Wednesday, June 20, 2012

E3 2012: My Thoughts

Last year's E3 was a significant turn for Nintendo's future, what with them initiating the next generation of video games. Perhaps Microsoft and Sony aren't quite ready to make the jump, but the mostly barren schedule of 2011 proved Nintendo had to move on from outdated hardware and go forward with HD, high-tech specs, and a more robust online system. This led to the last year's Wii U, which features a tablet controller (think a playable iPad, and you pretty much have it) that interacts with the screen.

Personally speaking, I enjoyed the Wii U's presentation last year, but I knew it had to utilize a more enticing bait to lure in skeptics and hardened Nintendo fans. As evidenced from the mixed reception last year, the presence of HD graphics and a fancy tablet controller were not enough. Launch systems may not always have the healthiest of game line-ups, but a convincing library would have to be introduces. Other issues regarding Nintendo's limited approach to online play, the number of controllers, and its specs would have to be fully clarified to soothe its harshest critics.

Regardless, I remained convinced Nintendo had aces hidden up its sleeve, and the months leading up to the conference only strengthened my suspicions. Nintendo president Satoru Iwata unveiled further overhauls for its online infrastructure, including downloadable versions of titles also available at retail. Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto let it slip that new entries for New Super Mario Bros. and (finally!) Pikmin would be showcased. Rumors exploded throughout the internet over the upcoming game from Retro Studios (Metroid Prime/Donkey Kong Country Returns), with many pointing in the direction of a new Star Fox.

The effect of that rumor was particularly interesting, as a trusted industry insider had hinted at-wonder of wonders!- a crossover between Star Fox and Metroid. This, along with Iwata's recent admittance in regards to the Wii's unbalanced offerings towards the "core" and "casual" markets, propelled the hype factor for most fans and cemented the idea Nintendo would storm E3 with a stellar line-up for its controversial console.

Ultimately, Nintendo's E3 conference ended up being benign and unsurprising. Game-wise, there weren't many surprises; we already knew Pikmin and Mario were coming, and the revelation of the mini-game filled Nintendo Land sent infuriated ripples throughout the community not unlike 2008's Wii Music. Aside from ZombieU, third-party titles ended up being year-old ports or exclusively for the casual audience. Details for the new online structure were sparse, barring the interactive 'Miiverse' which allows one to see other people's comments in the games at specific points (such as, say, a bottomless pit in Mario everyone's having trouble with). Worst of all, other than the confirmation of two useable Game Pad controllers for any Wii U system, no big surprises were shown for the tablet.

Basically, if you weren't won over last year, nothing presented a viable persuasion to change your mind.

Was I disappointed with the conference? Yes, but my impressions don't quite echo the frenzied cries of "AUUUUGHMAHGAWD NINTENDO SHOWED NO GAMES!!!!1111!" that you'll find on just about any message board. In fact, I'm of the opinion the Wii U features a decent launch line-up. Granted, I'm a little scared by indefinite date for Pikmin 3 and there's ports aplenty for year-old titles, but such is typical for system launches these days. Other than that, I feel there's legitimate concern for how Nintendo will handle the new console (Outside of the inane cries for another Zelda, considering we just got one last fall. Then again, I could just pretend everyone suddenly caught up with me and realized it was shit).

The problem lies not within the quality of the games (excluding the dubious entity that is Freestyle Games' SiNG), but how they fail to present a convincing case for the Wii U's core appeal. Many comparisons have been made with the motion control revelation of the Wii, which had an immediate visual impact on everyone (regardless if they actually play games). For example, the original Wii Sports is by no means the Holy Grail of video games, but the idea of manually controlling a baseball bat or tennis racket held an appealing identity beyond its party-game exterior. This further amplified for previously established franchises, such as the swordplay in Zelda: Twilight Princess and the beam-shootin' action of Metroid Prime 3. The Wii may have been radically underpowered, but its premise of motion controls promised an interactive experience unlike anything before it.

With the Wii U, no such allure is present with the Game Pad. The best that Pikmin 3 and New Super Mario Bros U could muster, respectively, was displaying a map and producing platforms to help players out of a bottomless-pit jam. Third-party games for the console utilized the tablet in ways no different than what the DS offered. I do like what Nintendo wants to accomplish with the Game Pad, but as shown with the Wii, Nintendo cannot rely on the fascination of its new control scheme to win over gamers. In regards to the games themselves, perhaps my biggest discomfort with the Wii stemmed from rather Aside from Super Mario Galaxy titles, Donkey Kong Country Returns, and Kirby's Epic Yarn, nothing in the actual games themselves provided a prominent evolution over their predecessors (much less could only operate with the system's motion controls). Much as I love Smash Bros. Brawl and Punch-Out!!, we've seen those games before, and I'm worried the same process will happen with the Wii U.

Iwata stated several years back that Nintendo would be witholding information on games until they near their release dates to avoid boring patient gamers with the wait and further annoy them with potential delays. That's all fine and dandy, but that's a risk they needed to take with the Wii U. A full-blown triple AAA game may have been impossible to cough up for release, but we needed a beyond the launch window. Don't show all the secrets, but show another future title in development or perhaps what Retro's working on (Seriously, why wasn't that there?). Don't stop at games, either: Show the full details of the online infrastructure and the system's tech specs, both of which were heavily criticized in the Wii's time. Maybe they won't blow everyone away, but it's best to be upfront and honest about it during a place where everyone has their eyes on you rather than some press fact sheet.

Will I be getting the system at launch? Sure am, but we may see droughts similar to that of the Gamecube and Wii launches, and I'm not sure how the Game Pad will gain enough momentum with skeptics and core gamers alike to override it, let alone the expanded market. The Wii may have been a gamble, but the motion controls were an immediately understood concept. With the Wii U, it could go either way, and Nintendo faces an uphill battle no matter which road is paved for them. that all the doom and gloom's aside, how about those games?

Pikmin 3

*Insert manly scream here*

After waiting maybe...four years since it was subtly announced by Miyamoto, the next sequel to my favorite whimsical, plant-nurturing, circle of life strategy series makes a comeback. Without a doubt the best part of the conference; they literally dove right into a video of CGI Pikmin invading Miyamoto's dressing room and attire. And ten minutes spent on the game, no less! Not too short, not too long. If only they followed that example with Nintendo Land.

....memories of my ill-fated dream of Nintendo announcing a Pixar-produced Pikmin film come flooding back. Uaaooooohhhhhh....

So, how's my opinion of the first preview? What we got here was a demo of a stage from Challenge Mode, a feature returning from the previous games. This time, Challenge Mode operated as a mixture of both games, combining aspects such as collecting treasure and gathering as many Pikmin as possible. The latter element has taken on a different approach this time; Pikmin cannot be grown back, so conservation and strategy must be utilized to the fullest. The videos provided display exciting executions of this goal, and I can't wait to see what treacherous landscapes and objectives will be provided.. And that's without getting into the (currently unveiled) Story Mode.

And check out dat HD! Granted, the graphics aren't mindblowing and the location shown isn't one of their most inspired Pikmin locales, but I'm willing to those slide since this was originally a Wii title. And hey, take a gander at some of the new interactions with the landscape! Taking rides on lilypads down the creek? Sliding down vines to lower areas? There's much potential for obstacles and strategy to add depth to these ideas, and there's much enthusiasm on my part to witness more in action.

So what's actually new here? Perhaps the most obvious is that Olimar, the protagonist of the first two Pikmins, is notably absent. Instead, there's an addition of four brand new captains, of who's identities are still unclear at the moment. Believe it or not, I actually did see this coming, so I'm not so vexed at the change. Olimar is a favorite Nintendo character of mine, but I'm willing to accept the change to witness how the new characters interact. Of course, half the fun of Pikmin was mirroring Olimar's fascination with this strange alien world, but the trailer promises some fun gameplay mechanics with the new team.

I'll be frank: I wasn't too impressed with the initial showing of the Rock Pikmin. The little humanoid-shaped bodies are what makes them so adorable, and I wasn't sure how I could think the same for an uncreative lump of rock. The trick is to look at screenshots of them (like the one above) and just look at how they derpy they are. Now I'm a big fan, although I'm hoping they won't render the game broken since my beloved burly Purple Fatties are confirmed to return. The pink-colored flying one at the end also looks promising. Here's to hoping for other surprises in this area.

So, which type of gameplay will this Pikmin end up using: The 30-day time limit of the original, or the more freedom-centric treasure hijinks of the sequel? In recent interviews, Miyamoto stated the reason why the game took so long was due to this very dilemma, but seems to have settled on following the first game's time-based objective. Personally, I love both, but I can't deny the mixed reception the time limit that turned some players off. I also prefer the second Pikmin, but this is attributed to its upgraded production value and abundance of content. My guess is the time limit won't be fully imposed on everything, but will have an impact on several key concepts. Whatever happens, no one can fully judge it since we don't know what's going on. Personally, I'm just glad to have Pikmin back!

also obligatory reference to awesome meme

New Super Mario Bros U

Yet another New Super Mario Bros.! Not too surprised this was coming as a launch title; people are literally begging at this point to include a Mario game alongside system releases, so why not bang out a easy-to-develop sidescroller title?

How delightful that it seems like they're putting effort into it. As sharp as New Super Mario Bros. Wii's level design was, the cheap flash-game aesthetic kinda placed a blemish on the experience. It's not quite a hyper-realistic knock-out here, but the aesthetics look much more lush and are sporting some pretty creative . Most notable are the star-filled snowy wonderlands and the eerie Van Gogh-esque areas, which should give birth to some wonderful concepts. Already I want to play it.

Also lovin' the power-up love we're getting here. Normally, I would gush about my latent dreams of Mario donning a Flying Squirrel suit coming true, but the above piece of artwork is just too amusing to pass up (a friend of mine pointed to it as being representative of his feelings toward the conference). In any case, Baby Yoshis finally return from 1991's Super Mario World, and now wield abilities such as spewing bubbles or inflating themselves into balloons. Will we finally get to drag them to any level we want? Hopefully; I want to become the first nerd in the world to earn the distinction of completing every level with the above Yoshi.

Gotta say though..what's up those mountain formations? I wouldn't mind it so much if this was in a later level or something, but that is not what my endless fantasies (or previous Mario games, for that matter) have established as surrounding Peach's castle. Ah, well.

Nintendo Land

Let's get the obvious out of the way: Yes, this presentation was a failure. No one wanted to see a two-three minute panorama view of a carnival (of which was no doubt the cause of my headache later that day), the Luigi's Mansion segment was quite possibly the most boring, and it produced no sense of immediate compulsion to grab a Wii U.

Now let's get right to the other obvious factor: What Nintendo fan hasn't daydreamed over something like this? Maybe not necessarily in an interactive format, but a Nintendo theme park?!? It's a fantasy I've toyed with since a letter brought up the idea in a Nintendo Power issue, and I guess I'm somewhat tickled at having it actually happen (albeit in video game form). Admittedly, the game's presentation has hampered my interest, but preview impressions from the show floor

Five attractions of the game were shown off, of which include:

The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest: Four Miis dressed in Link costumes band together to tackle classic Zelda dungeons and monsters. The players with Wii Remotes take up swords while the Game Pad user flings arrow from his bow.

Luigi's Ghost Mansion: A frantic multiplayer scare-fest based on the 2001 Gamecube title. Luigi look-alikes armed with flashlights avoid the Game Pad user's ghost, who hunts them down thanks to his prowess of invincibility. Of course, players can turn the tables on him should the glow of the flashlights reveal his presence.. Chaotic cat and mouse hijinks ensue.

Animal Crossing: Sweet Day: Trouble's going down in the idyllic land of Animal Crossing: Food thievery is afoot! Villagers scramble around the town gathering up fruit as the guard dogs (controlled by the Game Pad) hunt them down. Much like Luigi's Ghost Mansion, teamwork is necessary as increasing amounts of collected food will slow players down.

Donkey Kong's Crash Course: The 1981 arcade hit returns in this single-player puzzle game. Controlled by tilting the Game Pad, one carefully maneuvers a cart of barrels through a gigantic maze of 8-bit girders and ladders. Taking one look at the screenshot above proves this will be no easy task.

Takamaru's Ninja Castle: Based on the Japan-only NES game Nazo no Murasamejo, this single-player offering introduces a simple shuriken-tossing at wooden ninja opponents.

So, how do I feel overall about the games? I like to think there's a healthy mix of single-player and multiplayer attractions outside of the Takamaru game, which feels waaaayyy too simplistic in comparison to the others. Much as I love it when Nintendo pays tribute to the past (especially with the obscure), the spark's not firing up for me here and I hope there's further depth to it come release. Luigi's Ghost Mansion is another one I'm having a hard time getting behind, with the twenty minute presentation on-stage boring everyone out of their skulls. I'm sure there's truth to the ecstasy of written impressions for the game, but I'll have to test it out myself to discover its supposed magic.

The Animal Crossing title amuses me for reasons beyond not making any sense, which I find to be a good thing. I love chasing sequences in multiplayer, and the concept here feels well-executed. But that doesn't matter. What's really interesting is how disturbing the game is when you apply it in the context of the source material. Why are the denizens of Animal Crossing stealing food, and where exactly did the guard dogs nab giant utensils to hunt them down with? I guess you can't exactly take the game's lazy, laidback atmosphere and turn it into Laser Tag, but I guess all the conspiracy theories my friends and I dreamed up about the series ended up coming true. At this rate, I won't be surprised if Animal Crossing 3D gets a Mature rating.

Zelda and Donkey Kong wasted no time in becoming my favorites for obvious reasons, although I'm surprised at the lukewarm reception for the former. Battle Quest will no doubt be the most action-oriented title of the bunch, and I was legitimately surprised to hear it incorporated the puzzle and dungeon elements from the series. This isn't to say it's going to incredibly deep or end up being repetitive, but should it include some variety in the enemy numbers/dungeon design it'll no doubt be the star attraction.

Crash Course doesn't really need any explanation other than this is what the Takamaru game should have been. Maybe not nearly as difficult, but enough to have the player come back to tackle high scores. Everyone who's played this has walked away exclaiming how brutually difficult, and the game's retro appeal of being devious yet charming makes me want to pick up the game just to play it.

Will I end up getting this? It's been strongly implied Nintendo Land will be packaged with the Wii U, and I guess you can't really say "No"to a free game. That, and some of the hinted mini-games yet to be unveiled do sound intriguing (Balloon Fight, Pikmin, and Game & Watch attractions? Zomg!). Should it not be a pack-in, I'm not sure if it would be worth a full purchase. Further impressions and reviews will be needed to make an ultimate decision, but I'd be damned if the concept didn't please my inner child.

With the main Wii U offerings out of the way, what's Nintendo cooking up for the 3DS?

New Super Mario Bros. 2

TWO Mario sidescrollers in the same year? I must be dreaming. It's a shame there's so much negativity being surrounded around the two titles, as quite a few gamers feel we're being (gasp!) fed too many Mario games. I suppose this wouldn't normally be a problem, but New Super Mario Bros, as nostalgically designed as it is, is not exactly a series that lit the entire Mario fanbase on fire.

Much as I've loved the annual Mario offerings these past few years, even I have to admit this particular game is pushing the envelope. Why this and not the Wii U one? Because that one is actually taking steps to evolve in both gameplay and aesthetics. Don't get me wrong, it was obvious Nintendo was going to produce a sequel to the 2006 DS megahit (which still continues to sell), but New Super Mario Bros. 2 does not provide a meaty enough objective to convert the series' detractors.

It all boils down to the game's central concept, which feels too uninspired to function as a complete hook. The shtick is that Mario's latest handheld adventure is filled to the brim with coins to collect; in fact, the Mushroom Kingdom seems to have taken on a gold theme. An increased abundance of coins spill from blocks, gold-plated suits and accessories are waiting for Mario to amplify his fireball abilities, and even the Koopa Troopas seemed to have given their shells a makeover with sparkling gold paint. The player is set to grab as many coins as they can, and the game will keep records of how many are collected.

Does the game look fun to play? Yes, but my excitement is tempered by an internal battle over one question: Is this game a cash-in to fill up a hole in the 3DS release schedule? I'm normally not the kind of gamer to propose this sort of cynical view, but the whole concept just feels...wrong. Gathering coins in a Mario game adds a layer of enticement/risk-taking to a jumpy, pit-filled sidescroller, but centering an entire game around the concept reeks of something you'd expect from a mini-game collection. New entries in a 2D Mario game should focus their evolution around the level design (as opposed to lesser factors like coins), and I'm worried New Super Mario Bros. 2 will come across as being gimmicky.

That said, I am digging the game's retro throwbacks. Raccoon Mario? Neat! Koopalings! Nice! Reznor from Super Mario World? Say wuuuuuhh? But it's going to take more than nostalgia hooks to capture me, and it doesn't help the game is still following the tired world themes from the past two NSMBs. Will I get New Super Mario Bros. 2 at its August release date? Maybe, though I'm not sure if I want to plop down forty bucks for it. Christmas gift, perhaps?

Paper Mario: Sticker Star

As time passes, the parallels between Nintendo's 2004 and 2010 conferences at E3 becomes more easily distinguished. The former is, by far, the most professional, bombastic, drool-inducing hypefest Nintendo has ever achieved (watch this if you don't believe me), and the latter was largely the same deal after the Skyward Sword screw-ups were out of the way. Both highlighted much-anticipated sequels to be released in the same year (Metroid Prime 2/Donkey Kong Country Returns), introduced kickass handheld systems that gradually took the world by storm (DS/3DS), and unveiled a catalog of games so massive that several would take over two years to reach store shelves (Zelda: Twilight Princess/this game).

That last parallel is very interesting to me, as it could be for this reason that I've grown rather tired of waiting for the latest Paper Mario. It's not necessarily the wait that's dulled my excitement, but its rendered the flaw within its three trailers all the more evident: They're all the same thing. We witness Mario walking around in Toad Town, a sudden influx of Toads/Goombas/Bob-ombs spill out of the screen or perform marvelous feats, areas of volcanic and chilly varieties are briefly shown, and an almighty household fan is summoned to perform Mario's bidding, whether it be powering windmills or unleashing a mighty gust on his foes.

Having the unpleasant experience of being burned out on the wait for Skyward Sword due to this very reason, it's quite frustrating to see yet another game go through the same marketing error. My biggest fear with Sticker Star echoes the one I had for last year's Zelda, in which the repetitive nature of the trailers were an attempt to mask the game's lack of scope (sadly, I ended up being right). Admittedly, it's not all bad here: The locations promise appealing interactions and the events I listed in the previous paragraph do look intriguing, but you can only show them so much before they lose impact.

It might also be that I'm still...having trouble grasping how the new battle system is going to work? We're going back to the turn-battle basics after Super Paper Mario's sidescrolling departure, but the menu system has been tossed in the favor of collectible stickers that serve as your battle commands (such as, say, Fire Flower and Hammer stickers). An easy enough concept to understand by itself, but further evaluation yields some disturbing questions. If I run out of stickers, will I be unable to attack? Will partners still be in the game? Why do the amount of stickers on the top screen differ from screenshot to screenshot? Does it mean I can attack consecutively in one turn? If so, does that mean the amount of usable stickers increase as the game progresses? If that's the case, does that mean the supposedly confirmed reports of not being able to gain EXP are total crock?

Perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself, but this may hint at a tedious mechanic in which the player is forced to constantly backtrack and scrutinize each and every area to collect more stickers. I am not in the mood to engage in backtracking shenanigans after Skyward Sword, and I'd hate to see the same happen to Paper Mario. I've always had faith in Sticker Star's use of the 3D effect (last year's downloadable trailer pretty much guarantees this. Yeehaw!) and I have no doubt the localization guys at the NOA Treehouse will continue to work their comedy magic, but the extended wait has done nothing but lead to inconsistent details and a vague understanding of the overall game. Call me skeptical.

Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon

They are making a sequel to Luigi's Mansion. This is a sequel to a game that arrived along the Gamecube's launch back eleven years ago. I was ten years old when it came out. I'm twenty now, and I may or may not be twenty one when its sequel arrives. By god, am I the only one who's mind is blown by this? What's even more amazing is Luigi's Mansion was not exactly the ideal candidate for a sequel back in its time. Animal Crossing, WarioWare, and Metroid Prime? Sure, but Luigi's Mansion's less than stellar reception led to doubts about the idea being taken any further.

As stated on the show floor, the game will feature numerous mansions and focus on more puzzle-ridden challenges. The trailer above features more dazzle than the original ever did: The ghosts offer more comedic, animated interaction with the environments and dynamic events such as giant spiders and malfunctioning elevators litter the hallways. know, I actually don't have much more to tell you than that. The more I try reading up on Dark Moon, the more I find myself flinching at the intricate explanations for its puzzles and action sequences. Upon writing this, I just realized why: I don't want to be spoiled. Nearly every preview I've seen details some puzzle or creative uses of Luigi's vaccum and suddenly I find my eyes averting the computer screen. This isn't a jab at journalists or anything, but as the game's bigger picture becomes more fully realized it's become clear to me this is something I want to be surprised with.

This isn't to say I'm also not excited for it. Far from it. I've worn a stoic face upon watching most Nintendo trailers recently, but every sequence shown in that trailer is just so full of detail and character (the elevator bit never fails to crack a smile). This probably shouldn't be a surprise considering this was also present in 2009's Punch-Out!! (by the very same development team), and I'm delighted to see the same thing happen here.

Was Luigi's Mansion was a bad game? No, but it was probably hampered by time constraints and (then) console limitations. Here, they're crazy to go wild with both the gameplay and the 3D effect, and I think the concept will resonate with gamers more this time around due to those. Of course, I was biased from the start, so I'd like to think it'll mean that much more to me. Behind Pikmin 3, this is my most anticipated title.


Annnd that's about it! Overall, I'd consider it an average conference. Definitely not what you want for a pre-console launch E3, but I guess that's how the cookie crumbles. Better luck next time, Nintendo!

Seeya tomorrow for a brief update on what'll be going on next.