State of the Union: 2016, Goodbye
Kalvin Martinez / Dec 30th, 2016 No Comments
It is natural to take stock and reflect back on the previous year as a new one approaches. Every year we try to look back and apprise what happened in video games. It might not seem like too much can change in the mid-cycle of a console generation, but if anything this cycle has proven it is certainly dynamic.
The end of 2016 leaves the landscape of video games in a wildly different place than 2015 did. To understand where we are at, it is important to examine the state of the big three publishers/console manufactures. For a change, we will also look at a new trend that emerged this year.
Kings Stay Kings
Sony stays winning, but at this point it might be because of its momentum. It is hard to say 2016 was a win for any specific decisions Sony made. E3 wasn’t a barn burner for the company, especially compared to last year’s crazy press conference. Sony’s PSX saw some choice announcements, but so late in the game it is hard to say it could move the needle one way or another.
The PS4 Pro released late in the year, bringing 4K gaming, more robust streaming and increased processing power to gamers. It launched around the same time as the PS4 Slim, both giving the PlayStation 4 a new look. The new builds are quieter and much less visually striking than the original design.
While the PS4 Pro is interesting, it isn’t a significant enough change to justify all PS4 owners to upgrade. The PS4 continues to sell, but there wasn’t a dramatic increase so it isn’t as exciting as the Xbox One S’ solid holiday sales.
On the software side, Sony had a great year. The magnificent Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End released among other strong titles like Ratchet and Clank, Street Fighter V, and timed exclusives like The Witness and Firewatch. Sony also managed to get The Last Guardian out after nearly a decade in development. That is a victory in itself regardless of quality. The one stumbling block in their software lineup was No Man’s Sky and the game’s confusing marketing decision.
Don’t Call it a Comeback
Microsoft, much like Sony, released a mid-cycle console upgrade in the form of the Xbox One S. The newer system added a 4K Blu-ray player, streaming and upscaling, HDR gaming and a slimmer, sleeker design. However, it mainly helped close the graphics and performance gap between it and the PS4. As a result of scrappy price cuts and incentives, the Xbox One S sold incredibly well during the holidays. While it isn’t enough to close the gap in sales between the Xbox One and the PS4, it is a win for Microsoft.
At E3, Microsoft also announced a 4K console in the works, “Project Scorpio.” The Scorpio is too early to get excited about, but it will be intriguing to see how the “true” 4K gaming machine will pan out.
In terms of software, the Xbox One had a mixed year. There were some excellent exclusives, including Forza Horizon 3 and Gears of War 4, but its console-exclusive lineup was tepid compared to the previous year. Both Quantum Break and ReCore were full of interesting ideas and were creatively bold, but both games were lacking.
Overall, Microsoft can chalk 2016 up as a win.
How Long Will They Mourn Me
Let’s pour one out for the Wii U. Rest in Power.
Nintendo went from a promising 2016 after a good 2015 to a very mixed year. It is hard to call it outright abysmal, but it is very close. Stopping production of the Wii U and a very lackluster final year of software is certainly a loss, but elsewhere the company thrived.
It was another great year for the 3DS, with strong software anchored by Pokémon Sun and Moon. However, system shortages during the holidays were a pretty bad look.
Hell, production issues might as well be Nintendo’s motto. Nothing is more endemic of this than the NES Classic Edition. The little plug-and-play system had supply issues throughout the holidays, resulting in huge reseller markup and a lot of desperate nostalgia freaks. What could have been a great month will be remembered as a fumble.
For all of Nintendo’s faults this year, the one true success the company had was the tantalizing prospect of what’s to come in 2017. The focus of its E3 floor presence was The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. As the only game Nintendo had playable at E3, it sole the breath away from everyone who got time with it. The rampant delays for the game have hurt some of its momentum coming into and out of E3, but whenever the game releases it will set the world on fire.
Nintendo’s other big success was the formal announcement of the Switch. The upcoming console took everyone by surprise despite massive leaks. No one expected the home-portable console hybrid. In a short three-minute video, Nintendo said a lot without ever saying a word.
While the Switch announcement does nothing to save a bum 2016, it does signal exciting things to come in 2017. Now all we can do is wait for Nintendo’s upcoming Switch presentation to get the real dope on the system.
One of the biggest shakeups in 2016 has been the emergence (and explosion) of virtual reality. VR isn’t new, and the signs of it coming have been peeking out for the last few years. 2016 is when the major players and platforms in the field finally came out to try to make an argument for VR as a significant experience.
Oculus Rift launched first, with HTC Vive following close behind. Both PC-based VR headsets launched with a hefty price tag. Sony’s PlayStation VR came out last with a significantly cheaper price tag and the support of PlayStation developers and clout. Besides the major players, smaller and less intensive VR devices launched to give everyone the opportunity to film their peepaw and meemaw trying out VR.
While VR is here, there hasn’t been a real argument for it to be the next big thing in gaming. It has all the markings to do what the Wii did for motion controls, but the steep investment, high price and lack of an “it” game prevent it from being a must have for everyone. Even the PlayStation VR didn’t usher in a revolution because the games aren’t there yet.
Until people get over the novelty and stop posting videos of their dumb friends yelling at the TV flailing their arms, VR probably won’t provide the significant experiences it needs to in order to justify the cost. It is just too early right now.
2016 was weird on the whole. A lot of things happened to shake up what we expected, but plenty of good stuff came out of the year too. If half of what is promised to come out next year pans out, then we are in for a hell of a 2017. It is time to move on to the next one.
tags: 3ds , HTC Vive , Oculus Rift , opinion , ps4 , Switch , xbox one