E3 Day One: Stranger in a Strange Land

by

DISCLAIMER: Does not actually change anything.

For someone who grew up seeing E3 through the pages of EGM and later through the web pages of IGN you’d think it’d be a dream come true to actually be there at the Candyland of video games. Well, let me tell ya. It was an exhausting, mind numbing experience. Sensory overload the likes of which I’ve rarely seen, felt, smelled, touched or heard. Remember that episode of Batman Beyond where the bad guy goes deaf from the all the sounds of the city piercing his brain all at once and he screams in agony from it all?

Sorry, I got Batman Beyond on the mind since that Splice review. Great show.

But anyway, that was me. For three days! Surrounded by sweating nerds, servile booth babes and sycophantic industry types in a bombed out section of L.A. no one wants to be in, except for this one giant convention. Seriously, otherwise the place is a ghost town, which is a very weird (and scary) place to be in coming from New York friggin’ City.

Not that any of that matters really. E3 is about one thing: games. Lots and lots of games. And I got my grubby hands on all of them. Well, a lot of them. Not all of them. Off the bat I’ll say I missed Zelda: Skyward Sword, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Microsoft’s and Sony’s Wii-too nonsense. So if you’re looking for the umpteenth amount of armchair punditry for those — whoops. This is just one simple chump’s first visit to E3, trying to find something that wasn’t a derivative arm-waving simulator or a FPS about shooting foreigners.

But boy, does that Move controller look like a luminescent dildo or what?

Unleashing murder simulators and yoga games~ISN'T IT IROOOOONIC, TOOOEEE-KNEEEEE

After the initial running of the bulls into the convention hall several sights seared my retinas frantically for attention. Among the first of them, a giant mech. With man inside it! It didn’t do much but stand there and open and close, revealing the man and hiding him in turn. Not quite Iron Man impressive, but still! Enough to get people gawking. Including me!

After rushing past EA’s booth (sports! waggling! no Mirror’s Edge 2!) I found Sega’s. ‘Twas huge! Filling a good chunk of the hall, it had a lot to offer… surprisingly. Weren’t these the geniuses who blew their entire first-quarter release schedule on the same day Final Fantasy XIII came out? Where’d all this cool new stuff come from?!

Vanquish was the first target, although the line already ran 20 nerds deep. What?! How could that happen already… So, I turned around to find Yakuza 4 glaring daggers at me. Daggers, or box cutters or honor or whatever Japanese gangsters use to glare with. Beyond the demo for Yakuza 3 earlier this year — and all the hoopla about the cut content from the final release — I never had a proper Yakuza game experience. I don’t know if the Yakuza 4 demo counts as “proper” but it did pique my interest in a series I had ignored.

Ine-san is always there for m-- oops, wrong game. The press trampled over each other to get their hands on this!

The demo was one large series of beat-em-up arenas with brawling reminiscent of River City Ransom. I bashed enemies to a pulp, picked up weapons and items from around the environment. Y’know. Difference being, in order to pull off special moves like bashing an enemy’s head in the nearby wall or stomping on his face I had to soften the lug up first with a series of button-mashing combos to build up a special gauge below the life bar. That happens and then the sparks really fly.

I can see this style of play becoming cumbersome, but Yakuza 4 offers four playable characters to jazz things up. The demo let me play as each one in a linear progression. I beat all the bad guys as the small, speedy, crooked cop who got dizzy for some reason, and then went on to beat more bad guys as series star Kazuma (the medium guy I guess) before finally playing the big, brutish character who could pick up heavier enemies. I don’t remember the first guy very well, unfortunately.

The demo didn’t showcase any other elements of the game (the RPG-ish walking around stuff) though I was assured the hostess bars, some of the content cut from Yakuza 3, would remain intact. Phew~

After Yakuza 4 I sauntered over a couple feet to the next demo. Now here’s a thing I’d learn over the next few hours. In the zany hustle-and-bustle of the E3 show floor, it can be very difficult to play slow-paced, methodical games. Like RPGs! Especially dungeon-crawlers like Phantasy Star Portable 2 which requires you to customize your own character, a secondary character, and it also demands an awful lot of patience as there is a TON of text to read through before finally getting to the meat of the game.

Cool, I LOVE fetch quests.

There was also a mandatory opening cutscene that could not be skipped, with several unskippable scenes afterward. With so many other games (SO many other games!), and itchy P.R. people begging for my attention, it got wearisome skipping text over and over again just to get to the primary hacking and slashing.

Finally, I GOT to the slashin’, a handy tutorial segment where a girl named Emilia and my robot hunter who I made (named Steve) got stuck in a cave and we had to fight our way out. As per usual tutorial fare Emilia schooled me in the ways of hitting two different attack buttons that could combo together, redirecting my camera with the D-pad and using the L button to lock-on targets, and equipping new weapons on the fly — by holding Circle to open up a real-time menu that I could scroll through.

NEXT ON SHARK WEEK

It was all very seamless and easy since I was already well acclimated to the controls. They’re exactly like Capcom’s Monster Hunter series, perhaps Phantasy Star Portable 2′s biggest competition in this genre. Like, exactly. Which is great! Besides dodging (new to Phantasy Star I’m pretty sure) and the overall similar combat/control scheme, the other big similarity is the replacement of the series standard MAG companion with the new MySynth, a robotic sidekick much like the cat-looking Felynes from Monster Hunter. I didn’t get to try these babies out though I was pleased with the Japanese-flavored way of customizing them at the beginning. Aside from naming them you can dress them up in maid, nurse, bellhop or waitress costumes. Goofy fun. …I chose the bellhop.

I asked the Sega employee on the floor if the Japanese version’s product placement tie-ins like Evangelion plugsuit armor and Pizza Hut pizza box swords would make it stateside but got a noncommital “maybe” response. Here’s hoping. With the bellhop robot maids, might as well go Japanese all the way.

I was promised infrastructure multiplayer, something other Japanese developers (looking at you, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker and Dragon Quest IX devs) could definitely learn from. Now I can finally play with my friends in Kansas and Seattle if I so choose.

Tails, now is not the time to feed your habit.

And I might! The game shows promise, marrying components of Phantasy Star Online with Monster Hunter, and playing online with three other people would definitely be a blast. Sega would do extremely well to release a demo with the infrastructure mode to test the multiplayer waters in the U.S., and so players (such as myself) can enjoy the game at a leisurely pace outside of the organized chaos of E3.

Oh, and for added incentive, you can also import your character from the first Phantasy Star Portable.

Well! That was it for Phantasy Star. To the right, a couple more PSPs with Valkyria Chronicles 2. A couple unattended PSPs. No lines. Well, that didn’t look too urgent. I turned the corner to find the new Sonic games …

Now, on the harsh Internets, there is something called the Sonic Cycle:

1.) A new Sonic game gets announced. Fans get excited and nervous.

2.) Screenshots and footage comes out. Fans rejoice; possible “return to glory.”

3.) Game comes out, gets terrible reviews. Fans revolt; Sega “doesn’t get it.”

4.) Repeat.

This has been going on for a while now with nary an end in sight. Sonic 4 started the cycle anew, and we thought that was all we had to deal with. Then Sega announced Sonic Colors, turning the cycle into a cyclone. Two new Sonic games?! How much disappointment can Sega heap on its angry, frothing fanbase? And then at E3, Sonic Free Riders for XBox 360′s Kinect. Cue head explosion.

So imagine my surprise when I got to try Sonic Colors for myself and found it to be … well, better than expected. It’s the daytime parts of Sonic Unleashed (aka: the decent parts) with a decent amount of throwbacks to Sonic’s past games thrown in. In my time with the game Sonic popped ballons with his spin-jump and hopped around in the End of Act screen to gain extra lives and points, just like in Sonic 3. It felt nice and familiar, the kind of stuff us cranky fans whine for.

Strictly for kids who don't know any better maybe!

The newest installment of the “mainstream 3D Sonic games” (producer Takashi Iizuka’s translated words), Colors throws colored aliens called Wisps into the mix, which are basically color-coded power-ups that can bestow Sonic — who is the only playable character in he game (!!!!!) — with a blue laser and a yellow drill, for example. Wisps have more than one power to use (the laser can blast through enemies and zap you to new areas in levels using crystals scattered about) and the game encourages you to go back to previous levels to use the power-ups to explore new routes. I imagine this will be imperative to find the Chaos Emeralds, which Iizuka-san confirmed are in the game. When asked if the logical conclusion to their appearance in the game, Super Sonic, would appear he gave a revealing “no comment.”

At a demonstration for the game (which I had to trudge up a whole extra floor for) the Sega guys emphasized the story would be one kids and adults could enjoy as it was written by MadWorld writers, Kim Pontac and Warren Graff. Quite a creative tone shift, and I chomped at the bit to see/hear an example to no avail. A Sonic game with great, snappy writing and sense of humor — and promising gameplay — could send me over the edge. And with Sonic 4 on the way?

Sega, could you… could finally be learning?!

Hopes Dashed Zone Act 1

But as I thought that I felt a little like a jerk in front of the producer. It must be stifling for a creator to bow to fan pressure. Iizuka-san reassuringly explained they’re trying to get the best of both worlds with this game, to make it possible for fan feedback to meet the creators’ wishes halfway — “the best of both worlds” as he put it.

The DS version of Sonic Colors, co-developed by  Sonic Team and DIMPS, looks and plays a lot like the Sonic Rush series. Although the zones looked familiar to the Wii version (both versions had demos featuring the Tropical Resort Zone and Sweet Mountain Zone, a level made up entirely of cakes and lollipops and the like) the level design was understandably different. It’s a completely 2D experience, whereas the Wii version threw in a few twisty-turny 3D moments. Sonic has a few new moves and the Wisp powers fit in well. The game shows promise.

After that, I looked around. Sonic 4 was way too crowded and no one could play Sonic Free Riders. Everyone had to watch models play behind a glass pane. I didn’t envy them.

this is absolutely fascinating

I checked my watch, looked up, looked around.

Holy crap, there’s a ton more to see. I should probably walk around! WAITMINUTE THE 3DS NINTENDO OMGGG

I walked over (all over!!) to the next hall to Nintendo’s comfy, carpeted area. The soft floor made me realize how dead my feet were. I couldn’t wait to hit that hotel bed, but I couldn’t wait to — oh man. Look at this crowd.

There was no way I was going to play Zelda, or Donkey Kong or … anything. The 3DS was way out of reach, protected by a contingent of pretty soldiers from the Ford model agency. That’s okay, I got two more days here. Soooo, I just looked around at all the awesome Wii games I couldn’t sample yet. Then I played Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies. It’s definitely a Dragon Quest game. And one that I couldn’t give any decent attention to, especially with Okamiden a few feet away!

Let's go on a quest! A DRAGON QUEST!! FOR THE NINTH TIME!!!

And, oh hey, it’s a pared-down portable version of Okami that’s controlled with the DS stylus. That’d be cool if it wasn’t as talky as its older brother Okami for the Wii and PS2. Text could not be skipped, once again, a difficult thing to deal with on the fast-paced floor. Fortunately, it shares the same fantastic sense of style even on the DS. Graphics are lovely shades of cel (er, cel-shaded) with some impeccable design work. When I saw a family of fat calligraphy-inked birds with sweat drops pouring out I had to squeal inside a bit. Too cute.

There was one new thing I didn’t expect: the boy who rides Chibiterasu (the new tiny wolf hero) can be controlled via stylus, much like Zelda in Spirit Tracks. Controlling two characters and once, combined with the usual combat and world-healing ink, I imagine Okamiden will serve up some punishing (but fun, hopefully) puzzles.

Then a klaxon or something sounded off somewhere and some Nintendo lady started closing everybody’s DSes and turning stuff off. We got shoved out of there!

Oh well. It was time to rejuice, rest and do this all again tomorrow. Do it BETTER. Like not spend all day at Sega, despite how … promising it all was. Now all they have to do is not release everything on the day, I dunno, the 3DS comes out.

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3 Responses to “E3 Day One: Stranger in a Strange Land”

  1. John Mora Says:

    I’m envious of the time with Yakuza 4 and Sonic Colors and maybe DQIX. I’ll wait for the PSP2 reviews to come out before deciding on if I wanna get it. Blue Burst didn’t set me on fire and this game already has a strike against it for not being a proper Phantasy Star!!!

    It’s so cool we had our own E3 correspondent. :3

  2. Sean Says:

    Buh! Valkyria Chronicles 2… I can understand after sinking time into Phantasy Star and DQ that maybe a nother huge time-sink wasn’t a draw, but in my head I was thinking “Go baaack.”

    Nice terrarium pic.

  3. Red Dragon Says:

    Dodging isn’t new to Phantasy Star, the DS version (Zero?) had it as well. In fact, most of the bosses weren’t “hit it until it dies” but you have to take an absurd amount of time with them or they’ll murder you. At least in my experience with it. So it really seems like they’re trying for the Monster Hunter crowd.

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