Majesco has announced a new basketball game for Xbox 360 today that doesn’t have to worry about competing with the latest NBA 2K game, and not because it uses Kinect. NBA Baller Beats is a sort of hybrid rhythm/basketball training game that has you bouncing a real-life basketball in front of your television set. It sounds very gimmicky, and in this day and age there may not be much of a place for that sort of thing anymore.
Such a premise automatically limits the potential market for a game. Kinect games require more than just the hardware itself: Players also need a clear playing area for them to dance, jump, mime, and whatever other actions are required by the game in question. That can be problematic for some people, as not everyone has a wide-open living room like those seen in trailers for Kinect games; I had to delay getting one myself until I moved because there was not enough room in my apartment.
Baller Beats, while novel, doesn’t have an especially big market to sell to. The demographic for this game is basketball fans who own an Xbox 360, have room for Kinect, and own a Kinect sensor. And just as importantly, we can’t forget the need for players to live somewhere that they can freely dribble a basketball on the floor. That rules out anyone living in an apartment on any floor but the first, and even on the first floor the sound of a basketball being dribbled for extended lengths of time might still be an indirect way of soliciting death threats from unhappy neighbors.
USA Today suggested Baller Beats “could be a game-changer.” However, I can’t imagine it being anything more than a videogame that changes your real-life basketball game for the better.
Baller Beats may be unique for its incorporation of a real-life sports item, though it’s hardly the only game to make use of physical items beyond the controllers we’re used to holding in our hands. There has been a wave of super-popular peripheral-based games in the last half-decade, though you can go back much further for examples of games using accessories: the NES Zapper and Duck Hunt (among other games), Donkey Konga and its drums, the Dreamcast fishing rod for Sega Marine Fishing, dance pads for Dance Dance Revolution, etc. Many of us have become so accustomed to them since the launch of Guitar Hero in 2005 that they’re no longer thought of in such terms, but guitars and other plastic instruments for music games also fall into this category. Another recent example is the Tony Hawk series with Ride and Shred, each of which used a skateboard peripheral meant to more closely simulate the real-life act of skateboarding.
Guitar Hero and Rock Band were a major craze for a period of time; venture into GameStop or the videogame department of Walmart or Best Buy and you were sure to see boxes filled with plastic instruments stacked feet high. Over time, as these boxes grew in size to accommodate drums, microphones, and keyboards in addition to guitars, these piles came to represent not the popularity of such games, but the fact that they were no longer selling in the large quantities they once did. Nowadays, where do these franchises stand?
Rock Band, meanwhile, has cooled it on the annual releases, with 2011 being the first year since the series’ inception in 2007 that a new game was not made available. As with Guitar Hero, players tired of the gimmick, and those who have not left the entire fad behind are happy to continue fueling their habit with downloadable content, not annual disc-based releases accompanied by a wave of new-and-improved peripherals.
Realizing there is still money to be made from the genre, if not from the plastic instrument business, Harmonix, unlike Activision, has not relegated Rock Band to the back burner entirely. Instead, its rhythm game roots are being embraced with Rock Band Blitz, a downloadable game played with a standard controller. It is by no means meant to simulate the experience of playing music; players swap between as many as five tracks representing a different instrument, each of which has only two note paths.
Tony Hawk had far less success when it turned to peripherals to liven the series. While Guitar Hero and Rock Band achieved massive success for a period of years, Ride and Shred were both mediocre games with sales to match — Shred, for example, sold only 3,000 units in its debut month. Activision was insistent Tony Hawk remained relevant to gamers, and while I’m not so sure he does, there undoubtedly remains a lot of enthusiasm (or nostalgia) for the earlier games in the Tony Hawk‘s Pro Skater series.
That’s clear based on the response to the announcement of the newest Tony Hawk game. Like Harmonix taking Rock Band back to its Frequency and Amplitude roots, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is a downloadable skateboarding game with content pulled from the first two THPS games (with the potential for content from later games to be added via DLC). Most importantly, it ditches that skateboard controller in favor of going back to its roots for a more standard experience using a 360 controller or DualShock.
These are not the only examples of sequels to games with peripheral or interface gimmicks that opted for a simpler setup. The most recent one that springs to mind involves Steel Battalion, a game which infamously launched for $200 and featured an enormous controller. The upcoming Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor ditches that setup in favor of a Kinect/standard controller combo. It was in 2009 that Nintendo last released a Wii Fit game to take advantage of the Wii Balance Board, although it’s hardly alone in not supporting the board lately — take a look at the games which use it and you’ll notice a distinct lack of anything released since 2010. To some extent that’s because the number of Wii releases over the past 16 months has been very low, but another part of it is developers realizing they’re better off using the Wii remote/nunchuk and little else.
Particularly when you take a look at the paths taken by Tony Hawk and the music/rhythm game genre, the lesson is that players are not hell-bent on having 1:1 simulations of real-life activities in their videogames, nor are they keen on forking out extra cash for pricey peripherals they’ve experienced before. While those things may fly for a period of time in some cases, going back to basics would appear to be the way to sustain these series long-term.