The Best and Worst of E3 2017

E3 2017 has come and gone, and the impulse to consume media and react to it has been felt by many, including me. I’ve always got my eye out for new releases, but the week long conference offers news on hundreds of new games to dream on. I loved some of the trailers I saw and was disappointed by the news surrounding others, so I’ll be discussing both good and bad here. Of course, make sure to grab your favorite E3 branded merchandise before you start reading!

5 Games That Made Me Smile

5. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle:

The fortunes of anyone or anything can change at breakneck speeds on the internet. After initial leaks of the Mario / Rabbids crossroad – showing Mario and his friends holding guns and rocket launchers – many (including me) were ready to pan the game as a lame cash-grab involving popular Nintendo characters. You know, like these. But Nintendo worked hard to rehabilitate the game’s perception, even having Shigeru Miyomoto give his stamp of approval by endorsing the work of the lead designer during UbiSoft’s E3 conference.

That was enough to get people to look at the game with full eyes and clear hearts, which is good because it’s a tactical shooter of all things. You move Mario + friends around a map to take out a similarly sized squad of bad guys, similar to a sunnier version of the X-Com series. The mechanics though, which involve shades of platforming and teamwork between your characters, show off a surprising amount of depth, while still maintaining the nostalgic charm of Mario games. I’ve now circled all the way around and am eagerly anticipating Mario + Rabbids, which is coming out before the end of the summer.

Gameplay Video

4. Dragon Ball Fighter Z:

I’m a long time fan of the Dragon Ball franchise, but the many, many attempts to make a game that captures the feel of the show’s stylish fights have been a little wanting. Luckily, there seems to be a match made in heaven with Arc System Works, the latest developer. Well known among hardcore fighting gamers for their beautiful animation and intricate systems, their stable of characters from their Guilty Gear and Blazblue games have nowhere near the notoriety of Goku and Vegeta. While I’m a fan of Sol Badguy, you probably thought I just made that name up.

Early previews of gameplay show tremendous potential. Arc System Works has drawn the Dragon Ball characters as 3D characters on the screen, but with a level of detail usually reserved for hand-drawn animation. The combination means not only incredibly fluid movement, but dynamic camera angles that snap around the fight in real time. While I suspect I will never be an expert at this game – promising 3v3 combat and several advanced mechanics – given how pretty it looks, I think it will still be a good time.

Gameplay Video

3. Metroid: Samus Returns:

It’s been almost 8 years since the last Metroid game*, and over 13 years since the last 2D Metroid. With seemingly little interest from Nintendo in making a new entry, fans were surprised that not one, but two Metroid games were announced at E3. While Metroid Prime 4 had next to no information to offer, Metroid: Samus Returns is apparently 100% complete and will be out in a few months.

Metroid: Samus Returns appears to be a remake / reimagining of the 1991 Game Boy game Metroid II: Return of Samus. While the developer MercurySteam has had mixed success in the past working on the Castlevania franchise, early reports of gameplay have been positive, with additional twists not present in the first game to keep things fresh. I’m reminded a lot of Metroid: Zero Mission, which remade the original Metroid on the Game Boy Advance. If MercurySteam can recreate even some of that magic, I’ll have one more reason to break out my 3DS.

*Technically there is 2016’s Metroid Prime: Federation Force, but it doesn’t feature any gameplay traditional to the series so I didn’t count it.

Gameplay Video

2. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus:

The trend of grim, hyper-violent action present in many of the biggest new releases can be tiring. But Wolfenstein II’s trailer, which featured an off-beat take on Lassie, a firefight from a wheelchair, and a character dropping acid was so absurd that it caught my attention. Picking up directly after the 2014 surprise Wolfenstein: The New Order, you’re immediately thrust into an alternate history where Germany won World War II with the use of futuristic technology. The sci-fi setting, plus the amount of detail that goes into the German controlled America, offers enough distance from real world events I think I’ll be able to enjoy the crazy ride.

E3 Trailer (NSFW!)

1. Super Mario Odyssey:

Past the admittedly fantastic Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, there has been little to recommend for the Nintendo Switch in terms of original content. If you had played Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U and have no interest in games for the Neo-Geo, you might be like me and have your Switch in its dock, waiting for something to try. Luckily Super Mario Odyssey’s weird yet captivating trailer potentially promises the same level of exploration and quality found in the latest Zelda game. Mario’s hat is heavily emphasized, with magic allowing him to attack enemies, jump to new heights, and most importantly (and strangely) possess other characters around him.

The new mechanic raises existential questions, and coupled with some other bold choices like a jazzy soundtrack and a marriage subplot, this new Mario game seems to offer more variety than any we’ve seen Super Mario 64. While I doubt any game will be as revolutionary as that was, there’s certainly the chance it will be the first entry to come close to that level of innovation over the past 20 years.

Gameplay Video

3 Games That Made Me Frown

3. Life is Strange: Before the Storm:

The original Life is Strange was a surprise hit a couple years ago, coupling the relationship between teenage girls Max and Chloe with a tense time-travel story. With the original game offering a fairly conclusive ending, the announcement of a prequel came as a slight surprise. Trying to recapture the first game’s success is respectable; the act of replacing the voice actor for Chloe (Ashley Burch) with a non-union soundalike is not. Deck Nine Games may have felt pressured to capitalize on how endearing Chloe was with another title, but their methods are very disappointing and pretty much discourage me from looking at their new offering.

2. The Last Night:

Games based on futuristic dystopias are relatively common, but their reasons for getting to that point may vary. Unfortunately, in this case the game’s lone developer Tim Soret has chosen a regressive, shameful platform for his views. Some gamers may bury their heads in the sand and insist games can’t be political, but I would encourage them to look at Soret’s (still available) Twitter history, where he indicates the setting of his game would “take place in a future where ‘progressivism’ has spiraled out of control”. I have no interest in exploring “a cyperpunk world where modern feminism won” as he states, and while he has apologized for his remarks, I can share the ugly thoughts behind his game’s genesis to as many people as I can.

Detroit: Become Human:

It’s not necessarily a crime to be heavy-handed in your symbolism. When portraying a future where androids live in fear and do not share the same rights as organic humans, most people can see the obvious comparison to the systemic racism many people suffer in 2017. “Most people” don’t include the director David Cage though: instead, he insists, “There is no big message to humanity in this game. It’s just interesting questions that may resonate with your own personal values and just confront you with the consequences [of your] actions.”

Luckily for us as consumers of media, authorial intent can be freely disregarded, and Cage’s milquetoast statements skew dangerously close to the “just asking questions” dog whistle often seen in conversations involving race. If I am being empathetic, perhaps Cage at some point realized that he did not have the full range of experience needed to explore the complicated nuance of protesting and civil rights. If we (generously) assume I’m correct though, than that means he should have left the story in someone else’s hands, or perhaps even not told it all.

The Best and Worst of E3 2017

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