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E3 2012 Retrospective: The Littlest Big Show

by Matt Helgeson on Jun 05, 2013 at 12:08 PM

At the end of last year's E3 conference, I was left feeling a little underwhelmed. In hindsight,it was worse than it seemed at the time. E3 2012 will likely be remembered (if at all) as one of the most uneventful shows in the conference's history.

The Sound of Silence

A year later, E3 2012 is more defined by what wasn't there than what was. While many thought that Sony and Microsoft would use the conference to reveal their upcoming next-generation consoles, both manufacturers opted to hold out for one-off reveal events in 2013. As a result, there was a palpable vacuum of excitement at E3. With no shiny new boxes to show off, both companies focused on a (limited) number of current-gen titles, as well as online services and peripherals. It was all fine and good, but not the type of announcements that gets the faithful's juices flowing.

The lack of next-gen excitement coming from the Sony and Microsoft camps should have (in theory) cleared the decks for Nintendo to steal the show with its new Wii U However, that wasn't really the case. While Nintendo did show off some quality titles, it was lacking any real information on new 3D Mario, Zelda, or Metroid games - the "big three" franchises that have always been the cornerstones of Nintendo's success.

Nintendo Lacks Punch

As I said above - unlike this year - Nintendo didn't have to contend with new systems from Microsoft or Sony at E3 2012. Looking back, the company didn't seem to have a clear vision on how it was going to establish Wii U in the eyes of consumers - something that it's struggled to do in the months to follow.

The highlights were the announcement of two games in familiar franchises: Pikmin 3 and New Super Mario Bros. U. While we're still waiting for Pikmin 3, New Super Mario Bros. U came out to solid review scores, but didn't really seem to have much of an impact on the larger gaming audience. Perhaps Nintendo has gone to the retro/2D well on Mario one too many times? Hopefully, the rumors of a new 3D Mario game at this year's show are true. As for Pikmin 3, it did generate some excitement, but it's hardly the kind of blockbuster title that will move hardware.

Interestingly, a couple of third parties (Warner Bros. and Ubisoft) made nearly as much noise as Nintendo with games like Lego City Undercover, Scribblenauts Unlimited, and ZombiU, though none of these games ultimately proved to be commercial successes.

Outside of that, there were some solid titles for the 3DS (including a Luigi's Mansion), another Wii Fit game that hasn't come out yet, and a karaoke Wii U game called Sing that is still missing in action. To top it off, the conference ended with an overlong segment on the minigame collection Nintendoland, which the company hoped would serve as the public's introduction to the Wii U, just as Wii Sports did for the original Wii. This, obviously, was not to be the case.

Sony Stands Pat

Sony didn't make a lot of waves at E3, with a presentation that had some solid titles, one big announcement, and a confusing head-scratcher.

The company's conference was hardly devoid of good games, but the fact that two of them (Ubisoft's Far Cry 3 and Assassin's Creed III) had been shown just prior at the Ubisoft press conference did somewhat diminish their impact.

Thankfully, Sony did have its strong internal development studios to fall back on, and was able to show off single-player footage of God of War: Ascension for the first time. It also demonstrated Naughty Dog's brilliant The Last of Us, which probably got the biggest reaction from the crowd. As it turned out, this was for good reason.

The debut of Quantic Dream's Beyond: Two Souls, featuring actress Ellen Page as a girl possessed of powerful psychic gifts, also impressed, making it one of the few standout new IPs at E3. Throw in some exclusive Vita games in big franchises like Assassin's Creed: Liberation and Call of Duty: Black Ops - Declassified (though neither turned out to be entirely satisfying) and it wouldn't have been a bad showing for an E3 off-year - as long as Sony didn't squander its momentum on any misguided, weird piece of technology.

Oh wait...Wonderbook...damn. As it turned out, Sony did manage to confuse the crowd for what seemed like forever, with Wonderbook, an "interactive storybook" that works in conjunction with the Move controller and PlayStation Eye camera. Basically, it puts a bunch of weird stuff on the screen while you flip the pages of a special storybook, and...well, you can check it out for yourself. Basically, it was a colossal disaster for Sony, despite a partnership with Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling.

Microsoft Comes Up Short

Microsoft's first-party publishing has dried up considerably in recent years - though the company does claim to have over 15 new titles in development for the first 12 months of Xbox One. However, in 2012, this atrophy was pretty apparent at the company's press conference, which offered new entries in familiar franchises and then proffered new technology and services that weren't aimed at E3's hardcore gaming audience.

On the game side, Microsoft continued to rely on its small stable of hits, and showed impressive new footage of Halo 4, plus announcements of Gears of War: Judgment and Forza: Horizon. In keeping with the theme of the show as a whole, it was solid, if not particularly surprising or inspired, stuff. Still, three strong titles in three big franchises is nothing to sneeze at.

Third parties also continued to support 360 with trailers or demos for Resident Evil 6, Black Ops II, Tomb Raider, and the announcement of Splinter Cell: Blacklist - one of the small handful of exciting new announcements at the show.

From there on, it was a punchless parade of technology and services, which failed to excite the core audience - a mistake Microsoft would repeat at its recent announcement of the Xbox One. The bells and whistles included the tablet-and-smartphone tie-in tech SmartGlass, enhanced Bing search, new Kinect functionality, a streaming music service, a Nike Kinect sports training game, and...wait for it...Internet Explorer! You should have heard the crowd roar.

Few Big Announcements

Sony and Microsoft's decision to not reveal their new consoles at E3 2012 effectively put much of the new development in the industry off-limits for the show - as companies weren't able to talk about games that were destined for systems that didn't officially exist.

That said there were a few highlights. Ubisoft, which has evolved into one of the industry's most dependable publishers, showed off the aforementioned Splinter Cell: Blacklist, along with Rayman Legends for the Wii U, ShootMania Storm, and ZombiU. It also debuted one of the only games that really seemed to cause a stir at the show - the high-tech spy game Watch Dogs. While we'll have to wait to see if it turns out, it was clear that attendees appreciated the appearance of a new game with some level of innovation and ambition. Sadly, its Rainbow Six: Patriots, which seems to have fallen by the wayside, was not on display.

While we've already mentioned some of the first-party announcements, the game that seems to be emblematic of last year's E3 is the one we'll likely never see again: LucasArts Star Wars 1313. The title, which was rumored to be a Boba Fett game, was one of the few next-gen titles shown during the conference, and seemed to put an appealing, Uncharted-style spin on the Star Wars franchise. It was easily the game that generated the most talk. However, like E3 2012 itself, all this hype didn't come to much. As we all know, LucasArts was sadly shuttered after Disney acquired the company, and the future of Star Wars 1313 seems dim.

With two consoles and the promise of a host of new next-gen game announcements, this year's E3 is shaping up to be an exciting one. Let's hope so; as E3 2012 was a year when the venerable warhorse of a gaming convention seemed to be over the hill and out of breath.