Once again the masses descend onto the NEC in Birmingham for four days of gaming, cosplay, tournaments and developer sessions. Heavy hitters like Nintendo, Bandai Namco, Sega and Sony were all in attendance, but most notable by their absence were Capcom and Microsoft. So no Forza or Resident Evil 2, the latter hurting the most.

There was a weird trend this year of advertisements for games that weren’t even at the show.

From what was available to play, it was a real mixed bag. There were highlights and disappointments, though my most regular thought as I wandered the show floor was that a lot of the games were exactly as I expected, for better or worse.

No More Heroes!

Last year I remember Microsoft won the award for ‘most confusing layout’ as I never did find out how to reach the start of the line for Super Lucky’s Tale or where the Sea of Thieves queue began and ended. This time that award goes to Nintendo. Maybe they’re still misjudging how popular they are these days, much like how Amiibo used to sell out in minutes, but the space they have seemed quite small for what they were showing. It was the first section I went to as I entered the doors and the Pokémon, Smash Bros and Mario Party queues seemed to collide into one mass of people.

Then over to one side, they had a smaller section where you could queue for Wolfenstein 2, Dark Souls: Remastered, Bayonetta 2, Doom, and bizarrely, Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes. It’s bizarre that the one game not yet released is put with the console ports. Nevertheless, I queued and I played.

Only available in handheld mode, the viewpoint is now more zoomed out than in previous games. Combat seems a little more basic too with dodges, heavy and light attacks – still enjoyable though. Most impressively it had actual in-game text specific to EGX, so it’s a bit weird seeing one of the characters explaining the tutorial to you while talking about the Birmingham nightlife. The demo ends with a three-phase boss fight that was quite challenging though once you die you just get to restart right from that position. And yes, you still save the game by sitting on the toilet. I’m interested to play more when it releases early next year.

Gotta Catch Em All

Eventually, I did manage to try Pokémon: Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee. It took a while though because at certain points they were closing the line and sending people away. It’s the most Nintendo thing ever to misjudge how popular they are and not plan accordingly.

Once I waited for what seemed like forever (the longest queueing experience of EGX this year) I finally got to try the latest Pokémon game complete with Pokeball controller. Just like using a giant analogue stick, you use the button on top to move around and click it down to accept options. It felt alright at first, but it’s one of those things that is best suited to kids or those with small hands; playing for extended periods of time I imagine could become a problem.

The game itself is a nice mash of Pokémon Go and the more traditional titles. During the demo I got to explore a small grassy area where I could catch Pokémon. This is played similar to Pokémon Go and is done with motion control – throwing the Pokéball towards the screen or feeding them berries so they’re easy to catch. Some of the wild Pokémon also now appear on screen so can be avoided if you wish, though sometimes you are thrown into a random battle. Then there are a couple of trainers scattered around that, once encountered, play out like a traditional RPG battle. It’s exactly what I expected and hasn’t made me rush out and pre-order just yet. I’m waiting to see what gym battles are like and if it still has a nice open world for you to explore because that to me is what I really want from a core Pokémon experience.

Sega – Dancing and Racing!

Sega had a good showing this year, catering for a wide range of people. There was a Fist of the North Star demo area, which I assume is the same as the one you can already download on PS4. And you should do that right now because it is great.

The Sonic racing games, if I’m honest, have always come second to Mario, though Team Sonic Racing looks like it could be a lot of fun with friends. As the name suggests, it’s a team-based racer with you and your two friends or AI people aiming to win the race. You can swap items between each person which is a neat idea and the handling model feels solid. The only downside though is that even though I wasn’t the biggest fan of the previous Sonic racers, I did like how they were a celebration of Sega’s history with characters and levels from every Sega franchise you could think of. Just focusing on Sonic is a bit disappointing. It also had slight problems with the framerate when the action becomes hectic, which hopefully will be sorted before launch.

The second game at Sega’s space that caught my eye was Persona 3 and 5 Dancing. I only had a go with Persona 5 as that music was still fresh in my mind. If you played the previous Dancing game (4, which comes free if you buy the special edition) it works the same way with notes flying towards the outside ring and you have to hit the corresponding button. The song I played was Rivers in the Desert (one of my favourites) and it started off the same only for it turn into dubstep as it reached its conclusion. And it was kind of great. I already have this game on pre-order and what I saw hasn’t made me cancel.

Demo Disappointment – Man of Medan

From the great to the bitterly disappointing. Man of Medan was one of the games I was most interested in, being a huge fan of Until Dawn, so as the show first opened I was looking around expecting to see a nice big area, maybe enclosed behind a curtain so you get the true horror of the game, similar actually to how Detroit was last year. Sadly though it was just a line of TVs out in the middle and with noise all around it was hard to really get invested in the game.

It didn’t get any better as the game started. It was a very strange demo, to say the least. Barely interactive, taking place what seems like partway through the story, you just walk through a ghost ship, investigate items on the floor and then do a quick QTE sequence and that’s that. It’s made worse again by the location of the demo stations, this being a dark game so being stuck under the EGX lights made it hard to see exactly what was happening.

I’m going to give this game the benefit of the doubt as maybe it was just a bad demo, but this definitely wins the award for biggest disappointment.

Assassin’s Creed Returns

After taking a break, Assassin’s Creed returned with last year’s Origins and everyone loved it. This time there is no yearlong break and you can sort of tell. I remember playing Origins at last year’s EGX and enjoying it immensely – the latest game Odyssey definitely feels more like an iteration rather than doing anything revolutionary.

You control either a male or female character, then you have a couple of objectives to complete on the map. The first I tried was a mass battle that, shall we say, had some framerate issues, but as this was an Alpha build it’s hardly surprising considering the number of characters on screen. I never did complete this one as the inability to invert the Y axis (I honestly couldn’t find the options menu) was seriously hampering my combat skills.

The other mission I had a look at was something to do with boats. I have no idea how close I came to completing this as I just grabbed my ship, sailed off and started blowing up everything that came close. This was the most fun part of the demo, so it’s good to see ship combat is still highly enjoyable. On the whole, though it just felt like another one of those games, good for those that want that, a little disappointing if you were hoping for more.