Saturday, June 18, 2016

Ten Exciting Games from E3 2016

I had very low expectations going into E3 this year. After so many incredibly exciting and surprising game announcements last year, 2016 seemed poised to be a “down year” for the convention, but it really took me aback. Both Microsoft and Sony had strong, tight showings and both had deeper looks into exciting games shown last year as well as some surprises. Nintendo’s wacky strategy of only focusing on a single game this year, on the other hand, also seemed to pay off: their beautiful new Zelda adventure took my breath away and has captured my imagination all over again. Here are ten games (and five honorable mentions) that I saw this E3 in any form and whether newly announced or not that have me excited and/or interested this year, in roughly ascending order based on simply how excited I am to play them:

ReCore caught my interest last E3 with a rarely compelling CG trailer. The game is being created by former Metroid Prime developers (and being directed by Mark Pacini, the director of all three main Prime games) and Mega Man veteran Keiji Inafune and appropriately enough it seems to be some kind of hybrid of Metroid and Mega Man. The game involves exploring a desert planet overworld and fighting through waves of hostile robots, melding platforming with frantic gunplay in addition to a unique robot companion mechanic. The movement in the game looks really slick and speedy and overall it seems like it could be a blast to play. It also features a very colorful and fun aesthetic and overall the game seems to have a classic, bouncy, “gamey” appeal, in a good way, like a 3D platforming action game you might have seen on the N64 or during the GameCube/PS2 days. ReCore just overall has some good vibes. After watching some gameplay footage, I have a few qualms, like how visually busy the game seems to be with a cluttered HUD and tons of numbers and colors flashing everywhere, but I’m still definitely keeping my eye on this one when it releases in September this year.

Abzu looks incredibly beautiful and there really isn’t that much else to say about it…other than, perhaps, that Flower and Journey art director, Matt Nava, is involved, as well as Austin Wintory, the composer of Journey. Did I mention that it looks really, really beautiful?

The best E3 demos are the ones that amidst all the excitement and energy of a typical press conference completely ensnare me and make me forget what I’m even doing. We Happy Few was one of those. I was completely taken into this game’s world and its narrative and simply couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. When it was over, I was sold. I’ve been hearing good things about this game, but the gameplay shown at Microsoft’s conference was the first I’ve actually seen of it and it definitely lived up to its good name. What a great concept and an artful, intriguing-looking game that looks to have some smart insights into the way our society looks at emotional expression.

I know almost nothing about Inside besides that it is an action-adventure puzzle game being made by Playdead, the creators of Limbo, and that I want to play it. I don’t want to know anything else. It captured my attention not just because of its creator, but because of an arresting trailer at E3 2014. It went dark for two years and now we have a new trailer that completely engrosses me. What’s more, the game surprisingly comes out this summer. I’m looking forward to turning down the lights and immersing myself in this one.

People are saying that I Am Setsuna is like a spiritual successor to Chrono Trigger and that alone is enough to make me excited, but the game doesn’t look like a rehash or just a simple retro throwback. It seems to be taking some of the design and feel of CT and making something original. The narrative sounds uniquely compelling and melancholic and the art looks beautiful. I also love the idea of a snow and ice-covered world and how this supports the game’s central theme of “sadness”. This doesn’t seem to be just a glum, “dark” game for the sake of it though, but seems to really be doing something interesting with the central theme. I just love the feeling and atmosphere I get from the game’s trailer. The battle mechanics look to be taking a lot of inspiration from that time-traveling SNES masterpiece and that’s fantastic. There are a lot of RPGs I want to play and have yet to play, but I Am Setsuna has quickly climbed that list.

I’m a big fan of the Shantae games and Half-Genie Hero is shaping up to be the best one yet. I’ve been patiently waiting for this game since I backed it on Kickstarter in late 2013, but It looks like it is going to be well worth the wait. The first thing that is immediately apparent about this game is that it’s freakin’ gorgeous. When I first saw the new art direction back when the Kickstarter began, I was a bit skeptical and missed the wonderful spritework done in the previous Shantae games. WayForward has pulled if off though; the game looks like a playable Disney animation. What’s more, it’s bringing back a big part of Shantae’s identity, her transformations, which I missed in her previous game, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse. The mechanics and platforming look as smooth as ever and most exciting of all we finally have a release date: September 27 of this year. Also, another Jake Kaufman soundtrack is always a good thing.

I cannot contain my excitement for this game, which is another from the Kickstarter camp (and another I supported in a heartbeat). Legendary post-Symphony of the Night Castlevania mastermind Koji Igarashi promised a new Metroidvania (or Igavania rather) in the style of his previous works and that seems to be exactly what he’s delivering. I’ve been wary about the choice of 2.5D visuals, but the game is actually looking pretty great, particularly the environment. I’m a little iffy about the monster designs, but it’s not a huge dealbreaker so far. The fact that the game looks (and seems like it plays) as good as it does so early in development inspires tremendous confidence in the final work though and makes me super happy that I supported this one. We haven’t gotten a proper gothic Metroidvania game since 2008’s excellent Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia and I’m just so excited for a new game in this style. Familiar isn’t always a bad thing, especially if the particular kind of game in question has been missing for quite some time.

Horizon captured my attention with a surprising and fantastic reveal last year and every time I see this game, I’m completely drawn into its beautiful, vibrant world. I love nature vs. technology themes and the whole far future concept where these mysterious machine animals have taken over the earth is just an instantly intriguing set-up to me. I love that there’s a mystery at the core of Horizon and that the developers aren’t giving too much away. Also, in a medium where combat mechanics saturate the landscape and often make my eyes glaze over at E3, the combat encounters in Horizon look exhilarating and gripping instead of merely routine and trivial affairs. There are a few aspects of the game I’m weary of, such as the protagonist’s constant narration but I can see that the developers are building her to be an established character that we step into the role of, which is a valid approach. Also, the characters’ expressions and animation during the conversation in the gameplay video shown at Sony’s press conference are a little rough, so hopefully that can be ironed out by release. All in all though, Horizon is a game that makes me whisper to myself how I really need to get a PS4.

The Last Guardian is ultimately the reason I will likely buy a PS4 sometime this year though, because it’s the kind of game I need to play as soon as it comes out to avoid the experience being spoiled in any way. It’s true that this is largely such an anticipated experience for me because of the pedigree of its director/designer Fumito Ueda and his team, and because Shadow of the Colossus is…well…Shadow of the Colossus, but this doesn’t mean that I don’t think The Last Guardian looks beautiful and compelling, and the concept of a boy and his beast is something near to my heart. I love animals and stories about human and animal relationships and I know everyone is saying it, and this isn’t necessarily an inherent reason for greatness of course, but at the very least this game will likely be quite the cathartic experience. TLG seems more Ico than SotC (or perhaps like a combination of the two), but that’s just fine (Ico is a beautiful experience in its own right). The Last Guardian doesn’t need to be a masterpiece and it doesn’t need to live up to years and years of expectation, it just needs to be whatever it is and whatever its creators wanted to make. I’m just so glad that it’s actually finally coming out on October 25 of this year.

I already wrote a detailed piece about my thoughts on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s grand unveiling, but suffice it to say it’s a beautiful-looking dream come true for a long-time Zelda fan like myself. I’m digging the art and overall vibe of the game as well as the freedom of exploration and action it is going to provide. The world in Breath of the Wild is also coated in mystery and I’m loving what Nintendo seems to be doing with the narrative, atmosphere, and overall feel of the experience. I simply can’t wait to get lost in the wilds of the ruined kingdom of Hyrule next year.

Dang! Just looking at this list of games makes me so excited! Particularly, looking at those last two together makes my head spin. 
What a great time for video games! On the whole, I’d say it was a pretty great E3 and I look forward to next year…and, you know, actually playing games in-between.

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