The Nintendo-show 2010

June 16, 2010

The big three´s press conferences are over. Time for reflecting on what new they brought to the table. But, actually, who am I kidding, let´s jump straight  into the most important game being shown:

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was revealed. That´s the full title of the new Zelda-game for Wii. When Shigeru Miyamoto presented it live on stage, there seemed to be control issues, but as later reports seem to prove, those issues were due to all the light sources in the audience, so not something that will be a problem for anyone playing at home. But let me tell you that I´m disappointed overall. The graphics are what grabs your attention first when seeing that game, and it´s a weird mixture of good and bad design. Link looks fantastic. This is the perfect Link-design as far as I´m concerned. What´s really great, too, is how the game uses some kind of light cel-shading, very similar to the cutscenes of Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn. Basically, this is The Wind Waker mixed with Twilight Princess, and it´s glorious. But then there´s also the bad. First of all, the new Moblins (I assume these are the new Moblins) look horrible from a pure design point of view. They have ugly, round noses as if they were from a Bugs Bunny-cartoon. And while defending themselves not too bad, they have such short legs that it looks weird how they walk or “run”.  Secondly, I hate the environment. Don´t get me wrong, if you see a screenshot and just judge the visuals from that, it looks good. But I´m looking at the environment from a gameplay perspective. And what I see are non-interactive trees and, the worst of it all, artificial walls that encircle the whole area and that, most likely, can´t be climbed upon. The area in this E3-demo is supposed to be a forest, but it doesn´t feel like one. It feels like a forced playground, not a natural one. And when you see a big mountain in the far in one of the videos that is a perfect cone, it looks like a dumbed down game-world.  So that´s really disappointing so far, but, of course, we only know that one, small area, and I have to give Zelda the benefit of doubt.

What was really cool and a positive surprise were the controls. My personal favorite: Link can now run! Or dash, or whatever you call it. By holding down the A-button, Link will run faster. It seems you can also run up walls and jump out of running, but I haven´t seen that myself, yet. The most important aspect of controls is, however, the sword. And really, they seem to use Wii Sports Resort-controls here. I´d say that there´s an intentional lag when you swing your sword, so it´s not totally as 1:1 as WSR´s sword-controls, but it´s good enough. And when you don´t swing too quickly, the sword really follows your own movement. Enemy-behavior seems to be built around this new feature, so now you have to find openings and slash vertically, horizontally or diagonally, depending on the enemy´s defense stance. The coolest addition to the sword´s skills: By holding up the sword, you can charge it. If you swing it now, it´ll send out a small energy wave that can cut grass. Great! But the sword isn´t the only item that got improvements. Bombs can now be thrown in two different ways, either like usual or you can roll them, much like a bowling ball. Also, there´s a mark that helps aiming bomb throws. The sling shot is back, too, and can be activated simply by pointing at the screen, not item change needed. Speaking of item change, you now simply press a button, draw the wiimote towards an item that´s shown in a ring-menu, and you have it activated. No slow pause-menu anymore. There also have been two brand new items. The whip lets you cut grass and grab items from enemies. Looks really smooth and can be controlled by doing natural movements with the wiimote. The best item, however, is the beetle. This is really like a spy toy. Link sends out a flying beetle. You will then play from the perspective of that beetle, controlling him by tilting the wiimote. Not only is that great for exploration, but the beetle can also grabs items from the ground. One video shows how you grab a bomb and then fly it to a stone wall, making it explode. The one implementation of controls the surprised me the most, though, was the bow and arrow. They really dared to include WSR´s archery controls here, or something close to it. With all my negativity about the environment and some of the enemies above, I´m really excited to see how that changes the game flow. Afterall, that means you cannot quickly shoot an arrow anymore. You have to strategize.

In the roundtable later that day Miyamoto told some more details about The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. It seems that Link is living on a floating island and will have to travel to a land below, because that land on the ground is befallen of evil.  The sword you saw is indeed the Master Sword. The game is in its final development stage, so it´s doubtful how much of my personal gripes will be addressed. At least it seems that there´s going to be orchestrated music, though Miyamoto didn´t say it clearly. To come to an end with the new Zelda, I´m sure it´ll be a great game. But I also fear that it might be more of the same, rather than the break up that the Zelda-series needed. Putting boss-enemies like that scorpion in the demo on the overworld is nice, but it´s not “shaking up the structure” of Zelda-games. And I really hope that the environments in the final game aren´t as artificial and constructed as in this demo. It looks a lot like Super Mario Galaxy, and while that´s okay for an abstract Mario-game, I want something different from a Zelda-game. Which is a natural, believable, lively world. But that´s not something I or anyone else knows about right now, so for the time being, I´m happy about the controls and movement-enhancements and look forward to seeing more about the world of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

The other Wii-game that now has my full attention is Disney´s Epic Mickey. Warren Spector himself talked about the game on-stage and showed the game. I have yet to find out how long the game is supposed to be and how big the realm of personal choice actually is, but what was shown looked great. The thinner-ability especially. Erasing parts of a level, creating new parts at another spot looked fabulous. And the highlight was when Mickey entered a so-called bridge-zone. Those zones are used to travel from one area to another. In the case of this presentation you had to guide Mickey along a 2D-platforming sequence that looked perfectly like the Walt Disney-classic Steamboat Willy. So even if the 3D-portions of the game wouldn´t be that good, the 2D-portions would easily make up for it. The E3-presentation focused on showing basic gameplay-mechanics, so we don´t know yet how exactly the evolution of Mickey between hero and mischievous mouse works. There is also a story-trailer that was released later on that showed prerendered scenes, introducing the story of the game.

The visual highlight for Wii, however, was Kirby´s Epic Yarn. Yeah, Nintendo finally showed a Kirby-game for Wii! The game uses a very weird look, where everything is made of lines/threads. Kirby can interact with the world, resulting in even more strange effects. Really has to be seen to be appreciated as much as this game deserves.

And that´s it for the Wii. Well, at least for what is worth to me. One of, if not the, biggest disappointments was Donkey Kong Country Returns for Wii. The game itself is fine, it´s classic Donkey Kong-platforming, fans will love it. But why does anybody need RetroStudious for developing such a game?! This game looks so standard-Donkey Kong, nothing has been influenced by RetroStudios. Nintendo could have had this game developed by anyone and it´d have been the same. But instead, they chose RetroStudious, who are famous for their incredible 3D-level design, and have them make a 2D-platformer. This simply sucks. A lot. Really hope that RetroStudios have been working on another game. Oh well.

The dominating factor of Nintendo´s press-conference 2010, though, was the 3DS. And it rocks. We don´t know yet all of the details about Nintendo´s new handheld. What it´ll cost, what the menu-structure will be like, what battery life is like and so on. But what we know sounds and looks great. For many gamers the most important thing: Graphics are fine, about GameCube-level, maybe a bit worse. But well enough for a handheld. I can already see myself spending most of my gaming time in the future with the 3DS instead if my Wii and 360. To allow for ideal controls, the 3DS features an analog-stick similar to the PSP´s, but initial impressions are that it´s a lot better than that one. As could have been predicted, only the top screen is 3D-capable, while the bottom screen remains a touchscreen. The size of the touchscreen is the same of the current DS, but has a slightly higher resolution. The top screen is in 16:9 format and features the same vertical resolution of 240 pixels like the bottom screen, but has 800 pixels in width, which will be devided by two to 400 pixels due to 3D. So one image for each of your eyes. And that 3D-effect appears to be phenomenal. As was predicted, it´s not 3D that pops out of the screen, but rather 3D that gives the screen depth, letting you “look inside the screen”. Something I really wanted also became reality: Nintendo works together with certain studios to bring 3D-hollywood movies to the 3DS. It remains to be seen how you get to see these movies. Buying movies on cartridges would suck, but we shouldn´t rule out that possibility. That´s it for the 3DS-hardware.

Kid Icarus is back! Nintendo finally did it and show a new Kid Icarus-game for 3DS. The full title is Kid Icarus: Uprising and is kind of a shoot’em up with hack’n slay-scenes. Very reminiscent of Sin and Punishment. Not my cup of beer in terms of gameplay, but it´s really nice to see Nintendo finally give the fans what they wanted. And they´re using Pit´s great model from Super Smash Bros. Brawl, too. Not to mention that the graphics will be really nice looking on a portable.

That was, however, but one of a ton of incredible announcements for the 3DS. Nintendo really has all third-parties´ support on this little system. Tecmo is developing Dead or Alive 3D, a franchise that never before was released on a Nintendo-system. Capcom works on a new Resident Evil-game and Konami has Metal Gear Solid 3DS in the works. Then there´s Splinter Cell from Ubisoft as well as an Assassin´s Creed-title. Square Enix has a new Kingdom Hearts-game and an untitled Final Fantasy-game in development. And many, many more. And now you´re asking how Nintendo can top this all? Not necessarily by releasing Animal Crossing 3DS, which looks like another cheap cash-in, but by developing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3DS. Not just a port, but a remake that will be visually enhanced and even be improved in terms of gameplay. For example, Eiji Aonuma mentioned how changing the boots in the water temple will be a lot quicker in this version of Ocarina of Time.

That´s it for Nintendo. Normally, I´d go on to talk about the other two, Microsoft and Sony, too, but their conferences were terrible. Sony´s was a bunch of already known games and some hardly convincing Move-games, while Microsoft did what Nintendo did in 2008. I guess Halo Reach could be interesting. Unfortunately, no mentioning of Mass Effect 3.

To conclude, this was one of the best E3s in years, if you like games that are not HD. As disappointed as I am with Zelda: Skyward Sword, I´m sure that next time we see it, it´ll look much more interesting. And with an Ocarina of Time-remake in the works, I´m on the safe side anyways. What´s most surprising, though, is that I´m totally excited about a lot of third party-games for 3DS. It´ll be so nice to play games with GameCube-like visuals on such a small handheld, and I can´t wait to play Dead or Alive 3D or Final Fantasy on that system. My only doubtful hope now remains that the 3DS supports music-and video playback off an SD-card. If that becomes reality, the 3DS will be the perfect handheld. Ah, who am I kidding? It most likey already is.

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The Calm before E³ 2010 – Crazy Prediction Time

April 23, 2010

Another year passed by, and the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2010 is approaching quickly. From June 15th to 17th, we´ll get this year´s biggest, cumulative media blowout, with conferences supposedly taking place starting with June 13th. While sporting a bunch of interesting titles nonetheless, the past couple of E³s have been lacking. These expos never fail to gather a lot of hype, but rarely is that hype justified. E³ 2010 ramps up to be different – or to be its old self, for that matter. Remember E³ 2004, when Nintendo revealed Twilight Princess? Yeah, it´s going to be that kind of E³! Like last year, I´m focusing on predictions and expectations regarding Nintendo, as the two competitors simply don´t interest me that much. That´s more fair than making up stuff. So, let´s start with the FlyingFisch´s predictions of E³ 2010!

Fanboy´s favorite: Nintendo


Nintendo hat a pretty damn good start in 2010, with games like Silent Hill: Shattered Memories or the now released Monster Hunter Tri. Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Metroid: Other M are underway, too, so a good first half of the year is well covered with games. So what´s being released in the latter half of 2010? Despite the higher amount of great games compared to 2009, it kind of feels as if third-parties stopped trying. There´s only one third-party title I´m going to mention…maybe another one, though that one´s more likely to be revealed at Tokyo Game Show.

We´ll definitely see Warren Spector´s Epic Mickey. The dark, adventurous platformer, starring the new Mickey-design, will get a lot of focus at its publishers booth. I´d say it´s safe to assume that not only will there be videos, but it´ll be playable. As far as as I know, it´s supposed to be released at the end of the year, so now´s the time to start the Mickey-hype machine. First screenshots were pretty disappointing, but everything you read about the game sounds just so promising. We´ll see how that one turns out. The other high-quality third-party game that might be shown, but, most likely won´t, is Dragon Quest 10. I don´t have to explain how this is the biggest traditional JRPG-franchise in Japan. Which is exactly why it´s more likely to be shown at this year´s Tokyo Game Show (if at all). Considering that Dragon Quest 9 for Nintendo DS will be released in the US and Europe this July, it also wouldn´t make too much sense to announce the next instance of the series now. There´s a really slim off-chance, but I´d rather bet money on some of the upcoming crazy predictions than DQ10 being shown at E³ 2010.

Which leads us to Nintendo´s first-party offerings. Honestly, I don´t know what other awesome stuff I should predict, when we already know of the two most important things of this year´s E³: Zelda Wii and the Nintendo 3DS. Really, just rename “E³ 2010” into “Zelda 2010”. It´s going to be all about Zelda Wii. Sure, I´m personally hyped, but you´d be a fool to deny how much weight, how much importance rests on this game´s shoulders. It´s kind of staggering and hard to believe just how little we know about the new Zelda. Which is…nothing. There´s an artwork we got at last year´s E³, but that´s it. We know that it´ll use MotionPlus, and Eiji Aonuma talked about introducing a new overall structure of the game, which could mean a lot of things. There´s basically three options for Zelda Wii: 1.) Devolving into some kind of Phantom Hourglass/Spirit Tracks-like game, featuring top-down camera-angle and wiimote pointer-based controls, 2.) yet another Ocarina of Time-like Zelda, like Twilight Princess, or 3.) a truly new, fresh adventure-experience, that finally manages to jump out of Ocarina of Time´s shadow and become its own classic, impacting the future gaming industry again. I fear for 1, hope for 3, but believe we´ll get 2. Which will be disappointing, too, but at least nothing too bad. Then again, I think Zelda Wii is going to be the definitive experience of the next 10 years to come. That´s what it should become. But there´s so much stuff that Zelda Wii “should” do, it´s hard to believe that Nintendo´s going to be able to get it all right. But no matter if they fail or not, Zelda Wii is THE game of E³ 2010.

And when there´s a game of E³, there also has to be a hardware of E³ 2010. There are only two contenders, but if we go by historic importance, then Nintendo wins this one, too. This will be the first time when Nintendo´s going to show the Nintendo 3DS in public, and probably lets E³-visitors get their hands on the true DS-successor. We know that it has some kind of 3D-capabilities and that the screen size will be smaller than 4″. Rumors have it that the 3DS will feature GameCube-like graphics, but that was never confirmed. Even though that much should be possible in 2010, it´s silly to take it for granted. But I can understand that the thought of a portable version of The Wind Waker in 3D sounds daring. Yeah, if Nintendo continues their tradition of remaking an older game for a new hardware´s launch, I´d want that one to be TWW. But let´s see what the 3DS really will be like. It´s supposed to be backwards-compatible to the DS, so some kind of 2-screen-design is obvious. But there´s a lot of possibilities within that frame. Another hardware that´s likely to be shown is the Vitality sensor. But I have no idea how that one´s coming into play.

And then there´s the two Nintendo-funded JRPGs, Xenoblade and The Last Story. While the former looks promising, even though graphically not too special, it is The Last Story that might surprise a lot of gamers. Seemingly, Hironobu Sakaguchi is behind that game, and it´s him as well as the known artworks that make it appear as if this is meant to be a Final Fantasy-competitor. But, again, we have no idea about the game, except for some vague combat-system details. In the end, a high-profile JRPG should also look high-profile, so what many gamers ask themselves, is: What is The Last Story going to look like? Personally, I´d love to see a gorgeous cel-shading style featured, similar to TWW´s. Just have it more detailed. But I won´t complain about a good-looking realistic game. Just make sure it looks “round”. Xenoblade suffers from that.

So, prediction time, eh? With Zelda Wii dominating the Wii´s lineup, there´s not much that could impress equally. But if we assume that Nintendo finally figured out how to use motion controls in a singleplayer-adventure to its fullest, it has to be another MotionPlus-game. Three games would greatly fit that new control-style. First one is Kid Icarus. Yeah, a popular, recurring speculation, but with his bow and arrow, Pit is a perfect match for MotionPlus. Imagine a platformer that closer to Zelda than Mario, and you have it. Another franchise I really want to see anew is the StarFox-series. I´d go against the serie´s arcade-feeling, but I finally want a flight-game that uses the wiimote (and motionplus) as if you´re holding a flight stick. It would control like the flight-game from Wii Sports Resort, but you´d be holding the wiimote vertically instead of horizontally.  The last fitting game is a crazy wish that I had last year, too. Give me a Berserk-game (great anime/manga). Have it use MotionPlus for Gut´s sword strikes. Have it be a mixture of Zelda and Monster Hunter. Have it sport gorgeous cel-shading. And thus, attempt at making me forget Zelda Wii. Ha!

A new hardware obviously needs some new games. Surely, the 3DS will get its own version of Wario Ware. And there´ll be a remake/port of an older title, which I want to be The Wind Waker. But what for new games? We haven´t heard of RetroStudios in quite a while. We should hear from them at this year´s E³. With Zelda getting all the spotlight on the Wii, I cannot imagine that they´d like to start a fight there. Instead, I believe they´re working an the 3DS first killer-app. If the GameCube-level graphics rumors are correct, it would grant RetroStudios a well-known developing environment. There, I expect to see Metroid Prime 4 exclusively for the 3DS. I´d prefer a Metroid-game that continues the story after Fusion, though. There´s also going to be Pokemon Black and White. I´m pretty disappointed by how small the visual upgrade from the last games came out to be, but maybe we´ll get 3DS-support at the least. If not canceled, Golden Sun DS will be fully covered, as well.  Depending on how the 3D works, I also believe that Nintendo will introduce a movie-watching ability for the 3DS, starting with James Cameron´s Avatar. It´d be just too perfect of a marketing move.

As I told you initially, predicting is hard when we know of the best stuff already. Maybe there´ll be Pikmin 3, a new F-Zero-game, some WiiFit-like title. Capcom might finally port Resident Evil 5 to the Wii. Perhaps, Konami makes Zone of the Enders 3 for Wii. And how about a real home console-Pokemon? The heck, I could even imagine that Nintendo´s showing or at least talking about the Wii´s successor, even though there´s the 3DS. If Zelda remains a 2010-release, as well as all the other games, Nintendo won´t have any games for Wii except for Dragon Quest 10 somewhere down the road. We have had two Mario-games by then, another Zelda-game won´t be finished that quickly. And there´s nothing else that can fill the hunger for big, epic, adventurous games like these two. Or, even more crazy, maybe the 3DS is much more important than everyone thought until now. Maybe the 3DS marks Nintendo´s future business, being a hybrid handheld-home console. We know that 3D needs more power, so how about GameCube/Wii-level graphics when you´re not at home, and when plugging the 3DS into the TV, you´ll be able to play HD-quality games, a Wiimote connecting via bluetooth. Who knows. E³ 2010 is looking like it´s going to a Nintendo-show. But when there´s a lot of promise, there´s also a lot potential for disappointment.

Microsoft´s effort-machine


There are two things that highly interest me on the Xbox 360. One is Natal. And no, I´m not interested in that one because of controls. I believe that completely hand-free controls don´t feel good. After all, I had EyeToy, and you just need something in your hands. But I´m totally interested in A.I.-focused games, so that´s Milo for me. Of course, it´s Peter Molyneux. That means: Lots of awesome sounding announcements, lots of terrible shortcomings. But what the showed with Milo last year was…revolutionary. I´d like to see two “games” for Natal. One being a pure A.I.-based simulation-game. Maybe replace Milo with a girl, too, so a nerd can learn how to socialize. As for the second game, create a RPG that makes use of Milo-like interaction. That´s where I see the possibility for a revolution regarding Natal. You´re still using the 360-controller, but all the communication-part of the game is done by yourself. If Microsoft and Molyneux manage to do that, they´ll have their own killer-ap. A game I´d also love to see some first bits and pieces of is BioWare´s Mass Effect 3. I haven´t followed the developer´s recent news-announcements, so if they already said there would be no ME3, too bad. But this third and final part of the Mass Effect-saga is hyped-worthy, no matter when they decide to show it. On the note of surprises, maybe Microsoft finally got their hands on a Metal Gear Solid 4-port.

The Third Place: Sony

I´m (not) sorry, but i just don´t care.

Conclusion:

Phew…E³, eh? The true christmas of every gamer. No better time in the year. I think every gamer, no matter what you´re a fan of, will see a lot of great stuff. Aside from all the stuff I already talked about, it´ll be most interesting to see gamers´ and developers´ reaction on the 3DS. Will Sony announce a new handheld to counter Nintendo? Will the 3DS be too freaky for a lot of developers? Or is it going to be a much more important hardware than “just” the next handheld of Nintendo? Time will tell. But predictions are big part of each year´s E³, so let´s see how much of the above turns out true. Just one advice for next year: Please, Nintendo, don´t spoil all the fun by announcing the two biggest things beforehand. Where´s the fun in predicting a new Kirby-game when you already know of ZELDA being shown. Not that I blame you.


Epic Mickey – Bring back childhood memories

October 7, 2009

7558.epicmickey-cover

Few days ago it was finally revealed which platform Epic Mickey will be released for. It´s going to be a Wii-exclusive title. The game produced by Warren Spector, his team and Disney Interactive brings up a lot of hopes. The story of the game is as follows: Oswald the Rabbit wants revenge. Revenge for having been forgotten, while Mickey Mouse conquered the hearts of all of us all over the world. To achieve his plans he hires the Phantom Blot, who is supposed to erase all Disney-worlds. It is Mickey´s job to bring back peace to the world.

oswald_the_lucky_rabbit_study2

First gameplay bits tell that you will use the Wiimote pointer for drawing and scribbling your way through various levels, repairing broken bridges by using the right color or looking through walls by using a thinner on them. Mickey´s design is supposed to be quite classic, that´s why his face hasn´t been shown so far.

Phanblot

What got me hyped most personally, is the fact that the Phantom Blot (or “Schwarzes Phantom” in German) is part of the game. Remembering old stories I read as a kid, the Phantom Blot was often part of the more serious, more exciting stories of the Disney-portfolio. And who know´s what other classic Disney-characters might make an appearance in this game. All those details about Epic Mickey got me motivated to restart my Disney-fan engines. First thing I did after the above announcement was to grab one of my over 200 “Lustige Taschenbücher” and read it. And I think I´ll re-read them all. Also ordered the Don Rosa-book that features the whole Dagobert Duck (in English: Scrooge McDuck)-Story. Fun times ahead. AND to top it all, I consider getting back into collecting the remaining “Lustige Taschenbücher” that I´m missing. Thanks, Warren Spector, for getting me back into Disney (and thus losing a lot of money 😦 )