I am just returning from three very busy days in Leipzig and can finally give you some impressions. First of all, I spent the last few hours playing Metroid and Mario and both titles look and feel great, with Mario perhaps the most convincing offering. The graphics are clearly a step up from current titles and the gameplay mechanics and control scheme hint at what Miyamoto said: 'Super Mario Galaxy' will be the true sequel to Mario 64.
Metroid is much darker in colour and offers far less contrast, obviously. But this creates a tense atmosphere and the playable level could easily have been mistaken for 'Halo' or 'Mass Effect' in parts. There was no options menu implemented and the controls were slow, but this will be adjustable in the final game, no doubt. All in all, it looks set to become a solid title, but its graphics are not quite as impressive as the ones in Mario.
In terms of announcements, I already hinted at Track and Field being announced for DS with a Wii version possibly in the works (well done to those of you who guessed it). Sony's big announcement turned out to be a DVB-T receiver (wich will allow Europeans to watch digital terrestrial television programmes and record them via the PS3). A nice bonus, but this was less than I and my colleagues at RTL expected, given how much Sony had hyped their announcement prior to the press conference. We did not include it in our reports.
Every report I saw included Wii Fit, though, as did mine. After turning a remote into a game controller, Nintendo managed to utilize another household object in the same way: scales. And the strategy worked again, as plenty of people were eager to try it out. I played it briefly and it felt pretty accurate. I am seriously wondering, though, if developers will be able to put the balance board to as many uses as the remote. It seems far less versatile in terms of gaming applications. Nevertheless, I was a member of the 'Best of GC' jury again and we did give it the innovation award.
It was obvious that the Wii was also the focal point of developers. Sega was pushing 'Mario & Sonic', Konami was proudly showing off 'Dewy's Adventure' and Vivendi prominently displayed 'Geometry Wars' for Wii. But some developers were concerned that Nintendo's great success with those casual titles would become an incentive to cut budgets for the hardcore games.
Julian Eggebrecht, head of 'Lair' developer Factor 5, seemed genuinely keen to work with the platform, but was highly sceptical of Nintendo's seemingly lacklustre marketing for 'Metroid Prime 3'. From a business point of view it would even make sense to prioritize casual games. A title like 'Brain Training' costs a pittance to develop when compared to the Retro Studios shooter, but has sold more units than most titles will ever achieve. Let us hope that Nintendo will not simply act out good business sense but realises the advantages of a broad portfolio that is broad enough to include the hardcore crowd.
As far as other consoles go, I was very impressed with the PS3 offering at the show. 'Lair' looked spectacular and, perhaps most of all, 'Eye of Judgement' is set to become a killer app. The game's graphics could not possibly be any better, it seems. And the interaction with the monsters (you can slap them and they react) is tremendous fun. Trading cards are a huge market and this game may prove to be the first real revolution in this field. With Hasbro on board, I have no doubt that this game will be a system seller like no other PS3 game on the horizon. It has mass appeal and shows off the technological advantages of the pricey hardware. Dear Sony, I would like to see more PS3 games like that.
Of course, the Xbox360 also had a huge showfloor which was well populated. But with me having attended both the 'Halo 3' and 'Bioshock' events, there were was nothing new for me, at least nothing of a magnitude that would necessitate a mention here. Microsoft did some great marketing, though, with an entire ferris wheel set up behind one of the halls.
Next to that was the 'Rock Band' stage. And while I fear that the product may cost as much as $200, the fun I had playing it would justify that price point. A great title that will take multiplayer gaming on consoles into a whole new dimension.
In terms of interviews, I talked to dozens of developers, from ex-LucasArts staff to the head of Running with Scissors. I will update you on some of the more interesting interviews in the coming days. On a final note, though, I have spoken to a reliable source about the Wii-exclusive Star Wars game I learnt about last year. This source has seriously questioned whether LucasArts would consider exclusives at all with their current titles being strictly multi-platform. The person I spoke to also questioned my original source. To me, though, such a game would make perfect sense, business-wise, since pretty much every Wii owner would gobble it up. Either way, we will find out the truth about this soon enough, since the game would have to be announced this year, I guess, if it really exists.
EDIT Undoubtedly, you have come across some early impressions of the upcoming Wii title ´Rockstar presents Table Tennis´ complaining about the control scheme. I have played the game as well and did not find the controls problematic at all. While it takes a few minutes to get the timing of the motion right, it is great fun once you got the hang of it. I only thought the graphics were very sobering. But in my opinion, gameplay mechanics work a treat.
EDIT My new source on the Star Wars lightsaber action game for Wii may have been too hasty. Australian site Gameplayer writes:
"LucasArts’ Mark Montuya commented today that [Lego Star War´s] motion-sensitive lightsaber action is “just a taster” for a future release involving motion-sensitive lightsaber combat."