One thing that is as constant as loud music from my neighbors downstairs on New Year's Eve is the many many predictions made about the coming year in just about every major field of study and entertainment by anybody with a magazine column, website, or blog. Who am I to ignore this seemingly required aspect of journalism?
Read on for my predictions for 2006 in which I put aside my brand favoritism and speculate on which companies will soar, which characters will be reinvented, and which consoles will land in homes around the world in time for New Year's Day 2007.
The Microsoft Xbox 360 will have a good first year. Not a great first year, mind you, and not a failing first year either. Instead it will continue to sell out completely until all of the existing preorders are filled and after that there will be plenty of consoles to go around. Expect to see plenty of consoles on store shelves with the Sony PlayStation 3 launches, but not because they’re being ignored in favor of the PS3, but because Microsoft wants plenty of Xbox units on the shelf to entice potential PS3 customers who would otherwise go home empty-handed. Halo 3 will sell at a near 1:1 ratio with the console, bringing the Xbox division another rare profitable quarter.
Speaking of the PlayStation 3, the console will launch in time for the big Holiday 2006 shopping season. Sony learned their lesson with the lukewarm spring PlayStation Portable launch and is hungry for that sweet Christmas shopping cash. PS3 demand will spike, preorders will go unfilled, there will be a pesky “shortage” of units... sound familiar? Another installment of Grand Theft Auto will be available at launch, and this time around everybody will be watching to see how many politicians move to censor it. The large amount of attention will lead to increased sales as fans of the series try to buy the game before it’s “banned” by overzealous senators with presidential aspirations.
The PSP will finally get its must-own game, leading to a revived interest in the handheld unit when it also receives a minor price cut. UMD movies will continue to sell well (all things considered) and will still outnumber the number of available games at the end of the year.
The Nintendo Revolution will steal the show at E3 2006 and everyone who attends the pre-show press conference will exit with visions of waving a remote control. Customers won’t be so easily won, however, as Nintendo will have an uphill battle to sway that non-gaming demographic the company has been seeking lately. In addition to in-store demo kiosks is the company’s secret weapon: all of the people who exit the E3 2006 pre-show press conference. They won’t shut up about the console or the controller until sometime in 2007. As for games, expect to see new versions of Super Mario, Super Smash Bros., and Metroid available for a holiday 2006 launch with teases for new The Legend of Zelda, Animal Crossing, and F-Zero titles for 2007. We will not see producer Shigeru Miyamoto’s new franchise at E3 2006, as he will not be ready to show it yet.
While we’re talking Nintendo, there will be no successor to the Game Boy Advance on store shelves this year, as Nintendo will put its budget behind the Revolution and the successful Nintendo DS. Instead another extension of the GBA line will be announced to sit alongside the SP and Micro models with new games consisting mainly of updated retro adventures and puzzle titles. The DS, meanwhile, will get its promised redesign with brighter screens, a smaller case, and support for WPA encryption. New DS titles from Nintendo will include a Mario Kart DS expansion, the infamously late Metroid Prime Hunters, a touchscreen-intensive Legend of Zelda adventure just in time for the holiday shopping season, and the arrival of New Super Mario Bros. which will sell well, but will not be mentioned in the mainstream media because its gameplay is “old” and therefore not worthy of coverage in this modern whiz-bang world. Nevertheless, everyone who plays it will be transported back to the time period between 1988 and 1992.
Nintendo’s “virtual console” backwards compatibility series for the Revolution will launch with the same kinds of titles that Nintendo has been pumping out every few years in different formats: Super Mario Bros. 3, The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and Super Mario 64. The company will hold on to long-lost favorites such as Super Metroid and Super Mario RPG until the rabid launch crowd has bought consoles and the push to really sell the Revolution to the casual gamers begins. Fans of Nintendo’s most obscure material (such as the original Mother and the various Japanese Satellaview and RandNet online materials) will be ignored when they demand downloadable versions of Mario Excitebike and BS F-Zero 2.
Sega will finally create an exceptional 3D Sonic the Hedgehog title when Sonic Team puts the entire extended cast (Tails, Knuckles, Amy, Cream, Blaze, Shadow, and the rest) back in the toy box for a while and focuses on what made the original Sonic games so much fun: blue skies and plenty of speed.
Capcom will bring us the latest installments and iterations of Resident Evil, Street Fighter, and Mega Man for the next generation of consoles. Resident Evil 5 will be the peak of the series thematically, while Street Fighter will be “reinvented” with a series reboot in an attempt to cull the cast of characters. Mega Man, meanwhile, will continue to slide further from his glory days as yet another incarnation of the character is created specifically for pure 3D gameplay. Also expect to see Mega Man Zero 5 for the Game Boy Advance (the last title in the series for the GBA), Mega Man Battle Network 6 for the GBA and the DS, one last Mega Man X title for the PlayStation 2 before it is overtaken by the PS3, and an eventual port of the soon-to-be-released PSP title Mega Man: Powered Up for the Nintendo DS in which players can trade their custom levels via local multiplayer (but the rumored ability to trade levels via the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection will not come to pass).
Konami will wow attendees at E3 2006 with the first footage of a very dark, very cinematic Castlevania title for the Xbox 360 and PS3. A sequel to 2005’s Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow for the DS will be released, as will a Castlevania compilation for the PSP consisting of several beloved entries in the series with enhanced visuals, music, and some new material (this will not be the aforementioned PSP killer app, but it will sell very well).
Electronic Arts will continue to be both profitable and reviled. The company’s days of buying up licenses like a senior citizen at a flea market will come to an end, as EA will have acquired more than enough material on which to base new games. EA will also attempt to launch a new original character franchise this year that it has acquired from one of the students at the School of Digital Media that it co-sponsors with the University of Central Florida.
Former golden boy Rare will finally start to be worth the very high price Microsoft paid for the company at the dawn of the Xbox generation when the company announces a new Banjo-Kazooie adventure for the Xbox 360. Halo 3 fans aren’t impressed, but the title does attract adult Nintendo fans who are not interested in waving remote controls around the room. The title will sell well and will sell Xbox 360s, but in the end Microsoft will not be happy because the game is not targeting the “mature” audience with which they wish to be associated, and the bear and bird will no longer be welcome on Microsoft’s console purely for reasons of company politics. On the other hand, Microsoft will authorize a sequel to the game for the Nintendo DS, a place where it will sell well and yet not be “noticed” by the mainstream.
More gaming “also-rans” will drop out of the market, as Nokia drops the n-Gage line once and for all, Gizmondo goes down in a fiery blaze, and the often-mocked Phantom finally pulls the plug when investment capital dries up (although the company’s directors will shift blame away from themselves when the actual announcement is made). On the other hand, dead-and-buried publisher Acclaim rises from the ground when a company with high hopes and not enough sense announces that it has purchased the entire Acclaim catalog at auction and plans to relaunch both the old games and the Acclaim brand, proving once again that no matter how many things in the video gaming world change, the more they stay the same.