Going into this year's E3, my main question wasn't about what games would be revealed, or what publisher would have the sequel with the highest number attached to it. I was really only wondering one thing: has Microsoft decided to open the Xbox One up for more developers so that it doesn't wind up being a year of previous gen re-releases and graphics-intensive games no one cares about?
The answer may not surprise you.
So if it seems like most of what you're seeing is games on the PS4, it's not because I have anything in particular against Microsoft. It's just that they didn't have as much to show off this year. Indeed, Sony continues to double down on indie support to bolster its libraries and give you something to play during the long intervals between major titles just as they did last year. Microsoft continues to assert that their console makes a great DVR/scare cam facilitator, and Nintendo goes back to the well once more to show that you can at least have a burst of new interest in your product as long as you have a long list of first-party franchises to milk while you struggle to convince third-party developers you have a viable platform. Also, here's Samus Aran in high heels.
But enough business. Let's talk about what really matters: playing unfinished game demos for five minutes at a time, and speculating on the future:
Our first stop was a booth for the upcoming PS Vita title, Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus. It's part of a growing series in Japan that will be only the second game to be imported to the US, after the download-only 3DS game. Right off the bat, the game cut right to the chase:
I should explain: Senran Kagura is a series in which high school ninjas literally beat the pants off each other. I'm told there was a very involved plot in the previous title, but during the course of the demo battle that took place in a gym, I witnessed several cutscenes of my opponent's clothing torn to shreds to reveal the physics defying underwear beneath. And for some reason, it was hard to imagine the game having a terribly serious focus on story. Still, it was a fun beat-'em-up game in spite of breaking every 30 seconds or so to showcase more anime boobs.
Connoisseurs of fetus art will no doubt already be aware of the impending release of Binding of Isaac: Rebirth. Not a sequel so much as a remake, Rebirth features all the original content plus a great deal more, all in glorious 16-bit graphics. They only had an alpha build for us on the floor, but it's still very far along. The animations we saw looked great, and the new art style is well implemented to give you that distinct BoI feel without seeming like they just put a pixelation filter over the original artwork. The release is still a long ways off, but I'm looking forward to it.
Velocity combines 2D platforming with 2D sidescrolling shooters in way that was a bit reminiscent of The Guardian Legend. No one at the booth had any idea what I was talking about, and probably many of you don't either, so I wound up feeling like quite the old man.
As the name suggests, there's a real emphasis on making it through the levels with the fastest time. It helps that both platforming and shooter sections are laid out in a linear pattern, but after a few different levels, I got the distinct impression that I was speeding through the levels not so much to log a record time as to get it over with as soon as possible. Game looks nice, though.
Axiom Verge seems like Another World went and turned into Super Metroid. Or regular Metroid, in regards to the 8-bit art style. The game blends the sprite-based artwork with some more modern animation effects. It doesn't quite work, as at times the stark contrast between the two styles can make art elements look out of place against each other (especially when it zooms in and out of the screen) when the more typical frame-by-frame animation would have looked more in line with everything else.
Gameplay-wise, I got to see that it was a fairly standard Metroidvania type of game. Which was all I needed to see because I will play most anything in that particular genre. If Konami announced that their next installment in the shitty new Castlevania series was a Metroidvania, I'd be all over it. They won't, but if they ever did, I would at least pretend to care about the new direction.
Speaking of Metroidvanias, Chasm has been on my radar for a long while now. This one leans more towards the Castlevania side with equipment to gather and xp levels to earn. The downside is that games with an emphasis on exploration like Chasm and Axiom Verge tend to not demo well, when you've only got about five minutes before you have to hand it off to the next guy with a video camera and a wacky gimmick. I was hoping to find a second weapon to complement the sword and fist combo I was rocking, but all I found was a series of well-placed spikes.
If you've noticed that I've been calling out a lot of games with sprite-based art styles... well spotted.
I played this golf game for about twenty seconds before Rog started to walk away in disgust. True to golf fashion, I was able to swing a club and launch the ball hither and yon towards the distant hole. They gave out free golf balls and I got one. The end.
Nidhogg is a prime example of how something so simple can be so fun. On the surface, it's a deathmatch game between two blocky fencers, but within seconds, you and your opponent and stabbing, throwing, jump kicking, punching, and strangling each other with the kind of violence best depicted by an art style that renders the base savagery down to your own imagination and a generous spray of colorful blood. Though it's currently out for the PC, a game like Nidhogg really lends itself to the in-person console experience. When you and a friend are busily exchanging gruesome fencing deaths with one another, you really need to have them there with you to hear you shout, "Bullshit! I totally stabbed you first!" and, "IN THE FACE!!!" in equal amounts.
Rog and I faced off in a pair of matches that left the ground littered with pixelated corpses and discarded swords. I dominated. To hear Rog tell it, the scale of domination tipped in both of our favors as we played, but really, whom do you believe? (editor's note: John is a filthy liar, and I will soon be pressing charges for public slander.)
An early version of Broforce gave us a glimpse into the very essence of masculinity. Masculinity and countless explosions. Truth be told, I kind of lost track of what was going on seconds into each mission. Somewhere in the midst of nearly half the map exploding simultaneously, I would stop and ask, "Wait, am I dead?" Most of the time, the answer was yes, but once and a while I would live.
The exact circumstances of coming back to life involved your partner rescuing more Bros or touching the American flag. Each new Bro comes with his own unique attacks and special moves. The MacGuyver Bro, for example, launches a devastating bomb-stuffed turkey, which probably lends itself to some very strategic gameplay. In my case, I just wound up destroying so much of the landscape that I created a vast canyon I couldn't jump across. This did not stop me from restarting the mission with a new Bro and very nearly doing the same thing. And I wouldn't change a thing about it.
Just like Nidhogg, Starwhal: Just the Tip is a fencing game. The two games actually have a lot in common, apart from Starwhal being about dueling space narwhals.
It's another case of the simplest of things being just plain fun. Two - four narwhals in zero gravity try to maneuver their horns to spear each other in the heart. What follows is a lot of flailing about as you and up to three other opponents thrust and shimmy their horns. A near hit produces some slo-mo so you can try and push the last couple inches or so to get that sought after heart blow. And when two narwhals have each other pinned down, it's like a Mexican standoff, except with tusks and blubber instead of guns and Mexicans.
And also like Nidhogg, I dominated Rog, and there is no room for argument there. None. (editor's note: see previous editor's note.)
We were drawn to the demo of Nuclear Throne by its promise of Rogue-like carnage and sweet, sweet pixel art. The demo throws you in with one gun and some semblance of how to proceed: shoot everything. I believe my record was getting about two levels deep, largely unharmed, before being flattened a wave of bullets and explosions. The full game features a number of different characters, but only a little mummy guy was available for the demo. His special ability involved splitting off a doppleganger to distract enemies. Unfortunately, this had the added effect of halving your life, so it was really more of a "kill yourself" button. I look forward to one day being good enough to play this game for more than a couple minutes at a time, but that day looks awfully far off.
Ostensibly, Onigiri has something to do with rice, though I did not find any during my time with the demo. I assume it's going to be an MMO, judging by the vast, empty rooms populated by a handful of monsters and combat that consists of rooting yourself to the ground and holding the attack button. Special moves exist to break up the monotony, but I needed a hell of a lot more to stay interested. I tried to work out what "Rock Sticky" could be a euphemism for, but even that only bought me a few extra seconds of attention. I imagine the large empty spaces might eventually hold equally large monsters, but they sure could have used some of those for their demo.
The competition between Rog and I heated up as we picked up Apotheon. Then it promptly cooled back down again as the game began. The art style looks like something off a Grecian urn, apart from the Playstation button prompts, and promised gladiatorial combat of the same variety. I immediately tried to club Rog to death. Then I tried to kill him in the game as well.
Obviously, my first move was to pick up a big rock and hurl it at him. That failed, so I switched back to my sword and ran at him. Unfortunately, he figured out that I slowed down while swinging the sword, enough so that he could simply run backwards while laughing at me. Thankfully, the laughter was not a game feature, but that didn't make it any less annoying. Eventually, he walked into some special arrows and fired three of them at once into me. I followed suit, and soon we killed each other. Then, to our horror, we discovered that we needed to do that four more times in order to win. We tried to speed things up by frantically picking up weapons and throwing them at each other, but we were still looking at spending around 3 months pecking away at each other.
Helldivers was one of the more frustrating titles I encountered. I went in fully prepared to dive straight into hell. I don't know the exact plot, but it seemed to involve some Space Marines from Warhammer 40k battling the bugs from Starship Troopers. I took the first hellpod down to hellworld and starting shooting. I was doing okay until suddenly, a flying bug emerged. Then I was knocked down and promptly killed.
Single player may not have been the way to go, I thought to myself. Thank goodness another player showed up for my second attempt. We both picked our weapons and went down to the planet. I picked a shotgun, confident it would turn the tables on those damned flying bugs. Moments after emerging from our hellpods, my partner shot me in the back and was himself killed by bugs shortly thereafter. There was something in that about the futility of war, but all I could manage was a disappointed "hmmm."
The last game in the Aliens franchise didn't do so well, partly because it was total shit, but mainly because the publisher lied about just how shitty it really was. Sega aims to wash that bad taste out of gaming's collective mouth with Alien Isolation. The demo consisted of a challenge map where you needed to escape from a single xenomorph a la Alien. I wasn't particularly worried because you pick up a flamethrower in the very first room! I found the alien right way and hit him with a fiery burst. That scared him off, and I prepared to finish him off. There was just one problem: I used all the flamethrower juice scaring him off. Thus, I was left with the only alternative: hiding in lockers. I was not prepared to hide in any lockers. I was killed shortly after coming to this conclusion.
Second attempt, I started picking up scrap metal and razor blades. This can only mean that the game has a sweet crafting system wherein you offset the lack of conventional firearms cobbling together loose junk to make a gas-powered utility knife. Sadly, I was killed before my dreams could come to fruition. I guess we'll have to wait until release to find out if Aliens should have included a scene where Ellen Ripley hordes garbage and builds a nuke out of discarded Styrofoam containers.
Hohokum holds the title of "Most Difficult to Describe" among all the games in our E3 coverage. Based on what I saw, you play a flying teardrop serpent that excretes rainbows. In the demo, the rainbow jetstream coming out of my character served as a platform for monkey-like creatures to swing on. This, naturally, led to me luring seeds off a giant dandelion and bringing them to a floating tree, where they grew into pear-like fruits. The monkeys then gathered up these fruits and followed me up to throw them at a giant elephant-like monster that was holding one of their friends. Somehow or another, this led to me encountering another flying teardrop, and that's when things got out of control. It's very unique to say the least. I assume DLC for the game will include armor for your teardrop and some sweet spray decals.
Techland is hoping that Dying Light will be known for more than just stealing Edward R Murrow's catchphrase. It looks and plays an awful lot like Dead Island, only with more emphasis on parkour than on duct taping car batteries to machetes. The company claims it's going to be a dark, serious sort of zombie game, but I knocked a zombie to the ground, smashed it in the head, and received 10 experience points, so take that as you will. Don't get me wrong: I mostly enjoyed Dead Island. It just looks weird when your company starts working on one game (Dead Island 2), then decides to stop and work on a remarkably similar game (Dying Light).
Spectra was one of the few indie games being shown in the Xbox One pavilion. Therein, you race along a track collecting boxes of something in order to approve your score, all while dodging pylons and trying not to fall off the track. In the upper right corner of the screen, you can see a timer that counts down and a percentage complete that counts up. The problem: neither one of them counted fast enough to offset how dull all of this really was. The halfway mark came at about 2 minutes 30 seconds, though I would have sworn I'd been playing that game all afternoon.
Maybe I'm just getting cynical in my old age, but there wasn't a whole lot to get excited about this E3. The next installments in the Smash Brothers and Zelda series look like they'll be fun for people already invested in each. Some new titles are on the horizon, but each one feels like something that's already out (and often they were already out on other platforms). A handful of potentially interesting titles were shown off, but only as trailers, or words slapped on the side of a booth showcasing an unrelated demo. But hey, how about that Destiny, huh? That'll be great, whatever it is.
On the upside, the classic gaming museum was larger than it's ever been at the show. Rog has all the details on that along with a variety of other E3 sights - many of which I filmed him yelling in front of. So head onward to page 2 to see it all:
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I-Mockery's coverage of E3 2014!
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