By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
LOS ANGELES — Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo may have been watching each other in showcasing their respective next-generation consoles — the PlayStation 4, the Xbox One and the Wii U — at the recent 2013 E3, but time will tell if smartphones, tablets and an upstart platform eventually win the video gaming war.
In the meantime, both Sony and Microsoft kicked off the gaming industry’s biggest showcase by firing shots across each others’ bows in presenting a smattering of additional details on their respective entertainment systems.
Nintendo, meanwhile, defended its already launched Wii U system by throwing a slew of new exclusive titles and popular characters into the mix, as it attempted to counter slow early sales by finally delivering on the content for which it is best known.
Nintendo also will have to contend with a handful of start-up gaming platform developers that showed forthcoming new systems looking to give consumers a cheap, simple option propelled by games from indie developers writing to Google’s Android platform.
Dortmund, Germany-based Sunflex Europe revealed that it will launch in the U.S. this summer its Unu entertainment system. Unu is comprised of a 7-inch tablet, smart TV and either an air mouse remote or a gaming controller, depending on the package configuration. Both are based on Google’s Android operating system.
Unu is offering two different configurations — a media package ($199 suggested retail) and a gaming package ($249), with the former offering an air mouse and the latter offering a Bluetooth game controller.
The Android tablet in both versions offers a 7-inch (1,280 by 800) LCD touchscreen and is powered by a Rockchip quad-core processor. It can be connected to a big-screen TV to offer smart-TV functionality or to play games from the Google PlayStore in up to FullHD 1080p resolution.
Meanwhile, Kickstarter-funded start-up Ouya showed a simple and cheap ($99) system that continues to slowly roll out to the first wave of Kickstarter funders. The company set up camp across the street from the E3 halls to attract gaming developers it hopes will create new titles for its system as deliveries ramp up.
Meanwhile, Sony fired off what was perhaps the largest salvo of E3 by revealing that its PlayStation 4 console would ship in time for the holidays at a $399 suggested retail — $100 less than Microsoft’s Xbox One.
But it elicited the largest applause of the day after Jack Tretton, Sony Computer Entertainment America president, said the new platform would enable playing used, borrowed and older PlayStation 4 titles, allowing discs to be sold or given away after use. The platform will also not require a connection to the Internet in order to continue playing.
Microsoft said in a statement before the show that it will not mandate any “platform fee” for used games, but will leave to individual publishers the decision to charge players to activate or re-register a pre-owned title.
Microsoft said its new Xbox One will hit store shelves in November at a $499 suggested retail, and indicated that its new-generation games will rely heavily on Cloud computing for an immersive experience. Earlier, Microsoft revealed that the new platform, ideally, should have a continuous online connection when playing games and added that the system must make an authentication connection every 24 hours to operate.
The Xbox One places some of its computing power in the Cloud to drive new, richer game experiences. In doing so, it requires that a connection be made to draw off of that capability.
Despite the fact that both Sony’s and Microsoft’s systems are all-in-one entertainment consoles, offering the ability to play Blu-ray Disc movies as well as stream content from Cloud services and programming partners, both companies made forthcoming software titles the center points of their E3 presentations.
Graphics in most of the new titles for both the Sony and Microsoft systems offered a much more realistic and richer look and feel, with several franchises shifting to open-world adventures.
While Sony finally revealed what the PlayStation 4 looks like — a more angular, slanted design than the PS3 — it still mentioned nothing about any 4K up-scaling capabilities.
From the second-screen perspective, Sony chose to focus its presentation around the uses it offers with the year-old PlayStation Vita handheld game player, although it had mentioned in February that it will also enable game play using second-screen devices like smartphones and tablets.
Both companies showed a number of games that will be exclusive or will have exclusive windows attached to their respective platforms both at launch and into 2014.
Sony said 140 games are in development now for the PlayStation 4, including 100 that should be available in the first year.
In addition to multiple “Final Fantasy” games in the works for the PlayStation platform, Square Enix showed off a new “Kingdom Hearts 3” game.
Other titles slated for the PlayStation 4 include “The Order: 1866,” a dark title that appears aimed at fans of “Assassin’s Creed,” and next iterations of the popular racer “Gran Turismo” and “Killzone.”
Sony also indicated its desire to continue tapping indie developers for content with several PlayStation 4 games on the way.
Microsoft also offered up a barrage of new games for the Xbox One, but one of the biggest franchises in Xbox history — “Halo,” which will be accompanied by a forthcoming television program produced by Steven Spielberg — will not be ready until sometime next year.
Among the apparent standouts for the Xbox One were the realistic-looking zombie-fighting sequel “Dead Rising 3” and the more cartoonish shooter “Sunset Overdrive.”
For racing enthusiasts, “Forza MotorSport 5” was shown at both the Microsoft and Electronics Arts (EA) presentation.
Nintendo, meanwhile, offered up a host of new titles for the Wii U in a bid to maintain its relevance.
Among Nintendo’s offerings were a number of new iterations of some of the industry’s most popular gaming franchises including Mario and Donkey Kong, Pikmin, Pokémon, Legend of Zelda, Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros.
Nintendo is looking to improve disappointing early sales of the Wii U since its November launch. The company originally targeted sales of 5.5 million units in the five months through March, but has only managed to move 3.45 million.
Among Nintendo’s many software announcements at the show was that the new “Super Mario 3D World” would be adapted to a four-player Mario game set in a 3D world for the first time. The game lets players take the form of characters Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach or Toad, with each offering unique characteristics and capabilities.
Other popular franchises getting a makeover on the new system include: “Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze” from Retro Studios; “The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD” with 1080p HD graphics; “Mario Kart 8” offering a new anti-gravity feature; and “The Wonderful 101” from PlatinumGames, which launches Sept. 15, offering a team of superheroes fighting invaders from space.
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