OK, so this E3: not so bad. It’s a drag that it’s small enough that a handful of people I was really looking forward to catching up with (journalists and PR) didn’t come. But it’s also small enough that the crazed rush of years past is gone. Everyone has food in their meeting rooms (such a glorious thing) and getting from one to the next isn’t a problem at all. The meetings have been low-key, and I got a new skateboard out of Sierra. ER, here I come.
Now if only there were more good games. Here’s a rundown, more or less by publisher in the order I encountered them today.
Nintendo’s 2007 Press Briefing: Ennui
Reggie Fils Aime always likes to throw out a lot of numbers at Nintendo’s press briefings. This year the data was thicker than usual, but it all boilded down to the same thing: as Nintendo has it, the game industry is growing, and 69% of that growth is based on sales of Nintendo products.
Thing is, most of what we saw didn’t back up the assertion. Three peripherals were announced: the Wii Zapper, a Nintendo-branded driving wheel, and a new wireless Balance Board. The latter is a pillow-sized wireless platform that you stand on so the game can track your balance, center of gravity, weight and genital cleanliness.
The Zapper will be packaged with software to be named later; the steering wheel will come with the newly announced Mario Kart Wii, and the balance board is key to the upcoming Wii Fitness. I can also see it being crucial to games in the future: a Tony Hawk title, or a Mario surfing game, for example.
That’s two real game announcements, but everything else shown was software we’ve seen already. The press releases given out at the show indicated other new titles: Battalion Wars 2, Endless Ocean and Fire Emblem.
The other big news was a date for Super Smash Brothers Brawl (December 3); a date for Super Mario Galaxy (November 12) and a release window for Mario Kart Wii in Q1 2008.
I played Super Mario Galaxy this evening and it was fantastic. Reggie called it ‘the first worthy successor to Super Mario 64‘ and that might be true. Very, very fun, with intuitive controls, some wicked level designs and a beautiful graphics engine. Plus a new bee suit for Mario which lets him fly and crawl on honeycomb. Love it. Dying to play it in full.
I didn’t get to see Check Mii Out, the new Mii channel where you can submit and vote on Miis (Hot or Not, basically) and I only watched friends play Wii Fit and the weird Flash Focus vision training game.
For the first time in memory, Sony’s press conference was quietly confident. They didn’t throw out numbers because there are none that skew in their favor, so they just showed a lot of games, many of them new. That’s better than Microsoft or Nintendo offered.
Jack Tretton came out and ab libbed a little bit because he’s an executive with heart. The guy actually looked like he was having fun, and struggled not to crack up when Chewbacca was on stage with him promoting a new Star Wars themed PSP bundle.
The new PSP should have been big news. But it’s just slimmer and lighter, with better battery life and shorter loading times. Great stuff, sure, but no new analog stick means I lost interest faster than I could read Kotaku on my DS. The new finishes (piano black, ice silver and Star Wars white, with Darth Vader on the back) are cool enough, I guess, as is the ‘display’ button, which allows you to connect a cable and push the PSP screen to a television.
Wipeout showed up twice: Pulse, the new PSP game, and Wipeout HD for the PS3. I’d be lying if I talked shit about the PS3 version, which I’ll buy in a second.
Patapon, a new PSP title, is like Worms plus Loco Roco. Looks neat, but I had to bail out of Sony right after the press conference ended, so I didn’t get a chance to play it. Same with Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions and Echochrome, the very stunning combo of MC Escher and Lode Runner. Black and white line art, little running guy, rotatable worlds built on optical illusions. Could be a brief diversion, but it looks beautiful.
Home was pushed, and it’s still something I’ll never use, ever. The ability to launch games directly from the utility is cool, as is the ability to publish photos taken on compatible mobile phones.
Exclusivity was the big word. NC Soft is now developing for PS3, though I haven’t grabbed the details of the deal so far. Tabula Rasa on PS3, Guild Wars or City of Heroes? Seems likely. Meanwhile, Ubisoft’s Haze left me cold; I was a lot more interested in the console exclusivity of Epic’s Unreal Tournament 3, since that game has blown my mind every time I’ve had hands on.
On the first party side, Gran Turismo Prologue (the new name) looks just as pretty and cold as ever. Killzone had some great action, but it looked amazingly like a sequel to Resistance. I’m more interested in COD4 at this point. The first-party title that got me juiced was Sucker Punch’s InFamous, which looks like Crackdown with an actual story and atmosphere. We need a lot more detail on this one, but the Sly Cooper games were frequently wonderful and the idea of playing a superhero in a sandbox environement with the real option to go good or bad sounds quite good.
Oh, right. Metal Gear. MGS4 is exclusive to the PS3, and Kojima claimed that this is it. Fini. He’s done. Snake’s done. All secrets revealed. And if nothing else, the trailer we saw was supposedly all gameplay footage, and if that’s true I really need to know exactly how we’re supposed to be playing the last battle seen in the clip. I don’t have the patience for the series, but this one looks like a guilty pleasure. Kojima will be giving a live demo in Tokyo next week — expect good video from that.
I’ll see more of Warners’ smaller games tomorrow or Friday, but today was the currently un-named sequel to F.E.A.R. I watched about 20 minutes of a hospital crawl played live, and while it looked pretty much like a next-gen version of the original game, that’s fairly wonderful. The environments aren’t much advanced from the classic blocky Monolith levels, but the lighting is noticeably improved and the HUD is currently minimized and much better than before.
But it’s the AI that really stands out. Ignite an enemy and they’ll beat themselves trying to put the fire out or will jump in water if possible. The physics in combination with the AI make enemies even more intelligent-seeming than before. Even if this is basically the same game, which it vaguely appears to be so far, that’s enough to get me interested, at least. The player also has moves at hand that were only available to the AI in the original. So you can leap over banisters and (finally!) move objects that block your path.
I want Fallout 3. Right now. I’m not even a fan of the original games, which I thought had great writing and ideas but massive barriers in the gameplay mechanics. Those were the two games I always wished I could love. This one: no problem loving. It’s got that Oblivion feel, but far more detailed and interesting. The action is mostly real time combat, though you can kick in the VATS system to nail some location based damage based on your skills and number of action points. Fusion, man. Joe Satriani always knew that shit was tops.
And the game is beautiful. Just amazing layers of crushed, torched urban landscape. Fire and explosions — especially the massive nuclear bomb that takes out the town of Megaton — are awesome. Particle effects are great, with dust blowing and swirling on the wind. I saw about 40 minutes of gameplay and all forty looked vastly superior to Oblivion. If the writing, quests and AI all get similarly massive upgrades, this one is going to kill 2008.
There wasn’t a lot here I hadn’t seen already. Hellboy looks fun, both in console and portable versions, and I’m dying for Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles. Though the leaked detail that the voice acting in Symphony of the Night (included as an extra) has been re-recorded has me cautious. The original voice work is so hilariously bad and wonderful that I"ll really miss it.
Deweys’ Adventure is a fun looking kid’s game that’s a total and obvious cop of Loco Roco. Not a problem, and it looks fun for kids. Silent Hill Origins finally got my attention, and the Silent Hill 5 announcement was interesting, I guess, but without more info I’m not holding my breath.
Contra 4, with a full scale retro look and action that carries vertically up both screens, is fun enough to get my dollars. What can I say? I’m a nostalgic fool when it comes to Contra.