The first annual E for All Expo at the L. A. Convention Center was an interesting affair. Designed to fill the vacuum left by the E3 of yore (now a much smaller media-only event held not in the Los Angeles Convention Center, but in Santa Monica) as well as broaden its attendee base to include the public, it found itself in a tough spot when both Sony and Microsoft declined to participate. As a result, the event only filled a little over two-thirds of South Hall and essentially became a Nintendo show, with a few attractions on the side (not the least of which was the U.S. debut of Konami's Metal Gear Solid 4 demo).
The cavernous hallways outside the showroom were eerily silent and largely empty, a far cry from the wall-to-wall regalia and hustle and bustle of E3's lobbies. Still, there was a lot of good gaming to be had at E4, particularly if you were a Nintendo fan. Let's start there...
Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii)
This game was the centerpiece of Nintendo's booth, which was just as large as any they'd ever had at E3. In fact, it could be said that Nintendo's E4 booth was even better, with shorter lines and more breathing room than E3 had ever afforded on its best day. Super Smash Bros. Brawl was given the limelight with a stadium-seating tournament setup, playing out on a stage MC'ed by "booth babes" and broadcast on jumbo-sized monitors.
Smash Bros. Brawl was also available for non-tournament play at a couple rows of demo stations. Two controller options were on hand, depending on the kiosk: the regular Wii remote or the Wii's classic controller. I preferred the classic controller, even though it left the Wii remote dangling uncomfortably like a dead weight wrist-strapped to one arm. The other control option was perfectly playable, but the classic controller just felt more like the way I'm used to playing Smash Bros. on N64 and GameCube. Unfortunately, only the Wii remote option was available in the tournament because Nintendo "really wanted to focus on playing the game with the default controller." At least all competitors were on a level playing field.
I played a round as Ike (from Fire Emblem) against another attendee using Link. The venue was the Kid Icarus themed stage, and my overall impression of the game was that it was a prettier version of Melee on GameCube. The Wii controls really didn't seem to add much to the gameplay, but I'm not the biggest expert on the series... I still play it mostly as a button masher. The single player modes look to have been expanded with more character-specific level challenges, and the inclusion of new characters like Sonic and Solid Snake are the icing on the cake. Fans of the series should be happy with Brawl. I was a bit bummed that Snake was a hidden locked character, not playable at E4.
Link's Crossbow Training - Wii
This Legend of Zelda spinoff game is a pack-in for Nintendo's Wii Zapper peripheral, and a very fun one at that. Nintendo's pedigree in light gun games stretches all the way back beyond Duck Hunt, and it shows it what is a very cool arcade style bow'em up. There were nine challenges available to play in the demo (which appears to be the final retail version), each with three levels apiece. That amounts to almost thirty individual stages, not bad for a bonus pack-in game.
The challenge I played started off with a tour through Goron Mountain, the camera floating towards different groups of gorons, who would roll towards the screen before standing up with a random emblem on their chests. The emblems were either a red target circle, a green target circle, or a blue X. As far as I could tell, the red target got you points, the green target got you even more points, and the X took points away, so you want to avoid shooting that one. The Gorons only hang around a little while after revealing their targets, so you have to pop off quick before the game moves on and potential points are lost. Each three-stage challenge has a total target score of 20,000 points, and I managed to get a little over 7,000 in the first stage by wildly mowing down some Gorons.
The next level was my favorite of the bunch, a float down the river into Zora's domain. Here you blasted huge fish, water bugs, and random balloons that floated by above. Often the biggest point potential was in tagging the balloons; when you destroyed all six or so balloons in a group, a red balloon would pop out that netted you mucho points. The graphics were particularly eye pleasing in this section, with fish being visible beneath the translucent water before popping up to strike.
The third and final section took place in Hyrule field and was a straightforward skeet-shooting affair. Cattle skulls launched into the air in rapid succession and you had to hit them all before they fell to the ground (or lose out on point potential). Once per volley, a red skull worth extra points would find its way into the mix, sometimes far off in the distance to make thing a bit tougher. I ended up with a little over 21,000 points, just barely completing the achievement for this set of levels.
Overall, Crossbow training was a blast (haha) and a great showpiece for the potential of the Zapper. The graphics were nice and colorful, like Twilight Princess with some extra polish and more objects being thrown around onscreen. There is the ability to move Link around a little inside the preset rail-shooter path of the levels, and also to zoom in for a closer view of a target, but I rarely bothered to do that. (Other levels were free-roaming and that came into play.) It's not necessary to hit all targets, but to get maximum points, you'd do best to focus purely on shooting. There are a lot of fast-flying, high-point objects sprinkled in the background. When the ammo is unlimited and the game is this fun, easing up on that trigger finger is not an option.