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TGS: Analysis - The State Of Sony, Microsoft... Nintendo?

TGS: Analysis - The State Of Sony, Microsoft... Nintendo? Exclusive

October 10, 2008 | By Simon Carless

Looking over the 2008 Tokyo Game Show, one of the main factors an interested onlooker might consider is how the console manufacturers are handling the show. Both Microsoft and Sony, currently dueling for position in the worldwide market, sought a strong showing at TGS.

Sony needed to convince consumers that its recent loss to the Xbox 360 in the monthly Japanese sales charts was just a one-off. On the other hand, Microsoft needed to convince the assembled masses its momentum in the territory was not a flash in the pan. As for Nintendo -- well, we'll get to them a little later.

On Microsoft's Showing

Let's start with Microsoft. It laid out its agenda in John Schappert's first-day TGS keynote, which we've already covered at some length here on Gamasutra. The Halo 3: Recon announcement was important for the world stage, if not as much for the Japanese market. But on the show floor, its key titles were surprisingly Japan-centric and well-received.

Much of this has to do with Square Enix's high level of support for Microsoft's console, with The Last Remnant and a beautiful-looking Star Ocean: The Last Hope both playable at its large booth. Then there's Final Fantasy XIII, this year confirmed for Microsoft's console but nowhere to be seen. And with Namco Bandai's Tales Of Vesperia the key recent hardware-mover for the company, Xbox 360's Japanese support is becoming wide and surprisingly deep.

Take Capcom's Resident Evil 5, for example, a massively important title, and the first series entry on a Microsoft console. In addition, Koei's Gundam Musou 2 will also be appearing on the Xbox 360, and From Software's Ninja Blade looks particularly promising.

Street Fighter IV also made a high-profile appearance at Microsoft's booth in lush form, and the niche shooter community is starting to become heavily supported thanks to titles such as Raiden IV and Death Smiles.

Relatively few of these titles are guaranteed to be Microsoft-exclusive over time -- most of the larger ones are likely to appear on PlayStation 3 at some point. But as the company has found, getting companies to launch their former Sony-only franchises on Microsoft's console as well is a massive equalizer for consumers -- as demonstrated by Namco's revelation that Tekken 6 will appear on Xbox 360.

And the firm is still producing Xbox 360 exclusives to help differentiate its console further. Some are with niche developers on the otaku end of the chain.

But those that exist higher up the ladder, such as Ninety-Nine Nights II, confirmed at the press conference, may be further reasons for Japanese consumers to get excited about Microsoft's console. The care given to resurrect Japanese retro titles on Xbox Live Arcade is well-appreciated, too.

One probably wouldn't argue that Microsoft is winning the battle in Japan. Rather, the company has muscled its way into a significant install base worldwide -- and now Japanese companies are releasing their expensively-produced titles across multiple platforms out of global necessity. It's definitely getting Microsoft somewhere.

On Sony's Showing

Sony held no press conference to showcase its titles, but its show-floor presence is imposing and impressive, with LittleBigPlanet the key title with which it's hoping to impress the Japanese public this holiday season.

The company's worldwide devotion to the game's Sackboy protagonist is advertised by a massive globe featuring him, as well as a large puppet version of the character interacting with the presenters of the theater show at the TGS Sony booth. Plus, of course, there's a LBP-specific PS3 hardware bundle debuting this holiday season in Japan.

It will be interesting to see if the title resonates with the Japanese, given the paucity of Western experiences that have sold significantly well in the territory. However, if anyone has previously managed to make the transition, it's been Sony. For example, mascot-style platformers such as Ratchet & Clank have sold well in Japan (possibly thanks to extra eyebrows).

Browsing Sony's brochure for the show after visiting its booth, it is notable that Western titles such as Resistance 2, Killzone 2, SOCOM: Confrontation, and MotorStorm's sequel are given high billing, appearing as double-page spreads up front in the brochure ahead of many notable Japanese titles.

Why so? Well, with so many third-parties going multi-platform with major titles, Sony may want to accentuate its exclusives above otherwise great games that are now multiplatform -- even if the exclusives may not be spectacularly suited to the Japanese market.

This is significantly different to the approach taken by Microsoft, which is happy to make noise about projects that are coming to the Xbox 360 for the first time.

Extrapolating on these trends, Sony seems to be building its exclusives much more for the larger world market, in particular the the North American and European territories that share similar tastes to one another, compared to Japan -- which does not.

This observation may be unduly inflated by the fact that there seem to be major Japanese-created exclusive titles that are in development but are simply not yet ready to be revealed, save a few outliers like Level 5's White Knight Chronicles, From Software's Demon's Souls, and the thus-far PS3-exclusive Yakuza 3.

And let's not forget the PSP, which features some strong, quirky first-party titles like LocoRoco 2 and Patapon 2.

Few high-end PS3 third-party titles are showing outside of Sony's booth, but there is a gigantic number of PSP games elsewhere on the show floor, from Dissidia: Final Fantasy to Level 5's new game Ushiro, with the portable system seemingly rivaling the DS in its quantity of high-profile Japan-centric releases.

On Nintendo's Showing?

Nintendo has of course historically chosen not to exhibit its hardware or first-party games at Tokyo Game Show, often preferring to hold its own events (such as the now-defunct SpaceWorld of years past), as it did when announcing the DSi earlier this month.

Nintendo's worldwide hardware sales dominance is not currently in doubt, even with some regional variance (the PSP is performing very well compared to the Nintendo DS in Japan at the moment). The company's lack of presence notwithstanding, there is a plethora of Wii and DS titles on show, notable at this relatively "core gamer"-focused event.

And with announcements such as No More Heroes 2 timed for TGS, Yuji Naka's charming recently-announced Let's Tap for Wii, and Phantasy Star on DS just a few of the show floor standouts, there is plenty of third-party goodness to see here for Nintendo's consoles -- not least of all Monster Hunter 3, which moved from PlayStation 3 to Wii after its initial announcement. Youch.

Plus, for the first time I can recall in recent memory, there are Nintendo characters on the TGS show floor. They may have just been Animal Crossing-, Pikmin-, and Mario-themed plush toys made available for sale by a third party in the merchandising area, but hey -- it's better than nothing, right?

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