E3 2010: The Best (and Worst) of Gaming’s Big Show
Having thoroughly hashed out these important matters with a number of colleagues over some adult beverages, here’s my list of highlights and let-downs from this year’s E3.
Best Wii-Exclusive Game: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
This was the first game Nintendo touched on at their media briefing. In spite of a somewhat glitchy live demonstration (chalked up to wireless interference from the audience, naturally), the game was available to play on the show floor. Every concept presented by designer Shigeru Miyamoto came across smoothly in the actual game, which puts the player in direct, 1:1 control of Link’s sword.
The graphics are very colorful and seem to have a hint of cell-shading to them, meaning many fans will see the art style as something of a cross between Wind Waker and Twilight Princess. There seemed to be some watercolor-like effects in the background distortion as well, leading me to wonder if the unique rendering has something to do with the nature of Link’s new world.
While many of the gameplay mechanics are familiar to fans of the Zelda franchise, it still feels fresh and original. Nintendo definitely had the best game lineup of the show, but this one stood just above the rest.
(Runners up: Sonic Colors, Kirby: Epic Yarn, Metroid: Other M.)
Best PlayStation 3-Exclusive Game: Twisted Metal
Talk about some old-school jones: this game had me spinning my wheels back to the PSOne-era. It truly stood out at Sony’s booth and instantly brought back memories of countless hours spent on the other David Jaffe-created Twisted Metal games. Sony was smart to let him do his own thing once again, especially after the titanic success of the God of War series.
Plus, the multiplayer is a true sight to behold, which you may do so below.
(Runners up: Motorstorm Apocalypse, Gran Turismo 5, Little Big Planet 2.)
Best Xbox 360-Exclusive Game: None of the above
Microsoft put WAY too much focus on family-friend Kinect games that look like poor Wii ripoffs, while leaving core gamers out in the cold. Sure, they had Halo Reach and Gears of War 3, but neither really wowed me. I’m certain both will be quality gaming experiences, but they’re franchise properties; a known quantity. I wanted something new, but even with a massive console add-on device Microsoft failed to bring home the goods.
Best Multiplatform Games: Marvel VS Capcom 3, Dead Rising 2, Rock Band 3
Child of Eden, the spiritual sequel to Rez, is easily my game of the show and headed to PS3 and 360 very soon – but there’s three other multiplatform games that deserve similarly high praise.
Marvel VS Capcom 3 (Capcom, coming to Xbox 360, PS3) looks to be a chaotic masterpiece of a fighter. After an hour waiting in line, a friend and I — both of us being quite proficient in MVC 2 — tore into each other for five solid minutes and came away very impressed. The graphics are gorgeous and it will have a cast of gaming and comic heroes unlike anything players have ever seen before. That’s cool.
Dead Rising 2 (Capcom, coming to Xbox 360, PS3, PC) takes players on a violent and deeply satirical ride through a zombie-infested shopping mall. Thousands of the undead haunt seemingly each hallway and corridor, but wading through them isn’t made needlessly difficult. The game lets players use almost any item lying around to slaughter zombies and even allows for weapon combinations via a tool bench and roll of duct tape. Two chainsaws taped to the ends of a canoe paddle? Yes, please.
Rock Band 3 (Harmonix, coming to Xbox 360, PS3, Wii) will feature all new instruments that actually replicate the experience of playing the real thing … By which, it will literally teach gamers how to play the guitar, bass, drums and keyboard. The game will also feature 83 new tracks, though Rock Band already features thousands of amazing artists via downloadable content. Even people who hate this sort of game would be tempted to invest if they’re interested in learning to play an instrument. Bravo, Harmonix.
(Runners up: Vanquish, Mortal Kombat, Sonic the Hedgehog 4.)
Best New Hardware: Nintendo 3DS
On the show’s final day, the Nintendo 3DS had a line estimated to be some five hours long, stretching out into the convention center parking lot. In my years of covering and reading about E3, I’ve never heard of such a thing.
The 3D effect one gets from the new DS screen is brilliant. Looked at straight on, it’s as if the device contains a separate little world that hovers in front of you. Seen from an angle the effect is lost and the image becomes fuzzy, but when it’s right, it’s really right.
8 and 16-bit games are likely to be ported over, as the booth featured some of the older Nintendo classics in pseudo-3D. Nintendo 64 games will also benefit dramatically from the new platform and Nintendo was showing off demos for The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Star Fox 64, both in eye-popping 3D.
But it’s not just the old school that got gamers abuzz: some of the tech demos featured graphic fidelity near the level of Xbox 360 games, and Nintendo is reviving Kid Icarus to showcase the 3DS.
The system has a slider on the side that lets players adjust the 3D effect — and, at their press conference, Nintendo said the console would sport a “wealth” of 3D content at launch. These two facts could very well mean that many existing DS games will work with the new system, but that remains to be seen. Still, allowing a 3D effect toggle might give players the power to simply flick it on and see what happens, unless the system’s firmware simply locks that function when playing older games. With shutter glasses on a properly-equipped 3D gaming PC, similar toggles allow for a range of compatibility with older games not specifically designed for the effect. This could also be the case on 3DS, but Nintendo was clearly hedging their bets on making any announcement.
Toss in a 3D camera and content partnerships for 3D Hollywood movies and you’ve got the most compelling handheld gaming gadget ever. Nintendo is going to own pockets all over the world very soon.
Worst New Hardware: PlayStation Move
This was a real toss-up between Move and Kinect. Believe it or not, I actually think Move has a better shot at success if Sony can hit a mass-market price with a bundle package. Still, getting two players fully compatible with most Move games is a high point of entry, with consumers looking at a very hefty investment by way of buying every piece separately. For instance, to play The Fight, a full $200 plus tax must be sunk into the controllers alone. Then there’s the Web cam … And the game …
Still, this promo video from Sony is neat to look at:
It’s basically a new console that sits on top of an old console. Unless Sony gets this thing bundled and cheaper, with games that are not blatant Wii ripoffs, I’m calling it another Sega CD or 64 Disk Drive. Consumers do not have a difficult choice when asking themselves who offers a better, cheaper, more enjoyable motion gaming experience. Sony’s Move fails to inspire me and until it does, I’m not buying it.
(A final, immature barb at Move: a female colleague quipped that it looks like a freaky vibrator with a glowing ball on the end. Now every time I look at it, that comment pops into mind. *shudder*)
Runner Up: Xbox 360 Kinect
The new Xbox device has cool tech behind it and should be able to produce some interesting gaming experiences on down the road … But it also makes people who play with it look like complete idiots. Microsoft’s booth was full of people jumping and waiving spasmodically, with video of their actions projected above the crowd. Whoever made this decision wasn’t very smart. They may as well have launched their own EyeToy, ’cause it’s basically just a Web cam that makes people look stupid.
Last year’s E3, “Project Natal” ignited the imaginations of gamers everywhere with the Milo demo by Lionhead. This year, after presenting the thing with a bizarre arena show full of glowing space bibs and acrobats running on the ceiling, Microsoft offered a not-so-subtle apology to the press with thousands of ethics-free, gratis consoles.
Then, a nasty rumor surfaced: that Kinect doesn’t work very well for gamers who are sitting down. Microsoft says that’s not the case, but did thump on the whole “optimized for standing” bit a lot during the show. Added, every Kinect game I saw required players to be on their feet. Many looked like quite a workout, and the stench of sweaty geek body odor was certainly detectable in the Xbox booth.
If sitting glitches this thing out — and I already hear the voice controls can be manipulated by multiple people during one session — that may just be one fatal flaw too many.
But at least their first TV spot is kind of neat, even though it gives viewers absolutely no reason to buy the product:
Still, if Microsoft’s strongest appeal to core gamers is, ‘Hey, get up and jump around for some Wii ripoffs,’ or, ‘pretend your finger is a gun’ (something Sony outright mocked) … I don’t see it faring well until a truly killer app hits.
I believe that game will be Child of Eden, which is the only reason I did not pick Kinect for worst hardware. Still, it remains to be seen.
Best Major Franchise Reboot: Mortal Kombat
The new Mortal Kombat features four player action and all the violence players have come to expect from the series. This time, it’s a true sequel to Mortal Kombat II, the game most ‘Kobmatants’ like best. From checking out the trailers and watching it demonstrated, this looks to be a bloody good time. This could soon be one of the most popular party games in America. (Midway, coming to Xbox 360, PS3.)
(Runners up: Twisted Metal, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Goldeneye.)
Worst Major Franchise Reboot: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
I wanted this game to be so much more than a God of War ripoff. From my 10 minutes of demo time, it doesn’t appear to clear that bar. I hope their surprisingly lame demo is a fluke because the Castlevania reboot has tremendous potential … But the folks at Konami need to do something a little different than their friends at Sony, or I may not be plunking down full retail price. (Konami, coming to Xbox 360, PS3.)
(Runners up: Xbox, PlayStation for their emphasis on how they’ve become more expensive copies of the Wii.)
Game of the Show: Child of Eden
Just … Watch:
That’s the spiritual sequel to Rez, revered by many gamers as being at the pinnacle of the interactive arts. I maintain, Child of Eden — which supports Kinect and is slated for Xbox 360 and PS3 — cannot come out soon enough.
That’s all for this list. Check back in the coming days for a more unconventional take on my E3 experience, complete with photos, video and a lot of weirdness. Cheers.