The highlights and lowlights from yet another Gaming Christmas!
The Electronic Entertainment Expo is always a massive event, and although it was missing one of its major participants, the event still managed to deliver an absolute barrage of announcements, excitement and news to cover. Our news coverage is now all out in the open and we have a couple of opinions a little more fleshed out already – with more to come, we’re sure! – but the Doublejump Staff took a seat to talk, once again, about the best and worst of what we saw over the first few days of this week.
HIT: Banjo-Kazooie in Smash Bros It has been 11 years since the last Banjo-Kazooie game, and 19 since the last good Banjo-Kazooie game, so a lot of people assumed that the brand was dead, and would only live on in our hearts as a brilliant franchise from a developer at the top of its game… but that all changed in Nintendo’s Direct. The dynamic duo finally returned to a Nintendo console in Smash Bros. Grant Kirkhope’s beautiful soundtrack kicked in as they showcased the new fighters, and honestly, I’m tempted to buy a Switch just for that sick tune. Banjo-Kazooie is back, at long last, and the world is finally right again.
MISS: The Pre-E3 nonsense When does E3 start? I’m serious, I have no clue. I thought I knew, but I was a damn fool. Not only do you have to contend with the nightmare that is timezones, but now there’s a weird “pre-E3” period where companies make big announcements anyway. EA even started EA Play which is a weird, non-E3 event timed to coincide with E3, but specifically for EA! If you’re going to try and time your announcements with E3, just bite the bullet and do it during E3. This weird prequel bullshit isn’t helping anyone.
MISS: E3’s missing magic I might be in a minority here, but this year it felt like E3 had lost a bit of its magic. Never mind the fact that Sony wasn’t there in any capacity this year, but most of the convention consisted of CGI trailers and what may eventually turn out to be a bunch of empty promises. I yearn for the days where we actually received gameplay footage – or at least small snippets of gameplay – from most developers. It could just be because we saw footage of very few, if any, of the titles I was really looking forward to seeing, but all I know is that when a movie star’s appearance on stage (no matter how legendary that movie star is) is my favourite moment of the entire convention… That’s more than a little damning.
HIT… AND MISS?: The allure of 2020 Yes, I’m aware that a lot of the things we see at E3 are announcements, expansions, or titles that are still some way from release, but I can count the number of 2019 releases we saw at E3 that I’m looking forward to on one hand, with fingers to spare. While I’m definitely happy with those few titles, the entire event felt like it was geared towards 2020. Xbox in particular had a lot of filler, and you can’t blame Microsoft for that: given that the company announced that its next Xbox console is slated for 2020, it needs to pack a real punch at E3 2020 in order to help drive early sales, and so keeping its cards close to its chest this year is a smart move. It’s likely that Sony stayed out of the event for similar reasons, given that the next PlayStation is surely hot on Project Scarlett’s heels.
With that being said, E3 2019’s biggest achievement was getting me extremely excited for E3 2020; the next generation of gaming feels like it’s snuck up on us nice and quietly, and I can’t wait to see all of the games and innovations that companies are saving for it.
HIT: The surprise that was Watch Dogs: Legion Watch Dogs: Legion wasn’t actually a surprise to me given that it got leaked a week ahead of E3, so we already knew where the game would be set and exactly how much ambition Ubisoft’s packing into it. What I wasn’t prepared for, though, was just how excited I am for the game. Admittedly, when I first read the leaks I was disappointed because I worried that the game would be too ambitious and/or just not focused enough. After the original Watch Dogs left a bad taste in many people’s mouths, Ubisoft was smart to dull down the franchise’s over-the-top seriousness and made Watch Dogs 2 a brighter, more positive and infinitely more cheesy game; it didn’t sell all that well, but it was good enough to warrant another sequel, and that sequel looks like it could be a lot of fun. Unfortunately, it also falls into the whole “allure of 2020” idea. Good things come to those who wait, I suppose…
HIT: Nintendo is going from strength to strength Like its predecessor, the ill-fated Wii U, the Nintendo Switch got off to a pretty slow start, but fortunately, that’s the only similarity the two consoles share. The first twelve months had me worried, as it looked like the Japanese gaming giant was waiting for some kind of signal before it really threw its support behind the console – it only released two major first-party games during that period – but when that signal came, when people started to really get behind the Switch… Nintendo saw that signal, hit the ground running, and the Nintendo Direct it put together for this year shows that it has no intention of stopping.
It also simply wouldn’t be right if I didn’t acknowledge the elephant in the room: Doug Bowser as Nintendo of America’s new President… That’s just too good.
MISS: The amount of announcements that got leaked before the event Whether it’s a ten-minute segment in a major press conference, a quick hello, or even just a blog post that goes along with an appearance on the show floor, a lot of people from a lot of companies work extremely hard on whatever they choose to do to announce their projects at E3 (or anywhere). That’s why I feel genuine sadness for the oodles of developers who had their announcements leaked in the fortnight leading up to the event. Of course, the show went on and they still made their announcements, which is good, but unfortunately none of them were really met with the same reaction they would have seen if they were complete surprises.
More unfortunate than the hours, weeks, months and even years of work that lead up to an announcement that ends up not getting the reaction it could have got, however, is the mindset of the people who leak the information. Whether it’s a journalist or outlet looking to get some extra clicks because they broke the story (believe me, there’s a lot of clicks in breaking a story) or just a random internet user in search of online clout, these people are content to essentially ruin E3 – not only for the developers whose big moment the leaks serve to dampen, but for the countless people for whom the mystery and excitement of E3 is now ruined.
HIT: Announcing Spiritfarer It was my Game of the Show as soon as it was announced during the Xbox keynote and, after a pretty middling E3 all-round, it still is. It looks delightful. Other games have been about as exciting (see below) but Spiritfarer is just so exactly my jam.
I’ve unironically wanted a game set on a houseboat for a while now and Spiritfarer is pretty close to that vision. The trailer only gives a hint at how it works as a game, but Thunder Lotus Games’ own website expands on it: you play as Stella, a ferry master for the deceased – a Spiritfarer – and you build and upgrade your boat as you befriend various spirits. You care for and spend time with these spirits aboard your boat, do all the boat things like farming, mining (on local islands), cooking and crafting, before finally saying goodbye as your friends pass into the afterlife.
In an interview with the PlayStation Blog, creative director Nicolas Guérin describes Spiritfarer as a “cosy” and “positive game about loss, friendship, empathy, and what is left behind.” With art similar to Lab Zero Games’ Indivisible and Trinket Studios’ Battle Chef Brigade and hopefully a soundtrack that’s just as gorgeous… I can’t wait.
HIT: Astral Chain is looking even better Developed by Platinum Games? Check. Weapons that are essentially Stands from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure? Check. Future anime police? Check. Yeah, I was already pretty onboard with Astral Chain.
What put me over the edge, however, were the two Treehouse demonstrations (1, 2) with director Takahisa Taura. They showcased a game with semi-open levels, a focus on playing a police officer (you can even pick up trash as part of your duty), a larger focus on investigation specifically (anything even close to L.A. Noire is on my watchlist), and surprisingly striking art direction and image quality. I’m holding out for (the entirely unmentioned) Bayonetta 3 but Astral Chain had a far more impressive showing than I expected, and it might have just become a day-one purchase when it releases in August.
HIT: Announcing Animal Crossing: New Horizons I’ve brought up Animal Crossing a couple of times here at Doublejump so I feel a little obligated to talk about it here, and while the crafting mechanics leave me a little wary, it’s exciting to have a new entry on the horizon.
It looks like a direct successor to New Leaf (it took me a few days to notice the name connection there) and brings a similar overhaul to the series. Where New Leaf had you acting as the mayor of your small town with a lot of control over how it develops, New Horizons seems to take that even further by settling an untouched island and building up your town from the very beginning. It expands on the typical progression and player arc in the series (at least from what we’ve seen so far). Alongside a far more inclusive range of character customisation (which looks a lot like the mobile Pocket Camp), New Horizons changes up the series yet again – hopefully for the better.
HIT: Final Fantasy VIII finally arrives on current consoles Arguably the title I’m looking forward to the most coming out of E3 was Square Enix’s announcement that it will release Final Fantasy VIII on all current-generation platforms. While it won’t look as pretty as the Final Fantasy VII Remake, Square Enix is promising to give the game a nice polish, with a new graphical facelift that tidies up some of the pixelated messes which appeared on the original PS1 title (“you’re the best looking guy here”). The PS4 store has ports of both VII and IX, but the eighth game always seems to get left behind in the conversation. Now, I’ll finally be able to return to the game once again.
MISS: More reliance on pre-release footage With each year, more games are simply shown as trailers consisting of over-produced pre-release footage, and they don’t show us the game. I’m tired of it. E3 clearly doesn’t have the influence that it once did – which John wrote about last week – and all we really see now are cinematic-style trailers, something which could really be revealed to millions on YouTube and have the same reach. I want to see developers showing us how their games work. Talk to us, tell us how important your game is to you!
MISS: Almost all of Bethesda’s show I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Bethesda’s legion of super fans will eat up anything their lord and saviour Todd Howard feeds them. Surely, though, even they would have found this year’s lineup hard to swallow. Fallout 76 is finally getting NPCs, but that’s not something we should be celebrating in 2019. The game is also jumping on the battle royale bandwagon, which was a trend I already complained about last E3, while Nintendo Switch players will soon be nickled and dimed as its mobile title The Elder Scrolls: Blades is set to arrive on the platform, complete with lacklustre motion-equipped gameplay.
The only shining lights of Bethesda’s show were Ikumi Nakamura talking about her new game GhostWire: Tokyo – her enthusiasm was clearly on display, where most presenters are either painfully stale or use jokes that miss their targets – and the appearance of Arkane Studios’ newest game, Deathloop, which I’m highly intrigued by.
HIT: Cyberpunk 2077 and Keanu Reeves With its lengthy development cycle, countless teasers and a ton of announcements dating back as far as 2012, CD Projekt Red has built an incredible hype machine around Cyberpunk 2077. At Microsoft’s conference this year, we got closer than ever with a cinematic, story-driven trailer that gave us a better understanding of protagonist V’s motivations within the game’s world. It was an incredibly polished trailer, and I wasn’t fussed that we didn’t see too much in the way of gameplay – previous trailers have shown us plenty, so that’s okay. Either way, it wouldn’t have mattered because as the trailer ended, we saw a long-haired man with a silver arm turn around. As he took off his glasses, it hit us all at once: that’s not the Winter Soldier… it’s Keanu Reeves!
If that wasn’t enough, Microsoft actually managed to get Keanu out on stage to give us a little rundown on his involvement with developer CD Projekt Red and his role in Cyberpunk 2077. If that wasn’t enough, Keanu was entrusted with yet another special announcement: the long-awaited release date, April 16, 2020. It was a pleasant surprise to say the least, and with Cyberpunk 2077 now on the home stretch, I couldn’t be happier with how Microsoft handled it.
HIT: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is looking good Star Wars fans like myself got spoiled at EA Play. We not only got our best look at Respawn’s Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order to date in the form of that gameplay showcase, but we also got an accurate depiction of exactly what we’d be doing in the game. Although much of what we saw wasn’t entirely original, per se, it was still a good showing: the combat looked solid, the Force abilities bring variety and encourage creativity, and the platforming elements looked fun and frequent. Just because something isn’t entirely original, that doesn’t mean it’s destined to fail – after all, the Uncharted series is one of my (and many others’) favourite series out there, and there isn’t much originality in that.
MISS: The Marvel’s Avengers “gameplay” trailer This was heartbreaking. After almost a year of pure hype, Square Enix finally gave us our first actual look at Crystal Dynamics’ upcoming Marvel’s Avengers game, and I’m just conflicted enough to be disappointed. Make no mistake: I’m completely on board with the game existing (I think it’s long overdue, in fact), but I was expecting to get a better look at the gameplay elements; it was far too difficult to separate the cinematics from the gameplay.
Unlike much of the Internet, I don’t have much of a problem with the way the characters look, but I do have to admit that Thor is the weakest of the bunch. He looks like a lifeless, default Nord from Skyrim, for crying out loud. The story seemed interesting enough, but strangely includes a plot point found in Avengers: Endgame – the Avengers fail to stop an attack and deal with the consequences five years later. At this point, it looks like Crystal Dynamics could have done so much more with this license. I just hope that Marvel’s Avengers proves me wrong when it’s released next May.
HIT: 40 minutes of bliss in the form of an amazing Nintendo Direct The first few days of E3 showed a number (very small, but a number nonetheless) of interesting and exciting new games and announcements from many studios – GhostWire: Tokyo stood out in particular – but it was 2am AEST on Wednesday that stole the show: Nintendo’s E3 Direct was absolutely incredible, showcasing so many games coming to the Switch from such a wide variety of developers, publishers and even genres.
Including Dragon Quest’s Hero(es) and Banjo-Kazooie themselves in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate showed us that Nintendo is willing to push (what it used to think were) the series’ boundaries. We also saw a few potential strong sellers in Astral Shield, Luigi’s Mansion 3 and Super Mario Maker 2, which will likely come together to form a very strong second half of 2019 on the financial front. There was also the introduction of Reggie Fils-Aime’s successor as Nintendo of America President, a man named Doug Bowser of all things. Of course, there were also some less-than-palatable announcements, namely Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ delay and Pokémon Sword and Shield’s lack of a National Pokédex (that one came during the Treehouse event later on), but those both came with completely understandable reasons and shouldn’t impact either game’s potential to be the best in their respective franchises.
With all of that being said though, it was the last minute and a half of the Direct – when the Japanese giant announced that it’s working on a sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – that cemented its place as E3 2019 Champion. The short trailer that we saw depicted the game as being much like what Majora’s Mask is to Ocarina of Time: a darker, creepier and weirder adventure than its predecessor, complete with Ganondorf’s skeleton coming back to life, Champion Link and Princess Zelda (with a brand new haircut to boot!) exploring some spooky dungeons, and Hyrule Castle magically being lifted into the air. We currently do not have any hint of a release date or window, but I am extremely hyped for this game and cannot wait to hear more.
MISS: The incessant, unadulterated tantrums that the vast majority of Pokemon fans threw following Nintendo Treehouse Immediately following its Direct, Nintendo entertained its fans with a plethora of gameplay and demos from upcoming titles, all showcased in neat little packages known as “Nintendo Treehouses”. This year, the first game to get the Treehouse treatment was Pokémon Sword and Shield and, I have to say, I think that the games are definitely shaping up to be, as game producer Junichi Masuda has previously said, “Pokémon games for everyone.”
However, the bulk of the Pokémon fanbase has thrown what I can only describe as one of the biggest hissy-fits I have personally observed following the announcement that they won’t be able to transfer everyone Pokémon into Sword and Shield (transfers are now limited to a region Pokédex). Reddit, YouTube and discussion forums have lit up with complaints that people can’t play with their favourite Pokémon (even though the scope of the region Pokédex has yet to be announced), protesting that “Pokémon needs to go back to the old days of Generation 4” and that “Game Freak and the new games should be completely boycotted to take a stand.” Perhaps the most notable example of backlash is in the Treehouse video’s like/dislike ratio on YouTube: at the time of this writing, with over 1,000,000 views the video has just 17,000 likes compared to nearly 54,000 dislikes, and an overabundance of negative comments to boot.
Now, my opinion on the matter isn’t necessary right here; that’s a story for another day (or in the Doublejump Discord server!). What I am most upset about it the reception from an audience that is completely and entirely unwilling to think about new possibilities with these games. I’ll hopefully discuss it more in-depth very soon, but anybody who is upset about these announced limitations should try to remember that The Pokémon Company and Game Freak have been collaboratively creating these games which we love for over twenty years. I really feel that they must have some sort of bigger plans yet to be announced – so for now, all we need to do is sit tight, stay civil and keep getting hyped for November 15.
HIT: Keanu Reeves stealing the show Arguably the biggest “oh my God” moment of the whole E3 was that of Keanu Reeves’ appearance as Johnny Silverhand in CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077, and having the man himself come out and announce the game’s long-awaited release date was the cherry on the icing on that cake. It wasn’t just a big moment because it was Keanu Reeves, though: it’s super exciting to see more and more Hollywood stars appearing in video games (Forest Whitaker is also appearing in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order), bringing further legitimacy to the medium as a storytelling platform – whether or not we believe it needed it.
HIT: Nintendo’s onslaught of games Nintendo really won me back over this year with the incredible amount of games it showed off during its E3 Direct, not to mention the quality we saw throughout the Direct. It’s finally made me excited to own a Switch. Pokémon Sword and Shield are looking better and better with each showing, Astral Chain – my favourite reveal from the show – is looking like another phenomenal effort from PlatinumGames, and as Mitch wrote just above, the House of Mario topped it all off by announcing that it’s working on a sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. If Nintendo can even come close to delivering on the promises it made during that 40-minute showing, it will win 2019 by a long way.
MISS: Bethesda Okay, for real, what even is Bethesda anymore? Where it was once an innovatory, the Maryland-based developer/publisher is now looking more like Activision and EA: companies with a passion for money, not for what they’re creating. Outside of Ikumi Nakamura, who single-handedly stole the show, none of Bethesda’s presenters showed any real passion or excitement for what they’re doing. It’s gotten to the point where I’m no longer interested in any game bearing the Bethesda badge because let’s be honest, the company simply can’t sell them to me.
HIT: Nintendo’s sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is easily one of my favourite games, so when Nintendo closed its signature E3 Direct with a trailer announcing not just the next game in the series but a direct sequel set in the same world as Breath of the Wild, I was incredibly excited. The trailer itself was vague, not revealing any story details and not showing any gameplay, but the mere idea of a sequel being developed was enough for me. Coupled with the fact that this announcement was a complete surprise, not being leaked or even hinted at in advance, this was easily my favourite moment of E3 this year.
HIT: Everything about Keanu Reeves When I woke up the morning after the Microsoft conference and checked my phone, I was surprised to see the internet had absolutely blown up. Keanu Reeves? In a video game? I didn’t really expect much from the Microsoft conference, but I decided to sit down and watch it anyway. Until that day I had no feelings whatsoever regarding CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077, and I stayed largely ambivalent until the trailer was coming to a close. First, a character that looks and sounds suspiciously like Keanu Reeves appears on screen. Then, the actor himself walks on stage. The audience went wild and I was right along with them. Like the Breath of the Wild trailer, this was completely unexpected. The fact that a celebrity as prevalent as Keanu Reeves was scheduled to appear in a video game and to give a speech at a video game conference, and that was kept a secret, is itself an impressive feat. This small segment managed to excite me for a game I knew absolutely nothing about, and in the end… isn’t that what E3 is for?
With so much going on, we’re sure that there’s more to talk about. Be sure to let us know your picks for the best and worst of E3 2019 either in the comments below or on social media – we’d love to hear from you!