Pop-Ed: E3 Highlights

Written by Logan J. Fowler, Harry Jackson & Luke Kalamar

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E3 came and went before we all got to digest what was discussed and showcased right before our very eyes. But now that our stomachs have settled, here are a few highlights of the show put together by pop-break.com members Harry, Luke, and Logan. Game on!

Harry Jackson: Bright, colorful, bold surprises. When I was trying to figure out what central themes unified the games that caught my eye at E3 2014, these three qualities came to mind. The next generation is officially here and Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo each put on quite a show to compete for your gaming dollar. I’m here to talk about three standouts to keep on your radar as we play the waiting game for these awesome releases.

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Sunset Overdrive is a Microsoft Xbox One exclusive title from Insomniac Games that takes place in a post-apocalyptic world (the game’s creators have coined the term “awesomepocalypse”) where a new energy drink has turned the residents of a sleepy town into hostile mutant creatures. Unlike most third-person shooters that favor the shoot-and-cover mechanic, Sunset Overdrive rewards players by encouraging them to remain in a constant state of motion. Utilizing a combo system similar to the Tony Hawk skateboarding franchise, player can wall climb, bounce, and grind around the town to unlock style points to upgrade a variety of wacky weapons like the “Roman Candle” which shoots out fireworks that explode on impact, the “High Fidelity” which borrows a page from Shawn of the Dead and fires vinyl records as ammo, and my personal favorite, the TnTeddy which launches cute cuddly teddy bears strapped to dynamite. These weapons are essential to clearing the enemy hoards which can quickly swarm and attack the player. Another aspect of this game that caught my attention is its vibrant use of color, which instantly reminded me of films like Scott Pilgrim and Speed Racer. The colorful world of Sunset City sets this game apart from many of the dark bleak worlds found in other shooters of recent years, and the game’s introductory video shown during Microsoft’s press conference poked fun at the fact that this was a game unlike most other shooters. If you are tired of all of the space marine / war simulators on the shelves, definitely consider giving Sunset Overdrive a chance when it drops in late October.

Every E3 features that one game that reached a little too far and bit off more than it could chew. There always seems to be that one game with a novel mechanic or hook that is so ambitious, gamers hold their breath in anticipation hoping that the final product can deliver on the hype. Recent release Watch Dogs is an excellent example of a game where gamers’ expectations were through the roof after a stellar E3 showing, but many agree that the final product failed to deliver on the lofty promises. This year, the most ambitious game of the show was No Man’s Sky developed by Hello Games for the Sony PlayStation 4.

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The game promises to be a space exploration adventure where each player’s experience is entirely unique thanks to a multitude of random generators hard at work creating an exclusive world for each individual player. The trailer shown during Sony’s press conference captivated me by introducing a first-person view of a planet populated by colorful fauna and massive dinosaurs that the game designers shared were inspired by old covers for 80’s science fiction novels. Each player will begin their game on their own randomly generated planet filled with wildlife and resources to explore and cultivate. The trailer continued with the player walking into a nearby space ship and launching off of the world into a sky filled with an infinite number of other planets, dog fighting through asteroid belts, and weaving in and out of various fleets of other star cruisers. As with Sunset Overdrive, this game is absolutely beautiful with a stunning use of vibrant colors for the different planets and space combat. The designers promised no limits to exploration and admitted that with the randomly generated galaxy, even the design team does not know what players will find on these infinite unexplored worlds. Story details and the overall goal of the game beyond basic exploration is still shrouded in mystery but game play footage was available at E3 and many media outlets were calling No Man’s Sky an early favorite for Best Game of the show. In a world of sequels and reboots, I am really rooting for this original ambitious title, and for its developer Hello Games, a small team of less than ten developers who suffered a setback when their offices were flooded in a storm last Christmas Eve. Sean Murray, founder of Hello Games, narrated the presentation during the Sony press conference and his emotional enthusiasm in sharing the game with players was infectious. You will begin your journey to map the infinite worlds when No Man’s Sky launches in 2015.

After a long hiatus, Nintendo has released a plethora of 2D side-scrolling Mario titles since New Super Mario Bros. for the DS revitalized the genre. With every new release, gamers have complained about level design and difficulty, and Internet message boards were soon filled with gamers bragging about what Nintendo should do to design a Mario level properly. Soon, unofficial “bootleg” versions of 2D Mario levels began popping up on the Internet. Well, it looks like Nintendo has decided to turn the keys to the Mushroom Kingdom over to the community of amateur developers with a surprising announcement of a game called Mario Maker for the Wii U.

The game is exactly what it sounds like: players are essentially given a toolkit to build their own 2D Mario levels and test them among friends or share online. The demo sizzle reel showed levels resembling the classic stage 1-1 from the NES glory days as well as unique constructs featuring moving pyramids of enemies and clever “mazes” for Mario to create mayhem using a nearby turtle shell. What surprised me the most about this announcement is that it shatters the conventional idea of Nintendo’s strict policies about the use of its intellectual property. Why would I ever want to buy another 2D Mario game if I can download the best levels from the community or build my own? This level of customization is unprecedented for the Big N, with many gamers still angry that the latest Mario Kart did not feature a track editor of some sort.

Another awesome aspect of Mario Maker is the ability to instantly switch between the 8-bit era of Super Mario Bros. and the newer restyling of the New Super Mario Bros. series. The potential for this game is infinite and I applaud Nintendo for taking this sort of risk by allowing the fans to take the controls. Additionally, this is the type of game that Nintendo needs for the Wii U to show how the Gamepad can create a unique experience (beyond a second screen for off-TV play) for gamers that cannot be found on any other console. As with any custom design tool sold to the masses, we will likely see a fair share of inappropriate constructs. However, I am hoping that for every subpar level exported to Internet, we see double the number of expertly designed levels that fans have been craving since the NES era. And if the game sells well enough, why stop at the design assets of Super Mario Bros.? Perhaps we could see a Mario Maker 2 or DLC containing a toolkit to design 2D levels using sprites and resources from Super Mario 2, Super Mario 3, and Super Mario World! How about a 3DS version? Why not a Legend of Zelda or Metroid Maker? Guess Nintendo fans will never be fully satisfied, but hey, now that the door to amateur Nintendo game design is cracked open, anything is possible! Get out your grid paper and start sketching out those levels now before Mario Maker hits shelves in 2015.

Luke Kalamar: As any good PlayStation fan knows, Naughty Dog has become the premier Sony developer. Their latest release The Last of Us was an unequivocal masterpiece, netting several Game of the Year awards. Despite the immense success of that game, the Uncharted series was easily Naughty Dog’s flagship entry for the PlayStation 3. Nathan Drake himself even became the system’s big mascot. Even though I got into the series a bit late, I absolutely loved playing each installment. That being said, it really goes without saying that my jaw dropped when the trailer for Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End came out. The eerie tone and beautiful graphics was quintessential Uncharted and this game alone makes the PlayStation 4 a must buy. I don’t have the system myself (yet), but I definitely want to get it to follow the retired Drake on one final adventure…

Speaking of adventurous, how about the Big N going extremely retro with the newest installment of Super Smash Bros? Look at the breakdown: Mario belongs to Nintendo. Sega owns Sonic. Megaman heads Capcom. Pac-Man chops down for Namco. Back during the heated console wars of the 90s between Sega and Nintendo, the idea of any of these major mascots coming together was ludicrous. Yet eventually Mario and Sonic started appearing together in sports themed games, and shortly after Sonic joined Mario in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. The previously unthinkable became entirely probable, and now it’s actually happening. Gaming’s biggest mascots are coming together under one banner. This is an historic moment for the industry and I think we’re all poised to reap some unbelievable rewards. Who would have ever thought that this Nintendo brawler would be the one to break company boundaries?

If you’ve been reading my weekly Remembering the Classics segment since the beginning, you’d know that I absolutely loved Star Wars: Battlefront. It’s legitimately tied with Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic in being my favorite game ever based on the property. So even though very little information was actually given regarding the upcoming Battlefront at E3, my excitement has never been higher. There are people actually working on this game after several years of absolutely nothing. The brief footage shown looks outstanding and it was clearly unfinished work, which says a lot. Currently, the plan is for this game to come next year. Footage shown means that might actually be a reality. Finally!

Logan J. Fowler: A lot of good stuff came out of E3. I do know that Uncharted 4 will make me buy a PS4. Super Smash Bros. is going to be old school characters fighting against each other, which is a dream for this lover of retro games. However, certain elements about the show stuck out as well, and made me giddy enough to detail them in full.

The Legend of Zelda
trailer was amazing. Okay, look, there wasn’t much to it, I know. We basically saw Link and Epona in a gorgeous looking field that was as far as the eyes can see. AND if you see a point on the screen, you can travel to it. It’s like Grand Theft Hyrule! Well there’s no crime, but you get it. There are no invisible barriers anymore like in Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, or Skyward Sword. Hyrule field is massive, and I can’t wait to explore it.

Another thing too is that despite seeing a Wii U interpretation of a Legend of Zelda game back a few years ago, the art style has been completely revamped. Remember when this happened with the Gamecube? Everyone complained how a more realistic looking Link changed to the cartoony style of Wind Waker. I myself doubted the change. But WW went on to smash expectations and become one of my favorite games in the series, along with a lot of other previous non believers. I love how each Zelda game has its own unique look and style. What we saw at E3 was basically a cross between Wind Waker and Skyward Sword. I’m totally intrigued and can’t wait to see more.

Keeping with Nintendo, Yoshi’s Woolly World made me smile like a five-year-old. The animation and sense of discovery keeps in line with what Nintendo is all about: exploration and bright, colorful graphics. As a big advocator of Kirby’s Epic Yarn, this spiritual successor is the yarn aesthetic mixed in with what would be an indirect sequel to Yoshi’s Island. While I’d much rather settle for Kirby than the green dinosaur, the game looks incredible, and a second player can also join in to help. This can make for fun times on the Wii U. I know people will think the game is too kiddy, but c’mon, how can you pass up the adorableness? I know I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on this game as more news comes along.

Going from striking colors to dark, the gameplay stuff for Batman: Arkham Knight blew me away. First off, like Hyrule Field, Gotham City looks like a character all in itself. It is MASSIVE. Batman glides around in his Iron Man style bat suit (sexcellent) and all of a sudden, he dive bombs to the street as the Batmobile drives into view. He hops in, and seamlessly Bats takes off in this sleek looking tank, very similar looking to the vehicle in Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. The car makes Gotham its playground, driving on roads, through alleys, and finally showing off: it’s weaponry (now known as battle mode). The tires shift as the Batmobile becomes a soldier in the streets, firing off rockets and moving left to right to dodge fire. IT’S INSANELY AMAZING. As a big fan of the first two Rocksteady Batman games, this one has the potential to have me pick up a PS4 double with that of Uncharted 4’s announcement and sleek trailer. I’ve been a Nintendo fan all my life and will be forever, but Sony has got some stuff that makes me weak in the knees. Batman: Arkham Knight is definitely in that category.

All in all, it wasn’t perfect, but so much good stuff came out of E3 this year that the next 365 days my video game side is going to be very happy. I’m sure my fellow Pop-Break.com VG staff can agree. And now…we wait.

Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.

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