Thursday, June 25, 2015

E3 2015: My Thoughts

Another year, another E3. Nintendo's recent rounds of conferences have come under heavy fire in the  past three years, and while it seemed last year's Digital Event was a major step in the right direction, fans are once again left disappointed despite the same format.

Myself? I'm actually still wrestling with forming an overall opinion. While I share some of the hyperbolic dislike for several of the new games, I recognize that I like the majority of the games presented. The problem, however, lies in how they were presented, which has led to general apathy (or just plain hatred, as evident from my home of NeoGAF) from nearly everyone.

As already announced, since this conference wasn't a complete knockout like next year, we'll be returning to the regular format for reviewing E3. Given the nature of this particular E3, however, I won't just be talking about games. What exactly do I mean by that? Read on.

What I Liked

Star Fox Zero


Finally, Star Fox has come. And contrary to the rest of the internet, I rather adored what was on display here. Most of the criticism (particularly in the graphics area) has fallen on my deaf ears, for I'm quite delighted that several of my predictions came true!

First and foremost, I'm glad Nintendo took Star Fox 64 3D as an opportunity to establish a reboot. Much as I dug Assault, most of the bullshit from Adventures and Command clogged up the series with pointless timeskips, the existence of Krystal, and the unforgivable sin of Peppy leaving the team. Now things are back to the simple, casual cheesiness of the SF64 universe, complete with Mike West and Lyssa Browne reprising their roles as Fox and Slippy. Even better, from what I could hear from the trailer and Treehouse streams, it sounds like they've toned down the deliberate cheesiness in the voices (as seen in SF643D and Smash 4) to let them sound more natural. Let's hope I'm right!

And I love the aesthetics. Roll your eyes all you want, but I'm quite pleased with the overtly "clean" look of the aesthetic. Continuing the Star Fox 64 3D artstyle brings the machines, planets, and characters to life as if they were toys and playsets, which gels so naturally with the setting that I can't wait to see what it'll do with other familiar locations in the Lylat System. Sure, Corneria might look a little too familiar, but have you seen what they did with Titania? I'm dying to see what they'll do with the likes of Macbeth and Aquas (assuming they make the cut). A fun piece of artwork below makes me just want to reach my hands out and toy around with all the machinery!

...and maybe the characters, assuming they're okay with it.

Also, everyone's fantasy collaboration with Platinum Games has come true! Granted, Nintendo's clearly still calling the shots, and it's sad Hideki Kamiya isn't directly involved with one of his dream projects (although I'm certain he'll sneak in some input, heheh), but I remain excited for how they'll influence the game's development. I get the impression this'll be a tad more reserved than their typical spectacle (as seen in the delightful Bayonetta and The Wonderful 101), but stuff like the Titania boss are good signs. I eagerly await to see how they'll handle the rest of the boss encounters...

There's plenty of other things I could gush over in what we've seen of Star Fox Zero, be it them bringing back the walker from the ill-fated Star Fox 2 or actually reviving the one-shot boss characters from Star Fox 64 (PLEASE BRING BACK MECHBETH OH MY GOD). But alas, much of that has been buried in the swath of criticism for the game. Believe it or not, I was quite shocked to witness the flood of complaints following the presentation. I wonder if it was because it took so long for me to jump on the HD train...?

While I feel several concerns (such as no bombs or alternate routes) require a deeper understanding of the full game, there's the matter of the two most ubiquitous complaints:  locking 60 FPS for both regular gameplay/the Game Pad and looking relatively unambitious for a new Star Fox title. The former stems as being the main suspect as to why Zero's graphics fell short of expectations, and for the moment I think I'm okay with it. I mean, I dunno, maybe it'll take for me to see the game up close to finally realize it's "ugliness", but currently I love the direction they've gone with that, so the 60 FPS gets a momentary pass for me (that, and I think what they're doing with the cockpit/robot sections are pretty damn cool).

And as for the "unambition"...well, I think Nintendo recognized they had to go back to the basics. Like 'em or hate 'em, what Adventures, Assault and Command brought to the table weren't overtly popular with fans and Nintendo realized they had to go back to what worked in Star Fox 64. If anything, I guess I'm a little saddened there's no multiplayer (at the very least in the vain of Assault's), but knowing Nintendo I'm certain they'll limit its potential by rendering it local-only, so I suppose I'm glad they're beefing up the single-player for all it's worth.

In any case, the reception to Star Fox Zero remains fascinating to me even a week later, and I actually plan on writing a Nintendojo article by this Friday on it! It'll be a far more objective affair where I scrutinize the most major complaints and judge whether or not they hold merit, so there'll be none of the fanboy gushing you see here. Please look forward to it!

Nearly Everything About The 3DS

Regardless of the disappointment for the Wii U's lineup, I think we can all admit the 3DS had a fantastic roster of games (barring one particular bust, but we'll get into that later). I really liked how much of the new games had some really clever twists on some familiar formulas, and I remain as excited as ever for the 3DS's future.

Take Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam. Bringing the RPG worlds of Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi together is such an "I didn't even know I wanted it" idea, and watching the creativity on display on the Treehouse Stream was great fun to watch. Already my mind is swirling with the possibilties of how the two worlds can interact with each other, such as familiar NPCs or party members returning to the fold. With AlphaDream behind the game, Here's to hoping they stay away from Sticker Star's influence as far as possible.

And this is "deepest lore" at it's finest, but...anyone else shocked at the confimation of Paper Mario taking place in an alternate universe? As a kid I had the head canon that Mario's world would magically transform into paper on occasion, which coincidentally set the stage for yet another adventure and would wear off soon afterwards. I guess I'm a little sad to see that theory go, but I think Paper Jam's take on it (where apparently Luigi knocks the book of Paper Mario off a shelf) is pretty funny in its own right, and I'm quite interested to see if it'll delve into that.

Come to think of it, I guess this also means Mario & Luigi is an alternate universe, too? I think I'd better move on before I get into any crazy Mario timeline ramblings.

Ah, Four Swords! Wait, no, it's only Tri Force Heroes this time? According to Aonuma, four Links would've been "too high" when piled together. That would've been a great display of 3D, if you ask me, but I guess I'll take the man's word for it.

And the game looks hilariously fun, anyway. The crossdressing and various poofy outfits work great with the "Toon Link" visuals, and watching both the stream and various videos was great fun with all the backstabbing. As someone who can't seem to help but toss his teammates in bottomless pits in New Super Mario Bros., I imagine I'll be getting quite some mileage out of this title, especially with the fantastic news that this game is ONLIIIIIIINEEEEEE!! A miracle in the world of Nintendo, but a much appreciated one.

Recent tidbits from Aonuma have implied the game will be quite meaty for completionists. With Tri Force Heroes hosting an elaborate setting and story (a kingdom obsessed with fashion? I'll take it), it's setting up to not just be another spin-off, and I'm quite grateful for that.

And here's a gem overlooked in all the hubbub. Praise be the lord that allows Chibi-Robo! games to keep being made, because as far as I know they're not even that popular. And yet Nintendo found it fitting to give the little guy his own adorable amiibo, one I shall certainly fight tooth and nail to nab.

Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash looks to be the most significant deviance yet from the series, as the game is set entirely within a sidescrolling adventure. Some of the maneuvers shown on the stream were impressive enough (my favorite being the robot's impression of Moses, although I think that was in the first trailer), but time will tell if Zip Lash will serve as a worthy counterpart to Chibi-Robo's previous open adventures. At the very least, I was charmed by the game's host of bizarre Pikmin knock-off enemies

Speaking of which, apparently someone asked Mr. Tanabe about the possibility of a Chibi-Robo!/Pikmin crossover. That...sounds right up alley, although the contrasting time periods of both series could pose a problem. Perhaps they could take a page from Paper Jam's concept?

Anyway, those were my highlights from the 3DS line-up. Some gamers are starting to spectulate we're in the middle of the system's twilight years, and I'm not sure I could bear with that. The 3DS has easily been the most fun I've ever had with a handheld console, and I'd hate to see it go. Another two years, Nintendo?
The Muppets

Nintendo knew how incredibly funny the Robot Chicken segments from last year's E3 was, and they built off that concept through cooperating with The Jim Henson Company. Watching Muppet versions of Miyamoto, Iwata and Reggie goof around was funny enough, but to witness them gradually mutate into Team Star Fox a beautiful once-in-a-lifetime moment. I've become something of a Muppet fan since the 2011 movie, so this was a real treat.

Some have suggested Nintendo should return to a regular press conference next year to secure a proper showing for the NX, and while I wouldn't be opposed to that, it'd obviously come at the loss of these fun segments. The games are what's important, of course, but these Digital Events have such charming presentations that are devoid of the occasional awkwardness found in live conferences. Granted, the dwindling significance of motion control have rendered Microsoft conferences watchable again, but nothing really beats Reggie zapping a MOTHER 3 fan to oblivion or a Muppet Iwata breathing awkwardly into the camera.

And watching the Big 3 Nintendo Execs confidently marching down a hallway while the heart-pumping Bowser's Castle orchestral from Super Mario 3D World plays in the background. If anything, I thought that set the stage really well.

Maybe a little too well.

What I'm Not Sure About

Getting Tired?

Now here's where things get muddy. We've seen quite a few of the games featured fact, we've known some of them for two years now! This is Xenoblade Chronicles: X's third E3, and Yoshi's Woolly World  and the Fire Emblem x Shin Megami Tensei crossover were announced even before that. Not to mention, we've known about Super Mario Maker since last year, and already knew Star Fox was on the way.

In other words, not many surprises were in the conference. You could say it is what it is, but while I don't think most are doubting the quality of X and Yoshi, the wait's starting to get rather stretched out, don't you think? Take the former game, for instance; while I'm actually secretly excited for  December launch since it gives me a world of time to complete my current replay of Xenoblade Chronicles, the game was hardly even presented in a localized state. It's just more of the same.

Yoshi's Woolly World presents an even bigger problem with the conference: too much padding with the Developer Stories. As interesting as they are, it can't be a coincidence that the Star Fox Zero one was the most interesting one, was it? We already had one for Woolly World last year, and this year's regurgitated much of the same info. As cool as it is to know we'll be getting copies of that Mario Maker booklet, I feel they should juggle which Developer Stories to keep in the Digital Event and what should be kept as bonus Youtube videos on the side. For instance, it's vital to explain the backstory of something new and exciting like Splatoon, but we're already well-acquainted with Wooly World to the point where such tales don't need to be reintroduced.

Look, I like most of these games. I can't wait to get my hands on Woolly World and am already dreaming up levels for Super Mario Maker. And if you don't have much new stuff to show, don't much new stuff to show. The trick, then, is to show what you do have in either a) new ways we haven't seen before or b) keep their spotlight brief so they don't wear out their already long-awaited welcome.

Granted, what we saw of Super Mario Maker at the Nintendo World Championships was incredible, but...well, let's get into that now.

Too Much of Their Hand Too Early?

Here's something no one saw coming: The Nintendo World Championships held two days before ended up being more thrilling, involved, and just flat-out more exciting than the entire E3 event, and it wasn't just because Reggie embarrassed himself with his Smash Bros., uh, "skills". The hosts were incredibly on-point with their enthusiasm, Super Mario Maker's worth was proven to everyone with those crazy levels, and, to put the cherry on top, reveal on top of reveal with the likes of Blast Ball, the "one-two-three" round of reveals for Smash DLC, and numerous game reveals in the form of EarthBound Beginnings and the mysterious Blast Ball.

Including the mini-direct just a few weeks before showcasing new 3DS titles (such as the aforementioned Chibi- Robo!: Zip Lash), one question that's been on everyone's mind is "did Nintendo show too much too early?" With Nintendo's own Digital Event lacking many surprises, perhaps it would've been better to hold off, say, the Smash info until the Tuesday event. But would it really? As exciting as the new Smash content is, Nintendo's primary concern at E3 should be new titles. EarthBound Beginnings also falls into this category; while it's certainly exciting for  yours truly western audiences, it's still just a port of a 1989 video game.

Regardless, it's difficult to juggle what should be shown. Showcasing Super Mario Maker's full potential in front of a crowd and livestream certainly invigorates the audience, but it tires out its spotlight on the stream. Meanwhile, stealthily introducing a budget title in the form of Blast Ball is a fun idea, but it's all for naught when...well, we'll talk more about in a moment.

So what should be done for next year? We already know Nintendo's gearing up for another World Championship next year, and with the Hyrule Warriors/Smash DLC leaks ruining surprises, the propsect of properly balancing the content between the two shows becomes even tougher.

To be honest, I'm not even sure what's the right thing to do here. It's easy to say the entire coverage for Super Mario Make (including the Developer's Story) should've been confined to the NWC, but with it being such an important fall title for Nintendo, it's also vital it gets shown off during the actual press event. It's also also important to remember this is the first time Nintendo's juggled both events at once, and with the NX on the way and the Wii U disaster fresh on Nintendo's minds, it might be best not to show anything new at all for next time.

Time will tell.

What I Didn't Like

Metroid Prime: Federation Forces

I think the fact that the video has over 60,000 dislikes speaks for itself.

There's a lot to say about Metroid Prime: Federation Forces, so let's get the obvious stuff out of the way. In a world where 2010's Metroid: Other M single-handedly put the entire Metroid series on the fritz, this is entirely the wrong way to remind fans "Don't worry, we still care about this franchise." That Federation Force doesn't look anything like Metroid--from the gameplay right down to the bizarre "chibi" aesthetics--isn't even the worst part; it's that its mere existence during such a period proves just how out-of-touch Nintendo can be.

And what's even more heartbreaking isn't how the talented Next Level Games (Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon) are behind it. It's not how when stripped away of any Metroid influence, the game appears approachable to levels of fun, Blast Ball minigame and all. It's that this is an idea the game's producer, Kensuke Tanabe, had running in his head for the past ten years.

Talk about bad timing, yeowch.

What a shame that is, particularly since fans have admitted in the aftermath they've dreamed up Metroid titles featuring soldiers of the Galactic Federation. What everyone can't seem to get over the most is easily the graphics: clean "toy" graphics are fine for something cheesy like Star Fox, but when shifted to Metroid and compressed even further to cutesy soldiers and environments reminiscent of Dark Moon, it comes across as the most thematically dissonant Nintendo title since Star Fox Adventures.

Within a hypothetical period where Metroid was alive and well, Federation Force would be, like Metroid Prime Pinball before it, ultimately disposable. But alas, we live in a world where the Metroid Prime era has long since ended and Other M exists, and so this offering comes across clueless and even borderline insulting. Not to the levels of pathetic petitions begging for the game's cancellation, mind you, but not even the involvement of composer Kenji Yamamoto or advocacy from fellow Nintendojo co-worker Mr. Marrujo can change my mind on this downer.

Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival

And here we have this nail in a coffin. Nail to whose coffin, you ask? The Wii U.

A bold claim...if the system wasn't already dead in the water. Many had been speculating we'd be seeing Animal Crossing on the system due to various HD assets popping up from the AC theme for the Wii U menu, but I'd long suspected this wouldn't be happening. The series is one of Nintendo's few remaining bastions for the expanded market, and I can't imagine it'd serve any purpose on a dying system by the time it'd launch. While it certainly wouldn't bomb as hard as Wii Sports Club or Wii Fit U,  it'd at best manage City Folk numbers. Development on a home console version would be best saved for the next system.

With spin-offs in development for both 3DS and Wii U, I can't take the announcement of Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival as anything but Nintendo's preparing to abandon the Wii U. Given comments by Reggie and Miyamoto at the show, I can't imagine the NX not being a home console.

Miyamoto discussed last fall about spin-offs padding the release schedule before meatier entries, and yet the first round since then hasn't gone too well. Zelda: Tri Force Heroes looks all well and good, yet Federation Force and amiibo Festival were met with universal scorn. In the case of the latter, while I think it's a cute concept (a money-based board game framed within the slice-of-life context of the villagers), it's something I can't imagine anyone would desire to play.

And sadly, it's probably the best Animal Crossing can currently do with the Wii U. With the series' potential best reserved for the NX, it's time to tide over Animal Crossing fans with some spin-offs. Happy Home Designer could've done the job well enough, but with amiibo selling like hot cakes, it might make financial sense to cash in on Animal Crossing merchandise. With the Wii U already flopping hard, they may as well release a harmless spin-off while planning out the next real entry.

There's no question amiibo Festival isn't suited for the E3 environment, but what can be done? Nintendo dealt their cards with the Wii U, and it blew up in their face. As a consequence, we're offered amiibo Festival, and so now we can only look forward to the possibility of Nintendo regaining their foothold with the NX. 

Hopefully that'll happen next year. I don't think Wii U can support the company for another year.

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