Can you smell that? It's the aroma of game lovers' tears everywhere as they realize their bank accounts likely can't sustain buying every title coming out in the annual deluge of fall video game releases. That's to say nothing of the amount of time you'd need to play absolutely everything that's come out since September. Or even on November 18th alone! But what is each console offering exclusively this holiday? That's a bit more manageable, and we compare them below.
With a few exceptions, nearly everything made by a third-party developer (i.e., one not working solely with Microsoft, Nintendo or Sony) is available on PC, so we're going to leave those out of the conversation. Platform-exclusive goodies don't count here either -- adios, Far Cry 4!
Sony made its bed at E3 this year and is now getting comfy under that (likely luxurious) comforter. During its near-two-hour-long media briefing, it mentioned first-party retail games exactly three times. And in that trio, only one title was an original game for the PS4 that was coming out this year. That was none other than the adorable 2D platformer, LittleBigPlanet 3. The other two? The Last of Us: Remastered and Uncharted 4: A Thief's End. While LBP3 will likely be every bit as whimsical and charming as previous efforts, it isn't exactly the first thing that comes to mind as a tentpole fall release that'll move loads of consoles -- especially not when it releases the same day as Far Cry 4 and the Grand Theft Auto 5 remaster: November 18th. Not that the PS4 needs much help with that anyway; last we knew, over 10 million of them have been sold so far.
Considering what we've been able to experience of it, it's pretty apparent why the already-released racer Driveclub wasn't given any time on the stage at E3 this past June. The game is pretty in spots, but an absolute bore to play, which is all the more disheartening given that the developer's previous work was the over-the-top (and excellent) MotorStorm franchise. That's to say nothing of how the game's been hamstrung by connectivity woes that render its key feature, a socially driven online experience, utterly unusable.
No one really expects a system's launch to have amazing games, but here we are almost a year later and the PlayStation 4 still doesn't have a killer app. Even Sony itself seems to acknowledge this with TV spots that feature third-party games exclusively. Hell, the PlayStation Twitter account's header image is for the trio of those titles in the commercial -- not one of its internally developed games. At this point in its predecessor's lifecycle there was the first Uncharted as well as Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction to look forward to; neither Driveclub nor LBP 3 look to stand up to that legacy. Looking ahead, Sony's got The Order: 1886 (originally scheduled for a fall 2014 release) coming early next year, in addition to the hugely anticipated Bloodborne, the next game from the Dark Souls team. For now, though, the PS4 is a hard sell when it comes to games that you can't get anywhere else.
Super Smash Bros. Those three words alone could be enough to carry Nintendo through this holiday season, but the gaming giant has a pair of other games to help lighten Mario and Co.'s load too. Not only is Smash absurdly anticipated -- the 3DS version beyond whet our appetite -- but it's also releasing on two platforms and has its own set of Skylanders-esque figurines (dubbed amiibo). Nintendo's had a relatively good year so far, and if Mario Kart 8 was any indication, we can expect the Wii U version of its mascot-laden fighting game to flex some serious muscle when it comes to moving a few consoles come November 21st and beyond.
Then we have the just-released Bayonetta 2 (like, this week), a game that's likely to please the hardcore crowd with its frenetic pacing and old-school approach to action and combat. Granted, it earns every bit of its Mature rating, but series fans know what they're getting into with this one. You're a witch who fights angels and demons on the back of a fighter jet, among other places. Seriously. Who can't get behind a premise like that?
Taking a step away from the violent side of things is Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, a spin-off from last year's incredibly good Super Mario 3D
Land World. In Captain Toad, you're navigating the adorable, mushroom-adorned Toad through a variety of puzzles in themed worlds that should be familiar to anyone who played 2013's Mario release. Wait, you didn't? For shame! At least you can make up for that this year.
Surprisingly, Nintendo's first-party line-up is incredibly strong this season. The Japanese company's reputation rests on its ability to make games that no one else can or seemingly wants to. Even without a proper Mario or Legend of Zelda release this holiday (we're excepting Hyrule Warriors as a side game rather than series entry), Nintendo proved that it has what's needed to compete against the likes of its relatively younger opponents with practiced ease.
Perhaps more than any console maker, Microsoft has the most to prove this fall. Redmond came out on the losing end of a PR battle when it announced confusing (and somewhat consumer-hostile) policies for the Xbox One last year, not to mention it costing $100 more than its closest rival, the PS4. Phil Spencer and Co. responded in 2014 by doubling down on games, hoping to shed the image forged by a previous management regime. At the firm's media event at E3 this year, it spent the entire time talking about games and a majority of that was devoted to platform exclusives and first-party titles. The company line that it was all about "games, games, games" wasn't a hollow promise and this fall's crop of Xbox One releases shows it.
Let's start with Forza Horizon 2: It's excellent. Unlike Drive Club, it's a social-based racing game that worked as promised from the outset. Beyond that, though, it's an absolute blast to play. From racing against a bullet train as The Clash's "Train in Vain" blasts over your car's stereo, to challenging a buddy's ghost to a head-to-head race only to see it drive his Hemi 'Cuda up a hillside in effort to gain the lead, there's loads to see and do in the game. In fact, both Ben Gilbert and I have stopped playing Destiny to soak in as much of virtual Nice as possible. You should not miss Forza Horizon 2.
When it was first teased at E3 2013, no one quite knew what to make of Sunset Overdrive. It was a parkour-style open-world something from the folks at Insomniac Games (Ratchet and Clank and Resistance franchises for PlayStation), but that's all anyone really knew. What a difference a year made, however. What we played of the punk-rock take on Crackdown and to a certain extent, Tony Hawk Pro Skater, though, at E3 this year made us believers. It's unapologetically a video game; bright, stylized and flashy, with a highly saturated color palette that emphasizes cartoony fun over everything else. Hell, there's a weapon that shoots ricocheting vinyl records at energy-drink-crazed mutants and an RPG that uses teddy bears as ammunition. It's the best kind of ridiculous.
And how could anyone forget Halo: The Master Chief Collection? We broke the news that it was coming, and since then it's been impossible to ignore. Microsoft is going all-out for this release and including every multiplayer map that's ever been in a Halo game into the package, as well as fully remastered versions of classic Halo 2 arenas and a totally overhauled campaign for the sequel. What else? The other three numbered Halo releases running at 1080p and 60 FPS.
Perhaps even more than Nintendo, Microsoft was in panic mode this past year. Given the improvements that've been made to the Xbox One's system software and the price drop that brings parity between it and the PS4, the Xbox One is the best environment to play games that you can't get anywhere else this fall. If all goes well, maybe Redmond will take to touting sales numbers of its own soon enough.