The impending release of Nintendo’s 6th home console (the Wii U) has got me thinking about this generation of console gaming, and the titles that will define this era so far. It’s been a terrific cycle for Nintendo, so it feels fitting to begin with them, and even more fitting to begin with Wii Sports: truly one of the most important games ever released.
Wii Sports marked the advent of motion-control gaming, but more importantly it dismantled the demographical barriers that have plagued the often insular medium, and made gaming a social experience again. At its heart it was merely a tech demo, but one that perfectly encapsulated Satoru Iwata’s (President of Nintendo) guiding mantra: “Together is better”. I entirely agree with this notion… that is, until you realise your Dad’s a mean virtual bowler and you’re greeted with his smug bespectacled Mii face every time the high-score menu pops up (I’m not bitter, I swear).
Other notable mentions in the Wii’s catalogue should go to Mario Galaxy and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword – two brilliant iterations of Shigeru Miyamoto’s most prized franchises. Both brilliantly demonstrated the virtues of motion control when implemented effectively and intuitively, and retained that evergreen magic these series exude.
It’s been a cracking generation for FPS as Activision and EA continue their interminable war of attrition; whilst Gears of War brought a brutality and fluidity to third-person shooters, that has since become a touchstone for the sub-genre.
Dystopian worlds have never looked so beautiful. Bioshock’s sordid underwater metropolis was a shining example of the artistry of videogames, and the pathos these stories can evoke. Fallout 3 drew on similar stylistic themes whilst keeping true to Bethesda’s forte: sprawling sandbox worlds teeming with life and rich character.
This brings me neatly onto The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Skyrim was irresistible in that it appealed to the most primal of instincts: that inherent longing to explore a foreign land drenched in mystique. It was a game that encouraged you to forge your own path; to paint your own way across a majestic canvas, coloured by your own actions and interactions.
In many ways titles such as Mass Effect 3 and Uncharted 2/3 were the antithesis of Skyrim; tightly-scripted, set-piece driven affairs, with a real focus on cinematics. They served to prove that linearity still gives birth to some of the finest experiences the medium has to offer, with both titles garnering numerous plaudits for their deft handling of characterisation and immersive plotlines.
These are all fantastic games, but if I was to pinpoint one game series that is not only a highlight of this generation, but a highlight medium as a whole, it would be Portal. Portal was derived from a freeware game Narbacular Drop – an independent title designed by a group of students at DigiPen Institute of Technology. Valve’s president Gabe Newell chanced upon the game at Digipen’s annual career fair, before deciding to hire the entire student team, who then fleshed out the concept into a fully-fledged retail release. It harks back to the early days, when many of the industry’s modern-day luminaries began their careers as bedroom coders, and nothing much else mattered apart from the strength of your game’s core mechanics.
This generation still has many years to run then, but it’s always interesting to reflect on the stand-out moments of each cycle. It’s been a triumph thus far, even if the cake was a lie.