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E3 09: GamesRadar's E3 2009 awards

As a game-savvy member of the GamesRadar community, you no doubt associate developer BioWare with rich, convincing dialogue, deep gameplay and memorable storylines. Everything they’ve touched, from Star Wars to Mass Effect to Jade Empire, has been exemplary in just about every measurable way.

Imagine our acid-tinged disgust when their newest effort, the fantastical Dragon Age, shrieked into E3 by way of blood-bathed jump cuts, half-naked wenches and a howling soundtrack provided by Marilyn Manson’s “This is the New Shit.” There’s something deeply unsettling about using a six-year-old rock song to promote the spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate. We know you have to spice it up for the crowd, but this trailer pretty much flies in the face of everything BioWare is known for. Look guys: it’s not that we don’t think the game will be good – it’s that this trailer isn’t what the game is. It’s like you hired Michael Bay to make a commercial for Lord of the Rings or something.

Beautifully realized and sweet without being saccharine, the new A Boy and His Blob was the single cutest thing on display at E3, bar none. And at no point was it cuter than when the Blob got upset with the Boy (you can tell because it turns red) and needed a hug to be calmed down. And the fact that the game features a button to administer said hug means you can see it whenever you want. Considering that the Blob also gets distracted easily and has a habit of chasing butterflies, this promises to smash our normal, manly resistance to cuteness and tenderness even more brutally than Ico did.

It’s not hard to argue that Nintendo perfected the run-and-jump genre, from the original NES side-scroller to Super Mario 64’s revolutionary 3D gameplay. Every single main Mario game is a joy to play thanks to careful consideration in level design, memorable power-ups and visuals that smother you with positive vibes. So when Nintendo announced New Super Mario Bros. Wii, we justifiably expected another top-notch entry in a franchise that has practically never known failure.

And then we actually played it. Running around auto-scrolling levels while three other characters constantly bump into each other, ruining your jumps and attempts to grab power-ups is simply not enjoyable. All four players occupy physical space, so you are literally colliding with everyone at all times. On paper we’re all for a competitive Mario experience (Zelda did it right with Four Swords Adventures, after all), but lacked the magic and ease of play that has defined Mario for 20-plus years. Instead, it felt like a Mario game meant for people who haven’t played Mario since the NES days and don’t really care about how well they do. Hey, at least we got Golden Sun and Other M, right?

For the past few years, Nintendo has invited certain members of the press to attend roundtable discussions with Miyamoto that take place after their E3 press conference. In 2006, they announced Super Smash Bros Brawl during one of those roundtables, so ever since then people watch those things like a hawk with cybernetically enhanced laser eyes. And wouldn’t you know it, in 2009 Miyamoto casually tells us the next Zelda for Wii is in development and already has artwork to display.

All we know is Miyamoto and the team are “actively experimenting” with new ideas and ways to play, and there’s a chance it could be playable only with Wii MotionPlus (depending on how that peripheral is received). Best of all, we won’t know anything else until maybe E3 2010. Maybe. Say it with us: Argh.

Amidst all the guns, explosions and bare-chested vampire warriors of E3 2009, the one thing that had us gibbering like five year olds discussing their favorite dinosaurs was the talking in Mass Effect 2. Yes, talking. Developer BioWare is known for its chatty, character-driven games (Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire etc) but this time they’ve actually made the conversations believable.

Rather than continue having two static characters yap at each other while the camera flips back and forth between close-up shots, the dialog unfolds in cinematic, engrossing moments that feel like interactive cutscenes. Characters walk around and behave like living beings in a conversation instead of blankly staring at each other, all while the camera hops from angle to angle, providing an intense personal connection to the story . The effect is so powerful we’re confident it will be ripped off from here on out, and any game that doesn’t step up is going to look outdated and archaic by comparison – even the original Mass Effect.

On top of this, multiple other tweaks have been made to the already-exceptional first title. Your squad of three can now accept individual commands (before they could only accept orders together), the inventory is getting a complete overhaul and the visuals destroy 95% of the competition’s offerings. They touted Mass Effect 2 as the darker “Empire Strikes Back” of the series, and even though we’ve only seen a raindrop of the game’s oceanic depth, we’re already more energized about this universe than anything going on in a galaxy far, far away.

Jun 5, 2009