EB Games Expo is one of the rare gaming related events that is actually held, locally, in Australia. Last year it was held in Gold Coast, but this year Sydney-siders have the privilege of being able to attend the event at Olympic Park. The weekend of 5 Oct to 7 Oct will be all about gaming for everyone who attended the Expo.
As far as I understood, both morning sessions on Saturday and Sunday were sold out prior to the actual event dates. If someone said that gamers are minorities they should check the books. When we arrived at the gates of the event venue, it was already packed. You can see all the excitement on everyone’s face. Well not everyone, as some of them came in cosplay and some of them with most of their faces covered up. But I am sure under the thick make up and assorted helmets were some excited faces.
The Expo occupies two venues – the exhibition hall and the arena where all the panel and demo sessions are. As you entered the exhibition hall, you would notice just how much Nintendo is betting on the success of Wii U. Nintendo occupied a huge floor area right at the entrance with numerous Wii U console on display. The line to enter the area was long – very long. At one stage I heard you need to wait for 2 hours to get in. Luckily, we managed to get in and tried some of the Wii U games on display. Nintendo Land looks to be the title, for the console, to show developers and gamers what creative opportunities the console provides. We tried a mini game involving moving a cart along a maze and making sure it didn’t get squashed. You control the cart from the touch screen controller and your main focus is just on the touch screen controller itself. While your ‘audience’ might know how far you are going, you have no clue, for the controller provides only a limited view of your maze. The control was very intuitive and responsive. It was a good start. We also tried the Mario Bros on Wii U. In this iteration of Mario Bros, the player using the touch screen controller takes up the assist function to help other players using the Wiimote to get through the levels. It provides an additional layer to the gameplay. I also tried Batman Arkham City Armoured Edition. The game looks great on the console and has added control in relation to the unique controller. For example you can decode doors on the touch screen, and use the touch screen controller to guide the batarang around in the room. They are nice touches. So far my experience with Wii U is that it has an concept (as per most Nintendo consoles previous), but whether these concepts will translate into cash is another question. Similar to Wii, there were some pretty bad third party games on Wii U on the demo floor and the controls were unresponsive and illogical. For example one of the games require you to move the touch screen controller around while shooting, but you have to look at the touch screen controller to aim. As I tried it I was wondering who could actually look clearly at the screen when you are moving the screen around like a mad person while trying to press the trigger to shoot?
Nintendo also allocated a small balcony for 3DS XL. Titles showed off included Paper Mario, Castlevania, Resident Evil: Revelations, Super Mario Bros 2, and Zelda. However, it seems Nintnedo is giving a harder push for Wii U at the moment.
Sony commands a big space in the second area of the exhibition hall. While Nintendo is all white and light blue, Playstation is all about Vita blue. There are a lot of Vita games on display. Surely Sony is pulling out all the guns to get the momentum of Vita up. Apart from published titles such as Gravity Rush and Uncharted, there are a few new upcoming titles on demo too. Silent Hill: Book of Memories is one of them. The game played out in an action adventure manner in the world of Silent Hill. I heard that the final product would have quite a bit of online emphasis. But with the current build it looks more like a single player action adventure game. Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation is another game that is playable. The line was very long for that and I’m yet to have a chance to play it. But from what I saw, the game was built beautifully on Vita. Sly Cooper is another title leaping onto Vita. The controls were extremely smooth and responsive, and this is what is required on an action adventure game.
Despite Sony is pushing Vita hard PS3 still shines on the floor. The answer to Mario Kart was playable on the floor – Little Big Planet Karting. From what I tried, the game played out nearly in an identical manner to Mario Kart, including the track environments. However, Little Big Planet is about customisation, so that brought some new elements to the game itself. But I personally wonder whether this will only go down as a Mario Kart clone on a different console. I also tried a very quirky title called Tokyo Jungle. The concept of the game was that you were once a very much-loved pet but an incident has now lead you to a path on which you must survive on your own. So under the premise of “your pet food had run out so you are on your own”, you as a cute pet, have to go out to the concrete jungle of Tokyo and hunt for food. The concept was quirky but very interesting and engaging. Quite a lot of people were trying out that game. On the floor there is another clone game – Playstation All Star Battle Royale. A game that plays exactly like Super Smash Bros. You have a roster of all the famous Playstation characters such as Sly Cooper, Nathan Drake, Kratos and battle out in environments inspired by different Playstation exclusive games. The graphics were pretty and the game was fun, but then it is just feels like a clone to Smash Bros. However, with this game you can either use your Vita or PS3 controller to control your characters. Also if you buy the game on PS3 your will automatically receive a code to download the game onto your Vita for free. This is a definite bonus for the Vita as you can transfer game data easily between consoles.
Microsoft had a comparatively small area at the back of the exhibition hall, which baffled me as I thought with the repeated waves of assault from Nintendo and Sony, Microsoft would be working hard to give 360 a further push. Maybe rumours of 720 are true that the 360 is already on its last leg?
The major displays on the floor were just a couple of Kinect related games like Dance Central (in fact it occupied the main space). The other major “player” on the floor is Halo 4. However, all you had is someone dressed up as Master Chief so that you could take pictures with him in the Halo corner. Pictures taken would then be sent to you via email limiting the number of things you need to carry, which is nice. And if you wanted to bring some Halo merchandise home, you could always pick up a free Halo 4 poster.
Microsoft also emphasised on the recent 360 price cut, with someone just giving out flyers about how Xbox 360 only costs you $199. Of course this is for the basic 4GB model. Also the staff there will redirect you to the EB Games Mega Store when you enquire about the price cut. Fair enough, this is an EB Games business event after all.
There were other exhibitors on the floor apart from the Big Three. Ubisoft, WB and EA all commanded considerable spaces in the hall. Ubisoft was particularly loud because of their Just Dance 4 live arcade dance floor. The versions playable on the floor were Wii and Kinect. However, it seems that the Wii version is a lot more popular as there was a constant stream of tryouts as compared to the Kinect version. Upon observing, the Wii version does look more like a pick up and play title when compared to the Kinect version, which requires performing some acrobatics with your arms before the game registers you. The Just Dance 4 area can easily be crowned as the most popular area on the floor. No wonder it has become Ubisoft’s latest cash cow. Apart from Just Dance, the other major display was Assassin’s Creed III. In fact AC III was everywhere at the Expo. They even had a full demo session from Ubisoft in the arena. Watching Connor performing his stunts on the mega big screen was entertaining indeed. Ubisoft was one of the first third party supports for Wii and it paid of handsomely in the last round. So it is not surprising that they are now touting for Wii U too. And this time the title is Zombie U. The demos were housed on a double decker bus and there were long lines throughout the day. As it is a first person shooter I could not try it out. Nonetheless I tried out Rayman Legends on Wii U and it was great fun. They even have Michel Ancel as one of the NPCs! Nice one.
WB (Warner’s Bros) was touting the upcoming Injustice game. The people of Mortal Kombat created the game and it certainly has that dark look. Though you don’t have the famous fatality in Injustice as it is about the DC superheroes, so fatality would not be appropriate. Brutality in MK Vs DC is now absorbed into the gameplay as one of the moves (not the last “finish him!” move). At the moment there are 8 playable characters on the floor but it was said that the final built would have 22 when it comes out next February. The other big thing on the WB floor was Lego Lord of the Rings. They even had a Lego life size Gandalf that you can take pictures with and enter a competition. There were some other Wii U games from WB on display, but apart from Batman Arkham City Armoured Edition, all the other offerings looked very mediocre and badly built.
EA was all about Fifa 13 and SIMS. Since I am not big about either franchise, I didn’t really spent much time in the area.
Skylanders had been a surprise hit this year, so naturally they had a considerable space for people to try out the new packs and characters for the game. I finally got a chance to try the game. It was fun playing with a friend, and the controls were very easy to pick up, so I am not surprised that Skylanders has become a hot favourite among kids.
One thing that I thought was very commendable, is that there was a whole area in a separate hall dedicated to Home Grown Developers, whereby new start ups could promote their games and pledge for support. I think this is the part I really enjoyed about the Expo as EB Games look to be doing their part to help the local gaming industry. On the floor there were indeed some really interesting ideas and games and I do think these developers deserve some good support within the country. Australian prodcued content in gaming are far and few, so it is great that EB Games provided such a venue for these developers to showcase their works.
Since the Expo is held by EB Games, it is just natural that they have a store in the hall. In fact they have a store that sells games and take pre-orders. To further facilitate pre-orders, they have an additional counter outside the store for this purpose. Judging from the state of the counters, EB Games probably raked in quite a bit of money through this channel. Just imagine that one of those foam pixel Minecraft swords was priced at $23 a pop and you could see it being held by someone everywhere on the ground. They also had some great collector’s edition games for sale, some of them were priced attractively such as the Ninja Gaiden 3 box at $68 but some of them were just outright overpriced e.g. the Resident Evil 6 box at $248.
Anyway another year of EB Games Expo came and went. Hopefully EB Games will continue with the event, as it is great that finally Aussie gamers are being treated to an event of this scale.