The Games Guru travels to the 2011 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, Calif., to report on the latest and greatest that’s happening in the gaming world.
BOYS’ LIFE BEST OF E3
Here are the Games Guru’s picks for the best stuff to be found at the 2011 E3 gaming conference.
Game of the Show: Batman: Arkham City (WBIE)
There’s just so much here. You seem to be able to travel anywhere in Gotham City to get the many bad guys in this big, big story. In my demo, I tracked down the Riddler in a game full of action and intrigue. You can even grapple a helicopter to take you around the city and get an amazing view.
Most Promising Cross Platform Game: Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure (Activision)
It’s a toy. It’s a game. And it brings you back to the world of Spyro the Dragon. The package is a big one. It comes with the game, three action figures, a poster and the power platform that lights up. You can play it on just about any game machine, too. The 32 collectible action figures are so detailed and the game world is so compelling, can a movie be far behind?
Most Promising Movie to Game: The Adventures of Tin Tin: The Secret of the Unicorn (Ubisoft)
This adventure game is so big that Steven Spielberg, the winter movie’s director, made a video to extol its virtues at E3. But Tin Tin is a charming game about a boy reporter that’s full of action on the high seas, in the air on a plane and through the desert on a motorcycle.
Best Comeback: Rayman Origins (Ubisoft)
This Rayman game is so much more than a platformer. And what a magical, inventive game it is. It starts off easy, then gets harder and harder. Do you have what it takes to beat it? You will if you play co-op with your pals.
Most Promising Kooky Sports Game: Sonic and Mario at the London 2012 Olympics (Sega)
The fantasy games make this cool. For instance, you don’t throw the discus. You ride on it and collect golden rings. And who doesn’t like Sonic and Mario characters together in one game?
Best Downloadable Game, PlayStation Network: Journey (Sony)
Journey is an amazing experiment. There’s no dialog at all. But the desert world is beautiful, and the mystery you encounter as you slide along the desert sand is compelling. Finally, the music is otherworldly. Just one brilliant game.
Best Downloadable Game, Xbox Live: Bastion (WBIE)
Oh, man, is this a game I didn’t want to stop playing. It’s part platformer, part RPG and all personality. The funny comic-book-type narration is cool enough to make the price of admission worthwhile. But really, it’s the 20 or more hours of gameplay that make Bastion a bargain.
Most Promising 3DS Game (Nintendo): Luigi’s Mansion 2
I love Halloween games, and this will be full of spooky thrills. It’s always great to see Luigi get some props because Mario always steals the show. Go, Luigi!
Biggest Question Mark: Wii U (Nintendo)
When the Wii premiered, everyone got the idea without having an explanation. Plus, Nintendo needed a new console because the GameCube was so old school. Wii U is like an iPad as a controller with a Wii base. But why should we want it as a replacement? One reason is that games will be HD. But exactly why is it cool? Nintendo needs to explain that.
Most Promising Kinect Game: Kinect Disneyland Adventures (Disney Interactive)
If you ever wanted to meet the great Disney characters, play games with them and hang at Disneyland, this disk will immerse you in that world. It’ll be great to fly like Peter Pan!
Most Promising Peripheral for Kinect: Nyko Zoom
It’s simple. It lets you stand closer to the Kinect if you don’t have a lot of space. Everyone with a small living room will be so happy.
Most Promising Quirky Cool Game: James Noir’s Hollywood Crimes (Ubisoft)
This game was so hidden at E3, I had to search for it like an Easter egg hunt. The idea is brilliant. Combine a detective story with a game show with fun puzzles to solve, and you have the quirkiest game at E3. This one really should have been given more space to shine.
Coolest Celebrity Appearance: Dwight Howard
Sure, there were tons of celebrities at E3. But Orlando Magic superstar Dwight Howard stole the show by being humble and gracious when he promoted an upcoming exercise game for THQ called MiCoach. The sports world needs more honest people like Dwight.
DAY 3: GAMES GALORE
On the convention floor at E3, there are so many thousands of people, you sometimes think it’s New York City at rush hour. And what a rush it is. Everyone’s hurrying to get from one booth to the other to check out as many games as they can.
And you have people paid to dress up in all sorts of costumes at the booths, everyone from Harley Quinn for Batman: Arkham City (which is going to be an awesome game with lots for the Caped Crusader to do) to a very blue Sonic to everyone’s favorite plumber, Mario.
Phineas & Ferb
As the afternoon approached, I saw a huge line outside the Disney booth. Signing autographs were the creators of the TV’s wackiest and most popular cartoon series, “Phineas & Ferb.” I spoke with Dan Povenire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh, who are really excited about their new movie and game, “Phineas & Ferb: Across the 2nd Dimension.” (There will be more “Phineas & Ferb” news in BL soon.)
Activision isn’t forgetting kids this year. They’re offering up a bold experience that combines the Spyro the Dragon universe with cool, detailed action figures. Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure asks you to put, say, a small figure of Spyro on a lighted platform that connects to your console. Place the toy on the console and press down. Magically, it’s transported into a colorful world of wonder, one full of battles and kooky characters.
But there’s more. Say you have an Xbox 360 and your pal has a Wii. Your action figure stores your saved game. Then, you can take your figure to your pal’s power platform to play at his house. Pretty cool – especially because there are dozens of figures to collect, each with special powers in the game.
Journey and Bastion
While you already heard about Sony’s press conference, inside their mammoth booth was a strange adventure game that was also relaxing to play. Journey for the PlayStation Network is made by the same company that gave you Flow and Flower. This time, the experience takes place in a mysterious desert. You move through the barren areas, sliding on the sand and flying over the landscape to investigate ancient structures that have a key to an odd mystery.
Another small but amazing game is called Bastion. It’s a platformer with role-playing elements that wins because of its comic book-like and very humorous narrator. He’s got this big, booming voice, full of personality.
LEGO and Zoom
LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5–7 takes on the darker elements of the famous book and movie series. But they’ve kept the game light by adding doses of humor to some of the sadder and creepier portions of the story. Like Years 1–4, it’s going to rock.
If your living room is small or just has a lot of stuff in it, Nyko has a pretty amazing idea for Kinect. Zoom is a plastic magnifier that fits over Kinect. It lets you cut the space you need to play by 40 percent. It’s a really useful idea.
While this isn’t the most exciting E3 I’ve ever been to, it’s been a strong one with lots of important news and some truly imaginative games.
DAY 2: NINTENDO NEWS
The lights went out and it was all Zelda. The big Nintendo press conference at E3 didn’t begin with a speech or statistics about how well the Wii is doing. It began with a full orchestra and a powerful choir — all doing Legend of Zelda songs.
It’s the 25th anniversary of Zelda, and this rich tribute in music lasted 20 minutes. It included an appearance by the great creator himself, Shigeru Miyamoto. Everyone went wild when Nintendo announced the release date of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword as this fall.
There was also some 3DS news, including a new Luigi’s Mansion that will come out this Halloween. What was shown on the big screen was full of ghosts and mummies. The game will offer several mansions to explore with that crazy vacuum cleaner.
Bigger news: Wii U
But, of course, there was bigger news to come. The new Nintendo console isn’t called Wii 2. It’s called Wii U and will probably be released in November 2012. There’s no price yet, but my guess is that it will be priced at around $300 or $350.
So what’s new? Wii U will present games in HD. That means future Zeldas and Super Mario Galaxys in crisp, clear high-definition graphics.
Wii U is totally going to be worth the wait. The Nintendo bigwigs said the “U” is used in the name because the letter is supposed to evoke unification and uniqueness. What it’s really about is a new-ish way to play games.
That experience starts with an iPad-like device with a six-and-a-half inch touchscreen placed on a wireless, white controller. There’s also a Wii-like console that sits near your TV set. Wii U will play your old Wii games, too, but probably not GameCube games.
After the press conference, I was one of the first to get my hands on Wii U. There were no full games to play because the device is still in development. But some of the demos I played showed off bells and whistles that will change the way you play games.
The Wii U Lowdown
Mii Chase, for instance, is a four-player game in a maze. I held the tablet controller. The three others held traditional Wii controllers. Since my controller had a screen, I could see the whole maze from a bird’s eye view. They couldn’t. With a 15-second head start, I began to find hiding places within the vast maze as the other three tried to track me down. But they couldn’t see where I was — unless they saw me briefly on the TV screen as I ran through the maze.
This experience showed off the cool advantage of using a screen that’s twice the size of the 3DS, and not that heavy either.
I also checked out a demo called Shield Pose. A bunch of pirates were shooting arrows at me, and I used the tablet to block them. It had to be done in a kind of musical rhythm, so it wasn’t that easy!
Wii U also allows you to switch from the TV to play on the controller screen if someone in your family wants to watch something on TV. Then, you can switch back when they’re done.
Yet Wii U doesn’t seem like the groundbreaking device that the original Wii has been — yet. It feels and looks like an iPad connected wirelessly to a console. Maybe that’s because Nintendo didn’t reveal all of its functionality. For instance, will it be connected to the Internet for multiplayer? Also, the tablet controller looks like it might be too big for small hands. And it’s complex, too, with a lot of buttons in addition the touch functions. One game maker said it is the “Swiss Army knife of controllers.”
Nintendo has a ton of time to reveal its full plans for world domination with Wii U — and to blow us away with cool snippets and secrets all the way up to launch time. But a little more information would have gone a long way at the press conference.
DAY 1: KINECT AND SONY NEWS
E3 is like the most amazing carnival you’ve ever seen. For four or five days each June, downtown Los Angeles is transformed into a videogame circus. It’s noisy. It’s crazy. And it’s very magical, too.
The first act into the circus ring this year was Microsoft. So many new games were shown on a giant high-definition screen, it was hard to keep track of them.
The big news from Microsoft is all about Kinect. Last year, Kinect seemed like a Nintendo Wii clone: mini games without the controller. This year, Microsoft is going deeper. It really seems like Kinect can do a limitless number of things.
For instance, you’ll see Madden, FIFA and PGA games make use of Kinect soon. These are all intense simulation games, not games like Wii Sports that are easy to pick up and play. Can Electronic Arts and Microsoft make these harder games easier to play without a controller without sacrificing deep gameplay? I can’t wait to find out.
And say you’re playing a Star Wars game and want to know more about Star Wars. Via Kinect, you can search with your voice on the Xbox 360. Just say “Star Wars,” and all the games, cartoons and movies will come up on your screen for you to check out.
Speaking of Star Wars, there’s a pretty intense Kinect version of the George Lucas-made sci-fi world coming to the Xbox 360. Lightsaber fighting and Jedi adventures without a controller? Count me in!
And if you love Disneyland, you just might like Disneyland Adventures. Using Kinect, you get to fly like Peter Pan and even fight Captain Hook. This looks like a winner for kids of all ages.
Later, Microsoft showed off something smaller for Kinect that struck me as the ultimate way to personalize your avatar. You can soon have Kinect scan your body to create your avatar, right down to the graphics on the cool t-shirt you’re wearing. It looks a lot more like you than the avatar now created with your controller, that’s for sure. The possibilities here are endless. Imagine scanning your customized skateboard and putting it in a game.
Sony rocked, too
Not to be outdone, Sony had its own carnival in the evening. It took a while, but Sony’s big boss, Jack Tretton, apologized for the recent PlayStation Network hacking. Then, he got to the games.
This fall’s new Uncharted 3 for PS3 looks like an action movie with some Indiana Jones thrown in for good measure. Usually, I’m a good note taker. But there was so much action on the churning high seas and elsewhere, I forgot all about it. This is one game that truly takes you into its world. It will have 3-D capabilities, too.
Sony’s biggest news was about its new PSP. It’s now called PSVita, not NGP (New Generation Portable). And, boy, it’s so powerful that the graphics almost look as good as those on the PS3. Just wait until you play ModNation Racers and LittleBigPlanet on it.
You’ll be able to use button or touchscreen controls as you play. And you can use them in any combo that you desire. With ModNation, watching an alpine village rise from the screen after a few swipes of the fingers was an awesome experience.
PSVita will cost $249 when it’s released in time for the holidays. If you want a version that’s constantly connected to the Internet using 3G, it’s $300. Those are fair prices.
But don’t forget the PS3 and the Move. A game called Medieval Moves: Deadmund’s Quest takes you through a world full of hordes of humorous skeletons, insane puzzles and dimly lit dungeons. It’s all controlled with the Move, everything from sword fighting and moving gears to solve puzzles.