I spent some time writing up a bit of a wishlist for E3 before the big event, one that called publishers to task for dropping several of their high-profile games, or for simply failing to talk about them in the interim period between E3 2014 and 2015. In it, I detailed three games: Phantom Dust, Star Fox and The Last Guardian. During the course of E3 2015, two of those games were officially announced and shown to the public. Not only that, but Microsoft showed off their Hololens technology in a way the world wasn’t quite ready for, Sony dropped megaton announcements left and right, and Nintendo not only gave people the best teaching tool for elementary level design in a video game, but they managed to perfectly translate complex six-button fighting game mechanics into a four-player fighting game that utilizes only two buttons for attacks. And that’s only scratching the surface.
I went into E3 2015 as a jaded old man, ravaged and weathered by the last two decades of paying strict attention to the convention and its events, its announcements and whether companies made good on promises from years past. This year, I am happy to say that E3 changed me — if only for a few moments — by tapping into the childlike wonder that originally inspired me to love video games the way I do now. In many ways, E3 2015 has been best — and sometimes, the worst — E3 of all time. Here’s why I think so:
First of all, Hololens is censored amazing. The tech is still early, and things aren’t ironed out, perfected or finalized. Even with the state the product is in, the promise it shows is unparalleled. Sony is trying to make VR waves with Morpheus, Oculus is knocking on the world’s door with Facebook money at its back and Valve’s VR efforts are well underway — even with all this going on, Microsoft found a way to trump them. Virtual Reality may not be the wave of the future, after all. It may be all about Augmented Reality, and right now, that vanguard is Microsoft’s domain.
Secondly, Halo 5 has been a tour de force of marketing blitz. Trailers, radio-show podcasts with top-tier voice talent, internet scavenger hunts that the series has become famous for, and it’s all culminated in E3 2015. They showed the game, and it looks far better than the beta did when it went live. This looks to be a refined beast, and the first killer app for the Xbox One. This is the moment that franchise fans have been waiting for, and I can only hope it delivers on the setup it’s spent so long teasing. Also, if you haven’t listened to the entirety of the Hunt The Truth series, do it. It’s fascinating, and helps to flesh out the story of the Halo universe for those who haven’t spent hours upon hours of time delving into the (mostly book-based) supplementary material.
Then, I’m on to Cuphead. My GOD, Cuphead. It’s the fusion of everything I love — classic, hand-drawn animation meets run ‘n gun shooter in the vein of Metal Slug, Contra and Gunstar Heroes. It’s been years in the making, and I can remember being absolutely amazed the first time I saw it, and even seeing more of it this year hasn’t changed my need for this game. I can’t wait to play this.
Backwards compatibility is great. Really, it’s a fantastic thing to have. I’m a huge proponent of the practice. However, this seems more like a knee-jerk reaction to previous bad business practices — and the effect it’s had on Microsoft’s bottom line — than anything else. Lots of consumers have grown weary of seeing “better” versions of games they already own get resold to them with facelifts, and I share in that disdain. I think this is more of an effort to gracefully close the book on Xbox 360 while allowing for the library to exist on Xbox One, and therefore draw people in who were afraid of stepping into the new platform because their old games were going to be useless. While that is a fantastic prospect, the digital titles on Xbox Live Arcade are what needs preservation. If you can emulate those games via the disc, then you should have access to redownload older titles from the Xbox Live Arcade and have them playable on Xbox One, since the same emulation would be required. I have so many digital titles — all the retro / remastered versions of things like Radiant Silvergun, Rez HD, Guardian Heroes, etc. — that are going to simply go to waste if I move forward. I have over $600 in digital titles that won’t follow me. That’s not cool, especially in the face of this announcement. If I buy a game on Steam, any new PC isn’t barred from playing an older title. If the bottleneck from old platform to new platform is being removed, then it needs to be removed completely. Like I said, it’s great, but it needs to be more if I’m going to take it seriously.
I just found out last night that Xbox Live Arcade titles do and will, in fact, transfer over automatically. I had a chance to play some older titles at a friend’s house, all because he had access to the Xbox Preview Dashboard. When this feature fully goes live, you will see games such as N+, Geometry Wars, Perfect Dark, etc. populate in your list of owned titles — so this just made my upcoming Xbox One purchase a very, very comfy prospect, indeed. I didn’t want to remove my sentiment due to not having everything I’ve ever purchased available yet (as my friend and I are hardcore multiplayer fiends, and not having our library of fighting games is very grumble-worthy), but I certainly wanted to give Microsoft credit where said credit was due. Great job, guys. Keep it up.
Everything else they showed off was “meh,” in my opinion. Rise Of The Tomb Raider looks to be more of the same. They didn’t show anything about Phantom Dust, or confirm whether it’s left the building for good. They haven’t said a damn thing about Crackdown 3, and that’s probably the Xbox One game I’ve wanted most, arguably even moreso than Halo. Still, they did a decent job. Not stellar, but decent. Solid may be a better word.
One giant leap forward, ten steps back. Nintendo, what are we going to do with you?
Let’s start with the greatness: Star Fox is back, dammit! And I don’t care what people say, if you’re apathetic about it, that’s your problem. Star Fox is a fun franchise, and I’m glad to see something new and different bought to the series with the technology-based experience that only the Wii U can provide. Here’s how you use the gamepad well. It may not be perfect just yet, but it’s a great jumping off point for refinement post-E3. The new chicken walker mode looks dope, and the atmospheric entry into Corneria City had me in nostalgic giggle fits. I cannot wait to play this game. I have medals on every single stage in Star Fox 64 and Gold (Hard) medals in every stage of Star Fox: Assault, as well as the team medals for everyone making it out alive in said stages. Check your G-Diffuser systems. Open the wings. I am so ready for this.
Moving on, we have Mario Maker. I think that this is a great addition to the Wii U library, all because it can be a fun way to teach people about what makes good and bad level design. Granted, it’s a fun little game with amiibo support, but there’s something more powerful at the heart of this — and that’s learning what makes a game enjoyable. I still lament the fact that Mega Man Universe was this exact same idea years ago, and Capcom seemed so boneheaded that they thought it was a bad idea. Boggles my mind to this very day.
It’s a shame that Smash Bros. info leaked the way it did, because a lot of people didn’t take a look at the technical marvel behind successfully translating Ryu’s Street Fighter moveset and attacks from a six-button, command-based mechanic set into something that utilizes two buttons and has completely different physics and rulesets. It’s amazing, and the Smash Bros. team deserves a heaping helping of credit for making that work as well as it does. That’s a stellar job on their part.
Everything else was…well, disappointing, to say the least. Fire Emblem Fates looks cool, or at least its anime trailer did. Animal Crossing was content to steal Mario Party‘s shoes. Zelda had Hyrule Warriors on 3DS and a Lost Vikings-inspired multiplayer dungeon puzzler with dressup elements. Yawns, and lots of them. And as for Metroid: Federation Force? What the blue bleeding hell is that about? It isn’t a Metroid game, that’s for damn sure. In fact, it’s a slap in Metroid fans’ faces, whether or not Nintendo knows it. I’m sure they’re acutely aware of that fact now, considering the strong, nearly-universal negative reaction to this E3’s Nintendo Direct. They’re going to be spending the next year licking wounds over that one. If it weren’t for Star Fox, this year would have been disastrous for Nintendo. E3 2016 needs to be a far, far stronger showing from their camp.
And it looks like it will be, since Reggie Fils-Aime took the five seconds of time to mention the existence of the new upcoming console project by name, then promptly handwave it away by saying that they’ll tell us more about it in 2016. That’s got to feel just great for Wii U owners. I’m sure seeing all these non-system justifying titles on the horizon makes a great case to keep faith in a company who’s just-shy-of-failing to keep their current system relevant, if only in terms of the next year’s title release forecast. That Zelda glimpse that gave people hope for the Wii U at the last E3? I’ll put money on the fact that this is headed to the NX, instead.
I’m not going to say they “won E3” or anything like that. What I will say is that their presentation and the content of it trumped every other show this year. By miles. By light years, even. I’ll address the megaton, haymaker punches first: The Last Guardian finally showed up. Final Fantasy VII‘s remake is finally a real thing. Shenmue III is finally coming. The only way they could have topped all of that was by announcing that they made an exclusive partnership with Valve, and that the PlayStation 4 was the only console on Planet Earth where you would be able to play Half-Life 3. And since we all know that game is the industry’s largest and most-often-told fairy tale, that would have been a comical longshot. Hell, it still is even as I write it. But for one brief, nearly-perfect moment in time, the odds of that happening seemed well within reach. That’s the level of hype there was in that presentation. It was the happiness of two million drunk grannies screaming “BINGO” in unison. After that, anything was possible. For me, seeing The Last Guardian announced for 2016 was a dream come true, like getting a high-spec sports car for Christmas. Except after that, you got not only a fighter jet, but a Gundam, too.
Seriously, I was expecting Bill & Ted to come out of the sides of the stage and start singing “God Gave Rock And Roll To You.” World peace was almost in our hands, man. And while I know that Final Fantasy VII is not going to be PS4-exclusive — the whole “play it first on” tagline at the end of trailer says it without saying it — Sony got to make that announcement, so they reap the benefits from it. It was magical.
Other than that, Horizon: Zero Dawn looked cool. Robot dinosaurs meets Brave. Aight. No Man’s Sky looks as brilliant as ever, and I’m kind of mad at Sony for relegating it to a three-minute piece. It’s like trying to distill The Wire into a twenty-second synopsis — yeah, you probably could pull it off, but you’re doing massive injustices to the material you’re trying to tell people about. Also, Devolver Digital’s time in the spotlight was way too brief. Those games looked like they might have been a nice little indie feature piece — which is what I loved about the PlayStation 4 reveal and the first E3 presentation for the system. They made indie games look fun, and that sort of stuff adds significant value. At any rate, their stuff was entertaining.
But that wasn’t the most entertaining moment of the night, by far. No, that particular honor goes to the Disney executive that took the stage to start slinging Disney Infinity 3.0 with Star Wars as hard as humanly possible. Man, there is nothing quite like watching a corporate preacher get all “fire and brimstone” when addressing the equivalent of the long-converted choir. Listen, we’re all nerds here, dude. You don’t need to sell us on Boba Fett. Hell, the adults you’re slinging to are probably bigger fans of both the game and the new expansion than their kids are. Know your audience, Disney. Geez.
Then, Sony closed out on Larry Croft in Uncharted 4. A rollicking demo experience that took forever to load, then got started, then literally got lost in the crowd. It soiled itself right there onstage, the flagship first-party title for the system’s next year, and it just sputtered out in front of God and everyone. Normally, this would be the thing that nightmares are made of. Memes-forged-in-the-seventh-level-of-internet-hell sort of stuff. But this was not to be. They swung so hard and connected so cleanly with all their previous punches that having the demo outright die onstage didn’t faze the presentation one bit. That’s amazing. Name one time in E3 history where any first-party company — any company at all, really — was allowed to walk away pretty much scot-free on something as high-profile as that. You probably can’t do it. I sure as hell can’t, and I’ve been scrutinizing E3 conferences for literal, in-plural decades.
They walked over to Nintendo’s booth, took the invincibility star from nowhere-to-be-seen Mario, and walked out on stage knowing they were about to blow people’s minds. And that’s exactly what they did.
PC (1st year!)
What was with the late-night talk show format? Also, did it have to be that damn long? Especially considering that the majority of the show was comprised of things that had already been shown off earlier in the week? I get that it’s your first year, so you totally get a pass. But take a closer look at what the other big dogs do, and do more of that. Well, except for Nintendo. Don’t do what they just did. That would be really bad.
All in all, E3 2015 was probably the best show…well, ever. I’ve never seen the sheer amount of wish fulfilment, dashed hopes, hurt feelings, technological marvels, cringeworthy weirdness and all around excitement from an E3 in recent memory. Every single year, these elements have been in play, but never at such high levels of combined volume. This one will be the one to beat. And while I’m sure companies will individually rise to the challenge and some will fall behind — as they’re all prone to do — the sum total of events and happenings will be hard to top. Bring on the next year!