I recently had a chance to demo an early build of The Darkness 2 by Digital Extremes and 2K games at a press event in LA. Though it’s sad to see that Starbreeze (developers of the underrated Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay on 360) would no longer be developing the title, Digital Extremes has an equally impressive resume as well with titles like Unreal Tournament, Bioshock, and Dark Sector under its belt.
The biggest draw to me of the game is the “graphical noir” art style in the game. It’s not quite cel-shading because it involved a gaggle of Digital Extremes artists painstakingly hand drawing textures to make the game really “feel” like a 3D graphic novel. Most cel-shaded games are algorithmically rendered by the graphics engine — this one contains actual hand-drawn art everywhere. It looks strikingly beautiful and there’s really no other game out with the same visual style.
My full preview is up on ComicsAlliance if you care to learn more. As a certified potty guy, I leave you with this tidbit about the new Darkling from the preview:
Instead of having to be micromanaged by the player, Darkling will act as an autonomous companion, distracting and attacking enemies, picking up weapons and ammo to bring to Jackie, and dispensing post-mortem justice via urinating on fallen enemies. (No I did not make that up.) He’s got a bright Union Jack logo on his frontside and even talks in a cheery British accent. While it’s sad to see some of the more strategic elements of controlling Darklings go away, there’s just no substitute for the satisfaction value of having your diminutive British demon companion drench fallen foes with green pee.
While combing the E3 showfloor, I had a chance to play a decent amount of upcoming games. Here are some quick impressions from some of the Playstation 3 games I tried out:
Killzone 3 at E3 2010 was all about the 3D. I was surprised at how unintrusive the 3D glasses actually were. Combining a first person shooter with stereoscopic 3D glasses seems like a recipe for extreme motion sickness, but this didn’t end up being the case.
The demo was about 20 minutes long and started with an on rails helicopter turret sequence in the snow. Amusing, but nothing terribly original. The 3D was really impressive in the blizzard as I really got the sense of immersion of being pelted by snow.
Once I landed, the game became very familiar. If you’ve played Killzone 2, you’ll know exactly what I experienced. In fact, if it weren’t for the 3D and the fact that there was a “3″ in the booth, I could have mistaken the game for Killzone 2. The graphics are incredible on a console, but underneath the glossy veneer is a typical, albeit very polished, cinematic shooter. I didn’t see any new weapons or gameplay mechanics during my time with the game.
Little Big Planet 2:
Most of the short Little Big Planet 2 demonstration was focused on the new game creation tools. Emphasis was placed on mini-game creation. Little Big Planet is no longer a platform to create platformer game levels, but one that can do many different game types.
Three mini-games were shown to show off some of the new possibilities. The first was a sort of fast-paced Simon Says button pressing game, kind of like competitive Quick Time Event pressing. We then played a bumper-boats game, evoking memories of the hilarious Mario Party minigame. The goal is to knock the other players off of the ring, with the use of a single button to boost. The final minigame was a competitive 2D shooter using rocket launchers. Think Smash Bros. level with little Sackmen toting rocket launchers.
The Sony rep also talked about making it easier to find and filter user-generated content. An improved search feature is planned, along with the ability to “follow” specific designers. There would also be Playstation Move integration, the details of which were not shown at the booth.
Overall, it sounds like if you’re an active LBP designer, you’ll want to pick this one up as it gives a lot more tools in the toolbox, so to speak. I’m on the fence, since I never really played the game much beyond the included campaign. There’ll be another Media Molecule designed campaign in this sequel, but I can’t help shake the feeling that LBP is a title that just didn’t work, despite its noble mission of empowering end users to be game designers.
Marvel vs. Capcom 3:
I absolutely despise the Xbox 360 controller for fighting games so I made sure to try out Marvel vs Capcom 3 on the Playstation 3. There’s not much to say about this title other than it controls tightly and looks amazing. The character select screen for each player creates a comic book cover from the selected characters using the actual template for a Marvel comic. I found this a very nice nod to detail on Capcom’s part.
Any concerns over the title losing any speed over the move to the 3d Street Fighter 4 engine were quickly laid to rest after one round with the game. The same ridiculous 32 hit laser super combos and tag team air combo action is back and as fun as ever.
I even held court for awhile, winning four consecutive matches before people started getting afraid to challenge me. Unfortunately, the demo didn’t have a single player arcade mode, so rather than twiddle my thumbs and wait for a new challenger, I left.
At the Sega booth I was surprised to see Yakuza 4 on display. See, although I have always heard great things about the Yakuza franchise, it’s never quite taken off in the US. It’s a 3rd person fighter/adventure game hybrid with RPG elements set in modern day Japan. I’ve been told the writing in the game is exquisite, with comparisons to The Sopranos being made.
The very nature of the game doesn’t scream “MAINSTREAM APPEAL”, so I was surprised to see the fourth installment green lit fora US release. After speaking with the community manager in charge of evangelizing Yakuza 4, it became quite clear that this title is a labor of love from the localization team dedicated to the fans. One of the key features mentioned was the fact that you can now go into Japanese hostess clubs in the game and, well, interact with girls. Apparently the more vocal fanbase had cried foul over the hostess clubs’ omission from the US version of Yakuza 3, so they were re-added to the sequel. That’s listening to your customers, folks.
While I’m not sure if I can devote 30-40 hours to a single game anymore, I’d like to see Yakuza 4 succeed if only for the fact that it’s supposedly an authentic look into certain aspects of modern day Japanese culture. The game releases on the Playstation 3 in spring of 2011.
Invizimals is an interesting take on the Monster Hunter/Pokemon genre of RPG collection games. Using the PSP camera attachment, you can find creatures “hidden” amongst everyday items lying around the house. Basically, anything with a distinct color is liable to be hiding a creature to capture. Once you find a monster, you can then train with it in RPG-style turn based battles to upgrade them ala Pokemon.
(please excuse the sudden cut off in the video, there was an unfortunate battery mishandling)
I’m a big fan of Augmented Reality and this seems like a really novel way for tweens and adults to play the genre. Battles take place on screen using a combination of game animations and live footage of whatever the camera is pointing at. You can even wager the creatures you’ve earned in multiplayer battles, kind of like the ultimate form of virtual cockfighting. YES!
Twisted Metal was perhaps the biggest “surprise” of Sony’s E3 press conference in that it was probably the biggest first-party Sony title announced without being leaked in advance. However, it was only a matter of time as there have been Twisted Metal titles released for every Sony console generation prior to the Playstation 3.
David Jaffe’s (God of War) new Eat Sleep Play studio develops the latest installment in the franchise and I had a chance to play a quick deathmatch at the Sony booth.
The quickest way to describe Twisted Metal if you’ve never played a game in the series is that it’s a cross between Mario Kart battle mode and Unreal Tournament. You pilot a twisted character/car combination such as a homicidal clown’s ice cream truck and you’re pitted against equally colorful cast of characters’ cars in a deathmatch. Each car has its own special weapon that recharges over time and you can pick up assorted missiles and ordinance powerups on the map. Oh, and your battle arena is generally an expansive real-life setting like suburban housing tracts.
The original Twisted Metal on the Playstation was one of the launch highlights of the system and Jaffe’s PS3 version definitely captures the look and feel of that seminal title. It’s not for the controller-challenged, though, as it pretty much uses every button on the Dualshock 3 controller to some degree. I took one look at the loading screen picture of the controls and blanked out like I was watching C-Span.
Fortunately I pick up games fairly quickly and within a minute I had figured out how to drive and shoot. The demo included two new vehicles (a helicopter and a motorcycle) that haven’t been seen in the franchise before. I found the helicopter difficult to maneuver, but it does have the satisfying ability to pull enemy vehicles up with its magnet attachment and drop them in less than optimal places. The motorcycle dude’s special attack is to throw a boomerang chainsaw at enemies. It works as ridiculous as it sounds and does MASSIVE DAMAGE to enemies.
Twisted Metal was created to be played among a large number of players and it’s exciting to see the franchise arrive in a console generation where online play isn’t an afterthought. It’s not a franchise overhaul, but it doesn’t have to be. We’re in an era where car arena deathmatch titles number in the single digits. It’s an entertaining title that should be a blast to play with friends.
As long as Jaffe delivers a polished game, Sony should have a hit on its hands.
Twisted Metal is scheduled to be released in Spring 2011 exclusively on the Playstation 3
Let me tell you a shameful secret of mine: I never played Goldeneye 64. Well, substantially anyway. I dabbled in it a couple of times, mainly at large social gatherings and never for an extended period of time. I was too busy being narrow minded with my elitist “mouse and keyboard 4 life” worldview as a teenager. But I did understand that it was (and still is to many people) the most beloved console FPS ever. With this in mind, I had a go with 4-player split screen multiplayer for Eurocom’s (published by Activision) upcoming remake of Goldeneye for the Wii at E3.
Now, I couldn’t tell you if this game fully recaptured the magic of the original N64 Goldeneye, but I can tell you that the game was a fairly fun Wii FPS. Activision smartly had a setup of Wii Classic Controller Pros (depicted above), which are basically Wii Classic Controllers with “love handles.” The handles make a big difference in ergonomics, especially for FPSs. It doesn’t feel quite as natural as an Xbox 360 controller for the genre, but definitely brings the Wii on par with the Playstation Dualshock. Having two analog sticks changes the gameplay experience too, but probably for the better.
Goldeneye Wii did seem rough around the edges though, at least in 4-player split screen. I noticed that there were no on screen notifications. There were no kill announcements nor any on screen score report of any sort so it was hard to know how I was doing at a given time without bringing up the intrusive scoreboard. It also didn’t seem as if there were any items on the level to pick up as well. Whether this was intended or just a function of being a demonstration build was unclear. Unsurprisingly, frame rates also seemed slightly sluggish (yet playable) with a 4-player split screen compared to a 2-player split screen. I’ll chalk this one up to “demo build” and “Wii hardware”
Like the original title, you can select from many different Bond characters to take into deathmatch. I remembered that the infamous Oddjob model had some sort of unfair advantage, which my opponents at the booth confirmed with a question for the Activision rep. Apparently his model is no longer harder to hit, but he does have the ability to throw his hat for an instant kill. To counteract this, he can’t throw grenades, like the other play models can. I found the hat throwing not too big of an advantage as it takes some time to wind up and does leave you vulnerable should you miss. I did manage to get a few kills like this though and it felt mildly satisfying, kind of like a lite-humiliation kill.
Hopefully, Eurocom will polish the game up when the game is finally released. Given past Wii FPS entries, I don’t think I’d expect Goldeneye Wii to compete with the big boys, namely Call of Duty and Halo on the 360/PS3. However, it could be a great source of nostalgia for those who cherished the original. I’d be curious to see how those fans receive this remake when it releases.
Oh, and I finished the 10-kill limit deathmatch in second with 8 kills. I blame trying to go for the hat kill too much.
Donkey Kong Country Returns on the Wii courtesy of Retro Studios (Metroid Prime).
That’s pretty much all you need to know about the game. If you have fond memories of playing Rare’s beloved Donkey Kong Country on your Super Nintendo, you’ll feel right at home in this 2D sequel on the Wii.
It’s clear that Nintendo didn’t tune the difficulty of this game to be as easy as, say, Super Mario Galaxy. One of the first things I noticed about DKCR was that I couldn’t sleepwalk through the game. Donkey Kong has three hearts and once he loses all three, you have to replay the level. Replenishing these hearts isn’t as easy as picking up the coins being thrown about you in Mario Galaxy as hearts seemed to be few and far between. Perhaps this was compounded by the fact that I felt extra pressure to play perfectly because my demo time was constrained on how many lives I lost. Nevertheless, I consider myself a fairly competent platformer, and was definitely challenged throughout the demo.
The E3 demo consisted of a 3 levels of which I was given the choice of playing 2. I first had a go with a boss stage involving a typical “jump on his head three times” encounter that I thought I would breeze through, but ended up having to concentrate to defeat. The encounter involved platforming boss mechanic standbys such as “run under the boss as he jumps really high” and “avoid the charging boss so he hits the wall and you can jump on his weak point.” I was thrown off, though, by the unpredictability of when the boss would leap high enough for me to run under and how quickly he would recover from the stun of running into the well. The other level was a standard side-scrolling platforming level that reminded me of the first level of the original Donkey Kong Country.
Donkey Kong has three moves he performs in the game: ground pound, big breath blow, and a spin attack. You may be familiar with these moves if you’ve played Super Smash Bros. Each is done by pressing a particular combination of buttons on the nunchuik and Wiimote. It’s not as simple as the sideways wiimote 2-button action, but is almost there. Donkey Kong can use the ground pound to make certain items fall from trees or as an attack against enemies. The breath maneuver can be used to blow the leaves off plants and flowers, uncovering hidden items. You can guess what the spin attack is used for.
Something new to the series is the utilization of Diddy Kong as a “helper” rather than a tag team partner. Once you break Diddy out of a “DK” labeled barrel, he will ride on top of Donkey Kong with his J=jetpack. Controlling Donkey Kong still, you’ll be able to hover for a short time while also being able to fire peanuts from Diddy’s cannon. More importantly, Diddy will also add two hearts to your life meter, increasing your survivability. Lose those two extra hearts, though, and Diddy will disappear again.
Although it was not playable at the show, I was told there would also be a 2 player co-op mode with the second player controlling Diddy. Not many more details would be given by the Nintendo rep, so we’ll have to see what this will entail exactly. It definitely sounds like something that could be fun, although I hope it’s not as passive as Super Mario Galaxy’s “co-op” play.
Other than that, the game is pretty much what you would expect from another entry in the Donkey Kong Country franchise. Nintendo has even brought back the iconic collectibles from the original franchise as well. You’ll want to replay levels to collect bananas, letters spelling “K” “O” “N” “G”, and also golden puzzle pieces. (My friendly Nintendo rep would not disclose what these are for yet)
Nintendo has had great success reconnecting with it’s 2D platforming roots in New Super Mario Bros Wii and Donkey Kong Country Returns looks to continue that streak. If you’re a Wii owner who’s nostalgic for the ol’ DKC or just love 2D platformers, you’ll probably want to give this one a look this fall. Just keep in mind it’ll be a tad more difficult than some of the more recent platform games.
Ever wish you could hear Samus’s voice in a Metroid game? Metroid: Other M (MoM) makes those wishes come true.
Metroid games have traditionally been about solitary exploration and incidental narrative through found logscanning, but MoM represents a distinctive departure for the longstanding franchise with it’s heavy emphasis on cinematic storytelling. Virtually every character is voice acted as well, which is something Nintendo doesn’t often do for their games.
I almost felt guilty for indulging in MoM’s lengthy cutscenes at Nintendo’s E3 booth. It felt a little unsettling at first, but I quickly became accustomed to this New Metroid Order.
Without giving away story spoilers, MoM sheds a spotlight onto Samus’s origins. Here’s a character we know almost nothing about over the past 25 years other than her gender and profession. It’s kind of weird to all of a sudden learn where she came from and how she’s felt about her adventures so far. I’m not ready to pass judgement on this game design choice yet, but I can say that I’m intrigued enough to see the whole thing through.
From it’s initial announcement at E3 last year, I always envisioned MoM playing like Ninja Gaiden meets Super Metroid. The playable demo at E3 more or less confirmed this assumption. MoM shifts between 2D and 3D planes depending on what part of the map you’re in. If you’ve seen last year’s Shadow Complex, you have a good idea as to what the 2D corridors look like.
In a surprising move, no nunchuk is used while playing this game. The default controls are similar to New Super Mario Bros. Wii where you tilt the controller on its side. <insert obligatory snarky comment on the uselessness of motion controls in games>
Gameplay didn’t throw very man curveballs at me. If you’ve played a metroid game before, this game will feel very natural for the most part. I found the way MoM handled “crippling” Samus at the start to be novel. At the start of the game, Samus works with one of her friends from the Federation. They haven’t “authorized” her to use missiles or heavy weaponry yet, so that’s how her starting ordinance loadout is explained.
I do have to draw attention to how annoying the first-person aiming system is, though. At one point in the demo, I had to fight a boss that could only be damaged by missiles. Problem is, you can only fire missiles by switching into first person aiming mode and pointing the Wiimote at the screen. In theory this sounds intuitive, but in practice it’s awful. I felt like an invalid fumbling around with the Wiimote trying to defeat this particular boss.
The problem lies with the fact that you have to completely change the way you hold the controller in a pressure-filled twitch action sequence. It’s just doesn’t feel natural to be flipping around the controller when you have a 2 second window in which to flip, aim, and fire. Novel exploration mechanic, sure. Twitch boss fight mechanic, HELL NO. Sadly, I fear we may be too close to launch for any significant control changes.
Despite this, I’m too much of a Metroid fan to let this completely derail my enthusiasm for MoM. The game does contain Team Ninja’s signature movement fluidity (other than the aforementioned first-person aiming issue) and the cinematic cutscenes and voice acting are a fascinating new wrinkle for the series.
Metroid: Other M releases for the Nintendo Wii this August.
The most common question I heard at Konami’s booth while playing Castlevania: Lord of Shadows was “Hey, is that a new Castlevania? I used to love that game back in the day.”
Clearly Konami was prepared for this question because the friendly representative demonstrating the game for me wasted no time in responding to these inquiries with a confirmation and sales pitch that Lord of Shadows is a return to the golden days of Castlevania games. I hope the full game ends up fulfilling those promises, because the demo levels I played barely reminded me of the 2D adventures of Simon Belmont.
Castlevania: LoS looks plays very similarly to God of War. In fact, if it weren’t for the signs above the station, I might have thought Konami scored itself the God of War franchise. Gameplay in the demo was very combat oriented, including the obligatory action combo and grab system. The grab system was actually kind of novel. It plays similarly to a rhythm game (Bemani influence anyone?) where you have to tap the grab button right as 2 concentric circles overlapped each other.
You play as Gabriel Belmont with a weapon called the “Combat Cross” which reminded me of Kratos’ “Blades of Chaos” in that they acted as both short and long range weapons depending on the situation. Gabriel’s Combat Cross will morph between Castlevania’s signature whip and other weapons such as a sword. Other than the aesthetics, the weaponry system works out very similarly to God of War‘s, complete with psuedo-RPG elements such as the ability to upgrade weapons several levels and assorted magic attacks.
Long time series fans will remember the secondary weapons and a couple of these remain unchanged, such as the silver dagger or holy water. Konami wouldn’t disclose the other items Gabriel could pick up though.
The demo ended with a very brief horseback riding combat scene. Again, this played out very similarly to mounted combat in God of War.
Now don’t get me wrong, I loved God of War, but I think I was expecting a little something more distinguishing from a new Castlevania game. The Konami rep assured me that there would be familiar “metroidvania” gameplay elements such as level backtracking in the complete game. With Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear Solid) acting as an advisor for this game, I still hold out hope that the final product could end up being something special.
As it is though, the E3 demo left me with the sense I was playing a well executed God of War clone. This could be a good or bad portent depending on what you were expecting from a new Castlevania game.
Castlevania: Lord of Shadows releases this fall on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.
If there’s one thing I learned from my extended visit to the Disney Interactive Studios booth at E3 2010, it’s that Warren Spector’s (Deus Ex, System Shock, Ultima Underworld) has gotten the people at his new studio, Junction Point, to drink his game design Kool-Aid.
Multiple times throughout my demonstration of Epic Mickey, the point of player choice and consequences was hammered home at almost every section of the game. And why wouldn’t it be? It’s Spector’s signature game design element. Give the player the freedom to choose how to solve in game problems and give these choices weight through tangible consequences in the game world. It was a huge part of what made Deus Ex so beloved and it’s clearly an integral element in his first title for Disney, Epic Mickey.
Epic Mickey is an ambitious action-adventure-platformer title being developed exclusively for the Wii. The gameplay can be broadly described as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time meets Super Mario World with the water spray backpack from Mario Sunshine. Mickey will have access to paint and paint thinner, which allows him to manipulate the game world by erasing or creating objects and environments. None of these mechanics can be trumpeted as truly original, but their blended execution is what makes this game stand out.
I was told that the overarching aesthetic theme of the game is “lost and forgotten” Disney characters and places, including Walt Disney’s first creation, Oswald The Lucky Rabbit. Disney buffs should also be ecstatic to see the attention to historical detail that Junction Point has poured into this game. I’ll admit to being a bit of a “casual” Disney fan, so I could only smile and nod as the Junction Point rep repeatedly pointed out structures (such as the Swiss Family Robinson’s Treehouse) and landmarks in the game that were once actual buildings and rides decommissioned from the real Disneyland itself. “Tickets” are also used as a form of currency in the game as a nod to the days in which you actually needed tickets to go on the rides at Disneyland.
Even the cutscenes are animated like an old Disney cartoon from the 50′s. You definitely get the feeling that you’re playing through a labor of love with this game. The attention to detail and presentation is just jaw dropping. What impressed me even more was the excitement and passion with which the Junction Point rep used to describe the game for me. Out of all the games I played at E3, Epic Mickey was the one I spent the most time on simply because the developer had so much to say and show from it.
The E3 demo was broken up into three distinct areas: Ventureland, Skull Island, and Steamboat Willy. Each of these “maps” seamlessly transitioned with one another despite having vastly differing gameplay elements.
Ventureland was a lot like visiting a town in Zelda. The focus on this “quest map” was on NPC interaction and problem solving. Here, the choice and consequence mechanic was clearly on display. One of my first tasks was to help Smee the Pirate win over a ladyfriend in exchange for a quest item. He’s unsure as to what kind of gift to get her. By doing a little investigating around town, I figured out that she loves roses, so I told him to get her some roses and boom, Cupid played, quest item received. Had I been lazy and just told him to get something else, she would have been less than impressed and taken it out on poor Smee who in turn would have charged me money for the quest item, rather than handing it over in gratitude.
Another situation involved Tiki Sam, a shop keeper, who tasked me with collecting three masks in exchange for another one of the quest items. Now, here’s where attention to detail can pay off as a player. If you pay attention to the screen as you’re talking to him, you’ll notice that there’s a few masks on the floor behind him in the shop. When you exit the shop, you can actually see a little opening behind some bushes that will lead you to the back door of the shop. Once inside, you can nab a mask without him noticing. If you try to take all the masks, though, he’ll catch you and impose a stiff penalty on obtaining the quest item you need.
I find stuff like this fascinating because they blur the line between “good” and “bad” in a game. Too often, games will purport to offer players a choice, but really only have one style of play be “right.” Epic Mickey looks to add a little grey area in how you approach things. The situation with Tiki Sam is one in which stealing his mask actually ends up saving you time and money compared to the “morally right” choice. The Junction Point rep explained the reasoning for offering an “evil” choice as getting back to Mickey’s roots as a “mischief maker.” Sure, I’ll bite on that. It’s certainly no bigger stretch than games that force a character to act on the straight and narrow all the time.
The Steamboat Willy stages act as a sort of transition in between game maps. These are “Super Mario”-esque platform stages with a very slick black and white “Steamboat Willy” presentation. In the demo, Mickey passes through one of these to get from Ventureland to Skull Island. At first glance they definitely give a *wow* impression, but once you got past the very cool visuals the gameplay is pretty standard 2D platform fare. Mickey can jump on enemies’ heads and even double jump to reach platforms and collect items. The actual level structure itself was fairly pedestrian. It might be interesting to see more inspired “platform map” designed in the full game, but I won’t be heartbroken if there aren’t simply because the visuals are so cool.
Finally, Skull Island showed off the “action map” portion of the game. It plays similarly to the overworld in a 3d Zelda game except Mickey is armed with his paint and thinner rather than a sword and shield. In fact, Mickey’s even followed by a little Navi Faerie-like companion named Gremlin Gus. He offers you little hints and comments as you come across places of note. I found it really interesting that he acts as a sort of conscience too. Use your paint thinner to eliminate a lot of enemies and he’ll say something like “Hmm, you’ve been using your paint thinner a bit liberally, is it really necessary?” I can see it getting annoying for some people, but personally it made me question my actions a little bit. Was there a better way of handling these creatures? Am I really murdering the lifeblood of the game world?
When all is said and done, any game starring Mickey freaking Mouse that gets me to question the morality of my actions is doing something right in my book.
For live gameplay videos with Warren Spector narrating, check out the 2 videos below:
Oh, another Rock Band game coming out this year? What’s next, are you going to tell me that they’re releasing a new Madden title too? hi2u Captain Obvious!
If I didn’t know any better, those would be my first thoughts about Rock Band 3. While a new entry in the franchise may not be the most surprising piece of news to someone, the number of tangible improvements Harmonix has brought to the series is.
Before E3, it was announced that Rock Band 3 would contain a “Pro” mode where players could essentially play the real notes of a particular song on updated guitar controllers. On top of that, the new plastic “pro” instruments would double as functional MIDI instruments for actual music creation.
Now, Harmonix didn’t have playable pro guitars available at their E3 booth this year, but they did provide a live demonstration of them in action:
What really blew my mind was when the guitarist plugged the guitar controller he was using into an amp and played real musical notes while playing a game. It’s one thing to read that these things function as real instruments and another to actually hear it for yourself. It doesn’t sound fake or bee-boo-bop-beep-y, folks. It’s not quite the same as Jack White on stage, but it’s definitely close. The music/tech geek in me had the same childlike feeling of wonderment as it did when I played the first Guitar Hero game.
(You can definitely tell the difference in the video below, but it’s nowhere near the audio fidelity you get from hearing these things played live.)
Bear in mind though, Harmonix dude is an accomplished guitar player. Unless you’re a plastic instrument playing prodigy, you shouldn’t expect to be shredding right out of the box. Nevertheless, the game does have the makings of being the most fun guitar teacher ever. I’m not sure if I’d actually stick with the game long enough to get good at it, but I’ll be damned if coming out of a video game progression cocoon a real guitarist isn’t downright compelling.
I did have the opportunity to try out the new keyboard instrument, though. Of course I picked “pro” mode because I used to play some piano back when I was a wee lad.
I clearly failed as a kid.
I had a hard time even on medium difficulty in a song with a simple keyboard part, “Power of Love.” When i did hit the right notes, though, it was much more gratifying than if I had just hit some colored buttons on a game controller because in the back of my mind I knew that i was playing the real notes of the song. On a related note, I noticed that the keyboard parts in many rock songs are pretty friggin’ simplistic. Unless we get a song like U2 – New Years Day, I wouldn’t expect for keyboard virtuosos to be playing long, complicated solos in this game even on pro-mode.
Ironically enough, the five iconic rhythm game colors are how Harmonix organizes keys on the keyboard controller:
The keyboard section on the game screen will shift from left to right depending on where your fingers should be on the keyboard. For example, if you see blue and green bars on your screen, you’ll want to have your fingers on the right side of the keyboard. If the game needs you to be on the left side, the screen will shift to show red and yellow bars. The colors essentially act as octave markers, if you’re musically trained. Notes will still scroll down towards you in the same way, there’ll just be more button possibilities to deal with. It sounds confusing on paper, but it’s easily picked up in seconds once you jump into playing.
I asked Harmonix whether they designed the keyboard to be played flat or if it was to be worn like a keytar. Both methods of play would work just fine, they answered, although I get the feeling playing it like a keytar is more suited for show than for functionality. It’s definitely a lot easier to play the keyboard “normally,” but hey, nothings stopping you from acting out your Nu-Wave keytar fantasies.
Most of the talk surrounding Rock Band 3 centers on pro mode on the new hardware instruments and deservedly so. There’s also a ton of little things Harmonix is putting in the game as well. Stuff that will make the game easier to enjoy and make you wonder why they weren’t already there.
Here’s some of the things Harmonix highlighted:
True drop in/drop out functionality - Anytime. No more quitting out of songs or navigating multiple menus to remove/add someone.
Extensive song browsing/filtering capabilities - You can drill down with such detail filters such as song length or family-friendly songs.
Song ratings and recommendations - We’re getting into online music store client features here. You can assign 5 star ratings to all the songs in the library and search/filter by your preferences. The Rock Band music store will even use these to serve up recommended songs of what you may like.
Playlist building/sharing - There’s enough songs playable on the Rock Band platform now that this makes a lot of sense. I mean, shit, there’s even REAL music streaming services that don’t offer playlist sharing functionality yet.
Party Shuffle - Basically a random track shuffler. It’s simple, but makes complete sense for party play when people just want to play with the least amount of menu navigating possible.
Another goal that Harmonix mentioned was to make progress-oriented multiplayer gameplay more self contained. In other words, if you have a regular band that you play with on the campaign mode, you’re probably tired of playing an inordinate amount of sets on a seemingly never-ending world tour. Harmonix’s solution to the problem is to incorporate “tours” that you can reasonably finish in a couple hours of gameplay for the night. In essence, the goal is to make you feel like you’ve “beaten Rock Band for the night.” It’s a legitimate concern that I’ve definitely run into while playing Rock Band with friends. I’m glad to see that attention is being given to making progression oriented players feel like they are completing something significant each session.
The biggest challenge of the music gaming genre is making new products that aren’t just glorified song-packs each year. While I’m definitely for less frequent title releases, it’s hard to argue that Rock Band 3 isn’t shaping up to be worth upgrading to when it ships later this year.
Sonic the Hedgehog’s gone through a rough time since the glory days of the Sega Genesis. We’ve been given so many unfulfilled promises of “This is the return to the Sonic you know and love!” each year that the announcement of a new Sonic game is akin to an announcement that there’ll be a new Madden game out in the fall.
Well, after having checked out Sonic 4: Ep 1 at E3 this year, I’m gonna go ahead and say this is the return of the Sonic you know and love!
All joking aside, if there were a game for that cliche to actually hold, it would be Sonic 4. The developer I sat down with reiterated that they tried to keep the feel of the old Genesis-era Sonic titles and that if you were to put this game in the timeline, it would fit in right after Sonic and Knuckles. (yes, the one with the crazy add-on cartridge) Since that’s the last time I remember having actual fun with a Sonic title, I’m gonna go ahead and say that’s a good start.
The game certainly plays as such and is a fairly delightful (if not entirely familiar) romp down memory line. I can say the game looks sharp on the iPhone and will probably look better on the iPhone 4. It’d probably be my platform of choice as it’s a great game to play on the go in bursts. The tilt controls were pretty awkward and difficult, though. You can check out the video walkthrough further down for a better idea on how the game looks.
An interesting thing you may notice about the game is the ominous “Episode 1″ subtitle attached. Sega promises 16 levels in EP1 with more episodes to follow after. Now, I’m not so sure why a platform game that’s light on story needs the episodic title treatment. One reason might be to release new level packs soon after, but my efforts to narrow down the timeframe for new episodes were unsuccessful. The best I got was tentative agreement that they would come out faster than Half-Life 2 Episodes. I think we can all agree that’s not saying much.
Regardless, if you’re in the mood for a nostalgic 2D platformer, this game should excite you. Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 will be released on the iPhone, XBLA, PSN, and WiiWare “later this year and priced competitively.”