Now that E3's been over for two days and I've had some time to digest and reflect on what I've seen, I can finally hand out some coherent shows awards. Keep in mind that the awards given on this blog do not reflect the views of Nintendo World Report, which will probably be giving out its own Nintendo-centric awards (understandably) within the next week or so. So without further ado, let me present you with the When Pigs Fly Returns E3 2009 Awards!
Best Nintendo Wii Game: New Super Mario Bros. Wii
I played more of this game more than any other on the show floor. New Super Mario Bros. Wii is a sequel to the DS game from a few years ago, and in general it's the same game. Supposedly, the game features more than 80 levels, more than twice what the DS game had. A few new gameplay devices really set this one apart, though. First, Yoshi is in here and you can ride him. What's more, he's back to eating berries a la Super Mario World. New items like the Penguin Suit make up for the horrors that were the Micro Mushroom and Koopa Shell. Most impressively, New Super Mario Bros. Wii will feature four-player local co-op. Players compete for Star Coins, lives, and normal coins and are ranked at the end of each stage. You can pick up other players, jump off each other's heads, and do the Galaxy spin move by shaking the Wii Remote. It's undeniably fun, but like Four Swords Adventures, I can see it becoming frustrating if you're playing with people who don't know what they're doing. For the rest of us, though, New Super Mario Bros. Wii is gonna be freakin' sweet when it launches this holiday. Oh, did I mention that the Koopa Kids are making a triumphant return? That basically seals the deal.
Best Nintendo DS Game: Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story
The big news was The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, but I honestly didn't like it very much. Being a huuuge fan of Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga on the GBA, I was excited to play Bowser's Inside Story, the third game in the series. The game looks absolutely stunning, with ridiculously detailed, expressive sprites. You get to play as Bowser and the Mario Bros. The boys have been shrunked down and inhaled by the Koopa King, and you've got to help or hinder his exploits by switching between Bowser and his enemies. The gameplay is roughly similar to that of Partners in Time, but controlling Bowser is a hoot. Looks like Fawful is back, which may be the best news ever. I don't have a release date for you, aside from before the end of the year.
Best Nintendo DSiWare Game: FlipNote Studio
FlipNote is going to be freeware on the DSi before too long, so that alone is awesome. The best part is that it's a simple, yet robust, piece of animation software for the Nintendo DSi. I created three simple animations: a T.rex yawning, a sauropod eating, and a blob bouncing. What's nice is that subsequent flipbook pages save a grayed-out version of the previous frame so you can work off that and not from scratch. You'll be able to send your animations to other DSi's (locally) and upload your creations to a special website. This little piece of software absolutely blew me away, and is reason enough to buy a DSi if you've been holding off.
Best Nintendo Non-Game: Wii Sports Resort
This game was at E3 last year, and seemed to be little more than a tech demo for Nintendo's upcoming Wii Motion Plus accessory. This year, however, the games are much more robust. The Wii Motion Plus is a very powerful tool, integrating a gyroscope and allowing players to have a lot more control over their in-game motions. I played Archery, Frisbee, and Table Tennis, and I was impressed with the control in each one. In Frisbee, it feels like you're throwing the thing, and this is coming from somebody who plays ultimate frisbee. Table Tennis is great because you can put a lot of spin on the ball, and the game can differentiate between a forehand and backhand shot. Archery challenges you to hit an ever-distancing target (you hold the Wii Remote as though it's the bow). I was surprised how much I enjoyed the games, and it's coming out in just a few weeks, bundled with the Wii Motion Plus.
Best Nintendo Announcement: Metroid: Other M
Some fans may decry the newest entry in the Metroid series as heresy given Team Ninja's involvement, but those people are idiots. You decried the Metroid Prime games too because of Retro Studio's involvement, only to eat your words when the games turned out to be awesome. Other M looks to be a more traditional 2D game (2.5D) but looks more action-oriented. These are the people who brought you Ninja Gaiden, after all. But that's not a bad thing. It's a prequel game that explores Samus' involvement in the military under Adam Malokavich from Metroid Fusion. I started tearing up when I realized that we were watching a Metroid trailer: you can check it out at NWR. Tycho and Gabe summed up my feelings pretty well.
Most WTF Announcement: The Wii Vitality Sensor
What the fuck? A pulse/O2 sensor for your Wii Remote? Nintendo President Iwata was really psyched about this bizarre device. His hope is that gaming can become a part of everyone's lives, even people who will never play games. So let's give 'em a heartbeat sensor for your index finger. I can see how the Vitality Sensor would work with a wide range of games, from Wii Fit to a stealth game, but Iwata didn't talk about any pratical uses for the device. It left most of us saying, predictably, "what the fuck?"
Most Disappointing Nintendo Announcement: No Mario Galaxy 2 in 2009
It's because they don't want it eating into the sales of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, which is a terrible reason. The games will appeal to different people, and as a bonus, Nintendo fans like me will buy them both. Miyamoto said that the game is basically finished but they're holding off until 2010. They'd better release that thing quick. Now I have to finally beat Mario Galaxy with Luigi (which, at times, is really hard).
Best 3rd Party Nintendo Game: Maramusa: The Demon Blade
It's like Odin Sphere without the alchemy. It's beautiful, and plays extremely well. What sets the game apart from other hack 'n' slash games is that your character accrues a number of swords during his or her journey, and when they break in combat, you must use your other swords. Merely unsheathing a sword does damage to opponents and can be worked into combat strategically, and you don't have to wait for a sword to break before switching. Swords "heal" over time, so you never outright lose a weapon. They all have different special attacks, though, so discovering them best combat options for a given situation is tantamount to success. Need I mention again that Maramusa looks stunning? High-res 2D sprites and incredible particle effects combine to create possibly the prettiest game at the show.
Now we'll do the Sony awards. You could basically call these the "non-Nintendo" awards because in many cases, these are multi-platform games. I'll be talking about them from the Sony perspective because I don't own an Xbox 360, and Halo: ODST has not compelled me to do so.
Best PS3 Game: Batman: Arkham Asylum
I want this game so bad. I was already excited before the show, but after having played it, this really is a must-buy. The game's three big names (Batman, the Joker, and Harley Quinn) are all voiced by their animated series counterparts, which kicks ass. Combat is fairly simple but will surprise you. Press Square plus a direction (toward an opponent) allows you to pull off a big branching combo which uses a dynamic location-based animation string. Batman will punch an approaching thug in the face, then kick a dude in the side, then elbow the guy behind him, all with the Square button! Counters can be executed with Triangle to keep the combo going. The booth attendant told me that during big fights, you can string up a 100+ combo! The Dark Knight can also toss batarangs to destroy environmental objects and briefly knock out bad guys. The meat of the gameplay involves Detective Vision, which shows where enemies in a room are, whether they're armed or not, and what environmental objects you can interact with. By using this ability, you can plan out attacks and get through big rooms without even being seen! It's so cool. There are few things more awesome than silently dropping from a gargoyle behind a thug, sneaking up behind him, and knocking him out before leaping back into the darkness. The game launches in October, and the special edition includes a full-size batarang! Whoa!
Best PSP Game: LittleBigPlanet
If you liked LittleBigPlanet on the PS3 (and how could you not?), you'll love the PSP sequel, which tosses new continents at you (I played in Australia) but retains the basic gameplay, physics engine, and aesthetic of the console version. It will also retain Stephen Fry as the narrator and a robust level creator. Unforunately, at this time, you can't share levels between the PS3 and PSP games, but Media Molecule is working on a fix for this. I'm very excited about this game, as I loved the first game. Worth mentioning in this category is Soul Calibur: Broken Destiny, which is identicle in every way (including graphically) to Soul Calibur 4, which is just mind-blowing. It plays a little slower, but the game is still in development. The game will feature a smaller roster, but that roster includes a few new characters including--get this--Kratos from God of War. While not especially original, Broken Destiny is amazing from a technical perspective and is definately worth checking out.
Best Game That Keeps Having Problems: Brutal Legend
Tim Schafer is a genius. He gave us Escape from Monkey Island, Grim Fandango, and most recently, Psychonauts. Now he's made a brilliant, hilarious, beautiful game called Brutal Legend that tells the story of a rock-tastic roadie named Eddie who is transported to a world where every rock/metal cover you've ever seen is part of an enormous overworld. The demo was incredible and completely sold me on the game. However, it's already had problems finding a publisher after Activision dropped it (probably because they couldn't annually whore it out) and now EA has picked it up, but Activision just sued because now they regret the decision. According to Tim Schafer, "If Activision liked it, they should've put a ring on it." Well said, sir. The game is supposed to launch in October, but Activision is trying to delay it with their lawsuit.
Best Game Not Demo'd: Modern Warfare 2
I don't particularly care for Activision, but they are publishing Modern Warfare 2, so I guess that's pretty nice. The sequel to my favorite FPS of all time comes out on October 11th, and I'm totally psyched. The Activision booth just had a repeating trailer for the game, and it looks incredible. It will follow the same kind of "summer movie" flow that the first one did, with a new storyline. Your character in CoD4 ("Soap" McTavish) is now your superior officer, and Al'Ahsad (who you killed in the first game) is now seen as a martyr in the Middle East, and tensions are yet again on the rise thanks to Al'Ahsad's second-in-command, Mackevoy. You'll travel to Rio, Siberia, and what appears to be Europe during Modern Warfare 2, and Infinity Ward aims to top the thrills and heart-pounding moments of Call of Duty 4 this November.
Biggest Third-Party Disappointment: No Jade at the Ubisoft Conference
I don't really give two craps about Raving Rabbids and Avatar. I was impressed by Assassin's Creed 2 (loved the first game), and TMNT: Smash Up was kind of disappointing. I was banking on Ubisoft showing off Beyond Good & Evil 2 after that leaked trailer on Kotaku a few weeks ago (I'm convinced it's BG&E2), but there was no such luck. Even worse, the Ubisoft booth had a poster for the original BG&E up, demonstrating that it was one of their key franchises, but nobody at the Ubisoft booth knew where Jade was this year. I can only hope that they announce something about the game by the end of the year. I was also surprised that Ubisoft didn't roll out a teaser trailer for a sequel to Prince of Persia.
Most Useless Hardware Upgrade: PSP Go!
This long-rumored PSP reboot is finally here, and it was playable on the show floor. The PSP Go is a slider in that you slide the screen up to reveal the face buttons, which are now ridiculously small and packed together. The screen itself is smaller and more square than the current PSP model, and the system does away completely with a UMD drive, which means its software is exclusively DLC. Supposedly, Sony is trying to figure out a way for players to use their existing UMD-based games on the new system, probably with an optional peripheral. I played LittleBigPlanet on the PSP Go and quickly came to dislike the small, closely-packed button layout. The analog nub is virtually in the center of the system shell, and the face buttons are small and shallow--they reminded me of the GBA SP buttons. The PSP Go features 16 gigs of flash memory, which is nice I guess, but I get by just fine with my 2 gig Memory Stick Duo. The Go's biggest stumbling block, I'm afraid, is its price point: $250. Sony does NOT know how to price their hardware.
Game of Show: Selasphorus rufus
Despite all those awesome games, the best part of the whole show was seeing my very first hummingbird, fluttering around the flowers outside the convention center. Based on the coloration (and a little online research), I tentatively identified the tiny bird as Selasphorus rufus, which ranges down the West Coast. What's most awesome is that it seemed totally unafraid of people, and I was able to get mere inches away from it with my DSi camera. As soon as I find myself an SD card reader for my computer, I'll post the pictures.