Guest Writer: James Pisano
Take a minute and commune with 8 year old you. I’ll wait.
Ok, so remember all the commercials from the 80s for Matchbox race cars and track? They promised that your cars would fly through the air, doing impossible stunts, all from the comfort of your living room, only to disappoint when you finally tried it. Obviously… we are talking about plastic and die case metal toys here…
Enter Tiny Tracks… a VR game in development by (insert studio) and being published by (Sony?). Through a 3rd person VR perspective and Dual Shock control scheme, you’re greeted by a kind of racing room where you will ultimately accumulate trophies and awards. It’s there that you pick your track and car. Keep in mind at this point in development, the cars are pretty generic. No current plans as far as we know to license existing toy car lines, but that would add a certain flair to the game.
Once your car and track are selected, you’ll see one of several themed tracks, from tropical islands to a volcanic underworld. The tracks are filled with twists, turns and dynamic props. The more accurately you steer, the more boost you build up. Hug the turns and slam the boost on the straightaways, and you’ll be a champ in no time. So whether you’re a kid wanting to dive into VR and conquer the course, or a gamer parent wanting to realize the imaginations of your inner 8 year old, Tiny Tracks is a great choice for VR entertainment.
Recently, I had an experience- one of those lifelong dream experiences. I got to go to California to attend E3! And the highlight of that experience? I waited an hour and a half to play Super Mario Odyssey for 10 minutes while I was there. I get funny looks whenever I tell that story to people since I have gotten home. But, I’m not ashamed to admit it. That whole process was the highlight of my trip and I would have done it again in a heartbeat.
The release of a New Super Mario game has always been significant for me. In a way, Mario games have served as gatekeepers to new and interesting experiences. I was never on the bleeding edge of gaming technology when I was younger. My family just didn’t have the money to indiscriminately blow cash on games and consoles unless it was for a birthday or Christmas. And, since Mario games were family favorites in our house, it meant that these games were ones to introduce me to new ways to play games.
A Long History
The original Super Mario Bros was the first game I ever played on the NES. It is fairly archaic when you look back on it now. But, it was perfection back then. I was enthralled by every bit of that game. Super Mario Bros was the first game I played where I actually felt myself making progress and improving my play style and techniques. I was pushed forward through a series of levels, each one slightly more challenging than the last. I learned something every time I had a game over. In a way, this helped to form the foundation of the way I play games.
Super Mario World launched with the SNES and was the first game that I ever remember wanting to explore. It was the first game in the Mario franchise to let players replay levels a second time to find secret exits or hidden coins. Color block temples spread throughout the game also reinforced that exploration mentality. Completing the temple would spread colored blocks throughout the world that would let you run and jump in placed that would have been almost certain death before.
Super Mario 64 was the first game I ever played that took advantage of 3D movement. I still remember the first time that I could just run in circles. I must have spent an hour in that first open area just practicing all of the different ways I could run and jump. I also remember being amazed at how open it was. It was awesome being able to take on the different challenges in any order I pleased. It was also nice to be able to skip levels that I found frustrating and save them until the end. This is a big deal because all of the Mario games before it were more or less linear affairs.
Super Mario Sunshine expanded on the openness of Mario 64 by presenting its challenges in a much more contiguous world. It wasn’t an open world game the way that we think of them now, but it was a very strong step in that direction. I also really appreciate that Nintendo was willing to try something VERY different by, essentially, giving Mario a gun for the first time. It wasn’t a true gun like the ones he will be utilizing in Mario + Rabids Kingdom Battle, but instead it was a super strong water hose attached to a backpack. It was the first time that I remember Nintendo proving to me that they were willing to take risks with their main character.
Super Mario Galaxy is one of my favorite games of all time. It took the 3D movement from Mario 64 and applied it to levels based on spheres. This resulted in one of the coolest collections of levels I have ever seen in a game.
All of this brings me to my time with Super Mario Odyssey. My demo was only 10 minutes long, but it was a very dense experience. It really felt the culmination of everything I had played in the series before. The biggest difference now is that the game feels truly open. I chose a desert based level that had a small quest hub at its entrance. I was then set free to wander the level looking for coins, objectives, and purple moon pickups (this game’s equivalent of the stars from Mario 64). I had complete freedom to move around the level and take on challenges in whatever way (or order) I chose.
This was all accentuated by the new capture mechanic. In Odyssey, Mario can throw his hat Cappy at enemies in order to “capture” them. When he does so he assumes their form and can move like they do. At once point I mind controlled a Bullet Bill and was able to fly over a previously unpassable canyon. This is going to be one of the biggest mechanics in the game and I can’t wait to see how Nintendo lets us use it.
I spent the better part of this year so far in awe at the freedom I was given in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It looks like I might be doing the same with Super Mario Odyssey when it hits the Nintendo Switch on October 27th, 2017.
I stood in line for the better part of three days, and played a lot of games at E3. Every one of them was fun, some more than others. I played every game knowing what to expect and was not disappointed, though some failed to impress. Except once when I strapped on a PlayStation VR headset and was blown away.
Instantly evoking a feeling of mystery and adventure reminiscent of classic bedtime tales. Moss brings an almost perfect balance of elements to create an experience greater than the sum of its parts.
Moss gives you the classic fairy tale type settings but in 3D. Each area beautifully rendered to enhance the overall ambiance and feel of the game. It is very easy in a virtual reality game to detract from the experience if the environment distracting, poorly laid out, unresponsive or just plain ugly. Moss avoids the typical problems by using a fixed point of view for each area. You will not need to jump, spin or otherwise potentially destroy your living room to adventure alongside Quill. It may sound silly, but the number one complaint about VR is motion sickness and headaches. I felt like this design will be an easy entry point that will minimize the potential for both.
Moss has easy to use and intuitive controls to guide Quill through her adventures and combat her enemies. Some games require a user manual and a cheat sheet for their controls, this is not one of them. The combat system is simple and easy to grasp, and no button mashing required. Unless Polyarc has something greater or more in-depth planned for the release. Personally I would enjoy more depth in the combat system, but Moss is not a fighting game and a non-complex system keeps it more family friendly.
Did I mention Moss has puzzles as well? The puzzles make excellent use of the 3D virtual reality environment. Solving these puzzles will require both you and Quill. You might be thinking, of course it requires me; I am using the controller to move Quill. While that is true Moss takes it a step further which is the part that really made it stand out from the other games. Quill navigates through and interacts with her environment as expected, but she can’t accomplish all the required tasks on her own. You must reach out into the game environment and manipulate it to aid Quill in overcoming these challenges. It may sound simple, but that division makes you feel more a part of the game.
On top of all of that I had the opportunity to meet the guys from Polyarc Games who were at E3. Every single person I talked to had an abundance of enthusiasm for creating family friendly games that are engaging and fun. Moss hits that mail solidly on the head. We here at EFG will be keeping in contact with them and hopefully hearing more from them in the future.
The unfortunate truth of game demos at conventions like E3; they are limited in time and scope. In that short period of interaction though Moss made itself stand out so much so that it was my choice for game of the show. Moss is scheduled to be released this holiday season. Make sure you have your PS5 and VR gear ready. I just ordered mine.
Sea of Thieves is a multiplayer open world game where you gather players to create a crew and go on adventures. This game has been on the gaming radar for two years and has a projected release of early 2018. Microsoft revealed new gameplay details during a lengthy video demo during their E3 2017 press event.
System: Xbox One, Windows 10
Release Date: Early 2018
The beginning of the video explains the world and hints at some of the adventures to be has over the sea, on land, or even underground. The most interesting feature that Rare showed off during the demo was the map system. Players have to use thematically appropriate treasure maps to find their adventures.
The gameplay shown in the demo shows a wide range of what one might encounter in the game. One of the first things that was shown were the skeleton enemies that can rise out of the ground to attack. These creatures explode when they are shot by your pistol. The demo showed a quest where players need to retrieve a chest and bring it back to their ship. The person holding the chest can’t fight without putting the chest down. This makes teamwork mandatory. Players need to protect their friends’ backs.
Combat isn’t all skeletons though. You can also fight other players in naval battles! This looks like one of the primary sources of player vs player action. We don’t know exactly how it will work yet, but it sure looks exciting!
ESRB Rating Concerns
Its worth noting that we don’t know how the game will be rated by the ESRB yet. There was a small spray of blood when pirates were injured. It was no worse that the battles with the characters in Horizon Zero Dawn though. Sea of Thieves is worth monitoring for more information as the release approaches. The fact that the game is an open world multiplayer almost automatically disqualifies it for young gamers. This may be one for older children (tweens and teens) with support from a parent to monitor the content other players may present. It is even possible that an M rating will be assigned (although it looks like that is unlikely based on what we’ve seen). We’ll obviously be providing more information as the game gets closer to release.
Starlink: Battle for Atlus is a Sci-fi Flight Sim/Shooter that takes place in a fictional galaxy in the distant future. Starlink’s main feature is that the game comes with a dock for each controller style (for each platform).
Developer: Ubisoft Toronto
Platform: PS4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One
Release Date: Fall 2018
Players use the dock to build spaceships using Toys to Life spaceship components. Changing the parts of the spaceship on the dock changes the parts of the spaceship in the game, in real time. The game features play areas that take place on the surface of fantastical planets as well as outer space. This allows for full three dimensional flight.
The forces of the villainous “Legion” are built to require adaptive strategies on the part of the player. They will need to change parts on the fly during game play.
Ubisoft has avoided painting itself into a Toys to Life corner though. Starlink will feature digital representations of all of the physical parts that can be swapped out. Ubisoft hinted in its press conference that these digital parts can be purchased separately and/or instead of physical products. This is a great way to keep the game going even if the toy sales don’t take off.
Why is this awesome?
This game is essentially a grown up version of the “Toys to Life” model of gaming made popular by the Skylanders, Disney Infinity, and Lego Dimensions games. Starlink: Battle for Atlus appears to be hand tailored to an audience who grew up with the Toys to Life model of games and are now young adults who would be interested in more complex gameplay and story content.
Clearly, Starlink also leans heavily on the nostalgia of the science fiction boom of the 80’s and 90’s. This gives adults access to a game style that was previously marketed to children. This game represents the logical next step in a gaming genre that has been around for the several years and is looking to grow up with its target audience.
System: Xbone, PC
Release Date: TBA
We first saw Riverbond during the Microsoft press conference and honestly did not give it much of a thought as it appeared at first glance to be just another attempt at an overly simple voxel game. Our impression did not change much either when we randomly stumbled onto the single demo screen that it took up in the entire Microsoft exhibition area. That all changed though as soon as we picked up the controllers and started playing. I am not sure what exactly changed but within just minute or two of play the three of us were laughing and yelling enough to make the developer with us concerned for our sanity.
This is four player drop in/drop out cooperative game that is a cross between Gauntlet and Minecraft with very simple controls that consisted of attack, ranged attack, special attack, pick up/throw, block and jump. The game appears to be light-hearted adventure through various maps with both indoor dungeons and outdoor environments. You and you friends slash your way through more than 100 levels, interacting and destroying everything in your path. In our case this included, trees, grass, stone pillars, chickens, ghost spiders, bookcases and the occasional giant flaming pillar. Weapon upgrades are obtained throughout the game and we were told that eventually there will be up to 50 weapons.
The combat was easy to pick up and learn while at the same time being complex enough that I think that veteran gamers will be able to stay engaged and happy for quite a long time. I think it was the simplicity of the combat as a whole that is what made this game so great. There was no need to get used to the controls, we just picked up and played and were able to focus on the game without getting lost in the mechanics of this. This is why I chose this game as my “Game Of The Show” for E3 2017. It hit all the marks for me. Family friendly, easily accessible and endlessly playable in any environment.
One additional note on this, the developer indicated when asked what platform this would be available indicated that this would only be on Xbox and when pressed on the possibility of other consoles in the future he replied no comment. Myself and the EFG staff look forward to seeing more of this game as it becomes available to the public.
Release Date: 8/15/17
Platform: Playstation 4
Matterfall is a side-scrolling action shooter that a first blush reminded me so much of Metroid that if not for the name on the banner I would have thought that Sony somehow got the rights to it. The demo that we played featured an early level and had players learn the movement and combat basics for the game. Players battle their way through flame-throwing robots and spider robots, interacting with your environment by charging through barriers, powering up elevators, and sapping power from force fields.
However, the attack controls were less than intuitive with the use of the right joystick to fire your primary weapon in 360 degrees regardless of the way that you are moving. I would anticipate that as with all these types of games the controls would eventually become intuitive and allow you to flow through the game easily but with the limited time that was available to test this game the odd configuration really took away from the gaming experience. This would clearly make the game a better experience and I hope that I will have the chance to pick this up again to give it a more thorough view.
This appears based on what we have been able to see that this has potential to be a pretty family friendly entry into the action shooter genre as there was not any blood, gore or language in any of the content that we have been able to view. Please keep in mind that there has yet to be a rating released but I would expect that this ends up being a T rating for fantasy violence but EFG will keep you posted as we find out more about this over the summer.
Release Date: Graphics Pack Fall 2017, Better Together Update Summer 2017
Platform: Xbox, Xbox X, Switch, Mobile (iOs and Android), Windows 10, and VR
Minecraft had two big announcements in their video revealed for E3. First, they are putting out a “Better Together” update. This was revealed in the first portion of their trailer which opens with one of the Minecraft landscapes with the words “Coming this Summer” in pixelated letters. The camera zooms forward and the next landscape has the words “Community Marketplace”. What Minecraft is revealing with this trailer is that this summer Minecraft will be available for Crossplay as the game is being unified. Now gamers can play across several consoles and platforms. These include; Xbox, Xbox X, Switch, Mobile (iOs and Android), Windows 10, and VR. Unfortunately, it appears the PlayStation 4 is not a console that will be included in the crossplay program.
The second announcement is revealed in the trailer as the camera zooms into a tunnel and the screen goes dark. A moment later the camera emerges in the Minecraft world, with a vastly different look. Coming this fall there will be DLC called the Minecraft Super Duper Graphics Pack which will be available on Xbox One, and Windows 10. This DLC brings Minecraft into 4k, and while the pixelated aesthetic of Minecraft remain, the visual elements of the game are significantly upgraded. The way they are incorporating the quintessential Minecraft look while integrating 4K is accomplished with lighting and shadowing. The sky alone in the first look at the Super Duper Graphics Pack demonstrates the change. Sunlight is streaming through a light fog over the ground while clouds above maintain their pixelated shape. The trees below still look pixelated, but they are much smaller squares and have a more refined look. As the camera and the characters move there is a significant amount of shadowing that go along also giving the game a vastly different and richer look. With the level of detail, to get the most out of the Minecraft Super Duper Graphics Pack, you would need to have an Xbox One or a higher quality computer that is equipped for this level of graphics. For those gamers who are ready to change up the Minecraft aesthetic, and have the 4K level computer or Xbox One, this is the perfect DLC.
Kirby is an adorable cooperative action game for the Nintendo Switch. Kirby has been a reliable member of the Nintendo family since the original Nintendo Entertainment System. This game will takes full advantage of the local multiplayer features of the Switch and integrates them into the game’s core play.
In addition to Kirby being able to suck in enemies to absorb their powers, Kirby can now recruit enemies with the power of friendship and turn them into allies. These allies not only allow Kirby to create combination abilities, but they can be controlled by up to three other players. They can also left as computer controlled cohorts. Game play features high amounts of whimsy to go with the action, with power ups that include a “Cleaning” Kirby who sweeps away foes with a straw broom, and a “Stone” Kirby who turns into a Curling Stone sliding down hills. Kirby is going to make a solid family friendly title to the 2018 Nintendo Lineup.
Why is this awesome?
Kirby has always been a game that is easy enough to pick up for younger audiences, but contains enough hidden prizes and secret paths throughout the level to challenge more experienced players. Its use of local multiplayer for the Switch means that the parent or older child can play Kirby while less experienced gamers can flop about as his recruited cohorts. This accessibility is integrated into the core game play of the game, and the differences in play experience between different ages is compensated for by the design of the game itself. Its level of whimsy and adorably animated cast will make Kirby a strong purchase for family gamers with younger kids who want to play. We look forward to more details from this game in 2018.