I’ve been to my fair share of E3s and I’m well aware that they’re really nothing more than loud and obnoxious attempts to manipulate attendees into caring about whatever games publishers and developers happen to be pushing at that moment. I know it’s all about business. I get it. I just don’t care. I love E3 and all of its glitzy bombast. It’s Disneyland for gamers, where every aisle offers new opportunities for fun. Maybe it’s that big blockbuster you’ve been waiting to see all year, maybe it’s the return of a beloved franchise, or maybe it’s something brand new you’ve never heard of – whatever your particular kind of gaming treasure, it’s there to be found, so long as you’re willing to look.
With that in mind, here are my five favorite games from the show. Some you probably could’ve guessed, others, hopefully, will come as a bit of a surprise. As is always the case with these lists, I’m not saying these are the “best” games or the most important games or anything of that nature, just that these were the games that ranked highest on my personal “squee” meter.
5. LittleBigPlanet 2 – My adoration of Sackboy continues unabated, but his adorable grinning mug isn’t why this game makes my favorites list, LittleBigPlanet 2‘s new toolset is. LBP fans created some truly remarkable and complex levels using the design equivalent of rock and sticks – even the Media Molecule folks were amazed at what they accomplished. The tools in LBP2 are even more advanced and easier to use, letting users remap the Sixaxis as they see fit, create microchips, and program basic AI. I can barely wrap my head around the seemingly infinite possibilities, but talented LBP fans have already used the new tools to create games within the game, like an RTS and a shmup complete with holographic enemies and high score. The platformer is still in there, of course, and has been tweaked a bit to make Sackboy a bit less floaty and easier to control, but the best of LBP2 has yet to come.
4. Rock of Ages (pictured) – “Delightfully weird” is a phrase that can be applied to just about anything Atlus puts out, and this twist on tower defense is no exception. The concept is simple: Put two towers across from each other and let them roll boulders at each other until one’s gate is smashed. Add defensive measures like battle elephants and giant fans. Mix in the ability to actually steer the rocks as they head down the hill towards their targets. Top it all off with an aesthetic based on various periods of art history, and 2d characters that look like they were pulled out of paintings and you’ve got a game I can’t wait to download when it comes out next spring.
3. Child of Eden – Fangirl alert: I’m a sucker for anything Tetsuya Mizuguchi cares to create. Lumines? Yes. Rez? Of course. Space Channel 5? Up, down, up, down, chu, chu, chu! When I first saw Child of Eden, the spiritual successor to trippy shooter Rez, I nearly lost my damn mind. Granted, the swirly-whirly shooter isn’t for everyone – our Steve Butts frequently refers to it as the “aneurysm game” – but I can’t wait to let Child of Eden‘s lights and sounds wash over me. Rez was a game that you felt as much as played (insert joke about the Trance Vibrator here), and Child of Eden looks like it will be a similar experience. I’m still not sure about playing it with Kinect – could be transcendent, could be annoying – but I’m looking forward to finding out.
2. Nintendo – Ok, yes, I’m completely cheating by lumping everything awesome Nintendo had to offer into one big group, but it’s my list and I get to make the rules, so nyah. Nintendo seemed to have an unending stream of Seriously Cool Stuff ready and waiting for us, and I admit to being taken utterly by surprise. Games like Skyward Sword are excellent, but expected and, in terms of E3, a bit boring and safe. But a new entry in the Donkey Kong Country franchise? Didn’t see that coming, but I’m glad it’s on the way. I don’t know a single person who came away from Kirby’s Epic Yarn as anything other than completely charmed. And the 3DS? Well, that thing is just plain amazing. After baffling us with the Vitality Sensor last year, Nintendo reminded us just how damn good they can be.
1. Epic Mickey (pictured) – There are several reasons why this game is my absolute favorite of the show, but the gameplay actually isn’t one of them. Not that there’s anything wrong with the platforming and thinner/paint mechanic, but it’s kind of beside the point for me. Epic Mickey honors its source material without treating it like it’s sacred, turning what could’ve been a yawnfest of family friendliness into something vibrant and enticing. Mickey Mouse is one of the most beloved characters of all time, but let’s be honest – the guy is a goody-goody. It’s hard to imagine him doing anything that even veered towards “naughty” let alone full-on “bad,” so it’s rather exciting to have a game in which the core trouble is his fault and where not helping his pals is a viable option. When it seems like every other game on the shelf is some slightly different way to spill blood, how refreshing it is to play something as whimsical as Epic Mickey. It could’ve been safe, it could’ve been dull, it could’ve been a soulless attempt to cash in on the license. Instead, it’s something we don’t see nearly often enough in gaming: truly creative.
There are plenty of great games that only just missed the list – Okamiden, Marvel vs Capcom 3, Ghost Trick, Guilty Party, Professor Layton, Portal 2 – but those are my top five. Feel free to argue with me as much as you like.