E3 2021 wrap-up

E3 2021 kicked off with news about E3 2022. Kind of a funny way to start a show, as Mayor Eric Garcetti told the crowd, “we look forward to seeing you in-person, here in the City of Angels, in 2022.” Also a bit funny when the mayor’s video game show announcement has less confetti and Minions than his state-reopening speech, but that’s something for another post.

It’s understandable, of course, that E3’s organizers led with that news. The 2021 show was, like so many other things over the past year-and-a-half, a historic anomaly. After opting to skip the 2020 show altogether (understandably), it went ahead with the first — and for the time being, last — all virtual event.

The virtual event always seems like a good idea, in theory. In practice, results vary wildly depending on a number of factors, not the least of which is content. Many shows have an uphill battle when it comes to moving all online. CES, I think, was a struggle, due in part to the size of the show, but also the content. As ubiquitous as consumer electronics are, I don’t see wide swaths of the internet champing at the bit to watch a presentation from anyone but, say, Apple and maybe Samsung.

E3 doesn’t have that problem. The show already had a leg up, having moved away from industry-only to something more hybrid years ago. Unlike other shows I attend regularly, people in downtown LA actually get a bit of a buzz when E3 comes to town. Everyone’s a gamer and most are excited about some piece of upcoming news. Uber and Lyft drivers love to tell you about it that week.

It follows that the show’s online presence is immense. The days leading up to the event, E3-related content was trending all over the place — people watch trailers, argue about the trailers, stream about the trailers and argue about other people’s streams about the trailers on their own streams. It’s a recipe for success around a virtual event — especially coming after a year when, even before the latest Xbox and PlayStation were released, the industry was already setting records amid the pandemic.

Of the big three, Microsoft won, hands down. Sorry, Sony, you can’t win if you don’t play. Nintendo was solid, but not spectacular. But more on that in a moment.

I talked a fair bit about the Xbox press conference in the last one of these. But the long and short of it is Microsoft won on two flanks: sheer volume and Game Pass titles. That last bit feels about as close to a silver bullet as we’re going to see in this generation of consoles. Likely Sony is going to have its own virtual event in the near future — but it’s going to be a tough act to follow.

In all, Microsoft showed off 30 games (and a fridge), a whopping 27 of which will be available on Game Pass, if there were any doubt as to how all-in the company is on its subscription service. And, of course, there’s the fact that this was billed as a Microsoft/Bethesda event, which shows you how important that massive acquisition is to the future of Xbox.

As for Nintendo, let’s be honest. Anything that didn’t include the long-rumored Switch Pro was going to be a disappointment. The original Switch is four years old and due for a big upgrade, beyond the Switch Lite and a refresh with added battery. It’s time for that HD screen — the thing would sell like hotcakes next holiday.

Thing is, the Switch had a spectacular 2020. Even with an initial supply chain shortage (something all three current consoles are guilty of), it did gangbusters during the pandemic, due in no small part to the arrival of a long-awaited new Animal Crossing game. A low-pressure, social title between fuzzy animals was precisely what the world needed last year, and Nintendo was happy to deliver.

There’s also a good chance that Nintendo is dealing with continued supply chain issues around the new components. So while it seems likely the Pro is on the way (see: the new Guardians of the Galaxy game), we’ll likely have to wait until next year.

We’ll also have to wait until next year for Breath of the Wild 2, but at least the sequel to the much-loved Zelda game had the decency to show up this year. And, of course, we’ve got a bunch of great-looking titles coming for the system. Some highlights.

Some old-school 2D side-scrolling hotness for Metroid Dread.

Hey, neat, a Game and Watch with some classic Zelda titles.

Talk about long-awaited, Shin Megami Tensai V has been teased since 2017.

Mario Party Superstars is coming October 29, with 100 mini-games.

Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania arrives October 5, doing what Super Monkey Ball does best.

In addition to all of the Square-Enix and Ubisoft stuff we discussed last time, Capcom gave us updates to Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin and Resident Evil Village.

That about does it. See you next year in LA. But maybe leave the Minion costumes at home (sorry Mr. Mayor).

Nintendo teases 2022 release for Breath of the Wild sequel and releases Zelda Game & Watch to tide us over

Nintendo defied expectations today with an E3-timed Direct showing off not the hoped-for new Switch hardware but a dozen or so new games — as well as a general release window for the much-anticipated next Zelda game. And to celebrate the original’s 35th anniversary, it will sell a new Game & Watch featuring the first three games in the series.

Among other things, Nintendo showed off remasters or remakes of titles from the “Monkey Ball,” “Mario Party,” “Advance Wars, “Wario Ware” and other series, and announced new entries in the “Mario + Rabbids” and “Shin Megami Tensei” worlds. Other newly announced or teased games will be making it to Switch as well, like the new “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

Perhaps most surprising was the inclusion of a new side-scrolling Metroid game, the first in nearly 20 years. “Metroid Dread” will release October 8, and we’ll see if Nintendo has managed to keep pace in a genre it pioneered but others have refined.

Samus steps out of a chamber in a screenshot from Metroid Dread.

Image Credits: Nintendo

Everyone was hoping for Zelda news, however, and Nintendo… only slightly disappointed us. As the announcers noted, it’s the 35th anniversary of the NES original, and the perfect time to announce something truly special, but they have “no campaigns or other Nintendo Switch games planned.”

Instead, they offered an admittedly tempting Game & Watch in the style of the one we saw released last year for the Mario series. I had lots of good things to say about that device, and the new one will no doubt be just as fun. The ability to pause the game and pick it up later (but not rewind or save states) should make for a fun, authentic playthrough of the first three games in the Zelda series: “The Legend of Zelda” and “Zelda II: The Adventure of Link” for NES, and “Link’s Awakening” for Game Boy (recently remade).

A handheld gaming machine with Zelda games on it.

Image Credits: Nintendo

The last item on the list was a new look at the follow-up to Breath of the Wild, which years after its debut still shines as one of the, if not the, best game on the Switch. Its sequel has a lot to live up to!

While the first trailer was all cinematic, this one showed gameplay and the overworld, including a new level of verticality that brings flying fortresses and castles in the air into play. It certainly looks impressive, but one wonders how much further the company can push its Switch hardware. After all, “Breath of the Wild” pushed the system to its limits at its debut, and even then it was not as powerful as its rivals from Microsoft and Sony — both now replaced by a new generation.

One hopes that Nintendo is simply being weird and has a trick up its sleeve, as it has many times before. The Switch was announced out of nowhere, and previous hardware updates have also dropped with little or no warning and seemingly arbitrary timing. What’s expected is an updated Switch that’s physically the same dimensions but considerably updated inside and using a larger, better display. Perfect backwards compatibility, like with the 3DS series of handhelds, also seems only logical. But Nintendo has always done its own thing and its fans wouldn’t have it any other way.