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A Trip to Festival Arcadia in Montréal

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Montréal, if it were any other day, I’d hate to set foot in the city. Between its legendary bad traffic/drivers and the fact I have Ontario plates, it’s not a place I like to be.

But today is special. Today is a day where I’m willing to brave the suicidal highway system and its emergency road signs I can’t understand. For today is the beginning of Festival Arcadia and the Canadian debut of the Wii.

By starting early and flying down the highway at 140 km/h (about 90 mph), we made it to Montréal just before traffic got really bad. With an hour and a half to kill before the show's 9 AM start time, we figured we’d have plenty of time to get to the event. But because Google Maps directed us to drive across a Parc, we arrived at the event with only 20 minutes to spare.

We quickly grabbed our tickets (about $13 a piece) as fast as we could and quickly took our place in line. The line was fairly short for the first day, but seeing as it was a Friday, I figured most of the kids were still in school.

9:30 AM, 30 minutes after we were supposed to be let in, the doors finally opened. We quickly dashed through the coat check and made our way to the real attraction, the Nintendo booth.

I was a little giddy as I approached the Twilight Princess demo, eager to get my first taste of the Wii. The giddiness quickly faded. Maybe it was because the demo was too early in the game for me to get a real sense of what the Wii can do, but it honestly felt like the motion controls were just tacked on.

Granted, I didn’t have much to go on, but the game felt like it was built for a normal controller. Movement was also a little awkward since the Wii has notches around the analog stick just like every other Nintendo controller since the N64.

Visually, the title didn’t look much better than a late-gen GameCube title, but that may be due to the incompetence of the staff. I inquired about how the system was connected, and why the image looks stretched, but the staff didn’t have much to say.

After some investigating (and being yelled at by PR), I managed to discover the game was running in 4:3 480i over a composite connection on a large 16:9 LCD display. So I guess despite their failures, it looked pretty good.

My minor gripes aside, the The Twilight Princess demo definitely felt like a classic Oracle of Time Zelda game should. Right now it looks like a great title to play when the Wii finally launches this Sunday.

Next up was Wii Sports — more specifically, four player Tennis.

It took us a little bit of time to get set up, thanks in part to the girl running the booth who couldn’t grasp that I only spoke English. Menu navigation was completely pointer based and very simple. Choose your game, choose your avatar, set your hand orientation, and serve.

The game is completely timing based. Your character moves on his own but you get to decide how he swings and when. It was a little awkward at first, but after only a round, we managed to get the hang of it.

It feels very natural and intuitive, like playing real tennis; only, unlike real tennis, I didn’t chuck my Wii-mote across the court while playing. Even with four of us crammed into a fairly tight spot, the Wii didn’t seem to have any trouble keeping track of which Wii-mote was which and never seemed to show a drop in responsiveness.

After getting our fair share of tennis, we moved on to baseball. This time, instead of a four man free for all, we were restricted to trading off as pitcher and batter. It was a little tricky to get timing right and, unfortunately, the guy running the booth did a poor job of explaining how to pitch.

Batting, on the other hand, was easy and doesn’t appear to require you to aim for the ball; just swing at the right time — just like the NES classic, RBI Baseball. Once you hit the ball, everything seems to be randomly determined by the computer. I couldn’t figure out if there was any way to manipulate the outfield.

Unfortunately, this booth was hampered by the growing crowd and without full room to move, it’s hard to take a proper swing without nailing someone next to you in the shoulder and knocking them over (which I actually did. Sorry, buddy). I figure you’re going to need at least an 8×8 play area if you want four people playing at once and probably something close to 6×4 for two players.

We wanted to try Wii Sports boxing, but, unfortunately, at that point, the booth had been closed down and replaced with another Twilight Princess unit to compensate for the overwhelming amount of people looking to play it.

By now, the lines had started to get long and, even though the Nintendo booth was capped at 90 people, more and more people seemed to keep finding their way in. We decided to skip over the long lines for Rayman Raving Rabbits and WarioWare: Smooth Moves, instead opting for Excite Truck.

To be perfectly honest, this is one title I wasn’t expecting much from. Having played Motocross Madness 2 back in the late '90s — when Microsoft released the Sidewinder Freestyle Pro — I was aware of how tilt steering worked and I didn’t like it. However, Nintendo, as always, managed to surprise me.

Excite Truck’s controls are incredibly tight and responsive and, unlike the shambled mess MS had put out years earlier, the Wii-mote felt just right. On top of that, the game looks absolutely gorgeous and has an incredible sense of speed. The only downside is an almost intrusive amount of draw-in. It’s not that it actually affects game play, but it is so noticeable it can’t help but distract you.

One really cool feature are the track's hotspots where crazy things will happen: like an 80 foot hill rising out of the ground in front of you, leading to an insane turbo jump.

Hands down, Excite Truck was the most enjoyable game I played that day. Better than both Zelda and Wii Sports.

Nintendo also had a few DS units on display, but there wasn’t anything new demoed, just older titles like Mario Cart DS and New Super Mario Bros. It’s a shame because I’d have loved to played Elite Beat Agents or Yoshi’s Island 2.

Clubhouse Games was playable at the event, and I can easily say I now understand why BC’s Gaming Editor Ken Edwards has become obsessed with it. For a collection of random little card and bar games, it’s really well put together.

After the Nintendo booth, we decided to pop over to see what Ubisoft was up to. Unfortunately, their booth consisted almost entirely of demo units for Splinter Cell: Double Agent, Rainbow Six: Vegas, and Rayman. Considering that Ubisoft was a major sponsor of the event, I was shocked to see their booth was so spartan. There wasn’t even a PR rep on hand and Red Steel, the game I had come to play, was nowhere in sight.

Microsoft had a strong presence at the show and were pushing Gears of War hard. There were at least eight units set up just for multiplayer, as well as a few that allowed you to play through the single player experience. Call of Duty 3 and Need for Speed: Carbon were also on display. I tried to play Viva Piñata, but the demo was French only and, unfortunately, the reps didn’t prove to be very helpful, so I couldn’t even start to play.

MS did happen to have an HD DVD drive on hand for the show. Sadly, their only demo was The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. The movie looked really good running in 1080i over component and, to me, looked better than the Toshiba HD DVD players I’ve seen demoed at Best Buy. HD DVD’s advanced menus were all smooth and seemed to load much faster thsn I’ve become accustomed to.

The player integrates seamlessly with the guide. In fact, the only noticeable difference is there are two options to play a disc. Highlight the top of the eject button picture if you want to load something off the internal drive or the bottom if you want to load an HD DVD. It’s that easy.

Rockstar Games was nearby, giving out a ton of free swag, including pennants, T-shirts, dodge balls, and stickers. I grabbed myself a pennant and then tried to get a Bully T-shirt, but the attendant didn’t seem too keen on it. I did a little smooth talking (“I did give Bully a 5/5, you know”) and he changed his mind.

Their booth was easily the smallest, but did have a few demo units set up, showing off Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis, GTA: Vice City Stories and, of course, Bully.

The CCGC was on hand with a small video game museum sporting some of the coolest items around, including one of my personal favourites, R.O.B., or as I like to call him, Robbie. Of course, R.O.B. is considered pretty common compared with some of the items on display, including the Pippin, Apple/Bandi’s stillborn entry into the gaming market.

They also had several classic systems, including the Colecovision, Sega Master System, and Neo Geo setup with some rarer games to play. For the true retro gamer, this booth was pure heaven.

Rounding out the sponsor section was the Canadian game store, Microplay. Their booth wasn’t anything really special but did feature a Guitar hero II demo station that had a fairly decent line.

After cruising the floor for a bit, we decided to check out the educational section of the event. There were a lot of schools and even businesses like Ubisoft looking to recruit people. A lot of it looked very interesting, but as an Anglophone, I wasn’t really able to enjoy, nor understand the bulk of it, though I did think the guy drawing some crazy 3D characters was pretty impressive.

There was also a series of rather intriguing lectures going on about the principles of game design, but the bulk of those were in French as well, so I was unable to attend them.

We rounded the day out with a quick stop in the theatre. It was a rather poor setup, consisting of a low-res projector and a 4:3 screen, but at least the sound was good and the couches were comfortable. We watched FFVII Advent Children and, just like the last time I saw it, it confused the hell out of me. What’s up with the “Let’s toss cloud higher and not fall to our deaths or observe physics” scene, anyway?

There were a series of large LAN tournaments happening on the other side of the event, including a couple of pay to play tournaments for UT2004 and Counter Strike 1.6. The LAN section was large enough to hold hundreds of people and looked like great fun. Unfortunately, we didn’t bring our PCs with us, so we weren’t able to actually participate.

At the end of the day, Festival Arcadia proved to be a lot of fun, but seemed to be lacking something. Nintendo was clearly the star of the show and the whole reason to be there, though the LAN party did look interesting.

I look forward to going again next year, but I hope the sponsors have a larger presence and, in the case of Ubisoft, have a booth worth attending. It’d also be pretty cool if they had a few more English lectures at the event. I realize Montréal is a French city, but it’s one of the most English parts of Quebec and a mere two hours away from Ottawa.

As I look back on all the fun Wii had, I can easily say I’m now, more than ever, hyped up for this Sunday and the North American launch of the Nintendo Wii.

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About Jason Westhaver

  • Stephanie

    I understand your frustration about French being all around at Arcadia. But you know what? I was at the Game Summit and everything was in English. Even the executive panel with 4 French-speaking people out of 6 people.

    So I think it’s fair to say that, in Montreal, the video game “specialised world” is in English, but the public wants to play in French.

  • http://www.njiska.com Jason “Njiska” Westhaver

    Well there’s a key diffference between the two events. The Games summit was industry driven and the industry on the whole is either english or japanese.

    Festival Arcadia on the other hand is consumer driven and while Montreal is strongly french, they advertised the event in both languages and were only a little over an hour away from the Ontario border and 2 hours away from a major city. To me it would make sense to at least hire truely bilingual people to run the show floor booths. There’s a lot of universities in Montreal just full of people who are great at both.

    I have no problem with it being prodominantly French as it is quebec, but i expect a little more from the booth staff.

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