Thursday, August 13, 2009

Wii Bike revealed, $30 Wii Fit Plus detailed?

Source: The Star Wars cantina of game discussion known as the NeoGAF Forums.

What we heard: On Tuesday, the Web lit up with news of an inflatable horse-riding peripheral for the Wii. Today comes word that Nintendo may not be limiting its simulated conveyance to the equestrian realm. NeoGAF user "Kswiston" has posted a purported market-research presentation slide that shows what appears to be a bicycle-peripheral-based Wii game.

According to the slide, the unnamed $89.99 single and multiplayer title will let players "pedal their way to fitness!" Accompanied by pictures of a round, white pedal controller with three resistance levels (pictured top), it will have over 30 maps based on actual locations. Accompanying images show a variety of locales on all continents but Africa and Antarctica, including Monaco, Paris, the Grand Canyon. A Hawaiian level is also shown.

The Wii biking game will also feature over 60 activities, with road races, downhill, dog-walking, and pedal-powered paragliding on display. Though the cardiovascular-intensive game will track calories burned with a Wii Fit-like interface, one of the activities its simulates is a high-fat barbecue, with players cranking the pedals to simulate turning a spit roast.

Speaking of Wii Fit, Kswiston also posted a slide which appears to detail Wii Fit Plus, the sequel to NPD's best-selling non-PC game of 2009 from January to June. Though not named specifically, the title is described as "a new version game of Wii Fit" (sic), and will feature "original Wii Fit activities"--something no non-Wii Fit game could do. These activities can be combined with just six new training and yoga exercises into workout playlists like EA Sports Active, or players can choose from preset 20, 30, or 40-minute workout routines. The game will also feature workouts targeted at certain parts of the body, including abs and arms, as well as stress reduction techniques.

Besides the workouts, the slide promises Wii Fit Plus will sport 15 new balance board minigames, including skateboarding, "rhythm kung fu," and a series of flapping games involving a chicken suit. The game will let players weigh their dogs or cats directly--versus subtracting the weight in the original Wii Fit--and, judging by an image, will allow players to create Miis for their pets. The game will apparently cost $29.99 on its own or $99.99 when bundled with the Wii Balance Board.

Finally, Kswiston said there was a third game in the market-research presentation which featured resistance bands a la EA Sports active, as well as video of the pedal device in action.

The official story: Nintendo reps declined to comment on the slides.

Bogus or not bogus?: Looking not bogus. The pictures look at little complex to be mere forgeries, and the descriptions carry a very Nintendan tone. Adding credibility are the Miyamoto-esque flourishes like the barbecue simulator and chicken suit, as well as the fact Wii Fit Plus slide shows a senior citizen--reportedly one of its target groups.

Army of Two: The 40th Day deploys Jan. 12

The first few months of 2010 are shaping up to be as busy as most holiday quarters. Games that have been dated or delayed to the once-fallow period include BioWare's Mass Effect 2, EA's Dante's Inferno, Microsoft's Alan Wake, Sega's Bayonetta, Activision's Singularity, Ubisoft's Splinter Cell: Conviction, and Capcom's Dark Void, to name just a few.

And still it continues. EA Montreal announced today that Army of Two: The 40th Day will be available for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PSP on January 12 in North America and January 8 in Europe. The date represents a slight advancement on the original Army of Two, which landed on the Xbox 360 and PS3 to lackluster reviews in March 2008.

The 40th Day is a direct sequel to the original game, picking back up with Salem and Rios as they head to Shanghai, China. Unfortunately for them, Shanghai is suddenly assaulted by a number of highly suspect catastrophes, and the mercenary duo must solve the mystery and, ideally, survive.

Like the original, The 40th Day will deal extensively in co-op gameplay. EA Montreal has expanded upon the interactions available to Salem and Rios, promising a more tactical experience this time around.

The 40th Day will also feature online play and include four different multiplayer modes. One of these modes, Extraction, drops up to four players into a heavily militarized zone, and they must move to a certain point in the city while fighting off increasingly lethal waves of enemies. EA notes that this mode will be available at launch only to those who preorder The 40th Day, with everyone else gaining access to Extraction a month later

Panzer General blitzes XBLA

In the 1990s, SSI's Panzer General series was a standout entry in the then-crowded PC turn-based strategy genre. However, 2000's appropriately titled Panzer General III: Scorched Earth fell critically short of its predecessors, and the franchise has sat fallow ever since.

The Panzer General series is finally ready for a return, as Ubisoft today announced Panzer General: Allied Assault for Xbox Live. Set for release this fall, Allied Assault will re-imagine the franchise as a board game with collectible card game elements. Players will be able to customize "decks" of 60 cards, selecting from a number of units (infantry, artillery, and of course tanks) and actions (air strikes, reinforcements). Allied Assault will reward players with new cards for every multiplayer or single-player victory, with the campaign mode recreating a number of key battles from the final days World War II.

The turn-based Allied Assault is being handled by Petroglyph, a developer more familiar with the real-time side of the strategy genre. The studio made a name for itself with 2006's Star Wars: Empire at War, and followed it up in 2007 with the original Universe at War: Earth Assault (which arrived on the Xbox 360 the following year).

For gamers who don't have an Xbox 360, Ubisoft has also arranged to produce a physical Panzer General: Allied Assault board game based on the XBLA title. Described by the publisher as a "World War II 'lite' wargame," the box will include 240 cards and scenarios for both single-player and multiplayer action. The board game will also arrive this fall, with a $59.99 price tag attached.

Mini Ninjas infiltrates stores Sept. 8

Earlier this week, the online resume of a British actor indicated that IO Interactive may not be returning for the fifth installment in its notorious Hitman franchise. That being the case, it is altogether unclear what the once-Eidos-owned, now-Square Enix-owned Danish development house will be working on once its current project, Mini Ninjas, concludes.

And that finale is rapidly approaching, as Eidos announced today that Mini Ninjas will be available for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, DS, and PC on September 8 in North America. The European and PAL region launches will follow that same week.

Mini Ninjas is a substantive break from IO's traditional bloody stealth fare, the likes of which can be found in the aforementioned Hitman franchise as well as 2007's Kane & Lynch. Instead, the E10+-rated action adventure deals in much lighter fare, as it follows the travails of Hiro, who ventures forth to defeat an army of evil samurai and restore harmony to the world.

As detailed in GameSpot's most recent hands-on with the game, Mini Ninjas tasks gamers with engaging in non-lethal fisticuffs, as well as stealth and magic to rid the countryside of marauding samurais. Rather than collapsing in a heap of rent flesh and blood, defeated enemies revert back to their adorable animal form and flee to greener pastures.

NCsoft Q2 profits soar 451% with Aion

The massively multiplayer online role-playing game business can be a risky one, but NCsoft appears to have scored a hit with its latest entrant into the genre, Aion: Tower of Eternity. Following on from the game's launch in Asia late last year, the South Korean publisher saw revenues spike 51 percent to KRW133.4 billion ($107.9 million) during its January-March quarter. Profit rocketed skyward 315 percent to KRW33.5 billion ($27 million).

NCsoft has reprised those gains during its April-June financial period. Reporting on its second-quarter results, NCsoft has said that sales grew to KRW138 billion ($111.6 million) during the three-month period, a 70 percent year-over-year rise. Net income continued its steep climb as well, jumping 451 percent during the quarter to KRW33.7 billion ($27 million).

Aion is expected to launch in North America on September 22, with the European rollout due September 25. But even with just the Asian market, the game was already NCsoft's top contributor during the quarter, amounting to 34 percent of all sales. Lineage 2 fell in behind Aion with 31 percent of revenues, and was trailed by Lineage (23 percent), City of Heroes/Villains' (6 percent), and Guild Wars (4 percent).

When Aion does debut in the West next month, it will do so under new management. Earlier this week, NCsoft West announced that president of product development, ArenaNet cofounder, and Guild Wars co-creator Jeff Strain had departed the company. NCsoft West also said that publishing president David Reid had also left the company, though it noted the two departures were unrelated.

Rock Band bangs out Metal Track Pack

October 13 may just be the hardest rocking day in gaming history. Already pegged as the launch date for Double Fine Productions' metal-mad action game Brutal Legend, the day will also see the launch of another hard n' heavy headbanger from Harmonix.

The developer today announced the Rock Band Metal Track Pack will see retail release October 13 for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, and Wii. The pack will sell for $29.99, and gamers will be able to play the songs directly from the stand-alone disc, with PS3 and Xbox 360 owners also able to download the tracks to their hard drives for inclusion in Rock Band or Rock Band 2.

As with previous retail Rock Band releases, the Metal Track Pack compiles an assortment of previously available downloadable songs along with a handful of selections that aren't yet in the game's online store. This collection's six temporary exclusives include Nazareth's "Hair of the Dog," Motörhead's "Killed by Death," Blue Öyster Cult's "Transmaniacon MC," Hawkwind's "Master of The Universe," I Mother Earth's "Levitate," and Rage Against the Machine's "Bulls on Parade."

The full list of tracks follows below.

Band--Song (* denotes a song temporarily exclusive to the track pack)

All That Remains--"Two Weeks"
At the Gates--"Blinded By Fear"
Black Tide--"ShockWave"
Blue Öyster Cult--"Transmaniacon MC"*
Bullet For My Valentine--"Waking the Demon"
Children of Bodom--"Are You Dead Yet"
Godsmack--"I Stand Alone"
The Haunted--"D.O.A."
Hawkwind--"Master of The Universe"*
I Mother Earth--"Levitate"*
In This Moment--"Forever"
Judas Priest--"Screaming for Vengeance"
Lacuna Coil--"Closer"
Lamb of God--"Laid to Rest"
Motörhead--"Killed by Death"*
Nazareth--"Hair of the Dog"*
Queens of the Stone Age--"3's & 7's"
Rage Against The Machine--"Bulls On Parade"*
Yngwie Malmsteen--"Red Devil"

PS3 Slim = Sony's big GamesCom reveal?

What we heard: Next week, the first GamesCom will kick off in Cologne, Germany. The successor to the Leipzig Games Convention, which drew more than 200,000 attendees last year, will be Europe's biggest gaming event by far. And now, judging by the increasing percolation of speculation, it will likely have global importance as well.

As anticipation grows that Microsoft will reveal a $100 price drop for the 120GB Xbox 360 Elite at its GamesCom conference on August 19, Sony Computer Entertainment has pulled back the curtain slightly on its own Cologne plans. Reports out of the UK have Sony confirming that one of the items on the docket will be the European launch of the PS3 video store. However, given that the announcement of the video store's North American launch took only a few minutes at Sony's 2008 Electronic Entertainment Expo presentation, that leaves the company with plenty of time for other announcements.

What else will Sony unveil? One publication claims to have the answer. The Web site of Hong Kong-based magazine GameWave declares that the long-rumored PS3 Slim will be the centerpiece of Sony's event. Though the magazine echoes reports that the console will be cheaper and thinner than the current model, its claims are undermined somewhat by the fact that its cover shows a fan-created concept image of the console (bottom). The design is markedly different from the images purportedly leaked from a Taiwanese factory in May (top), which were important enough to warrant legal threats from a mysterious law firm.

Adding to the increasing PS3 Slim speculation are rumblings from European retailers. Furthermore, following reports that Sony is ramping up PS3 hardware orders after cutting manufacturing costs by 70 percent, British industry magazine MCV claims that stocks of the console have dried up in the island nation. It quoted an "anonymous spokesperson for one of the UK's largest national retailers" as saying, "We've been told not to expect any further [PS3] hardware deliveries until September."

The official story: "Sony does not comment on rumor or speculation" - Sony rep.

Bogus or not bogus?: Looking not bogus, according to Wedbush Morgan Securities' oft-quoted game-industry analyst Michael Pachter. "All of the rumors floating around suggest that a PS3 price cut and introduction of the PS3 Slim is going to happen by the end of the month, and GamesCom is the only significant event between now and then," he told Industrygamers.

"We have seen reports out of China about increased PS3 component orders, have seen pictures that look real of the PS3 Slim, and have seen recent reports of declining PS3 stock in Japan and Europe, with comments from retail that they have been told not to expect new supplies of PS3s until the end of August or early September. All of that points to the possibility of an announcement at GamesCom."