So the PS3 and Wii consoles were launched this week in the US. Being in the UK means that I get to observe the events from a distance, and indeed, comment from other people’s comments and news stories that will, as a matter of course, be exaggerated and indeed sensationalised in order to make things seem a little more over the top than they are. Still, this latest batch of next gen console launches seem to be slightly different from the last lot. Being as this is probably the second “next gen launch” I’ve ever been really able to comment on – only being 18 means that, although I may have been around for the launch of the PS1 era, the Mega Drive/SNES and even further, I only really have coherent memories of the last two launches.

However, the main thing I’ve noticed, and I’m sure I’m not the only one, is that behind all these stories of people being robbed at gunpoint while waiting in line for one of the new consoles, and websites banning the import of the machines into other countries, is that while the stories surrounding the launches have been more and more sensationalized, conversely the thing that matters – the actual console and games themselves – heck, the whole important part of the launch, has been rather quiet and sedate than previously I feel. Most of all the consoles supposed “Killer Apps” aren’t really due until next year at the earliest, and judging on the XBox 360’s current performance, we won’t start seeing the peak of the consoles for a few years yet. The thing is, while this is a given in some respects, it just seems weird that the more prominent stories – even in the gaming press – are less about the games and console itself, and more about the surrounding issues.

Part of me would like to say that games, and indeed gaming, are growing up. And I’ve said this before; they probably are, what with the games. But something rather disturbing – at least to me that is – is that these launches seem to be losing sight of why we play games in the first place: Fun. It’s a mark of where we are when you think about how now; Sony is synonymous with suits and corporations. Microsoft too, even though their launch was a year ago, still has an air of formality about themselves. What really worries me though is that I’ve heard a lot about the new consoles and the games, but I honestly couldn’t name one game on the launch lineup. Compare this more than a decade ago, when we had Wipeout, Twisted Metal and Ridge Racer: games which are nowadays considered classics. Looking at the Wikipedia page to find out what the launch titles actually are, out of 15 titles, 10 of them I can identify as sequels. In trying to make the PlayStation 3 more of a media hub, I can’t help but feel they’re losing sight of what gaming is about. Now, of course, you’re going to say to me: “Go for the Wii! Nintendo are about fun!” And of course, you’d be right. But again, I know little about the launch line up. Should I know more? Maybe because I know it’s out in the UK a lot sooner than the PS3 I’m not too worried about knowing the details of a US launch, but again – maybe I’m maturing faster than I want to, and focusing on the latest launches are not a priority for me anymore. But very worrying, is the fact that instead of embracing the technology now given to them in these new consoles and incorporating it fluidly, some companies seem more interested in taking the cheap way out. Even more worrying, is that Nintendo itself don’t seem to be immune from this. In one online review of Zelda: Twighlight Princess this week, it was said that the “Wii-specific elements feel tacked on” -not a good sign.

Of course, the real proof of these silicon puddings will no doubt lie in the future performance of the games, heck – I am probably going to get a Wii, and am looking forward to the new Wario Ware and Wii Sports. Hopefully, the developers and publishers will be working hard to produce quality titles that will indeed be fun, playable and most importantly, great forms of entertainment. But it is a little worry when the focus of what these launches are supposed to be about is lost. I suppose this is more a comment on the gaming press (and indeed wider media) in general than just the games companies themselves, why are we not really being told how much fun the games are, rather than how much money they cost to make, how many polygons the protagonist is made from, how downloadable content will end up costing users a small fortune? – Sure, tell us these things, but come on – don’t make them the most important stories about the games!

The funny thing is, I was thinking about this while playing a pre release copy of Guitar Hero II for the PlayStation2 (As much as I would like to say I obtained it as a perk of being a “games journalist”, this would be a lie. There was a competition at my local Game) Sure, if you were playing the game with just a pad then it’s a game that is basically a very boring version of Simon Says. Put it in the context of playing a guitar, with the controller, and some awesome songs, then you’ve got yourself what I would call a pure gaming experience- because I feel it’s one of the best modern examples you can have of a game where you really enjoy yourself. If you’re planning to buy a next gen console in the next year, ask yourself one thing:

How much fun are you going to get out of this?

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