E3 2006 has come and gone. As with every year, it offers something new, something different, and this year, it really reminded me of how much of an evolving creature the video game business is. Back in 1996, Super Nintendo, Genesis, Playstation, Game Boy and the “new” Nintendo 64 were the heavy hitters. This year, it’s Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii, PSP and the Nintendo DS. As my 9th attended E3, this perhaps was one of the biggest evolutions.

The feel itself it different. It’s not the wild “party” atmosphere is no longer there. The “booth babe”, while still present, don’t look like the strip clubs were raided for dancing girls, with a “oh yes, we have games too” vibe around the booths. Brochures are almost gone. Want to check out their game catalogs? Go online to their press sites. Even the toys, shirts, and everything else free and collectible is a rarity. Namco had some neat Pac-Man toys, and Sony had some downloadable PSP demos (I regret not bringing my PSP).

The games and systems themselves?

If E3 is Disneyland, then Nintendo is Disney. No one celebrates their characters like Nintendo does, but can you think of a more beloved roster? Donkey Kong, Mario, Link, Samus Aran, Pit, Pikachu…. The list goes on, and in Super Smash Bros. Brawl it does. Even Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid is added to the fighter, which means anything could go for this next installment. There’s a new Mario. A new Zelda. A new Metroid…. Even a new Duck Hunt. Nintendo’s Wii system was secreted away behind huge walls with lines that overlapped the entire booth just to look at it. It’s a shame. I only caught a glimpse of what it could do. That needed to be shown to anyone who wanted to see it, especially with no GameCube or Game Boy Advance presence at their booth.

Nintendo is taking a different stance this time out. They aren’t directly going up against Sony and Microsoft, and are just doing their own thing. This time out, their system is so wacky, it’s intriguing, and their price point seems agreeable. And they bring out the titles gamers love them for. But it seems like the innovation of making that next huge step in gameplay (past the controller) isn’t happening. I’ve no doubt their games will be good, but it’s ground that was broken on the N64 and GameCube. As I said last post, I just wanted to be blown away…. But at least I will have a good time with what is coming. And the ideas presented for their new system…. I do admit to wanting to see more of what can be done.

Playstation 3…. Beautiful. Their games are stunning, and I can’t wait to see what will be offered. The price point ($500-600) is a bit of a turn off. I mean really, it’s a down payment on a good computer. And truth be told, I didn’t pick up a PS2 until a year later. I wasn’t impressed with the launch fare of the time. When PS2 hit it’s stride, I converted (I was a late Dreamcast adopter as well), and was pleased with the offerings.

Playstation 3 is going to set all new standards…. When it hits its stride. I may hold off until the mania subsides from the launch, but I’ve already decided that I will pick one up.

Playstation 2 God of War 2. Holy dear gods, for a game that was so early, it is jaw-dropping. Imagine that. It may be more of the same with upgrades and tweaks, but it’s going to be a wonderful ride. It held its own with the recent next gen big boys. I’m also eagerly anticipating Phantasy Star Universe, a series I wish Nintendo had better explored on the GameCube. It’s no surprise why this wasn’t included in the few GC titles there.

Xbox 360 is coming into its own. I like their arcade and think it’s a brilliant idea. I also liked that E3 demos were creeping home last week as well. Can’t go to E3? Play it at home. I would love to see the hardcore and casual gamers share in the fun if they can’t make it to the show.

Nintendo DS is getting some fantastic titles and a new redesign. New Super Mario Bros. makes me giddy for old-school nostalgia, and looks incredibly fun. I’ve been waiting for a new 2D Mario. Prayers have finally been answered. And the new Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin is a testament to why 2D gaming should never die. I was sorry to see no new Nintendogs expansions. There are plenty of dogs I would like to see (cairn terrier, anyone?), and I’m surprised they haven’t attempted a cat version yet.

PSP looks to be getting more attention for three reasons:

1.) GPS tracking system.
2.) Camera attachment.
3.) PSOne emulated games

Ultimate Ghouls ‘N’ Ghosts has to be seen to be believed. It’s stunning. Easily one of my favorites of the show.

Lego Star Wars II looks set not to deliver any disappointments. Again, “more of the same”, but the additions are going to make it more enjoyable than the first game, which was a favorite of mine. I just hope Lego Greedo doesn’t shoot first.

As for Game Boy Advance and GameCube, I think the end is upon them. It’s kind of sad about the long-running Game Boy. There were a lot of solid third-party titles shown at E3 this year, so it’s not going to just up and fade. GameCube…. 2006 is based on Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Once that comes and goes, that looks to be pretty much it. GameCube had a rocky history, but it had some quality original content. For Nintendo’s sake, I hope the Wii will help them get some of their fan base back.

Going into E3 this year, I had set games that I wanted to look at, and those titles didn’t disappoint. This show was definitely a “let’s show you what we can do” mentality, with sizable “ooohs”, “ahhhs”, and the usual tributes to classic franchises of years past. A lot of sequels. A lot of refinements on previously solid titles just made better. But I think once all the fledgling systems hit their strides with established user bases, that’s when we’re going to see the big surprises.

For now, it will have to do.

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