Tokyo Game Show 2013: Hands-on roundup!
just recently gotten back got back from the 2013 Tokyo Game Show a week ago but had a hell of a lot of internet problems and camera issues, but I’ve still got a fair amount to talk about. Not a lot of news, unfortunately, as practically nothing got announced at the actual event. I did, however, get my grubby mitts on quite a few games I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten to yet. I talked at length about Dark Souls 2 elsewhere, as that was written more or less in the moment. Everything else is getting rounded up here! It’ll be in no particular order.
Man, it has been a minute since Strider Hiryu was in his own game, hasn’t it? Long enough that I played him in Vs. Capcom games long before I even knew where he was from. Capcom finally got around to committing to a reboot (after a ditched effort with GRIN back in 2009), this time with Double Helix. And although you could be forgiven for cringing at the sound of that (Double Helix’s resume is mainly full of movie licensed properties), I’ve gotta say, this new Strider is slick. Strider Hiryu is the quintessential not-stealthy ninja, a role shared by Tecmo’s Ryu Hayabusa. Ninja-as-superhero, if you will. Strider is fast as sin, can jump unreasonably high, and when he cuts things they don’t take it well. The action consists primarily of sprinting through solid platforming levels, dodging gunfire (there’s no dodge button, you have to jump out of the way), and mowing down robots.
It’s not a particularly complicated game (at least, from what I played of it) but then, it doesn’t need complexity. This feels like an NES or SNES-era action platformer, hauled at last into this century in terms of aesthetics. Stripping everything out of a game outside of a core set of simple, satisfying actions is good design, in my opinion. And when I grab a wall, kick off of it, double jump through a hail of bullets, then charge through five machine-gun-wielding robots to take them apart at the waist, that feels great. When a giant mecha-snake covered in guns takes off into the air with me on its back, and I sprint up its tail against a headwind, bullets, and sheet lightning to slice the glowing part of its neck, that’s pretty swell too (even if it is pretty well-trod ground, as boss fights go). If the full Strider game just lets me do that for 4-ish hours, I’ll count that as ten or so dollars well spent.
Just kidding, I only wish I got to play it. Alas, they only had an extended trailer in their closed booth (I wouldn’t have waited but I wasn’t clear on the signage). It was kinda worth the wait, though. Yakuza Ishin takes the fun, delightfully weird open-world action of the Yakuza series, and drags it back in time to near the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate (mid-1800s), putting you in the shoes of Ryouma Sakamoto (who still looks exactly like Kazuma Kiryu, just as many other historical figures are identical to the modern Yakuza characters) as he navigates the fucked-up political turmoil of that period. It looks like we’ll get to fight with swords and pistols, and do plenty of less violent activities around whichever town this is in (Kyoto? Edo? They didn’t say). Some of those activities, like tending your fields and racing chickens, fit well with the historical period, while others are a little more, um, anachronistic. Looking at you, karaoke. It’s good to see that this series is staying weird. I can’t find the extended trailer I saw, but I threw in the general release internet one up above, in case you haven’t seen it yet.
Biggest announcement of the show, in my opinion.
I took a pretty diverse sampling at the Bandai-Namco booth. This might be one of the most confusing (to me) companies in the world, frankly. How should I put this? Nobody does diversity of quality quite like Bandai-Namco.
I started at their booth with some mobile games they’ve got coming to Android, mainly because there was no line and I could just walk up and play them. This was a mistake, really. Not the fact that I played them, but that BN didn’t try to stop me. There were a lot of One Piece-branded titles like runners and tower defense that would’ve been an embarrassment if they’d shown up on NewGrounds a decade ago. A Pacman runner game? Sure, that sounds like what the franchise needed. The nicest thing I can say is that the pinball one wasn’t terrible? It doesn’t really matter what I think about them, though. When you make a game with a fifty dollar budget and slap One Piece on there, Japanese consumers are going to give you a trillion dollars. The only part that actually confuses me is that they had these games sitting on tablets for the enthusiast press to play, as though that would benefit them or us.
I have to forgive that end of the booth, though, because the other side with all of BN’s console offerings made up for it. The crown jewel of this section was without question J-Stars Victory Vs, the giant crossover 3d arena fighting game starring characters from a vast array of Shonen Jump manga series. This sort of game draws heavily on the Super Smash Bros school, that of taking the old grade-school “Nuh uh, Luffy can totally beat up Naruto” arguments and making them explicit. This game is an exemplar of BN’s ability to press firmly and continually on my Nostalgia Button. It’s far from a serious, competitive fighting game, but that’s not even remotely what I want it for. It’s big stupid fun with a bunch of characters I know and (mostly) love, and that’s more than enough. I would suggest American anime fans look into importing this one, but BN just decided that they’d be releasing JoJo All Star Battle in the west, and westerners are for the most part far more familiar with material like DBZ, Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece than they are with JoJo. If you can hold onto your hat for, say, half a year, you’re likely to see a localization announcement for this.
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call:
In case you missed the first one, Theatrhythm is a rhythm game series for the 3ds, in which you gather a crossover team of Final Fantasy characters, and stomp your way over fields and through dungeons to the sounds of, let’s see, almost TWENTY-SIX YEARS worth of Final Fantasy music (brief aside: it is bizarre to think of this series as just 1 year my junior). By tapping, pressing, or swiping the 3DS touch screen in time with the music, you run faster or hit monsters and cover ground/deal damage according to your chosen party’s stats and abilities. It’s a neat little RPG element to sit alongside a solid rhythm game, even if the RPG parts are completely ignorable if you so choose.
This game’s a sequel, but there’s really not very much changed between the last game and this one. There are more characters, and over 200 songs. More of the thing you like, if you liked it! The only thing that I noticed that may have changed is the difference between difficulties. I’m no rhythm game master, but I still S-ranked almost every song on almost every difficulty level in the original, and had to get into the mid-level-70s in the Dark Note Shrine before I started struggling. But in this demo, I simply could not beat Battle on Big Bridge on Hard mode. Square-Enix gave me plenty of time to try, too. Maybe they just turned the difficulty to 11 to make sure the demo showed offerings for hardcore rhythm game acolytes, but we’re still looking at a huge jump from Normal to Hard, which is a pet peeve of mine with rhythm games.
No confirmation of a western release yet, alas. When I asked, the PR rep seemed to suggest he knew the answer and just couldn’t say. However, the original was a big enough success in the states that it’s hard to imagine them not porting this one.
Alas, most of my impressions here don’t come from my hands-on time with this game, because I got ten minutes that were mostly spent walking through (surreal, creepy) hallways, talking to characters (with strong, offbeat designs), investigating objects, and general exposition. Not a game that really lends itself to short-sitting demos, then. I might recommend that the developer, Spike Chunsoft, reconsider what their show floor demo versions consist of, in the future.
But there’s plenty of gameplay footage available, so why stop here? The core of Dangan Ronpa is a mystery visual novel game, so it’s got some DNA in common with Phoenix Wright (which I’m hoping will be familiar to readers, but if not, do yourself a favor and find out), but mainly in the sense that there are murder mysteries and trials, and it’s very heavy on dialogue. Presenting evidence and refuting ‘testimony’ is also a shared element. But while Phoenix Wright’s action segments are tense courtroom battles where suited lawyers file objections and perform cross-examinations, Dangan Ronpa’s trials are you shooting a gun at an argument.
No, seriously! All the evidence you’ve uncovered during the pretrial is loaded as bullets into a gun (a metaphorical one, to be sure, but you fire it just the same), and then the testimony consists of all the suspects (your classmates at this Salvador-Dali-painting-of-a-high-school) yelling out their theories of who did it at (and over) each other, and then you take your gun loaded with evidence and shoot their actual floating words if they have any inconsistencies (among other mid-trial challenges). Meanwhile, a creepy-ass monochrome teddy bear leers at the proceedings. This little bastard is running your school on a real Battle Royale kick. He will execute the culprit if you guess right, but if you all guess wrong, then the killer gets to ‘graduate’ meaning that they get away with murder and they’re free from this nightmare campus. So it’s also like that Mafia party game? Huh. Oh, and in between murders you roam the school and hang out with your classmates, which helps the plot along and nets you bonuses in the action segments. So we’re cribbing from Persona too, apparently. I guess I could’ve saved time listing genres that aren’t present in this game.
So the what we’ve got here is the Combination Marksmanship Club/Debate Team at Surrealist Murder High School, apparently? I’m sold, and will be keeping an eye out for the North American release next year.
Octodad: Dadliest Catch
So I’m not sure why they call this series “Octodad” when it’s just about a normal human dad going about his daily life. Haha, sorry, that one’s been done to death.
Octodad, if you didn’t hear about the first game, is an octopus who lives on land, wears a 3-piece suit, and has somehow tricked people into thinking he’s human (including his human family). You have to go about your day and go through a variety of perverse challenges without making anyone suspicious that you might be an octopus. Because really, you don’t want to be stuck in the conversation where they bring that up. “Bill, I didn’t want to ask you, but are you… an octopus?” “Hahahahaha, no, of course not, why would you think that! Ah… haha…” You have to imagine that at some point it just gets too embarrassing to admit that you didn’t notice before.
The series features easily some of the most awkward controls I’ve ever seen, but that’s fine! The whole point is to goof around with wonky object-manipulation mechanics with a character who has canon reasons to be bad at simple manual tasks.
Dadliest Catch succeeds admirably at this. It’s got improved graphics, and what looks to be more of a story, with demo portions including a wedding (flashback sequence? I thought the guy was already married) and a family backyard barbecue. I don’t really have the space to do this game justice, honestly. The best thing I can say is that out of all the games at the Sony booth, the Dadliest Catch station attendants seemed to be having the most fun, as they explained the premise to very confused people and got continuous belly laughs from things like me dragging some bulky thing I forgot to let go of (forgot how, more like) and knocking down every flower pedestal on my way down the aisle toward my bride-to-be. Or watching the guy in front of me in line pick his way through a mountain of soccer balls to grab the lawnmower, and then do donuts with it in the flowerbed. This game is straight-up fun. Honest, simple, goofy fun. You should get it if you like fun. Maybe you don’t? That’d be weird, but I’ll let it slide.
The same way that that’s the highest praise I can think of for Octodad: Dadliest Catch, the highest praise I can think of for Sony is that, on the big screen of a booth that featured beautiful AAA games like Deep Down, Sony wanted Octodad on that same stage, too. That says volumes, every one of them good.
Vita TV and PS4 Controller Hands-On
News of the Vita TV broke a little over a week prior to TGS, and for those of you who didn’t see all that news, here’s a short recap: the Vita TV is a stripped-down Vita repurposed as a home console. It doesn’t have its own screen or controller, it uses your home TV and your existing Dualshock 3 controller (with PS4 controller support to be added later). Aside from portability, screen, and controllers, this has all the functionality of a Playstation Vita. It plays Vita games, downloads content from the Playstation store, and even has a suite of multimedia functionality built-in, in a bid to play the home entertainment center game.
So, you might be asking, why would I want a portable console without all the portability? Well, there are reasons, but they may or may not be compelling reasons for you. First of all, a lot of people don’t really use the portability part of their console. I get some use in on the train now and then, but honestly, most of my time with either my Vita or my 3DS is spent on the couch or in bed. There’s a big market segment who want to play Vita-specific games but don’t particularly care about the portability part. The opportunity to scoop this up at roughly $90 and get access to those games has to be a fairly tempting proposition.
It’s interesting to see both major handheld manufacturers come out in the past month with versions of their current consoles whose main feature is that they lack a major feature of prior models. For Nintendo, the new 2DS lacks the system-defining no-glasses 3d, as well as the clamshell hinge. It sounded like madness until someone pointed out to me that it was a cheap machine parents could give their little kids to play Pokemon on. Sony choosing to forgo portability on their portable console sounds like parody at first blush, but I think it’s going to work out for them.
Anyway, I got to play around with it a bit and see it in action at TGS! Unfortunately a lot of that was looking at features that are Japan-only, like a manga reader, Tsutaya video app, etc. I’m not holding my breath for Vita digital manga distribution in the stateside version, but we can probably count on Hulu and some streaming music service, among others, being packed into our version. The real thing I needed to see, though, was how the games look on the big screen, and they scale up very nicely. Vita games are already made to high resolutions, so the Vita games I saw on Vita TV (including the aforementioned Dangan Ronpa) looked great. By the way, the actual physical Vita TV is positively tiny, slightly longer and no thicker than a deck of playing cards. You’ll have no trouble fitting it in/on whatever cabinet setup you’ve got, because I’d be more worried about misplacing it.
Oh right, and I also got my paws on the PS4 controller. It’s a solid successor to the DualShock line (although I’ll confess to preferring Xbox controllers). I’m still not sure what they’re planning with that touch screen, though.
That Part Where I Wasn’t Actually Playing Any Games But Did Hold The Xbox One Controller
What it says on the tin, really. The lines for Xbox One games were pretty brutal, especially the one Xbox One game I actually wanted to try (Titanfall). I wasn’t expecting a lot of attention for Microsoft at a Japanese event, but I guess Sony announcing Japan-only PS4 delays worked in the Xbox’s favor. Considering I only had two days to spend at the show, I definitely didn’t care for the idea of spending over an hour waiting to play a game I was already planning to purchase. Yes, I remember that I played Dark Souls 2. Shut up.
Anyway! The Microsoft booth people very helpfully left some Xbox One controllers sitting out where there were no lines or games. This was allegedly so we could look at the new Dashboard, or something? No thanks. I went there to get that controller in my hands.
So people know where I stand, Microsoft has yet to show me anything that makes me want an Xbox One, except Titanfall which is coming to PC. This controller, though? It is damn near perfect. The bog-standard 360 controller was a lot of PC gamers’ go-to gamepad, and it saw default support from most developers, but there was always one huge problem with the thing: the directional pad. Instead of being an actual d-pad, it was a third, bad control stick with a d-pad shaped top, which meant it couldn’t do the one thing people still use d-pads for: precision direction input. Microsoft obviously got tired of us complaining about it, so the Xbox One controller has a well-placed, responsive and precise d-pad. The rest of the controller didn’t need much, but they squeezed some improvements out somehow. I’m not sure how to explain it, but the grip felt a little better, and the heft was just right (I have large hands, for reference, your mileage may vary).
“Wait,” you might be saying, “this is stupid! It isn’t even about any particular game! Wait, is that sort of an allegory for his opinion on the Xbox One in general?” Yeah, I think it’s pretty allegorical, too, in addition to being what actually really happened. But if there’s any preview/demo I ‘played’ at TGS that made a sale, it was this one. It may take a year or more for them to get me to grab an Xbox One, but I’m getting that controller on launch day. Midnight release if I have to.