Like most gamers, I’m sure when you think of quality entertainment, one name comes to mind: Rabbids. Or at least it may after this August. Mario Rabbids Kingdom Battle is my favorite new game announced this year. Developed by Ubisoft, MRKB sports some seriously intriguing RPG combat. Each of the eight playable characters brings his/her own powers, weapons, and abilities to the table. Combat is turn based and combat zones are marked off by flags so you know when a battle is about to begin. Some of the strategies showcased during the demo included destroying cover to reveal enemies, using teammates to boost your movement during your turn, and employing special character abilities to gain an edge over your opponents. It seems almost like X-COM meets Worms, which is a combo I am more than ok with. The most exciting thing about this game though, is not the game itself, but rather the implications that come with it. I mentioned earlier that this game was developed by Ubisoft, which is an unprecedented level of cooperation on Nintendo’s part. It isn’t unheard of for Nintendo to collaborate with third party studios. The most notable example of this collaboration is the Smash Bros series, on which, Nintendo has collaborated with Namco, Sega, and even Konami. What makes MRKB so unique us that this is the first game bearing the Mario name that Nintendo allowed another studio to develop in its entirety. Nintendo is historically stingy with their characters, and who can blame them after the development of productions like the Super Mario movie and TV show. Nintendo opening up and allowing other developers access to their characters could be exactly what they need to freshen up their games. For instance, earlier today Metroid Prime 4 was announced and that is a game that could benefit from the creative vision of a new studio. Personally I’m pulling for Visceral, a studio best known for their work on the Dead Space series, to try their hand at a Metroid title. Whoever is developing the new Metroid, the future of Nintendo collaborations rests heavily on the success of Mario Rabbids Kingdom Battle.
To finish up my E3 segments, I bring you what I consider to be the failures of E3 2016. Sony and Nintendo had stellar conferences, giving us exciting new IPs and intriguing new entries into existing franchises. Bethesda and EA also had solid showings. While they lacked the firepower they have had in the past, they brought some interesting announcements to the table without being overbearing. Then, we have Microsoft and Ubisoft, showing that this year’s “soft” family was just as its name implies. And boring. And greedy. It was the soft-boring-greedy family. You know. Lots of divorces and what not.
If anyone thought that Microsoft was not totally money-hungry, E3 has hopefully shown them that such optimism is misplaced.
I would love to tell you about the new games that Microsoft announced at their conference, but for the life of me I can’t think of any. There was Deadrising 4 promising to be another remake of the first game, but other than that there was not much to speak of. Microsoft used this conference to announce its hardware journey, a journey whose willing travelers are few and far between.
The Xbox One S is the new slim version of Microsoft’s main console, thus showing that Microsoft is happy to take the cell phone trend of naming consoles from now on. I can’t wait to see the Xbox One Plus, the bulkier version of the Xbox One that is also not really designed to play video games.
Microsoft also announced Xbox Play Anywhere, a program allowing Xbox games to be played on Windows 10. Because God knows they were running out of ways to convince people to upgrade to Windows 10 almost as fast as they were running out of ways to convince people to not buy an Xbox One.
Finally, we have the bane of Xbox gamers’ wallets: the Xbox Project Scorpio, an elevated performance Xbox console supporting 4k gaming at 60fps as well as VR. The new console will allegedly be able to work with previous games on the lower-tier Xbox One, thus allowing gamers to keep their gaming libraries. Ya know, rather than the multi-hundred dollar console they bought the games for in the first place. Their last hardware announcement was that Xbox gamers can expect keyboard and mouse support for their console in the coming months, leaving a lot of us wondering why you wouldn’t just invest in a gaming PC at that point.
I may be in a minority on this one, but I cannot stand this new trend of churning out updated hardware to hit up gamers for more money every couple of years. E3 should have been an opportunity for Microsoft to convince people that their consoles are a smart investment, but this year’s conference did the exact opposite. Not only did it give people every reason to not buy a console (between Play Anywhere and Scorpio, why waste your money?), it also made moot any former purchases by Microsoft fans. Enjoying your Xbox One? Great, here’s a slimmer fancier version. Oh, and in case you got too attached to the idea of the Xbox One S, here’s an updated console to make your current consoles a thing of that past! Yay money!
I don’t want to sound like a PS4 fanboy by any means; I know that the PS4K is right around the corner. However, despite the fact that most AAA gaming companies see their consumers as no more than dollar signs, why was Microsoft the only one who didn’t even try to hide it at the biggest gaming convention in the world? To use a somewhat controversial comic book parallel, I can’t help but think of Microsoft gaming as a DC Rebirth situation: the new hardware is both too intimidating for new buyers because of the future uncertainty and absolutely insulting to the loyal fans who kept the original Xbox One afloat. For the life of me, I can’t figure out who this Scorpio business is for other than the executives at Microsoft.
Good lord, here we go.
I don’t like Ubisoft. Anyone who has read any of my past video game pieces knows that. So I was actually hoping that Ubisoft’s press conference would be really good so that people don’t write this off as just me being me, sadistically enjoying ripping Ubisoft a new one. But this conference was worse than the offensively open-faced greed that was present at Microsoft’s conference. Ubisoft’s showing at this year’s E3 was absolutely…forgettable.
Their biggest headliners were a new Ghost Recon game, a new South Park game, some BS Trials sequel using bad 80s pop culture tropes as a gimmick, and a Star Trek VR game. Oh, and of course, some more footage of Watch Dogs 2. Because everyone was clamoring for a sequel. There is nothing at all that sticks out about this conference: the new Ghost Recon looks the same as the other entries in the series. The South Park game looks like it will be much like the last one, a fun little licensed game that fans of the show will enjoy but everyone else will forget about after a month or so. The Trials game is already out and costs an absurd $14.99 for a glorified on-the-rails motocross game. The Star Trek VR game is at least something new, but it looks to be one of the more mundane VR experiences to be expected in the coming year. And then there’s Watch Dogs 2, a sequel that looks practically the same as the last one with choppy gameplay footage and a cinematic trailer that couldn’t keep my attention if it cosplayed as Mr. Miracle and called me Big Barda.
This is the problem with Ubisoft as a company: it’s nothing new. They struck gold with Assassin’s Creed, so what did they do for years? Make a new annual entry. Time for a new IP? Let’s just give people an AC clone in Watch Dogs but feature a broken hacking system and a bland protagonist. Oh, time for E3? Screw it, let’s just show them the same damn games we’ve been making for years and hope nobody notices. The biggest travesty of this conference is that it could have stolen the show if it showed anything at all about Beyond Good and Evil 2. You know, the game their fans have been begging for since the PS2 days. The game that has seen scores of online petitions pleading with Ubisoft to just give their loyal fans what they want. But it falls on deaf ears as we get more of the same recycled gaming experience with the same lazy execution with the same insulting Day 1 DLC with the same broken Uplay system. Microsoft may only see its consumers as dollar signs, but one must ask after this year’s E3 if Ubisoft even sees their consumers at all.
You can’t help but compare and contrast the best and worst performances at E3. Look at Sony and Microsoft: with the former, we have a ton of new IPs, exciting and innovative projects, and a postponed new console reveal for the sake of trying to ease gamers into the young new VR world of gaming. With the latter, we have an utter absence of games paired with new hardware left and right getting shoved down our throats. If the console war is still happening, Microsoft just waged the last half of the Crusades on Sony: in an attempt to assert console dominance, they ended up humiliating themselves with the clear message that Xbox isn’t in it for the gamers anymore. And if this video game company isn’t in it for the gamers, then why the hell should we give a yearly installment of our hard-earned money for a the latest shiny new console hardware?
Now, let’s compare and contrast Nintendo and Ubisoft. Both did a similar thing: focused most of their presenting power on past franchises. The big thing separating the two conferences, however, is the fact that one of the companies actually gave a crap about what their fanbase wants. Sure, there are legitimate arguments that the new Legend of Zelda game should have come out years ago. However, at least we finally got what we wanted. It took a while, but Nintendo actually had the self-awareness to say, “OK, you all have been patient, and as a result we’ve got a product that we have worked really hard to make exceptional.” Then there’s Ubisoft, who wouldn’t listen to its consumers if their lives depended on it. To win at E3, you either have to do something different from someone else (Sony actually having games to show off compared to Microsoft’s hardware-heavy presentation) or do the same thing way better (Bethesda focusing on established products with more insight and style than EA). Ubisoft did none of these things, and as a result, people are hard pressed to even remember that the company was even there. This credits truth to the Aboriginal proverb, “Look before you leap, especially if you’re leaping onto a world stage where all you have to show off is cinematic trailers that you’ll cut half the properties from by the release date, you lazy taints.”