The Meaningless Vagrant Rant E3 2019 Awards

It was a year without the mighty Sony in attendance. The expected quiet before a new console generation storm. Another step in the ongoing march towards a world where patches, expansions and alternate monetisation strategies are more commonplace than new game announcements – A world that certainly has its advantages, but not one that lends itself to an exciting E3 trade show. Like transitional years gone by, expectations for the show were muted – well, mostly. I hope.

And yet the Electronic Entertainment Expo of 2019 still delivered the headlines, the hype, the moments for which the event is so renowned. Certainly fewer in number than during the golden years of this past console generation, but a damp squib this was not. It had something for just about everyone.

I’ve written something about each E3 that has graced our computer screens since I started this blog, though the format has changed a few times. I’ve broken the show down conference by conference, I’ve counted down my favourite announcements, and in recent years I’ve tried to isolate noticeable trends in each iteration of the event. So this year I thought it was time to shake things up once again, this time by giving out some arbitrary awards. Let’s give this a go.

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Best Conference

Nintendo

Let’s get one thing straight. Until that final presentation day finished I really, really wanted to give this to Square Enix. That company has had many press conferences over the years, both onstage and more curated Nintendo Direct-style, but not a single one of them has ever come close to nailing the potential of what this proud, gigantic gaming company can offer. At least not in my opinion. For some baffling reason they usually either use it as a vehicle for their western studios, or their lesser-know output. But in 2019 they returned to the stage with one magnificent (literal) curtain raiser and a unifying picture-frame aesthetic to present, for once, a coherent and proud face to the gaming public. Highlighting exciting new projects like People Can Fly’s Outriders and Crystal Dynamics’ Avengers while dropping juicy details on the likes of Oninaki and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, they also weren’t afraid to put their major numbered Final Fantasy projects front and centre, ensuring that in an otherwise low-key year they stood on the top of the E3 pile at long last.

But, yes, Nintendo just had to to roll up at the last minute and blow everyone else away, adding to their (always arguable) 2014 and 2017 E3 “victories” this decade with a Direct that was packed with so much new information they had to bury the likes of Spyro, Ni No Kuni and Alien in a sizzle reel. You might say it wasn’t much better than their February Direct this year, but that was a very, very strong presentation. With not one but two new Smash Bros character reveals, the debut of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, an expression of intent to take over September with a cataclysmic release date pile-up, the confirmation of No More Heroes III and that incredible ending reveal… Well, it’s the most begrudging I’ve ever been to admit Nintendo nailed it, but they well and truly did. And there’s still plenty in the tank for their next big Direct to boot.

RUNNER-UP: Square Enix

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Most Disappointing Conference

Bethesda

A tough one to pick, mostly because disappointment requires expectations and I didn’t have a whole heap of those this year. But Bethesda made some strange decisions in the way they chose to structure and present their 2019 conference. Despite bringing two genuinely exciting new projects to the table in the form of Ghostwire Tokyo and Deathloop, somehow elevating my hype for Wolfenstein Youngblood even higher and blowing out the scale of Doom Eternal in a very satisfying way, their opening Todd Howard salvo lacked any sort of apology for the state of Fallout 76 last year (Whether this was the forum for such a thing is another discussion, but it still left a sour taste), the constant appearances of employees without anything truly new to talk about dragged on, and that segment where they essentially pitched streaming middleware to a customer base that wasn’t in the room was super weird. Though not as weird as the roof-tearing cheering and wooing that seemed to happen at full intensity after almost every game showing. Either everyone in that room was a Bethesda super-fan, or there was something a bit disingenuous going on.

RUNNER-UP: Ubisoft (purely by process of elimination)

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Ten 2019 Movies Summarised in Ten Words Each

Let’s do this again, hopefully not for the only time in 2019. Ten movies, ten words each. In general I’ve really enjoyed the movies I’ve seen this year, from the family-targeted fare to the unusually gigantic superhero action, with a Netflix debut thrown in. There’s much more to come but the year has already made quite an impression.

And get ready for some really colourful movie posters. Man, Hollywood has stepped up their saturation game recently.

Very mild spoilers may follow.
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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

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How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

Doesn’t beat Number 2 but the closing scenes are devastating.”

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Mary Poppins Returns

Somehow gets away with being both a sequel and remake.”

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Ranking All the Marvel Movies (Again)

So a long time ago on this blog I posted a ranking of my favourite Marvel Studios movies, back when there were only 10 out in the wild and the idea of a proper shared cinematic universe was fresh and exciting. Time moves so fast nowadays that we’ve already blown right past 20, and while the MCU is now a household term with more familiarity around it, the films that have released since are also more confident and the average quality level is arguably higher. With a rather clear sense of finality hanging over the upcoming Avengers: Endgame, I’ve been rewatching a bunch of Marvel films to refresh myself – with the ultimate goal of having watched each film available on Blu-ray at least twice overall – and so a list refresh is also in order. This is all expressly my opinion, of course.
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21. The Incredible Hulk

This may be the bottom of the list, but let it not be said that I didn’t enjoy re-watching The Incredible Hulk regardless. I don’t believe that any MCU movie is outright bad, after all. If you pretend Ed Norton is Mark Ruffalo it kinda still works. Once upon a time I looked at this particular story as the less exciting of the two modern Hulk movies (the other being Ang Lee’s utterly bizarre 2003 Eric Banner-led Hulk), and nowadays it still looks more unnecessarily self-serious and grim than almost every other Marvel movie. But because it does so without that colour-washed filter a lot of other Marvel movies use, the majority of the film still stands apart with a grainy-yet-saturated grime. Every scene in Brazil is a surprisingly vivid delight as a result – though the bombastic finale’s reliance on a bucketload of dated shades-of-grey CGI makes it a bit cringey to watch nowadays, not to mention hard to follow. Liv Tyler is a polarising performer at the best of times but I don’t like her in this movie, though Tim Roth makes for a fun, believable villain. There are more wider MCU connections here than you might remember – including an important final shot – but it’s still the black sheep of the Marvel Studios output.

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The Best & Worst of Pokémon: Generation VII

Games
Pokémon Sun
Pokémon Moon
Pokémon Ultra Sun
Pokémon Ultra Moon

Platform
3DS

Region
Alola

New Pokemon
86
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+7. It’s the simple things

I’m starting this one with a catch-all cheat for the first time since my Gen IV post because the seventh generation Pokemon games rolled in at the end of the series’ 20th anniversary year with a swag of smaller changes that truly gave the traditional Pokemon flow a boost in playability. Some of them were flavour-leaning, such as the huge list of Pokemon who suddenly learned new (usually really cool and/or signature) moves on whatever level at which they happened to evolve, the long-absent return of music tracks specific to the time of day in-game, or the (once again) greatly appreciated minor stat boosts bequeathed upon a couple of dozen older Pokemon to bring them more in line with their designs (e.g a bit more Special Attack for Noctowl, much more durability overall for Corsola and the celestial rock twins).

Other, more immediate changes came under the “quality of life” banner, and they were received with open arms by the community at large. The headliner for long-suffering competitive players was the IV Judge feature no longer requiring a visit to a particular NPC to access, nor an intimate knowledge of six specific phrases. Simply open your in-game PC after a certain point in the game, tap an icon on the summary page of your intended Pokemon, and there’s a graph of all six of it’s hidden Individual Values. Laughably easy. In addition, each time you caught a Pokemon in the wild you now had the option to add it to your party right then and there, rather than send it to a PC box. The bottom screen of the 3DS also started pulling more of its weight this generation, displaying new information such as all combatants’ current stat boosts/drops, not to mention the predicted effectiveness of a move on an opposing Pokemon as long as said ‘mon had been encountered before. Someone at Game Freak was paying attention.

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Best of 2018 Closer

A happy new year to all of you reading this! Here’s hoping 2019 is everything you could hope for. May your Avengers and Star Wars finales be satisfying, your K-Pop playlists overflowing, your first-party Switch exclusives meaty, and your new consoles well-priced, smartly-marketed and player-friendly!

In case you missed any, here are the links to the ten lists I put up over the last two weeks to summarise 2018:

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1. Top 10 Disappointments

2. Five Special Awards

3. Top 15 K-Pop Singles

4. Top 10 Movie Characters

5. Top 5 Game Consoles

6. Top 10 Movie Scenes

7. Top 10 Gaming Moments

8. Top 10 K-Pop Albums

9. Top 15 Games

10. Top 10 Movies

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Best of 2018: Top 10 Movies

We’re here at the end already – 2018 is a wrap! I thank you once again for reading – This has been an exhausting but hugely rewarding fortnight of opportunistic writing and the engagement I’ve seen has helped make it all worthwhile. On to the final list.

We return to a Top 10 format for movies – the default I would usually prefer to have. I saw just over twice that amount in the cinemas this year, so fewer than in 2017 but still much more than some years I’ve made myself form a Top 10. I’m pretty happy with this list, as despite its rather heavy comic book movie flavour I feel like it effectively filters out all the so-so movies that I otherwise might have felt a bit iffy about including (most of them from the first half of the year). Not being able to see any of the Boxing Day movies in time sucks, but what can you do. Please enjoy this final list of 2018!

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VR BEST OF 2018 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s odd, but let’s have a beer. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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10. Deadpool 2

Comedy movie sequels tend to have spotty track records – though comic movie sequels usually fare a bit better – so Deadpool 2 was up against it from the start. Luckily, the decision to put the vastly increased budget this time around towards a flood of fun new characters and much bigger action beats helps distract from the slight staleness of the central joke that fuels the lead character’s appeal. With a host of enthusiastic performances and at least three standout scenes (the air drop, the truck chase and the post-credits), Deadpool 2 is a worthwhile second outing for Ryan Reynolds’ fever dream.

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Best of 2018: Top 15 Games

It’s truly fascinating to me to watch the cooldown period after a universally-acknowledged year of videogame greatness. Sometimes the vaunted 2007 gets the wonderful afterparty that was 2008 – with the likes of GTA IV, Metal Gear Solid 4, Fallout 3 and Bioshock – and sometimes 1998 gets the uneventful ’99 hangover. In the age we live in, packed as it is with more games and more types of games than ever before, it’s difficult to argue that any year can be truly bad for releases. That said, 2018 mixed in the kinds of critical and commercial disappointments that might have sunk an older year but only seemed to add a footnote to an annum of tremendously successful standalone titles – especially if you owned a PS4.

This is, of course, my personal favourites list, so games like Red Dead Redemption 2 are absent (for reasons I’ve already touched on). There are fewer indie games on this list than usual, which doesn’t reflect a poor year for smaller-budget games (not even close) so much as it does that sweet spot near the end of a major console life cycle where a number of ambitious projects in development for years all seem to hit at once. There are iterative sequels that perfect a formula, refreshing surprises and a not-insignificant combination of both. Overall it’s a list defined by games I did not expect to fall in love with – either because they were entirely new or because I had not ever properly been grabbed by their respective series. In fact, I’d say I was only confident I would enjoy four out of these fifteen games before I played them – and trust me, that’s an undeniably low conversion rate for me. Yay for the unexpected.

Eligibility for the countdown is simple. Excluding multiplayer-first titles, I need to have played each game for more than five hours or completed its main path – whichever comes first.

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VR BEST OF 2018 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s odd, but let’s have a beer. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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15. Unravel Two (XBO)

E3 week was pretty uniquely special this year because for the first time in a long while, I was just as excited to play unexpected games that had just come out as I was about those on the horizon. One of several surprise “out now!” releases during E3 2018 was Unravel Two, a sequel to one of the indie darlings of E3s gone by. While I didn’t hear great things about the first game in terms of mechanics and ended up skipping it entirely, I was extremely happy to find that the sequel picks up the slack in a big way while presenting a world just as visually stunning. The rope physics in this game are the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of finding in a 2D platformer and they are used to great effect for both fluid movement and puzzle solving – the two often going hand in hand – but the kicker is that the entire 5-hour adventure absolutely sings in co-op. I played Unravel Two start to finish with my sister, who rarely plays games, and she was as glued to the screen as I was.

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