Yesterday we talked you through our 2009 picks for Indie and Esoterica, which is us at our most self-indulgent, so today we turn to what will be some of the biggest and most profitable games of 2009. Quality, after all, is not anathema to profit.
Nor are profits driven solely by shooting monsters in the face in post-apocalyptic American cities. The best-selling game of 2009 was FIFA 09, with Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games in the top five. Wii Sports is included with every Wii, and drives many of its mainstream sales. And the model of annual iterations attracts less scorn as the quality improves, to the extent that those working in other genres are now critically and commercially envious. As The New Yorker considers whether grungy shooters will make it in the real world, sports games already have.
Wii Sports Resort
On: Wii / Developer: Nintendo EAD / Publisher: Nintendo / Release date: Spring
Wii Sports didn't even need its oft-forgotten depth to succeed, as the tactile bowling, tennis and boxing prospered on multiplayer alone. Nintendo Channel statistics for the US suggest the average console has logged over 35 hours with it. And yet we may never know how a Wii Sports game sells on its own. It was indivisible from the Wii itself, and Wii Sports Resort - still listed for spring - is ensured success thanks to the inclusion of one-to-one "Wiimote 2" add-on the MotionPlus.
Then again, you could easily say the opposite. MotionPlus will struggle to find a better back to piggy than another Wii Sports, and don't expect to begrudge Nintendo another game with a tail to shame the Large Hadron Collider, either. There are reportedly more than ten games in total, and the initial three recorded pin-sharp measurements with promising results at E3 2008 - particularly tossing a frisbee to a dog or taking a stick to a friend in kendo. (We hope it's not too late to throw out a vote for French cricket, by the way, or Boules Lyonnaise.)
It's become fashionable to knock the Wii as it falls into disuse in hardcore households, but that's often because third parties have struggled to make the most of the Wiimote. Nintendo got it right first time. What excites us about Wii Sports Resort is partly the prospect of a MotionPlus champion to match, but also the lessons Nintendo EAD must have learned in the intervening period, and the impact they could have on Wii development in the years that follow.
Supporting Cast (in alphabetical order)
EA Sports Tennis
On: Wii (other formats may follow) / Developer: EA Canada / Publisher: EA Sports / Release date: 2009
EA Sports has been charitably absent from the tennis game genre, allowing 2K Sports (Top Spin) and SEGA (Virtua Tennis) to assert their authority at intervals. Taking them on directly would be ambitious, but dull. Coming at them from the side, MotionPlus in hand, is altogether more interesting.
On: Every format ever / Developer: EA Canada / Publisher: EA Sports / Release date: 2009 (our money's on 2nd October)
It's the biggest-selling game in the UK, but do games journalists take it seriously? Peter Moore has his doubts. We won't know how FIFA 2010 plans to expand upon Be-A-Pro, Adidas Live Season and 09's excellent core gameplay for a few months yet, but we seriously want to know.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2010
On: Every format / Developer: EA Tiburon / Publisher: EA Sports / Release date: 2009 (we'll go for 28th August)
One of the few EA Sports games better known for critical than commercial success in its early years, Tiger Woods 09 found a new path to old heights with smart features like Club Tuner, simultaneous multiplayer and Real Time Swing Feedback that improved the core experience without ripping it up for no reason. Enough to make this list on philosophy alone.
Tony Hawk's Adrenaline
On: PS3, Xbox 360, PC / Developer: TBC! / Publisher: Activision / Release date: Autumn
Neversoft has moved on, and Skate has moved the trucks, but Activision isn't giving up. "You're not going to be playing this game with a controller in your hands," a publishing executive told an advertising conference in December, suggesting that we can lay our high-scores combo-goggles to rest as well (and make some plastic-shaped room under the bed for six weeks after release?).
Activision needn't wait long to discover what Adrenaline's aiming at, as Skate 2 is out on 23rd January; Eidos launches Championship Manager 2009 in late April, but only after Sports Interactive goes online with Football Manager Live, with FM 2010 no doubt brewing for the middle of Q4 already; and Atari gets back on the balance board in We Ski & Snowboard (out in Japan) very soon. We're not counting out Pro Evolution Soccer, either - even in an off year, it's sold twice or three times as many copies as higher-profile action and adventure games released for Christmas.
If the annual sports update is an old evil made good, here we are heading in the opposite direction: once they would have made yesterday's Esoterica list, but nowadays mainstream music games are the vast empires staffed by licensing experts. There's no shortage of goodwill for the likes of SingStar, Guitar Hero and Rock Band, but they are now the machine, and someone needs to rage against it until, at the very least, there's convergence of downloadable content. It's no more impossible than FIFA having become the darling of critics everywhere.
On: TBC / Developer: Harmonix / Publisher: MTV / Release date: Christmas
The Fab Two And The Dead Two's' Wives are notoriously hard to please - and reluctant to license out their peerless songbook - so you can be sure Harmonix will acknowledge the considerable honour bestowed upon them by pulling out all the stops for this. It is, after all, some kind of landmark: as a hand extended across the generation gap and pop-culture gulf to our upstart art form, only Shakespeare scripting Mirror's Edge 2 from beyond the grave could beat it.
It won't, in other words, be another AC/DC Live. But we're also prepared to bet that this "experiential journey through the band's history" and "visual exploration of the band's imagery" will involve an experiential journey down some rows of coloured dots, and a the visual exploration of a familiar-looking set of plastic instruments.
That's no reason not to be excited, and there are countless reasons you should be. A fat budget and an eagerness to please should bring a little bespoke variety to this increasingly rote genre; George Martin and son's meticulous stewardship of Beatles recordings guarantees superlative sound quality and creative mixing possibilities (think their surround-sound collage soundtrack for the Love show).
And then there's the prospect of a new way to savour Paul's funky, melodious basslines, John and George's chiming riffs, Ringo's idiot-savant drumming. And a selection of tunes whose variety - from hoarse R&B holler to folk ballad, via orchestral psychedelia, proto-metal, bar-room bawler and diamond-hard pop perfection - ought to easily eclipse that of any Guitar Hero or Rock Band package to date in a single band. Special request: multiple mic support and harmony-singing score multipliers.
[Readers please note, I had to write this because Tom is too young to know any Beatles songs. Just think about that for a second. - Oli]
Supporting Cast (in alphabetical order)
On: TBC / Developer: TBC (possibly Freestyle Games) / Publisher: Activision / Release date: TBC, very probably 2009
Accused of chasing Rock Band last year, Activision aims to restore its reputation with a mixing deck peripheral for its next rhythm game, if reports are to be believed (and yeah, they are). Let's hope it talks to World Tour's Music Studio.
Guitar Hero Metallica
On: TBC / Developer: Neversoft / Publisher: Activision / Release date: First quarter
More than a love letter to the band, Guitar Hero Metallica is a genuine World Tour expansion, with new tools for Music Studio, an Expert Plus difficulty level and a rags-to-rock story mode masking a logical difficulty curve.
On: Wii / Developer: Q Entertainment / Publisher: Atari / Release date: 2009
We know less about this than almost anything in this year's Coming Attractions - just two letters in fact - but we do know that it's Tetsuya Mizuguchi making a Wii game. That's enough for us, for now.
On: PS3 / Developer: Sony London / Publisher: Sony Europe / Release date: 2009
Wireless microphones are imminent, downloads will continue to flow, and we've heard whispers of a promising menu system overhaul. More band-specific SKUs would be nice, too. We want Kylie.
To some degree it's an off year, with no Rock Band 3, and no (full on) Guitar Hero 5, so hopefully games like the baton-waving Major Minor's Majestic March will make an impact. It's out in March, of course.
We'll be back tomorrow with another instalment in this year's rundown. It's goblin time.