This year at E3 was an interesting one from the standpoint
that companies that I thought would be stellar turned out for the most
part sub-par, yet, like every E3, there was still plenty to astound. I
absorbed as many booths as I could, but three days just isn't enough.
I don't intend to cover every booth and every game I saw (I'll leave that
to the magazines). I merely wish to give an
unbiased (yeah, right) gamers perspective on E3 2003.
[ Microsoft ]
Platformers, platformers, platformers. Companies seem to be all
about 3D action/adventure games on the Xbox, and rightfully so, as the
Xbox's power seems to be best at creating lush, 3D environments that players
can explore: Beyond Good and Evil, Voodoo Vince, and Conker Uncut just
to name a few. Most prominently displayed was Brute Force, Star Wars:
Knights of the Old Republic, and of course Bungie's Halo 2. Halo 2 was
certainly impressive, but from the video I saw (Halo 2 was non-playable),
the creatures were still quite reminescent of Turok 2. But what I found
myself playing the most was Blizzard's Starcaft Ghost. Blizzard's return
to the console was certainly a pleasant surprise; playing like Tenchu
3, with the style of Metal Gear Solid, but with the world and creativity
that is Blizzard.
] = List
A quality RPG, shmup, or fighter.
[ Nintendo ]
= Best Of The Show
Of the "Big Three", Nintendo stood out as best of the show.
This is probably the first year that I saw Nintendo with more quality
third-party titles than first-party ones. Among other titles, Metroid
Zero Mission stood out on the GBA. Using the Fusion engine, it was just
as quality as the 2D goodness before. Nintendo also prominently displayed
Mario Kart: Double Dash. I saw no new Mario or Kid Icarus (god forbid),
but I did see a pseudo-sequel to the GBA's Zelda: Four Swords called Tetra's
Trackers. Tetra yapping at me from the Gamecube the whole time was annoying;
Navi annoying. Oh, I mentioned third-party titles. Well, here you go:
Sega's F-Zero GX (and AX), Konami's Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes,
Treasure's Wario World, Factor 5's Rogue Squadron 3: Rebel Strike, Capcom's
P.N.03, Viewtiful Joe, and Resident Evil 4, Namco's Soul Calibur 2, and
SquareEnix's Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance,
and Sword of Mana (GBA). Suffice it to say, I
spent a lot of time at Nintendo.
] = List
More quality third-party gam...oh, wait...
] = AKA Mainstream Productions
Sony announced that they're going to go into the portable business, challenging
Nintendo's long-sustained throne. I got the impression that Sony isn't
as interested in making quality games for their current system as they
are in trying to invent future hardware. It was rough at times finding
the really good PS2 games, but somehow I managed to navagate through the
chaos. In terms of the games, I saw everything from the bland to the flavorful.
I personally don't like bland (sorry Final Fantasy X-2), so I'll touch
on the side of tasty. Games like Arc the Lad: Twilight of Spirits, although
untouched by Working Designs, still looks and plays very well. Gran Turismo
4 was quality (if you're into that sorta thing), as was the new Castlevania.
All in all, there was enough sports and multi-platform and variety of
games to put the point home of quantity over quality. In the PS2's case,
it was just a matter of digging through the recycled crap to find the
quality third-party titles that lie underneath. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake
Eater and Gradius V were showstoppers for me at Konami's booth. And the
masters of turn-based strategy, Atlus, intrigued me with Disgaea. I would
like to see a Thousand Arms sequel, though...
] = List
A reliable PS2 system (I'm on my 4th). Seriously, its not as if Sony is
some mom and pop organization that had to take out a third mortgage to
make the prototype for the PS2. I refuse to believe that a multi-billion
dollar global company does not have the necessary means to create solid
hardware. At least Konami can make Solid software. Get it? Ha ha...no
please, keep reading!
[ SNK Neo-Geo
] - [ Sammy ] = Surprises
There were, as usual, a plethora of quality titles all around at this
year's E3 2003. The biggest surprise for me, however, was the return of
SNK Neo Geo, courtesy of Playmore! King of Fighters 2002, Metal Slug 3,
and SNK vs. Capcom Chaos (video only) all appear to be coming domestically
to the PS2 ASAP. I was pleased to see a good crowd at Playmore as well.
Seeing all the fans, I hope arcade-style games will continue to be published.
A nearly equal, but expected surprise was
the quality that Sammy exhibited as well, following up Guilty Gear X2
with new titles like The Seven Samurai and Berserk (sequel to one of the
many underrated Dreamcast games). Sammy and Playmore were without a doubt
the most pleasant surprise at the show. Companies like these really add
depth to a gamers experience, and the gaming world is a better place because
[ Konami ]
= The Resilient Air Of Quality
I'm always amazed at how many licenses and how many genres Konami can
produce with a resilient air of quality. Castlevania: Lament of Innocence
was the 3D Castlevania that I felt the N64 Castlevania wasn't. The cell-shaded
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had arcade-style splashed all over the screen.
Looking at Gradius V reminded me of how beautiful being frustrated can
be. And I think Konami has the niche for stealth action with Cy Girls,
MGS3: Snake Eater, and MGS The Twin Snakes. I do have initial issues with
Kojima-san's decision to sway from the Sons of Liberty story in MGS3,
though. To me, this change appears abrupt, uninspired, and mainstream-driven.
I hope 2004 proves me wrong.
] = List
Contra Shattered Soldier was just too good. Can I have
[ Blizzard ]
Yes, Blizzard only has two series (generally) to their name. Yes, Blizzard
creates sequels and extensions of these series. Yes, they are not very
diverse in genres. And yes, they consistently create some of the most
creative worlds with some of the most addicting gameplay. This year is
no exception. Blizzard never (yes, never) has released a game that was
even associated with trash
(Warcraft Adventures was abruptly cancelled). Slap the mainstream label
on them if you will, but no other gaming company has batted 1.000. Their
stout, unorthodox practice with regards to release dates have allowed
them to create best-seller after best-seller. Do they do it with violence?
No Grand Theft Auto filth here. Do they do it with lush 3D "grafix"
and cinematic experiences as their main attraction? Not on Square EA's
life. Blizzard's games are best-sellers every time for one reason: gameplay.
Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne and Worlds of Warcraft will force me to
upgrade, while Starcraft Ghost has a spot waiting for it on my shelf.
Quality over quantity indeed.
] = List
[ Sega ]
= Cherished Sub-Par
I mentioned sub-par earlier, and I regret to say that Sega was
one of those companies this year. Without a doubt, Sega has given 110%
since the birth of the Dreamcast through their entrance into third-party
development. But this year showed Phantasy Star Online's metamorphasis
from an action MMORPG to a card battle/battle network MMORPG. Altered
Beast is returning, but seemed to pale in comparison to other beat em
ups at the show. And Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution is a sucker punch to those
of us who purchased VF4, who are now left without the features in VF4
Evo which should have been in the original VF4. Also, I have to
admit that I am not a big platforming fan, so Sonic and Billy Hatcher
didn't do it for me. However, Sega did have the pleasant surprise of a
new Virtual On coming to the PS2, breathing new life into the already
great series, and hopefully gathering a whole new audience. Regardless
of the disappointments (Virtual On being the exception), I still cherish
Sega as one of the finest companies in the business and I can appreciate
how difficult it is to produce so much quality and creativity all the
time. In all honestly, a sub-par Sega is still leaps and bounds better
than most other companies at their best.
] = List
Let's see: Toe Jam and Earl sequel; check...Panzer Dragoon
sequel; check. How about Shining Force III Collection?
[ SquareEnix ]
= RPG Games
Very few companies can recover from the venerable Electronic Arts
virus; hence, Square's current track record on the PS2 ranges from disappointing
to nauseating and beyond. Hmmm, let me see...The Bouncer: as long as a
J-Lo romantic comedy and about as deep. Driving Emotion Type-S: <cough>
Final Fantasy X (people, the 'X' means ten): Compare character designs
from FFVIII to FFX - it reeks of originality! What's this? The prettiest
guy and the prettiest girl are falling in love?!? That never happens!
I'll pass. Kingdom Hearts: Square's best next-gen effort to date once
again looks better than it performs...much like sorority girls. It would
take a vaccine of miraculous proportions to overcome such a debilitating
disease. But they found one. And its name is Enix. With Enix, I am beginning
to see the originality and creativity from the Squaresoft of old surface
from its dormant, formerly repressed state. While FFX-2 and FFXI still
look disappointingly poor, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, Sword of
Mana, Unlimited Saga, and Star Ocean: Till the End of Time sparkle with
artistic innovation and varied gameplay that reminds me of why I started
liking Square in the first place. I see Square and Enix creating a symbiotic
union, where Enix is helping Square recover their recently lost magic,
and Square is helping take production levels of Enix to the next level
with the hope of achieving the sales in America that Enix deserves. Lastly,
I find no coincidence in Square's development with Nintendo. When Square
was with EA, they were isolated on the PS2. So now that Square is with
Enix, they all of the sudden are non-exclusive? The defeated will fall,
Electronic Arts. You can take your Sims and fuck off. Welcome back Squaresoft.
Thank you Enix.
] = List
Ogre Battle sequel.
[ Capcom ]
= Last But Not Least
Viewtiful Joe, Resident Evil 4, Resident Evil Outbreak, P.N.03, Onimusha
Warlords, and six (six!) Mega Man games. Year after year, Capcom has given
us the sequels we demand, new titles we love, and this year, a celebration
of the little blue guy's 15th birthday with six new titles, all to be
released by the end of the year. I don't need to talk them up, for there
is a reason why every year at E3, I go to Capcom's booth last: I don't
] = List
Alien vs. Predator arcade port to GBA.
] = End
Overall, E3 2003 was another year of potential
achievements and forthcoming failures. I am disappointed that Working
Designs did not have a booth. Mystical Ninja and Growlancer seemed to
be coming along well at least year's show, and I wouldn't mind seeing
another Silpheed or Lunar either. I am disturbed that mainstream gaming
is focused so much on violence. And how many war games do we really need?
A homage to war is one thing; an obsession with its existence is
another thing entirely. Fortunately, I saw something I did not expect:
mainstream players weren't playing Tomb Raider. Oh, so huge breasts
in a video game can only take a series so far before even the mainstream
audience demands gameplay? I see a similar fate with violence. It is only
a matter of time before gamers become super-saturated with gore and leave
to find a new gaming venue. Until next year...