There's so much to see at E3, it can be incredibly overwhelming. With the plethora of press conferences, deluge of demos, barrage of both booths and booth babes, committed cosplayers, not forgetting to stop now and again to invite in the new Miis gathering in your Street Pass account, it's enough to make your head spin. It's certainly given us plenty to write about. In the flurry of announcements new technology, there are a number of moments that really stood out. Some of them are great, and we want to see more. Others... well, as far as we're concerned, others can go back where they came from.
Thumbs up: PS Vita has long been the mobile whipping boy, but maybe its time has yet to come. I was amazed by the amount of indie products on display at the Sony booth, and saw plenty of stuff that I'd like to play. Surprised the crap out of me, to be honest. I'd pretty much lost interest in the machine, but E3 completely turned me around. Maybe this thing really will finally take off!
Thumb hovering in the middle: Wii U is another system that's taking a lot of heat. I think Nintendo is marketing it poorly, and the console and games are too expensive. But I did play several games at E3 that delivered plenty of good old-fashioned fun, particularly Mario Kart 8, Super Mario World 3D, Sonic: Lost World, Bayonetta 2, and The Wonderful 101. All are titles I'd love to spend more time with... but looking around Nintendo's booth, it's clear that more are needed to make Wii U a truly convincing case for purchase. That's why I think the price needs to come down. I'd be happy to pay less for a system with a select bunch of quality titles. But considering a decently-specced machine is not much cheaper than a PS4, whose upcoming software range is quite mind-boggling, it's clear Nintendo has work to do.
Thumbs down: Microsoft and Ubisoft's booth layouts. There were a few others I could criticize, but this pair were by far the worst offenders. Microsoft knew that there would be huge amounts of interest for the Xbox One, so why on earth did they pack demo stations together so closely? When people were playing, you could barely squeeze between them, and the dead ends and stages jutting out into the floor space created constant people jams throughout the booth. The whole thing felt like an organizational nightmare. Ubisoft's stand had a big circular stage at its center, surrounded by demo stations, but again, there just wasn't quite enough room - especially when someone was presenting and people were hanging around to listen. It was elbows and assholes the whole time. Next year, please give booth visitors some space to breathe and move.
Thumbs up: This year's show seemed less homogenous than any E3 I've attended in years. Even though the show's focus was loudly trained on new consoles and the big stabby shooters that comprise the bulk of high-profile game releases these days, everywhere you went you could find plenty of interesting niche content that broke down all sorts of genre boundaries. As Jaz mentioned, the PS Vita was particularly good at this, with all kinds of obscure indie titles like 1,001 Spikes butting up next to the PlayStation 4 demo kiosks. I think the industry is finally, finally realizing that diversity breeds strength (it's the Vulcan way, you know) and that they need to embrace creative games made by a few people on small budgets alongside stultifying, predictable "blockbuster" titles that exist primarily to tick feature checkboxes and earn back their bloated budgets by playing conservatively to the masses.
Thumbs down: All that second screen nonsense. Look, two screens work fine on DS and 3DS because they're right next to each other and are about the same size. It works less well on Wii U, but a few games justify it. But the sad floundering attempts of companies like Ubisoft and Microsoft to figure out how to distract you from their games with tacked-on tablet features are just grotesque. I especially love how Xbox One is designed to work only with Surface, while Ubi's games are designed to work only with iOS or Android. It woud seem that we're expected to enjoy not being able to focus on the games we're ostensibly playing and pay dearly for the privilege.
My defining moment for all this idiocy was my stroll through the Microsoft booth as a carnival barker proclaimed the wonders of Kinect 2. "It can sense your mood!" he announced. "It can even tell if you're focusing on a game or distracted!" Then I turned around and saw a bunch of people demoing some second screen feature or another, their eyes fixed on a tablet rather than the game proceeding in front of them. I think Kinect is going to be dealing with a lot of distracted people.
Thumbs Up: As much as I enjoyed cheering for Sony after Monday's press conferences, the next-gen console war is a bit distracting. Sure, both companies made it a point to present a long shopping list of their best upcoming games, but the interplay between the two was like watching two contestants make their way up the Aggro Crag, only instead of a green glowing trophy, the winner gets to pull greenbacks out of my wallet. Thankfully there was an alternate E3 press conference that left me feeling inspired by a growing sector of the industry, their games, and the people who make them.
The Horizon press event, hatched from the minds of Brandon Boyer and Cory Schmitz of Venus Patrol, focused on a handful of indie games, from Capybara Games' new wandering adventure Below (Xbox One), to the paper craft funland that is Media Molecule's Tearaway (PS Vita). Each game showed off a unique art design, and their aesthetics hit my eyeballs with a proverbial breath of fresh air. Spending four days playing games made to look as real as possible, a squiggly rainbow worm can be a diamond in the rough. Moreover, listening to people talk about their own games is always more interesting than listening to a public relations expert hired to hype a game. The designers, writers, and artists behind a game have much more insight into the creative process. The sharing of that process, and the pride in the work behind it, left me with a very positive impression.
Thumbs Down: There are way too many zombie games out there. Between comic books, television, movies, and video games, the zombie genre has become a creatively stagnant epidemic. The Walking Dead adventure game is getting a new DLC story with "400 Days," Dead Rising 3 is happening, The Last of Us was released last week (Naughty Dog claims they're not zombies, but they're definitely zombies), the catch with the zombies in Dying Light is they come out at night (sigh), and not only is the highly anticipated game Plants vs. Zombies 2: It's About Time! coming out July 18 , the series now has a spinoff, which is itself a jab at military shooters, another genre that's been done to death. I don't think they're being ironic about it, either.
Thumbs Up: Second screen gaming. I'm that guy who played Dragon Age: Journeys and Dragon Age: Legends. I'm the one who sunk time into Assassin's Creed: Project Legacy. I loved the launch of the Remote Auction House for World of Warcraft. This push into second-screen gaming is great for me. Not as a constant companion to the game I'm playing on a couch, but as an additional experience that I can hit up on my tablet for ten minutes while I'm sitting in a coffee shop.
Why spend five minutes a day collecting foozles in Animal Crossing, when I could spend those same five minutes collecting foozles for the Assassin's Creed IV game I’m going to play this evening? Done right, little add-ons like this expand the world of the game and keep you occupied. Done wrong, I've been forced to waste five minutes playing a derivative form of the game I'm already playing. Hopefully, companies do it right this time.
Thumbs Down: The Xbox One. You've intrigued me, Microsoft. You brought back Killer Instinct. Sunset Overdrive and Dead Rising 3 look like games I want to play. Unfortunately, the rest of your console is letting me down. The conversation surrounding the Xbox One is about the always-online connection, the game licensing debacle, and Kinect 2. That conversation is overwhelmingly negative. Sony is riding the wave to success, and not even a few interesting Xbox One titles could stop me from pre-ordering a PlayStation 4 after their E3 presentation.
Get it together, guys! Competition is a good thing. Letting one company walk away with the crown is not.
Thumbs Up: Seeing a diversity of games on the show floor. After years of being able to guess 90% of the titles on display weeks before the show, this time I was able to wander the show floor and find new and unusual titles in nearly every booth. Games like Octodad: Dadliest Catch, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Divekick, and (even though I knew it would be there) The Wonderful 101 would have been completely out of place in some previous E3s. This time, they provided a creative and approachable counterweight to the AAA bombast on display at the booths of EA, Activision, and the like.
Thumbs Down: Still too much unprofessional nonsense, from the swag collectors to the cosplayers to the booth babes. I understand the ESA and the publishers actually want this sort of inanity because it provides the "electricity" and "excitement" that was absent during the scaled back years, but it still discourages people who might want to take this stuff seriously.
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