The great thing about not going to E3 is that the best parts of of it (getting to see and play upcoming games with not a lot of waiting) will come to you (provided you’re invited to a press event or two post-show). A few of the fine folks from Namco Bandai (or Bandai Namco) rolled into NYC with an incredibly solid lineup that should keep gamers of all stripes glued to their controllers and sporting ear to ear grins. While some of the games shown were still works in progress E3 builds, it was impossible not to walk away completely floored with anticipation about most if not all of the titles shown.
In the order which I saw and/or played them, here’s a quick rundown on what was on display:
Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom (PS3/Xbox 360) – Game Republic truly seems to enjoy making some great-looking, purely fun to play titles and this gorgeous single player experience looks to be yet another winner. You play as a young agile type who discovers and teams up with Majin, a huge stone elemental giant of sorts and soon find yourself attempting to rescue a missing princess. Graphically, there’s a fanciful stylized (yet realistic) look to the game that should please fans of ICO and Shadow of the Colossus while the gameplay excellently mixes fast-paced combat, stealth sections and environmental puzzle elements that require teamwork between the player and Majin. From the demo I got to see, this could be quite a sleeper when it lands in stores later this year.
Clash of the Titans (PS3/Xbox 360) – Yet another fun Game Republic-developed title and after a bit of hands-on time I can safely say that this one was a nice surprise in terms of its impressive level of old-school challenge and the rather large weapons selection players can accumulate. The game’s difficulty should appeal to all skill levels (just set it to Hard if you’re finding some areas too simple and you’ll be rewarded with a rather fierce challenge). However, if you have an extra controller and a buddy handy, there’s a two-player co-op mode that should help whittle the AI down to size. Thanks to QTE events during combat, you’re able to grab sub-weapons from any armed enemy to add to your armory and most of these assorted death-dealers are upgradable once you’re the new owner.
The art style and color palette are straightforward yet quite nice, recalling elements of the film while adding in new levels and enemies created specifically for the game. The mix of fast-paced hack and slash action plus stages graded by how quickly you can complete them should have those who crave perfection jumping back in to improve their scores (and bonus items awarded). Interestingly enough, the DVD drops into stores around the same time the film does, so those who liked the flick can be assured of a few more hours of fun in a lot more interactive format. “Release the Kraken!”, indeed.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja STORM 2 (PS3/Xbox 360) – Fan-favorite developerCyber Connect 2 (the .hack series and plenty of Naruto titles on the PS2, PS3 and PSP) keeps getting better and better and this impressive sequel to the formerly PS3-only release is headed to the Xbox 360 as well. The game looks incredible and controls in the short timed demo build were insanely responsive, making for a pretty slick (albeit brief) peek at what’s to come. Fans of the anime will be definitely be pleased and I think I can drop a hint to Tekken fans here that there’s a really cool surprise in store for you should this game pop up on your radar…
Pac-Man Party (Wii) – Pac-Man is 30 years old and still going strong thanks to this upcoming family friendly mix of tsuguroku and mini-games galore. While only a few of these howlers were playable at the event, what was shown was hilarious stuff indeed from both a visual and gameplay perspective. Sure, the action was simple Wii Remote shaking, tilting and swinging, but all who stepped up to give the game a shot ended up cracking up after one or two quick events. From tossing pizzas into a huge blazing oven, soda bottle jet-pack blast-offs and obstacle packed conveyor belt races, these super quick blasts of fun should keep you and the kids busy for some time.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (PS3/Xbox 360) – Ninja Theory’s absolutely gorgeous follow-up to Heavenly Sword is once again, a single-player focused experience that looks to combine cinematic storytelling with high-action gameplay sequences and so far, it’s a formula that’s working for me. The rich visuals and fine level design are looking impressive and after going though the demo build, I’m extremely looking forward to the final version. And yes, Andy Serkis is doing a stellar job, the facial animations are fantastic and once you see how effortlessly fluid the controls are, the game is a dream to play.
As a totally unique take on the Monkey King legend, it’s mind-blowing how well the dev team has transformed the main character, Monkey into a burly yet agile hero and placed him into a blasted out wasteland that’s actually quite colorful. Even more incredible is the dev team is making a Teen rated game that’s got as much visceral punch as some top M-rated titles. By the way, look for Trip, the game’s AI partner to set new standards in CPU-controlled AI. Although you can’t really control her directly, she reacts and moves almost like a living person would (and has some pretty funny dialog with Monkey). This is one title I want to cover in a bit more depth, so expect a gallery to pop up at some point.
Splatterhouse (PS3/Xbox 360) – Rising from the dead with a major graphics overhaul and tons of pure, unadulterated gore galore, Rick and his evil mask are back in action after far too long away from consoles. The game is looking superbly twisted with a dark yet crazily funny vibe running throughout the demo build. Fans of the originals will be more than pleased to see their favorite monsters rendered in beefy 3D as well as cool side-scrolling sequences mixed in with the more modern action. There are also plenty of cinematic angles that add a modern horror kick to the game and both lighting and color usage were brilliant in the demo build.
This one’s clearly shooting for a Mature rating, as the blood and chunks flow, splash and fly freely. That and Rick’s gal, Jennifer appears in some rather er, saucy collectible photos as the game progresses. Speaking of collectibles, players can expect to see all the console Splatterhouse games (and I believe the original Arcade version) on the game disc as a pretty awesome bonus. No concrete release date on this baby just yet, but I expect Halloween or sometime thereabouts would be fitting. Of course, we Splatterhouse fanatics want this one to bee cooked perfectly, so even if the date slips, it’ll be because the game is being polished to an even finer shine.
Time Crisis: Razing Storm (PS3) – This latest in the long running arcade gun shooting franchise looks to be the best yet thanks to a ton of content and PlayStation Move support. With the super intuitive design of the Move controller, the game is so much fun to play (yes, it’s a total blast) that it was hard to put down after a few stages. The again, the few stages I got to play with a fellow editor in co-op blew by so fast and had so much destruction going on that we were both sweating bullets in that air-conditioned hotel suite. By the way, if you don’t want to get a Move on, the game will also support the Guncon 3.
There’s a very heavy emphasis on destructibility here, as nearly every bit of scenery seems as if can be shot up by yours or the enemies’ bullets. You’ll also see levels wrecked by mid-level and end mission bosses that are huge, surprisingly fast and extremely deadly. Not only will you get a few different single and multiplayer modes in the main game, Namco is actually adding both arcade hits Time Crisis 4 and the swashbuckling Deadstorm Pirates to the disc as very sweet bonuses (arr!). As a longtime light gun fan ready to embrace a “new” way of playing a favorite genre, I can safely say the this one’s going to be played to death and beyond around these parts. No matter how awful a day you’ve had, you can always rely on a Time Crisis game to get the adrenaline pumping.
I’m kicking myself because I didn’t stick around to check out Ace Combat Joint Assault (there was only one PSP demo unit on hand which was running Dragon Ball Z: Tenkaichi Tag Team, a multiplayer focused fighter that looked cool but was a bit chaotic as a single player experience). I think I spied a demo build of Dragon Ball Raging Blast 2 as well, but I was headed for the door after a good chunk of time spent being wowed by everything else. Ah well… guess I’ll have to send up a flare for review copies. Anyway, galleries and movies to follow on the games listed – stay tuned…