Day OneSpring is usually a crappy time for video games. So Playstation deserves a trophy for doing something awesome. Down at a place called Camp Ooch, and catered by The Food Dudes (seriously their wood platters were snazzy), Sony actually served up some previews that would be exciting at any time of year.
Yes, there was some chaff among the wheat, mainly in badly demoed Vita games that really deserved better. Gravity Run looks amazing, but it has a steep learning curve and really needed a rep. And I spent far too long trying to figure out how to change weapons in Resistance: Burning Skies before giving up. If you wonder why the Vita isn't selling better, this might be part of the reason. Come on, guys! Give these games a spotlight!
Then there was a repackaged Metal Gear Solid HD compilation. I guess Halo and God of War popped the cherry on this gimmick, so now we're going to see a lot more of it. Apparently there is some Vita functionality which is cool. So I heard. I was there for the entire length of the event and couldn't get near it due to the wait time on some of the previews.
Starhawk LOOKS amazing, but they were really hyping the soundtrack... sadly, you couldn't hear it. And then there was a Game of Thrones title by Atlus that was introduced to me as something I HAD to try because it is very Dragon Age-y. I am going to give this game another try with a clean opinion, because don't tell me something is like Dragon Age unless it is a Dragon Age game. Game of Thrones in its current incarnation is not anything like the storytelling of Dragon Age.
Of course I left the good stuff to last. Firstly, anything related to Little Big Planet is just instant happiness. But Little Big Planet Kart is a match made in heaven between developers Media Molecule and United Front. LBP Kart mashes up the best elements of both Sackboy, his Poppit, and his richly textured levels, and the crazy fun customized karting in Mod Nation Racers. The karts are as customizable as the characters, and the imagination shines through once again. They only had gameplay available at this point, and I can't wait to try the track building functions when they become available. The whole thing is just super cute and super fun.
Now we get to the demo that sucked me in the most. Okay, the name of the game sucks, but everything else about it is great. I'm talking about Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale, a Smash Brothers Brawl style game that slows down the frenetic pace of brawlers just enough that adults can follow the action.
Six characters are announced at this point: Kratos, Fat Princess, Sly Cooper, Mael Radec from Killzone, Sweet Tooth from Twisted Metal, and PaRappa the Rapper. Four of these characters were playable Sweet Tooth, PaRappa, Radec, and Sly. I stuck around long enough that Christian, the associate producer who was showing the game, let me see Fat Princess in action as a computer controlled character. She's definitely the Kirby of All-Stars, and I love her.
But I found I really enjoyed playing all four available characters. Radec was my least favorite because he's more focused on ranged attacks, so I couldn't just get in there and punch things. Sly is such a gymnast that it takes a while to get used to his moves, but he's the only character that can currently jump the whole screen, so his play style is neat. I was sold on PaRappa the first time he hit Sweet Tooth in the face with a skateboard. But Sweet Tooth was the MAN as far as I was concerned. Between his melee, bomb, and fire attacks, he is insanely fun, and his most powerful special attack is one where he dons a mech suit and goes on a rampage. Awesome.
Unlike when I'm playing Smash Brothers, where I'm pretty much resigned to not entirely knowing what I'm doing...ever... I got a sense of control with All-Stars. It's still a free-for-all, but things are a little tighter, and there's a better balance among the four characters on offer at present. Now, okay, that's easy to say with only four characters. So I can only hope that can continue.
The cool part was that the associate producer, a guy named Christian, started asking us what characters we'd like to see in the game. I always wonder if guys like that are just being nice when they ask stuff like that, but of course I started geeking out anyway. Sackboy, Cole from Infamous, the Judge from Final Fantasy XII, the Chimera, and some Folklore characters came in a pretty steady steam. Then I got fixated about the idea of Nariko from Heavenly Sword making an appearance.
Christian grinned in that way tech guys do when they're about to make a joke, then said, cautiously, "You're just pushing for her because she's a ginger."
I replied "I'm pushing for her because she's a PISSED OFF ginger, and we are AWESOME!"
After that exchange, I consider us friends.
Tomorrow from Day two: The indie showcase with Canadian content!
Okay first off, apologies. In my race to get things in fast yesterday, I left out a pretty cool game for the Playstation Move called Sorcery. Sorcery is exactly what it sounds like: you get to be a wizard. The cool thing is that since your weapon is a wand, there's a high degree of immersion in the play experience. Sorcery demonstrates the Move's precision: the spells fling around where you send them, and you can even arc them around objects for curved attacks which are very satisfying. It was an unfortunately short demo but the core game mechanics were on display. If coupled with a solid story, Sorcery's concept could do well.
Now, on to the indie games... and also keeping a promise I made to you guys yesterday.
Canada, we should be proud. We are home to some very cool independent video game studios.
Of course, Queasy Games was showing Sound Shapes, but that was shown at E3 and the Holiday preview last year, so... it's still here. Yeah. It's a cool music game, but there are other developers who can use the column space more.
One "studio" consists only of one guy working out of a spare bedroom in North Toronto with help from his friends. That guy is Shawn McGrath, and the game is DYAD. The promotional materials describe DYAD as "a mind-altering substance absorbed through your thumbs, eyes and ears", and that's a pretty accurate description. "Dyad" means "group of two", and that's the basics of this deceptively simple game. You use two buttons, you move in two directions, and you have to match patterns to rocket yourself through a psychedelic tunnel. Imagine Child of Eden getting a Tron-style makeover. Music figures prominently and the whole game is basically a piece of performance art. I couldn't help but imagine it fired up on a huge projection screen, pumping out of a massive sound system. That would be pretty epic. DYAD comes to the PSN this summer.
Another Toronto developer, Drinkbox studios, is... well, it's definitely bigger, but it's made a great little game for the Vita called Mutant Blobs Attack. This one's been out a while but it was new to me so shush. I had fun with it, since I love the Loco Roco games. It actually has me more seriously considering buying a Vita, which would make it the most expensive $8 game in history. But Drinkbox were being sneaky stealth bombers, and took the opportunity presented by this showing to talk about their upcoming title, Guacamelee. Guacalmelee is a 2D brawler that tells the story of a down and out agave farmer who becomes a luchador. How can this not be made of awesome? Guacamelee drops either Q4 of this year or Q1 of next.
Shifting to the province of Quebec, Frima Studio was also doing double duty. This Quebec City developer was demoing Lights Camera Party! a Playstation Move game that has a pace like someone gave a Raving Rabbid a red bull. Featuring a very John K. design style, the basic concept is that a family has been trapped by a TV network and forced to perform game show like trials. The unusual thing is how fast you fly through the games which have a new level of precision on the Move than your standard waggle fest. Load times are hidden by animations, so it's one challenge after another with no time to breathe. It's not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but I can't say it was anything close to boring. And it featured brain slugs. Brain slugs are cool. Frima also announced Zombie Tycoon 2: Brainhov's Revenge, the sequel to the 2009 PSN hit, Zombie Tycoon. Thanks to games like this, "Cross play" no longer refers just to gender bending cosplay. It also means games that you can play on both your PS3 and Vita.
Sony, if people snicker at your E3 press conferences whenever you mention cross play, don't say I didn't warn you.
But the game that absolutely blew me away was Papo and Yo by Minority Media out of Montreal. This third-person puzzle platformer is based on the childhood of the company's creative director in South America, and revolves around the concept of escaping poverty through imagination. The environments were breathtaking, and the attention to detail is astounding. Oh, and there are monsters and robots in it. If the rest of the game holds up to the demo, Papo and Yo is going to be a five hour feast for the eyes and heart. Extra points for a main character who is a Person of Color. Look for it later this year.
But now I make good on my promise from day one: to approach Game of Thrones without a comparison to Dragon Age. I told Aram from Atlus right off the bat that I was not a fan of the way the TV show has deviated from the books. Well, I was in luck, because the game was, for years, developed based on the books, before the TV show became a phenomenon. They had to redo substantial portions of the game to bring it more in line with the characters appearances and voices from the HBO series, but to not do this would make no sense.
But if you're an RPG fan who doesn't know anything about Game of Thrones, that's okay. The actions of the game run parallel to the events in the books, and take place approximately in the time frame right after the end of the first book... but if you don't know Game of Thrones, that doesn't matter. The Game of Thrones video game is a straight up RPG experience. There is combat, but there are multiple ways to resolve those altercations. Proof of that came completely by accident, when I picked up the demo after some idiot had equipped the wrong weapon set, thinking a bow and arrow would be a cool thing to put on a character who can't actually use a bow and arrow. Therefore, none of my stance-related abilities, which were all based on using a sword and shield, would work. Aram was so concerned about this turn of events that he offered repeatedly to load a fresh save point so that the weapons set of ass could get fixed. Of course, I got interested even more by a panicked rep, so I wanted to see what would happen.
Aram said "Please don't judge the game by this?!" That statement turned out to be ironic, because I got through the fight, using terrain, what tactics were available to me, and my tanking companion dog of doom. I got through the fight, and it gave me a sense of how the game functions outside the confines of a slickly crafted demo.
Okay, I know many of you are still wondering, "Is it like Dragon Age?" Well, in broad strokes, yes. But...
Nerds like me know that there are hard-wired similarities, because Dragon Age was INSPIRED BY GAME OF FREAKIN' THRONES! Not the TV show. The books. The books are where it all began. The Grand Game? The Game of Thrones? Uhduh.
Drawing inspiration is okay. Everyone draws inspiration from somewhere. I just don't want Game of Thrones to get John Cartered, and be deemed to be unoriginal because it decided to use its own source material. (Yes, Getting John Cartered is now a term. It's the swift boating of nerdom.) George R. R. Martin has been incredibly influential in the realm of fantasy storytelling, and props are due to Atlus for consulting him on their game, especially the dialogue elements. Yes, this is George R. R. Martin approved dialogue. Which means it will not be like Dragon Age and that very critical regard. It will be its own thing. And that is good.
Are we done? Oh crackerfarts I hope so.
Firstly, the radial menus in this game don't stop time, only slow it down. This means you only have a limited amount of time to make decisions. The combat system allows you to prep up to three moves at a time. You alternate between two characters throughout the story, and there is, as expected, a lot of intrigue-filled dialogue. And prostitutes. Wearing what appears to be large bathtub plugs on their nipples.
Game of Thrones serves three masters: those looking for an RPG experience that doesn't bow to the pressure to be an action hybrid, fans of the books who didn't make the leap to TV, and TV viewers who just can't get enough Game of Thrones. After all, all these groups will contribute to the game's success, and Lannister always pays his debts.
I admit, I'll probably check this title out, because I love RPGs and there are so few out now where the dialogue elements matter. And I did enjoy ripping out men's throats as the dog.