Posted in Quiet Stories

Xbox Finds Their Niche


Xbox Game Pass could literally change the way we play games. It could be Microsoft’s answer to carving out a niche within the console wars. It could end up being just as big in gaming, as Netflix is in television. These are definitely bold claims to make, but work with me. Because it actually makes a lot of sense.

Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft, as the three juggernauts of gaming hardware, have been fighting head to head for years. Each company releases consoles, on which you can play games. They all have online services, exclusive I.P.’s and diehard fan boys. However they are all rather samey. Each one streamlined in their design to be a similar product. Each of these three companies has attempted to differentiate themselves through peripherals and gimmicks in the past. From VR, to motion controls to second screen experiences. Sometimes these attempts at uniqueness pay off and sometimes they don’t. The Wii U’s second screen, tablet experience, was viewed as a monumental failure, while the Xbox One’s always online, multimedia box branding, could be viewed as Microsoft’s downfall this generation.

But I believe these three companies have finally found their niches. Finally found a way to stand out from one another. Playstation, being the current frontrunner in the console race, has the least intention of changing. A console, simpler to use than a PC, but chock full of first party exclusives and third party exclusivity deals. Playstation will continue down the traditional console route, as long as they continue to see the overwhelming success they have so far.

Nintendo has already reinvented themselves. Realising, that to find success, all they need to do is merge their insanely popular handheld hardware and their nostalgia filled line up of I.P.’s. And there you have it, the Switch is born. It doesn’t need to be a more powerful console than the PS4 and Xbox One. It doesn’t need the breadth of third party games the other two consoles have. Nintendo created a console that carved out a niche and worked out what it is. A portable device that delivers console quality Nintendo franchises and indie titles.

So if you have a PS4 and a Switch, then why do you need an Xbox One? It’s virtually the same as the PS4, hardware wise. And sure there are exclusives like Gears of War and Halo, but they’re also on PC. So there really doesn’t seem much point in buying an Xbox One. But if Microsoft is smart, (and they’re definitely a lot smarter than me), they will have realised that Xbox Game Pass is their answer, their opportunity to stand out. But how?

Xbox has been second best since E3 2013. After the monumental success of the Xbox 360 they got cocky. Demanding gamers accept ‘features,’ such as always having to be online. A fiasco that led to the departure of leading figures from Xbox and the consoles lack of success in this current generation. People have also criticised Microsoft for its lack of exclusives compared to Sony and Nintendo, and for relying too heavily on declining franchises like Gears of War and Halo. Microsoft seemed to seal the deal when they recently launched their ‘Play Anywhere’ initiative. The program which launched September 13th 2016, meant that once you purchased an Xbox exclusive, you also owned it on PC. Microsoft in an attempt to push Windows 10 stated that all future Xbox exclusives would also release on PC. So there really doesn’t seem to be any reason to buy an Xbox One.

But that’s because Microsoft doesn’t want you to buy their hardware. The Xbox One and the incoming Scorpio are just conduits for you to play games through, just like a PC. Microsoft’s real product, is Xbox Game Pass.

Xbox Game Pass releases June 1st and offers subscribers access to over 100 games across the Xbox One and 360 catalogue.  Subscribers can download the games, or purchase them outright at a discounted price. Similarly to Netflix, titles will roll in and out as the months go by, ensuring you always have something to play. Sure this may seem like a simple premise, but all you have to do is look at the overwhelming success of Netflix. Netflix is an incredibly successful business, and creates award winning television exclusively for their platform, while also satiating fans with various films and shows they acquired the rights to. So what if Xbox did the same. What if, instead of Xbox One exclusives, we got Xbox Game Pass exclusives?

Imagine Telltale like story games, exclusively for Xbox Game Pass. Releasing over the course of the year, you have a new story experience every month. Or small chunks of games like the episodic Hitman. This could be the future of episodic games. You’d also get one or two big budget exclusives each year. You might still have to purchase them on top of your subscription fee, but possibly at a discounted price. Perhaps Game Pass becomes so big that it can afford to produce new Halo and Gears of War titles, at no extra charge for subscribers. And of course, on top of exclusives we would see a litany of third party games spanning all three generations of Xbox. You could still buy an Xbox console but you wouldn’t need it to buy the Game Pass, which would also be available on PC. Although games don’t have the same reach as television, just by looking at Netflix, we can see the possibilities unfold for Xbox Game Pass.

Is this Xbox’s way of standing out? A way to create a niche market. Depending on the success of Xbox Game Pass, could we see a future where you buy a Playstation, a Switch and pay a monthly fee to get access to Microsoft’s catalogue? Only time will tell.

Posted in Quiet Stories

Skylar and Plux Review

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Nostalgia is both a useful tool and a slight handicap. By creating a game that plays on people’s fond memories for past titles, you can recapture a feeling they had from their gaming history, a feeling they want to remember. But pushing too far down this avenue also poses the risk of isolating modern gamers, by utilising outdated mechanics and tropes for a genre long dead.

Skylar and Plux: Adventure on Clover Island is a game that walks this fine line. Skylar and Plux takes me back to the heyday of the 3D platforming genre. When discussing the game with them in an interview, developer Right Nice Games told me of their inspirations. Games like Banjo Kazooie, Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, but strangely not Ratchet and Clank. The reason I cite this as odd, is that Skylar and Plux feels like the perfect blend of the original Ratchet and Clank and Jak and Daxter games.

From a story stand point, Clover Island takes ideas from Ratchet and Clank. A maniacal villain named CRT has set out to destroy the planet of Clover Island. However Skylar, a humanoid space leopard breaks loose and escapes down to the planet below, crash landing with her memory erased. She immediately meets Plux, a chirpy owl-like local, looking to fly away from his home planet. Beat for beat this is the origin story of Ratchet and Clank. Clank similarly escaped from the villain of his original game, only to crash land on an alien planet, with no memory. It was here that he met Ratchet, a local of the planet, looking for adventure, and very similar in appearance to Skylar herself.

While from a design perspective Clover Island takes ideas from Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy. From the partnering of a silent protagonist and chatter box sidekick, to Clover Island sharing a strong resemblance to Sandover Village, to basic movement animations being almost identical between the two games. But what stops this from being a simple copy and paste project?

Skylar and Plux does create a personality for itself in its 2-3 hour campaign. Upon arriving on Clover Island, you find that CRT has attacked the planet and captured its inhabitants. You’ll collect glowing yellow shards throughout the world in the same way you collected Precursor Orbs and Bolts. However you’ll then use these shards to free the locals from their cages. Free enough locals and your overall health will be raised.

The game itself is split into three main areas. Each area is aesthetically different and offers unique platforming challenges and puzzles. The game stays fresh by introducing new abilities once you enter a new area. From a jet pack, to the ability to slow down time, to a giant magnetic claw. These abilities change up how you tackle combat and puzzles within the game. The game is simple to master. None of the platforming or enemy encounters felt too gruelling, while puzzles were often fair and straightforward. This is a game fans of the genre will be able to cruise through, but is also accessible enough to accommodate younger gamers. These features don’t revolutionise gaming, but help Skylar and Plux stand out enough from its inspirations.

Although Clover Island finds an identity for itself amongst all the references, it doesn’t do anything to entice those who weren’t already fond of the genre. However Skylar and Plux is exactly what 3D Platforming fanatics are looking for. It’s a compact three hour experience that covers a genre you grew up with, in a fresh coat of paint.