On the newly announced Xbox 360 Arcade and the Wii
Microsoft has announced the Xbox 360 Arcade SKU, which will replace the hard drive-less Core SKU. It's Microsoft's attempt to steal some of that casual and family market share from Nintendo. It'll be priced at $279, and come with a pack of family games, one wireless controller and a 256 MB memory card. They're backing up this effort with Looney Toons cartoons and Nickelodeon shows becoming avaliable for download on Xbox Live Marketplace. You can read the posted article for more details.
I won't lie - I've become a bit of an 360 fanboy since I bought my system about a year ago. As one of the "core" gamers spoken of in the article linked above, I've looked at the massive sales of the Wii with some joy. I think it's good for the gaming industry overall. The competition should drive other companies to make better games. I think Microsoft is making an earnest effort to capture a piece of the casual games pie, and more money in their pockets from that means more money for development of the kinds of games I like to play. Besides, the console may be marketed towards families, but it can still play the games intended for older and more hardcore gamers. When the kids get a bit older and maybe more into video games, or if the parents decide they'd like to try it out, they'll be able to play Gears of War if they want to. Not to mention that some younger parents, some of the original core gamers who now have kids, should find this to be an appealing offer. This new system has an expandability that I feel the Wii lacks for the most part.
I myself own a Wii, but I honestly wish I had my $300 back for how often I've used the thing. In fact, it may go up on Craig's List pretty soon. I could use the cash. Outside of it's value at parties and Metroid Prime 3, it's just not what I want from a game system. The "innovative controls" seem to me to be little more than a gimmick for the most part. I don't think that's Nintendo's fault, necessarily; their first party games have done a better job with using the new control scheme effectively than any third-party developer. In fact, 7 of the 10 top rated games for the Wii over on Gamespot are in-house games. One of those is Super Metroid, though, a Super Nintendo game available for download via Nintendo's Virtual Console.
It seems like most non-Nintendo games for the Wii are crappy franchise tie-ins, ports from other systems with motion controls thrown in, and mini-game compilations. I feel third-party software development for the Wii up to this point has been little more than an effort to cash in on the "family-friendly" console, not an earnest effort to create quality software. Only Nintendo itself seems to have any interest in creating compelling gaming experiences for core gamers, which they did with Metroid Prime 3: Corruption.
I actually lambasted MP3:C in a previous post for it's poor graphical quality based on screenshots I had seen. After playing the game, I admit I was premature in my judgment. I still feel the graphics aren't up to snuff. But the art direction, as has been noted elsewhere, is very well done. It is by far the best looking Wii game I've seen to date. The gameplay is the shining achievement of MP3:C. It has a great blend of shooter and action and adventure and puzzles blended in. Though using the Wiimote in boss battles often left my hands cramped and unable to continue playing. But MP3:C is proof that the Wii is a viable platform for core gamers. But I don't believe it will ever become one, unless third-party developers step up their efforts to create that kind of experience.
It doesn't seem to me that they will. Why would they?
I think game developers know that if they want to reach core gamers, they should develop for the PC, 360, and PS3. But development costs on the Wii overall are cheaper than the 360 and PS3 to begin with, since it essentially uses last-generation hardware. It doesn't make good financial sense to put any sort of substantial time and money into developing a hardcore game for the Wii, when they can put out what amounts to little more than a compiation of polished tech demos (a la Wii Sports) and sell enough copies to turn a profit.
Anyway, there's still a lot of time left in the current generation Console Wars. I don't see any reason all three systems can't co-exist; like I said above, the competition is good for the industry.
The PS3 is still a punchline, though.