E3: A survivor’s tale

I lived through E3, and I’ve escaped, and you can’t make me go back. At least, not until next year.

It was a strange show. My first impression was that it was horrible, thanks to a few awful press conferences. Then the show proper opened and I had the impression that it was like a classic E3, all color and light and interesting games to look at. That turned out to be an illusion, unfortunately; it just happens that I was assigned to cover things at Nintendo, Microsoft, Konami, and Square, which comprised about half of the really worthwhile booths at the show floor. Once I had time to take a proper look around I quickly realized that the big, impressive corporate displays were pools of excellence within a desert of mediocrity.

But still, hey, excellence. Sure, Nintendo subsisted almost entirely on shoveling up familiar brands, but they did a lot of new with those franchises. There’s a rather angry thread in Talking Time this week about how stupid it is that Kirby: Epic Yarn is a Kirby game since it drops so many familiar mechanics of the Kirby series… which is kind of missing the point. Canvas Curse wasn’t exactly classic Kirby, either, but it used the malleability of the Kirby character — both physical and conceptual — to do something amazing. More to the point, who cares? This show was brimming with rehashed, retread content, and Epic Yarn was a breath of fresh air. It’s basically Nintendo creating an indie game… which is admittedly a contradiction in terms, but what I mean is that like so many small indie projects, Epic Yarn seems to take a single idea and explore it to the absolute fullest extent possible, presenting brilliant twists on top and eschewing the extraneous. The difference between Kirby and an indie game, of course, is one of resources, and this is a gorgeous game with amazingly fluid and solid animation. It honestly looks like a crafts project come to life. Amazing.

Konami has its own indie-like project, too: Castlevania: Harmony of Despair, which is exactly the recycled multiplayer DS Castlevania game rumors suggested it would be. Much as it seemed like a terrible idea, playing it made me realize that it’s actually a lot of fun. Like I said in my preview, IGA’s crew needs to come up with some cool gameplay hooks to justify the brazen recycling… but it has potential, which is something I wouldn’t have expected before trying it. (The company’s other indie-esque project was Hudson’s Lost in Shadow, which looks achingly similar in atmosphere and spirit to Ico — I wanted to try it, but the kiosks were always occupied. And always by Japanese press, curiously enough.)

At the other end of the indie spectrum is Halo: Reach. I know Halo tends to be love-it-or-hate-it around here, but speaking as a fan this really does seem to be more or less the definitive take on the game. What I’ve seen maintains the polish of Halo 3/ODST but restores the scope of environments and sense of devious enemy AI that made Combat Evolved so amazing in its day.

And finally, I didn’t get to play Parasite Eve: The 3rd Birthday, but I saw it in action and it looks really interesting — Square Enix creating a Peace Walker style shooter. Granted, Square doesn’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to action games (cough, Dirge of Cerberus), but 3rd Birthday looks miles beyond their previous efforts. Any game that evokes visions of both Metal Gear and Omikron can’t be all bad, right?

And honestly, those were the bulk of the interesting games I saw this year. Which isn’t to say there weren’t more! They problem is that they either had prodigious lines or were strictly being shown behind closed doors (which was also the case for 3rd Birthday and Reach, actually), and I didn’t feel like bugging PR people for a line-jump. It’s kind of weird that E3 has become so secretive about big games — a closed-door event in which the biggest titles are hidden behind other closed doors.

I guess it wouldn’t do for just anyone to get a glimpse of how the big publishers are sinking tens of millions of dollars into shuffling around the same familiar genre mechanics into slightly new configurations.

19 thoughts on “E3: A survivor’s tale

  1. Kirby’s Epic Yarn stays true enough to its roots if you ask me. If you take away the specifics of the mechanism and boil down the concept to its core, not that much is changed. He might not inhale enemies to absorb their powers, but he does still intercept them, turning a threat into an asset. That’s the important part.

    I’m looking forward to it. This is the first Kirby game I’ve been seriously interested in since Kirby’s Adventure on NES. It appears to have all the potential of a Yoshi’s Island level of quality and inventiveness. There’s no way I’m passing that up.

  2. I’ll butt in right away and say that the Kirby thread on Talking Time isn’t angry AT ALL – I don’t think there’s a single person posting in there that isn’t completely sold on it. Reread it.

  3. The sucking may be gone but Kirby still gains his powers, just in a whole new fresh way for a nice change IMO.

  4. A few other unnoticed gems looked great: Journey and Limbo for example. Trine 2 looks beautiful but it may be more of the same: hard to tell from previews.

    I’m actually surprised at the relative lack of excitement for Littlebigplanet 2. It looks to make good on all the potential the last game had and then some. And even without the shared levels I’d just be excited for a great single-player game that could jump from platformer to racer to jrpg at the drop of a hat. And the competitive scoring stuff is neat.

  5. Now, Dirge of Cerberus is a good cautionary tale to have out there, but as someone who has actually played PE2, it’s going to take a public apology and/or full refund to restore enough of my confidence to take a look at this thing. A formal statement that nobody who worked on or approved of PE2 touched this one would also work.

  6. And there’s the problem in a nutshell:

    – Journey wasn’t revealed until last night at the very end of E3.
    – Trine 2 was shown as a video clip only, behind closed doors.
    – Portal 2 was hands-off behind closed doors.
    – I think New Vegas was closed doors only as well.
    – Deus Ex was definitely hands-off behind closed doors only.

    So that’s at least half the games you mentioned that couldn’t be seen by the general E3 audience. In fact, people following E3 by reading websites have seen more of them than actual attendees.

  7. 3rd Birthday looks interesting, but Square Enix seemed to have a pretty disappointing showing (or, at the very least, all the websites out there have pretty poor coverage of it… not likely). But I guess they like to do their own little events and whatnot.

    Still, I would have liked to hear more about DQ10, whatever new FF games are in the works (especially XIII Versus), and whatever else they have up their sleeve.

  8. This post is kind of surprising because I found more promise in smaller titles than any of the blockbuster games this year. Journey was already mentioned, though as you pointed out that was strictly behind closed doors. But beyond that, there was Child of Eden, project Dust, Dust: An Elysian Tail, Shank, Hardcore: Uprising, PixelJunk: Shooter, and I’m sure there were a ton of other smaller titles on the show floor I haven’t heard about. I might just be tired of the blockbuster style of game, though.

  9. Thoroughly impressed by Kirby! I did my best to sell anyone I ran into on it at the show :)

  10. I never got a chance to check out Kirby at E3, and now I’m really regretting it.

    On the other hand, I got about 45 minutes with another side-scroller, which is most likely my game of the show — “Monster Tale.” For those unfamiliar, it’s from the guys responsible for Henry Hatsworth, one of my favorites for DS. “Monster Tale” looks to improve upon about everything from Hatsworth, along with a stronger inspiration from “Metroid.”

    Really sad not to see the game covered by any of the bigger sites. I was hoping you checked it out, though, Jeremy.

  11. Your job, sir, is to live the dream for the rest of us. You do it admirably. Thank you.

  12. I’m definitely looking forward to Lost in Shadow. That game has been delayed for so long and has undergone so many name changes before finally setting with one of its initial titles that its not even funny to think it started out as a WiiWare release. Konami seems to be backing it up strongly as well since it looks more polished than before, and now it has combat. My how much it has evolved from its initial conception.

    Epic Yarn will be one of my faves this year, but don’t forget the other titles that got lost in the press releases, such as Layton and a bunch of other DS titles.

  13. I felt the same sense of alienation from Microsoft’s press conference that you talked about in your excellent “Couch Trip” piece, and I’m really happy that part of Nintendo’s solution to avoiding the casual/hardcore rift is releasing side scrolling games like Kirby’s Epic Yarn. I’ve always felt that 3D games are too complicated and slow-paced compared to 2D games. Over the last three years, there is no other company that has published full-budget side scrolling games with the regularity of Nintendo. Also, while many games like Braid are stuffed with puzzles to the point of having almost no action elements, Nintendo’s games have maintained a good balance between decision-making and reflex-testing.

    The most exciting game of E3 for me is the four-player Strider-style game Moon Diver / Necromachina. I’m surprised nobody else has mentioned it yet.

  14. What? A four player Strider esque game? I never heard of that…What platform is it for? I’d buy it if it’s for the PS3 (don’t have a 360)…

    PS Batman The Brave & The Bold looked pretty interesting. WayForward has been on a roll recently. Despite how awesome Bat Mite sounds, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to afford the DS version (then again, buying both versions is just $10 than buying CoD Black Ops).

  15. Necromachina. It’s an XBLA game being published by Square Enix. I don’t think it’s coming to PS3.

  16. Actually, all the reports I’ve seen slate Necromachina for PSN as well as XBLA. So there you go.

  17. Parasite eve 3rd Birthday felt a little odd to me it didnt quite look like the action style of first two games nor did aya really look like aya

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