E3 2018: A First-Timer's Reactions
E3 2018 has now come and gone. It's been a goal of mine ever since I was a kid to attend E3 someday, and I'm happy to say that goal finally got met this year! I attended only ONE day, Wednesday. My big three games to play were Pokémon, Smash Bros, and Kingdom Hearts 3--anything else I could do in my mind was a bonus. Thanks to getting in with an industry badge, I was able to enter the exhibit halls at 9 AM PST, a full 3 hours earlier than the public gamer passes. I had a pretty simple plan of attack: hit up Pokémon first thing, then hop over to Kingdom Hearts 3 before the public was let in. Then I'd grab some lunch before getting in line for already-reserved 2 PM Smash Bros timeslot. And that's exactly how it went! Read on for my thoughts on these 3 games, some bonus games, and my overall impressions of my time at E3 2018.
POKÉMON LET'S GO, EEVEE!
As soon as the doors opened, I made a beeline straight for Pokémon. (Thanks to the official E3 app, I was able to look at a map before we were let in, so I knew exactly what direction to head in on the show floor.) I waited maybe 10 minutes. During this time a staff member asked if anyone would like for her to take a picture of them with the Eevee statue on display. While all the people around me looked on in complete silence, I said HELL YES.
The demo lasted 8 minutes and was a shortened version of the build played during the Nintendo Treehouse on Tuesday. This build only featured the Viridian Forest--I asked if the demo had Pewter City in it since it was in the Treehouse build but was told no, sadly.
I played the whole time with the Poké Ball Plus, and I was REALLY excited to get to play with it. It's a bit on the small side but still feels comfortable to use. There are only 2 buttons on it: the top acts as the B button, and pressing the control stick acts as the A button. Upon catching my first Pokémon, the Pokédex indicated that pressing Y would make the Pokémon model go through an animation, but the staff member next to me told me that the Poké Ball Plus doesn't have a Y button. The only way to check that feature out is to use a standard Joy-Con. One question that lingered in my mind before the demo still remains, though: how comfortable will the Poké Ball Plus be for long gaming sessions? It felt great after just 8 minutes, but I'm not sure how ergonomic it is to hold a small ball as a controller for hours at a time. That said, have I already bought my newly-announced game and Poké Ball Plus bundle? YES.
Catching Pokémon definitely had a bit of a learning curve for me. My first toss went WAAAAAY over my target Pidgey's head because I went through a complete throwing motion with my arm. After my first toss I instead flicked my wrist, and I was able to get great and excellent throws very efficiently. Once you figure out the best motion for you (as some people around me were throwing sideways or underhanded--I threw over), just remember that it's more of a flick than an actual tossing of a baseball.
One REALLY exciting detail I noticed in the Treehouse stream on Tuesday is that Pikachu learned Double Kick at level 9. This is a move that Pikachu has never been able to learn prior to the Let's Go games. I'm happy to report that the Eevee used in the Let's Go, Eevee! demo also had Double Kick. Not only does this mean you don't have to go out of your way when you hit Pewter City to find a Nidoran and level it up until it learns Double Kick but much, much importantly this means that Game Freak could totally change up movepools for any Pokémon in the game. In my previous entry on the Let's Go games, I said having no breeding in the game means there won't be any eggs moves, and these moves can often make or break a Pokémon competitively. But with both Pikachu and Eevee learning Double Kick for the first time in 20 years, all bets are off. As someone who's an avid competitive battler, I simply can't wait to see what movepool changes await. Who knows how the competitive metagame will change? (And on a side note, I can totally see these moves being exclusive moves to Pokémon natively caught in the Let's Go games. I can see these games connecting via Pokémon Bank to the core titles coming in 2019, and if you want a Pokémon with one of these new moves, you have to transfer it.)
One detail that was teased in the Treehouse stream but never officially revealed was Pinap Berries. You could see in the stream that a Pinap Berry was in the bag, but the Treehouse logo blocked the actual text. One of my goals was to find a Pinap Berry in the demo and see exactly what it does, and I did! When you feed a Pinap Berry to a Pokémon AND you successfully catch it, it makes the odds higher that the Pokémon drops an item (like a Poké Ball or a berry). This is completely different from how Pinap Berries work in Pokémon Go.
It's been announced that the two different versions of the game will have version exclusive Pokémon to catch (as is always the case with Pokémon games), and I've got a pretty good idea what those exclusvies could be thanks to my time with the demo. In the Treehouse build of Let's Go, Pikachu!, Oddish (a version exclusive to Red Version) appeared in Viridian Forest. Likewise, Bellsprout (a version exclusive to Blue Version) appeared in the Viridian Forest in the demo of Let's Go, Eevee!, and the demo party also had a Meowth (also a Blue Version exclusive) in it. This makes me believe that Let's Go, Pikachu! will feature Red Version exclusive Pokémon, and Let's Go, Eevee! will feature Blue Version exclusive Pokémon. Here's a quick refresher on those original exclusives:
None of this has been confirmed by the Pokémon Company, so please take it with a grain of salt!
One thing I didn't like about this demo was every person playing the demo was accompanied by a staff member. These are volunteers who did not work on the game, and while they know basic facts about the game, they can't answer more technical questions. I asked the staff member assigned to my station if you could switch the order of your Pokémon in this demo build, and she said it was only possible to switch Pokémon in battle. So I responded by pulling open the main menu, hit Party, selected Eevee in my first slot, hit Move Pokémon, and moved Meowth to my first slot. I can understand that the staff members didn't actually work on the game since Game Freak is based in Japan, but I generally don't like volunteers telling me random stuff about that game that I already know about while I'm trying to figure out stuff I don't know about yet. My staff member was incredibly friendly, though, and I genuinely hope she didn't get any salty sass from cranky gamers as the day waned on.
One more cool thing! Everyone who played got a free Poké Ball stress ball on their way out of the demo area. What's not to love about free swag?
KINGDOM HEARTS 3
I then immediately booked it over to the Kingdom Hearts 3 demo area. The demo itself was 20 minutes (!!), but the wait was over 2 hours--and this was before the show floor was even open to the public! As I got close to the front of the line, I found out what was happening: media members were showing up and claiming spots in the limited demo area, and since the demo was so long, people were getting bumped into different groups. This resulted in a wait time that was almost an hour long than the staff anticipated.
We were told that as soon as we were waved into the demo area to go up to a TV, pop the headphones on, and begin playing right away. This resulted in a much more immersive experience than the Pokémon demo since there wasn't a staff member talking to me throughout my playtime. You had the option of the Mount Olympus area or the Toy Story area (or you could do a combination--however you wanted to spend your allotted 20 minutes), and I opted for Toy Story, which contained a 7 minute cutscene that was rich with nostalgia and emotion. In fact, I'm not even remotely embarrassed to say I even got choked up once. And while the voice cast hasn't officially been announced yet, the voice actors for Woody, Buzz, Hamm, and Rex sounded EXACTLY like their film counterparts, so they're either the real deal or really, really good soundalikes.
I barely got to squeeze in the whole Toy Story area before my 20 minutes expired because I really wanted to explore the world as much as I could--and I had to force myself to just push on and fight! The animation is just gorgeous, and the gameplay was a ton of fun. Kingdom Hearts 2 is my favorite game of all time, and I absolutely cannot wait to take a deep dive into Kingdom Hearts 3 when it FINALLY releases on January 29, 2019 (PLEASE DON'T GET PUSHED AGAIN!!).
One slight ding for the presentation of the Kingdom Hearts 3 demo area: as the line snaked around, I could see a greenscreen in the corner of the area. People would pose with a keyblade in front of it and get a photo taken by a staff member. I figured instead of giving out a small piece of free swag like Pokémon did, demo players would get a cool picture instead...but I was totally wrong. There was a separate line outside just for the picture. VERY LAME, WHOEVER PLANNED THE LAYOUT OF THE BOOTH.
SUPER SMASH BROS ULTIMATE
First I'd like to give a little background about myself as far as Smash goes. I've been playing competitively since Brawl, where I became known as one of the best Bowser mains in the world. I used to travel quite a bit to attend tournaments and have competed in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, SoCal, NorCal (yes, the Smash community treats California like 2 separate states!), New York, and even Hawaii. I didn't compete in Smash for Wii U (which I'll just refer to as "Smash 4" from here) nearly as much as I did in Brawl, but I still put in a ton of time in the Bowser lab. With a new Smash game coming out THIS YEAR, I absolutely can't wait to tear it up with my old buddy Bowser once again. (So really, all of this is to warn you that my impressions on the game will largely be about Bowser because honestly, no other character matters!)
My timeslot, which I reserved online ahead of time, was 2-2:45 PM PST. I showed up to the line with two friends around 1:45, and we were let in. The wait time wasn't that bad--maybe 15 minutes tops. All competitors who signed up online got to compete in "mini tournaments". There were 3 rounds total in these "mini tournaments". The first round was a 4 player free-for-all with all items off except for Smash Balls, with a 5 minute timer. Each group of 4 played 2 games. Whoever got the highest score (KOs minus falls) in game 1 and 2 would advance to the second round for another free-for-all. Round 2 also had 2 games, but the first game was solely a warmup game. Whoever had the highest score in the second game would advance to the finals, where it was a one-on-one match with no items and 3 stocks. Many of these matches were also displayed on the big screen TV for the whole crowd to see too. All players who made it out of round 1 got a Smash Bros rally towel, the 2 players who made it out of round 2 got a Smash Bros hat, and the player who won the finals got a Smash Bros medal. Giving people tangible rewards for advancing was an absolutely WONDERFUL move on Nintendo's part.
But onto the match formats themselves. On the plus side, we weren't forced into any stages. Nintendo previously held a 3DS tournament at San Diego Comic Con, and each round forced players to play certain stages. To top it off, some of these stages had a good deal of stage hazards, meaning they weren't tournament legal when the game actually came out (tournament rules are dictated by the Smash community, not Nintendo when Smash games actually release--but prior to release Nintendo can make the rules because well, the game's not out yet!). At E3, staff said the stage would be decided by the whole group. This was a nice touch because it meant that the only way you would play on a particularly janky stage was if everyone agreed on it. In my first round, I played against 3 guys who didn't really care what stage they went to, but one person REALLY wanted to go to the boxing stage, which is 100% banned from competitive Smash tournaments. I objected and requested Battlefield, so we all played on Battlefield, which is a very standard competitive stage.
On the downside, Nintendo loves having multiple rounds of free-for-alls, with only the later rounds being singles. As a competitive Smasher (and someone who plays a very large character), this is INCREDIBLY frustrating. I understand that 1) Nintendo needs to move a lot of people through the demo and 2) Smash is both a competitive game and a party game, but if you're going to hold a tournament and call it "competitive play", then PLEASE stop this free-for-all nonsense. Players can team up on others (intentionally or otherwise), and that's something that just doesn't exist in the standard competitive one-on-one format. Furthermore, setting these first 2 rounds as time matches as opposed to stock matches (which is the competitive standard) means that it doesn't matter if you rack up a ton of damage on someone. You ONLY get a point if you score the final hit that secures a KO. It's an incredibly bad system that doesn't always mean the best player advances. A Little Mac player in my second round advanced because he would throw out powerful smash attacks on players who were already at high percents, so he would steal many of my KOs from me. Furthermore, I REALLY wanted to learn as much about the changes that Bowser has undergone in this new game as much as possible--but it's hard to test things when you have 3 people running all over and throwing out attacks left and right. Instead of testing things or simply playing like I normally would, I was throwing out more powerful smash attacks because the goal wasn't to play intelligently--it was just to get a lot of KOs. This resulted in much less meaningful play than I hoped for--play that I know I would have been able to experience had I advanced to the finals.
While I was really, really, really frustrated by Nintendo's "mini tournament" format, I did play in the "noncompetitive" side of their Smash demo area later in the afternoon. There I played 4 free-for-all matches with items. Again, it was hard to test stuff, but I was honestly just happy to get to play Smash Ultimate.
I can't say there's anything I particularly love about Bowser in this iteration of the game due to my incredibly limited time with the game (especially compared to my thousands of hours of practice in the previous two Smash games), but there is some stuff that stuck out to me. For one, all characters in the Smash Ultimate demo now have the exact same frame window for inputting a short hop: 3 frames. In previous games, different characters had longer or shorter frame windows where you could input a short hop--and Bowser has always been on the longer side of the spectrum. Since it's significantly smaller now, I was having a hard time inputting short hops consistently. My muscle memory was just off. Likewise, oftentimes when I input Whirling Fortress (Bowser's up B) out of shield, it would come out as an aerial Fortress and not a grounded one. This is a really big deal because grounded Fortress out of shield has been a staple of defensive Bowser gameplay ever since his introduction to the series in Melee way back in 2001. (WOW, that made me feel old!) Thankfully one of the new mechanics introduced in Smash Ultimate is if you input an aerial attack and a jump at the same time, you'll automatically perform a short hopped aerial. I really just need to sit down for a good long while with the game when it comes out in December and relearn the timings of these inputs. It certainly made things more frustrating during those free-for-alls when my input timings didn't work like they have for years though! Bowser also now has a fully reworked down smash (dsmash as we say in the Smash community)--it's a sweep to the right and a sweep to the left instead of Bowser spinning his shell in place. This is a big change, but I honestly only tried this new attack once since Bowser's dsmash is his worst smash by far in Smash 4 and Brawl. Similarly, Bowser's jab animation has changed from a punch to an open palm strike. His jab animation and properties have changed from one Smash title to another, so I'm excited to see some frame data and figure out the most optimal way to utilize his new jab, as it's been one of Bowser's most important tools since Brawl.
I only played 3 more games the rest of E3:
-Mario Tennis Aces--Played 3 intense games with a guy who played the online demo a lot and had played the E3 demo already. First he beat me by KOing me (I thought we had 2 rackets like in the online demo, but the E3 demo only had 1 racket), then I rebounded and beat him in game 2. Game 3 featured one of the most ridiculous games I've ever played in a Mario Tennis game. We kept getting tied up at 8 apiece, with the advantage going back and forth double digit times before I was finally able to pull out a W.
You're probably wondering why I spent my precious E3 time playing a game that's coming out in a week. Well, I didn't have a choice! My friends wanted to play Killer Queen Black, which was in a demo area filled with a bunch of indies and third party games. But Nintendo was really smart here. The only way to get into this area was to go through the Mario Tennis Aces area. Upon entering the Aces area, you were given a scorecard. Completing 3 rounds of Aces earned you a stamp and access to the next area. You could then play any 6 games of your choosing (with no repeats), and every time you played a demo, you got another stamp. Getting 2 stamps earned you some free swag (a set of Mario Tennis Aces pins and a Switch-branded screen cleaning cloth) upon leaving the demo area. I thought this was a brilliant move on Nintendo's part to force people to play their next big game--and I had a TON of fun playing. I already had the game preordered, but now I'm looking forward to playing more than I was before attending E3. Well, well done, Nintendo!
-Killer Queen Black--This was a lot of fun. It's very simple to play but has a surprising amount of depth. Seems like a fantastic party game. It will also only be $20, so it's pretty cheap. I'm not convinced to get it when it comes out, but I'll definitely be keeping an eye on this one after playing it. Also the staff members assigned to the 2 stations actually worked on the game, so our staff member talked to us throughout the demo and gave us a lot of tips on how to play. That alone was a wonderful experience that I wish more demos would emulate instead of having volunteer staff.
-Jump Force--I didn't even know this game had a demo until it practically slapped me in the face. I've been subscribing to Shonen Jump ever since it first hit US shores in 2003 (WOW, that made me feel old again!), so a fighting game with Shonen Jump stars seems like a dream come true. The wait time was about 10 minutes even though it was near the end of the day. The game itself looked gorgeous in motion, but we only got to play 1 round against a CPU. I completely destroyed my opponent only to realize that in doing so I gave myself less time to actually enjoy the game for longer. It's incredibly flashy and fun. Definitely one I'll be looking out for next year.
-The food court area at E3 was wonderful. I waited about 5 minutes for chicken tenders and fries. Sure, it's pricey, but at conventions you really need to ignore the prices to ensure you don't go crazy. There was also a good bit of tables outside. I'm used to San Diego Comic Con having incredibly limited options and virtually no seating other than the floor, so I was impressed.
-There were a ton of character photo opportunities. I saw Spider-Man, whatever the hell Norman Reedus's character in Death Stranding, Crash, Spyro, Mario, Pikachu, Eevee, zombies, and more. I'm a big Disneyland/Disney World fan, so I love photos with mascots.
-I randomly saw WWE's The New Day! Getting to chant New Day rocks and scream for Kofi Kingston to throw pancakes and free Pancake Power shirts never gets old. NEVER.
-As crazy as the lines were, walking space was WAAAAAY roomier than San Diego Comic Con. I never had to feel the stanky back of a random passerby at E3. I don't want to tell you how many stanky backs of random passerbys I've felt at SDCC.
-If I go again, I'm definitely going to go for more than 1 day, and I don't recommend anyone doing this. There's a lot to take in at E3, and worst of all, YOU ARE STANDING THE ENTIRE TIME. I can't stress this enough. Unlike San Diego Comic Con where you stand in line for hours to sit in a panel for hours, at E3 you're standing in line for hours to play a demo for 5-20 minutes. And you're standing while you play that demo. If you go more than one day, you can throw more downtime in there to sit down and not absolutely destroy your poor feet. You know, like I did.
And that's all my thoughts on E3 2018. Hope you dug the read, and see ya real soon, nerds!