Sonic & Mario at the Olympics (Wii)
This "dream team" pairing of Mario & Sonic has a lot more in common with Wii Sports than either of the platformer series that its titular characters are known for. In fact, at first glance it blows away Wii Sports in the amount of events available for play. The first screen allows you to choose from "Dream Events," "Track Events," "Atheletic Events," and six more categories, each one having multiple events within to select. Once you decide on a game, it's time to pick a character. What's cool is that not only are Mario and Sonic in the game, but all their zany friends are too. So in a way, this is the Marvel vs. Capcom of the Nintendo and Sega universe. Knuckles can go up against Luigi, Tails can take on Toad, Amy can throw down with Princess Peach... You get the picture. Of course, you can always be a party pooper and just choose one of your Mii's instead.
I chose Vector the Alligator and took him to the fencing event, where he squared off against Tails. This sport required both the nunchuk and the Wii remote. Thrusting the remote forward gave you a basic fencing strike, while hitting B would parry an opponent's attack. Parry a strike with the right timing and it would stun the other player, leaving them unable to move for a few seconds and open to a free hit. First one to rack up 15 points wins (one sword strike = one point). It took me two rounds to finally polish off Tails, but the next step in the tournament bracket was Amy, and she put me away, 15-14. Ouch! Fencing was fun, though the Wii remote didn't always register a sword thrust fast enough for my liking.
Other events seemed pretty cool, like swimming relays and track & field hurdles. Most of them were relatively intense with the Wii motions. Track events often had players swinging both arms up and down as quickly as possible, so this might not be the best choice for couch potato gamers. Or maybe it's just what the doctor ordered, who knows. I wasn't absolutely crazy about it, but I think it's safe to say that if you liked the multiplayer aspects of Wii Sports or Wii Play, you'll like Mario & Sonic at the Olympics, and the Sega vs. Nintendo aspect gives it some added appeal for fans of either company.
FFXII: Revenant Wings DS
I spent a few moments with this handheld spinoff of the latest entry in the Final Fantasy series proper. It appeared to be a strategy RPG along the lines of Shining Force, where super-deformed versions of FFXII characters take turns fighting on a large map, shown from a top-down perspective. The graphics were colorful and eye-pleasing, but it's hard to get into a slow SRPG at a gaming expo.
Namco had a great retro design to their booth at E4, complete with working vintage arcade machines for Galaga, Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, and other favorites. Booth reps wore Pac-Man hats and the yellow mascot himself was even on hand along with the missus. This was all to promote Namco classics now being available to play on cell phones via the Namco Network. No sign of Soul Calibur 4, Ace Combat 6, or Beautiful Katamari here.
The booth was fun, but the lack of any contemporary console games made it worth a walkthrough or two at most. It was kind of a puzzling decision for them to focus exclusively on Namco Networks cell phone games that most attendees wouldn't be interested in. The amount of time and money invested in the eye-catching booth could've been better served by some next-gen meat and potatoes to play inside. There was also a Namco store where you could buy overpriced Pac-Man toys and apparel.
Konami's booth featured the almighty Metal Gear Solid 4 demo, the latest iteration of Dance Dance Revolution, the new Perfect Eleven Soccer title, Contra IV DS, and new PSP installments of franchises like Silent Hill Origins and Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles. I waited in line for the MGS4 demo, but I'd played everything else earlier this year at the San Diego Comic Con. Like Namco, Konami had a merchandise store set up for the fans, featuring developer-signed copies of games and game soundtracks. Pretty sweet.
Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock and Rock Band
A wide open booth exclusively devoted to Guitar Hero III seemed to take up a third of South Hall. This was the worldwide debut of the game's playable demo, and even though there were dozens of available demo stations, I hardly ever saw one go unused. Not far away was the Rock Band booth. Being the new kid on the block of air guitar games, Rock Band had to try harder, and so it set itself apart from Guitar Hero with a full concert-style stage setup, complete with mixing board, a live music video shoot, and a LOUD speaker system. What did all this add up to? While I was there, an amazingly bad attendee rendition of Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun."
EA had a decent-sized booth behind Nintendo's, but I must admit I only wandered by it a few times and never played anything. The new Simpsons game looked pretty cool.
The THQ booth was promoting some of theie usual wrestling games, along with Conan for Xbox 360. Conan looks like a gory hack'em up done right, but I didn't have time to play it.
So at the end of it all, E4 was a great way to spend an afternoon. Would I have been as happy with it if I had paid the $50 entry fee and flown into town expressly to attend the convention? Probably not. Probably not at all. You could see and play everything the expo had to offer in one good day, unless you were trying to complete the full retail version of Super Mario Galaxy right there at the demo kiosk.
I lay the blame for the smaller-than-life scale of E4 not with the event organizers, but at the feet of console companies like Microsoft and Sony who declined to participate. I don't know how many E4 attendees I overheard saying something like, "All those years people told me 'You can't get in to E3... Now, finally you CAN get in! This is awesome." In the right hands, E4 could be made into a tool to share pre-release demos with fans and build hype for holiday video game sales, much like Penny Arcade Expo. It'll be a shame if it dies out in the very first year before its potential is realized.