Impressions from the X15 Media Showcase

‘The greatest games lineup in Xbox history!’

The big day for Xbox fans across Toronto is here! While the public part of the event is just getting underway as of this writing, the doors were open earlier in the day for members of the press to get in and check some things out. As such, Nadia and I donned our best black t-shirts for the occasion and headed out to the Sound Academy down by the lakeshore. And what things there were to see!

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More than 100 consoles and over 30 developers were on hand to talk about the latest and upcoming titles that are headed to the Xbox One and PC. There was some other fun as well, including a bar (not paid, unfortunately) and various snacks ranging from bite-sized grilled cheese sandwiches (with optional ketchup), pretzels, and kettle cooked potato chips. And in case anyone was worried about their calorie count, there were ways to work it off:

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We’re going to assume Ms. Croft foot the bill for that one.

In addition to Rise of the Tomb Raider, there was a massive Halo 5 stage set up with a giant screen. Just in case any shenanigans were afoot, these two gents (or possibly ladies — I’ve seen the anime and Dead or Alive 4) were on hand to keep the peace:

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Among the many, many games on hand were several sports titles which had their own special “sports bar” section:

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I can’t say I gave that one too close a look; the order of the day included NBA 2K16, NHL 16, FIFA 16, and Madden NFL 16. Me, I’m more of a WWE and NBA Jam kind of guy.

For those eager to put the pedal to the metal (and many were), there was another section for them to get in gear:

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Moto GP 2015, Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo, and of course, Microsoft Game Studios’ own Turn 10-developed Forza Motorsport 6 were on hand here.

Other titles without any specific affiliation were all around as well. Skylanders SuperChargers was one, but I passed on that for others since we’re checking a separate showing out tomorrow. Mad Max, Gears of War Ultimate Edition, Fable Legends, Quantum Break, Gigantic, Dark Souls III, Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare 2, and more were all around — some more subtle than others. I wish I’d gotten to sit down with many more, but to do so would be more to nibble when I wanted to nosh, so I ended up focusing more on a smaller selection of titles which held my interest.

For what it’s worth, not everything I had hoped to see was there — Killer Instinct‘s third season (featuring Battletoad Rash) and Scalebound most prominently. Still, most of what I did get to see sent me away happy and still hoping I’ll be able to invest in an Xbox One sooner rather than later. (On an unrelated note: have I mentioned that I have a Patreon? Contributing to that could help me expand my coverage here…)

With that said, here’s where I directed my focus:

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

Some years ago when I was working for Examiner, I had the opportunity to visit Eidos Montreal and check out what was the then-unreleased Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and I absolutely loved what I saw. I had hoped to be able to follow up that series of coverage with a review upon its release, but things happened and that didn’t. When the game was brought to the Wii U, complete with some issues addressed from the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 version, I still wanted in, but it just never happened.

That love for what I saw still hasn’t gone away, though, so once I had the opportunity to view its follow-up in action, I leaped at the chance. Just as before, though, it was a hands-off demo as something of a vertical slice was shown. For his part, Adam Jensen looks more badass than ever with his suite of different abilities.

Following the trailer and demonstration, I got to speak briefly to one of the developers (whose name I regrettably did not get among all the bustling crowds) about a cause for concern from the previous game. The aforementioned issues related to the game’s structure, which allows you to play and build up skills for sneaking, hacking, and combat. Generally, the game is supposed to allow you to choose the method that fits your preference and you can go through from there, but there were instances such as bosses where people who focused on hacking and stealth were at a disadvantage due to not dumping points into their combat stats.

I asked about this, and was assured that they were developing Deus Ex: Mankind Divided so that players would not have to worry about being “bottlenecked” into such situations. If you come across such a boss, for instance, you’ll be able to find other ways around them.

Another thing I asked about with the customization of the first game in mind was if there might be some way to use data from Human Revolution in Mankind Divided. While that is not in the cards, they did mention a New Game + feature that will allow you to replay the game after beating it with your enhancements and stats from the end of the last playthrough. Perhaps with enough time and effort, one can even craft an “ultimate” Jensen?

He didn’t ask for this, but I certainly am.

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Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Siege

Some poor, unfortunate souls ended up coercing me into playing Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Siege. If that wasn’t bad enough, it was a multiplayer demonstration.

They couldn’t have known. I told them, but even then, they couldn’t have known.

I am not good at first-person shooters, so the events transpired thus: other players got irritated with me as I tried selecting a character that had already been chosen (my past experiences allowed more for choosing “types”; I didn’t realize it was character-driven), and I followed my squad mates up a building, then we went back down the building. Fire started being opened on us, I tried to shoot back, and I died.

I don’t think I lasted more than a minute, and while there’s apparently a time limit to revive a fallen comrade, no one bothered. I can’t say I blame them. Then my view went over to a camera perspective of someone else for the rest of the match. I think out of a 15 minute match (give or take), I was in it for maybe two.

I sincerely apologize to everyone whose time I ruined in that match, though I guess I didn’t likely affect much of it.

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Cuphead

Oh man, Cuphead. As someone who grew up watching vintage Looney Tunes and other classic cartoons on Nickelodeon and TNT every weeknight, the visuals here really resonate like nothing else. Part of me wonders why no one ever bothered to do this sooner.

Fascinatingly enough, it’s not just the visuals that are oldschool, but the gameplay as well. It’s a shoot ’em up not unlike Contra, and it is surprisingly tough. The fact that the demo only pits you against bosses and you have only one life only escalate matters. I don’t know if those matters — the single life in particular — were because it was a demo, but as someone who is a die-hard Contra fan, this was a bit tough for even me.

On the other hand, Nadia — who is kind of intimidated (?) by Contra — managed to beat one of those bosses. She thinks the difficulty was increased with two players on hand, though.

Suffice to say, this one warrants further study.

LEGO Marvel’s Avengers

I’m really not too sure what to say here. It’s LEGO. So it’s good, it’s solid, but not especially surprising. If you’ve kept up with LEGO games, then you have a pretty good idea of what to expect here. Not a bad thing, just a very safe thing.

This one is based on the movies, and the demo took place during the Battle of New York from the first movie. You’re playing as the squad of ground-based heroes — Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Thor — as the Chitari swoop in all around, police officers are trying to take them down, and Iron Man is providing support from above (this is presumably before Hulk arrives). You use their different talents to proceed, though sometimes things seem a little obtuse — a LEGO staple of sorts.

Also, you get to rescue Stan Lee from a car trapped under a bridge.

The demo lacked much in the way of the humor the series is known for (aside from seeing Thor’s godly hair roll across the ground after he was taken down), but with audio straight from the film, the overall quality seems to be there on this one.

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Rare Replay

Saved this one for last, since I got to play more of this than anything. Even so, that’s three games’ worth, so that’s something.

Battletoads Arcade – At long last.

When Rare and Tradewest brought Battletoads to the Nintendo Entertainment System (also included) in 1991, ostensibly to compete with the red-hot Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I — and I think a lot of others — were expecting a beat ’em up in a similar vein to the TMNT’s greatest hits. And for the first stage, that’s what we got. The second stage involved descending down a long shaft, but still involved plenty of smacking enemies around — you were just moving more vertically than horizontally. The third stage had some more, and… that’s about as far as any of us got. The stage shifted to the notorious Turbo Tunnel, and the game was essentially changed from then on. This carried over into Battletoads in Battlemaniacs for the Super NES (not included) and the Game Boy titles (ditto) as well.

But Battletoads Arcade, which I only discovered just a handful of years ago? This is what I’ve been wanting from them this entire time, and what I played here delivered. It’s a bit edgier than most iterations of the Turtles, with blood splatters coming from enemies on the receiving end of particularly powerful attacks and their skeletons appearing and crumbling when defeated.

I got through several stages before pulling myself away to focus on other work. I can imagine it only being even better with all three characters running at once with three players, and in such a scenario, possibly being worth the entire price of the game for that alone.

Then there are the 29 other games included.

Blast Corps – Another game I’ve never gotten to play before, I toyed around with this one for a little bit, having heard its legend sung by those who had experienced it during its heyday. For the little bit I played — about two levels’ worth — it seems to live up to the legend.

I like games where you can just destroy stuff with reckless abandon, and between the bulldozer and jetpack-guided robot who smashes down into skyscrapers from above, this one delivers. I can see myself playing this one over and over just for fun.

Killer Instinct Gold – This is where things got a little bit awkward.

I own both this and the Super NES version of the first Killer Instinct. In this and most fighting games, particularly where only four face buttons are involved, I usually configure the controls to put the strong attacks on the front of the controller — my coordination isn’t so good as to allow me to work the shoulders/triggers with the directional inputs as I can with the face buttons, which takes a lot of punch out of my offense. Unfortunately, you can’t adjust the buttons here — at least, not through Rare Replay. It didn’t occur to me to check for in-game options until after I’d left, though having brought it up to the developers who were on hand, they didn’t mention such an option, either.

Another point that hurt this one was the visuals. There’s nothing to smooth the graphics out here, so it’s very pixelated; I find that’s usually okay for games with a more pixel-based appearance, but rendered and pre-rendered models, not so much. I noted the same thing when reviewing Rare’s Super NES Donkey Kong Country trilogy in Nintendo Force magazine — the games looked better on the lower-resolution Wii U GamePad, and as noted on this very site in my review of New Super Mario Bros. for the Wii U Virtual Console, I used blurring there as well.

I’d have gone to the CRT television-styled filter, but that was only available for pre-Nintendo 64 titles, leaving Killer Instinct Gold in a bit of an awkward place. They said they wanted to present the games as they originally were, “warts and all,” except I have to say my old standard-definition television was a lot better at making said warts more presentable.

Considering you can get the original arcade Killer Instinct and Killer Instinct II when you purchase seasons of the awesome new Killer Instinct, KI Gold isn’t a terrible loss in the face of the greater package.

That said, I never got to see the arcade Killer Instinct in my heyday — it was never in any arcades around me. And when I did find one years later, I was pretty lousy at it. I bought and played the Super NES version of Killer Instinct when it came out, and it very much has its own unique feel and quality to it.

I asked the developers on hand about the prospect of completing the set with a release of that version somehow… and they told me that was what was on Rare Replay. I was pretty sure it was the Nintendo 64 sequel, but when one of them asked another and he agreed that Killer Instinct Gold was the Super NES game, I figured I might as well drop the line of questioning. I could have pulled it up on my phone right there, but thinking about it, what would that have accomplished?

Oh well. At least I still have my Super NES and my original copy (complete with Killer Cuts CD, which I’m listening to as I write this), convenient as having it released on Xbox One in some way would be.

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This was the one Nadia was immediately attracted to, an old favorite from her childhood. Her takeaway from it was that it would take some getting used to, particularly as it featured a control scheme that she was less comfortable with (utilizing the A and B buttons, rather than the more natural X and B buttons).

Despite a few hiccups, Rare Replay was a hit, and it’s something I’d gladly drop $30 on for the wealth of gaming history included within. One disappointment I’ve been none too shy about mentioning is the absence of my first Rare game and a favorite, Wizards & Warriors. We took the opportunity to ask about its absence, and were informed it simply didn’t make the cut.

Fortunately, people have been vocal about wanting to see it and its follow-ups, so maybe some downloadable content is possible? The developers there would commit to nothing, but said to make our voices heard on social media, and maybe something will happen there. I wonder if it’s possible to get a #Wizards&Warriors hashtag going on Twitter? (I just tried — the “&” kills it. Any suggestions? #WizardsAndWarriors, maybe?)

So there we have it: the X15 Media Showcase was a good time, and I hope those of you who might have attended the evening portion had as great a time as I did. With each passing year, the Xbox One library keeps getting better, and even without Scalebound or Season 3 of Killer Instinct on the show floor, there was still a lot to see and a lot to look forward to. Hopefully I’ll have one of my own soon enough!

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About the author

David Oxford

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you're interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.