Let the other guys go on about the big games at E3. And on they'll go, because there's plenty big to see. But for me, the highlights of day 1 were the smaller games: a handful of captivating PSN and PS Vita delights.
Above: PixelJunk Lifelike
First, PixelJunk Lifelike. In a darkened room, behind closed doors, Q-Games' Dylan Cuthbert showed off the latest in his beloved series. But here's the thing: "It's not really a game," as Cuthbert quickly pointed out before handing a Move controller to his creative partner on the project. What I saw next had me in a trance-like stupor (and I mean that in a very good way). Baiyon—a Japanese artist, musician and performer who designed the trippy visuals and soundtrack for PixelJunk Eden—began to wave the Move controller, bopping to the beats like a strange cross between a orchestra conductor and a DJ, creating music on the fly while also painting on the canvas that was the TV screen in front of us. For a non-motion gamer like me, it is perhaps the first killer app for Move; this is something I can see spending hours fiddling around with on a Saturday afternoon. Even more interesting: other gamers can give live performances that can be viewed/heard via PSN. Really compelling stuff.
Also on the music front: Sound Shapes on PlayStation Vita. The next game from Jonathan Mak (Everyday Shooter), this gem is both musical platformer, level creator and music creator. As a platformer, it succeeds thanks to its flat, simple 2D interface, with a suction-cup studded ball rolling and bouncing through obstacle-laden levels, triggering harmonic sounds and beats that fill the ears with a pleasing soundscape as the levels are mastered. Good enough, but the level designer is the real star. Skilled musicians will have a grand time here, but even tapping randomly around a blank canvas using different instruments somehow allowed me to create a great sounding track that then, with a few more taps and swipes, is suddenly a song and a game level. This, to me, is the sleeper hit of the Vita launch lineup. Be sure to keep an eye on it.
Above: A shot of Ruin from Sony's press conference
Another Vita charmer: Ruin. I'm a sucker for Diablo-style games, especially when they're a bit more on the cartoony side. My brief taste of the game has me hungry for more, especially after seeing the cross-platform play in action—save it on the Vita, pick right up on the PS3, and back again. Also interesting: the friendly rivalries the game encourages. At various points, other gamers with similar traits will have the opportunity to raid my personal lair. I can rush back there to protect it. Or I can try to build the right defenses to fortify it. But either way, once raided, I can then seek out that offending player and mount my own raid on his lair. It's an intriguing way to build rivalries that can keep me coming back for more.
Abpve: Papa & Yo
Finally, an indie PSN gem: Papa & Yo. Seek out the trailer if you haven't seen it yet. This allegorical tale set in a stylized South American favela (aka slum) reminds me a bit of the feeling I had when I first played Ico. It looks utterly unique, and it involves environmental puzzles and platforming with a boy, a diminutive robot, and a monster who has a taste for frogs (and turns ferocious when he eats them). I hesitate to use the dreaded "A" word, but this one might perhaps spark that recurring discussion about games as art. I'll leave that to the art critics, though. For me, it was just really, really fun.
Jun 8, 2011