This year I was prepared for E3 to suck. E3 2005 was a horrific experience: not only was there a huge dearth of good games, developers seemed to make up for it by increasing their reliance on digital booty (and not-so-digital booth babes) to draw attention to their games. There was almost nothing interesting on display that year, and I came away considerably depressed.
I’m happy to report that E3 2006 was much more interesting than last year. The console wars are moving into full gear, so Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo were all trying to get their best stuff on the show floor. No pulled punches here, each of these companies is really trying to do the others in. With all the increased competition, there was really an impetus for developers to make good games, and I saw quite a few titles that looked very promising at the show.
On the software side, Microsoft and Sony had showings that were sufficient but not outstanding. Microsoft had some very cool looking Xbox360 games on display, including Capcom’s Dead Rising and Rare’s Viva Pinata. There were a number of driving games that all looked the same (though Full Auto 2 might be fun), and a couple of third-person shooters that I instantly forgot about (except for Too Human… Silicon Knights, we’ve been waiting for years for THIS? what the hell?). Sony’s booth was a little weaker, though it did have a lot more PS3 titles on display than I was expecting. Heavily Sword looked like a very nice Devil May Cry with physics on everything and a female protagonist, and a couple of the other PS3 titles had nice graphics, but there wasn’t anything really new to see here. The best games in the Sony booth, in my opinion, were God of War 2 and Okami, both PS2 titles. The PSP showing was really bad… excepting Loco Roco and a new Ratchet and Clank, they really didn’t have anything compelling on the PSP. It was a barren wasteland.
Just to get this particular fan boy side note out of the way, there was not perceptual difference in graphical quality between the Xbox360 and the PS3. Now, I’m aware that the fanboys would like to believe that one of these systems is way better than the other so that they can justify their next console purchase, but as far as I am concerned, the machines are pretty much the same. I’m sure that further down the line there will be some games that differentiate one machine from the next, but there’s only so many shaders and polygons you can throw into a 3D scene before people stop noticing the difference. Excepting things like price point (both systems are too expensive!), there’s no real difference between these systems… if you are trying to decide which one to buy, pick based on the library of games available, not based on which one you think is “more powerful.”
So if the show had just been Microsoft and Sony, I would have been pretty depressed. Even Konami and Capcom had booths that were less interesting than usual this year (excepting the new Silent Hill PSP game and Dead Rising). But then Nintendo came along and saved the entire show.
Despite the name, the Nintendo Wii was by far the strongest thing on the show floor. There was a HUGE line (5 hour wait at some points) to get into the Nintendo booth, and once you were inside you had to wait for 30 to 40 minutes to try the Wii games. They had tons of them: little mini games, experimental games, a couple of first person shooters (Red Steel and Metroid), the new Zelda, the new Mario, and a couple of surprises, like a new Sonic game. The controller is awesome: though the ease of control depends upon how the game implements the data it gets from the “wiimote”, the controller itself works really, really well. It’s amazingly precise, has no lag, and feels comfortable immediately in your hands. Old favorites like Super Mario Galaxy were extremely easy to pick up and play (using the nunchuck controller, it’s not that different than a regular pad), and games that used the wiimote in crazy new ways (like Wario Ware) were amazingly fun. The amount of laughter I heard coming from hardened industry professionals was more than enough to convince me that the machine rocks hard. Nintendo beat the crap out of Sony and Microsoft at E3 this year by showing games that were actually fun to play (they looked pretty good too, not that it mattered).
And that’s about it. After checking out the Nintendo booth for several hours, I wasn’t really interested in much else in the show. Rule of Rose is coming to America by Christmas, which is good news, but the other games I was looking for (Siren 2, for example) are just too minor to make it to the show floor. However, I was pretty excited by the direction the industry seems to have been forced to move in by Nintendo. I was also very happy to see the amount of T&A on the show floor (both digital and hired by desperate publishers) was at an all-time low, which makes me think that the industry might actually get around to maturing sometime in the near future. I think it was a pretty good show.
Show Highlights: Nintendo Wii. Holy shit!
Show Lowlights: The PSP. Also Too Human.
Wish I Could Have Played It: Viva Pinata
Best of Show: Super Mario Galaxies
Runner Up: God of War 2, Dead Rising