E3 2010 Round-up

E3 2009 was, to say the least, a mixed bag of emotions. Microsoft just about managed to stimulate our excitement glands by dropping the bombshell that was Metal Gear Solid: Rising, and a potentially interesting control scheme called ‘Project Natal’. Sony answered with their own motion controller that looked suspiciously like a Wii remote, while Nintendo themselves won the award for ‘the most ridiculous product to ever appear in gaming after Tony Hawk’s Ride with the Wii Vitality Sensor. Still, it wasn’t nearly as bad as their 2008 efforts which consisted entirely of Ravi Drums.

Oh my, how things can change in the space of a year.

We should’ve seen it coming with the announcement of Cirque Du Soleil’s involvement with the official launch of the peripheral formerly known as ‘Natal’, but nothing could have quite prepared us for the reveal of Xbox Kinect. An extravagant and no doubt hugely expensive stage show from the Canadian performance troupe introduced us to a handful of games that looked alarmingly similar to things we’ve already seen in the past from Nintendo and Sony. With each new game revealed for the platform, Microsoft appeared to be stepping further and further from the promises made at last year’s event, of a motion controller that would change the way we play video games.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QniexXEvvjQ[/youtube]

From Kinect Adventures, which looked like a sort of on-rails version of Dale Winton’s Hole in the Wall, to Kinectimals – in which an overenthusiastic Asian child played with an AI tiger called Skittles (seriously, you couldn’t make this stuff up) – almost every offering appeared to be little more than a five minute distraction that screamed ‘gimmick’. The only redeeming factor was Kinect’s integration with the Xbox’s audio/video playback, which allows users to control their media by voice or by motion, removing the necessity of a physical controller. Microsoft also announced a new video calling service which operates across windows platforms, as well as Live for Windows Phone 7. Gripping stuff I’m sure you’ll agree.

The most upsetting part of the conference was the sheer lack of ‘real’ video games. While gameplay demonstrations of Gears of War 3 and Halo: Reach will no doubt keep fans happy, the only real highlight (and to be fair, it was pretty amazing) was some in-game footage of Metal Gear Solid Rising. Imagine Ninja Gaiden done by Kojima Productions, with the ability to cut anything, including buildings, vans and water melons, into tiny pieces. The potential is incredible and of the entire hour and a half conference it was this one game that pretty much stopped us from hanging ourselves.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ugMkw1H_vic[/youtube]

After showing a bit of Forza Motorsport that had been designed to work with Kinect – allowing players to move around in-game cars and touch them up a bit – the show ended with the reveal of the Xbox 360 Slim, a smaller console with a 250 gigabyte Hard Drive and built-in wireless, which they then gifted to all attending. A lot of people will look at this as an attempt to bribe the press, but in all honesty after the awful crap they made them sit through, it was probably more an apology.

Jaded by the foul taste left in our mouths from the Microsoft conference, fingers, toes, eyes and testicles were all crossed in the hope that Sony could pull something spectacular out of the hat and show us something worthy of the E3s of yore. Instead we got more motion-based mini games with uninspired titles. Amongst the barrage of financial figures delivered in the kind of monotone only Jack Tretton can achieve, we got glimpses of Sports Champion, Eye Pet for Playstation Move, Brunswick Bowling, Singstar Dance and the originally titled Move Party.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b1YHKwMaXPg[/youtube]

Ironically a large part of Sony’s conference involved their advertising figurehead Kevin Butler giving a motivational speech about how Playstation is the brand for the true gamer, dropping as many digs at Kinect as he could. It would’ve been a good idea to actually have some games to back that sentiment up, instead of basing the majority of their reveals on PS3 exclusive special editions of third party multi-platform games. Much like at previous E3’s Sony’s conference appeared to be all mouth and no-show, with 3D footage of (an admittedly spectacular looking) Killzone 3, a new Twisted Metal game, and a rather sheepish looking Gabe Newell announcing Portal 2 being their only major draws.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5CkLlIVpp_Q[/youtube]

There was a great emphasis on how well Playstation Move worked with games like Tiger Woods 11 and original IPs like Sorcery – a Harry Potter meets Frodo Baggins 3D action game – but much like Kinect, and Wii Motion Plus, the question here is ‘Why use motion at all?’, other than to sell millions of games to idiot non-gamers OBVIOUSLY. Other than a desperate attempt to sell PSPs with a new ad campaign (rather than any substantial new software) the only other notable announcement was Playstation Network Plus, a paid service with an absolute bucket load of small-print attached. Only time will tell if this is a beneficial move or not, but the lack of any truly obvious long-term perks places it in rather murky waters.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQdKppVpw3s[/youtube]

Given the rather frustrating nature of the Microsoft and Sony conferences – both feeling about ten days longer than they actually were – it came as quite a surprise that Nintendo; the company who started this entire motion-centric farce were the ones to save the day. Listeners of the podcast will be well aware of my feelings towards the Nintendo Wii; a fantastic console with some of the best games this generation, swamped in a bog full of shovelware and ridiculous peripherals designed to make an easy buck. Following the trend of Wii Fit, Wii Music, Wii Speak, and the Wii Vitality Sensor, Nintendo’s E3 pressers have become an exercise in holding our breaths for as long as possible, before slowly exhaling in a universally recognised sigh of ultimate disappointment.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ChM0ND3PNaw[/youtube]

Not this year. This year was all about content, with the largest number of new game announcements we’ve seen in a long time. As well as Shigeru Miyamoto bursting from backstage to show off Zelda: The Skyward Sword for Wii, which is how Shigeru Miyamoto should always enter a building, we got a look at a new Wii exclusive GoldenEye game, Warren Spector’s Epic Mickey, New Donkey Kong and Kirby games and of course the main event: Nintendo 3DS. The most impressive part of all of this was that of the games on show, almost every single one of them was what would be considered to be ‘core’ titles.

It would appear that Nintendo has been listening to the feedback from previous years. Gone were the sales figures, gone were the ridiculous peripherals, and strangely enough Cammie Dunaway was nowhere to be seen – maybe all the death threats worked, eh? Instead it was focused entirely on the games, and boy did they look good. Donkey Kong Country Returns is quite literally a re-envisioned DKC game for the Wii, a 2D side scrolling platform game on a 3D plain with all sorts of clever new additions thrown into the mix. Kirby’s Epic Yarn sees a return for the little pink testicle, this time he’s made out of string (or yarn I guess) in what has to be the most incredible looking 2D platformer since Little Big Planet.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Ye93OYb4C4[/youtube]

The fact that Nintendo and their development teams have made a return to the 2D platform genre is something of a victory. In an age where seemingly every gaming protagonist is either a buzz-cut, foul-mouthed space marine, or Nolan North, seeing games that make an effort to evolve genres that have thus far been left to the indie scene to develop is nothing short of heart warming. That other titles such as Metroid: Other M, and Golden Sun DS: Dark Dawn appear to have done away with any obvious mention of motion/touch-screen gimmicks is quite amusing considering Microsoft and Sony are doing their damnedest to make it onto the band-wagon.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cd7PEOJGjtM[/youtube]

With the emphasis of Nintendo’s conference being good old traditional video games, it was nice to see the trend continue with the announcement of the 3DS. Similar in shape to a DS Lite, with a 3.5 inch horizontal screen on top and an added analogue pad on the left of the touch screen underneath, as well as two cameras on the lid for taking 3D photographs, the 3DS certainly looked the business. But it wouldn’t have been half as exciting had Nintendo not announced the number of third party developers supporting the new machine.

While a new Kid Icarus was announced during the conference itself (which is probably enough to interest most Nintendo fans alone), the following announcements that we’ll be seeing a 3D portable Metal Gear game, 3D Street Fighter 4, games from Tecmo-Koei, Square Enix, Namco-Bandai and pretty much everyone else, got us salivating for Nintendo’s latest baby. While I’ve never been a huge fan of the idea of 3D gaming, the fact that the 3DS has this sort of support certainly makes me giddy with excitement. As Nintendo’s conference ended it was clear that they were back in the driving seat, with Sony and Microsoft playing catch-up once more.