The Sleeper Hits of E3 2009
(Contributors: Gus Mastrapa, Bill Abner, Troy Goodfellow and Ryan Kuo)
E3 is such a massive show that it's incredibly easy to spend the entire three days just immersed in the biggest, most buzz-worthy games on display. But those who took the time to trawl through the hidden corners of the emptier booths could stumble upon some unexpected gems. These are the games that demand to be noticed for their originality and quality gameplay, not their marketing buidgets. Here's a quick look at some of the easiest-to-miss but hardest-to-ignore games of the show.
System: Nintendo DS
Expected release date: Fall 2009
What is it?: Why settle for a game that limits you to a few dozen characters/weapons/items/objects in general? In Scribblenauts, you can type out any one of thousands of nouns to help you collect hidden stars. (Want more? Check out The Five.)
Why it deserves more attention: What other game lets you pit God against a kraken? Seriously.
Systems: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Expected release date: TBA 2010
What is it?: At first glance, it's just another glitzy, high-octane drift racer. Then you hit the twist: The godlike ability to blow up huge parts of the environment to change the course and/or take out opponents.
Why it deserves more attention: It's got the best parts of Stuntman and Burnout combined into one slick package.
Expected release date: Q3 2009
What is it?: Who has time to put 70 hours into a role-playing game these days? Half-Minute Hero compresses all the leveling, battles and cut scenes that clog up a normal RPG into a series of quick, 30-second quests.
Why it deserves more attention: It's delightfully absurd and provides all the meat of the RPG experience with none of the filler.
System: Xbox 360 (Xbox Live Arcade)
Release Date: TBA
What is it?: This XBLA download is a dual-analog shoot-'em-up in the vein of Robotron 2084 and Geometry Wars. A unique dashing mechanic, ever-more-powerful weapons and the sheer bullet hell of hardcore Japanese shmups keeps things interesting.
Why it deserves more attention: It's simultaneously conventional and imaginative -- a riff on the familiar. Besides, it's nice to see Square Enix, a company known for super-expensive blockbuster RPGs, continue making smaller games.
System: PS3 (PlayStation Network)
Expected release date: 2009
What it is: Start with the basic ball-bouncing gameplay of Breakout. Add in stylish graphics; huge, sinuous bosses; the ability to bend the ball, and a kicking techno soundtrack, and you have something that plays more like an old-school arcade shoot-'em-up.
Why it deserves more attention: It's just as exciting as Space Invaders Extreme, only without the big franchise name behind it.
Expected release date: Jul. 2, 2009
What is it?: If there is such a thing as "grand casual strategy," this is it. Brilliant design harks back to games like Sid Meier's Pirates!, Empire: Total War and High Seas Trader, but it stands on its own.
Why it deserves more attention: See above.
Quick Hit Football
Expected release date: September 2009
What is it?: A Flash-based pro football game that is like a team-sports MMO.
Why it deserves more attention: Former employees of Turbine, EA Sports and 2K Sports are on this project, so it's not a fly-by-night operation. You can coach over the Net in real time, play head-to-head, form leagues, etc. Plus, it's free!
Expected release date: Unknown
What is it?: A joint project between Anna "Auntie Pixelante" Anthropy and Saelee Oh, in which up to four players control octopi jumping to reach fish up above. The never-ending game can be collaborative (octopi can bounce off of each other to reach their elusive prey) or competitive (they can just as easily block their fellow players), and is just as content being a screen saver (your octopus falls asleep when you stop playing).
Why it deserves more attention: Unlike virtually all other games I saw at E3, this sparkling 8-bit gem -- tucked away in the unassuming Indiecade area -- didn't bend over backwards for my attention; it simply extended a simple, curiously gripping mechanic.