Checkpoint: E3 2018 Edition

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E3 2018’s press conferences are finally over. I actually liked that the big publishers and platform holders got out of the way of each other and spread out a bit.

It gave me more time to digest it all and meant I was spending less time binging on the barrage of news and announcements that didn’t leak beforehand.

There were many leaks this year including one from Walmart Canada that spoiled so many publisher’s fun. It didn’t spoil my fun though, knowing a game’s existence isn’t the same as seeing the titles in action.

With that in mind, here are some thoughts I had on the press conferences that I watched since Saturday, June 9th.

I graded them with entertainment, news, and games shown in mind. Was it a fun watch? Despite leaks, did they shed light on anything interesting? Did they show games that I wanted to play?

Electronic Arts

Electronic Arts’ press conference was awkward. It was good to see Anthem in action but they took such a long time fluffing it up.

The Battlefield V was a looker but I have very little desire to revisit realistic World War II shooters like Battlefield V or Call of Duty: WW2. Maybe I’ll give it a go when a multiplayer beta hits but as of right now? It’s a non-starter for me.

No one is expecting Electronic Arts to make a real-time strategy game in 2018. So what can EA do? A MOBA? They tried in 2014 with Dawngate. So seeing Command & Conquer Rivals in action makes a lot of sense to me and it was the big surprise coming out of EA’s event. And that’s disappointing.

The reveal of Origin Access Premier and a peculiar interview with Vince Zampella about his team’s upcoming Star Wars game does not make up for the fact that EA’s offerings were poor this year.

D-

Microsoft

Microsoft brought it this year. They’ve been refining their formula for the last couple of E3’s but I felt they nailed it when came to reassuring people that Microsoft is committed to the Xbox brand. I don’t know if announcing sequels to familiar first party properties is enough to sell people on the idea of buying an Xbox One but their future looks brighter with their recent studio acquisitions.

But if you ignore hardware sales angle and focus on reasons to subscribe to Xbox Game Pass, I think Microsoft did a bang up job.

Forza Horizon 4 looks like a spiritual successor to Test Drive Unlimited which is very intriguing. Gears 5 looks to continue the strong start of Gears 4. Crackdown 3 looks like dumb fun. And Ori and the Will of the Wisps is shaping up to be a fantastic sequel to one of my favorite games of the generation.

There will be another Halo game named Halo: Infinite. Not much else to say about that trailer besides that it looks pretty. Gears Tactics (title pending) looks like a match made in heaven; combining Gears of War with XCOM style gameplay sounds phenomenal.

Although they weren’t exclusives, the reveal of Devil May Cry 5, Cyberpunk 2077, The Division 2 and longer looks at titles like Kingdom Hearts III made for a very entertaining showcase.

They showed games and lots of them!

A

Bethesda

Bethesda sold me on RAGE 2 which I didn’t think was possible after the weird reveal. Did we need another post-apocalyptic title? Well, it turns out the answer is “yes” if they’re invoking the frantic pace of Doom (2016).

Teasing the existence of Doom: Eternal was welcomed and so was the reveal that they’re bringing out more Wolfenstein content with Wolfenstein: Young Blood. They also reminded me that I haven’t played Wolfenstein: The New Colossus yet which is shameful of me.

I doubt I’ll pick up Fallout 76 but seeing it in action was interesting. Were they going to ape other survival games? How much “traditional” Fallout are we going to see in this? It’s not going to be just another Fallout game which is intriguing for me but it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

The super early teasers for Bethesda Game Studio’s upcoming projects: Starfield and The Elder Scrolls VI were a bit awkward. They sound very far off and I’m not sure why they needed to tease both of those titles so early.

C+

Ubisoft

Ubisoft knew how to have fun with their dance number for Just Dance. I thought that was a fun way to acknowledge that game’s existence.

I don’t know what to make of the Beyond Good & Evil 2 trailer. The CG trailer looks like a sales pitch to recruit the community to help generate assets for the game. I want to know how those assets are going to be used and if there’s a worthwhile game in there.

The Division 2 and Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey are known quantities. They look like newer and shinier versions of the games you may or may not like. I’m partial to The Division so more of it is okay with me. AC:O looks very pretty. Almost enough to entice me back.

I like seeing games continue receiving support but after Bethesda’s showcase, I was growing tired of seeing games I don’t play being trotted out again. I can’t say I’m particularly fond of seeing repeat appearances for games I like.

C

Square Enix

Speaking of known quantities, here’s Square-Enix showing off Kingdom Hearts III again. Little did we know, there would be three trailers shown across three press conferences. (Microsoft, Square, and Sony). I am not against this game but that’s a lot.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider looks like more of the same and since I haven’t even played Rise of the Tomb Raider yet, I don’t know if I want that. She looked like a ruthless killer though and a far cry from that reluctant heroine from Tomb Raider (2013).

Dragon Quest XI looks very pretty and it would be on my list of games to pre-order but I just started Dragon Quest VIII and barely put a dent in it.

Square Enix showed a lot of known quantities and while some resonated with me, I just didn’t see why they waited until E3 to reveal these.

C-

Sony

I missed the first half hour of Sony’s which meant I missed The Last of Us: Part II. That’s fine because I don’t need to be convinced to buy that game. I was already sold. Just like I was more or less already sold on Spider-man.

Ghosts of Tsushima was the big reveal and I thought Sucker Punch did one hell of a job with that demo. I was impressed with the reveal but I’m curious how it plays.

Death Stranding was weird and I’m sure it will abide with some internal logic that Kojima stitched together. I just hope this game is more than celebrity guest stars doing weird things.

Seeing Resident Evil 2 remake in action was eye opening because of how much effort Capcom is putting into this and seemingly nailing it.

Remedy Games are making another time manipulation third person shooter but this time it stars a red haired woman. I’m in. It reminds me of Quantum Break (which I haven’t played yet) but without all the bad TV science fiction.

In many ways, Sony followed Microsoft’s event but instead of showing new installment to the same old franchises. They showed off more of the same game that we’ve already seen. Death Stranding is just as weird as when we saw it last year. The Last of Us: Part II is still the Last of Us. And Spider-man is still Spider-man. They showed well and I will likely play them all but they’re still known quantities.

B-

Nintendo

Nintendo was the most disappointing only because it looks like their software lineup looks barren compared to last year’s. A new Fire Emblem, Super Mario Party, and another Smash Brothers with every single character should be enough for most folks but they’re not Super Mario Odyssey and Breath of the Wild.

Spending so much time on Smash Bros. Ultimate was exhausting. I can appreciate the changes they made but I don’t play Smash Bros. often enough to even notice. It seems like they were pitching to a very specific demographic of the Smash fanbase and that’s just a very weird thing to do on the “big stage”.

I will likely pick up Super Mario Party just to have a nice party game. And the same with Smash Bros. Ultimate but their lineup so far feels lacking from a first party perspective.

On the plus side, the release of Fortnite on Switch did out Sony for being scum bags on cross play.

C

A Decent E3

It was a decent showing as far as the press conferences are concerned. Lots of promising titles on the horizon and many of them debuting early next year. I doubt I will have time play all of them but this is a good problem to have.

Metroid: Samus Returns Review

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Nintendo set the 2D Metroid bar very low with the release of Metroid: Other M seven years ago. All I wanted was a return to form; they didn’t need to dazzle me with something revolutionary. But when they billed Metroid: Samus Returns as a Nintendo 3DS remake of Metroid II developed by MercurySteam, the same studio who put out Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate on Nintendo 3DS. Needless to say, the announcement details alone were not enough to instill confidence. But once I saw it in action? I was sold. 

Having never played Metroid II (or the well regarded fan remake AM2R) I entered Samus Returns essentially blind. I knew of the Metroid baby from having played Super Metroid but I had no idea Metroid II was so different compared to the other Metroid games Other Metroid games featured the little energy sapping bugs and one or two boss encounters with those fanged blobs but this game was chalk full of Metroid hunting.

I got my ass handed to me every time I encountered a new type of Metroid but after a bit of study, I was able to make quick work of each and every one of them. I must admit that the latter Metroids were not as fearsome as the Alpha or Gamma Metroids. Part of it was due to the fact that latter Metroids were less mobile, Samus was considerably more powerful and I was more comfortable with the game’s mechanics.

MercurySteam added several new mechanics and refinements to the Metroid formula. The Aeion System gave Samus an additional resource for her new abilities to draw from. These abilities were woven into the fabric of the game’s progression and made for interesting twists. However, I was taken by the inclusion of the parry and 360 free aim that was introduced to Samus’ move set. I never got tired of smashing a rampaging enemy flyer away with Samus’ giant arm cannon and destroying it with a single shot afterwards. It wasn’t a particularly difficult skill to master but it enabled the game’s enemies to be more menacing. Giving fodder enemies the ability to charge at Samus made them appear more antagonistic and dangerous compared to the lackadaisical ones in other Metroid titles.  

The free aiming was surprisingly liberating. Samus was fixed in place in that mode but I felt more capable and in control of her because I had the ability to guide my shots. Samus always had the ability fire at fixed angles and this was just the natural extension of that capability. Now I wasn’t forced to hop about like an idiot trying to get shots in. 

Combining the two new moves and general refinements to Samus controls made for a very slick controlling game — for the most part. There were instances where physical limitations of the Nintendo 3DS were making it cumbersome to switch weapons or abilities on the fly but I powered through them. 

Hunting Metroids was a unique take on the Metroid formula for me but it wore out its welcome after a while. I grew bored of seeing the same Metroid bosses over and over. They mixed up each encounter with additional environmental hazards or obstacles but there was a lot of shooting missiles into Metroid faces. They did introduce other robotic bosses to break up the monotony of fighting Metroids but they only served as functional different and not aesthetically pleasing. I didn’t find the excavating robots remotely terrifying. 

I enjoyed playing Metroid: Samus Returns every time I picked it up but I also had to put it down frequently. Partly due to the fact that I was playing it exclusively on bus rides but also because the game was structurally monotonous. Find the Metroids, extract their DNA, and deposit it into these weird Chozo gates. Repeat until the end. Along the way, I entered familiar lava territory among others with their accompanying iconic themes.

Despite its pacing issues, Metroid: Samus Returns was enjoyable overall. It was very much the ideal blend of old and new. MercurySteam integrated new moves and ideas into the Metroid formula without it feeling shoehorned. I felt they understood what to do with the Metroid formula but were held back by the fact that they were developing a remake. If Nintendo decides to partner up with the Spanish developer again, I will give their next game my undivided attention. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a quality Metroid title let alone a quality sidescrolling one.

Verdict:
I like it

Ratings Guide 

Super Mario Odyssey Review

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Super Mario Galaxy is my favorite 3D Mario game and continues to be number one in my books. There was a sense of wonder and amazement when I played the Wii title for the first time that I just didn’t feel when I played Super Mario Odyssey.

With that out of the way: Super Mario Odyssey is a fantastic game.

Cappy was a wondrous gimmick that allowed for a lot of novel shenanigans to be had. Capturing (possessing) a T-Rex was amusing but I found the mechanics surrounding other enemies such as the Pokio and its ability to fling itself with its beak offered far more interesting gameplay challenges. Capturing different enemies offered a nice variety but I extracted the most joy out of using Mario’s core move set. I loved Mario’s ability to throw Cappy and hop on him. It expanded Mario’s core mobility options for the first time since Super Mario Sunshine and I appreciated it. I finally understand why a subset of the Mario audience didn’t like the reduction of moves in Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario 3D World.

Odyssey was visually intriguing but inconsistent and, in some cases, a bit of a let down. Mario has never looked better but I felt some Kingdoms like the Luncheon Kingdom were too safe. I loved the Metro Kingdom, Seaside Kingdom and a vast majority of other Kingdoms on offer but I was disappointed when I landed Luncheon only to discover pink goo and blocky vegetables strewn about. Rayman Origins pulled off that concept with superior pizzazz and craft. Odyssey was at its best when they leaned heavily into the theme of the Kingdoms. Luncheon stood out as a disappointment because it felt very static and capturing Hammer Bros. and Fireballs wore out their welcome quick. Also who thought talking cutlery was a good idea? Weird properly dressed humans, French beret wearing snails, and robots were more to my liking.

Aesthetics aside, many Kingdoms were dense with gameplay opportunities. A lot of it involved clever use of Cappy’s abilities, platforming and/or experimentation. Some of my favorite challenges involved racing other Koopa Troopers across the kingdom or figuring out how to reach certain spots to collect purple coins or Moons. I felt the races in particular allowed for creativity and tested gameplay knowledge very well. My only wish was for more Moons to feel this rewarding.

By littering collectible Moons everywhere, Nintendo cheapened their rewards. Collecting Stars in Super Mario Galaxy felt rewarding. There were less than stellar challenges and activities but at least I did more than look into a small nook for one. In Super Mario Odyssey, I was rewarded for the most mundane actions; I couldn’t walk into a cave without expecting to find a Moon. In some ways, it was like Nintendo’s commentary on positive feedback loop in modern games. “No matter what you did. Here’s a reward.”

While it’s a bit odd to see them cheapen Moons, I was amused by how they managed to make gold coins matter again. Traditionally used to gain additional 1UPs, the coin seemed like a relic of the past. In Odyssey, I redeemed coins for costumes, additional health, and Moons. With death being nothing more than a minor inconvenience in modern Mario games, this was a welcomed evolution.

Minor quibbles aside, Super Mario Odyssey will live on as one of the great games of 2017. Every time I picked up the game, I found something fun to do. I even found myself humming a few of the game’s excellent tracks to myself already. It’s a celebration of all things Mario and while it didn’t dislodge Super Mario Galaxy from top spot, there’s still a ton of fun to be had here.

Verdict
I love it

Ratings Guide

Checkpoint: Resurgence Edition

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The Game Awards have improved dramatically. So much so that I am considering watching more of it next year. I caught a very brief glimpse of it and I was impressed with presentation and production; it actually resembled a normal awards show. Congratulations to Geoff Keighley.

The two announcements that were of note to me SoulCalibur VI and Bayonetta 3. I hear SCVI is channeling the original Dreamcast release which is something that tickles my fancy. As far as Namco fighters are concerned, I have a stronger affinity towards this sword swinging fighter than the King of Iron Fist Tournament. Bayonetta 3 is coming out exclusively for the Nintendo Switch. It’s truly amazing to see Nintendo go out and just grab this former multiplatform character action game and treat it like one of their own.

I will undoubtedly pick up the third installment but what about the upcoming Switch re-releases? I very much enjoy the idea of having the entire trilogy on one platform – especially if they all run at a near faultless 60 FPS. If I end up picking up Bayonetta 1+2 again, this would be the third copy of Bayonetta 1 that I own and the second copy of 2. Who am I kidding? If Bayonetta 2 ends up being a superior version of the Wii U exclusive, I think I’ll just pull the trigger and pick both up.

Capcom is on the upswing with a handful of announcements that’s slowly restoring my faith in the company. They’re making Mega Man 11 and it doesn’t look like a pure nostalgia grab like the 9 and 10. It looks a bit weird at first glance but I am warming up to the chosen art style. They’re also re-releasing all the Mega Man X titles on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Switch. I love the idea of owning all the X games on the Switch. If it’s a quality port, I might just pick it up there.

The same can be said for the 30th Anniversary Collection of Street Fighter which includes arcade ports of 12 Street Fighter games excluding IV and V. I understand not including Street Fighter V but what about IV? I would even pay closer to $79.99 for a version with that game included.

And finally, Street Fighter V actually piqued my interest this past Sunday with the reveal of the third season’s cinematic opener. Sakura, Blanka, Cody, and Sagat make their return and Capcom looks to be injecting some serious effort into the single player portion of the game. I don’t know if I would go as far as to buy this game again but I’m happy to see Capcom still trying with it.

I am still marching towards full completion of Super Mario Odyssey. By and large, I am enjoying the hell out of Super Mario Odyssey; there’s a lot to love but I am losing steam collecting Moons. Huge swathes of the moons feel like tedious collectibles like feathers in Assassin’s Creed. But for every frivoulous Moon, there’s a charming or clever one that makes it worthwhile. I think I’m ready to write up my review of it.

I started Uncharted: The Lost Legacy last week and it’s a bit of an eye opener. Going from playing Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to playing Uncharted highlights some glaring communication issues with Naughty Dog’s otherwise excellent game. Uncharted (and games in general) speak their own languages and despite years of playing Uncharted, I still mess up and drop to my death on occasion. My girlfriend asked: “How do you know where to go?” and I had to explain the subtle cues and other signposts that a hyper detailed game like Uncharted uses to her. It takes time to learn and adjust to the way games like this communicate but once you do, games like this become a cake walk.

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