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Counter Attack #2: E3’s Ten Most Embarrassing Moments

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Counter Attack is a weekly feature here on Goomba Stomp in which John Cal McCormick casts a bemused eye over the gaming news, the niggling issues plaguing the industry, important moments from gaming’s past, or whatever it is that’s annoying him this week. Today we’ll be talking about E3’s ten most embarrassing moments. Buckle up.

E3 is right around the corner. Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo will take to either the stage or streams to update us on what we can expect in the near future, and the whole thing should be at least marginally entertaining to those with more than a passing interest in the video game industry. Recent years have seen all the major players substantially upping their game when it comes to delivering compelling keynote speeches, with 2015 and 2016 in particular being hailed as featuring the two best E3 conferences of all time – huge announcements, awesome looking games, and very little to complain about.

Of course, to get to the point where E3 became a well oiled machine (mostly, anyway) took many years of practice. If you go back in time to E3 conferences before the current generation you’ll see that it wasn’t always this way. We had pointless celebrity cameos, awkward transitions, dreadful presenters, live demo fails – honestly, E3 back then was car crash television. You kids today don’t know how good you got it, but then, as a big fan of awkward comedy shows, I guess I enjoyed knowing that the wheels could come off the presentations at any time. And they frequently did. So without further ado, let’s revisit the ten most awkward, cringe-inducing, embarrassing moments in E3 history, all for our amusement.

Oh, and if you’re here for the Nintendo puppets you can get in the sea. I loved those guys.

#10 Sony’s Blunderbook (Sony, 2012)

The only way anybody could have this much fun with Wonderbook is if they used it to slap the person who invented Wonderbook.

Maybe it’s because I’m a jaded old man, but the thought of plugging a tacky plastic book into my PlayStation so I could wave a stupid Move controller around to make spells appear on my TV doesn’t sound like something that would have ever appealed to me even if the live demonstration hadn’t been a disaster. Of course, it was a disaster, and that’s why we’re talking about it.

On paper, Wonderbook doesn’t sound like it’s going to be the worst thing ever does it? An augmented reality video game set in the world of Harry Potter via an official partnership with JK Rowling, letting players cast spells and see the magic they’ve woven unfold before their very eyes on screen? Yeah, I would never play it, but it’s not really for me is it? I’m never going to play with Labo either – and nor is anybody else if sales figures are to be believed – but I can see the value in it because it’s not for someone like me, it’s for kids and people who like fun.

But whatever the intention was behind Wonderbook, it didn’t really pan out for anybody. During the infamous 2012 live stage demo, Dave Ranyard boldly announced that Wonderbook was the “reinvention of the story book,” a proclamation that never quite came to pass with Wonderbooks presumably now being buried in a landfill somewhere alongside that E.T. game. The live demo went about as badly as a live demo can go without the building collapsing on top of the audience, with hapless stooges desperately trying to perform gestures to make spells appear on screen that rarely worked as they were supposed to, and when they did, they were nowhere near as impressive as they probably should be. It didn’t help that the volume on the televisions playing the demo was so loud that the narration from the game was drowning out what Dave Ranyard was saying about it, although possibly that was a blessing in disguise.

Seconds after poor Dave cracked a joke about the fire spell one of his assistants was performing potentially burning the building down to a silent crowd, he then had to awkwardly explain that things can go wrong during live demos after the aforementioned fire spell had failed to work like six times in a row. It was dreadful, it was embarrassing, and it went on for fifteen fucking minutes. Honestly, I’ve linked to the video here, but I wouldn’t bother watching it. I did while I was writing this, and it’s a small miracle I didn’t strangle myself with my belt.

#9 BAM! There it isn’t! (Microsoft, 2009)

You can basically pinpoint the moment that Microsoft lost the plot and Xbox began suffering as a result. Seeing the success of the Wii with the casual market, Microsoft desperately wanted a piece of that big money pie. Sony did, too, but they gave up after like five minutes so no harm, no foul. Microsoft really wanted it, and so they came up with Kinect – a camera that could, theoretically, read the every move of the user and replicate their actions on screen – as a counterpoint to Nintendo’s waggle controller that was selling like hotcakes. Couple of issues with that, of course. Issue the first is that Nintendo’s success with the Wii was more of a short-lived fad than a sustainable business model, with even the big N finding few practical – or fun – uses for their waggle tech outside of launch title Wii Sports. By the time Kinect hit the market the motion fad was basically over, and while it racked up respectable sales, it never had a killer app to justify the purchase.

Problem the second is that for all of the issue, Wii was fun, and Kinect was shit. Kinect, even the fancy new one that they misguidedly released alongside Xbox One, never really worked. And I know that Microsoft evangelists will swear that it did work, and for them they never had a single problem using the camera and every day was glorious and they still switch television channels using theirs all the time, but in the real world it barely ever did what it was supposed to do. This was never demonstrated quite as succinctly as it was during the Project Natal – that’s the codename for Kinect – demonstration live on stage at E3 2009. In less than thirty seconds the potential pitfalls of Microsoft’s fancy new camera were laid bare before the world, as the presenter asked, “Ever wondered what the bottom of an avatar’s shoe looks like?”

“Bam! There it is!” he said, flicking his foot into the air flamboyantly and foolishly expecting his avatar to do the same. The Kinect, perhaps not being used to dealing with leg motions of such sass, or perhaps just being a piece of garbage tech that didn’t know what the fuck to do, made the avatar on screen contort like something out of Silent Hill, and the crowd went mild.

#8 Konami’s Entire Press Conference (2010)

There’s a time and place for professional wrestling, and neither are on stage at E3.

At Sony HQ there’s perhaps a classroom where a crusty old teacher gives lectures to potential up-and-comers within the company hierarchy on just how to deal with an E3 press conference. They’ve pretty much perfected the formula at this point, largely keeping the suits out of the way and letting the games do the talking. Sometimes the games don’t do the talking, but at least their shows are largely well done now. The professionally handled presentations we see today are built on the backs of a thousand former E3 fuck ups, and it took us many years of many awful, awful conferences to get to this point. In the hypothetical classroom teaching E3 101, there’ll presumably be an entire semester dedicated to what was possibly the worst conference of all time – the Konami 2010 presser.

Everything about this was bad. Everything. There were no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Like, when we had the Wonderbook thing or the Kinect fail, you could, even if you weren’t interested, at least see what they were going for and how it might appeal to somebody. Konami’s 2010 conference was a badly organised, horribly misguided, barely coherent, surrealist nightmare that was more akin to an episode of the second season of Twin Peaks than a corporate event intended to get you excited to buy video games.

This had it all. Presenters that could barely speak a word of English realising that perhaps delivering an entire conference in English was a bad idea only after they’d already started on stage? Check. Some awkward live dancing and then attempting to sell a game while out of breath from said dancing? Check. Three big, burly professional wrestlers turning up and slapping each other’s titties for a while? Check. Some rudimentary magic tricks? Check. Awkward pauses galore after each and every alleged joke is met with the sound of crickets? Check. ONE MILLION TROOOOOOOPS! Er… check. I’m still not sure what that last one means, but okay mate. Fill your boots.

Konami’s 2010 press conference is such a disaster of Shakespearean proportions that it deserves to be studied in a lab by the video game historians of the future, and it was such an unmitigated laughing stock that Konami didn’t even bother turning up to do a proper presser the next year. I’ve embedded it here in lowlight form for your viewing pleasure.

#7 E3 Laser Tag Live (Ubisoft, 2010)

These days at E3, most of the conferences consist of little more than dudes in suits saying thanks for coming before unloading a bunch of exciting game trailers directly into our eyeballs, and while that might make for a better paced and much better show… well… no, actually, that’s it. It’s just better paced and a much better show. We get the information we need, we see the games, and we go on with our lives without inheriting the urge to perforate our own eardrums out of sheer awkwardness.

But back in the day that wasn’t enough. We’d have celebrities turn up for no reason, awkward skits, bands playing… AKA distractions to bring a little more razzle dazzle to otherwise lacklustre shows. Ubisoft decided that their video-game-but-not-video-game Battle Tag – basically a home version of Laser Tag – needed a live demo, and so they hired a bunch of models to run around playing the thing in the auditorium, and it was, well, it was something.

I never really understood the concept of this game. I mean, I know what it is. I get that. But growing up we didn’t have a spare abandoned warehouse out back to play the thing in, so I’m not really sure how much mileage anybody other than the super rich would get out of this. It didn’t help that the presenters did an exceptionally poor job of selling the game during a confusing presentation in which one of them kept shouting, “Attractive people! Fighting each other!” and then the guy who was explaining how it worked was out of breath because he’d just been running around playing fucking Laser Tag.

Battle Tag ultimately amounted to little more than another gimmicky peripheral based game destined to forever only be talked about whenever anyone is compiling a list of the shittest things ever to happen at E3, and the world was better off for it.

#6 Yes, It’s Kinect Again (Microsoft, 2011)

There’s a time and a place for Kinect, and neither are on stage at E3.

Alright, if you thought I was finished talking about Kinect then you done fucked up. I ain’t finished by a long shot. As one of the shittest peripherals to ever, somehow, convince millions of people to part with their hard earned cash, Kinect only has to be mentioned in passing and I can feel myself getting irritated out of general principle. While the initial reveal had promise but quickly exposed flaws within the fledgling technology, 2011’s on stage demo featuring kids playing Kinect games is far more in tune with what we traditionally think of when we consider embarrassing moments at E3s past. It was just a good old fashioned, incredibly awkward demonstration, featuring children pretending to have fun, and an audience pretending that they were somewhere else.

Children, generally, are annoying I think it’s fair to say. I know most people like their own kids, and some people out there like all kids, and a few people out there like kids a little too much, but as a general rule of thumb, kids and entertainment don’t mix. I can’t be the only person who would enjoy Jurassic Park a lot more if they just got thirty year olds to play the kids and we just had to pretend we hadn’t noticed. We know the dinosaurs aren’t real, so why can’t we just do the same with the annoying little brats? So what if that ten year old has a beard and enough DUIs under his belt to send Mel Gibson back to rehab? Movies are all about using our imaginations. No? Okay.

But I’ll tell you where kids definitely don’t belong: on stage at E3 pretending that a stupid Kinect game about Peter Pan isn’t the biggest crock of shit they’ve ever played. As they hold their arms out like bored little aeroplanes, swaying from side to side in mock enjoyment of a game that looks less fun than reading through the terms and conditions in the manual residing in the box that the game came in, you can practically hear the guy backstage saying, “Oh Jesus, we’ve got ten more minutes of this.”

#5 No Internet? Don’t buy it then, peasants (Microsoft, 2013)

Microsoft, generally, had a decent conference at E3 2013, but nobody remembers that because of all the hullabaloo surrounding the Xbox One requiring an Internet connection to work and not allowing people to play used games on it. Regardless of the fact that they’d shown off an array of semi-impressive looking games including then hot property Titanfall, most people were only really interested in talking about the controversial decisions made by Microsoft while designing their always online console.

Interviews with Microsoft reps from the E3 floor nearly all went the same way. The interviewer would want to talk about how much the vision for the new Xbox sucked the big one and the Microsoft rep would have to fake a smile and desperately try to sell the console despite the Xbox One in 2013 being about as popular as the neighbourhood sex offender. Major Nelson appeared in interviews trying to big the console up based on little more than how impressive Titanfall looked, before countering the assertion that Microsoft could change course on the Xbox One’s DRM by saying that it was impossible, as they “couldn’t just flip the switch” and turn it off. Of course they did just flip the switch a few weeks later, but you can read more about that right here.

Don Mattrick stole the show when it came to Microsoft employees who couldn’t even manage to hide their contempt for the general public for long enough to finish a four minute interview, as he told Geoff Keighly that if people didn’t have any form of Internet connection for the Xbox One then they could just play an Xbox 360 instead. Sure, or a PS4 you fucking turnip. Honestly, E3 has thrown up many pioneering moves in the years I’ve been watching it, but actively telling your own consumer base not to buy the product that you’re attempting to sell them is possibly the most maverick marketing technique I’ve ever seen. And here we are, five years later, and the Xbox One has sold less than half the number of units that the PS4 has. Maybe this wasn’t the best idea.

#4 Domo Arigato, Mr. Miyamoto (Nintendo, 2008)

Nintendo’s 2008 E3 conference – back before they gave up and decided to just stream pre-recorded Directs – was a spectacularly dull affair. The Wii had kinda peaked and they didn’t have much of anything to announce, but somehow, they still managed to do it badly. Chief among the poor decisions on display from the House of Mario was the idea that Wii Music should be given an extensive live demo that lasted for approximately a billion hours and achieved absolutely nothing other than making sure that every single person who watched it wouldn’t buy Wii Music.

Now, before we go any further here, let’s get one thing straight: Wii Music is a fucking brilliant concept. The idea of an affordable recording suite with simple controls for people who just can’t be arsed to learn how to make music properly but fancy themselves as the next Susan Boyle, that’s an idea that should be applauded. But once we’ve finished applauding this great idea, let’s remember that the Wii Remote is a shit controller even amongst motion controllers, rub the idea off the white board, and go back to making some fucking games, shall we, Shigeru?

The live demo of Wii Music is one of the greatest E3 slow-motion train crashes of all time. It begins with a dude who’s apparently an actual drummer doing a drum solo using Wii Remotes but there’s only like four MIDI files for drum samples so it wasn’t so much a drum solo as it was just lots of drums happening over and over again, in some sort of configuration that seemed purpose built to be as aurally displeasing as possible. Later, the legend that is Shigeru Miyamoto was stood on stage playing his Wii Remote like a saxophone, before a whole troupe got together to perform the worst rendition of the Super Mario Bros. theme tune ever heard by human ears.

Apparently, nearly three million people bought Wii Music. What the fuck?

#3 Sony’s Entire Conference (2006)

Please buy a PS3.

The fact that I’m largely positive about how Sony roll these days shouldn’t be misconstrued – they’re just generally doing this stuff better than everybody else right now. But historically? Historically, Sony could fuck the job up better than anybody else in the business when given the opportunity. How else can you possibly explain E3 2006, in which Sony, on the back of the best selling video game console of all time – like, ever – revealed their successor to the PlayStation 2 in one of the shittest E3 conferences of all time.

Obviously, there’s only so much they could do with the PS3 being what it was – like the Xbox One, just a badly designed piece of hardware created under the misguided belief that people would just pony up the dough despite the shortcomings of the system – but they could have still done a better job of selling it. Instead, we were treated to moments so laughable, so embarrassing, that there’s still memes about them twelve years later. Giant enemy crab? That started here. Riiiiiiiidge Raceeeeeer! That started here. Xbox becoming a serious force in video games? That started here.

There were numerous shocking moments during the presser, including the revelation that PS3 would cost the princely sum of $600, and Kaz Harai pretending to be excited about Ridge Racer, awkwardly shouting, “Riiiiiiiidge Raceeeeeeeeeeer!” in the same tone of voice that a child uses when thanking his gran for the nose hair tweezers she bought him for Christmas. But the real humdinger here was the live stage demo for “historically accurate” samurai ’em up, Genji: Days of the Blade. While demoing a game that looked like a massively shit rip off of Dynasty Warriors, poor Bill Ritch, controller in hand, started talking about how the game was based on real battles that took place in Japan. Mere seconds later, an enormous crab monster leapt into the battle, and Bill, with nary a whiff of hesitation in his voice, proclaimed “Here is the giant enemy crab,” as though historically, giant crab monsters were a staple of Japanese warfare, and it was us who were silly to question it.

It’s perhaps fitting that, twelve years later, I had to Google what the name of the game was that the giant enemy crab meme spawned from, as the mockery of the game is now more famous than the game itself ever was.

Here’s an edited version of Sony’s dreadful 2006 conference so you can remember the bad days.

#2 I’ll have a decaf, please (Ubisoft, 2011)

I don’t know how Aaron Priceman AKA Mr. Caffeine ever got his job presenting Ubisoft’s 2011 conference, but presumably it involved a brown envelope filled with incriminating photographs. Surely, somebody must have known this was a bad idea within five minutes of meeting the guy. He can’t even pronounce Tom Clancy. He oddly enunciates it Tom Ker-Lan-Cee. If you can’t even get Tom Clancy’s name right then you probably shouldn’t be on stage talking about Tom Clancy games over and over again, but as it turns out, that was the least of Mr. Caffeine’s on stage crimes.

Mr. Caffeine is about to drop an epic rap track.

It’s apparent as soon as he turns up on stage that there’s something rotten in Denmark, as each gag he delivers is met with stony faced silence from the attendees, but that didn’t stop Mr. Caffeine. God loves a trier, and so rather than give up, Caffeine kept going. He threw in a couple of awkward dick jokes because why not, right? He also explained to the silent, embarrassed crowd that he wasn’t above making dick jokes as though there were any doubt given the sophistication of his comedy routine so far. It was all a bit weird.

What Mr. Caffeine is mostly known for, however, is the phrase “doodily doodily doop,” which might read like lines of dialogue for The Muppets’ Swedish Chef, but is actually, apparently, the noise of time travel. Not long into his anti-comedy show, Mr. Caffeine would mention the past, and then he said, “doodily doodily doop” and waved his fingers about to imitate the screen blurring like on an old school TV show when characters reminisce, and the audience reacted with absolute, deafening silence. You’d think given how well it went down the first time, Mr. Caffeine would cut his losses, but instead he repeated the shtick the next time he mentioned the past. And then the next time. And then the next.

I forget how many times he actually did it, but it doesn’t matter. Once, twice, thrice, a billion times. What wasn’t funny the first time didn’t get funnier by repetition, and by the time Mr. Caffeine had finished his impossibly embarrassing on stage performance, he’d been declared by all and sundry the worst E3 presenter of all time. Well, perhaps barring #1.

#1 Jamie Kennedy is about as funny as Jamie Kennedy (Activision, 2007)

Do you remember that episode of The Office – the original, not the American one – where David Brent has to give a speech to some new employees and he decides it’s the perfect opportunity to showcase his non-existent stand up comedy chops? If not, here it is, a perfect piece of cringe comedy from Ricky Gervais. Now just imagine this, but dragged out for what felt like four hours, and in real life, and you’re somewhere close to just how bad Jamie Kennedy’s guest hosting spot was for Activision’s E3 2007 conference. Honestly, it’s so bad. I just had to watch it again so I could remember how bad it was so I could write about it here, and I started getting embarrassed even though I was watching it with headphones on and I was in a room on my own.

I’m not sure whether Jamie Kennedy had gone to town on the free bar, or perhaps he just hadn’t done the necessary preparation for the gig, but whatever the reason, the result is undisputed – a massive fucking train-wreck. As he arrived on stage an on screen graphic read, ‘Jamie Kennedy – “Comedian”‘ as though the inverted commas were doubting his credentials before he’d even started. Mr. Kennedy bumbled his way through a couple of jokes that were met with a smattering of polite chuckles, before ultimately settling into a routine of calling everyone in the crowd virgins – “There are so many virgins in here that Richard Branson is doing this event” – and at one point inexplicably stopping mid-sentence and exasperatedly asking, “Where are my jokes?” in either a rare moment of self-awareness or when his autocue mercifully stopped working.

Things took a turn for the worse when Tony Hawk arrived on stage to talk about his new skateboarding game, Proving Grounds, and Jamie Kennedy kept interrupting him trying to make an appalling joke in which I think he’s using the word “trick” to mean “penis”, but honestly, that’s meeting him more than half way. Legendary skateboarder Tony Hawk looked visibly annoyed by Jamie Kennedy’s shenanigans, and it all got a bit weird. Finally, justice was served when Kennedy brought an English developer on stage and he asked him if he could conduct the remainder of the interview in the style of Ozzy Osbourne – The Osbournes hadn’t been on TV for two years at this point, by the way. Our English friend dryly replied, “Aren’t you doing that already?” and for the first time that evening the entire crowd erupted into laughter. While Jamie Kennedy stalled, apparently phased by a strange guffawing sound that he’d never heard before at one of his gigs, an audience member heckled the hapless comedian, shouting, “He’s funnier than you!”

I’ve often thought that the mark of a good stand up comedian is in how comfortably they deal with hecklers. Kennedy, after being heckled, shouted into the crowd, “Who said that?” before mumbling, “You never get out of the house, I bet,” seemingly oblivious to the fact that E3 wasn’t taking place in the heckler’s house, and he was in fact out of his house at that very second. Alas, they can’t all be zingers.

Four years later, video game analyst and professional prognosticator Michael Pachter declared the aforementioned Mr. Caffeine the worst presenter of all time at E3, before former video games journalist and now writer of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Gary Whitta, replied mentioning Jamie Kennedy. Kennedy, apparently dealing with the whole thing maturely after nearly half a decade, replied “wow u dorks can’t let that go, You have no idea what really happened, because ur not in the biz, ur a spectator”. After an amused bystander suggested Jamie Kennedy sit and sort out his problems with Whitta, the comedian retorted, “would love too, I can After this movie wraps, those guys can do I guess after jerkin off to Zelda.” Then, after a few observers joined in thinking it was good banter, Mr. Kennedy threatened to kill one of them.

And that brings our showcase of embarrassing events at E3 to a close. We’ve had some laughs, we’ve had some tears, and we even managed to sneak a cheeky death threat in there at the end. Let’s hope there’s no colossal E3 blunders again this year, although, as long as they’re good laugh, one or two can’t hurt.

Feel free to leave a comment about this week’s Counter Attack in the comments section below. Or check out last week’s Counter Attack #1: Remembering The Xbox One Reveal.

John can generally be found wearing Cookie Monster pyjamas with a PlayStation controller in his hands, operating on a diet that consists largely of gin and pizza. His favourite things are Back to the Future, Persona 4 Golden, the soundtrack to Rocky IV, and imagining scenarios in which he's drinking space cocktails with Commander Shepard. You can follow John on Twitter at www.twitter.com/JohnDoesntDance

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. andrewsqual

    June 3, 2018 at 6:21 am

    Very good but the actual Wonderbook doesn’t need to be connected to the PS3 lol. It’s all done with Move and AR tech.

    The craziest thing about Wonderbook to me is the the PS4 was announced only 8 months later. They should have brought it over to PS4 right away at least.

    • John Cal McCormick

      June 4, 2018 at 4:11 am

      You’re right! On the plus side, this error lets everyone know that I never had a Wonderbook, which is really helping my street cred.

  2. Patrick Murphy

    June 3, 2018 at 4:37 pm

    Thanks for drudging up so many E3 memories I had worked so hard to forget. Seriously, I had successfully blocked Wii Music out for years.

    • John Cal McCormick

      June 4, 2018 at 4:10 am

      Yeah, but now you’ll enjoy E3 more this year when they don’t have Wii Music. Unless they announce Switch Music. In which case wow.

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Game Reviews

‘Woven’ Review: Comfortably Soft and Lumpy

Despite those blurry visuals and stilted gameplay, there’s something endearing about this innocent elephant’s adventure.

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With a sincere warmth and fuzziness that conjures up dreamy recollections of 3D games gone by, Alterego Games’Woven mostly overcomes its blurry visuals and technical jankery to somehow create a pleasant, old-fashioned experience. Those excited by modern gaming probably won’t give this lovable hand-me-down a second look, and perhaps they shouldn’t; extremely simple actions and soothing narration support a fairy tale quality that’s probably best suited to younger players. However, anyone willing to look past the well-worn exterior in search of a relaxing break from stressful button pushing may squeeze more fun out of this familiar stuffed toy than they might originally expect.

Woven tasks players with taking control of a meandering patchwork elephant named Stuffy, and guiding him through a sparsely populated knitted world that seems to have met an untimely demise. Because Stuffy has cotton for brains, he is assisted on this journey by a much smarter metal firefly named Glitch (a reference to his role in this story?), who floats alongside the curious-but-clumsy plush toy and provides hints as to how he can use his various abilities. Together, this odd couple will traverse open plains blanketed with colorful yarn grass, maneuver around impassable felt trees and plants, and hopefully discover the secret of where Stuffy’s clueless kin have all gone.

Along the way, the duo will walk great distances (often without much event), solve the occasional environmental puzzle, and generally just keep on keepin’ on.Woven is mostly straightforward in its campaign, merely about getting from point A to B by whatever means the path requires. Most often this involves finding new blueprints that allow players to change Stuffy’s design from an elephant into a wide variety of other animal shapes, each with a set of abilities that come with a new set of arms, legs, and a head. For instance, while the stocky (and adorable) bear can push plush boulders and perform a mighty stomp, the goat and frog can both use their legs to hop, while the kitty cat is able to push buttons on rusted consoles that activate dormant machinery.

However, these abilities are usually only able to activate when context-sensitive prompts from Glitch appear, so don’t expect some sort of platforming freedom. Woven handles a bit clumsily in that regard and others; strolling is definitely the order of the day, as long as Stuffy doesn’t get hung up on the geometry.

But these actions do help provide variety; a tropical bird of some sort (toucan, maybe?) can sing certain notes, while a pelican-thing can fly (sort of) over land and shallow water with great speed. And so, it often becomes necessary in Woven to alter Stuffy’s look with a total reweave. These designs can be applied at various sewing machine-like stations scattered about, which go a step further than just swapping Stuffy the deer for Stuffy the ape. Each blueprint is comprised of five parts, allowing for players to create a Frankenstein Stuffy made up of all the best abilities the player has on hand (or cushioned paw). By mixing certain sets, Stuffy will soon be able to scale mountainside crags, cross piranha-filled rivers, and pick up industrial cogs without the need to make a pit stop and bust out new needle and thread.

Some truly hilarious (or horrifying, depending on your sensibilities) aberrations can be created; seeing Stuffy hobble on hooves as he flaps a wing on one side and swings a muscular gorilla arm on the other, all with the head of a squirrel, is freakishly entertaining. In addition, for those who like to wander off the beaten path, there are a plethora of knitting patterns to discover, tucked away in both obvious and devious locations (and denizens). These cosmetic enhancements can also be applied at the sewing stations, essentially giving players seemingly endless amounts of customization. And these aesthetic changes even get in on the puzzle act every once in a while, especially when a pesky cobra shows up.

But outside the odd ‘connect the power line’ or ‘raise and lower platforms’ objectives, Woven doesn’t throw much at players that even young children shouldn’t be able to handle — and that seems to be the aim. Stuffy’s adventure lives or dies on its wholesome and serene vibe, which players either buy into or they don’t. There’s no combat here, very little to actually do outside hunting down those patterns, illuminating some painted caves, and activating some of Glitch’s ‘memories’ contained by machines hidden in the soft folds. Ongoing narration is pleasant to the ears, often conveying old-fashioned morals and cutesy jokes, but there’s no more story than in a classic fable.

And make no mistake — though the world is certainly bright and cheerful, it’s also quite fuzzy around the edges. The tactile nature of the cloth textures is lessened greatly by the low definition (at least on the Switch version), eliciting memories of the Wii-era. An increased crispness would have really made the world of Woven pop off the screen, perhaps luring in a larger audience who have become accustomed to such. There is still plenty of charm, but it feels like a missed chance at that true magical feeling the game seems to be shooting for.

Other stumbles come when certain worlds try to open up a bit more, which might lead a younger audience to get frustrated by the lack of direction (especially when they keep getting hung up on that geometry!); Woven definitely works better when it’s casually guiding players along, letting gamers of all ages envelop themselves in the easygoing atmosphere instead of requiring tedious backtracking. There’s just something nice about sitting back and relaxing to hummable music, watching the roly-poly amble of a stuffed kangaroo.

Woven will not be for everyone; those who play for challenge or eye candy won’t find either here. And yet, despite those blurry visuals and stilted gameplay, there’s something endearing about this innocent elephant’s adventure. Woven certainly has its share of lumpiness, but somehow remains cozy regardless.

‘Woven’ is available on PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Switch (Reviewed on Switch).

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Game Reviews

‘Destiny 2: Shadowkeep’ Review: Moon’s Haunted but Still Shines

‘Destiny 2: Shadowkeep’ returns to a familiar destination but Bungie is reworking Destiny with each expansion and Shadowkeep is no exception.

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Destiny 2 Shadowkeep Review

Destiny 2: Shadowkeep may be a return to a familiar destination, the Moon, but Bungie continues the trend of reworking Destiny with each new expansion, and Shadowkeep is no exception. Replete with a reworked season pass system, progression systems, customization options, sandbox re-tuning and quest interface, Shadowkeep is both a welcome iteration and extension of the existing Destiny 2 experience offering more RPG-esque player agency than Destiny has ever seen before. While the game is still haunted by some overly familiar issues, Shadowkeep is a welcome expansion and a promising start to the third year of Destiny 2.

Old Haunting Grounds

The Moon isn’t the only familiar face in Shadowkeep. Keeping with tradition, Eris Morn has returned from a long absence for another dark, lunar expansion (the first being D1′s The Dark Below when the character was first introduced) as she investigates a disturbance deep within the Moon. Quite literally haunted by the past, Eris has called upon the Guardians to assist her in finding the source of the phantoms plaguing the Moon and vanquishing “Nightmare” versions of familiar visages from the past.

All is not entirely as old players might remember. An immense hive structure, the Scarlet Keep, now overshadows previously unexplored territory on the Lunar surface. New Lost Sectors hide in the depths of the Moon, and new secrets a la the Dreadnaught or the Dreaming City lie waiting to be discovered by inquisitive players. And at the very center of the expansion an ancient, unknown threat lies in wait, an ominous foreshadowing of the trials ahead.

While the expansion does a decent job ensuring the familiar haunts don’t feel overly recycled, it’s hard to say Shadowkeep makes the most of the Moon. The campaign opens on such a high note as players storm the moon in an unexpectedly matchmade sequence before individual Fireteams independently uncover an unanticipated twist that absolutely shatters expectation. Unfortunately, the narrative quickly devolves into uninteresting fetch quests that fail to live up to the intrigue of the initial mission nor live up to the narrative heights of some of the most memorable missions the Moon previously housed including fan favorites The Sword of Crota and Lost to Light to name a few. That’s tough company to keep, and Shadowkeep fails to measure up.

Similarly, a bit of that intrigue is reintroduced in Shadowkeep‘s final mission, but, like the campaign as a whole, it’s over before the player knows it and fails to live up to the precedent set by previous, lengthier campaign conclusions. More mileage is gotten out of the narrative and destination in the post-game in the way of a new weapon farming system, a new activity known as Nightmare hunts that play like mini Strikes, and a Strike proper, but that does little to alleviate the disappointment of an overly terse campaign that reads like a teaser for what’s to come over a distinct, fleshed-out story.

A New Era, a New Season

Part of that is presumably courtesy of a shift in Bungie’s approach to content releases. While the previous expansion, Forsaken, similarly opted for procedurally released content over the course of the season, Bungie has doubled down on that strategy with Shadowkeep ensuring there’s something new to be experienced each week that players sign in. While certain activities have alway arrived post-launch including raids, dungeons, and exotic weapon pursuits, Shadowkeep and its “Season of the Undying” has seen new PvE and PvP activities launched after the expansion’s initial drop, adding to an already lengthy list of Destiny to-dos.

Central to the season is the new PvE, matchmade activity, the Vex Offensive, which pits six players against waves of Vex combatants paired and features some minor puzzle elements, all for the sake of earning a series of weapons exclusive to the mode. While the Black Garden locale of the mode is certainly eye-catching, the Offensive, with its recycled mechanics and familiar enemies, doesn’t leave much of an impression beyond that. It might pale in comparison to activities introduced in past seasons (like Warmind‘s Escalation Protocol, or last season’s Menagerie), but is intentionally terse, intended to match this new seasonal philosophy, and will be removed from the game after Season of the Undying (though the exclusive arsenal will still be available in the loot pool obtainable through undisclosed means). Like the Vex themselves, the Vex Offensive might not seem like much independently, but collectively is a piece of a greater whole challenging and rewarding players for participating within the specific season.

Bungie is further defining each season with the inclusion of a seasonal artifact and a season pass system. The artifact, again only available for the season, offers players an avenue for additional, limitless Power gains while also offering unlockable gameplay mods encouraging players to utilize specific classes and builds. The Oppressive Darkness mod, for example, debuffs enemies hit by void grenades, encouraging players to construct discipline-oriented, void builds. Another mod, Thunder Coil, increases the power of arc melee attacks by fifty percent, giving all new life to the Hunter’s Arcstrider subclass. Meanwhile, the season pass operates similar to that of Fortnite or any number of games and replaces the previous cosmetic only level up system of Destiny 2‘s past. From the season’s outset, any and all experience goes toward unlocking rewards from the pass including new armor, armor ornaments, exclusive weapons and exotics, and engrams. The experience requirement for each level is static, meaning progress is fair and steady throughout and never feels throttled. Both seasonal systems are fantastic new additions that reward players for playing the game while making experience gains more purposeful than any other time in Destiny‘s endgame.

New Duds to Boot

Shadowkeep also marks the debut of Armor 2.0, a new system that allows players more agency in character customization than ever before. Whereas armor previously rolled with random perks and a roll of only three stats (Mobility, Recovery, and Resilience), Armor 2.0 comes with no perks and six stats as Destiny 1‘s Intellect, Discipline, and Strength (determining the charge rates of player’s super, grenade, and melee abilities) make their triumphant return. Instead, Armor 2.0 has slots for modifiers so players can pick and choose whatever perks they want just as long as they’ve unlocked those mods. Mods are acquired from most activities, while enhanced mods (better versions of certain traditional mods) are exclusive to some of the game’s more challenging content. While the grind for mods seems excessive in the face of the rest of the game’s grind, it’s a one-time affair, some of the best mods are unlocked via the seasonal artifact, and the payoff is astounding, providing customization like never before.

Convoluting the process, unfortunately, is a messy elemental affinity system where certain mods can only be slotted into armor of a matching elemental type. Mods relating to pulse rifles, for example, are exclusive to Arc armor, so a piece perfectly rolled to a pulse-rifle-inclined player’s preference with a solar affinity won’t do them any good if they were hoping for pulse rifle perks. It was undoubtedly an intentional design decision to generate an arbitrary grind since players won’t need to chase armor with perfect perks any longer but is ultimately a mar on the face of an otherwise pretty great new system.

Convoluting the process, unfortunately, is a messy elemental affinity system where certain mods can only be slotted into armor of a matching elemental type. Mods relating to pulse rifles, for example, are exclusive to Arc armor, so a piece perfectly rolled to a pulse-rifle-inclined player’s preference with a solar affinity won’t do them any good if they were hoping for pulse rifle perks. It was undoubtedly an intentional design decision to generate an arbitrary grind since players won’t need to chase armor with perfect perks any longer but is ultimately a mar on the face of an otherwise pretty great new system.

Axe to Grind

Speaking to the grind, Destiny has often struggled and failed to find the perfect balance of meaningful power climb and tedious grinds recycling the same old activities. Luckily, at the outset of the climb towards max power, Shadowkeep strikes a much better balance centered on beloved ritual and new and or seasonal activities. Power drops now operate on a clearly labeled, tiered system, incentivizing players to prioritize new or challenging activities for maximum gains. Ritual activities (Strikes, Crucible, and Gambit), though tier one, retain their relevance by offering multiple weekly powerful drops for match completions, vendor bounties completed, and rank progression. Previous, otherwise irrelevant avenues towards power have been retired, but this is a welcome reduction and there is no shortage of powerful drops in the climb to max power. That isn’t to say that the grind couldn’t be shorter ensuring more players can participate in endgame activities when they first arrive, but progression generally feels smoother than any time in Destiny‘s past.

Conversely, content flow might overwhelm casual and even dedicated players as there’s simply too much to do and grind for players tight on time. Bungie now considers Destiny and MMO with proper RPG mechanics, and, in terms of time commitment, that really shows with Shadowkeep. On a certain week, a player might have an accomplished week in-game after sinking only three to five hours into the game. Other weeks the game seems to demand closer to the ten to twenty-hour range. One week, for example, saw the release of the new dungeon, a new Crucible game mode, an exotic quest, a new public event, and the start of the Festival of the Lost, a limited time, Halloween event. That’s simply too much, feels like poor pacing, and favors streamers, Destiny content creators, and hardcore players for whom Destiny is their exclusive hobby, a burgeoning theme with Season of the Undying. While it’s certainly exciting that there’s always something to do in D2, it doesn’t seem true to the game’s roots as a hybrid, a shooter with MMO elements, that could be taken at a more casual pace but still offered an engaging endgame for the dedicated audience. Now, there’s only an endgame with no end in sight.

A Better Destiny Awaits

That’s not necessarily a bad thing for players who want to pay a minimal price for seemingly unending content, and in that regard, Shadowkeep is a steal. A sensational new raid (minus some finicky new mechanics), a foreboding dungeon, an immense new arsenal to grind for, and a better tuned PvP and PvE sandbox in which to enjoy them mean Shadowkeep will keep Guardians’ attention the whole season long and is an excellent proof of concept for the seasonal structure going forward. If Bungie can keep this pace up, year three of Destiny 2 could easily be the best year in franchise history. As a general caution though, Destiny 2 now clearly caters to the hardcore, requires MMO levels of commitment, and is best enjoyed with a regular group; casual, time-restricted, and solo players beware. It might not be the best single expansion release in franchise history (that’s still a toss-up between The Taken King and Forsaken), but, beginning with Destiny 2: Shadowkeep, the third year of D2 is the closest the tumultuous title has ever come to Bungie’s ambitious vision for the shared-world shooter and the game fans have been waiting for these past five years.

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What Are Some of the Switch’s Best Indie Devs Making?

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The Nintendo Switch has quickly become the preferred platform for some of the most talented indie studios in the industry. Its pick-up-and-play form factor and Nintendo’s concerted effort to court smaller developers this generation (complete with indie-specific Directs) has resulted in a library that’s positively flourished.

Despite the eShop falling victim to some of the discoverability and shovelware issues that long plagued Steam, there have been some real standouts over the years. Since video games take quite a while to produce, there’s often speculation as to what some of the premier developers have been working on. Let’s take a look at four of the most recognized indie studios on the platform and have some fun trying to figure out what they might be up to.


Sidebar Games

It’s hard to believe that 2017’s Golf Story was Sidebar Games’ first project as a studio. The two-man team from down under balanced a delightful dose of Australian-tinged humor with clear callbacks to the Mario sports games of old to deliver one of the best Switch exclusives in 2017, bar none.

Unlike the other studios on this list, Sidebar has been extremely silent on development progress; we can only glean bits and pieces from the few interviews they’ve done. We know the game has been in development for roughly two years and that Sidebar was still in active development as of March 2019 when they put out the call for a pixel artist for their next project. There’s also a fair chance that the new game will either be Switch-exclusive or target Switch first, seeing as how Golf Story is still one of the Switch’s top 10 best-selling indie games to date as of Spring 2019. If exclusivity worked so well the first time, why not try it again?

What Can We Expect?

Whatever Sidebar is working on, it’s almost guaranteed to be single-player and story-focused. One half of the dev team, Andrew, has gone on record multiple times saying that he’s “very partial to story modes.” This also players into one of their strengths; though there was a great time to be had with Golf Story’s golf, it was all elevated by the game’s ridiculous-yet-lovable characters and wacky situational humor.

Since the team has already deconfirmed a sequel as their next project, there’s really not much to go on. While I’d personally love them to tackle something Mario Tennis-inspired next, there’s a good chance they’ll avoid sports altogether. As long as the wit found in Golf Story is alive and well, though, their core audience is sure to be interested.


Fabraz

Despite being incredibly simple from a visual standpoint, the deceivingly charming Slime-San is still one of the best platformers to come out in recent memory. The game’s striking three-color art style isn’t just unique, but it’s also ingrained into the platforming mechanics in inventive ways. Beyond having a look all its own and a stiff challenge for players who wanted it, however, Fabraz went the extra mile to build a fun cast of characters and even a hub world to explore outside of the main game. It was a pleasant surprise from a relatively unknown developer at the time.

Fabraz has been anything but complacent since Slime-san’s launch. The studio released two free content expansions, ported the game to other consoles, and even got into the publishing business. No matter their other ventures, however, the team has made sure to tease their next project every so often since the start of 2019.

What Can We Expect?

Fabraz speculated that their new game was already roughly 60% complete at the start of October. Since it only began production in December of 2018, it’s safe to assume that the next game will be relatively small in scope. It’s also likely that Fabraz’s next outing won’t be “Slime-san 2,” since the original game received such heavy content additions months after release (including an expansion literally titled “Sheeple’s Sequel.” The team certainly knows how to make magic from very limited resources, so it’ll be interesting to see what they can do with a bit more of a budget, a new art style, and tons more experience.


Game Atelier/FDG Entertainment

It feels like Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom came out of nowhere. The team at FDG Entertainment had published indie darling Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King just the year prior and the console port of Oceanhorn before that, but there wasn’t much talk about FDG’s capabilities as a developer. As it turns out, however, Game Atelier’s choice to bring them on as a co-developer was the best thing that could’ve possibly happened to Monster Boy. Five long years of development later and fans were treated to one of the best platformers in recent memory.

Though it launched on all consoles, Monster Boy famously sold eight times more on Switch than PS4 and Xbox One combined, reminiscent of the sales of Blossom Tales on Switch. Needless to say, FDG’s next title will be targeted squarely as the Nintendo community. But what could that next project be?

What Can We Expect?

A Monster Boy sequel. FDG recently celebrated their collaboration with Game Atelier on Twitter and announced that they’re collaborating once more. The commercial and critical success of Monster Boy can only lead one to believe they’re hard at work on a follow-up together. Thankfully, with such a solid base to work off of now, this one shouldn’t take nearly as long to release.


Chucklefish

Chucklefish has garnered a great deal of respect in the indie community as both a developer (Starbound, WarGroove) and frequent publisher (Stardew Valley, Timespinner, the upcoming Eastward, and others). Their eagerness to bring so many of their top-notch titles to Switch has made them one of–if not the–most lauded indie studios on the platform. If it’s coming from Chucklefish, there’s a good chance it’ll be of the highest quality.

What Can We Expect?

Witchbrook! Chucklefish announced the game way back in 2017 and instantly had both Harry Potter and Little Witch Academia fans foaming at the mouth. It’s a magical school simulation/RPG where players will attend class, learn spells, make friends, date, and work towards graduation. The company’s CEO and lead designer, Finn, has been incredibly open about the game’s development from the beginning. In fact, he made the ever-changing Witchbrook design document public in August of 2019 to give some insight into the game design and planning process.

Since there’s already so much we know about where the game’s going, this is going to be used as more of a “Hopes for Witchbrook” section. To keep it short, let’s focus on two of the game’s most make-or-break elements: dating and world-building.

Dating

One of the things many RPGs struggle with is making dating feel meaningful after the relationship starts. People love romancing in Stardew Valley, but the experience itself is really rather shallow; bring characters their favorite items, talk to them daily, experience a few touching cutscenes and voila! All that’s left is to put a ring on it and have a baby.

My hope is that in Witchbrook, the real fun starts after the relationship begins. Being able to have lunch together, go to festivals, celebrate anniversaries, plan outings, and even introduce them to the player’s in-game friends would go a long way in making the relationship feel more than a ribbon to be crossed.

World-Building

When someone asks the seminal question “What fictional world would you love to live in?” the world of Harry Potter almost always tops to list (right next to Pokémon, that is). It isn’t just because of magic itself or the emotional ties people have to the cast, but more so because of the immense amounts of personality and lore J.K. Rowling infused into the world. From the dark history of Hogwarts to the vast array of magical beasts to the establishment of Quidditch, there is a whole movie and video game series that has been created based on mere slices of the Harry Potter universe.

Naturally, it’d be silly to expect Chucklefish to achieve as much depth in an indie project as one of the most successful authors of all time did over the course of seven books, but there’s still plenty of potential. Since the game will primarily take place at the school, exploring why the school was created and how it’s changed over the years could be quite interesting. Then there’s how different populations of the world at large feel about magic, how various magical species play a part, the favorite magic-imbued pastimes of students in the world of Witchbrook, and so on. The key will be to infuse magic into every element of the world (and gameplay) as naturally as possible. And after reading through the extensive design doc, I’ve no doubt Chucklefish will be able to pull it off.


The indie scene on the Switch is thriving more than ever. New talented developers are making the platform their home every day, and those who’ve already proved themselves are hard at work on their next premium experience. The next wave of releases from these studios can’t come soon enough.

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