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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Feature: Post-E3 Recap

I love E3, mostly because it's the kind of event where predictions are made and hopes and dreams are crushed. While I can't really speak about Sony or Microsoft's showings this year, I at least have a legitimate reason: I was way too busy watching the Treehouse.

Nintendo brought a ton of content to this E3 and it's almost shocking in comparison with their last, largely predictable showing. That being said, this year had a truly impressive amount of polish and enjoyability, but most importantly- it had games.

I'd like to discuss the major events and titles that were shown at E3 2014. So, all-aboard the hype train.

Nintendo Digital Event:
Well, I enjoyed it quite a bit more than I thought I would. A few of the Robot Chicken sketches were a bit cringe-inducing but it was nothing too offensive. While I appreciated the length and the depth, some of the discussions held by the developers felt a bit too long, and I believe that all the games that weren't unveiled in the Digital Event could have definitely made an appearance if Nintendo had slimmed down those discussions.

As for the nature of the reveals? Well, Miis in Smash Bros. was interesting and exciting. Amiibo is a fascinating concept, although there are a few issues I have with its design, which I'll detail later, with other topics. Overall, a definite step-up from what Nintendo did last year and I very much enjoyed the sense of progression. Also, Reggie did a great job.

Treehouse Stream:
What a fantastic way to make all gaming media irrelevant.

But seriously, the Treehouse Stream was really one of the highlights of the show, even if some of the players were a bit subpar. The sheer amount of content- from gameplay to the developer interviews to the random, fun little moments, the Treehouse discussed all of the new games Nintendo had revealed and gave them legitimate screenings for viewers to enjoy. This wasn't a brief, shaky recording taken on a media digital camera, it was a solid chunk of footage that showed primary elements of the game in question.

From first-party to third-party, the Treehouse covered a variety of Wii U and 3DS titles and managed to sway my heart towards certain games in being genuine, entertaining, and informative.

Smash Bros. Invitational:
An entirely enjoyable and exciting portion of this E3 was the Smash Bros. Invitational, one of the first displays of tournament-based Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. Played by veteran Melee and Brawl champs, this tournament turned out to be a lot of fun, filled with many moments of agony and triumph. I watched this with three of my buddies, and though we're the kind that play with items off, we enjoyed the ups and downs of the Invitational very much. What a great final match, too!

And now, the games.

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS:     
From all the Treehouse talk and what we heard at the Invitational, Nintendo seems to be placing a heavy focus on Smash Run and how it is unique to the 3DS version- which makes me think that it is one of the few differences. Obviously, stages and I believe some items will be different and Smash Wii U is going to look a hell of a lot better, but I wonder if I'll really be getting my mileage out of the 3DS version before the Wii U version steps in to make it irrelevant.

The three reveals this year were a bit unsurprising- Miis were always on the table but their highly customizable movesets are something to make note of, especially since they do look very unique. Palutena didn't surprise me- I've been predicting a member of Kid Icarus: Uprising since the first announcement, though I was hoping for Hades or Magnus. Pac Man was really the only one I didn't see coming, but on the other hand, it's hard not to understand Nintendo's decision to include this iconic character. I've come around to the idea of Pac in Smash, and I'm looking forward to playing as him.

Oh, and the game looks fantastic. I guess I forgot to mention that.

Splatoon:
Oh hey, it's a Nintendo TPS.

Wait, what?

I have to say, this was the most unexpected announcement of Nintendo's E3 program, to me. Well, kind of tied with Devil's Third, actually. But Splatoon looks like an extremely interesting and exciting take on the genre- focused more on grabbing territory than killing your foes, Splatoon paints a vibrant picture- and then allows you to swim through it. The platforming and traversal elements of Splatoon fascinate me much more- traveling on walls and hiding in pools of ink, launching yourself and avoiding enemies- this is the type of gameplay I would expect from a Nintendo shooter and I'm extremely pleased to see this direction. I'm eagerly looking forward to this team-based TPS... in 2015.

Devil's Third:
Oh hey, it's a grisly action/shooter exclusive for Wii U.

Wait, what?

Nintendo is at a crucial point in the Wii U's lifespan where almost NO third party releases are coming to the console- whether it's because the system is hard to port to or because there's just not enough Wii U's out there. Nintendo needs to support their console with as varied a library as possible at this time, so titles like Bayonetta 2 and Devil's Third are extremely important announcements. What's nicer, however, is that Nintendo seems to be reaching out to developers who are unable to take their mature titles a step further on other consoles and bringing them to Wii U. Devil's Third doesn't look like much of a unique offering outside of having an abrupt third-to-first transition, but after hearing some interesting comments from the Treehouse about the mythology and cultural aspects of this game, I must say that I'm tentatively interested in this title. I'm not one for brutal action unless it's over-the-top, but let's be honest- the Wii U needs all it can get.

Yoshi's Wooly World:
Everybody loves Yoshi! Especially why Yoshi is made of yarn!

Good Feel showed off more of their Yoshi title, and while things still seemed a bit easy, it felt much more Yoshi and much, much more beautiful. There's not much else to say about this. It's cute and it's wooly, what more do you want?

Kirby and the Rainbow Curse:
Remember that awesome Canvas Curse title? They're making one for Wii U, and it's claymation. Which is adorable. This is a pretty traditional concept for using the Wii U gameplay but MAN oh man is it super cute! I love Kirby and after Triple Deluxe, I'm on a kick that can only be satisfied by MORE KIRBY.

Xenoblade Chronicles X:
Uh... okay?

So Nintendo revealed the title of Monolith Soft's big Wii U RPG, and it's... well, it's a spiritual successor to Xenoblade Chronicles for the Wii. However, there were a few nods to the previous title in the recent trailer with a Nopon appearing at the end, so the two might be a bit more closely related than we think. Then again, the game does revolve around human beings fleeing Earth in the wake of an alien war. So... maybe not.

However, the combat mechanics look greatly improved from the previous title, streamlining an already silky smooth combat system and giving it more depth in regards to class changes. Though there seems to be a staggering amount of options such as class-changing within battle and equipment changing as well. Still, it looks expanse and gorgeous and I truly don't think there's anything else quite like it.

Fantasy Life:
Fantasy life is a cross between Animal Crossing and a Rune Factory type game where the player starts as a specific class, or life, and the entire game plays out differently depending on which life is chosen. However, despite the choice of an initial life, you can change to other lives as you progress- your original life's story will continue, you'll just be able to use all the abilities from your old life in addition to your new one.

It also has an online expansion and is totally amazing.

Layton vs. Ace Attorney:
I'm not much of a fan of either series, but I can only say this- it's about damn time!

The Legend of Zelda Wii U:
Many people claim that Zelda has gotten stale over the years, and that Wind Waker was one of the last great Zelda titles. I disagree, but moreso than ever as of late. Mr. Aonuma has been revisiting the traditions of the franchise in the past few installments and made tweaks here and there- some for the better, others not so much. But overall, each title looks and feels unique for a number of reasons. Mr. Aonuma presented a snippet of in-engine footage of the latest Zelda title that is currently in development, claiming a desire to return the series to the expanse feel it had in its first title by creating a massive explorable world.

The footage, while still early, was extremely impressive, and I openly weep knowing I have to wait at least another year before I can see more of this gorgeous title.
  
Star Fox Wii U:
Miyamoto said he wants to make a Star Fox game for Wii U. You can move with analog sticks and aim with the gamepad. It's neat, I guess... but very far off. 

Amiibo:
Okay folks, here it is. Nintendo's big new Wii U app. Using the NFC function on the Wii U Gamepad, Nintendo is releasing a series of characters from across their franchises that you will be able to use to communicate with various Nintendo games. Those confirmed are Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Mario Kart 8 and Mario Party 10, with more supposedly in the works.

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U's functionality is relatively simple. An Amiibo can be scanned, and depending on what specific character you have purchased, they will appear in-game as a computer fighter. However, these Amiibos can be altered and trained with until they are stronger than a maximum-level computer fighter, and possess bonus skills that make their style of play more unique or better at countering you, personally. These can be shared with others, of course, and will grow by fighting them as well. These Amiibo figures will be compatible with every other game that has the same functionality, but how exactly is still a mystery.

And that's all that has been discussed. The first "wave" is based off of the most iconic characters from Super Smash Bros.. Of course, this means that each of these iconic characters has the potential to either appear or interact with every other Nintendo IP that utilizes Amiibo, but the only problem is this- their application isn't very impressive. Sure, I understand the idea. Amigo- Amiibo. This is a friend who can grow with me, but the appeal of Disney Infinity and Skylanders is that you play AS the character you have scanned in, not NEXT to them. I like the idea that Nintendo is going for with having these figures compatible across game titles- genres, potentially. That's neat. But as long as they don't give the player a reason to keep investing time in their individual experience they will not capture the imagination. Of course, this is only Smash Bros.' functionality. But a blockbuster title like Smash Bros. should have a bit more of an impressive Amiibo function, right?

My main problem with Amiibo is that it is, for all extents and purposes, a peripheral. Sure, it's built into the console, but the figures are separate, and the functionality is being treated as something separate. You cannot make a peripheral desirable if it does very little to improve the core experience- at that point, it's just another form of revenue that is unreliable. If Nintendo expects Amiibo to catch the world by storm, they need to release a title that makes these figures a key element- because it's not going to be a significant part of the console's future if they don't have a platform to tie the entire experience together.

Those are my thoughts on the E3 developments. What do you think? Can Amiibo survive as an accessory to other games? Were there any titles that caught your eye? Let me know. 

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