Ryan McPherson

At about this time last year I was recuperating from a wild week in LA, sorting through the photos and putting together the last bits of a few articles about the whirlwind that was E3. I also managed to pick up a nasty case of strep throat, so there are a few things I don’t miss entirely. Nonetheless, it was the first time in three years that I hadn’t seen the Pacific in May, and I can’t deny feeling at least a little wistful.

This year’s been a little different. I’ve spent the last week going to work at my day job (the one that actually pays for food and rent) and generally going about business in the usual way. I’ve even been (mostly) sober!

So you’ll appreciate my excitement at having received my personal invite to the newly re-engineered E3, and event that promises to offer a much more intimate, scaled down version of its former self. Only a mere three thousand or so game journalists are said to have been intived to the July event, with Snackbar accounting for a pair, myself included. The real excitement doesn’t come from having a golden ticket though; rather, it comes from having a golden ticket to an entirely different, brand new chocolate factory that no one’s ever been to before.

Now I’m not just talking about the superficial changes here. Okay, yes I’m obviously very interested to see what a company like EA is going to do about only being granted 20′ x 20′ to set up an exhibit in. I half expect it to be about 150′ tall with multiple floors.

No, there’s a bigger and better reason to look forward to this year’s model, but let’s go back a couple of years before we get there.

Once upon a time (early May, 2005) E3 was a den of boobies, kids who worked at Blockbuster, noise and lights. Somewhere in there they apparently had some video games on display. I’m not sure I actually saw that many of them to tell the truth.

As time progressed (one year later, early May of 2006) E3 grew more mature (made the girls put on some clothes, stopped giving free admission to kids who worked at Blockbuster). It was still noisy, and crowded, and loud, and bright and oh yeah also there were video games.

The video games were actually a good deal easier to gain access to last year, mainly because half of the attending journalists (as well as many booth attendees) could be found in line to play the Wii at any given time, but at the same time, that damned line would have been half as long if all of the kids who worked at Blockbuster didn’t set up “review” websites a few months prior and scammed press badges instead of their exhibits only badges from the year prior.

The thing is though, while it was easier to get around and you didn’t have lines of sweaty nerds waiting to cop a feel/get a photo with a booth babe clogging up the aisles, there was still no serious journalism being done. It wasn’t realistic to expect any of that; the place was set up as it always was, a maze of lights and sounds and looping demo videos and a dozen kiosks for every PR robot. You could forget about talking to someone who actually knew anything that wasn’t memorized the night before about the products on display.

Of course, you can’t ignore the fact that no one really wanted to do any serious journalism anyhow. Let’s face it, EA isn’t going to talk to you if you only want to ask questions about why they bought out the rights to the NFL instead of putting that money into just releasing a superior product. Between the maze of distractions, the unwillingness to expose knowledgeable personnel to the general press, and the sometimes less than subtle hints that review copies of games go to those who play ball, the odds were stacked pretty heavily in the industry’s favor. But this should come as a surprise to no one.

What was a little shocking, though, was Doug Lowenstein’s outgoing rant to the industry last year. You know the one I’m talking about, it’s the reason why two-thirds of the internet came to the conclusion that E3 was over forever. If you actually read it though, it does more than that. It points out a number of failings both from the current industry players, but even more so, the press.

Would the industry be better off with a strong gaming press keeping them accountable for their actions? Well, yes, obviously. So why isn’t there that kind of accountability? Obviously we can’t count on the mainstream media or the corporate gaming websites, but why isn’t there a bigger grassroots push?

Maybe it’s a statement about the failure of small sites like this one to draw readers in, or maybe, it’s a statement about the way small sites are brought into line by the public relations firms before they get a chance to grow.

So what does the new and improved E3 do for us? The playing field is a lot more level now. For instance, exhibitors have now been into such small spaces that they can’t set up the sort of maze of distractions they had in years prior, and even more significantly, now Ubisoft can’t rent out a plot five times the size of Atlus’s booth. Think about it: If Ubisoft, EA, Square-Enix, Blizzard, and NCsoft rent out half of the available floor space, and the rest is divvied up amongst 50 exhibitors, whose products are going to stick out in your mind six hours later when you’re writing an article about what you saw today?

It goes beyond that though. The industry transcends the current players. Where there was once Coleco and Atari there was later Sega, Nintendo and Neo Geo. Later still there were Nintendo, Sega and Sony, and then there was Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft. The same changing of the guard happens with publishers and developers. The 20-something kids buying HDTVs and PS3s today will one day have mortgages and children to fund, and then those children will one day buy consoles themselves. Where GamePro and Nintendo Power once ruled the gaming press, we have GameSpot and IGN.

We are too easily caught up in the antics of the current industry players. They put on the big show and we buy our tickets and before we know it, we’ve mistaken them for the deities they would proclaim themselves to be. When you take that situation and turn it on its head, force the big boys into the same boxes as the smaller companies, you open up the field for a more honest analysis.

You can count on the usual suspects for glowing previews of all the major publishers. That’s not going to change in a year. But with the industry put into a more appropriate perspective, where no one gets to make their pretense of defining the industry, we can at least do our jobs without subconscious manipulation. If the press chooses to focus on the incremental improvements of the major players at the expense of looking for the cracks and calling the industry’s faults out, then that’s a shame, but at least it’s no longer programmed into the design of the expo.

I don’t know what to tell you to expect from this year’s model. With only a handful of press expected as compared to previous years, and no idea as to what the division will be between the corporate online and print media companies versus the smaller, independent sites, it’s hard to say who will even be there. The gaming media has a real chance to take a step towards legitimacy though, and that’s what’s really got me excited.

This is a tale of two gamesA

This is a tale of two gamesA

In The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap you play a guy named Link who is sent off on a quest to save a princess named Zelda. Sound familiar? Well, it should. This is only the 12th game in the series to feature that approximate storyline. So how does it stack up?

Well first, a little more about the story behind this game in particular. Link and Zelda are children this time around. The king, Zelda’s father, is still alive and well and in command. Link’s dad is a blacksmith, but not just any blacksmith: He’s the Royal Blacksmith. And he’s really your dad, since the game inserts whatever you have named your save file whenever someone or something refers to you. But enough about him. A mysterious swordsman turns Zelda to stone shortly after the game starts, and then breaks the ancient sword required to set things right. I won’t go into how he gets into a position to pull this off, because it’s really kind of silly and actually pretty funny when it happens. The Minish Cap is an animated piece of headwear named Ezlo that Link meets in the Minish Woods whilst searching for a minute race of people called the Picori. These people, according to legend, made that sword Link needs fixed, and will only reveal themselves to children (and any mysterious talking, magical hats those children might find in the wild).

Gameplay takes place in two worlds, a theme veterans of previous Legends will likely find familiar. There is Link’s apparently normally sized world, and the miniature world of the Minish which Link can access through special portals and the aid of Ezlo. Each world has unique hazards and challenges, and switching between the two is vital to solving many of the puzzles that stand between Link and the various artifacts the Picori need to help Link with his quest.

There’re also a number of side quests obtainable by taking to the right villagers, and the Kinstones. What are those? Well you know those “Bestest Friends 4 Ever” charms that split into two matching necklaces or bracelets or what-have-you? Same idea. Except you sort of find them at random, if you look around, and then you’re off to find an NPC with the matching piece. Finding the matching pieces unlocks various secrets.

So there’s certainly a lot to do for a young lad. Luckily for Link, not a lot of it is all that difficult. Unfortunately for us, this makes the game feel short. That isn’t to say that it’s an easy game, but it’s definitely the least difficult game in the series.

Speaking to the quality of the sound in the game, it’s above average for sure, but it’s nothing revolutionary. As part of the overall presentation it’s appropriate and more than satisfying, but nothing standard setting in light of other recent Game Boy Advance releases.

The visual style of the game is something of a departure, particularly when compared to previous iterations on the Game Boy Advance, namely A Link to the Past and The Four Swords. This game has a very bright, vibrant look that takes full advantage of the Game Boy Advance’s ability to do detailed, smoothly animated 2D graphics. The look Capcom and Nintendo pursued is fully realized, and any apprehension towards the style chosen melts right away once you start playing.

On that topic, it’s certainly not unthinkable that the art direction taken, combined with the fact that you do play a child Link might generate a certain amount of trepidation. It wouldn’t be the first time a game in the series was subjected to unkind speculation, but any suspicions that this might be a child’s game should be forgotten immediately. This is every bit as valid a member of the franchise as any of the classics, including the timeless A Link to the Past.

Overall it’s a fun game that looks great, sounds good and is worth playing by anyone who claims to be a fan of the series, despite being less difficult than one may expect. I’ll also go one further and recommend that anyone with a Game Boy Advance buy it, but I’ll stop short of calling it a reason to run out and buy the system.