E3 2017 Recap Part 1: Hands-On Impressions

As someone who has been following the games industry for well over 10 years and got to attend E3 for the first time ever, describing the show in a few words would be impossible.  I think I’m more equipped to describe what I saw played, and what I played myself, in many words and enough detail to give you guys a better idea at what to expect come release date.

I want to preface my impressions by clarifying that part one is all “hands-on,” meaning that I played the game myself, with a controller in my hand at a demo station.  Part two will be “Eyes-On,” which refers to a live demo I viewed behind closed doors and watched a developer of the game play in real time.

Hands-On: Super Mario Odyssey

Let’s start with what I feel was far and away my game of show.  The demo units inside the Nintendo booth featured a level where you got to explore New Donk City as well as a desert level.  Having witnessed almost everyone before me in line play around in the city, I tried the desert for a change of pace.  Fans of previous Mario adventures such as Galaxy and Sunshine should feel right at home as soon as they pick up a controller.  All of Mario’s signature jumps have returned including the triple jump, turnaround jump, side jump, and crouch leap.  Mario can also throw his hat Cappy via a simple button press or a flick of a joy-con.  Immediately upon exploring it was apparent that the level was expansive and didn’t just feature ways to advance and reach a goalpost.  Small shops and hidden alleyways are home to NPCs that give you clues as well as stores that let Mario obtain fancy tuxedo outfits and the like.

mario e3

Platforming is as solid as ever, and this time around Mario has the new ability to capture certain enemies by throwing his hat at them.  At one point I faced an obstacle that required me to jump onto moving platforms that rotated on a cadence.  I happened to throw my hat and hit a bullet bill, allowing me to capture it and fly above the platforms and reach the other side with ease.  It may seem like it cheapens the platforming experience, but it felt like a refreshing way to use my environment and enemies to my advantage.  Another point in the level featured hidden pathways and collectibles.  By inhabiting one of the stone golems nearby, I could tap a button to put on the sunglasses the golem was wearing in order to see the hidden paths that lie ahead.  These instances were both completely optional, I never had to utilize Mario’s new power, but they were definitely a welcome inclusion and made it feel distinctive from Mario’s past adventures.

One of the most interesting new features was when I discovered an 8-bit warp pipe that transformed me into the pixelated Mario we’re all familiar with.  The game briefly transitioned into a 2D sidescroller that had me jumping and avoiding enemies in order to reach the top of a building, where Mario then assumed his regular form.  It was a brief aside in an already expansive and secret-filled level, but it was also a seamless integration of Mario’s history that felt like a fun way to incorporate 2D platforming in a 3D game.  I can’t wait to see what other mechanics lie within other levels in the full game.

mario e3 2

I think many people, myself included, had mixed feelings of Mario exploring a city with humans.  I’m glad to say that when viewed live, none of that detracts from the overall experience.  Pauline (who fans may remember from the original Donkey Kong games) makes a return as the mayor of New Donk City, and the inhabitants are lively and will serve to aid Mario in several different ways.

New moon-shaped star pieces and other collectibles were also present in the demo, though it isn’t clear how they tie into the story just yet.  It seemed as though there were several per level, and may be similar to items such as star coins from the past.  Overall, Super Mario Odyssey played great, looked phenomenal, and most importantly was fun to play.  My time with the game was brief at just 10 minutes, but it was enough to convince me that this is a title I cannot miss.  Had Zelda not released the same year as Mario Odyssey, I’d expect it to be a heavy game of the year contender, and for some it will be.

Hands-On: Marvel VS Capcom Infinite

MvCI was the game I was most excited to play on the show floor, but I left my demo session with mixed feelings.  It should be immediately noted that this game does not feel like Marvel 3.  I would describe it as an interesting medium between Marvel 2 and Tatsunoko VS Capcom.  The game features 4 buttons, light punch, heavy punch, light kick, heavy kick and buttons for your infinity stone and tag-in.

Although the game has no assist attacks like previous titles the tag-ins in this game makes up for it, especially with all of the options you have at your disposal.  Likewise, Infinity Stones feel very core to the overall gameplay and may have the potential to give characters a boost in areas they’re lacking, be it a projectile game or mobility.  Speaking of mobility, air-dashing was noticably absent from many characters.  Players like myself will definitely need to rely on other tactics in order to close the distance between you and your opponent.  I opted to try out Strider, Ryu, Captain Marvel, and Zero whom was the only one with an air-dash.

The returning characters I tried felt very similar, and my opponent obliterated me with Spencer combos I had seen in Marvel 3.  I’m hopeful that there’s more tricks up these characters’ sleeves as I’m very much a novice when it comes to Marvel, so I’m sure there were things I missed.  As much as I would like to go into detail about input lag, frame data, ground bounces, and other hardcore jargon I’m simply not qualified to do so. The main reason I left my play session with mixed feelings was because the game failed to really wow me.  I enjoyed it and had fun, but that was it.  Overall MvCI still feels like a VS game and I’m looking forward to picking the game up come September.

Hands-On: Dragon Ball Fighter Z

Dragonball Fighter Z is already the incredibly fun and exciting fighting game that I hope Marvel Infinite ends up being.  I am by no means a Dragonball fan.  All of my interest left in the franchise stems from nostalgic memories from my childhood.  Dragon Ball Fighter Z nevertheless manages to captivate my nostalgia in an endless fury of explosions, ki blasts, and incredibly flash combos.

The demo features Super Saiyan 2 Teen Gohan, Goku, Vegeta, Majin Buu, Perfect Cell, and Frieza in his final form.  Luckily, I was on the demo unit in the corner with the least supervision, so I got to sneak in an extra game and try out every character as the game is 3 versus 3.

Visually the game is easily on par with the 2.5D artwork of Guilty Gear Xrd.  It’s incredible how phenomenal the game looks this early on in development.  DBFZ does its very best to be as flashy as possible while being as accessible as possible.  Long combo strings can be executed with one button and ki blasts can be executed rapidly with another.  Special moves are executed similar to street fighter’s “hadouken” input or reverse hadouken inputs.  All characters were able to dash, fly, teleport and pummel the crap out of each other pretty effortlessly.  Granted, those who try to execute a game plan will be rewarded while players relying on single button combos will struggle to win consistently.

I can easily see this game bringing in novices to the genre in addition to bringing in fans of the series with its accessibility, especially with how well it replicates the over-the-top action of the anime in glorious visuals.  I still am shocked by just how much I enjoyed my time with this game.  I can only hope that a switch version becomes a reality as it would be fantastic to enjoy this in portable form.

Hands-On: Shantae Pirate Queen’s Quest DLC

Shantae: Half Genie Hero is due to get it’s first bit of DLC very soon, and Wayforward was kind enough to have the Nintendo Switch version available to try out for fans and backers alike.  This DLC features Shantae’s nemesis, Risky Boots, who is playable for the first time.

Risky feels very unique compared to Shantae.  She brandishes a sword, and wields a gun with different types of ammo that you can toggle through via the shoulder button.  Some explode on impact while others fire in multiple directions when you shoot it.  Risky also has a grapple hook that she fires directly above her.  You can’t change the angle, but it’s still very useful for ascending to platforms.

Because Risky isn’t a genie like Shantae, she cannot transform into any animal forms to advance.  Instead, Risky must fire her gun at targets that reveal platforms.  These platforms appear for a short amount of time, where you must navigate Risky across before they disappear.

The levels are the same locales that players will remember from the main game, but Risky felt distinctive enough to bring something new to a game that was already great to begin with.

Wayforward obviously took their time with this DLC as it looks great and is animated incredibly well.  Fans of this game have a lot to look forward to, and backers get it for free!

Hands-On: Ni No Kuni 2 Revenant Kingdom

I still remember how excited I was for the original Ni No Kuni.  It promised to be Studio Ghibli inspired world that I could explore and experience an incredible narrative.  But no matter how fantastic the characters were, no matter how visually pleasing the game was and despite having a story that was compelling, the entire game was completely marred by the atrocious combat .  It kept me disengaged and I stopped caring about completing the game and exploring more of what it had to offer.

ni no kuni 2

I’m elated to say that Ni No Kuni 2 completely ditches everything about the combat from the previous title and has switched to a real time action style in the vein of the “Tales-Of” series.  Gone are the days of training familiars and seeing the main characters in the background. The protagonist is now playable and offers a slew of ways to dispatch enemies that are both interesting and fun.

Ni No Kuni 2’s demo stations offered a look at two different fights from two different parts of the game.  I opted for the arena trial that tasked our main character Evan to defeat a beast-like monster in order to continue on his quest.  There was clearly very little context provided so as not to spoil anything from the main game, so I can’t say much more in regards to the story.  What I can explain in detail, however, is the combat.

ni no kuni

As previously mentioned, Ni No Kuni 2 has adopted an action style combat system where you execute attacks in real time.  You have light and heavy attacks, which when pushed in succession offers quick multi hit combos to take down foes.  Evan also is adept in magic, and can blast enemies from a distance.  There is also a guard button, a dodge roll button, and holding R2 brings up a subset menu that allows you to push any of the face buttons to perform strong special moves.  One of these moves (R2+Square) had Evan unleash a fury of slashes with his sword, while another (R2+Triangle) performed a healing spell.  I didnt notice any sort of drawback to spamming these moves, whether it be a meter or another resource that drains from these commands wasn’t clear from my time with the game.  I imagine there was something I missed here, but I couldn’t tell what exactly that was.

The best news is combat is simple yet enjoyable.  I was easily able to conceptualize what I wanted my character to do and execute it with little trouble.  The controls were responsive and I always felt like it was my timing that was off or a mistake on my part if I got hit.  One thing of note is that hitstun seemed to be absent while fighting.  I definitely took a few hits but my character did not seem to flinch if they were light.  At one point I was knocked down for several moments, but that was what made me realize I hadn’t flinched before that.

Another layer to the combat in this title is the supporting spirits called Higgledies.  These will let you apply buffs to your party including healing, attack boosts, defense boosts and shield barriers.

Overall I walked away excited to dive back into a world coated in the art style of a studio I adore.  The story this time around promises to be more mature and from a more adult perspective.  JRPG fans truly have a gem on the way this winter.