Saturday, June 15, 2013

E3 2013 - Final Analysis

So E3 2013 is done and over with.  I had commented last week that I hoped to seesurprises and the unexpected but sadly that didn't happen. I think it was obvious given the reduced pomp in this year’s presentation that Nintendo would be focusing on tried and true franchises to kickstart Wii U sales.   That said, it was still a little disappointing that there were no surprise “one more thing” game to show off and that the core of what was shown to us was known, via various Nintendo Directs in the past.  And maybe that’s also part of where the expectations game needs to be played.  We get announcements from Nintendo now almost every other month, so the big news dump at E3, at least for a ‘games only’ year like this one doesn't feel as overhwleming or exciting.

 I was unable to attend the Best Buy E3 demos this year, but that’s not the purpose of this article.  What I want to reflect on is to frame my reaction in context of what others are saying on-line, and to reflect my first ‘feel’ of a game after checking out the video and media Nintendo released.

Super Mario 3D World

A lot of bytes have been spilt commenting on why this wasn’t Super Mario Galaxy U; and to be quite frank, I was never the biggest fan of the Galaxy series (full disclosure: I haven’t yet played Super Mario Galaxy 2 which I understand is the better of the two games).  That said,  3DWorld is surprising take.  Edge-Online openly commented they suspected the game may have even started life as a 3DS sequel to 3DLand and was up-converted to the Wii U to have a big Mario title for Christmas.

I think the disappointment has to do with the fact that the game, while looking visually strong, appears to be a sequelized 3DLand and lacked the 'wow' factor visually and conceptually that console gamers have come to expect when a new Mario game is announced for Nintendo’s home console.   There's little concern that the game won't be fun, in fact I'm willing to bet that it will be a great game, so in that sense some of the disappointment is due to expectations.   Were they too high?

It’s really hard to say, but for me personally, I expected a console Mario to feel more substantial.  It’s nice to see Nintendo explore co-op multiplayer in a 3-D Mario game, but I doubt it will have on-line co-op, and I haven’t yet seen the kind of conceptual and technical leap  Super Mario World had over Super Mario Land between 3DLand and 3DWorld.   Super Mario 3DWorld feels at this point more like a sequel than a console cousin that shares similar branding.  I want to be proved wrong here, but I did enjoy 3DLand quite a bit and will likely be picking this up.  

The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD

Wind Waker was one of the few games that got me back to the GameCube ten years ago when I had drifted away to PC gaming and doing other things. It was also released during a very good period of my young adulthood, so there’s a certain bit of nostalgia involved here.  I’m glad that Nintendo hasn’t abandoned what was at the time a very controversial decision to make a cute (Toon) Link when the industry, under Sony’s domination, was going for ‘mature’ with breakout hits like GrandTheftAuto 3

I’m glad that the series producer/director Eiji Aonuma is actively trying to address the game’s two major flaws.  The overlong sea voyages between islands and the game’s pacing, especially around the Triforce fetch quests. That said, Wind Waker is still a flawed game and always felt a bit short.   The **spoiler alert** underwater section of Hyrule right before the final battle was pretty amazing.  It was my first glimpse at Hyrule on a hardware powerful enough to render it in impressive detail, but it felt half-finished and rushed.  There was a short area outside to explore and the player literally walks through a narrow corridor through a bridge and to the final battle.

Given that this will be a full priced release, I was certainly hoping that there would be new content.  There’s certainly precedent for this in the many Zelda remixes when they port a Zelda game to new hardware.   Four Swords dungeon in A Link to the Past on GBA  or  the special color based dungeon for Link’s Awakening DX.  Unfortunately, it does not appear new dungeons are on the way

Here’s to hoping there’s surprise extra content when more is revealed of this HD remake.  For now I’m certainly interested.


This is perhaps the most interesting Wii U game shown at the conference.    With the current zeitgeist of the nerd crowd around Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim, it’s nice to see an unashamedly Japanese mecha game take center stage.  The game’s pedigree from Xenoblade developer Monolithsoft doesn't hurt.  The visuals deliver the kind of next-gen look that makes this a standout title on the Wii U.  Very interested.

Mario Kart 8

Easily the most visually impressive Wii U game next to Monolithosft’s “X”.  The trailer looks awesome. I was wondering where Nintendo would take the franchise after Mario Kart 7 and it’s very nice to see that they’ve kept the core of what makes Mario Kart great and added a new twist by allowing racing  sideways with anti-gravity karts.  Opening up the tracks even more and adding more angles to attack in the race.

News that we're able to record videos of our matches and share them on Miiverse is awesome and welcome.  As a very casual player, this interests me far more than any amount of tournament communities can, though I do hope they keep the excellent Mario Kart communities on-line system they have on the 3DS for Mario Kart 8.

The Legend of Zelda : A Link Between Worlds

On any other E3, news of a handheld Zelda game based on A Link to the Past would have been big enough  news, but we got to know about this game several months ago from a Nintendo Direct.  I already discussed my impressions of the reveal trailer. 
Given the E3 trailer is showing much more of the game, it really does look like a 3D interpretation of A Link to the Past.  The environments look slightly better than the trailer we saw last April, with more detail to the textures.   That said, I still can’t see a single torch in the test dungeon where the Eastern Palace used to be.   This may sound trivial but I think part of what made A Link to the Past look great visually is the unity of purpose of the elements on screen.  Dark rooms are dark for a reason. Lit rooms have an obvious source of light.  It certainly didn't hurt that this showed off the SNES transparency capabilities at the time.  It’s a little curious that the outside of the singular window we see Link wallcrawl through from the trailers, there are no obvious light sources in the dungeons.   It’s not like the 3DS isn't capable of nice lighting effects.  I don’t want to feel like playing through floors  floating in space.  I want to feel like I’m fighting through a dungeon and be terrified when I enter a darkened room.  The even lighting in the test dungeon we've seen so far is a little worrisome.

That said, I want to say the remastered A Link to the Past overworld and dungeon themes (as can be heard in this playthrough with direct feed sound in the embedded video above) is absolutely brilliant. 

Easily my most anticipated game this year, and given the pedigree of the world it is building from, I have very high hopes for this. Don’t screw it up! Give me torches!

Donkey Kong Country Returns Tropical Freeze

This is probably where a lot of people were disappointed.  I am still enjoying Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D  on my 3DS so this game feels entirely too soon.   Visually, it also looks like an upscaled Wii game.  Not that there is anything wrong with it, but the game actually managed to look better on the 3DS because the smaller screen made everything look crisper, and the 3D added the right kind of volume to the graphics making them pop out from the environments which is reminiscent of the ‘ACM graphics’ (made up marketing word) from the original Donkey Kong Country games.

The Wii U game looks far too clean in the sense that there are no shiny shaders we normally associate with HD games.  While I have no doubt the platforming will be superb and the music will be top notch with Rareware's David Wise on board again, I’d much rather they delay this game and work on the visuals.  Look at Trine 2 Director’s Cut on Wii U and see how a 2D game can look with the power of modern graphics chipset and apply it to Donkey Kong Country Returns: Tropical Freeze

Give this game the proper love and Nintendo polish and I will be there day 1.

There are several games I haven’t touched on here. Pokemon X&Y, Smash Bros U/3DS,  Mario & Luigi Dream Team, Pikmin 3 Bayonetta 2, Yoshi’s New Island.  I either have no strong opinions about these games or are less interested in them than usual.  That doesn't mean I won't be picking them up.  The new Mario & Luigi game is the closet (visually) to Super Mario RPG, which is awesome in my book as I really dig that style of graphics plus I love the series offbeat humour, but I just really don't have enough to say about these games at this point in time.

Please Understand

Finally, I want to touch on Nintendo’s E3 performance.  From a game’s perspective its leaps ahead of last year’s seriously disappointing reveals and it brings into focus what we’ll be getting for the rest of the year plus see a preview of some of the titles in 2014.   I applaud them for bringing E3 playable games to games at Best Buy and hope they do it again next year, at expanded locations, perhaps even at GameStops.  Part of the reason I couldn’t test those games out this year were the BestBuy locations they chose and the times didn’t mesh with my schedule.

For the E3 direct itself, I hope the massive demand for the stream on the day of the stream imparts some important lessons.  Get more servers for the Nintendo Direct steams, and perhaps defray some of that load by allowing a 3rd party, such as GameTrailers to also carry the feed.  That kind of cross promotion has merit as you may reach people who otherwise may not have been aware Nintendo was going to be having a video feed that day. 

The High quality feeds on the Wii U eshop also shows off the games much  much better than the lower quality versions on YouTube.  Nintendo should upload and show off the best quality versions of their trailers.

Last by not least, bring surprises to E3. I mentioned this already, but people need to have their expectations exceeded.  I felt like we knew all the games going in.  I was also disappointed that Square-Enix threw all their bones at Sony.  No Final Fantasy V remake for the 3DS?  No RPG support for Wii U? 

Some things for Nintendo to rectify in their next Nintendo Direct in the weeks and months ahead.

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