their releases this generation, though they've provided some great stuff on the Virtual Console, and are a heavy supporter of the Wii's recently launched arcade game section of the Virtual Console, bringing their classic '80s arcade games to home console gamers at last.

They began their Wii support this generation with the mediocre licensed party game, Tamagotchi Party On! back in 2007. They continued that year with the budget-priced remake collection, Namco Museum Remix, and the rather mediocre hack-and-slasher, Soul Calibur Legends. (Which came off as a slap in the face to Wii owners, focusing Soul Calibur IV on the high-def consoles, after the Gamecube crowd made Soul Calibur II the best-selling home console version of the game. Skipping the market leading console by a huge margin with a major title like that is never a good decision.)

In 2008, they released the cute, fun pick-up-and-play skiing game, We Ski, with balance board support. (I haven't picked this one up yet, but I want to.) Later in the year, they released the long-awaited sequel to the Gamecube role-playing game Tales of Symphonia, Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World, which is an excellent game - Namco's best on the Wii to date - but got slammed by the press for not being a main Tales series title like the duller Xbox 360 release around the same time, Tales of Vesperia. (The Tales series itself tends to be kind of hit-and-miss with its writing and gameplay.)

So far in 2009, they've released We Ski and Snowboard (The sequel to We Ski, with added snowboarding gameplay) and We Cheer (A dance/cheerleading game of sorts). Upcoming 2009 titles include a gorgeous-looking remake of the original Klonoa: Door to Phantomile platformer, tentatively the also wonderful looking post-apocalyptic role-playing game Fragile: Farewell Ruins of the Moon (A game on my personal most-wanted list), a DSi/WiiWare Mr. Driller series puzzle game, and Tales of Graces (The next main Tales RPG series title, having realized after Tales of Vesperia's HD-console failure and Symphonia II's Wii success that the Wii's the platform to focus the series on.).

They've made some questionable release decisions on other platforms as well, between: The IdolM@ster (An idol-based life simulation exclusive to the Xbox 360 in Japan, where the console's anything but popular. Microsoft pays for exclusivity to draw Japanese gamers, but the game'd do much better and reach more of its full potential elsewhere. They've already released a spinoff of sorts on the Wii in a dance game exclusive to Japan.), bringing the Tales action-RPG series games out on the PSP in the west but not the DS games (While there's been much demand for the DS games to come west, while most PSP games still simply don't turn a profit, given the incredibly high rate of piracy on the platform.), Eternal Sonata (Which they released on both the Xbox 360 and PS3 and failed to turn a profit on either version, leading them to be hesitant to bring the same developer's Fragile: Farewell Ruins of the Moon to the west on the Wii, where they've actually made money on their only JRPG release so far, and the genre's proven to be profitable), the Splatterhouse revival (An ultraviolent franchise that means literally nothing to the PS3 and 360 crowds, which they recently seized development of from the western team they had assigned to the game (Not involving any of the original Japanese developers for the series? Also a very bad sign.), indicating a complete lack of confidence in the product as its development continued), Beautiful Katamari (The latest in their cult series where you play the Prince of All Cosmos and roll up huge balls of junk - eventually picking up cities, continents, and more - which was supposed to hit all 3 consoles. Microsoft paid for the game to be an Xbox 360 exclusive in the end, and it didn't turn a profit. Now they're developing a PS3 exclusive Katamari game, which also won't turn a profit. And yes, they're choosing to neglect the Wii crowd, it seems, which has been openly asking for a Katamari title since the beginning of this generation. The series'd have a legitimate shot at turning a profit on the Wii.), Soul Calibur IV (After Sony paid Namco to make Soul Calibur III a PS2 exclusive - in the wake of the Gamecube version surprising everybody and outselling the PS2 and Xbox versions - skipping an arcade release and coming up with a buggy, unbalanced, thoroughly messy game with worse controls than its predecessor, history repeated itself with Soul Calibur IV in a paid PS3/360 follow up with Soul Calibur IV. They promised they'd fix all the gameplay problems Soul Calibur III had, and then didn't, once again skipping an arcade release, and focusing the series into a Smash Bros. type game with a fixation on new characters by guest artists that don't fit into the series' universe at all. Like the Tekken series, Namco's just about made Soul Calibur dead to me at this point. It's a shame, considering how good Soul Blade/Edge, Soul Calibur, and Soul Calibur II were.), Time Crisis 4 (The latest in Namco's popular cult rail shooter series was essentially a PS2 game in development, which they chose to release as a PS3 exclusive with an awkward light gun accessory setup that didn't work very well with the PS3. It didn't sell well, and in general, the whole thing was a poor decision on Namco's part.), and Tales of Vesperia (It didn't turn a profit on the Xbox 360, and now they're porting it to the PS3, where it won't make money either. It took Namco long enough to relax they needed to refocus the Tales series on the Wii, but frankly, Vesperia could run on the Wii, too, and should have been ported there.).

Namco Bandai also bought smaller name Japanese developer D3 - best known in the west these days for their Puzzle Quest series and the recently-released Onechanbara Wii and Xbox 360 cheesecake zombie hack-and-slash games. It's hard to know how to feel about that acquisition, considering the consistency of D3's success - largely through their well known "Simple Series" in Japan, which consists of fun, low-budget games with simple graphics oriented toward profitability. One hopes Namco won't meddle with D3's business practices and style too much.

Activision - Activision's another complicated publisher, on the Wii front. They've delivered some truly good titles, but also openly thumbed their nose at the Wii audience on a number of occasions.

Their Wii support around the launch window was decent, with a version of Call of Duty 3, Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam, and the superhero action-RPG Marvel Ultimate Alliance. (A stylistic follow-up to their X-Men Legends games the previous generation, which were pretty fun.) Then things started to take a downturn with an incredibly ugly version of the Spider-Man 3 game. (Though the game itself wasn't particularly good on any of the consoles.) More mediocre movie adaptations began to pour in - many hitting all three consoles - and the Wii got a good bit of shovelware from them. They even skipped over the Wii with their biggest title of 2007, Call of Duty 4, in a blatant slap in the face. But when they released Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock - complete with good online play support - the Wii version went on to handily outsell the PS3 and 360 versions, the game itself receiving a heavy amount of advertising. LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga sold quite well on the Wii, too, as a humorous LEGO toy-based take on all six of the Star Wars movies.

Despite that, the shovelware continued to flow in 2008, with some exceptions, like: LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures (Following the strong success of LEGO Star Wars), Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, the best version of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, Call of Duty: World at War (Which didn't do as well as the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions. The game could've used a little more work to differentiate itself from the other two and better compete, since the majority of the Call of Duty fanbase seems to be on the HD systems.), LEGO Batman, and Guitar Hero: World Tour. (Which has continued the trend of the Wii versions of Guitar Hero games selling exceptionally well.) Activision improved their Wii support overall in 2008, though they still continued to pour in the shovelware, even porting and repackaging a Pitfall game from the previous generation and renaming it Pitfall: The Big Adventure in hopes people wouldn't notice that it was the exact same game they'd released previously as Pitfall: The Lost Expedition.

XSeed Games - On a more positive note, XSeed Games - a newer publisher, localizing games in the west since 2006 - has been nothing but great for the Wii this generation.

In 2007, they kicked off their Wii work with Victorious Boxers: Revolution, the latest in the "Victorious Boxers" localizations of the Japanese boxing games based on the Hajime no Ippo comic and anime series. In 2008, they only released a couple of DS and PSP games.

But in 2009, they're bringing several great-looking Wii-exclusive Japanese RPGs west. (Following their localization of the fantastic Retro Game Challenge and Avalon Code on the DS.) They've begun their 2009 Wii releases with the wonderful Rune Factory Frontier, which released here in late March. Following the previous two DS Rune Factory games, Frontier is a spinoff of Natsume and Marvelous's much-beloved Harvest Moon farming/life sim franchise. (Harvest Moon: Tree of Tranquility was released on the Wii in the west back in 2008 as well, and has a follow-up coming with a focus on raising animals.) In the Rune Factory series, you get to participate in a living, breathing town community of sorts, while running a farm, interacting with the townspeople, and pursuing women until you propose to and eventually marry one. Rune Factory's taken things to the next level, taking Harvest Moon gameplay to a fantasy universe and throwing in role-playing game elements, fighting monsters, exploring dungeons, and so forth with a grander scale story than the Harvest Moon series has ever had.

Following that, XSeed has the brilliant-looking real time strategy game-role-playing game-life sim blend, Little King's Story, slated for an early summer release in the west. And later this year, they've got the ninja action RPG Muramasa: The Demon Blade and more traditional JRPG Arc Rise Fantasia coming to the west. They'll also be releasing Suda 51's brilliant Groundhog Day-esque detective game, Flower, Sun, and Rain on the DS this summer (Which was released in Europe last year), and seem to have Suda 51's No More Heroes sequel, No More Heroes: Desperate Struggle locked up for a 2010 western release. (Which looks to be as crazily violent as the original, and Suda 51's promised to make the main GTA-style hub city a lot more interesting than it was in the original.) It'll be interesting, to say the least, to see what else they announce later this year. XSeed's bringing great stuff to the Wii.

Rockstar Games - So far, the company behind the notorious Grand Theft Auto series hasn't been much of a Wii presence, but after their expressed disappointment with the sales of GTAIV on the PS3 and 360 (In fact, despite its strong sales and hype, with the crazy budget Grand Theft Auto IV got, it has yet to actually turn a profit. The game cost $100 million, the highest budget a game has ever seen, and on smaller userbases like the PS3 and 360, even combined, it's impossible to make money on a game with that kind of budget.), we may yet see them bring the series to the Wii in the not too distant future.

They've already broken from their seeming vendetta against Nintendo to release a Wii version of the Xbox 360's Rockstar Table Tennis with better controls, as well as the best version of their PS2 high school sandbox game, Bully in Bully: Scholarship Edition, with enhanced graphics and controls and none of the glitches or bugs that plague the even prettier Xbox 360 port. I'm not a Grand Theft Auto fan myself, but Bully seems intriguing enough that I'd like to give it a try.

They also recently gave Nintendo a major exclusive release in Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars on the DS, to much fanfare and strong sales already. Further evidence that Nintendo fans are all for Rockstar support.

Koei Tecmo - Koei and Tecmo only just completed their merger this week, but with a fondness for both companies and their similar business practices, this is a harder merger to criticize, given the increased stability both developers should find in it without interfering one another. The merger was planned in the wake of the scandal last fall around the dismissal of Tomonobu Itagaki, former head of Tecmo's Team Ninja, which made the Dead or Alive series and more recent Ninja Gaiden games. Given Itagaki's track record of being something of a misogynist with a track record of harrassing women at the company and making games that absolutely objectified women, his dismissal seemed more or less inevitable, but of course he raised a stink about it, as one of the company's best known public figures.

Koei, known best for their large variety of "screw around with history" games mostly set in China's Three Kingdoms era and feudal Japan, has branched out quite a bit this generation and provided some strong Wii support. While they didn't release anything outside of the Virtual Console until 2008, they brought a fun first person spinoff of their action-oriented Samurai Warriors series to the platform in the form of Samurai Warriors: Katana, and followed that up in the spring with the release of Opoona, a quirky sci-fi Japanese RPG that is my personal very favorite game on the Wii, which I cannot recommend enough. At this point, their only other announced Wii title is an exclusive release of Samurai Warriors 3 later in 2009, which is a huge gain, in Koei shifting more of their resources to the Wii after PS3/360 failures.

Koei hasn't had too much luck on the PS3 and Xbox 360 this generation, despite efforts to fully branch out to them as well. They released a number of their games, including "Warriors" series titles and spinoffs on the HD platforms: Bladestorm, Warriors Orochi, Dynasty Warriors: Gundam, and Dynasty Warriors 6, along with racing games like Fatal Inertia. Facing more popular and hyped franchises in similar genres, they didn't exactly see remarkable sales numbers, and in the Warriors spin-offs' cases, their sales fell through the floor after the very high sales they were accustomed to on the Playstation 2, so these games largely ended up getting PS2 adaptations to recoup their losses. The HD consoles' bases have effectively demonstrated to Koei that they're not the successors to the PS2 in profitability - as they aren't in genearl - and not the place to take the new Warriors games. Samurai Warriors 3 becoming a Wii exclusive was a decision made in response to that.

Tecmo's been best known for its Team Ninja games in more recent years, which Microsoft shelled out cash for exclusivity of for quite a while, and eventually the PS3 started getting a little of their support, while Nintendo went largely ignored after the SNES until the Wii.

Tecmo's first Wii release was the fun, well-designed home console version of the online Swing Golf Pangya! game, which they released on the Wii in late 2006 as Super Swing Golf. The game's a quality title, but known for an unforgivingly brutal AI, making it difficult to deal with opponents. They've steadily released their classic games on the Virtual Console as well. Then in 2009, they released Super Swing Golf: Season 2.

In 2008, Tecmo only released another couple of decent, but unspectacular Wii games in the short fantasy adventure SPRay and the update to the PS2 Rygar revival game, Rygar: Battle of Argus. (Though at its core, Rygar's still the same game it was in 2001 when originally released.) Both seem like decent pickups if you can find them for a lower price, though neither is worth big money, not being top Tecmo efforts by any stretch of imagination.

Unfortunately, their big budget games have largely stuck to the PS3 and 360, though with Itagaki out of the picture and their new merger with Koei, perhaps we'll see them start to work on more Wii titles in time. As of now, their only big announced 2009 Wii game is Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff, a revival of their classic Tecmo Bowl American football series from the 8-bit era. And they recently confirmed plans for a European release of the Suda 51-directed latest installment in their cult terrifying Fatal Frame horror series, Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse. A North American release will likely be announced sometime later this year as well, making it Tecmo's biggest Wii release to date.

Atlus - Ah, Atlus. Another of my favorite developers and publishers in recent years. They've been good to Nintendo fans in recent years too. Bringing all sorts of quirky Japanese games over, they've been providing good Wii software support since the console's launch.

At launch, they released Trauma Center: Second Opinion, a full remake of the critically acclaimed DS surgery sim with new character designs from a different artist, a new surgery tool, and some new surgery missions. You might expect something ultra graphic that the squeamish couldn't play in a genre like this - I'm not too keen on guts and all that myself - but they manage to visually present surgery in the Trauma Center in a way such that you can recognize organs, people's insides, and such, without it being stomach-churningly graphic. And the gameplay in the series in general is top notch. In 2007, they released a Wii exclusive follow-up in Trauma Center: New Blood, which had a few online features in being able to participate in online ranking boards based on your performance in surgery.

And in 2008, they released Baroque - a very dark, challenging, atmospheric action RPG set around the exploration of a twisted tower in a post-apocalyptic setting where people are mutanting into monsters. Very much a niche title that predictably didn't sell well on the Wii or PS2 - as it was given a multiplatform release - but it's a game I've enjoyed quite a bit for its twisted, strange atmosphere and tough gameplay. In the fall, Dokapon Kingdom received a similar multiplatform release and performed better all around, as a fusion RPG and board game/party game, becoming one of the best and deepest party games on the Wii. (It's a series that, with its gameplay premise, could really use a follow-up with online play.)

They've had nothing but failures on the HD consoles, it seems likely that they'll withdraw from them, since there's just no base to profit on for the kinds of games they bring west. (And in Japan, the company's had enough financial problems in recent years that risking financial collapse on an HD console wouldn't be worth it.) They haven't announced any specific Wii plans for 2009 yet either - though I'd love if they'd start getting their classic games on the Virtual Console, as they haven't yet, and gamers could use titles like Crusader of Centy, Ogre Battle 64, and Run Saber - but I imagine we may see some announcements from them later this year. Their DS support this year has already been phenomenal.

Hudson Entertainment - Another long-time developer well worth noting, and a great example of a developer/publisher you don't hear about as much in the mainstream that's been around for decades and still going strong with a lot of great, varied business decisions.

They've been a strong Wii supporter from the original launch, bringing their Turbografx-16/PC-Engine and TurboDuo/TurboCD/PC-Engine CD titles to the Virtual Console from day one. (And they've committed to bringing as much of those systems' library as humanly possible to the Virtual Console - an impressive undertaking. They're amongst the publishers getting previously Japan-exclusive games released in western territories as well.) They started releasing disc games in 2007 with the tilt-control puzzle game Kororinpa: Marble Mania and less than stellar flight sim Wing Island. That year, they also developed Mario Party 8, which Nintendo published as a first party title.

They continued their support in 2008 with the decent Deca Sports (Another Wii Sports-esque game collection featuring go-kart racing, archery, ice-skating, and more.), and focused on supporting WiiWare for the rest of the year with: My Aquarium (A fun, relaxing aquarium-building sim, in which you can exchange aquarium data with friends online), Bomberman Blast (A top notch Wii exclusive installment in the popular Bomberman series, complete with online multiplayer play), Tetris Party (One of the best and most indepth Tetris games in years), Cue Sports: Pool Revolution (One of the better pool games on the Wii, with online play), Alien Crush Returns (The latest in their popular "Crush" pinball game series, with some online features), Star Soldier R (A shorter arcade style shooter based on their classic Star Soldier games, oriented towards getting as high a score as possible in a few minutes), and Pit Crew Panic (A comical puzzle game of sorts about fixing up various things with a racing pit crew, with online ranking boards).

In 2009, the vast majority of their announced software is bound for the Wii as well. They've already released Snowboard Riot (A snowboarding game with weapons for a Snowboard Kids/Mario Kart feel and online play), Onslaught (A first-person shooter with online competitive and cooperative play), and Pop 'Em Drop 'Em SAMEGAME (A fun looking puzzle game) on WiiWare so far this year, and have a Deca Sports sequel on the way, along with the quirky looking Help Wanted (Job Island: Hard Working People in Europe), a mix of job-based minigame gameplay and life simulation elements, buying and collecting things with the money earned from the jobs you do. A new Adventure Island revival (Which reminds a little of Donkey Kong Country) is coming to WiiWare sometime this year as well, and they've hinted at plans for a Bonk series revival on WiiWare as well.

Hudson's done quite well this generation, their only real embarrassment having been the Xbox 360 game Bomberman: Act Zero, which screwed with the classic beloved Bomberman gameplay formula a bit too much, and tried to appeal to the Xbox 360 crowd with a dark, gritty graphical style that just didn't work for Bomberman. That game said a lot about what it takes to pander to the 360 audience.

THQ - They release a lot of shovelware and licensed children's movie based games, most of which aren't exactly worth noting. But amidst those, THQ releases a gem or two now and then. They're known for making good licensed pro wrestling games too, but their 2008 WWE SmackDown vs. Raw Wii game apparently wasn't particularly good, in being a bad downgrade from the PS3 and 360 versions - the 2009 edition's said to be a quality release though, for those interested in such things. (Admittedly, I'm no wrestling fan myself.)

In 2008, they released Worms: A Space Oddity, which lacked as a Worms series game in not having online play, the sort of thing you'd think would be a standard feature in any game in that series nowadays. They also released Battle of the Bands, a sub-par attempt to compete with Guitar Hero and Rock Band. But in the same year, they released the shining gem of their Wii releases, the main reason they're worth mentioning in this post: de Blob, a platformer with a fantastic soundtrack in which you explore black and white stages and restore their color. Probably the best platform game of 2008, and it's sold well enough that THQ's announced plans for a sequel.

In 2009, they also released Deadly Creatures, an action game with some of the best graphics on the Wii yet, in which you play as either a spider or a scorpion and fight with other insects and animals throughout the game as the story progresses. The camera and controls have gotten some mixed responses, as the only elements of the game that've been questioned. Not being a big insect person, it's not quite my cup of tea, but the game's critically acclaimed, and well worth noting.

Jaleco - They haven't had as much of a noteworthy presence in the west in recent years, but I'm just giving them a brief mention for their upcoming action-RPG, Ougon no Kizuna (Which translates to "Golden Bonds"), for the Wii. It looks pretty impressive, with an interesting artistic direction and massive-scale boss battles against towering monsters, not unlike the PS2's Shadow of the Colossus. A game to keep an eye on, which Jaleco has announced intentions of bringing to the west.


Before moving on, I wanted to draw attention to two more major summer blockbuster games bound for the Wii in the coming months worth nothing.

First off, we have the Wii version of Ghostbusters: The Video Game, a new follow-up to the hit Ghostbusters movie series, written by Dan Akyroyd and Harold Ramis, and starring Akyroyd, Ramis, Ernie Hudson, and Bill Murray. (Annie Potts returns as well, but Rick Moranis and Sigourney Weaver declined. Alyssa Milano has been confirmed to replace Weaver as the game's damsel in distress.) While all three major consoles will be receiving a version of the game, the Wii has the upper hand in having fully destructible environments - which the other two lack - superior controls with the Wii remote being used to aim at ghosts on screen as you blast them, and the Wii version's graphics have a cartoonier look to them (Like the '80s cartoon series) as opposed to the PS3 and 360's rather unnatural "realistic" graphical approach, which doesn't suit the Ghostbusters atmosphere so well. (The Wii version of Ghostbusters is also being developed by Red Fly studios, the developer responsible for Mushroom Men on the Wii.)

Due out just a week after that - later in June - we have Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings, a new full-on Indiana Jones adventure exclusively for the Wii and PSP, with some actual effort made to capture the Indiana Jones spirit and give the Wii version graphics more suitable for the console's prowess. The Wii version will also include an exclusive unlockable version of the classic PC Game Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis.

There are more developers that I probably could talk about, but at this point, this post is far too long already, and these are the ones most worth noting, as far as I'm concerned.

To wrap things up, let's take a look at a few things many third parties are frequently failing to get a grip on - undoubtedly in the face of Sony and Microsoft hurling cash at them for support, which is a practice wholly bad for the industry - or simply choosing to ignore, to their own detriment.

Profitability Issues

The elephant in the room that very few third parties have been open about. The high-definition consoles, the PS3 and Xbox 360, are both incredibly expensive to develop for - especially to produce the level of graphics the consoles' respective user bases demand this generation. As a result, game development costs have shot through the roof on these consoles - well into the multimillion dollar range - and the majority of the funding goes into the graphics, with the graphics often openly taking precedence over original or in any way innovative gameplay concepts. (Which the conservative-leaning PS3/360 audiences shy away from to begin with.)

This leads to the problem of serious conceptual and gameplay stagnation on those particular consoles, with creativity itself suffering. Development cycles are much longer on these platforms, with far more difficult programming architecture to deal with - unlike the Wii's, which was built on the Gamecube programming architecture in order to make development a much less painful process, as opposed to the development hell that is the PS3's multi-core Cell processor, which simply isn't hardware designed for gaming - and as a result, games either get rushed (The games themselves shipping full of bugs and glitches requiring the download of patches which won't be available forever, not getting a proper quality assurance assessment) or they simply end up being much, much shorter than the genres from the previous generation they usually follow. So the PS3 and 360 are loaded with shorter versions of last generation games that frequently have bug and glitch problems, and cost more than previous generation games. And the unfortunately corrupt media, in bending to the consoles' respective fanatic bases, refuse to criticize this trend in gaming, or even mark down these games in review scores for bugs, glitches, and essentially being rehashes of gameplay styles and genres that were done to death last generation with fancier graphics. (But they don't hesitate to mark all Wii games down because the system's graphical hardware isn't anywhere near as powerful as the competition's on some sites. Oh, the double standards.)

As a result of the high development costs on the PS3 and 360, most games need to break 1-2 million in sales in order to turn a profit. Most games do not do this, let alone achieve anything near that. And even their biggest hits aren't anywhere near as profitable as hit games were on the PS2 in the previous generation, the profits from which developers and publishers largely came into this generation basing their sustainable business plan around. For the most part, a focus on the PS3 and 360 simply isn't sustainable, and most games beyond a very select few genres don't have a shot at turning a profit. Unless you're pushing an extremely-hyped online-multiplayer centric first person shooter, extremely-hyped hack-and-slasher, or generally extremely-hyped shooting oriented title dripping in testosterone, you don't have much hope in turning a profit - if your game isn't an ultra-mainstream blockbuster with "realistic" western style graphics, you can forget finding an audience on those systems. The losses many developers are taking as a result of this has in many regards played into destabilizing the industry, in a failure to recognize the changing face of the industry and shift resources to primary Wii development.

Nintendo faces a lot of resentment from the PS3/360 fanatic crowds, who don't get why it's succeeding. Part of it comes from the pricing, and the rest comes from the paradigm shift the Wii (like the DS) brought to the game industry. Normal people, the mass market, normal gamers - these people were not demanding an extension of the previous generation. In many capacities, it's still the same basic gameplay experience we were getting back in the 1980s when the NES and Sega Master System launched - just with much prettier 3D graphics. In this day and age, traditional video game controllers inhibit the progression of the medium and development of new types of gameplay - the very evolution of video gaming itself. And much to the chagrin of the PS3/360 crowd these days, video gaming isn't and wasn't ever going to be something mainstream that everybody gets into - like books, movies, TV, and music - on traditional controllers.

Capcom themselves have been amongst the most unprofessional in their treatment of the mass market - the Wii in particular. For years now, they've provided smaller name games as essential "bait," telling us, "Prove that there's a profitable core gamer market on your system and we'll give you big games. We've done that with each and every one of the titles they've released - both bigger and smaller name. Despite that, they're still concentrating the majority of their resources on failing consoles, and only getting the online Wii crowd angry with their lack of followthrough. Even just the other day, their spokesman Christian Svensson begrudgingly admitted that the Wii version of Okami had outsold the original PS2 version, when all along he'd been trying to play the game up as a "failure" and "proof that we shouldn't bother with the Wii." Once again, Capcom released a good game - in Okami's case, an excellent one - didn't advertise it at all, and expected it to flop so they could rationalize writing off the Wii, and once again, the Wii market's proven them wrong.

Breaking Previous Sales Patterns

Another point many third parties try to ignore in writing games off as failures if they don't sell like gangbusters right out the door (A complaint registered often enough when developers don't advertise their games at all, and still refuse to blame themselves.) is that sales patterns and cycles on the Wii are completely different from anything the industry's seen before - aside from the DS. This has largely come from the Wii and DS shattering the traditional patterns in the industry with their unprecedented wide-scale mainstream success.

While Wii games - outside of a few games that constantly sell in ridiculous numbers, like Wii Fit and Mario Kart Wii - often don't stick around on the sales charts for long (This actually goes for most PS3 and 360 games too), they remain much more consistent than their competitors in slower long-term sales. While PS3 and 360 blockbusters are advertised to death on television and sell well out the door - in rare cases, a million+ in a single week, like Halo 3 - but their sales are incredibly front-loaded. They sell extremely well at first, then drop right off the charts and their sales slow to a crawl as most interested console owners simply buy the games early on. In the Wii's case, with most third party games receiving little to no advertising, there's a well documented and established trend of Wii games being slow-burners in software sales. With much better development costs, they don't have to sell a million+ copies to break even, let alone turn a profit, and with most good games selling well by word of mouth, good packaging, and good gameplay premises - while the vast majority of shovelware sits on shelves unsold - most worthwhile Wii games eventually turn a profit through slower, steadier sales over a longer period of time, with many games deemed "failures" eventually turning into cult and sleeper hits. At this point, the Wii is far ahead of the PS3 in terms of total million sellers, usually gets a few more each month, and is well on its way to surpassing the Xbox 360 on that front as well. It sells far more software every year than both its competitors, and as closer market analysis has found, without the Wii and DS, the video game market would indeed be shrinking and in serious trouble this generation.

If this post didn't say enough on its own - many trolls on online gaming blogs try to vocally insist "there's nothing to play on the Wii." As this discussion points out, these individuals are wrong.

And that's it for this week! (Or last week, technically speaking. This sure was a long one, eh? I'm exhausted just having written it. It took me four nights to finish it, after all - the most I've put into a blog post yet, with this encyclopedic level of commentary. Here's hoping that those of you who bothered to read through it at least found a few games of interest. There's a lot worth playing on the Wii that tends to get overlooked in the mainstream - often intentionally so in online communities in order to continue complaining that there's "nothing to play on the Wii," when it actually has a much more varied library than its competitors.) Later this week week, look forward to another quirky post on one subject or another - whatever I can come up with or come across that seems blog-worthy, as usual - and the conclusion to Sane Gaming later in the week! Following that, you can look forward to a return to even more varied post topics on a regular basis.

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