Part one: The games! Well, I'm back from Los Angeles and the Electronic Entertainment Expo. I must say, I had one of the best times of my life. This is going to be a very, very good year to play lots of games. I have a lot of impressions to give about games shown in the convention center. Let's start with the heart of the show: the games themselves. GAME OF THE SHOW: Panzer Dragoon Orta. Oh... my... god. This game is absolutely beautiful. After seeing the cinema and hearing the music, I just wanted to fall to the ground crying tears of joy. And playing it... it's just so good! The environments are so much bigger than they ever were on the Saturn, and at times the screen is just flooded with enemies and weaponry flying about. It's very intense. Plus, the dragon morphing and attack positioning from AZEL has carried over. For some bosses and enemies, you have to slow down or speed up to access their weak points. There were only two levels playable in the E3 demo, and they promise a lot more in the final version. Plus, I really like the new designs. The dragon rider is a woman for the first time. She looks as if she was a former slave of some sort, from the chains on her body... and she has silver hair. Silver hair must be trendy, you see a lot of it in character designs recently. (^^) The monster designs look a little bit different than past Panzer games as well... they look almost like something H.R. Giger would draw. When I first saw the creatures attacking the heroine in the intro, I thought of Aliens... Very cool. I need to buy an XBox soon to play this. This game is absolutely a must-have. OTHER COOL GAMES: Mario Sunshine. Honestly, I wasn't too excited about this one, but after seeing and playing it, I can say that there are still people at Nintendo who haven't lost their ability to design great-playing games and inspiring game environments. The way Mario can move around and the various uses for his water pack are really cool. The control takes some getting used to, but I'm sure once you get the hang of it you would be able to string many techniques together to create some very impressive movements. I'm really looking forward to this. Wario World. Another Nintendo GC game! Wario World has pretty simplistic, strightforward control and level design, but it is lots and lots of fun. Beat enemies into submission and take their money and items! Grab them, throw them, and even piledrive them for huge amounts of damage! though not as exciting as Mario Sunshine, this is another one to look forward to. GunGrave: Imagine Trigun crossed with Devil May Cry. That's what this game is like, but it's almost 100% pure action and shooting lots and lots of enemies. The game's graphic design fits the style of Nightow perfectly. Also... any game where the level starts with a message saying "KICK THEIR ASSES!" has to be cool. (^_^) I'm told a video of an official Trigun game was shown in the appointments-only area of the Sega booth, as well... Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance. It looks a lot better than Circle of the Moon, though the play style is certainly familiar. It seems like they really want to expand on the concepts introduced in the first game, and hopefully eliminate the issues the first one had. I didn't hear the music, but I'm told it's not going to be as good as the first due to processor constraints. Too bad. Metroid Fusion: The GBA Metroid game done by the original Super Metroid team (minus the late Gumpei Yokoi). The graphics on this look beautiful, and the gameplay is exact to that of its predecessors. It's been a long time since the wonderful <i>Super Metroid</i>, so I'm really excited about this. Sky Gunner. Another fun-looking shooter that Atlus is publishing in North America. The graphics and art design are colorful and appealing, and the game itself is quite nice. Plus they're including the option to hear English or Japanese dialogue as you play. Very cool. SURPRISES: Blinx. This is the secret XBox game being developed by Artoon (the former Sonic Team guys). For a Japanese game it sure looks American in style... but anyways, this game was really, really cool. I like the fact that the you play as a heroic janitor cat. (^o^) The time manipulation concepts are really original, and I was able to see the way they could be used in the demo... rewinding time so that a collapsed structure would rebuild, using pause to stop everything for a few seconds, recording yourself performing actions and then having your recorded self repeat them while you do other things... it's really cool. I look forward to playing the final version of this. PS2 Jojo's Bizarre Adventure: Wow, so this game actually exists! After hearing nothing about it for so long I was wondering if it had been quietly cancelled... but nope, it was there, and playable. The graphics on the characters were nothing special (they only look about as good as the original JSR) but the environments and backgrounds were very nice. I didn't get a chance to play it so I can't comment on the gameplay. The version shown was entirely in Japanese, but it looks like it's going to get a US release... Pinky and the Brain: A GBA platform game that's very similar in style to the old licensed games Konami used to produce early in the life of the 16-bit systems. Quite nicely done from what I saw and played, because I certainly wasn't expecting much from it. DISAPPOINTMENTS: Suikoden III. I'll just say that I agree with the impressions Gameforms wrote. The graphics design for the characters and environments looks unoriginal (it bears a very strong resemblance to Eternal Arcadia). And the battles... what happened to the fun, speedy battles of Suikoden 1 and 2? These battles are super slow and seem rather boring. It looks like they're trying to implement a positioning system like Grandia as well, but it didn't seem to work as well. Overall, I was quite let down by this, because I liked the other games in the series a lot. But since this was only a demo, I'll continue to hold hope that the final version will be better. New Contra games: I didn't play these myself, but my companion told me the new PS2 Contra sucked. Since I usually agree with his gaming tastes, I'll take his word for it. I don't think the GBA version was playable either, but the video they showed looked like crap. It didn't even look as nice as the MegaDrive Contra HardCorps. Yech. Metroid Prime: I honestly can not see what people are getting excited about here. The game's graphics look like a bad Halo ripoff, and the gameplay is rather boring, standard FPS fare. This isn't what Metroid was supposed to be at all! However... the GBA Metroid game is awesome, and will most certainly make up for the GC game's shortcomings. STUFF I DIDN'T WASTE TIME WITH: Sly Cooper, Ratchet and Clank, and Vexx. Boring, uninspired, American-made action games. Games like these have nothing new or original about them (in fact most of Ratchet and Clank's gameplay seems stolen from many other, better action games), they are only designed to have mass market appeal and sell a lot of units. The Getaway. Looked awful. Crappy graphics, bad framerate. I'm told it played just as badly too. They've spent 3 years working on THIS? Rockman X7 is 3D, and it looks really bad. Ugghhhh. I don't really care about the Rockman series anymore though... I stopped playing seriously after X4. NO-SHOW DISAPPOINTMENTS: Soul Calibur 2. This doesn't make sense because there's been a 80% complete version testing in Chicago for a while now... instead, Namco just showed it on video. Too bad. A new Gameboy Advance Kirby game was announced, but only very, very brief video of it was shown in the display for the new Kirby anime show. Star Ocean 3 was only on video as well. It sure looked really, really good though. I want it. PS2 and GC Eternal Arcadia was also nowhere to be seen. No news on VF Evolution, Quest, or the rumored Advance. But I suppose most of that news will come at the arcade show in June. STUPIDEST GAME OF SHOW: Mary Kate and Ashley's Sweet 16. I need say no more. WEIRDEST GAME OF SHOW: Metal Gear Solid 2 Substance. Everybody was just confused out of their minds when they saw the video of Solid Snake in a tuxedo, hiding from an enemy solider who was Godzilla-sized... and then it cut to a scene of him performing Tony Hawk style tricks on a skateboard. What the hell? (o_o) I'm not too fond of Metal Gear, but I must say that I am intrigued. BEST BOOTH: Nintendo. The booth was gigantic and laid out much better than last year. There was actually room to move around! plus there were enough displays so that you could play almost any game at any time. There was other cool stuff too: The big merchandise display, the gigantic Kirby stuffie, and of course, the prize wheel where you could win a limited-edition Gameboy Advance, special T-shirts, jewelry, a Wavebird controller, and other neat stuff. Unfortunately in order to play you had to wait at least an hour in line, something I wasn't willing to do when there was so much other cool stuff at the show. One guy I know managed to win two GBAs from the prize wheel though. Lucky! WORST BOOTH: Squaresoft. And I thought it was a one-game booth last year... at least then they had a couple kiosks devoted to FF Chronicles (FFIV and Chrono Trigger). But this year the booth consisted entirely of Kingdom Hearts. That's it. No FFXI or anything. Why? I think Square planned to show FFXI, but because of all the major problems the game is having in Japan, they decided not to at the last minute... In fact, they're saying the game won't be released in North America for another year. Yikes. A year is a really long time. FFXI was at the Sony booth though, but it was the Japanese version. And I must say, it also looked quite bad. BEST GAMES VERY FEW PEOPLE SAW: There were several Korean companies in Kentia Hall, a downstairs area cut off from the area where most of the big companies are showing their stuff. Most of what these companies were showing were PC games, but I was surprised by how interesting and well-made a lot of these games were. The developers were very eager to show and talk about their stuff, too. I have a feeling that if anyone is going to revitalize the dying PC game market, it will be the Korean companies. Also of note: The Korean GP32 handheld game system. This thing is really, really nice. If someone would market it well I think it could gain a decent market share. PROOF THAT TECMO HAS NO ORIGINALITY: Dead or Alive Beach Volleyball! Gee, I wonder what inspired this idea? Another interesting note: When I was wandering around the Sega booth, I noticed a bunch of Tecmo Japan people standing around the Shinobi display. One of them had a notepad and was writing stuff down. Hmmm. SOMETHING THAT MADE ME FEEL GOOD: South Korean developer Gravity had a tiny little square 2m x 2m booth in the Korea Pavilion at Kentia Hall last year. This year, they were in one of the main display halls with big companies like Capcom, Midway, and Konami, and had an elaborate display with scenery, props, and merchandise to promote Ragnarok Online. It's always nice to see a small company with a good product succeed. More E3 impressions to come soon!