Friday, June 5, 2009

E3 '09 Announcements

Quite an exciting E3 this year, and it's just in time, because, with no new Metal Gear or Resident Evil to look forward to, my "anticipated games" list was looking pretty lean. There were still big titles like Final Fantasy XIII, Heavy Rain, and God of War III on the schedule, but, for me, the only must-play was Bayonetta.

The biggest actual news may have been on the hardware side. With Microsoft and Sony both taking up the motion control gauntlet, we may be on the cusp of that major shift in gaming first heralded by the Wii. At the very least, it would seem to signify a new phase for this hardware generation.

At the complete opposite end of the spectrum from Activision's insane peripheral-filled future, Microsoft's controller-free 3-D motion camera technology sounds extremely ambitious, but I'll need to see some real games before I get too excited. The "sleek" video reel looked like any old EyeToy commercial, and the less said about Peter Molyneaux's creepy boy version of a Nintendog, the better.

Nowhere near as sci-fi as Microsoft's promises, Sony's wand looks like a cheap toy by comparison. It's basically EyeToy crossed with Wii MotionPlus. Sony's live demonstration was at least more convincing than Microsoft's pre-recorded video, but they were still basically showing off lame EyeToy demos for the casual crowd.

New 2-D Mario! On console! Four players! To be honest, I think I've played more Mario Party titles than straight Mario platformers in the last ten years, but I'll definitely be getting this. It first of all reminds me of The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures, one of my favorite cooperative games of all time. Not only that, but the deeper I got into multiplayer LittleBigPlanet, the more I wondered how much better a four-player Mario game would have been. Now if only they'd gone ahead and called it "Super Mario Bros. 4"...

Nearly as cool is a brand new Metroid developed by the post-Itagaki Team Ninja. As may be expected from the Ninja Gaiden Sigma team, the trailer is full of frenetic action, but there is some concern that it might lose the traditional adventure elements. Still, it's a fresh take on a series that has shown remarkable flexibility in recent years. Between this, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles, and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers, this is the most excited I've been about the Wii since it launched.

Final Fantasy XIV! Aaaaaand it's a MMORPG. Worst. Megaton. Ever.

Team ICO finally unveils its next project, The Last Guardian, although the reveal was ruined by the recently leaked "Project Trico" video. Though the leaked footage was supposed to be old and outdated, the debut trailer is just a cleaned up version of the same material. It looks a lot like ICO and Shadow of the Colossus. Not altogether surprising right now, but it'll probably still end up becoming the PS3's greatest game.

Speaking of which, given how well Guns of the Patriots wrapped things up, I had kind of been hoping that the next Metal Gear might wipe the slate clean, and, as much as I personally reveled in Kojima's peculiarities, there was unquestionably a lot of room for cleaning up. I had pictured a reboot a la the new Star Trek movie--something that would adapt the rough characters and concepts without being chained to Kojima's polarizing style. But then I considered that a reboot would be too easy. In Solid Snake, Kojima gave us a hero that actually aged, and, even if that character is done, it may be worth keeping that universe alive to continue pushing both its creators and its audience in new directions. Thus, although Solid Snake's story may be over, Raiden will be taking over on console, while Big Boss is back on the PSP.

Sadly, no show-stealing trailer this time for Metal Gear Solid: Rising. The only notable news right now is that it's going to be cross-platform. Funny, however, that it was announced during Microsoft's press conference, but was a no-show at Sony's, even though it's supposed to be coming out on both 360 and PS3. It's crazy that, in this age of such catalog parity, Microsoft and Sony must compete for exclusive presentations of non-exclusive titles.

Surely the more imminent release, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker was the one shown off this E3. As always with Kojima Productions, it's a spectacularly produced trailer, but the game itself is obviously not as exciting as a full-fledged console Metal Gear. I also wonder how consequential this "missing link" story will feel, after Guns of the Patriots gave us a pretty complete picture of Big Boss's entire character arc. On the other hand, I would really like to hear another side of that story...

For me, the most exciting reveal of the show by far was Konami's Lords of Shadow. Based just on the snippets from the trailer, which I've watched about a dozen times, it already looks like a top-tier Devil May Cry clone. Add in the Castlevania name and Hideo Kojima's involvement, however, and this instantly shoots ahead of Bayonetta as my most anticipated title.

Coming from Madrid-based MercurySteam, in association with Kojima Productions, this should be the game to finally restore the series to relevance and establish it alongside Metal Gear as a premier property for Konami. The budget is clearly far beyond any previous installment, and, while it's still early, the production looks to be up there with the best in the genre, including Bayonetta and God of War III. This is hardly Patrick Stewart's first video game work, but his narration nonetheless lends the trailer a level of class well above the admittedly juvenile tones of Devil May Cry, Ninja Gaiden, and Bayonetta. The video exhibits a dramatic maturity beyond those games or any previous Castlevania titles.

This may be the biggest Castlevania since Symphony of the Night. But is it really Castlevania? Metroid: Other M looks to be treading unfamiliar territory for that series, but this is even further removed from everything we know about Castlevania. Indeed, Lords of Shadow was actually already shown last year as a new IP for Konami, and it feels like the Castlevania branding was a very recent addition to the project. I mean, literally, it's as if they already had the trailer done, and, then, at the last minute, they went back and simply slapped the Castlevania name on the logo. Aside from the broadly similar Gothic milieu, the only thing linking Lords of Shadow to past games is the whip, granted that's a significant detail. There are no sub-weapons to be seen, no platforming, no Ayami Kojima art or Michiru Yamane music. The trailer makes no mention even of Dracula or other vampires. I'm willing to accept a break from most of those things, because, honestly, I don't think the old Castlevania universe had any potential left for an A-list production.

The big question raised, of course, is where this leaves Koji Igarashi and the new Alucard game teased less than a year ago. On IGA's watch, Castlevania was one of Konami's more prolific and reliable franchises, but it seemed to have plateaued as a 2-D game relegated to handhelds, while the series struggled any time it tried to extend onto console, Castlevania Judgment being a particular low point. Still, everybody loves IGA, and I personally own copies of all his Castlevania titles, including Judgment. Though eccentric in appearance, he's always struck me as the most affable of the Japanese industry personalities. I would hate to see him go the way of Team Silent, unceremoniously replaced by an outside studio. If Square-Enix can have five different teams developing Final Fantasy, I don't see why there can't be two Castlevania series running at the same time, and that's what I'm hoping is going on. Maybe IGA will continue old Castlevania as the "Dracula" series.


Czardoz said...

The most (only?) astonishing thing about that X-Men Legends II commercial is that Patrick Stewart actually voices the dummy text at the end, "Rated T for Teen, now with online gameplay." Generally, we hear the celebrity voice the narrative portion, with a generic, speedy voice subbing in the disclaimers/technicalese.

Sam Kahn said...

The thought that struck me while I was watching the Metroid: The Other M trailer it is that the game looks like what a cheesy Hollywood movie adaptation of Metroid might be like. I'm not sure if I like this.

Thumbs up to Nintendo addressing the lack of games for their hardcore gamer fans. Thumbs down to Team Ninja potentially taking a shit all over Metroid's signature action and (more importantly) its tone.

E3 was definitely a great show this year, though. I actually had the opportunity to go this year and it was a blast.

Czardoz said...

Yes! The new Metroid looks awesome! This is the game I've been waiting for. Metroid as a 3rd-person 3-D game. Actually getting to see Samus kick ass!

Metroid, in my opinion, was the best and certainly most innovative of the Gamecube renditions of Nintendo's Big 3: Mario, Zelda, Metroid. Can this franchise reinvent itself again? Let's hope Team Ninja knows what it's doing. Nintendo was right about Retro Studios, so I feel good about this. I wonder why they didn't go with Retro again, but I suspect Retro would have hewed too closely to what they knew.

New meat, baby!