The Games Begin: San Diego Comic-Con 2013 (Day One)

 

cc1It’s Heraldic Criticism’s second annual second-hand Comic-Con coverage, and I’ll be posting daily recaps of the day’s events and giving my reactions to the things I read, watch, and experience online.

Video Games to Movies

IGN posted a report of this panel, posing the question of whether or not video game movies are finally coming into their own. Among the panel was filmmaker Tim Miller (Deadpool) and writer Justin Marks (Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li), and others attached to in-development game adaptations. Panelists discussed the difficulties in translating a video game to the silver screen, mentioning the upcoming Need for Speed, Assassin’s Creed, and Deus Ex movies. The panel also talked about the differences between comics-to-movies and video games-to-movies, and expressed hope that video games can finally get their own X-Men or Spider-Man soon.

Personally, I still have my doubts whether games can ever even be considered art themselves. Nonetheless, I’m of the opinion video game movies can work, given the right property and the right filmmaker. One of the biggest things, considering how liberally games borrow from movies these days, is making sure a film adaptation doesn’t feel redundant, and yet still stays true to the game’s mythology. The formula hasn’t been cracked yet, but at least both mediums have some degree of interactivity to them; look at Rear Window, revolutionary in its time for implicating the viewer in the same voyeuristic tendencies as its protagonist. Using those kind of techniques for a video game movie would be a subtle way to translate the game’s interactivity to the screen. Artistically, it’s a huge challenge, especially considering past efforts like Super Mario Bros. or Mortal Kombat. These efforts failed because their source material was insubstantial, unfit to be translated into a narrative storytelling form. With cutscene-heavy games like Metal Gear Solid and Deus Ex, however, a decent film adaptation doesn’t seem entirely out of the realm of possibility.

Someday, perhaps.

Batman: Arkham Origins

DC’s liveblog this year was again rather uninformative and unhelpful as the team delved into the upcoming Arkham series prequel, revealing new gameplay, the inclusion of little-known villain Copperhead, Deathstroke as a playable character, and more. I’m excited for the game, but at this stage, developing the game in-house without Rocksteady feels like merely a money-saving move, and instead of telling another great story, designed solely to promote a wider range of lesser-known Batman villains. Hopefully there’s a bit more to it than that.

Summit – Ender’s Game

Summit’s gone all-out to promote Ender’s Game, based on the novel by Orson Scott Card, and one of my personal favorites from back in Middle School. Just look at their fantastic booth experience:

Courtesy Unofficial SDCC blog

After the cast of Divergent left the stage, the Ender’s Game panel (followed via ComingSoon.net) kicked off with director Gavin Hood, co-writer Bob Orci, and stars Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld, and Harrison Ford. After showing some brand new footage and getting the Q&A going, I was reminded of how much I appreciated the book when I first read it, how angry I felt at seeing the military’s treatment of Ender as a tool for their own gain. It’s an effective story, especially at that age.

Of course, the panel couldn’t go on without acknowledging the controversy over Orson Scott Card’s views on gay marriage, wherein gay communities have planned to boycott the film as a result. Apparently people aren’t intelligent enough to distinguish between an author and his work. Even after Lionsgate dismissed Card’s opinions and publically offered LGBT groups a free screening of the movie, the group responded that it wasn’t enough. Seriously? This is an attempt by those groups to blacklist a talented author just because he doesn’t share the same worldview, and that’s just wrong.

The panel also featured several questions for Harrison Ford, including one fan asking what Han Solo and Indiana Jones’ first word to each other would be. “Hi…how are you?” answered Ford.

Ender’s Game looks excellent; November can’t come soon enough.

Perhaps most exciting Thursday, however, was the tease of X-Men: Days of Future Past, which not only featured some actual displays of the Sentinels to be featured in the film, but also saw the leak of a few behind-the-scenes pics:

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Great to see Jackman sporting the white hair streaks as in the comic but…could it be…the classic yellow Wolvie suit he’s finally wearing?! Never thought I’d be this excited for a Fox-produced X-film.

czs2

Great new pics. I’ll talk more about the film after its panel on Saturday, but I can’t wait to find out just what the hell is going on with this movie’s place in the timeline.

To be continued…

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The New Generation: E3 2013

Back again reporting on E3, with some pretty exciting stuff to talk about this year. Here’s what I found most noteworthy from the past several days’ events:

 

Konami

Before E3, Metal Gear Solid series director Hideo Kojima unveiled two new entries in the franchise – Ground Zeroes, a game closer to the roots of the series, and the other, The Phantom Pain, running on a new, breathtakingly realistic Fox engine and featuring open-world gameplay. Most curious about the titles are the exclusion of longtime voiceover artist David Hayer, longtime voiceover actor for series protagonist Snake. Kojima has said he wanted Snake to be characterized by his facial expressions this time around, not his voice. Actor Keifer Sutherland of 24 will provide this via motion capture. I’m baffled by the change, and like many, unable to picture someone other than Hayter in the role, but I am curious as to what the results will yield.

 

Microsoft

The polarizing Xbox One was on display in full force at this year’s E3, with the focus not on Kinect, but games showing off the system’s potential. The system, a multi-media platform aiming to monopolize your entertainment, aims to be more engrained in the home than ever before.

Games on display during the presentation included Sunset Overdrive, a seemingly generic monster shoot-em-up, Battlefield 4, which took several long, awkward moments to load up in 60 fps, and Killer Instinct, a rebirth of the popular Rare fighter which looks surprisingly good. There was also Forza Motorsport 5, a realistic racing sim that monitors your play style via the cloud service, and hopes to deliver “real human behavior” in its AI opponents. I feel two ways about this – while I applaud the more realistic difficulty progression and unending challenge in the game, I’m a little creeped out by the idea of the game constantly learning my behavior and seeking to beat me. Coupled with the always-on status of the system, the Kinect camera built-in, and the system’s ability to monitor your heart rate, overall, I’m less impressed by the system’s features as I am hopelessly paranoid of them.

Then there’s the system pushing its new exclusive TV service, promising interplay between certain games and shows exclusive to the system. Personally, I’d rather my games just be games, not gimmicks. Props, at least, to the system’s impressive ability to record game videos and upload/share them via Upload Studio mid-game, or even live sharing them via Twitch, a cool feature that makes DVRing games a hell of a lot simpler. Xbox One launches in November for a hefty $500 price tag.

Here are also a couple trailers for a new Star Wars Battlefront, Mad Max the Game, and Batman: Arkham Origins:

 

 

 

 

Not much to say on the first, as it’s little more than a teaser.

For Mad Max, it’s interesting to note how the character’s face is hidden for the duration of the trailer…can we expect the likeness of Tom Hardy, to tie in with the upcoming Fury Road? Perhaps an amalgamation of both Hardy and Mel Gibson’s likenesses? Interesting to think about regardless while we begin the long wait.

Arkham Origins is, and has been, a curious title. Why no Rocksteady behind this one? Why not Mark Hamill returning as the Joker? Why no Paul Dini back as writer? Either way, I’m interested enough to give it a shot.

 

Sony

Unveiling the final Playstation 4 unit, Sony came to E3 with guns loaded in response to Microsoft’s Xbox One.  The final price will be $400, $100 less than Microsoft’s console, and will indeed play used games, which Sony played as a big announcement. Check out this amusing game sharing video as well:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWSIFh8ICaA

I don’t have much to say about the game lineup the company presented, which looks solid enough. I will say that the newly-announced requirement that players pay for a Playstation Plus account just to play multiplayer games online feels counter-productive to what the company accomplished with its free service over the course of the current generation.

 

Nintendo

For a company that’s still reeling from the lackluster performance of both its Wii U and 3DS, Nintendo’s conference this E3 had a lot riding on it. In the end, the company really failed to convince there was any juice left in the system, again clinging to tired old franchises and leaving the big, bold ideas in the hands of third party developers, which themselves clearly aren’t a priority.

I do admittedly enjoy the Conferences more than Nintendo’s past live events, which after last year felt redundant after President Satoru Iwata’s quirky, charming online presentation.

Some of the titles glimpsed this year were Pokemon X and Y (guess they ran out of colors), Super Mario 3D World (basically the 3DS game, only with 4-player capabilities and a catsuit for Mario…revolutionary developments indeed), and Mario Kart 8 (bringing back the ‘transformed’ dynamic from MK7 on 3DS).

Most noteworthy was the first trailer for the fourth Smash Bros. game, introducing new characters like Villager (your player from Animal Crossing, with a stock of powers from some lesser-known NES titles included in the original game, including Balloon Fight), and Megaman, (using powers from popular bosses of the series). Once the initial hype died down for Wii’s SSB Brawl back in 2008, I felt the game was a bit of a step down from Melee overall, choosing to cater to new gamers over the hardcore. The new Smash looks to be going in a wholly similar route, despite being five years (and counting) removed from its predecessor.

 

Sega: Sonic Lost World

Hard to say where exactly Sega’s blue hedgehog is in terms of quality. He’s not anywhere near the bottom-barrel bile that was Sonic ‘06, nor is he soaring the heights of his Genesis heyday. While I maintain Sonic 4 is the closest and most enjoyable the blue blur has been in a long time, since then, with games like Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations, there’s a middle-of-the-road Sonic’s been on, a sort of spinning his wheels, with Sega playing it strictly in the safe zone.

Sonic Lost World is the latest from the developer, a game for 3DS and Wii U that sees the hedgehog running along nature/forest settings in the sky, stages which remind me a bit of the canned Sonic X-Treme for Sega Saturn.

http://www.gamesradar.com/gameplay-videos-sonic-lost-worlds-wii-u-and-3ds-versions/

The new game introduces a new dynamic for 3D Sonic – using the left stick to walk, and the right stick to run, answering complaints dating back to Sonic Adventure for the character’s tendency to run into walls and/or off bottomless pits in the stage. There’s also a new “parkour” system, which allows Sonic to run up objects, helping players keep from accidentally running into them. Not sure how this will play in the final game. Would anyone really ever use that left stick to walk? It just seems like another unsuccessful attempt at translating the character to 3D and recreating the speed/feel of the Genesis titles. In the end, I would’ve just preferred the company keep on with 2D titles like Sonic 4. Too bad the fanboys killed off any chance of that with petty nitpicking about how the game didn’t completely 100% resemble the old games.

 

On a brief side note, I’m also quite excited for Sega’s new Castle of Illusion HD and Disney’s Ducktales Remastered, a sign that Disney is really starting to mine some of its more brilliant past titles. Both games seem to really be recreating the spirit of their original in their own unique way. Can’t wait to try both out.

 

Injustice: Gods Among Us DLC

At last year’s E3 I was skeptical of Injustice, criticizing the costumes and the gameplay’s resemblance to Mortal Kombat. One year later, having owned the game for only a couple weeks, I can say I was dead wrong. I’m loving the hell out of it.

In the weeks since its release, much speculation has gone into further DLC characters for the game, already among them Lobo, Batgirl, and Scorpion. Just this week, General Zod was revealed as the fourth, a predictable choice given Man of Steel’s impending release. His appearance looks a bit…cartoonier than I expected. And far removed from either Michael Shannon or Terrence Stamp’s incarnations. Is this the character’s New 52 look, perhaps?

 

Still waiting on Martian Manhunter, who was all but confirmed in Scorpion’s announcement video earlier this month and remains conspicuously absent from the roster. Red Hood and Zatanna look like early candidates for future additions as well, but I remain hopeful for some of my favorites, including Hawkman and Plastic Man. And how about alternate costumes for Flash and Green Lantern, adding Wally West, Kyle Rayner, and John Stewart to the mix? Sure, we’re talking about a finished game that’ll never be able to please everyone, but it’s fun to speculate regardless.

 

Thanks for reading, expect daily posts covering San Diego Comic-Con next month!

The Calm Before the Storm: San Diego Comic Con 2012 (Day Three, Part I)

 

comiccon_logo

This is it, the big one. The day that Comic-Con 2012 will be remembered for. The day so, big, I had to divide it into to separate posts. So many big-name movie and TV properties are finally being unveiled today. But enough build-up, let’s get right to it!

Marvel Television Presents

Marvel TV’s 2011 panel was a sight to behold. Four new live-action shows announced to be on their way, and several cool new animation projects in development. Which is why I was really excited to be part of the panel again this year: especially with only a few vague comments and a cancellation (AKA Jessica Jones is no more) since last year. I was really looking forward to hearing more about  the announced live-action Hulk TV series spearheaded by Guillermo Del Toro, which I assumed was sure to be pretty far along by now. This was not the case.

Head of the company’s TV division Jeph Loeb came out onstage to present all the latest from the company, which unfortunately, amounted to nothing more than a few new animation projects. Among them was is Marvel Mash-Up, basically taking a page from Youtube users and dubbing over some of the old Marvel cartoons from decades past with unrelated or otherwise humorous dialogue. I used to love stuff like Yu-Gi-Oh the Abridged Series back in high school, so this new series is interesting, but perhaps a bit misguided. This is the kind of thing fans are supposed to do, not the studios themselves. When it starts to become an official thing, there’s a big chance for the whole idea to simply cease being funny. It’s like a blonde telling blonde jokes…it completely loses the humor when the people being mocked start doing it themselves.

The Hulk was namedropped for a new series, but my flash of excitement quickly faded when I learned it was merely a new animated show subtitled “Agents of S.M.A.S.H.” and starring all the main Hulks. From how the liveblog described it, it sounds comparable to Ultimate Spider-Man’s over-the-top, kiddie-centric nature. I’ll pass. Next came Avengers Assemble, and I found it funny to see the company scrambling to assuage the many fans angered by the cancellation of the show it would be replacing, Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. The panelists tried to sidestep the issue by labeling the new show not as such, but “the next evolution” of the Avengers show. A transparent attempt at conciliating fans if there ever was one.

The panel turned towards Ultimate Spider-Man, the current Disney XD show about to begin its second season. The livebloggers proceeded to gush over every little insignificant detail of the footage that was screened; one chick called a scene of Peter Parker unwittingly eating a hot dog from Loki and turning in Spider-Ham “SO AWESOME!”. I can only take so much baseless cheerleading, and had I known the panel would end immediately afterwards, I would’ve cut out right then and there. I realize these guys are paid to praise this stuff and maybe even have a good deal of passion for their work, but there’s a fine line between enthusiasm and being a tool, and these guys crossed it trying to amp up fan excitement for a show that, truth be told, isn’t all that good.

I was very disappointed with the panel this year. Not only was it all about the animation, but there was literally not even a passing mention of all the live action shows – Cloak and Dagger at ABC Family, Hulk at ABC, etc. – that were first announced last year. Instead, the team spent time plugging a show that’s quickly going down the tubes, and it did not pay off for them at all.

DC Comics-All Access: OGNs

I was impressed with DC’s next panel, which seemed to improve the liveblog content considerably by giving more description and being overall less worthless. The panel kicked off with some book about sushi that I absolutely did not care about before getting to Geoff Johns’ Batman: Earth One. Johns name-dropped a Volume 2 to the recently-released first book, which will (SPOILERS FOR BATMAN EARTH ONE) feature the Riddler in what Johns called the character’s “Killing Joke”. The author also described how the book would show Batman becoming more of a detective. Let’s hope so, great detective stories in Batman comics are hard to come by these days.

Next was J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis talking about Superman Earth One Vol. 2, the art from which already looks fantastic. I like how the book seems to have its villain Parasite parallel Clark’s own coming to terms with his powers. Shane Davis also praised JMS’s ability to balance inspirational, coming-of-age material and action, qualities I really liked about the first book as well. JMS mentioned that he thinks Vol. 2 will top the first. Here’s hoping.

Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained

After jumping between ComingSoon, HitFix’s Twitter, and Screenrant, no one seemed to be delivering consistent coverage of the event. From what I gathered, director Quentin Tarantino, stars Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz, and more showed up for a panel that also screened eight minutes of footage from the upcoming film. Tarantino also apparently came up with the idea for a slave-turned bounty hunter spaghetti western set in the south 13 years ago.

I’ve grown weary of Tarantino’s films, honestly, to the point where I hesitate to even call him one of my favorite directors anymore. You remember when Tim Burton made the fantastic Ed Wood, an homage to the much-maligned director’s old B-movies? Then two years later, when Burton directed Mars Attacks!, a film which many called an Ed Wood B-movie in and of itself? That’s how I see Tarantino’s career from Kill Bill to Death Proof and Inglourious Basterds. Instead of paying homage to shitty old exploitation movies, now he’s actually MAKING them. I mean, the latter two films aren’t so far off the radar as to be abysmal, but they are huge disappointments in my mind, a far cry from the likes of Pulp Fiction. And Django Unchained looks to be in sort of the same vein as Basterds, sadly.

What I did find interesting was this tidbit from ComicBookMovie.com (of all places):

Jamie Foxx on what it was like to get into the mindset of a character like Django: “Getting there was really a journey because at the start of this process, QT pulled me aside and said ‘I’m worried you can’t get to that slave’. He said ‘throw your ego out of the door right now so we can get to the work’.”

I’ll give Tarantino credit, he knows exactly what he wants and that’s probably the best bit of direction he could’ve given Foxx on this film.

Marvel Video Games

Just like that, where DC’s blogs got better, Marvel’s deteriorated. This particular panel began with more members of Marvel’s toolchest heaping praise onto the new Avengers: Battle for Earth. I saw the trailer at E3, and honestly, it looks cheap and far from anything special. That didn’t stop the people on the liveblog from losing their shit at the mere prospect of Skrulls being in the game. And I swear, those people must filter out and only post fan comments that contain “AWESOME”, “OMG”, or “YEAH”. Some people really just need to take it down a notch.

The only game that ended up catching my interest at the panel was the already announced Marvel vs. Capcom Origins, a compilation of the first Marvel vs. Capcom and Marvel Super Heroes. I’ve been a fan of the series for a long time, so I’ll definitely be downloading it this fall. Following that, a guy in a Deadpool costume came out on stage and “took over the panel” to present a new Deadpool game. I could practically hear the livebloggers squeal with completely irrational delight through my computer, and I promptly checked out of the panel with a headache.

Keep watching the blog tomorrow when I give my reactions to Warner Bros. and Marvel’s panels and wrap up with my overall reflection on this year’s Con!

The Last of E3: Wrapping Up the Festivities

As we come to the end of 2012’s biggest and best video gaming event, I’ve written up some quick closing thoughts for a few of the new games on display and the expo as a whole.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate update

After conducting some research that probably should’ve been done for yesterday’s post, what I’ve gathered is that the Lords of Shadow series is indeed part of a new, rebooted timeline, and that all the characters showing up in the upcoming 3DS installment Mirror of Fate, among them Trevor and Simon Belmont and Alucard, will be not be the same versions of the characters as in the original Castlevania series.

I miss the old series already. Here’s some new screenshots from the game at least.

Injustice: Gods Among Us gameplay

Still not sure about this one. It looks very much like a Mortal Kombat clone, and the design still looks like shit. Doesn’t sound like they have much to reveal at this point, the spokesperson there is mostly all, “Oh don’t worry, there’s definitely a reason why all these guys are fighting each other! WINK WINK!” Still, as I said before, it might be fun to beat each other up with DC characters, and I’ll admit that after seeing the game in action, I’m not as disinterested as I was earlier this week.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

I’ve wanted to try my hand at Sonic All-Stars Racing for a while now, and Transformed seems as good a place as any to hop on. Even though the latest game is clearly ripping off even more from Mario Kart, I love all the Sega heritage on display here.

That said, why exactly is Danica Patrick a playable character? Are the people that play these casual kart racing titles really clamoring for the inclusion of NASCAR drivers as characters? Does Sega really not have anyone else to fill that extra spot in the character roster? Boggles the mind.

Retro City Rampage

This is one of those games I’d never heard of up until this week, but that’s apparently been in the works for years. Like Grand Theft Auto if it came out for the NES, apparently you get to steal cars, stomp on policemen, and pick up and throw people. Add to that swimming stages, and this just looks all kinds of awesome. Really excited to get my hands on it.

TANK! TANK! TANK!

Games like this are why I love playing video games. Simple, fun, engaging concepts easy to just pick up and enjoy. And who doesn’t love blowing shit up? Originally a Japanese arcade game, this will be one of the Wii U’s launch titles, but I’m hoping for a PSN release eventually.

Final Thoughts

It’s been a pretty decent E3 this year. I’ve certainly suffered through far worse, and we ended up with a lot of cool new titles to get excited for in the coming months. Sure, Nintendo probably isn’t going to set the world ablaze with the Wii U, nor will Microsoft and Sony be bringing us new hardware this holiday season, but there’s enough software coming out to keep us more than occupied until then to make it all worthwhile. And that’s really all what gaming is all about, isn’t it?

That’s all from me on E3 2012, thanks for reading! With any luck, I’ll be here, same time, same place again next year with all the latest gaming news, trailers, and demos. Cheers!

Software Standouts: Even More E3 Commentary

As E3 begins to wind down, some new game trailers/demos have started to trickle in. Here are some quick thoughts on the most standout trailers of the past couple days.

Star Wars 1313 gameplay

The unabashed M-rated gameplay on display here looks far more cinematic than I’d expected. It really doesn’t look like a game at all…more like a quicktime event or something. And the design of those suits, those ships makes this look far more like a Mass Effect game than something out of the Star Wars universe. The only thing even remotely Star Wars-y in that demo is the air shaft thing they’re falling through.

“People want to see a darker, grittier version of Star Wars” says the guy from Lucasarts. Yeah, but not THIS dark and gritty. We ARE still talking about Star Wars, right? The franchise that originated as a classic fairy tale? It should go without saying that taking that and making it overly dystopian and graphic is just wrong.

When I close my eyes and picture the Star Wars underworld (which this game is supposed to be centered around), I see the Mos Eisley Catina, the bounty hunter lineup in Empire Strikes Back, and Jabba’s palace on Tatooine. Not Mass Effect. Lucasarts would do well to remember those roots.

Project P-100

Don’t really have much to say about this one other than that it looks pretty fucking awesome. How about a PSN release?

Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two

Good to see the second Epic Mickey shaping up nicely. I dug the concept of a classic, darker, more mischievous Mickey Mouse from the beginning when the first game came out, but poor camerawork and sub-par controls really hindered the experience for me. I have high hopes for Power of Two to fix those problems and give us an even better Disney experience this time around. Looking forward to the musical stuff too…I will just about squeal if I come across the singing birds of the Enchanted Tiki Room.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate

Everybody get all that in the video above? Good, because I certainly didn’t. Apart from carrying one too many subtitles, the new Castlevania for 3DS is apparently centered around Trevor Belmont, a descendant of Gabriel from Lords of Shadow. But wait, is that the Trevor Belmont from Castlevania III? Isn’t Lords of Shadow a reboot? Is it an alternate Trevor or something? Again, I haven’t played the first game, so the details on where exactly this game fits in the timeline will elude me for the moment. At least the gameplay looks pretty cool judging by the brief glimpses we’ve gotten so far, and those blood-in-the-water effects are awesome.

Keep following to get my final reactions to this year’s E3 tomorrow.

The Big Three Throw Down: Conferences and more from E3

E3 continues with the big three hardware manufacturers bearing all at the Nokia theater. Read on to see my recaps of the presentations…well, two of them anyway…and my reactions to the biggest bits of news.

Microsoft

I skipped out on this one on the off chance we’d get another Microsoft Embarrassing E3 conference video like these, but since the conference apparently wasn’t all that bad, looks like I avoided it for nothing.

I’m certainly not winning over man Microsoft fans this week, am I? Regardless, I read Wired’s liveblog of the event, and they didn’t seem too impressed. “You can now say “Take a shot!” instead of just pressing a button. Well, that seems a lot easier. Pressing buttons is a real pain in the ass.” they said, then later ““Let’s talk about sports.” Must we?” and frequently complained about the noise level. Doesn’t sound like I missed much.

Sony

Sony kicked off its conference with an elaborate, colorful montage of the wide range of gaming experiences made possible through the PS3, Vita, Move, etc. Hosted by Jack Tretton, the presentation began first with Quantic Dream of Heavy Rain fame introducing “Beyond”, the story of Jodie Holmes (played by Ellen Page via motion capture), a psychic young girl who somehow learns the mysteries of life after death.

Apparently the game will be about guiding her through life in real time, helping her “become who she is”. The realistic mo-cap graphics might be some of the most realistic I’ve seen in a video game yet, but overall, I’ve never really been interested in this kind of pseudo-cinematic gameplay.

Next came PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale from Superbad Entertainment…

…teasing Sly Cooper, Sweet Tooth, PaRappa the Rappa, Kratos, and more as playable characters for the Smash Bros. clone. Check that…clone doesn’t even begin to describe how much this game straight-up rips-off Nintendo’s Smash Bros series. In the live four-player gameplay match that followed, there was literally nothing to distinguish the two games other than its PlayStation characters; from “Supers” (final smashes), to items, to stage design, to gameplay, to the meters that rise every time you get hit, this is Smash Bros by Sony at its core. The company promised a playable demo on the show floor, cross-compatibility with a Vita version of the game, and also unveiled Nathan Drake and Big Daddy as characters.

Can’t Sony think up their own ideas for once? You’d think Sony would want to really create something special to celebrate all these characters coming together for one game. Instead, this is yet another example of outright plagiarism on Sony’s part, and I wasn’t impressed with what I saw regardless.

Touching briefly on the PlayStation Network, the company patted itself on the back for providing such an indie-friendly service, and pushed its PlayStation Plus service by making games like inFamous 2 and LittleBig Planet 2 free for members. Everyone in the audience was promised vouchers for one free year of the service. Nice. Sony also advertised PS One classics coming to Vita, and pushed the new video and music services for systems connected to the network. All cool things, still not interested in the premium service nor the Vita.

Ubisoft came out to talk about Assassin’s Creed III on PS3 and Vita, the latter version to be subtitled ‘Liberation’. The developers showed off a new clip of gameplay involving the steering and commanding of an old naval ship during the Revolutionary War sailing around blowing the shit out of other ships. Cool.

The show took a steep dive when the discussion turned to PlayStation Move, advertised as the platform with the “most motion gaming experiences out there.” I guess we’re just ignoring the obvious then, huh? This turned out to be a promo/demo of the new Wonderbook, an augmented reality device using PS Move to create a virtual book on your TV screen. Enter JK Rowling’s Book of Spells, a new text from the Harry Potter author allowing users to learn and cast their own spells. The demo dragged on for an eternity as the models fumbled about trying to cast a fire spell. Definitely the low point of the evening, and certainly not something I’d even consider buying. Reminds me of the old days of PC activity centers, “edutainment” games, and other wastes of time.

The show finally wrapped up with demos for God of War Ascension and The Last of Us. The former looked good, but I’d bet watching the damn thing isn’t nearly as much fun as playing it. The latter looked like a grittier, more violent version of Uncharted, and with a kid sidekick. I was indifferent.

Overall, Sony’s was a solid presentation, if a bit overlong and tedious towards the end. As my first full Sony E3 conference viewing, I was impressed how they really treated the show like an important event, and brought out many of the creators and such. They put a lot of effort into the evening and it largely showed. Most importantly, Sony focused first and foremost on its hardcore gaming audience and, minus the Wonderbook, didn’t feel pandering or overly kiddie in the slightest. Definitely looking forward to the company’s future.

Nintendo

In Nintendo E3 tradition, the company’s presentation began with a video from Shigeru Miyamoto, showing the legendary developer preparing for the festivities with Pikmin all around his office. Miyamoto was all smiles coming out onstage, digitally placing Pikmin on the shoulders of some unenthused journalists in the audience on the big screen behind him.

Miyamoto brought on the long-gestating third installment of Pikmin, narrating over the gameplay. Announcing several new features in gameplay and using the more accessible control setup of the Wiimote/nunchuck, Miyamoto emphasized deeper strategy this time around with the more natural control scheme.

It seemed like this was Nintendo really plugging their definition of a hardcore experience. I like the series, and I’m sure it plays even better with Wii controls, but this installment didn’t look to be anything more than what we’ve already come to expect from the series. The environments look a little more detailed than on Gamecube, but otherwise, it hasn’t received much of a facelift from the the eight-year-old Pikmin 2. Still, Pikmin 3 looks decent enough and ended up standing as the highlight of the conference.

Next, Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime came onstage to reiterate the philosophy of the new Wii U system Satoru Iwata talked about Sunday evening, all while announcing new features, such as the system’s ability to use two gamepads “just like the original [NES]”, and support for more video streaming services like Hulu Plus and Amazon video. Quickly recapping the features of the controller and the Miiverse, now apparently the Wii U’s hub world/home menu, Fils-Aime moved into the upcoming software.

As hinted at in promo vids, New Super Mario Bros. U was officially announced. The game will be able to connect with Mii players mid-game, as well as enable those holding the touchscreen controller to drop ‘?’ blocks into the game. NSMBU looked exactly like the other “New” Mario games, which I was never a fan of. Compared to the tight controls and punishing difficulty of Super Mario World and Super Mario 3, respectively, NSMB feels like a step down more than anything. It’s a reflection of the sad reality that Nintendo just isn’t the same company anymore.

Taking a note from its competitors’ presentations this year, Nintendo brought out many of the third party developers working on games for the system, and first up among them was WB Interactive’s Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition. The new edition will see extended gameplay, Catwoman as a playable character, and a new BAT mode using the touchscreen that charges up Batman and gives him…invincibility, or something. You can also switch between gadgets with the touchscreen.

While the new features looked interesting, there didn’t seem to be much in the way of new content that would really demand players of the game on PS3 and 360 to go out and buy the new version.

In a montage, games like Mass Effect 3, Tekken, Ninja Gaiden 3, and Aliens Colonial Marines were among the games coming to Wii U. Wonder how long that’ll last before, like with the Wii, developers flock back to Sony and Microsoft’s consoles, taking their cutting-edge titles with them. I give it two years.

Fils-Aime introduced the next game Wii Fit U by playfully reminiscing on his infamous “my body is ready” quote. Sadly, the game itself was far less entertaining, featuring a promo vid where a player placed the touchscreen controller on the ground in front of the Wii balance board and had her Mii do trampoline jumps on the screen. I await the endless complaints when people start accidentally crushing the controller upon landing. As for the game, wasn’t interested in the first, not interested now.

We were then “treated” to a game called Sing from FreeStyleGames. Wanting to change up the typical karaoke game dynamic, the company showed a promo video where the player used the screen on the controller to face the audience instead of the TV. The controller commanded the singer to tell everyone in the room to clap their hands. I suppressed my vomit as the presentation carried on.

In a brief turn towards the 3DS, Films-Aime turned it over to the head of marketing, who showed quick glimpses at New Super Mario Bros. 2, a game, bizarrely enough, more about collecting coins than anything else, Paper Mario: Sticker Star, the latest installment in the RPG sub-series now featuring the collection of stickers to get items and make moves in battle, and Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, sequel to the 2001 Gamecube title featuring similar ghostbusting gameplay, though this time around, pitting Luigi against a giant spider and a ghost dog. Of the three, the latter was the only title that captured my interest.

We also got quick glimpses at some of the third party games coming out for the handheld, among them Castlevania Lords of Shadow: Mirror of Fate, a 2.5D title which appears to have the same kind of quicktime events as in the console game, and Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion, which looks a lot like Capcom’s old 16-bit Disney titles. Not bad for a system sorely lacking killer aps.

Next, developer Ubisoft was invited onstage to kiss Nintendo’s ass for just how great the Wii U apparently is, and showcased two contrasting games. The first, Just Dance 4, saw a group of dancers come out to dance to the game’s Moves Like Jagger track, all while Films-Aime acted as “puppet master” and carried out the commands the dancers would see onscreen for them to do. “Puppet master…kind of like running Nintendo of America” he quipped.

The second game, Zombi U, another FPS zombie shooter, used the touchscreen controller to scan for nearby lifeforms, snipe, select weapons, shake off zombies, and more. Looked pretty cool, and the crowd in the theater really dug it. Then Reggie stuck the touchscreen controller’s camera in his face and started posing for the game’s “zombiefy” feature, and the whole thing just got embarrassing.

Fils-Aime proceeded to present the show’s final game, Nintendo Land, a game imagining popular Nintendo properties as theme park rides designed to show off the new features of the controller. From the developers of Animal Crossing and Wii Sports, the game features a multicolored theme park your Miis can walk around in, with 12 different attractions available to enter, among them rides based on Zelda, Animal Crossing, Luigi’s Mansion, Donkey Kong, and an original ride called Ninja Castle, where you shoot throwing stars at targets via the touchscreen (as in the promo vid we saw last year).

I expected Nintendo to announce this to be a pack-in title with the Wii U, but the company said nothing to that effect. I certainly wouldn’t buy it as a standalone title if that’s what Nintendo expects consumers to do – it’s far too kiddie for my tastes, and the theme park itself lacks any real sense of scale, looking more like a toy than anything. The orchestrated score sounded okay at least.

One of the rides on display was Luigi’s Ghost Mansion, which is pretty much a redesigned version of the highly underrated Pac-Man Vs. Basically, one player is a ghost chasing others around a maze using the touchscreen controller, while everyone else has to avoid him and shine a flashlight in his direction when he gets close. I’ll stick with Pac-Man Vs.

The approach behind Nintendo Land is sound, almost taking a page from Disney World and how Epic Mickey reproduced many of the locales from that park. Still, the actual rides seem to add up to little more than yet another minigame collection from Nintendo, and I can’t be the only one absolutely sick of that kind of game after Wii became a dumping ground for them.

The presentation closed as Fils-Aime framed the Wii U as a “Wii Universe”, reiterating the idea of playing games together and closing out with a small clip of a Nintendo Land firework show.

On the whole, I was disappointed. Nintendo clearly hasn’t learned from the mistakes of the Wii and seems content to repeat them with the Wii U game lineup. Honestly, the Wii U sounds like a solid piece of hardware in its own right, internal limitations notwithstanding, but the game lineup so far just doesn’t deliver. Nintendo’s own titles look to be more of the same gimmicky, kiddie tripe, and it’s highly likely third parties aren’t going to be around forever to pick up the slack for the hardcore audience.

I honestly expected Nintendo to bring back a lot of its core franchises to win back consumers in the form of a new Star Fox or Smash Bros. cinematic, but instead, Nintendo is yet again choosing to neglect its core audience. The only game that really, truly felt like a return-to-form was Pikmin 3, and even that’s a bit of a stretch. All I can say is, I don’t envy Nintendo come November.

 

Keep following for more from E3 tomorrow!

Craig, Daniel Craig (and more): E3 2012 Kicks Off

With E3 upon us, it seems fitting to start by sharing my biggest reactions to some of the titles already announced. It should be noted that, as more of a casual/retro gamer, I’m probably not going to give much of a shit when, say, Halo 4 footage starts trickling in. I like a good FPS as much as the next guy, but I suck at Halo, so…Halo can suck it.

Anyway, here’s what I have to say on the latest from gaming’s greatest convention:

007 Legends

007 goes old-school in the new 007 Legends from Activision. Apparently utilizing the same FPS engine as in last year’s Goldeneye Reloaded, the game will let you travel through six different settings, each from a different Bond movie, including the above Moonraker level, and eventually one from the latest film Skyfall, out this November. It’s likely that means there’ll be one level for each official onscreen Bond actor so far, so place your bets on which movie they’ll use from the Connery, Dalton, and Brosnan eras, and expect a snow-covered skiing level from Lazenby’s sole outing.

Unfortunately, likeness rights issues will prevent you from playing as any Bond but the current one, Daniel Craig. Which is exactly what I don’t like about the new Bond games – there’s just something wrong with playing as Craig through Brosnan’s territory in the new Goldeneye. Tonally, their performances are far too different to just be thrown into each others’ respective movies. Craig’s more physical, hard-edged approach doesn’t jive with the older movies, especially the more campy, pun-laden realms of Moonraker. Could it really be that expensive to get the likeness rights to all the Bonds of old? I’ll keep my eye on this one, but I don’t suspect I’ll be able to get past Craig waving to Jaws and his girlfriend in space.

Injustice: Gods Among Us

From NetherRealm Studios, developers of the latest Mortal Kombat game, comes Injustice, a game that pits DC Universe characters like Superman, Flash, Harley Quinn, and Solomon Grundy against each other in some sort of alternate universe where super-powered beings have turned against humanity.

First of all, what the fuck is up with those costumes? Especially Flash’s…pretty sure if he wanted to best utilize his speed and be able to move as fast as possible, he wouldn’t wear the most bulky, impractical suit imaginable. It just reeks of New 52 syndrome, atrocious tech-based designs for little purpose other than to look “cool”. Add to that the relatively dumb concept of pitting these guys against each other for no apparent reason, and you get a poor excuse to further promote DC’s latest rebranding. Maybe it’ll be fun to play in the end, but this trailer doesn’t give me much confidence that these characters are being treated right.

Star Wars 1313

Little is yet known about the latest from Lucasarts. We do know you’ll be able to play as a bounty hunter (Boba Fett?) in the Star Wars underworld on Coruscant, featuring third-person gameplay, a more mature tone, and “an arsenal of exotic weaponry”.

It’s too early to say, but this sounds like it could be the Force Unleashed of the Star Wars underworld, which is exciting. And if Fett is indeed present, as long as they don’t ruin the character’s aura of mysterious badassery or give him another wooden, Temuerra Morrison-esque voice actor, I’m game. Supposedly a trailer is coming this week, so I’ll be sure to post more when it’s released.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2

The highly-anticipated Lords of Shadow 2 will see returning protagonist Gabriel Belmont fighting Dracula, as teased in the first game. And I guess fighting a giant building.

Don’t really have much to say on this one because I’ve never played the first game, which I’ve heard mixed things about and intend to check out soon. I am a huge fan of old-school 2D Castlevania, so while I’m interested in checking out this new, rebooted world, I do wish Konami would bring back the good, old-fashioned side-scrolling style on home consoles. Anyone play Castlevania the Adventure Rebirth? Like that, only more than one game.

Surprise Nintendo Direct Conference

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Yesterday, Nintendo announced a surprise conference for Sunday evening detailing the philosophy of their upcoming Wii U console. The half-hour presentation by Nintendo president Satoru Iwata began with the idea of “U” meaning “unique”, explaining that Wii U “does what Wii did only better”, and “connects people together” even more.

Iwata used bits of the promo video from last year’s conference to show the various functions of the system’s “unique” tablet controller, though “tablet” may be a bit unfitting a name now. The controller has received a significant facelift from the prototype, looking a lot more like a classic Nintendo gamepad than an Apple tablet. Iwata went on to discuss the similarity in gameplay between the DS family of systems and the Wii U, and unveiled a new version of the Wii’s classic controller for the new system, looking like a Classic Controller Pro, but less clunky and more sleek.

Halfway in, Iwata segued to a cringe-worthy video of an over-talkative nerd playing a zombie game on Wii U (way to really grab those hardcore gamers, Nintendo!), complaining to himself about how terrible he is at the game. The nerd pauses the game and, using the system, is able to find out what he’s doing wrong from other gamers, represented by Mii icons in a forum-like setting. Further showcasing more of the interactive social features of the system, the nerd switches on on video conferencing feature via the camera on the controller. When he figures out what he’s doing wrong, he plays further into the game and continues squealing and babbling to an inanimate action figure standing on the table nearby. “I think you may agree that was a little different” says Satoru Iwata. Not my first choice of words, but sure.

Iwata went on to detail the new Mii features of the system, or “Miiverse” as it was dubbed, emphasizing use of the controller as a “social window” for gamers to connect with one another and comment on each other’s progress in the games they play. He concluded by reiterating the Wii U’s approach of “together, better”, bringing families together as with the Wii, but with a far more social experience than ever before.

I have to admit, if this was a desperate, last-ditch move from a company quickly losing many of its longtime devotees (not to mention stockholders), they didn’t show it. Using this time to devote to the system itself while their Tuesday presentation will focus on games, the company proved the Wii U to be a competent piece of hardware far improving on what we saw in last year’s presentation. There’s appeal here, and while I’m sure it won’t amount to many new gaming experiences, I admire Nintendo for sticking with an ideology that seems to work for them and am very interested in seeing how it pays off for them come November.

That said, as a Nintendo fan turned away from the company by many of the unfulfilled promises of the Wii, the Wii U is not for me at all. I don’t find the social media-like functions very appealing, the system itself is still using some pretty outdated technology, and the controller still looks pretty bulky and unimpressive. Simply put, I’m not sticking with a company that has long lost its magic touch, at least for me.

The presentation also poses several new questions for the future of the system. Will the controller allow for more traditional gameplay? Will the new features usher in innovation, or just more gimmicky games for the new system? Does anyone really want to play House of the Dead on that controller? Only time will tell.

 

Stay tuned for many more E3 updates as they arrive!