I can finally cross off an item off my bucket list. Today I had a chance to visit E3 in Los Angeles. I won’t go into details on how I got in (let’s just say I know a guy), but I’d much rather talk about the games I got to see and play - since, chances are, that is what you are really interested in! While I didn’t get to stay for the full day, I tried to squeeze in as much as I possibly could. Many of the big name games, like Tomb Raider, Hitman and Assassin’s Creed III, had some pretty long lines, but the games I did play were just as good. So without further ado, here’s a rundown of what I experienced. Nintendo Wii U
Before I talk about the games I played on the Wii U, I wanted to take a moment to discuss the tablet controller (the actual Wii U console could not be seen). Much to my surprise, the tablet was considerably lighter than I expected. It seemed sturdy and well built and, despite my intial concerns, comfortable in my hands. Often, the tablet’s screen would mirror the content from the television screen, doing so without any loss of quality. The touch screen seemed pretty responsive too, with on screen prompts and commands needing only the slightest touch to activate. The two games I played represented, in my mind, the broad spectrum of Wii U functionality. The Wii U features in Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition felt the most tacked on, even though it did offer some notable conveniences, and won’t be the Wii U’s most compelling title. Rayman Legends, on the other hand, made great use of the Wii U’s bells and whistles.
At the Warner Bros. booth, a playable version of Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition was on hand and I was more than eager to get my hands on a working Wii U tablet. The game demo featured two different areas, one that focused on combat, the other on puzzles. While navigating these two areas, the screen on the tablet controller displays a map of the area along with icons that will bring up Batman’s inventory. During the combat stage, with every blow Batman successfully lands on an enemy, the BAT Mode meter will fill up. When full, either tapping the BAT icon or pressing in both analog sticks will activate a combat boost, allowing Batman to dispatch foes much quicker than normal. I will quickly point out that the Wii U version of Arkham City looked pretty rough, but my attendant stressed that the release build will look much better.
In the second area, Batman needed to use Detective Vision in order to locate and track a blood trail deep within the Gotham underground where Talia Al’Ghul and her band of ninjas called home. Pressing the left bumper on the controller would overlay the familiar blue hue on the tv and tablet. The first person evidence scanning UI was limited to the tablet and just like the original Arkham City, you had to scour the crime scene in order to find evidence. Once located, you can either scan the object with the right bumper, or press and hold your fingertip on the tablet’s touchscreen. The trail led Batman to a computer lock that needed to be hacked in order to move on. Tapping on the gadget icon on the tablet brought up Batman’s inventory where you can select different tools or drag them to a quick slots mapped to the directional pad. Using the Cryptographic Sequencer brought up another mini game that tasked you with dragging your finger across a circuit board, looking for the “sweet spot” (noted by increased vibration and a visual meter) that would decipher the lock’s encryption all the while avoiding a Lumines-style red line that moves horizontally across the screen. The final portion of the level required Batman to guide a remote controlled Batarang across the room and hit a button to unlock the door in front of him. This works very much the same way as it did with the Xbox and PlayStation version, the only difference is that the point of view for the Batarang shows up on the tablet instead of the television.
At the opposite end of the show floor, Ubisoft had a playable build of Rayman Legends available. When my turn came up, my guide was a Legends developer who was very pleasant and friendly but due to his rich French accent I could barely understand what he was telling me over the headset. However, we had no problem working together to play through a level that saw Rayman having to fight through a castle level filled with all sort of enemies. My guide moved Rayman around using the Pro controller while I interacted with a new co-op character on the tablet. While Rayman did all the hard work, it was my duty to offer all sorts of support such as lifting platforms and pulling down cages so Rayman can break them, freeing the Lums trapped inside. There were plenty of Lums to collect and if I were to swipe my finger along the shape of each group of Lums, they would turn purple and double the amount collected (collecting the King Lum in Origins did something similar). There were a few areas that required more strenuous teamwork. In order to traverse a pit, Rayman had to hop on a series a platforms. The problem was, he had no idea which one was safe to jump on. On my tablet’s screen however, I could see the sequence of platforms the other player needed to jump on in order to get through safely and I had to direct him appropriately. In another area, I had to do all the heavy lifting by lowering and raising platforms all the while killing swarms of ghosts by tapping each individual one. Another area had me twisting and turning the tablet in order to rotate an entire room.
The greatest moment in the Rayman Legends demo was a variant of the Tricky Treasure levels from Rayman Origins. Instead of chasing after treasure, player one would steer Rayman throughout the level, sprinting across long paths, jumping on floating platforms and knocking debris away. The second player’s job was to tap the screen whenever the first player ran over specially marked idols. It wasn’t very clear as to why the other player needed to do this. It could have been done in order to maintain the rockabilly soundtrack playing in the background or for some other unseen purpose. Regardless, the level was intense, fun and I am pretty anxious for the game to be released.
Rayman and Batman were the only games I got to get my hands on, but I did get a chance to watch a few other Wii U titles:
New Super Mario Bros. Wii U - This looked a whole lot like New Super Mario Bros. Wii, but with a difference: the player controlling Luigi found a power up mushroom that turned him into a flying squirrel, allowing him to glide his way down from long falls and jumps. Peering down to look at the tablet, it appeared that all the action on the television was mirrored on the tablet’s screen.
Scribblenauts Unlimited - Nothing too different from what was shown at Nintendo’s conference. The tablet functions as a keyboard to create and modify objects. The game seemed to have an open world feel to it, as the Scribblenaut could approach all sorts of different in-game characters who have their own personal requests.
Project P-100 - I wish I had spent more time with this game or at least hear one of the employees on hand describe more of it becuase I couldn’t make heads or tails what this was supposed to be. It seemed like a strange version of Katamari Damacy, where the central character had to “collect” citizens to help him move large objects and fight bosses. Depending on how you manipulate the crowd of people following you, they will form weapons that can be useful in taking down baddies. Hopefully more information about the game will be released soon. UPDATE: Here's a trailer:
All in all, I thought the Wii U hardware was pretty keen, but that could largely be due to the “ooh, shiny new gadget” feeling. It’s a real shame that Nintendo decided to behave so strangely during their press conference and if they had actually showed the games they had on the floor during the presentation, instead of blowing through video reels, maybe people wouldn’t have felt so disappointed.
Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Lollipop Chainsaw - After messing around with the Wii U, I wandered over to the Warner Bros. booth and had the chance to play my most anticipated game of the year, Suda51’s Lollipop Chainsaw. The demo was set early on in the game, with Juliet Starling having to cut off her boyfriend’s head after a zombie attack on San Romero High School led to him getting infected. The game played like a fairly standard third person brawler, with Juliet using an array of light and heavy attacks to kill zombies. At one point, I was tasked to save a student before a gang of zombies had a chance to chew her up. Naturally, I let this happen and as a result, the student turned into a zombie that was stronger than those around her, requiring a lot more effort to take down. As expected, the game is shameless in its sexuality, as Juliet prances around in a cheerleader outfit with a short skirt and every time she performed a heavy attack, her lady bits could be seen bouncing around.
Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes - I didn’t spend a whole lot of time with this game, but I was surprised to see that it is eschewing the traditional Lego video game model of putting players in a small hub world where they would access different rooms to play through levels. Instead, Lego Batman 2 looked to be set within an open world, with various objectives appearing on an in-game map. The one thing I took away from the game was how great it looked and the animations for Batman were really well done.
Harry Potter Kinect - I wanted to try and squeeze in at least one awkward Kinect game (and I really wasn’t interested in trying out Fable: The Journey) and because it had no line, I decided to give Harry Potter Kinect a chance. Out of the six types of games to play, I ended up trying out the Quidditch portion that required me to guide Harry in chasing after the Snitch. Getting in the way of this task, apart from less than ideal motion detection, are the opposing team who will try to bump you off the broom. To beat them back, I had to make a punching motion in their direction (that seemed to be the only aspect of the game that worked really well).
Dyad - Scheduled to be released exclusively for the PlayStation Network, Dyad is a music-based racing game that reminded me somewhat of a reverse Tempest. However, this isn’t your average racer. You’ll guide a small object through a tunnel and advance by “hooking” onto objects that appear off in the horizon. If you manage to hook onto two objects of the same color, you’ll gain a speed boost and continual hooking will eventually fill up a meter that, when activated, gives you a massive burst speed. Later levels offered more complexities and challenges. One mode in particular requires you to run into enemies in order to slow yourself down. My guide was playing up the musicality of the game, mentioning that you could use the game as background music for a party or get together. The music can be manipulated in various ways by pressing the shoulder buttons and moving the analog sticks. This was definitely one of the more visually exciting games I saw at the show and I’m looking to playing more when it comes out.
Sly Cooper 4: Thieves in Time - Sly Cooper is making his PlayStation 3 debut with a new adventure that has you controlling several different thieves (whether or not they are connected was a mysterious as far as the demo was concerned). The demo showed off two levels, one starring Sly as he attempts to steal an item from a circus-looking level and another set within a sushi house. I felt really bad playing the game, because I had completely forgotten the mechanics of the Sly Cooper games which, no doubt, made me look like a fool. When I started the Sushi House level, thankfully one of the attendants came by to guide me through. The game seemed to feature more of the same stealth gameplay from the previous games.
Quantum Conundrum - Right off the bat, it was easy to tell that the game was developed by someone who worked on Portal (Kim Swift was one of the designers) because Quantum Conundrum also has you venturing through a multi-room facility (or house, as was the case of the game) and solving puzzles. Unlike Portal, Quantum Conundrum is significantly more whimsical, as puzzles require the manipulation of various dimensions. In one room, I had to lift a safe onto a scale in order to open a door. Pressing the Right trigger summoned the Fluffy Dimension, which made the safe light enough for me to pick up. In another room, I needed to make use of the Heavy Dimension to give a flying cardboard box enough weight to smash through a pane of glass. The game was fun and enjoyable, but it was hard to shake off the “hey, this seems a lot like Portal” feeling.
Kingdom Hearts 3D - Didn’t spend a whole lot of time with this one. I played through a map that didn’t look like a Disney or Square themed level, fighting some cool looking monsters by spamming the X button to unleash Keyblade attacks. The game didn’t offer me an explanation as to why I wasn’t accompanied by Donald or Goofy and instead two Pokemon-like creatures were aiding me in the fight.
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch - Another game I’ve been looking forward to, Wrath of the White Witch is a collaboration between Level 5 and Japan’s leading animation company, Studio Ghibli. The demo had two different areas to play through and I opted to explore a machine city populated by pig-like creatures. The RPG features some fantastic looking cutscenes (which was to be expected) and a great musical score typically reserved for Miyazaki movies. I explored the area for a bit before confronting a boss creature, sending me into a real time battle sequence in which the hero let loose a duo of creatures that did most of the fighting. You can switch between normal and special attacks and when the enemy becomes weakened, an all out attack that does massive damage is unleashed. I won’t lie, I felt completely lost with how the combat was supposed to play out, but I’m sure the full version will have adequate tutorials.
Aliens: Colonial Marines - The last game I played was the multiplayer component in Aliens: Colonial Marines. The demo pitted six attendees (controlling the Marines) against six Gearbox employees (controlling the Xenomorphs). The only playable map was set in an outpost just outside of the LV426 colony and the two teams went at it, trying to score the most points in the five minute round. Apart from the setting and enemy types, the multiplayer in Aliens didn’t feel all that different from other titles in the FPS genre. You’ll earn experience points after each match that feeds into a levelling system and unlock perks and new weapon types. Despite some really cool death animations, the experience felt pretty average. The biggest disappointment, however, was that the pulse rifles didn’t make the same sound as they did in the Aliens film. What the hell? Hopefully this was just an early build and science fiction’s most popular sound effect gets added in later.
And that, folks, was my E3 experience! Thanks for following along and I hope my insights on these few games were of interest. Keep coming back as we’ll look deeper into these games (and more) as they near release.
Teen Services Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.