Microsoft and Nintendo, sitting in a tree…
You can always count on Nintendo to at least show some gameplay footage with most of their trailers, something that I feel like I haven’t seen enough of at this E3. That’s not always 100% true, but I feel like out of everyone, every year, Nintendo still likes to promote their games on their gameplay. It’s kind of the company’s whole mantra.
It was also a time for surprises — more surprises than I think any other conference at E3 had this year, in fact. Not just Smash Bros., though we’ll get to that, but other things as well.
Like, for example, a surprise port of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt to the Nintendo Switch. Witcher 3 was one of the most beautiful games of 2015, something that easily flexed the muscle of the Playstation 4 and Xbox One, so most assumed that a Switch port simply wasn’t possible. But if there’s one thing the Switch is increasingly known for, it’s doing the impossible with ports like this. Sure, the resolution might not be ultra-sharp, the textures are probably going to be a bit murky, and you’ll be lucky of the game hits 30fps, but it’ll also be one of the only ways to play the game portably without lugging around a 10-pound laptop that puts out more heat than a toaster oven. There’s still a lot of value in that.
Equally surprising was seeing Secret of Mana resurface, though Square-Enix and Nintendo buried the lede a little bit. It started with them announcing a game called Trials of Mana, a new, fully-3D Mana sequel due out next year. It was then immediately followed by a trailer for Collection of Mana, which bundles Seiken Densetsu (Final Fantasy Adventure for the Gameboy), Seiken Densetsu 2 (Secret of Mana for the SNES), and Seiken Densetsu 3 into one game. This is important, because Seiken Densetsu 3 was never officially localized in to English until now… which is now also called Trials of Mana. What this basically means is that Square-Enix and Nintendo literally advertised the HD remaster before advertising the original game. Either way, Trials of Mana releasing in English represents a small landmark in the translation community; the original Seiken Densetsu 3 was among some of the first games to ever receive an unofficial fan-translation patch. Many still consider it to be the best game in the Mana series. Now, some 20+ years later, it finally, officially sees a western release. Though it’s not quite as big as Nintendo finally localizing Mother 3, it’s close.
Seeing more of the Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening remaster wasn’t surprising at first, until they revealed a major new feature: the ability to create custom dungeons. Almost no details were offered up about this feature at all, but what can be gleaned from the trailer makes it seem like there’s no way to share dungeons with friends, and there isn’t even a way to really make truly custom dungeons. Instead, it seems like you mostly assemble pre-made configurations of different rooms and then explore them. Which… doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense to me, because if you’re the one who made the dungeon, then wouldn’t you automatically know where everything is? Isn’t the whole point of a Zelda dungeon having that sense of discovery you get from solving a puzzle? I’m essentially creating a maze for myself. The dots don’t really connect super well, here (or maybe, in this metaphor, they connect way too easily). Hopefully this will nudge Nintendo a little further in the direction of a full-blown Zelda Maker some day, however.
Cadence of Hyrule was also shown; it’s been long rumored that game would be releasing some time soon. So soon, in fact, that it should be out tomorrow, June 13th. Cadence of Hyrule brings the characters and rhythm mechanics of Crypt of the Necrodancer in to the world of The Legend of Zelda, allowing for a fun blend of the two, where you fight enemies like Gohmaracas — Zelda’s typical Gohma spiders, but shaking maracas, obviously. Cadence of Hyrule will allow you to play as Necrodancer’s own Cadence, but if you want, there’s also the ability to play as Link and even Princess Zelda herself, something that’s still a rare occurrence for this series.
Speaking of surprises and rare occurrences for this franchise, this Nintendo Direct ended with a peek at a directly sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Without spoiling too much, Breath of the Wild ended a little unceremoniously, with the game clearly setting up there was more work to be done in this version of Hyrule. While that seemed like an obvious set up for DLC, Breath of the Wild’s actual DLC was side-story content that could be experienced whether you finished the main quest or not. Instead, that ambiguous ending more likely leads directly in to this sequel, which seems to rejoin Link and Zelda as they explore the ruins beneath Hyrule Castle as they attempt to find the source of Calamity Ganon. A lot of things are implied — including things which seem to connect to unused concept art created for Breath of the Wild. Hyrule Castle lifts in to the sky, a phantom limb grabs Link’s arm, and Zelda is seen sporting a much shorter haircut. As some have already noted, this is typically used in Asian media to signify a change in a woman as she prepares go to battle, leading some to infer Zelda herself may be playable in some capacity. I dunno about you guys, but I think that would be a really cool twist to finally see in a main Zelda game like this.
Suda51 and Grasshopper Manufacture’s No More Heroes III was revealed during this Direct. I’ll admit to having never actually played a No More Heroes game, but I know enough that the bizarre Super Sentai transformation sequence that began the trailer is definitely not normal, even for a series as weird as No More Heroes. There wasn’t tons more to see — you got to see Travis Touchdown in his usual getup, with what looked to be some QTE prompts in the style of the other games, but it all carried the feeling of pre-recorded CGI. Either way, I know a bunch of people have been waiting for Suda to make this game, and the fact that it’s finally coming after so long is probably pretty cool.
Also on offer was a surprising entry from Konami in the form of a new Contra game, subtitled Rogue Corps. It’s yet another in a long line of 3D Contra games, most of which have an understandable stigma attached to them for not being very good. It’s maybe too early to judge Rogue Corps. just yet, but it does have a very particular look about it — stiff animation, grungy textures, and a sub-HD resolution, making it look more like an original Wii game than something released in 2019. What they didn’t tell us in the trailer is that Rogue Corps. is indeed coming to all modern platforms, so it should technically look a little nicer on, say, the Playstation 4 or the PC. Still, though, it’s rough stuff, but at least Konami is still trying to make new video games every now and then.
Speaking of which, a whole slew of other new ports were announced for the Switch during this Direct as well, including Resident Evil 5, Resident Evil 6, Spyro: The Reignited Trilogy, Hollow Knight: Silksong, Ni No Kuni, My Friend Pedro, The Sinking City, Alien Isolation, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles (that sure is a nasty framerate for a Gamecube game), Dragon Quest Builders 2, Catan, and Dauntless. However, in keeping with the theme, two surprising games were shown off during the port montage: Super Lucky’s Tale and Minecraft Dungeons. Now, in theory, there’s nothing all that surprising about Minecraft Dungeons. Minecraft itself has been on both the Wii U and the Switch for many years, and I think there may even be a 3DS version around somewhere. Heck, it’s even on Playstation 4. But then, obviously, we have Super Lucky’s Tale, a game Microsoft has definitely taken under their wing since its days as an Oculus Rift demo (then simply Lucky’s Tale). Though nothing so bold as Shigeru Miyamoto on stage at Microsoft’s press conference happened, it does seem as though Nintendo and Microsoft are becoming rather friendly.
The Switch version of Animal Crossing was finally unveiled this E3, after hints and whispers about it for what feels like years. Titled Animal Crossing: New Horizons, it takes the franchise in a smart new direction. Instead of moving in to a pre-existing town, you start out on a deserted island, presumably as the only living soul on there. From there, it would seem that as you build up your camp, you attract more people to your island, slowly expanding in to the full-on city Animal Crossing is more commonly known for. It essentially adds a dash of Sim City to what could be considered Nintendo’s version of The Sims. The footage also showed a whole group of at least six Animal Crossing players running around the island together, so co-op will also be a factor as well.
More was shown of Luigi’s Mansion 3, revealing more of the game’s concept. Essentially, Luigi is once again tasked with capturing ghosts using his Poltergust vacuum system, but this time it’s at a crazy ghost hotel and Luigi must save all of his friends from certain doom. New moves come in to play, like extended ways to grab things with your vacuum and either move them around or smash them up. It’s all logical extensions of gameplay defined in that very first Luigi’s Mansion game, but I’m still not really sold on the ghost designs in these games. The ghosts in the original Luigi’s Mansion felt like they belonged in the Mario universe, sort of like a half-step between the typical Boo and Pac-man’s colorful ghosts. Here, ghosts feel too bland, too humanoid, and frankly, they just don’t look as good graphically, either, which is especially odd given that original Luigi’s Mansion game was a Gamecube launch title nearly 20 years ago. The rest of the game looks great; lighting is suitably moody, colors are vibrant, and shadows dance across the walls. Multiplayer modes seem like they could be great fun. I just wish the ghosts looked a little less Casper the Friendly Ghost.
Netflix’s deal to create tie-in video games for their streaming series continues, not just with Stranger Things Season 3: The Game, but now with The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics. A, um, tactics game. Based on The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. That’s kind of the long and short of it, really. If you don’t really know what the “Tactics” subtitle is meant to imply, it’s intended to be a riff on games like Final Fantasy Tactics, which were turn-based, isometric games where you moved an entire squad of soldiers around a map. Which direction you attack from, what distance you attack from, and elevation differences all play a role in determining your success. It’s a little bit like Fire Emblem (which also received a new trailer during this Nintendo Direct, FYI), or more specifically XCOM, or even Mario X Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. Except this time, you’re Gelflings fighting Skeksis and other Dark Crystal monsters. How about that?
More info came for Platinum’s Astral Chain, as well, though Bayonetta 3 still remains curiously missing in action (as does the long-rumored Wonderful 101 Switch port). In Astral Chain, the whole hook seems to be some kind of cross-dimensional split, where you can capture monsters and recruit them to help you out in combat. Fighting looks like typical Platinum flair, with plenty of artful dodges and sweeping strikes. Occasionally you seem to find yourself crossing between the two dimensions, where recruited monsters can help you solve puzzles and traverse the strange new world. Seems like it could be a pretty good time, and it’s out in two months.
New footage was shown of Daemon X Machina and Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, but really, neither told us anything that we didn’t already know about the games. Perhaps MUA3 revealed new characters, but with a roster that’s already so large, it’s hard to keep track of who’s new and who has already been seen in past trailers. Similarly, Daemon X Machina’s release date is probably new — September 19th, 2019 — but I haven’t been paying close enough attention to know whether or not that’s been out there. DxM has a really cool art style, and that team has been known for some of the most well-regarded Armored Core games, but impressions from the DxM demo from a few months ago were kind of cold, with complaints of sluggish controls and poor performance. It’s possible the developers have taken that feedback to heart, but it’s very wait-and-see, I’d say.
A notable surprise was the reveal of a Panzer Dragoon remake for the Switch. Originally a Sega Saturn game, Panzer Dragoon was a rail shooter broken from the mold of the original Star Fox, with a few key differences. The lock-on system was one, and keep in mind Panzer Dragoon predates Star Fox 64. Most of your shooting in Panzer Dragoon was done by locking on to targets, often half a dozen or more at once, and then unleashing a barrage of lasers (if you’ve played Sonic Adventure, E-102 Gamma’s section is often cited as taking inspiration from Panzer Dragoon). The biggest difference between Star Fox and Panzer Dragoon, however, is the ability to pan the camera around your character fully. Instead of attacks merely coming at you from the front, they can come from any direction — from the sides, even from behind you.
The remaster, for its part, looks very detailed — perhaps even too detailed, I’d say. The original Panzer Dragoon was a pretty sparse game. Often because the Saturn just couldn’t handle a lot of detail, but it also gave it a great sense of readability. Artwork in the Panzer Dragoon remaster, on the other hand, seems very noisy. There are now rocks, and trees, and ruins literally every inch of the screen, and when its all moving around, it becomes a little difficult to pick out where enemies are. It’s the kind of game that looks amazing in screenshots, but could be a little messy in motion. I always felt like the Panzer Dragoon games were in the same category as Team Ico works like Shadow of the Colossus, which is to say games that approach becoming works of art, and that makes me a little skeptical about how this remaster is being handled. We’ll see as it nears release this winter.
Mario & Sonic at the 2020 Tokyo Games was revealed and the franchise looks to be in top form. I will always carry the scars of Mario & Sonic Sochi, but this looks to be more in line with the fun, breezy presentation of Mario & Sonic Rio. Clothing options seem to be the name of the game now, as characters ditch their well-known costumes in favor of typical sports attire. Sonic the Hedgehog may never have bothered to wear a shirt or pants before, but he definitely does now, which raises a lot of questions about why now, and why not previous (also, something something blue arms). Regardless, new events like surfing and skateboarding mix things up in ways that look very fun. I’m definitely ready for how Tony-Hawk-lite skateboarding looks. Legacy events return as well, like boxing, horseback riding, and gymnastics. There’s also a brief clip showing the events in retro pixel art graphics, but absolutely nothing about that is explained even a little bit. I suppose we’ll find out when it releases later this holiday.
Another game we don’t know much about is Empire of Sin, a top-down game set in the 1920’s mobster era. We’re talking pinstripe suits and tommyguns, and that’s about all that was shown during the trailer. There’s no sense if it’s turn based, if it’s a twin stick shooter, what the mission objectives are going to be like, all that’s really known is that it’s being published by Paradox Interactive and carries the “Romero Games” developer logo — as in, John Romero. The guy who designed a lot of the maps for Doom 1, Doom 2, parts of Quake, and yes, unfortunately, even Daikatana. He also very recently released Sigil, a whole entire bonus episode for Doom 2, for free. Whether or not that reflects on Empire of Sin is anybody’s guess, because all we got to see were post-death corpses strewn around clubs and rainy back alleys.
We also got more footage on the Switch port of Dragon Quest XI, though we’ve known for a while that the visual downgrade versus the Playstation 4 version won’t be as dramatic as some feared. Really, though, this is just a segue in to finally talking about the Smash Bros. Ultimate DLC, namely “The Hero” from Dragon Quest. For many months now, it was basically an open secret that Erdrick from Dragon Quest III was going to be a Smash Bros. character, but it seems a compromise was made: instead of picking the protagonist from a specific Dragon Quest game, “The Hero” embodies four entirely separate characters: Erdrick from Dragon Quest III, Solo from Dragon Quest IV, Eight from Dragon Quest VIII, and Shujinko from Dragon Quest XI. They all contain the same moves, with each hero merely being tantamount to a costume change.
But really, the actual star of this show, and payoff for Microsoft and Nintendo playing nice, is Banjo-Kazooie making their debut in Smash Bros. There’s really not much else to say about it than that. Banjo-Kazooie is in Smash Bros. They hired Grant Kirkhope to do the music. There’s a Spiral Mountain arena you can fight on. Bottles and Gruntilda are there. Kazooie poops eggs. It’s what you want.
The question is… where do we go now?