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e3 2003 Report Copyright © 2003 David Dayton

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Please note that this article was originally posted on The Mushroom Kingdom and Nintendorks.com
e3 -- Day 1

Greetings, fellow gamers. As luck would have it, I managed to attend e3 this year. Given the lack of Nintendork folks that were able to make it out to L.A. for the convention, I thought I'd do my best to toss together some e3 notes for the rest of you. If you hate them, kindly attend e3 yourself and stop whining about the free coverage you are about to receive.

Anyway, I arrived at the L.A. convention center at 8:00 a.m., which would have been perfect timing if it wasn't for the fact that my visitor credentials were out of sorts. After directly contacting a friendly employee of my hosting organization, I stood in line, hopped over queue ropes, and collected my cheery e3 badge.

After waiting one and a half hours, the magical doors flew open and I rushed into the conference hall, straight towards Nintendo's mystic pavilion. Many were the games I encountered. They are presented in the order in which I managed to get my hands on them.

Mario Kart: Double Dash (gc)
After the lackluster screenshots, I wasn't really sure what to expect from this title. Jumping into the relatively short line, I noticed that one young man was racing as Wario. Wario appears to have his stylish generic racer/coupe car from Warioland 4, and it fits the atmosphere well. No sign of Toad, but a cheery Nintendo rep told me that "Toad is not in this version...BUT this version is just the e3 version." No confirmation, but at least it sounds a bit more hopeful for our favorite fungi. One good sign was that the e3 version supports LAN play for 8 GameCubes linked together. Earlier reports stated that the game would only allow 2 GC's to be linked. Overall, MK:DD seemed quite good. The preview movies and screenshots don't do the game justice at all. One interesting change is the introduction of "double" item blocks -- some of these give you two items (one in reserve), others seem to drop items on the track; in addition, there seemed to be some loose mushrooms littered through the track that acted as mini boosts. (I'll look into the items again tomorrow, as I believe I may be mistaken about some of the item details.) Powerslides have been altered (I was unable to perform a 'power slide boost', but I might just be lousy at the game), characters have lots of animation (if Waluigi grabs a Triple Mushroom, he will juggle them until you use one), and the gas and brakes are controlled with A and B rather than the R and L triggers (which is slightly annoying). As a final note, the title screen music is a remix of the SNES Super Mario Kart's title screen music.

Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3 (gba)
This game looked very nice, and it now contains a somewhat elaborate intro sequence showing a Koopa Kid taking control of Grass Land. At the title screen, you can choose between Super Mario Bros. 3 or Mario Bros. On the SMB3 title screen, you have the options of playing 1) Mario Game, 2) Mario & Luigi Game, or 3) Multiplayer. Only the first option was active, although I suspect that the Mario & Luigi option is for the eReader support (the kiosk mentioned that eReader cards could be used to add extra aspects/items to the game).
As far as the game goes, it is standard SMB3 with SMAS graphics. There was no sign of the cape, Chargin' Chucks, veggies, or anything else. Based on earlier stories, I'm assuming you unlock various extras by beating the game and/or using the eReader and another GBA. I tried using Warp Whistles in an attempt to beat the game and check for extras, but the e3 version won't allow you past world 3. One rumor going around is that you can later play as Luigi (among others) and earn extras by completing certain objectives in the game -- but please note that there was nothing at e3 to confirm or deny such rumors.
As a side note, SMB3 seemed "laggy" to me. It was probably just my imagination, though. I'm happy to know that it is coming.

Jimmy T
While searching for free stuff, a man wearing bell bottoms, an open leisure jacket, a bright purple wig and sunglasses came up to me and began speaking about himself in the third person. It seems he is a programmer at Wario's software company and worked on the upcoming Wario Ware. He left me his business card. (Yes, this was stupid. It was also one of the best live ad routines I've seen in a while now. Stupid, but effective.)

eReader stuff
More eReader cards are coming. Of interest are the Game & Watch series, which appear to be all the games from Game & Watch Gallery 4, but now available as cards and without the ability to save your high scores. On the good side, they look interesting. The reps said they will be sold in random packs with a mix of classic mode and modern mode games. As a side note, the eReader NES games look very, very good when played on the GBA Player.

The Code Monkies
I ran into the Code Monkies. They asked me if I knew where Geist was. If you don't know who the Code Monkies are, don't worry about it.

Mario Kart: Double Dash Celebrity Tournament
Some guy (I was told it was Jamie Kennedy, but I am really out of the loop on pop culture stuff) introduced this tournament and the players...

1) Tiffany Falwell from American Idol
2) "J.D." from American Idol
3) Haley from Mr. Personality
4) Johnathan Taylor -- random guy from the crowd.

These lucky folks played on big screen projections whilst they raced through Luigi Circuit. Then, to the sheer and utter amazement of myself, the random guy from the crowd LOST to the J.D. fellow. How can one lose a video game match against celebs when you are a visitor at e3?

F-Zero (gc)
The line was to long. See day 2

Pokemon Channel (gc)
I have no idea WHAT this game is about, or how you play it. The Nintendo rep there had no idea either. Video clips of cartoons, tournament battles, the GBA game, and what appears to be sections from the Pokemon Box title were shown. It appears that these video clips somehow pertain to Pokemon channel... but I have no idea how or why.

Kirby's Air Ride (gc)
The e3-goers seemed to hate this game. You race Kirby through various tracks against other Kirbies, but your only controls are the joystick and the A button. The gimmick here is A is the brake... you accelerate as long as A is not pressed. Control seemed difficult, but the trick is to brake, then swivel your Kirby in the direction you want to go, and release the brake. You build up "burst" level when A is depressed, which means you have a small burst of speed when you release A. A also lets you suck in various critters roaming the tracks to gain powers, which are activated by pressing A once more. Hurl fireballs, thrust with a sword, or do something else I didn't notice. Kirby's Air Ride is much faster than Mario Kart, by the way.

Mario & Luigi RPG (gba)
It looks like a cross between the play style of Super Mario RPG and the much better use of the traditional Mario elements found in Paper Mario. The most interesting aspect of the game is that Mario and Luigi must always be treated as a team in the game... this means that A and B serve the same purpose in the game, but each is dedicated to one plumber. If you want to have your party hop over a cliff, you must press both A and B together and at the same time, or one them might not make it. The brothers can take advantage of this by performing special jumps -- one I saw had Mario doing a helicopter spin jump across a ravine while Luigi clung to his legs. In battles, your characters can -theoretically- dodge any attack and increase the power of any of their attacks by pressing either A or B at the proper moment -- even if it isn't their turn. Also, Magic appears to have been replaced with "Bros." techniques. These require careful tapping of A and B as the Marios go through a gymnastics-like attack sequence. Rumors abound that many of the staff developing this title are ex-Square folk, some of whom were in the SMRPG team.

One extra note here... it seems the GBA TV is the term for a normal GBA cartridge that is entirely devoted to playing the 2 cartoons stored on it. The 4Kids GBA TV doesn't take memory cards... rather, it refers to a 64 meg cartridge crammed full of video and audio data. I also seems to output audio through the GBA's speakers.

Now for the conclusion of the Day 1 report. Get your popcorn ready.

The object of this game is to earn more points than any other player in a set time limit. One player uses the GBA to play a seemingly slowed down version of the traditional game of Pac-Man, while the other 3 players are ghosts on the screen. Each ghost can see for a limited distance inside their sphere of vision, but Pac-Man can see everyone on his own GBA screen. Luckily for the ghosts, Pac-Man leaves behind a fading yellow streak as he travels, making him easier to find. The player with Pac-Man gets points for every dot, fruit, power pellet, and ghost he eats, according to the standard scores of the game; if Pac-Man eats a fruit, the ghosts' field of vision temporarily shrinks. The ghost players, however, only score by eating Pac-Man... and when they eat him, the Pac-Man player loses as many points as the ghost earns.

If you eat Pac-Man, you swap controllers with that player and become the new Pac-Man. This continues until time runs out, then the highest scoring player wins. the game is rather fun, but seems to be really, really short and simple. I can't see this game being released unless it is turned into a "Pac-Man Collection" game with normal and GBA enhanced versions of Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Pac-Man Arrangement, and the like. It would also be very nice if Pac-Man's speed on the GBA were increased to that of the arcade game... something seemingly not done in order to make the game more balanced for the slowly moving ghosts.

Metroid Zero Mission
This GBA game was shown in a video-only state on the e3 floor. The graphics and sound look eerily similar to those of Super Metroid, so much so that I wasn't sure whether the game was a new creation or a port... and neither was the Nintendo event staff. They couldn't even tell me which development team was working on it. My guess is that if this were simply a port, the fact that it was Super Metroid would have been made clear due to the favorable memories the third Metroid game has in the minds of most SNES era gamers. Of course, it could just be that Metroid 3 didn't really have a "real title", so someone decided to rename the port "Zero Mission" for some reason unfathomable to me. Ah, the mysteries of Samus might take a lifetime to ponder.

GBA "Carrera" slot cars
Take a slot car racing game, replace the little control stick with a GBA, and you have this German toy. While I applaud the effort of finding a way to cross market slot cars with the GBA, I really can't see why you would need or want to use a GBA just to hold a button down. In theory, the GBA screen will display the number of laps completed, alert you when you need to refuel, and report damage... but as the slot system is essentially "dumb", these ratings on the GBA are only effective if the player wants to follow them. The GBA game can also record the lowest score for a track, but as you can set up the track in any number of ways and the GBA can't tell you've changed it, it seems fairly easy to "cheat" that as well. If you really wanted to simulate a race, you could do just as well with a sheet of paper.

The system is already out in Germany, and is scheduled for a U.S. release sometime at the end of the year for around $100. The company rep mentioned something about the cartridge having a racing game built into it that didn't require the track setup, but that mode wasn't visible at e3.

Mario & Donkey Kong (gba)
"Donkey Kong Plus" is back, but seemingly minus the GC connection this time. Donkey Kong is strolling down a street one day when he runs into the "Mario & Friends Co." building. Our favorite rapping ape decides this simply won't do, and proceeds to terrorize the Mario gang.

As Mario, you must travel through screen after screen of puzzles and traps, chasing the package-swiping Donkey Kong. Maneuver through the obstacles in the stage, collecting three scattered packages and rescuing one of your pals who just happens to have been locked in a bubble by that rascally ape. Find your friend and carry him/her to the exit door to complete the stage and move onwards. If you've played the GB Donkey Kong (not Donkey Kong Land), you know what kind of game play to expect, as this is the same game with new levels and a few other changes. If you haven't played the original, imagine M&DK as a cross between the arcade Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros. 2, mixed with puzzle game elements. Mario can pluck items and enemies, then hurl them at each other, and he can even back flip and triple jump (moves which he first debuted in the original GB Donkey Kong, NOT Super Mario 64).

The biggest change in this game between the last e3 and now is the graphics. Mario looks like the SSBM Mario model, with many many frames of clean animation. The levels seem to have a "cute" Mario theme to them now, as opposed to the rather industrial/urban scheme they had previously. It is worth noting that Nintendo Software Technologies is developing this title... and that it seems very good.

Some final random comments: the little old mushroom guy from Super Mario Sunshine appears on the information and instruction screens, there is a "Mini Mario" power up that creates a small team of tiny Marios who follow him around the screen, and the game now has Shy Guys.

Sonic Heroes
This game is fun. Very fun. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was doing it quickly and smashing lots of stuff as I did it. You control Sonic, Knuckles, and Tails as a team... one leads, the other two follow and mimic, tripling your attack power. It's also possible to unite the three in order to perform special moves, like having Tails airlift the other two over obstacles, or having Knuckles use the spinning Sonic and Tails like outboard motors to careen through the level at an even faster rate. Sonic Heroes plays like a very successful 3D version of a classic 2D Sonic game.

At about this point, I wasted the rest of the day playing Mario Kart Double Dash and attempting to gather more free goodies. More video games were to be encountered on the second day...

e3 Day 2

After a restful night's sleep, I awoke late and struggled through L.A. traffic to arrive at the convention center, armed with a small list of "things I really need to do today". Naturally, I never looked at the list again. Once again, enjoy this list of game impressions, presented in the order in which I tried out the games.

Pocket Pix (gba)
Another GBA camera device, similar to the 4Kids and Am3 one. The company has a history of providing Palm and Pocket PC films in a compressed format, and they hope to do the same with the GBA now. The device will play their encoded video files as well as MP3's, and Best Buy will begin taking preorders "after e3". It looks interesting, but...

Songpro (GBA)
Remember this thing? The long delayed mp3 device for the Game Boy Color? It seems the developer/president/hardware hacker and his team of mysterious men have gotten a license from Nintendo this time around and are creating a GBA version. It seems to be identical in size to a standard GBA cartridge, and it takes SD memory cards. The best part is that it has a planned MSRP of $29.99. Oh, it also plays Windows Media audio and video files, but it's a good product anyway.

Final Fantasy: The Crystal Chronicles (gc)
While wandering one of the many halls of e3, I discovered that some big name 3rd party GameCube titles were on display both in Nintendo's booth and in that company's booth as well. Generally all the games in the Nintendo booth were packed with players (except the Pokemon and Hamtaro games), while the same games were devoid of attention in the booths of their creators. Such was the case of Crystal Chronicles.

FF:CC feels and plays like a Mana game, with elements stolen from other games in Square's history. Up to four players can wander around the screen, slashing bad guys, solving puzzles, and generally having a good time. In the demo, the game seemed to be entirely played from a rather "zoomed out" overhead view. One interesting part of the demo was that it was possible for the screen to follow one character and leave the rest behind. I'm not sure if tis is a bug, or if you are supposed to use the GBA screen's radar to find your party when you get "left behind".

While the game's multi player mode is designed for four players using GBA's, the Square/Enix rep told me that he and his evil Sony buddies tried the game out earlier with 4 normal controllers and had no problems with the game. The only potential flaw might be that the GBA system screen is used to access the magic and equipment sub menus. At this point, it is really impossible for us to tell whether there is a workaround or this or not.

Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (gba)
The game looks quite fine. I'm not even going to attempt to give you my opinion on a quasi-RPG game based on my 5 minute play sessions, but it does LOOK fun. One thing that seems to distinguish it from Ogre Battle Tactics is that you need to go to a town pub and formally choose a quest to set out on it. I found no random battles when running around the over world map.

Sword Of Mana (gba)
Looks interesting. I do believe this is the upgraded "Final Fantasy Adventure" game. One disappointing thing is that some of the animated characters seem to be lacking in the frames of animation. One boss I saw seemed to have a limit of 3 frames. Hopefully this will be corrected by the time the game is released...

Square Booth
I really should have mentioned this by now, but suffice it to say that a giant line had formed in front of the tiny "Square Enix theater" to view some kind of promo reel. According to a rep, it really only showed the games that were on display on the floor, so I didn't see a reason to get in line.

Final Fantasy XI Online (gba)
I asked the rep if FFXI was going to be multi platform like it was once planned to be, and he said it would be out on the GBA. For 5.75 seconds, I felt a little twinge at happy bewilderment... then I stared at him and asked him to confirm that Square Enix was publishing an online game for Nintendo's handheld.

After muttering about the relative intelligence of myself and Square Enix booth employees, I came across the FFXI PS2 display. with a kiosk devoid of gamers. I soon discovered that FFXI takes the worst elements of turn based and action based RPGs and mixes them into the game that bombed in Japan.

FFXI is not turn based, like all the good FF games were. Your character can freely run around while battling the enemy creatures. If you cast a spell, you are free to run around while the "casting time" counts off and the spell actually effects the target. The game also allows "chaining" of attacks/spells, so that if two players use the proper technique within the proper time frame, a "bonus" effect will take place, or so claims the Square Enix girl who came over to watch me attempt to kill things.

My main complain with this game deals with the physical attacks. Rather than their being an attack command, you "turn on" the attack mode. Until you turn it off, your character will automatically attack the targeted enemy character as often as his attack skill delay allows. In other words, attacking is automatic. You have no control over it, it just happens. What's more, even if your character is standing several feet away from a troll, he will swing his sword in midair and the troll will take damage from the swing, something acceptable in a turn based game where the units were set in a "table top army game" setup, but something extraordinarily silly looking in a real time RPG adventure. There is a ranged weapon attack which must be controlled manually (and it puts you in a first person camera for it, ala Ocarina of Time), but I found the "auto attack" feature so annoying and silly it really turned me off to the game.

Half Life
There was a big line to view the Half Life trailer. A really big line. One fellow I knew stood in line from 10 am until 2 pm to view the trailer. One fellow I knew is also stupid.

Disney Interactive GBA stuff
Disney had a pile of GBA stuff. Did you know Disney bought the rights to the Power Rangers, and that Disney is doing the Spy Kids games? Disney's games generally looked dull, with the strange exception of both the GBA and GC/PS2/Xbox Haunted Mansion game. The big console version looks to be a standard mystery adventure set in the mansion, and it seems to star that scared caretaker you might remember from the ride. The GBA version is a 3D adventure game, similar to Maniac Mansion and King's Quest, and described by the rep as "Resident Evil Light". While the GBA title is far from finished, it looks neat. You control a girl walking through a 3D rendered series of rooms, solving puzzles and fighting ghosts using sound waves from her cell phone. Neither Haunted Mansion game is based on the upcoming (sure to be wretched) film, so they both earn extra quality points already. The Pirates of the Carribean game IS to be based on the film, so I'd steer clear of it.

Codemasters had a big booth just to show Paula Abdul and the big round Motown records guy judge people playing the American Idol video game. The game looked like a DDR music game clone, but I didn't bother to stay and find out.

Castlevania: Lament of Innocence
This game looks like a graphically enhanced and faster version of the N64 Castlevania games. The game seems to focus on action, which should keep it from getting as slow and tedious as certain parts of the N64 games were. The Konami rep claimed that the game featured "light RPG elements", but he also claimed it was being done by "the original Castlevania team", something that seemed rather hard given that Treasure is composed of members of the original Castlevania team and they have nothing to do with this game.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Four player (note: the game is only two player. Idiots) , cell shaded, arcade style Turtle gaming. Everything about this game seems to remind me of the old TMNT arcade game, and that is certainly a good thing.

Logitech Wheel w/ Mario Kart Double Dash
To be blunt, do not use the Logitech Wheel with Mario Kart. It is lousy. Turns are hard to pull off, power sliding seems nearly impossible, and the foot pedals are too small for big feet. Then again, I wear shoes in the 14-15 range, so I could just be an anomaly.

I did discover a few more facts about Double Dash, though. Each racer in your team can hold one item, but you must have that character in the back of your kart for them to use or collect items. It seems like you can no longer "hold" an item behind your kart, but you can now hold two items at once, and there are "double ? blocks" that will give both of your characters an item. If you are using a multiple use item and you get knocked out or off the track, you appear to lose the item. There are also mushrooms sprinkled over some tracks that act as instant turbo boosts; I also saw giant banana peels on the track and Chain Chomp items. For all those wanting Toad, I am sad to report that the racer select screen appears full at this point, with two rows of eight character icons each and no visible room for "unlocked" racers to appear. Finally, it seems that once you choose your two races, you also have a choice of cars. I'm not yet sure whether you can choose between either character's car, or whether each character has a class or range of cars available to him and you are able to choose any car available to both racers.

Due to the long lines in the Nintendo booth, I tried this game in the Logitech booth using the Logitech wheel, which works very well in this game. First of all, F-Zero is very fast, and I found it rather difficult. It felt like F-Zero X, but with the camera closer to the car and the track. The Logitech wheel's force feedback kept rumbling as I careened into force wall after force wall. In short, I stink at F-Zero.

I Lose My Notebook
At about this point, I can't find all the pages of notes I had written about day 1 and 2. With a little back tracking, I manage to find them in the TDK booth, sitting next to the Haunted Mansion GBA demo. Is this important for you as a reader? No.

Mega Man Network Transmission (gba)
This game felt like "Mega Man Light". While the cut scenes look neat, and I'm sure that there are all kinds of neat tie ins with the Battle Network games, I was unimpressed. The action game play sequences were rather slow, dull, and generic. Mega Man's blaster didn't shoot nearly quick enough, and few few things seemed to happen. You appear to be able to gather dozens of extra abilities by gathering chips and data cards, but they feel more like "secondary weapons". There also appeared to be a limited variety of enemies. I got the impression that this game dwells on the battle levels as opposed to the RPG elements, which seems like a bad idea given the slow and dull nature of the battle sequences.

At about this point, I noticed young Japanese guy with tinted hair getting interviewed by G4 while gesturing at the Viewtiful Joe game. I'm assuming this was High Lord Something-or-Another of the Capcom 5. Sadly, I wasn't able to get anything useful out of this interview, other than the idea that he really likes Viewtiful Joe.

Viewtiful Joe
This game is weird, but in a good way. Imagine a Final Fight/Double Dragon game with loads of superfluous graphic detail, a faster pace, and bizarre special moves and you'll have a hint of what to expect. The game looks fantastic. Much of the background and foreground elements are 2D, but setup to look like a detailed diorama or the stage of a play. I was reminded of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland when I saw one of the latter, inner levels.

You play as Joe, a weird looking guy with blond hair, a backwards cap, and baggy shorts. In the first level you are challenged by a strange super hero, beat him and you get a special suit which grants you special powers. As long as you have Viewtiful points, you can press L to activate them and slow down time. This lets you take out enemies and items that might normally move too quickly for you to reach. Run out of viewtiful points and you return to being normal. Luckily, your Viewtiful points will gradually recharge and you will return to Viewtiful Joe when the meter is full once more.

The game's fighting system is interesting, as it appears to be a standard Double Dragon-esque "beat-em-up". You can dodge or duck most moves, and are encouraged to take out your enemies by countering their moves and aiming for their unguarded sections. I had a few problems with the fighting because of the control scheme, which assigns punches and kicks to X and Y rather than A, which I kept pressing. One slightly annoying element of the game was that you will often find yourself slowing down time every few moments in order to get better hits in on bad guys; this seems to get a bit tedious after a bit. I'm sure you could avoid this by becoming an expert at fighting without using the slowdown, however.

Conker: Live and Uncut (Xbox)
Microsoft's Xbox booth was in an entirely different room than Sony and Nintendo's booths were. I attempted to discover what the mystery was behind the Conker title, but all I could get from the slightly surly MS rep was that the game had Live support and featured the original BFD with redone graphics. A moderately accented Rare programmer was a bit more helpful, and he explained that BFD contained scenes and stories cut from the original, and that the multi player mode (the emphasis of the game, as BFD is supposed to be a "bonus") is pretty much the N64 battle mode with a few extras and downloadable content. He had no idea if the game would feature the original Great Mighty Poo song, or an unedited version.

Grabbed by the Ghoulies (xbox)
I will admit that this title actually intrigues me. It appears to be a room-by-room adventure puzzle game, although a member of the development team explained that as you play, extra elements will be unlocked throughout the mansion. It looks like a very interesting effort, and it is being developed by the Banjo-Kazooie team.

I was going to try the game out, but somehow or another I started talking with the 2 or 3 development staff about their Banjo games. It seems that the Stop and Swap Kazooie/Tooie connection was supposed to work in this manner: once you reached a certain point in one game, you'd turn the power off, swap carts, and turn the power back on. The N64's memory latency allowed stored data to be held in memory for about 8 seconds after the power was turned off, which meant the second game could access saved data from the first and use it to enable options in itself. This was removed for two reasons: first, Nintendo was worried people would try to swap cartridges with the system turned on, and secondly, because revisions in the N64 motherboard resulted in newer units having a memory latency of a mere 1.5 seconds. As no extras would have been unlocked in Banjo-Kazooie anyway, the team just removed the option from Tooie. Strangely enough, the programmers and designers I spoke with had no idea that sandcastle codes existed to allow the gathering of the items in Banjo-Kazooie.

Before I could meander over to Ghoulies, we started to discuss Banjo-Tooie and I learned that an entire bonus mode in Tooie was cut at the last moment due to lack of debugging time. It seems that it would have been possible to access a bonus game where a second controller could be used to take control of any enemy in the game. Routines were written to allow the control of all the game characters, but they were never used as there simply wasn't any time to bug proof all these extra options.

As far as Ghoulies goes, I will say that it looks like a neat game, although it also looks rather blocky and polygonal, which seems to be a stylistic choice, for some reason. Spiders had what appeared to be single large polygons as legs, and every character looks blocky. A member of the development team said that they starting developing the game right after the completion of Banjo-Tooie and switched platforms from the GC to the Xbox in mid September, a feat made fairly easy due to the GC being open GL and very easy to develop for.

GBA Rare Games
As far as the GBA Rare games go, I was told different things. The surly MS rep said that Rare still "has the i.p. to develop GBA titles" and that Nintendo would be publishing them. The Rare staff I met confirmed that the GBA team is still making games, but they have no idea when they will arrive nor who will publish them, although they did act surprised at the MS rep statement that Nintendo would.

Nokia N-Gage
Nokia is in for a lot of trouble, even though they claim they are aiming for a different market than the Nintendo and Sony (with the PSP announcement) are. The screen is tiny and the "buttons" on the keypad are really uncomfortable and hard to use. Super Monkey Ball looks worse than it does on the GBA (amazing, isn't it?), although the Tomb Raider game is fully polygonal and looks quite nice.

When I asked how many N-Gage games we could expect to see by the end of the year, the dead pan Nokia man said "About 10."

Custom Robo
Build robots and then use them to destroy other robots. Sounds fun, eh? I think once I get used to the game controls and spend some time creating a robot, I would enjoy this game. It's hard to tell with a quick e3 demo. Levels seem a bit small, but this increases the action in the battles. Weapons have a "reload time" that keeps it from becoming a turbo fire blast fest. The game also lets you lock on to a player and automatically target them as you move through the level. It seems like it could be quite fun.

1080 Avalanche
Designed by Nintendo Software Technologies up in Redmond, this game reminds me very much of SSX tricky, but with an emphasis on racing first and tricks second. The levels seem less detailed than in SSX Tricky, but they contain a variety of interactive items. I plowed through a family of rabbits, who briskly hopped away. Later, I knocked over a skier who was pausing to enjoy the view. Other elements looked like they could be tinkered with (like a police car), but they were immobile during my playtime.

1080 seems geared towards a more accurate simulation of snowboarding than SSX Tricky does. There are no "loops" in this game; you slide down the hill just once. If your character hops off a wall at an awkward angle or strikes an obstacle, you will be prompted to swirl the joystick to help them regain their balance lest they fall. There also seems to be an emphasis on "holding" a button or joystick direction to complete a trick, although tricks seem to do nothing to impact the game itself. One interesting in joke in the game would be the inclusion of the "8-Bit Soul" board, which features a large SMB3 Mario icon image upon it. Strangely, the image used was from the 16 bit SNES All-Stars version.

Pikmin 2
Ah, Pikmin. While the graphics look to be about the same as in the original, the game now sports an extra spaceman (Looj, a "clever" play on the name Luigi) and a few new features. The Two Player mode available at e3 allowed both captains to dash around on a split screen, commanding any Pikmin they could find. It seemed impossible to "mark" Pikmin as your own, so if you wandered through your friend's crowd, you might end up having all your Pikmin leaving you. In the two player mode I played, we were unable to create new Pikmin. The object seemed to be to collect more items than your opponent. I do hope a co op mode is available in the final game.

The one player game is as it was before, but you know have a partner following. You may switch between the two at any time, but I didn't notice any difference in the game. Contrary to some prior reports, the 1 player game is still based on a time system, although there now seems to be no limit to how many days you can take to complete the game. Olimar can also grab a Pikmin and instantly swap it for a different color, rather than having to search for one manually. He also has two spray guns with a limited number of shots in each one. Black spray will petrify an enemy for a period of time. If you kill the enemy while they are petrified, the body will crumble away and you will be unable to process it for more Pikmin. Red spray is meant to be used on Pikmin, but it wasn't available in the demo. Rather than collecting ship parts, you are collecting artifacts in order to sell so that your company can get out of debt. These artifacts range from food items to toys, with plenty of bizarre items waiting to be found. Pikmin 2 looks quite fun, and I do hope a co op mode will be available in the final version.

Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour (GC)
This game is Mario Golf with better graphics and some tweaks. This is a good thing, of course. The game offers you two courses to start with: Normal (a rather realistic looking 18 holes), or Mushroom Kingdom (complete with pipes, Chain Chomps, and more). Not all characters were enabled for play, although a Koopa Troopa was (complete with Super Mario 64 sound effects) and Bowser Jr. and a Boo were listed in the character list, although they were grayed out.

One of the best new additions is the ability to "mark" your swing power bar, which helps you better game when to swing the club. A mark set on the bar using the L and R buttons, and the estimated travel distance is shown above it. This takes the guesswork out of hitting. One problem I noted is that the game seems to set computer controlled limits at times, limits that traveling power meter will not pass -- so if you are trying for a very small put, you can no longer leisurely watch the meter go up and down, but have to frantically tap the A button during the few seconds the red bar travels the the computer reduced power graph.

Taunts are back, but now they are more fun/annoying. A B X Y act as taunts, and pressing one causes a little icon and text balloon to pop up on the screen, staying there for a moment or two before fading away. With a little effort, three players can almost completely fill the screen with encouraging messages. Sadly, taunts vanish and are disabled once the player begins to swing.

There appears to currently be no GBA version of the game, and a GBA connection wasn't mentioned either.

The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords (gc/gba)
This game is very fun. Pop the disc into your Cube and hook up 2 to 4 GBA systems (no cartridges needed) to play a four player game of Zelda, with the object being the Link who gathers the most rupees.. The TV screen is used for most of the game, but should one player enter a house or travel underground, his actions are hidden and only visible on his GBA. It sounds gimmicky, but its very important to the game, for the other players have no idea what is going on down there, but will frantically follow in into the tunnel for fear he may grab all the money. Each Link brandishes a sword and up to one bonus item at a time, although the item may be swapped with any other item you find sitting on an item pedestal. As items are rather limited, you will find yourself bashing the other links out of the way in order to swap your shovel for the precious boomerang before they can get their grubby little elven mitts on it.

The graphics and sounds in the GC version seemed to be generally pulled directly from the SNES Link to the Past, looking sightly like Flash animation images at times to a bit of a "outline" effect visible due to scaling. The only visible GC effects include fancy Wind Waker style death clouds, the map zooming in or out to match the action, hundreds of enemies appearing on the screen, and the final boss of the area, who scales in and out and looks much higher in resolution quality than the other characters in the game.

Whether this game is complete in itself is a hard question. If the game had plenty of multi player challenges, it might warrant a purchase. I find it more likely it will be packed in with some demos or with the next game, however.

The Legend of Zelda: Tetra's Trackers (gc/gba)
Much like Four Swords, this is a GC game that allows 2-4 players to compete without requiring any game cartridges. Tetra from Wind Waker appears on the TV screen and talks to you during the game, giving you full audio cues as to what to do and what happens next.

This game is a treasure hunt game. Each player chooses their initial and sex, then they are given about 99 seconds to play a "memory" type game in order to earn supplies for the main game. The better you do, the better chance you have of winning the man game, for these items can drastically improve your chances of besting your fellow players. Items include rupees, balloons (for warping back to the starting point), Pegasus boots, and more.

When time runs out, all four players are led to the starting gate on their GBA screen and prepare to race. All game action takes place on the GBA screen, with the TV being used to display running totals, a map of the island, the locations of all four players and all 10 pirates, and Tetra, who is always talking to you.

The actual game consists of dashing around a large island searching for the pirates. The first player to find Pirate #1 and give him some rupees gets a stamp, and then all players must find Pirate #2. This continues until all 10 pirates are found, then you are back to Pirate #1 for a second round. Whoever has the highest total score when time runs out wins.

Making things more interesting is the fact that treasure chests litter the island, filled with all kinds of things, and that these chests refill on a regular basis. Certain items can be used to make Tetra show (on your screen only) a hint as to where the next pirate is hidden. One item causes rupees to rain from the sky around you, although all the other players are promptly notified of this fact. To make things harder, while the locations of all 10 pirates are marked and labeled on the map at the beginning, as the game continues the numbers will vanish, making it harder to find the proper pirate.

While this game is very interesting and unique, it feels like a glorified mini game. This game simply can't be released as a stand alone product. In fact, the game feels more like an e3 booth toy than a real video game, given the way Tetra constantly talks to you as you play. I'm assuming that if we do get this game, it will be on the same disc as Four Swords.

Starfox (gc)
Regardless of what the final product will be, the multi player battle was all that was playable at e3, and it was disappointing. You start the battle on foot, but controlling your character (Fox, Slippy, and the normal gang, with Krystal from SFA added in) like you would a vehicle -- holding R to move forward, then steering left and right. While I saw Arwings briefly in movies and during battles on other kiosks, we were completely unable to locate one in our game. I managed to locate and take control of a tank, then proceeded to launch salvo attacks on the other players. The problem is that until we can see how the main game plays, or how the Arwing controls, it is very hard to judge this game.

This game looks very polished and very detailed. Everything is cel shaded, but with great amounts of detail and little outlines, unlike Wind Waker. As it is an RPG, there wasn't much I could figure out from e3 playing, but it certainly looks weird.

Nintendo Puzzle Collection
Graphics fans will not be happy here. Dr. Mario, Panel de Pon, and Yoshi's Cookie are all present in this compilation, and all feature four player modes, but only Yoshi's Cookie has completely redone and snazzy graphics.. Dr. Mario uses the graphics and sound from the N64 game, looking very pixelated and very ugly this time around. Panel de Pon must have new graphics, as the SNES game it was based on never had a four player mode, but it looks like a low resolution, blocky set of graphics anyway. The game play is still present, of course, but the games just don't look as nice as they could. A large GBA Connection icon on the menu verifies that you should be able to download versions of all three games to your GBA, but Nintendo wasn't letting us test out that function.

Mario Party 5
It looks like Mario Party 4, but with new mini games. I tried a few, and they seem alright. Mario Party 4 seemed to have a ridiculous number of games based entirely on chance, but most of the MP5 mini games available seemed to be based on skill. One interesting thing is that Bowser Jr. seems to be listed as a playable character. Character models seem quit detailed, with the backgrounds of the mini games ranging from really low polygon counts and poor textures to midrange levels. Hudson is developing this game, as it did all the other Mario Party games.

Geist (gc)
I walked up to this game expecting nothing, and walked away amazed. Geist is structured around the elements of a FPS, but it has its own twist: you play as a ghost. When you start the game, you are a glowing, translucent spirit that vaguely resembles a skeletal torso. When the game gives control over to you, the screen is washed out and a bit grainy, helping you realize the nature of your ghostly presence. You can float down the hallway and toss little bundles of "ghost power", but doing so will wear you out. To regain strength, you must absorb life energy from something, such as a plant. Target a plant, press A, and watch the plant slowly wither and die as your energy meter refills.

To get anywhere in the game, you must take control of human body. The catch is that they have to be quivering in sheer terror before you can do that. This is where the game gets fun. To scare humans, you must direct your ghostly energy at something the area to haunt it. Target a book and it will float across the room. Flip pages, cause drawers to open and close, make the floor creak, cause windows to slam shut... when the human has withstood all he or she can, you are free to take control of them and hunt down the evil that killed you to begin with.

There appear to be a large number of things you can interact with, and these ghostly actions are what truly make the game unique. You can leave a host at any time, then reenter later, so using your ghost powers should be an integral part of the game. The game I am most reminded of by Geist is Goldeneye, not because it was a FPS, but because it took the existing FPS genre and radically altered it.

Thus ends my day 2 coverage. Day 3 to come soon. Cheerio!

e3 Day 3

The third and final day of e3 approaches... and once again, I wake up late. I really need to find a hotel with a better alarm clock.

Wario World (gc)
Wario World was fully operational, and feeling quite like a mixture between the first Warioland game and a Double Dragon brawler. I found myself running, stomping, kicking, and charging through enemies, stumbling into an occasional bonus room where I was able to pick up extra coins. The game looks polished and stylized, but I do hope there are power ups or morphs available later in the game, as it feels a little "simple" right now. It's a Treasure developed game, so I do have high hopes for it. The problem I have with the demo is that it feels too slow paced to really get a good feel for the game at e3.

Wario Ware
Fun, weird. You get a mini game, then try to complete it before the time counts off five seconds. Once the five seconds count down (whether you fail or complete the task early), it's on to the next mini game. and this repeats, dashing through a variety of games, until you either complete a set number of challenges OR fail too many times. I am really looking forward to this release... and I'd mention more about the game, but I'm sure you already know everything worth mentioning about it.

Majesco Video Pak
Just like the 4Kids Network, Majesco plans to release a line of stand alone GBA cartridges with film footage packed on them. The frame rate of the Majesco carts seems much higher than the 4Kids ones, even though it is rather pixelized. Audio is routed through the GBA sound system, so it sounds fuzzy and distorted. Majesco had some old Warner Bros. cartoons and Three Stooges shorts on display. They plan to sell the things for $19.99 when they are released. I personally think a DVD would be a better deal, but there might be some kind of market for videos on GBA carts.

Kero Kero King DX (GC)
This weird Bandai game seems to be a mix between Mario Golf and torturing frogs. Your cute little frog sits on a small catapult; your job is to smash one side of the lever to make your flog fly through the air, hurtling towards the target. Very weird. The game seems to be set up in the confines of a golf game, each player trying to get as close to the target as possible with the fewest number of flights. Bandai proudly notes the game's graphical style was contributed by one Yosuke Kihara, and that it should be released in the first quarter of 2004.

Chibi Robo (GC)
A little tiny robot must keep the house and the Professor safe from the evil burglars. Your job is to give the robot instructions so he can solve puzzles and take care of the evil ones. The game plays in a fashion akin to the old "point and click" adventure games, where you give the characters instructions and tell them where to go rather than directly control them. Click somewhere on the screen and Chibi Robo dashes over there. Click on an item to make him interact with it. You've got to monitor the robot's power supply as you do this, so he doesn't collapse on the floor as the ominous evil things walk through the front door. This game looks a lot more interesting that reports had made it sound.

Phantasy Star Online III: C.A.R.D. Revolution
The GameCube's second online game (barring some kind of amazing press release regarding MK:DD and the Gamespy deal). The problem is that the demo Sega had running seemed to be stuck in a battle sequence... and it seemed to lock up when we pressed RESET. The game looks like PSO in style and environments, but battles are done with a deck of cards in a turn based setting. Sounds exciting, eh?

Sonic Adventure DX (gc)
This game looks sub par. Animation is choppy. Lots of pop up. It feels like a -really- quick and dirty port.

Billy Hatcher (gc)
Cross Sonic the Hedgehog with Super Monkey Ball and you might end up with this game. Billy is a small boy in a chicken suit, living on an island covered with giant chickens. Some bad guys have kidnapped the chicken leaders, so Billy has to get them back by rolling giant eggs around. The eggs can be rolled through and over enemies to destroy them, and the eggs can be "fed" with fruit icons that appear through the levels. Fully charge an egg up and you can hatch it using Billy's crowing ability. Hatched eggs yield cute little animal helpers which follow Billy around. These helpers can be commanded to use their special attack whenever you desire, and you can swap helpers when you hatch a new egg. This game really emphasizes the rolling aspect, which is why it reminds me of Super Monkey Ball. You can also toss the egg at things for a "pinball" effect, jump with the egg, and perform a pile driver attack while bouncing on the egg. Feeding eggs makes them grow in size. This game is rather fun, but the very fact that it stars a boy in a chicken suit makes me believe it will fail miserably.

Kemco GBA MP3 Player
Just for the fun of it, I asked the Kemco guys about this. There are no current plans to release the GBA MP3 player and encoder in the USA.

Resident Evil 4
Shown in footage only, this looks impressive. Very impressive. Very weird impressive. It looks like they are trying to keep the "scare" factor the RE remake had. Weird enemies include what appears to be a shadowy haze in humanoid form and something carrying a hook. A sense of tension seems to be stressed as well.

Ah, Capcom's mysterious game. Everyone either hates it or loves it, it seems. The game plays like a quick blasting game, with some very impressive animation tossed into it. The demo seemed to be a very, very, very simple shooter, although I'm sure it gets tougher as you go. Making your character, a body-suit clad girl, move forward is easy, but getting her to turn is difficult. You go from room to room, blasting, jumping, and dodging as you go, trying to destroy all the robots you see. Don't confuse this with a Mega Man style of game though; PN03 feels closer in spirit to the FMV light gun games that were so popular a few years back. Move from location A to location B, blasting the enemies that appear. I will say that the game was better than most of the early reviews made it sound, but it is still a really basic and simple game.

Nintendo Stage Event Thingy
At 2:00 pm, the Nintendo Stage area was lit up... and a very weird thing happened. 5 dancing girls, Charles Martinet, a 2 man techno-styled band, and the odd "Jimmy T" guy from Wario Ware began hopping around the stage. Charles introduced the "Nintendo Girls", then there was a period of music playing and the girls dancing. Curtain fell, then rose again... and the stage occupants begin the "tossing out t-shirts and GBA SP cases" sequence. While I'm all for getting free stuff, this stage event was odd and struck me as a "Look! We're Nintendo! We're cool AND hip!" type of event... that, or they are mocking the booths of the other companies. That, or I'm bitter at not grabbing anything for free.

Charles Martinet Gets Mobbed
After the free stuff event ends, I ran into Charles Martinet (voice of Mario) as he got off the stage. Before he was mobbed for autographs on all kinds of Nintendo merchandise, he swapped contact info with me should I ever get around to doing that series of interviews I am planning.

Fire Emblem (gba)
Imagine Advance Wars set in a faux medieval period, then take out the distance weapons, make all the units into individuals with personal health stats as opposed to unit stats, and add the ability to do things like attack walls to hack into the side of a castle. Fire Emblem is fun. I can't wait for the release of this game.

Atari Room
Atari wouldn't let anyone in unless they were invited. Punks.

Harvest Moon (gc)
Looks like Harvest Moon, but now on the GC. Again... this kind of game just can't be fairly played in a 5 minute e3 session. That or I forgot about this game until the last 3 minutes of the final day of e3.

GBA Player
Oh, lots of folks had the GBA player hooked up as a way of demonstrating the GBA games. The presentation and menus are rather "snazzy", to say the least. Lots of frames, although I can't tell if they have the neat "screen saver" effects the SGB did.

Well, that about wraps up e3. All seemed to go fairly well, even if I did end up spending a lot of time around folks from DMG Ice and that Riv guy. There wasn't a lot of free stuff to be had, unless you had one of the elusive Media Badges, but it was a fairly fun experience overall. Until the next time I do something interesting, farewell.