RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters) - For videogame publishers the start of 2009 marks a new phase in gaming with the release of new titles no longer confined to the top holiday sale months but spread throughout the year.
Traditionally about half of annual videogame sales were rung up in November and December but last year Take Two Interactive broke this pattern when it released "Grand Theft Auto IV" in April and the game sold well throughout the year.
In 2009, the first Nintendo DS installment of the best-selling crime story game franchise, "Grand Theft Auto Chinatown Wars," gets a March launch -- but some of the year's most-anticipated games will be available even before then.
Japanese videogame maker Capcom Co Ltd introduces fighters new and old in the classic brawler sequel "Street Fighter IV" in February when Guerilla Games' PlayStation 3-exclusive "Killzone 2" sci-fi shooter hit store shelves. "This time around we're taking the war to the enemy," said Hermen Hulst, managing director of Guerilla Games. "We want players to experience a large-scale invasion and journey through a hostile world filled with big set pieces and dramatic events."
Zombies are set to invade PS3 and Xbox 360 consoles in March as Capcom unleashes "Resident Evil 5." Set in Africa, this latest shooter introduces two-player cooperative gameplay to the mix and ups the ante with an assortment of undead enemies.
The typically slow summer months will see some big movie tie-ins like Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment's (WBIE) "Terminator: Salvation" and Electronic Arts' "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."
After taking the summer off in 2008, the Dark Knight returns in an original game from WBIE, "Batman: Arkham Asylum," in which The Joker and an assortment of crazed super villains lock Batman inside their prison.
Nintendo will offer Wii gamers virtual summer activities in "Wii Sports Resort." This game will ship with an advanced motion-sensor controller add-on that enables more precise aim in mini-games like playing dog Frisbee or riding jet skis.
"To me, the big story is what happens on the Wii because it's the dominant platform, and it will be interesting to see how the publishers approach the Wii audience," said Michael Pachter, videogame analyst, Wedbush Morgan Securities.
"There must be dozens of Wii games planned for holiday 2009 that we don't know about yet, and I think that many games will be designed to use the Wii Fit balance board that we haven't conceived of yet."
Another big story for 2009 is the continuation of established franchises, especially when looking at the line-up for fall which includes sequels like Sony Computer Entertainment's "God of War II I," Take Two Interactive's "BioShock 2," Microsoft's "Halo 3: ODST," and Nintendo's rumored new "Legend of Zelda."
While franchises such as "Fallout 3," "Gears of War 2," and "Call of Duty: World at War" did well in 2008, original titles like "Dead Space," "Mirror's Edge," and "Spore" didn't sell so well, said Dean Takahashi, VentureBeat.com's videogame editor.
"It looks like consumers are getting more conservative about the way they're spending their precious dollars." he said.
But there are original games slated for 2009, including Electronic Arts' horror action title, "Dante's Inferno," which is based on the classic poem, "The Divine Comedy," by Dante Alighieri.
The Beatles are getting into the game business with MTV Games and "Rock Band" developer Harmonix in a collaboration that will create an as-yet-untitled interactive music experience.
PlayStation 3 gamers will be able to star in a virtual film noir thriller when Sony and developer Quantic Dream release "Heavy Rain" in late 2009.
Editing by Belinda Goldsmith