Wednesday, June 11, 2014

E3 2014 : Nintendo Takes Over

Instead of just having a two hour press conference for game journalists, Nintendo decides to take over E3 by creating a SERIES of events on the first day to highlight their upcoming games for both the Wii U and the 3DS. What we got wasn't a short conference but an 11 hour odyssey, focused on the games and explaining DIRECTLY to gamers the best features of their upcoming titles.

What Nintendo lacked in graphical horsepower, they made up in finesse, and they did this in spades. Knowing full well their console can't handle the gigantic textures and polygon counts of their competition, their first party games focus on providing cartoon-like graphics with very speedy animation and bright colors. Hardly a shade of brown, grey or red was to be seen during Nintendo's Digital Event.

Nintendo showed off some spectacular visuals for their upcoming games: specifically, the Legend of Zelda and Super Smash Bros Wii U were just impeccable  in quality. Their work looks to be a triumph in art, design and animation, and the best part is, their work just looks unique compared to everything else out there. Like their recently released, ultra-polished game Mario Kart 8, Smash Bros and Zelda look to be getting the same sort of care in terms of design and aesthetics, even without the same graphical power as the games coming from Sony or Microsoft. Nintendo's games hold their own, as GAMES. They aren't trying to be movies; they aren't trying to ape Hollywood in terms of presentation. These are games for gamers and it really shows.

Their most unique title in my honest opinion was Splatoon, a game where you don't just shoot your opposition; you shoot the walls, the floors, everything....to basically out-color the other team. This kind of thinking in game design is what has always put Nintendo on top. While it is true that it doesn't always work out well for them, when it does work for Nintendo, as a gamer you get to appreciate the variety in interactive experiences that this provides.

I spent a good chunk of my morning watching their invitational Smash Brothers tourney, and I thought it was very well organized and well executed. Their final match was really fun to watch thanks to the commentary of some people that Nintendo hired, i think, from the fighting game community. They even had Geoff Keighley to host and Reggie himself was there, too. They basically made E3 a huge party for gamers, and that is just fantastic. E3 is supposed to be a 'trade' show but Nintendo knows that, at the end of the day, E3 is all about winning the hearts and minds of gamers, and they took that to the next level....they took it further than Microsoft or Sony has.

So I'm at a complete loss here. I would have given the award to Microsoft for best show, but damn, Nintendo really went above and beyond. I suspect they're going to stretch this out for the next two days. They mentioned Starfox but didn't show it....why? I suspect they will show more in the coming two days. Same for the other projects they mentioned Miyamoto was working on. Overall, for gamers everywhere, pay attention to Nintendo's upcoming shows....they're really fun, focused on gaming, and they really help demonstrate that there's more to games than just running and gunning.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

E3 2014: Reaction to Microsoft and Sony Press Conferences

Just sat through the two major press conferences for E3 2014. Without Nintendo yet for comparison, but perhaps I'll write again if anything notable comes up during their 'digital event', which is a few hours from now. (It's going to be today at 12 midnight, Philippine time)

Microsoft had a strong showing. While I will admit they didn't have anything mind-blowing, or the type of 'shocking' announcements that these types of press events become memorable for....they did bring a good list of exclusive games. Most notably, the game that grabbed my attention (and seemingly everyone else's) is Sunset Overdrive. Part Dead Rising, Part Infamous, Part Ratchet and Clank....the game is very colorful and a big departure from the usual dreary, bloody games we get year after year. Yes it still has some adult-level violence but at least the presentation isn't the usual 'guy-in-military-fatigues' fare that all companies seem to be churning out for consoles lately. Sometimes I wonder if console gaming is a huge recruitment program for the US military....

Anyway, yeah, Sunset Overdrive is the most interesting game in all of E3, at least right now. I'll wait until after Nintendo's show before I say it's the game of E3 this year. But it's damn close to winning that award in my mind. 

The other notable game on Microsoft's roster is Forza Horizon 2. It's notable not just because it's a pretty, pretty game....it's the fact that MS has been able to churn out two quality racing games in the span of two years. That's pretty fantastic if you ask me. Today's game development cycles are ridiculous, spanning years on end and numerous delays. Microsoft being consistent with the release of games in the Forza series really shows their pedigree in game development in that genre. I recall Forza 5 (at E3 2013) was a really well made racing game compared to Driveclub, and for them to have no delays compared to Sony with their 'launch' racer is quite an accomplishment. 

Lastly, there's the Master Chief Collection. Largely spoiled by the internet, everyone knew it was coming but hearing it from MS is pretty fantastic as well. You have every Halo game, remastered in one big package for 60 bucks. It's a great deal. Looking forward to getting that when I pick up an Xbox One. 

Now, onto Sony's show. They put a lot of money into 'the Order 1886', which is a really beautiful game. But I can't help but compare it to the reveal for Gears of War way back in the days of the PS3 vs. 360. The Order feels like Gears of War in terms of what they want to accomplish. But in terms of delivering the pretext, the storyline, why you're playing the game.....Sony didn't do a very good job with that. What they showed is a very beautiful, photorealistic game....but they didn't add more to the message. They should have explained who this moustached-guy is, why it has to be in 1886....what's the point of it? Yes there's a zombie-werewolf thing over there, but why is that? I recall with Gears MS went out of their way to say the monsters in Gears were these things 'that came out of the ground and destroyed most of the world...' Yes, it's rudimentary storyline, but what is good about MS's presentation for Gears is that they do a good job providing the backdrop for everything. I wish Sony did the same with the Order, but they didn't and that leaves The Order feeling like a very generic shooter game. 

Then there's Bloodborne....it looks like its going to be like Dark Souls. So count me out. The game's too hard. I'm a father now and I ain't got time for that....

Finally, Uncharted 4. This is a 2015 game. I bet it will be delayed to 2016. 

The other games they showed were indie games and multiplatform games. I hate it when these guys show multiplatforms. (i mean, i hate it when BOTH MS and Sony show multiplatforms in their press conferences). Why? Because these type of games don't really add more value to their platform since you could always buy it on the other console. The third parties that are pitching these multiplatform games are already sending out a good message on these games; i don't think the console makers have to show them unless the game is exclusive to them. 

Anyway, Batman Arkham Knight was really interesting. The gameplay with the Batmobile looks like fun and the city feels much larger than in previous installments. It was a good showing for that specific game, but in terms of adding more value to the PS4, it doesn't do much. 

Overall, I want to be more positive about the Playstation 4 than I ended up being after watching their E3 2014 show. I think right now if you want great multiplatform games, get a PS4 to get the sharpest version. But if you want great exclusives, get an Xbox One. Thank God they got rid of their DRM policies....

Nintendo's show is a few hours from now. I hope they show something worth talking about. Otherwise maybe this would be my last posting about E3 2014 this year. 


Monday, June 02, 2014

Mario Kart 8! ... !

Mario Kart 8 is the Wii U's strongest title to date. Based on my three days of play with the game over about a dozen or more hours, both in single player and multiplayer....this game is an absolute blast. The graphics are gorgeous and everything about it screams good design and art sensibility. I can imagine some people might be turned off by the cutesy graphics and Nintendo characters, but underneath all that is a well designed GAME.

Multiplayer is the absolute star of the show. With my Philippine-quality internet I get into races in literally seconds. With past games on both Playstation Network and Xbox Live, matchmaking can take 15 minutes or longer. I don't know how Nintendo did it. Maybe Mario Kart is just simpler to code for since it just involves race cars? This game doesn't have the usual issues with driving games on laggy connections. Things like teleporting cars, cars going much faster than you....I have seen none of this happen while I was playing this game, and quite frankly it's shocking. I'm pretty much used to having problems when playing ANY networked game but Mario Kart 8 seems to have none. You can play against nearby opponents in Asia, or opponents in the US and Europe, and none of the matches feel any different. It's like they're literally in the room with you. No weirdness. No lag. No slowdown. 

It. Just. Works.

That feature alone sells this game. If you have only five minutes to play, this game lets you. If you want to keep going for hours and be sure that you're always racing, you can do that too. Mario Kart's multiplayer is pretty incredible that it manages to do this with 12 players all at once, and you can even bring a friend to play in split screen, VS. online opponents, who can do exactly the same! You get into full rooms very quickly, and you get to enjoy some great action every time you fire up this game. 

Yes, the single player is there when your connection is down and you need your racing fix. It's barebones but at 150cc (the highest setting) it can be pretty challenging too. Track design is spectacular and no two tracks feel the same. There's a lot of really cool stuff in the game's 32-track roster (that is a LOT by racing game standards....). 

Overall, this is a game that's pretty hard to ignore. I only wish that the Wii U had more frequent releases. But this game, along with Super Mario 3D World, make the system a must own for anyone who truly loves games.