E3: The Big Three Round-Up

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This year’s press conferences for the ‘Big 3′, Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft, have stirred up some controversy. Well, controversy in the fact that most of the internet found them to be boring, banal, and lacking in any real show-stoppers. As the shows that, in many way, define E3 and set the tone for the show, this is pretty dangerous.

As we all know, the internet will just complain about anything; but it wasn’t JUST the ‘net. Even Forbes said that in the battle between the Big 3, all of them took 3rd. In truth, there were a lot of offerings that the Big 3 had to show at E3 that were on the convention floor, but weren’t part of the presentations, and a few others that were but are worth a second look. Lets take a better look at the kings of consoles and see why their grades were so poor.

Microsoft – The first of this year’s press conferences, and probably the one that was judged most harshly. Gamers all across the net raged at how little the show had to offer, and how much time was wasted on demos of oddities, skits, and things that, frankly, just weren’t really game related. Under the surface, though, Microsoft has some huge titles to offer this year. I mean, really, Halo 4! Last year their press conference closed with a very short cinematic teaser for the game and it got accolades. This year they give full gameplay video, and they get a slow, sarcastic clap?

In addition to Halo, Microsoft’s other major shooting series, Gears of War, gets another installment in its franchise. On top of these two major, sure-fire hits, Microsoft continues to expand its Kinect Library with some interesting titles, such as The Avengers and a vastly improved version of the Kinect Sports title, and we saw some more great stuff from XBLA, such as adventure game Mark of the Ninja. Items like more voice recognition and the new Smart Glass service creep the Xbox slowly towards their long-touted goal of becoming the all-in-one media device.

Yeah, its very impressive that you can drop enough $$ to get Usher to dance for you, guys, but is he selling games?

So, what was the problem? Presentation. Anyone who took the time to watch Microsoft’s live-feed can tell you just how embarrassingly bad their showmanship is. They come across as patronizing, phony, and lacking in any real knowledge or enthusiasm about their product. Their like the worst kinds of car salesman. Now, obviously that’s not true. The fact that Microsoft keep putting out great games shows that they know what they have on their hands… they just don’t know how to talk about it, and they look ridiculous in ways that even Usher can’t fix.

Some of that is our own fault, too, as a game community. Many people who watch the press conference are hardcore gamers, and they forget that they are not the only types of gamers in the world. The show isn’t really for them anyway, but rather its for investors and share-holders. Those people will want to see the improvements in technology, like the Smart Glass, which could have applications in several fronts; they also want to see that the casual market, which is large and full of untapped funds, are taken care of by the Kinect.

Still, those hardcore action games serve as a solid staple for Xbox, and should be the foundation. Halo 4 should have been the showstopper, and Gears should have been the opener, book-ending the presentation with a full demo shown to the crowd. Why push it to the show floor in favor of Call of Duty? It looks great, but I can get that on the Playstation as well. Once again, Microsoft will have to rethink their presenting style.

See? Bookend.

Sony-  By far, Sony had the strongest presentation this year. In a year that lacked any significant hardware releases, it was all about the games, and that is what they delivered. The Last of Us and Beyond where their book-end titles, both of them completely original, one of which had never been seen before. These two titles seemed to generate excitement in ways that Halo 4 and Gears did not. Part of that might be because of their originality, where as Gears and Halo are both part of an expected series of sequels, and also neither of them were teased at last year’s E3, where as Halo had been. They were both able to blindside the audience with new stories and new ways of playing.

Additionally, Sony brought some new in-house titles to the show floor, with arena fighter Sony All Star Battle Royale, which comes at the perfect time in the long drought between Smash Brothers releases, as well as Little Big Planet Karting, and a new God of War.

The Press got to see a cool, action-packed demo of Beyond. The public got to see an enigmatic, and ultimately kind of boring, story excerpt. Learn to make a trailer, Sony.

This is a great line-up, so why all the ho-humming on the internet? The lack of tremendous enthusiasm at the new God of War is a bit perplexing, as that has been a stunning and beloved series in all of its previous renditions. It could be that the trailer just didn’t spark enough heat, and that it will build in coming months, or it could be that players are starting to get a bit of sequel-itis, tiring of the constant retooling of familiar game builds.

The biggest problem with Sony’s press conference, one they admittedly regretted at the end of the show, was the lack of focus on last year’s big release, the Vita.  With portable systems endangered by encroachment from mobile devices, and the sluggish reception of the system, it seemed like the obvious choice would have been to highlight the games that were being developed for the platform in order to make it a must-have system. Game variety, always, is what sells a system. Those who have already invested in the platform were no doubt disappointed to not see validation for their purchase.

It was sad, too, because there were some really interesting games on the floor for the system. In particular was Retro City Rampage which, you can see in this video, kicks ass. Many were ‘ports from the home console games, but the ports are so strong now that they stand in their own, in many ways, among their more powerful peers.


(allright, sure, its DLC on other systems too, but I liked seeing it on the portable)

I’m sure plenty of gamers were sad to see that Last of Us and Beyond were also not displayed anywhere on the convention floor all weekend. A few of us lucky pressers got into the private screening rooms to see playable builds of the games, but there wasn’t so much as a trailer being shown on the convention floor. Why highlight the games and then not show them off, Sony?

Despite that, they’ve still got the most must-haves, in my opinion, of the coming year.

 

Maybe a Kratos dance game?

Nintendo- This year, once again, Nintendo blew our minds with didn’t know what to do with the Wii U. Honestly, I’m probably one of the biggest Nintendo boosters ever. I’m not much in the mindset that video games should be ‘bad ass’, and I really get tired of the way that so many games come out feeling like a Rob Liefeld comic book because of that attitude. Games should be fun and accessible, and Nintendo delivers on that. Usually. I can’t tell you how much I played my Wii when it first came out. I bought tons of games for it, and played them with my whole family. And then, slowly, the game feed dried up. Even Nintendo, who had promised a blockbuster every month, stopped putting out regular games for the system, and all we had was a small supply of confused shovel-ware.

This year, make no mistake, there were absolutely no Wii games on display. None. Unless, I suppose, it was buried with some 3rd party studio, but there were certainly none to be found in Nintendo’s booth. So, for all intents and purposes, the Wii is a dead console. For a system that outsold the PS3 and 360 by almost 2-to-1 as of last year, that’s pretty sad. And the Wii U has a very similar feel to it, a system with vast potential that no one seems to know what to do with. I hope I’m proven wrong about that.

The bottom line is, will I pay $600 to play with the new Rock Pikmin? ... God I really don't want to know the answer to that question.

All doom and gloom aside, what few games were on display for the Wii U were pretty great. Pikmin 3 brings that franchise back to us, and it had been sorely missed. Scribblenauts Unlimited is a personal favorite that promotes exploration and creativity, and the strange and interesting Project P-100 was a bizarre take on the Super Powered fight genre that has me curious for more. New Super Mario, of course, will be a system mover for some. Of course Super Mario isn’t set for release in their launch window. Is Pikmin really strong enough to be a launch title for what will likely be a very expensive system?

Aside from these the Wii- U showed some glimmer of its 3rd Party support, with Batman: Arkham City, Assassin’s Creed 3, Darksiders, Alien: Colonial Marine, Tekken Tag 2, and more. Is it enough? I’m not sure, but it certainly is a decent start, IF they can have them out a launch.

Still, Nintendo is going to have to tread carefully with this system investment. Many of their games are still mini-game in appearance, such as Game & Wario and the almost-certain pack-in game, Nintendo Land. These are very fun games, but they appeal to a certain audience, an audience who just watched their last system investment slowly die.

And speaking of slow death, the 3DS had almost no presence on the showfloor. There were virtually no demo units in the Nintendo booth, and only a few scattered about the hall. Even Nintendo’s 3DS showcase presentation didn’t have many games to offer. However, what they did offer was very, very good. Scribblenauts, Paper Mario, New Super Mario Bros 2, Luigi’s Mansion, Castlevania… they’re all strong titles, but are they enough to fill up an entire year for the system? There were other games, to be sure, but most of them were holdovers from last year, and they didn’t gather much excitement.

Nintendo’s failing was obvious, as they didn’t offer enough games in a year that was defined by their presence, or lack thereof. The Wii U drew huge lines last year, and won Nintendo the show, but this year to continue to build on that, they needed to show off the idea that they would have enough games to make the system worth buying for every gamer. They are trying to prove that point, but there is certainly still some skepticism about that idea. People still came and investigated out of curiosity, but it wasn’t enough to keep them jumping from system to system all day demoing games. Next year, Nintendo needs to come raging out of the gate with Metroid, Zelda, Smash Brothers, Mario Kart, and some other name titles, as well as a handful of exciting original IPs, in order to make sure the Wii U crushes the competition in its sophomore year. And Starfox! My kingdom for an original, flight-based Starfox game!

Castlevania-gasm

All said, the Big 3 are the ones who set the tone for the convention every year, and this year it certainly come off feeling lackluster. You can tell we’re getting close to the transitory period between systems, but no one really wants to bear the expense of going there yet, and there are still things that can be done with the old systems. The companies all seem a little confused about what to do with this year, trying to maximize the games that are out there, without burning out their hottest properties before the new systems are ready to be introduced.

Depsite the poor presentations, though, there were still plenty of fantastic games on the floor. If you ignore the console presentations and look at the developers, like Ubisoft, they had booths full of confident reps showing amazing games. If anything, that’s what I took away from the show this year, that Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo don’t know as much about what’s going on in the industry as their partners do. But, luckily, those developers are the ones who make so many of the games we love to play, and their half of the show was pretty remarkable. 2012-13 will still be an okay year for gaming, but it seems that 2013-14 will be the cycle that will define the industry’s future.