Sunday, June 30, 2013

E3 2013: My Thoughts

Another year, another E3. I personally found this year's Nintendo conference very interesting in that I can't  remember the last time the reaction was so divisive, if ever! Many people are in love with Mario's latest 3D platformer, but an equal amount scorns it's existence. Meanwhile, while Retro Studios' newest title draws abundant cheers, they are rivaled with boos.

For this year's E3 review, I thought it'd be interesting if I didn't just provide my thoughts on Nintendo's newest games, but mix in my opinions on these so-called controversies. To properly present this, I'll be returning to the What I Liked/What I'm Not Sure About/What I Didn't Like model from the first times, as opposed to last year where I just separated games by their respective systems. I'll only be picking the games that've generated the most arguments. Not only that, but guess what I happened to attend recently?

Eeyup, that's me playing the demos at Best Buy! While I only got to play two games out of the four, I'll be incorporating my brief impressions where appropriate.



What I Liked

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

this game rules.

Tropical Freeze is an oddity in that while this is the one title I have absolutely zero qualms with, the internet threw quite the shitstorm over it's reveal. Why? Because everyone wanted Retro Studios to do something different. Many Nintendo fans believe that Nintendo's lack of newer IPs have rendered their typical sequels to run dry of inspiration and freshness, and thus had their heads turned to their most talented sub-studio to crank out an original hit. Unfortunately, the announcement of a sequel to 2010's Donkey Kong Country Returns quickly destroyed their hopes, and Tropical Freeze was instantly branded by the community as being unoriginal.

Let's make this clear: is Nintendo an unabashed sequel factory? Yes. However, I don't see the problem in this case. While not a new IP, Donkey Kong Country Returns is a newer, fresher property that went above and beyond to differentiate itself from its SNES cousins (and, in all honesty, is far superior to). Not to mention...why hate something that looks incredible on every level? Much as I love that they brought back composer David Wise, am I the only one who finds it sad that's what it took to turn around people's opinions?  Bias, bias everywheerreeeee.

But I digress. I got to play a quick demo of Tropical Freeze at Best Buy, and I found the level design to be as tight as one would expect from a Retro game. Swimming was a blast, the new camera angles made a huge difference, and I found myself wanting more. November can't come soon enough.

Pikmin 3

Neither can August.

I actually planned to place this in the "Things I'm Not Sure About" category (shocking, right?!?), but thankfully I had a reversal within the past few days. See, I've followed Pikmin 3 very closely since its reveal, and while the game looks gorgeous and all, my problem with the provided information/videos is that I never felt like I had a proper perception of how the game worked. Yes, I know that the main objective is to siphon the juice from fruit to feed our starving protagonists, but I'm more curious as to how the game differs from its predecessors. For example, how does the scope of the game compare to the first two? Is switching between the captains any different? Even the juice system hasn't been explained all that well, and my hype was smothered by the confusion. Simply listening to Miyamoto gushing about the game isn't enough for me, as much as I adore the man's antics.

Was I worried about the game's quality itself? While I had Skyward Sword/Sticker Star-esque flashbacks when I realized I didn't have a proper context of understanding, Pikmin 3 is quite different from those two in that it actually looks, y'know, good. All the misunderstanding in the world can't hide the fact that Pikmin 3 flourishes with the very same inspiration and creativity that was so abundant in its Gamecube brethren, not the least of which are the INCREDIBLE wildlife design!. Despite my fears of Alph ultimately replacing Olimar in the next Smash Bros., I'm looking forward to the narrative perspectives he and the other two characters will supply (as opposed to Olimar's scientific mentality, with a drop or two of whimsicality). What we've seen of the overworld maps also hint at further building the world of Pikmin (walking up trees!), so I suppose it's better that I can discover these for myself.

But even then, thankfully there've been additional videos in the weeks following E3, and they've done a decent job of describing the game. Granted, it's not quite up to my pre-hype tastes, but I've felt the excitement gradually drumming within me over the past week. Can't believe it's only over a month away!

Mario Kart 8

Now this was a pleasant surprise. A Mario Kart game that not only looks to have significant game-changing effects, but with a graphic quality that surpasses Super Mario and Smash Bros.? I'm kidding, look at this!

I've seen that screen tossed around in the past couple weeks and I keep doing double-takes when I realize it's not promotional artwork! It looks incredible in motion, too, but this screenshot grabs me above all else.

So, what's going on with Mario Kart this time around? Well, apparently it seems the Mushroom Kingdom has finally discovered the use of anti-gravity systems! Of course, rather than permanently transform everyday life as Mario & co. know it to be, they took a hint from F-Zero and decided its only worthwhile use would be to slap them onto karts. To make the courses more compatible with this new technology, they decided to magically unearth the kingdom's various landscapes and morph them into twenty-story loops that allow for mid-air racing.

This is the only game here I can't really pin a "controversy" to, as everyone seems to be on-board with it; interesting, given how Mario Kart Wii and 7 divided people (the latter to a lesser extent). Personally, I enjoyed Wii a lot despite the flood of weapons, but wasn't crazy about 7 and its lack of content (why I put that and the Street Fighter 3DS port in my Favorite Games of 2011 post is beyond me). Mario Kart 8 is quite a visual feast to behold, what with its Galaxy-esque track design and the return of bikes and kart gliders, but gameplay impressions indicate at a greater sense of speed and a proper balancing of items. Now, I don't particularly like to go too in-depth with multiplayer games and what not, but Wii's Thunder Cloud item really did piss me off and most of 7's tracks just weren't that exciting to play on.

As opposed to 7's rushed schedule, though, Mario Kart 8 is on course for a 2014 release, allowing for plenty of time to fully round out the game's features. Here's to hoping for a MKDS renaissance!

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Can't forget the 3DS!! Just about everything previewed for the system looks incredible, such as Mario & Luigi: Dream Team and Pokemon X & Y, but I'd like to focus on the newest Zelda. A Link Between Worlds serves as the sequel to A Link to the Past, where...wait, A Link to the Past? Really? They're making a sequel to the series masterpiece, complete with the same world map and incredible OST and all that? While announced earlier this year, I still can't get over that.

In any case, people are all up in arms over A Link Between Worlds being composed of the same world map. Such a decision would lead an overtly familiar, tired feel, but I feel that it's is successful in offering a fresh blend of both nostalgic fanservice and new mechanic. The enemies and the interactive puzzles squirming and fidgeting 16-bit style? It's there. Being able to transform into a hieroglyphic drawing and maneuvering across walls? Check. The return of that awesome dungeon theme? Oh yes. While a full grasp of how games hasn't been revealed, that it's based off the same world of ALTTP is enough to have me excited to witness all the changes, not the least of which is the Eastern Palace's mysterious renovations.  Most enticing of all? Series director Aonuma has teased a "huge surprise" to pop up around the game's beginning, and we can only wonder if said bomb will be dropped before launch.

My hatred of Skyward Sword left me worried for the future of the franchise. Have my fears been erased with A Link Between Worlds? I'm still left a little unsure. Obviously, the top-down perspective is now only reserved to handheld titles like these, so there's no telling whether or not we'll undergo another cannibalized overworld slogfest on home consoles? As a sequel, though? It looks pretty awesome, and I can't wait to see how they'll build upon the world map and lore of the original (Aonuma also hinted at the return of the Dark World, which is curious considering how it was returned to its original state as the Golden Realm).

...okay, I just have one gripe. Nintendo, get rid of the Young Link voice clips. No one liked that shit on the GBA port for A Link to the Past, and we don't like it here. He is well into his teenage years. The artwork from the original proves this. The artwork FOR THIS GAME proves this. Ditch it. Now.

Super Smash Bros. For Wii U and 3DS



So, Smash Bros. for Wii U and Smash Bros. for 3DS! Uninspired names aside, I'm quite excited for these two and their characters and trailers and stages and aauuuuuugh. But most of all, there's the new characters they've brought with them! Animal Crossing's Villager is by far the runaway favorite, having been a character I pushed for quite some time, and the creepy, violent memes that arrived with him only prove his worth (kudos to the hysterical "put it in my pocket" move). To call the trainer from Wii Fit "unexpected"would be a vast understatement, but quickly grew to be an unexpected source of hilarity. Can't wait to try them both out.

And Mega Man! While his guest character status isn't quite as shocking as Solid Snake in Brawl (and how could it be?), his inclusion is still a godsend. Plz include the Crash Man theme k thx.

So, of course, the huge division created during Smash Bros. Brawl's era still exists. While excitement is still active over a good majority, the competive crowd remains burned by Brawl's more casual atmosphere. With Sakurai back in the helm, they're not sure what to expect. Does the game lack hitstun? Is it too floaty and slowly? Will there be half-decent balancing of the roster? Here's my thoughts on the matter: I don't give a shit. You can rant about how terrible tripping was (personally, it never bothered me), but Brawl was still largely constructed of the same core gameplay system I know and love. No one picked up Smash Bros. because of how amazing the hitstun was. So long as the games supply the same system supplied with an ample amount of Nintendo fanservice, I am satisfied.

Granted, I still have some issues.The potential of the 3DS version limiting it's Wii U cousin goes with saying, but I'm not really crazy about the graphical artstyle or the new main theme. It's not that the new focus on primary colors was a bad choice, but it comes across as a moderate upgrade to Brawl's realistic artstyle (which I was looking forward to being improved on). As for the latter...yeah, it could just be for the trailer, but I'm honestly having difficulty remembering it and it feels like a step back from the grander songs of Melee and Brawl.

Of course, we've only witnessed the game's early stages, so the two will no doubt grow on me. Overall, Smash Wii U and 3DS look fantastic and I'm looking forward to what Sakurai will bring.

What I'm Not Sure About

Super Mario 3D World

Mario's latest third-dimensional adventure is...not as ambitious as his previous home console efforts? Well, that's what the internet's saying. To be fair, it's not hard to see where their complaints are coming from. Whereas Mario 64 and Sunshine featured sprawling worlds while the Galaxy series supplied an endless stream of ambitious level designs, 3D World is more interested in retaining the sequential structure of the older Super Mario games of yore. Well, that, and the obvious inspirations from 2011's Super Mario 3D Land (which was on a handheld). While most people (myself included) thought that game was incredible, not everyone is happy to see that 3D World seems to be a carbon copy of its handheld cousin.

I feel that the core basis behind these complaints is structured from a potential fear, in which hypothetically Nintendo has realized that no matter how amazing the Galaxy games were, they could never amount to the astronomic sales numbers that the two-dimensional, multiplayer-filled New Super Mario Bros. has provided. With Super Mario 3D Land set to realize the same potential, Nintendo believes that if a sequel was produced for the Wii U (while infused with NSMB's acclaimed multiplayer), it would finally render the 3D Mario games accessible to the same wider crowd. The result if it reaches success? No longer would gamers see anything rivaling the ambitious levels of Galaxy or 64, just never-ending series of 3D World-esque sequels, just like NSMB.

A valid fear, especially considering that the justified claims New Super Mario Bros.'s uninspired aesthetics/design (of which have largely fallen on Nintendo's deaf ears). However, 3D World has some advantages in its favor. First off, it's made by the guys who made the Galaxy games. Second, 3D Land was incredibly creative with it's level design, and there's no reason not to believe the same magic will happen here. Third, and I'm saying this even though I have the largest cat bias in the world, the new Cat suit is quite possibly the gut-busting power-up I've ever laid witness to. You cannot watch that video and not laugh at Mario's frenzied meows, it's impossible.

Having played the game, I've found that much like NSMBWII, a good chunk of its strength can be found in the camaraderie. Multiplayer is a blast to play, and it's amazing how quickly you can accidentally screw over your friends (tip: watch out for the lift in the eel boss level). Music was also incredible and I actually heard the Slider theme from Mario 64! Let it also be known that playing as Cat Mario was one of the greatest experiences of my life.

Even so, it's an odd choice for a home console, and the toned-down ambition from previous 3D titles is, admittedly, somewhat disappointing. It may be a bit too soon to judge 3D World on its own merits, but will the game actually introduce an unwelcome trend? Time will tell. Personally, I'm more concerned if it'll have enough meat on its bones.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD


A Link to the Past is Zelda's masterpiece, but the game that started it all for me still remains my favorite Zelda title ten years later. Yes, it's been ten years since The Wind Waker and all of it's controversies-- whether it involved its cel-shaded graphics or easy difficulty or fetch quests and purging Hyrule from existence--and the world still isn't sure what to think of it. To make things more confusing, now we have a remake coming that no one knows what to make of!

Disclaimer: I am very harsh on remakes of Nintendo games. It all began with my immense hype for the DS remake of Super Mario 64 many years back, which ended in backfire as the game provided uninspired new content and nonsensical restrictions. Since then, I've become quite nitpicky with how Nintendo reintroduces their games, and often get caught up in the tiniest of details. Case in point: I actually had to put down Kirby Super Star Ultra for a bit recently because I couldn't get over how bland the backgrounds were.

The complaint here is pretty ubiquitous, although I'm not sure what to feel about it. You know what really sticks out in that trailer? The bloom. Look at how bright all that bloom is. There's bloom everywhere, and there's so much of it! I can't elaborate enough on this. Is it really necessary? I guess I'll have to play it to find out.

Personally, I'm wondering how much of the game's atmosphere is retained. While the new graphics certainly produce a grander scale, the straight-out cel-shading of the original is missed, and I'm worried that it won't be able to exude the pure loveliness of the original game. Rearrangements of the soundtrack have been confirmed in the gameplay videos, and I'm wondering if it does the original OST justice. I'm okay with no changes to the game (you're talking to the only person on earth who liked the Triforce Hunt), but I fear the game's soul could be stripped. Call me skeptical.


What I Didn't Like

Game and Wario

This game pisses me off.

You know what I'm against doing? It's not new concepts, it's taking a successful formula and reversing it into everything it's supposed to not be, thus resulting into a product that is only related to its predecessors in name. This disturbing trend began with Nintendo back in 2010 with the black hole known as Metroid: Other M, which was the very first video game I unable to form any opinion on despite playing it all the way through. Not satisfied with their inoffensive first effort, Nintendo cranked up the shittiness with Zelda: Skyward Sword and Paper Mario: Sticker Star, and now we've come to the latest offender: Game and Wario.

Did the WarioWare formula get a little stale? Yes, but I found it became so only by the mistakes made by entries following Twisted!. Smooth Moves was fun, but lacked replay value. D.I.Y was an interesting experiment, but limited its appeal through the complicated process of making micro-games (and even then the pre-included microgames weren't all that hot). Game and Wario takes things to another level: instead of featuring a multitude of in-game collections of addictive, rapid-fire microgames, it fashions itself out as quick n' dirty mini-game collection.

To anyone familiar with WarioWare, I'm just as flabbergasted as you are. The whole distinction between WarioWare and games like Mario Party was the former's ability to capture the player's attention by throwing five-second microgames one after the other, all gradually accelerated in speed and difficulty while being presented with quirky Japanese humor. Now they're suddenly shifting the direction towards Wii Play?  I can at least understand why they may want to fiddle around with something like Zelda, but why completely reverse WarioWare? What's the point?

And you know what sucks? Hardly any of these games look entertaining in the slightest! Scream "oh but they have difficulty levels" all you want, it doesn't change the fact that they look boring and are mostly composed of barebones concepts that are barely elaborated on. What's the fun in just slinging arrows and snapping photos of townsfolk? Even the more decent concepts like the Ashley shmup game lack action and interactive input. They seriously had to get the guys who worked on Metroid Prime and Kirby's Epic Yarn to step in? I don't believe it. Just look at the below video:

What exactly is the point of this Bowling game? Didn't we do that enough with Wii Sports? Why is it so benign and straightforward? Where's the zany creativity? Shouldn't there be some kind of potato monster lurking behind the pins? What exactly does this have to do in the context of WarioWare?  Because the pins are characters from the series? Why am I playing this in a WarioWare game?

Maybe I'm being too harsh on something that was originally born to be built-in demo software on the Wii, but that's exactly my problem: for a game that transforms the concept of WarioWare, it possesses absolutely zero ambition in what it tries to do. Instead of aiming for a well-balanced amount of content, the games only provide brevity with their few levels. Granted, I'm not expecting a Smash Bros. Brawl level of content here, but if Nintendo Land can provide a multitude of missions for its Metroid and Pikmin sub-games, why can't Game & Wario do the same? Hell, why not higher? If they're suddenly going to the mini-game route, why not infuse some of the WarioWare energy? Go crazy with the bowling concept! Make me shoot arrows in nonsensical ways!

Do I fault Intelligent Systems for making something new? Of course not, but experimenting with non-broken formulas is only successful if it builds upon the original in a fun way. This isn't it. And while Nintendo's screw-ups with the Wii U's "launch window" are by no means Game & Wario's fault, that we're expected to be satisfied with yet another mini-game collection maybe eight months after Nintendo Land during a drought of nothing is quite ridiculous.

Why am I suddenly up in arms on this? It's because of this lovely Kotaku review. Look at this. Look at all the videos the reviewer provides. They are genuinely funny shit! The humor is off-the-wall! The Gamer title is hysterical! The Japanese humor is intact! Better yet, the little extras provide awesome use of the gamepad! They got really creative with some of these! I am actually laughing and imagining myself enjoying playing these! You know what this means? Intelligent Systems STILL has it in them to make a highly entertaining WarioWare that succeeds on every front! It can be fun to play! It can be funny! And yet it makes it hurt even more when you realize this talent is stuck making this piece of trash software that is inferior to the older games in every way. How insulting is that?

Truly tragic. Here's to hoping WarioWare can find itself again.

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