E3 Underdogs 2005

E3 isn’t the best place to find innovative new games, largely because it’s a massive marketing event driven by “sure-thing” multimillion dollar blockbusters and movie/TV franchises. But every year, there are a few underdogs that somehow make it onto the show floor, along with a couple inspiring big-name titles.

Last year, Namco gave an obscure Japanese title called Katamari Damacy a tiny space in the back of their booth. I fell in love, and dubbed it the Best of Show in my 2004 Oddball Roundup. Katamari ended up being the biggest cult hit of the year.

With that in mind, a little late, here’s a roundup of my favorite underdogs from this year’s E3. (G4TV has their own video underdog roundup. For a more mainstream roundup, try 1UP’s detailed list of the best games at E3.)

Best of Show: Okami (PS2)

From the Viewtiful Joe team, Okami is heavily inspired by Japanese calligraphy and watercolor. You play the sun goddess Amaterasu reincarnated as a wolf, sent to defeat an evil monster and restore color back to the world.

The art direction is beautiful, but the innovation is in the gameplay. Holding down the R1 button displays a canvas overlay upon which you paint brush strokes which then trigger certain actions in the 3D world. Hard to describe, so watch the high-quality trailer. For more backstory and screenshots, read the excellent 1UP feature. Also: Gamespot preview.

Other Highlights:

  • Shadow of the Colossus (PS2). Gorgeous new game by the creators of ICO, possibly my favorite game released for the PS2. Details are a little scarce, but the E3 demo lets the player ride horseback across a vast countryside to climb the back of a giant enemy. Trailer. 1UP preview.
  • ElectroPlankton (DS). An experimental music and art toy, ElectroPlankton uses the DS microphone and touchscreen to great effect, letting you make musical patterns and rhythms in a visual way. Each character has audio properties, some mapping movement to notes and others modifying sounds recorded from the DS microphone. Very clever and fun. Gamespy preview. IGN gameplay videos.
  • We Love Katamari (PS2). The sequel is very faithful to the original, with the new maps, characters, and objects. I only saw small improvements to the near-flawless gameplay of the original, with doors opening and larger objects getting pushed out of the way by the Prince. The biggest changes are in the multiplayer features with a two-player cooperative and better head-to-head play in normal levels. 1UP Preview. Gameplay.
  • Killer 7 (Gamecube, PS2). This blurb from IGN sums up the bizarre plot: “Players take control of the wheelchair bound assassin Garcian Smith, a man who can conjure up in physical form the seven deadly personalities that exist in his mind.” Ooo-kay. The game is baffling to watch, but it’s beautifully art-directed. The movement is handled by a single button: you can only move forward in a straight line before picking a new direction at a crossroads. I have a good feeling about it. Gamespot preview. 1UP Preview. Videos.
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Trauma Center: Under the Knife, Lost In Blue (Nintendo DS). These three games for the Nintendo DS scream Japanese import. Long translated dialogue, anime characters, and very weird plots. In order, the three games are a courtroom drama, a hospital drama, and a deserted island survival sim. The games themselves don’t seem very fun, but there’s something fascinating about using the DS touchscreen to make an incision in a diseased pancreas and remove tumors. Or cross-examine a witness. Or milk a goat. IGN previews and videos: Trauma Center, Phoenix Wright, Lost in Blue.

For the second year in a row, Mike Pusateri was kind enough to get an E3 pass for me, and we were joined for lunch with Michael Heilemann, Eric Marcoullier, and Christian Newton (of Nick Nolte Diary fame). We spent some time talking about the state of the gaming industry, how online distribution could change indie game development, and our own projects. After the show, I had drinks with Simon Carless, editor of Game Developer and Gamasutra and one of my biggest sources for great links. Very fun.

I missed Metronome and the Longest Journey sequel, but both of those sounded interesting. Spore was demonstrated behind closed doors, but a new Will Wright game could hardly be considered an underdog. Were there any other exciting under-the-radar games I missed?


    Okami seems pretty amazing, but I’d love to see a Nintendo DS version. You’d think the touchpad would be perfect for a game heavily involving calligraphy.

    Everybody that I talked to about the game thought the same thing, and I agree. It’s an obvious choice if the DS graphics can handle it.


    Which is really out there… though it seems to have fewer positive comments this year than last.

    Personally, I’m most intrigued by the idea of Europa Universalis II on the DS.

    Okami looks like it will be my new favourite game. Along with the lovely game mechanic of writing things into being, I love the effortless fusion of whimsy and menace – familiar from Zelda I guess.

    Not that Nintendogs is really an underdog, as it will get a huge marketing push from a multi-billion dollar company, but it is good. In fact, Nintendo really took advantage of the DS technology this year to make some compelling, admittedly familiar, software titles (see New Super Mario Bros., Advance Wars DS, Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga 2). Also, don’t forget Meteos!

    Wow, thank you for the heads-up on Okami. It looks absolutely amazing. Can’t help but think a little of the calligraphy scene in “Hero,” where the master talks about the power of their art. Also can’t help but think this is the direction “Samurai Jack” should have headed if it wanted to translate into a video game.

    I love the stuff that goes stylized over photorealistic, and I’ve been second-guessing my choice of an Xbox for a while now. I mean, I’m plenty happy with the titles I do have, but I get no Viewtiful Joe, Katamari Damacy, and so on. Okami may just break my back and force me to get a second console.

    Xplay gave Okami “Best of the PS2” and had it up for Game of E3, but I think they ended up giving that to probably the most over-dog, Zelda.

    “Shadow of the Colossus” looks to be the same thing as the erstwhile “Wanda and the Colossus,” the trailer for which looked amazing a couple of months ago. Can’t wait for this game.

    sometimes that I talked to about the game thought the same thing, and I agree. It’s an obvious choice if the DS graphics can handle it.

    Two comments on E3: God I can’t wait for Soul Caliber 3 and Hellgate London and I hat ethe fact that the New PS3 controllers are huge and PS3 requires HDTV to work — bad consumerism

    PS3 doesn’t require an HDTV to work, it just takes advantage of an HDTV if you have one, as far as I know. Regular TVs should still be okay.

    From what I understood, Okami uses the Viewtiful Joe engine. If they can port the visuals of VJ over to the DS, I think they could do it for Okami. Although, I haven’t compared VJ on the DS and Gamecube. So I think it comes down to how big the game is, and if it would be possible to fit it onto a DS cartridge.

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