Animefringe Cover Story:
E3 Game Round-Up Part 2
By Jake Forbes
Wave Race: Blue Storm
The original Wave Race revolutionized virtual water in video games, with beautiful, rippling waves. The GameCube sequel is a huge leap forward in background graphics, but strangely enough, while the water looks more real, it is less attractive than the 64 bit version's. Gameplay is almost identical to the original, with a few new features like barrel-rolling added for good measure. Also, a 4-Player mode (with no noticeable slowdown) further improves on the original. A definite must have for fans of the original, but don't expect a revolutionary leap forward in gameplay and graphics.
Predicted score: 80%
A very unique gaming experience, this is not the genre-defining game that previous mario launch titles have been. Using the two analog sticks, players twist Luigi's upper body to look around while he walks around a creepy haunted mansion. His only tool is a combination vacuum/flashlight which he uses to startle and suck up ghosts in a style very reminiscent of Ghostbusters. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be much depth to this game; Luigi walks and sucks. That's it! There's not even a jump button! The Nintendo rep promised that the game gets harder than the demo version I played, but even she seemed skeptical that the game would be that revolutionary. Unless Nintendo is keeping big portions of this game a secret, expect this game to be a kiddie title and rental.
Predicted score: 70%
Kameo: Elements of Power
This Rare developed game was the least polished of all the GameCube games at E3. The premise is that Kameo, a elf-like girl, uses a prismatic crystal to capture cute creatures that she can evolve and morph into. She can turn into a leaping grasshopper thing, a gliding pteradon, or a beefed-up raptor thing, plus many more promised in the final game. The demo didn't have any real objectives or enemies, so exactly what she does with these abilities is unclear. This one could be great, but for now, I must reserve judgement.
Predicted score: 85%
Star Fox Adventures: Dinosaur Planet
Rare has updated what was to be their last 64 bit game by adding the cast of Star Fox. Gameplay is similar to Jet Force Gemini, but now players have a dinosaur companion who they issue orders to. The worlds and characters are beautiful, and the characters have real voices. There were a few problems in the demo that will hopefully worked out before launch- Star Fox's expressions are all very creepy as his mouth always stayed in an evil, foxy grin, and shadows weren't responding to actual light sources. Still, this adventure game should prove to be a worthy contendor in what looks to be the most crowded genre of the next year.
Predicted score: 85%
Nintendo's next M rated game (after Conker), Eternal Darkness follows the Resident Evil formula of zombie blasting and simple puzzle solving. The game takes place over 2000 years, letting players control a dozen different characters in different time periods to unravel the full story. Environments are beautifully detailed, featuring detailed architeture, rolling fog, and dynamic lighting that beat anything in the Resident Evil series. To add depth to combat, weapons will hit walls and can get lodged in wood, meaning that if you're in a narrow corridor, you better not use that broadsword. Another new twist is the Sanity Meter. As players encounter shocking enemies and don't dispose of them, their sanity starts to drop until they start hallucinating. In the demo, the character's limbs started falling off and she started hearing Hamlet- weird. For fans of action/horror, this is a game to watch.
Predicted score: 90%
A bizarre puzzle game in which players control a one inch high spaceman who leads colorful blobs through the forest floor and orders them around to get past obstacles. The world is very pretty, but the demo didn't have a lot of variety to the world, and characters were so small, even zoomed in, that it didn't impress graphically. It might be quite fun (extra documentation would help) but for now, this bizarre little game is the least exciting of the bunch.
Predicted score: 75%
Star Wars Rogue Leader
The most crowded game at all of E-3 (only 3 demo booths, compared to Luigi's Mansion's 20!). Rogue Leader is the prettiest Star Wars game ever. Watching the X-Wing fly down the Deathstar trench or an A-Wing fly through Bespin, the game looks almost photo-realistic. The game samples all the relavent dialogue from the movies and uses the original music to good effect. Overall, it's exactly what Star Wars fans want most- to feel like they're in the action of the movies. Of course, the gameplay is almost identical to the old vector-graphics arcade games of 15 years ago… In any case, if you like Star Wars, you'll NEED this game.
Predicted score: 90%
Super Smash Bros. Melee
The surprise hit of the Nintendo booth, this game is FUN FUN FUN! With much improved graphics and sound, new playable characters (Peach, an eskimo from Ice Climber, and many more!) and more interactive environments, this game is about as much fun as 4 people can have on any system. Characters now have a few new moves each and some moves have been slightly altered (Link shoots arrows instead of throwing a boomerang), but overall, it plays just like the original. Items are improved/updated as well. Pokeballs now realease pokemon from Gold/Silver in addition to classic pokemon, and new items like a pinata ball full of food and items, and a Super Scope (!!!) add to the fun. To add to the single player experience, Nintendo added dozens of trophies for players to collect. The trophies are 3-D models of Nintendo characters from all the major Nintendo series- there's a goomba, a go-cart, Misty, Kid Icarus, and many more. This game is a wonderful celebration of all that Nintendo has ever done, and it's their most enjoyable multi-player game ever. THE MUST HAVE GAME at Gamecube's launch!
Predicted score: 99%
Game Boy Advance
Mario Kart Advance
With all of the original 16 bit levels, and a dozen new ones, 4-player action, improved graphics, and spot-on controls, this is the best Mario Kart ever! Anyone who enjoyed the 16 or 64 bit version will have to buy this great game. New features include 3-D cube item boxes (like the N64 version) arrows to warn you of turns, and ghosts that block your vision instead of just stealing an item. The GBA game to beat!
Predicted score: 100%
Donkey Kong's Coconut Crackers
This game features neither coconuts, nor crackers, but it's incredibly addictive. Kind of an isometric tetris, players must arrange red and green colored blocks into squares or rectangles to make them disappear. All the while, a crocodile hops around the board, shrinking the play area and blocking out your blocks. He'll retreat when you complete rectangles. It's a very simple concept that's nearly as much fun as the original tetris. Unlimited play value here- a must have for strategy fans.
Predicted score: 92%
Bungee's first-person shooter that Microsoft has been touting as their system-selling game at launch, Halo is fun, but based on the demo, incredibly mundane. The worlds, the weapons, and the gameplay are all very bland. Sure, players can control vehicles, but they can do that in the much more interesting looking Red Faction and many other upcoming shooters. The four player split scrren games were running at embarassingly low frame rates. I'm not a first person shooter afficianado (I still prerer Duke Nukem to Quake III), but this game looks to offer nothing new to the genre.
Predicted score: 80%
Dead or Alive 3
This game wasn't playable at E3, but Tecmo had a stunning video to promote their flagship franchise. The Tecmo rep claimed that all of the scenes were in-game graphics, and if this is the case, then expect a lot of jaws to drop when the game is finally released. The environments, everything from lush forests to frozen caves, were the most beautiful ever seen in any fighting game (arguably, in any game ever). In typical DoA fashion, charactes can be knocked through walls and down to new areas of the level. It's too early to tell if DoA3 will improve on its predecessor's already solid gameplay, but based on the video I'm guessing that it won't change much. If ever there was a game to get Japanese gamers to buy the X-Box, this is it.
Predicted score: ???
Rather than racing and action, Amped opts for real mountain tracks and career based trick competitions. Players are not just trying to get high scores by going down the mountain, but they must do tricks in front of the media in order to be come snowboarding superstars! An intersting premise, and the game controls quite nicely. Unfortunately, the lack of a racing mode makes this game more of a niche title than the other snowboarding games out there. Microsoft may have fudged a screenshot of this game a few months back, but it's still quite beautiful- hands down the most realistic winter sports game around. A fun game, but it won't be the crossover hit that SSX and Tony Hawk were.
Predicted score: 70%
This game was shown by demonstration only behind closed doors. It's a pretty standard 3-D platformer with lots of simple puzzles ala Mario 64, with graphics that really show of the X-Box's texturing. Will a movie-licensed game that comes out over 6 months after the movie stand any chance of success? Well, Goldeneye did, but frankly, this is no Goldeneye.
Predicted score: 75%
Actually, this game will be on PS2 as well, but Microsoft is highly promoting it at their launch. This wacky racing game lets players take cartoon animals and cavemen on a crazy footrace through elaborate 3-D envirnoments. The levels are gorgeous and feature numerous detours and shortcuts. Players can grab blue cans to get energy that allows them to 1) turbo, 2) attack, 3) glide, adding extra depth to the otherwise straight forward game. Also, red bags give players power ups like shields and turbo. It runs smoothly, but a little too slowly for my tastes. None of the demo booths let E3 gamers play 2-player games, so I played many games versus the CPU and easily won everytime. As the items are preset around the course, it seems unlikely that a player who falls behind stands any chance of catching up. I definitely want to try this game out again when it's released, but for now, I am suspicious that it won't be very well balanced for multi-player games.
Predicted score: 82%
A truly beautiful and unique game, This will be the only X-Box exclusive game that is unlike anything on other systems. Players control Abe or the wheelchair equipped Munch as they run around trying to save their people from being turned into food products. By chanting, players take control of other characters in the game, making this a thinking-person's action game. It plays much like the first two games, only now in stunning 3-D. Not a game for everybody, but one of the X-Box's only selling points at launch.
Predicted score: 92%
This game had a lot of buzz around it from the non-gaming media and gamers alike. It's a fun game with great PSOne graphics, offering a lot of gameplay modes to recreate the Hogwarts experience. The fact that there are so many gameplay modes (broom flying, minecart driving, spellcasting) gives the game a lot of variety, but takes away from the overall cohesiveness of it. It's too bad there's no PS2 game this year, but with 6 more books to make games for, I'm sure we'll get one soon enough.
Predicted score: 87%
Devil May Cry
Taking a break from the Resident Evil series, Capcom created this action-horror masterpiece. The graphics are gorgeous, the controls spot-on, and the hero is the absolute coolest video game character in years. This is definate franchise material (let's just hope Capcom doesn't run it into the game with Turbo DMC Alpha X2). The hero, Dante, half human, half demon, can use a glowing sword or Lara Croft-esque dual pistols. In addition, there's a spirit guage that lets him transform for stronger attacks. When there's a bad guy around, Dante faces them and stays targeted on them. Based on the demo, I'm inclined to say that the game won't provide the scares of RE, but it's much more fun to play than any of Capcom's other horror titles.
Predicted score: 96%
A bizarre puzzle/platform game in which players must "herd" assorted critters using a variety of instruments and tools. It's absolutely gorgous to behold- it really does look like Disney-style animation in 3-D. It's not a game for everybody, but if you like puzzlers, you'll never find a pretteir game.
Predicted score: 91%
Remember the NES classic Ghosts and Goblins? Well, 15 years later, Capcom has decided to bring back the franchise (actually, the original game made a cameo in SNK vs. Capcom for the Neo Geo Pocket) with this 3-D platformer. The controls are quie simple (slash, chop, and jump) and the level design straight forward. Actually, with all of the cluttered, overly complicated 3-D platformers out there, this game is very refreshing. It will probably be simple enough that one could beat it in a weekend, so you might want to rent it first, but it's a very attractive game and a good 3-D updating of their 2-D classic. This is what Mega Man Legends should have been like.
Predicted score: 89%
Silent Hill 2
A lot of gaming mags are already calling this the scariest game ever. They might not be far off. The original might not have been as fun as Resident Evil, but the pervasive fog and dark environments were much creepier. The game controls are a bit improved over the clunky original, but it's still an adventure game more than an action one. In a bizarre move, Konami actually added a filter to make the game look grainy- it looks like really detailed PSOne graphics instead of the smooth PS2 graphics everyone else uses. Definitely a game to watch out for. Just don't play it alone at night…
Predicted score: 92%
Twisted Metal Black
Fans of the series agree that TM2 is the best car combat game around. Taking this to heart, the designers modeled TMB closely after the second game in the series. It controls exactly the same, and has most of the same weapons and secrets. While it plays well, I think Sony made a big mistake in making the game so dark- not in it's mature themes, but in that EVERYTHING is brown and black. It's a downright UGLY game. The enviroments aren't as diverse or exciting as TM2's, at least not the levels shown in the demo. It's a fun game, but I still prefer the 4-year-old TM2 to this one, at least so far.
Predicted score: 78%
Final Fantasy X
If you've played FF VII or VIII, you know what to expect. Rather than updating the gameplay, Squaresoft opted to just improve graphics and add a voice track. This isn't so bad, since Final Fantasy games have the best stories and most attractive game worlds around. The demo was all in Japanese, so I couldn't appreciate all of the details, but in terms of controls and interaction with the enviroment, it's exactly the same as its predecessors. We're all going to buy it, but I still wish Squaresoft would take the series farther.
Predicted score: 94%
In one of the most unexpected team-ups ever, Disney has teamed up with Squaresoft to design an epic RPG combining Final Fantasy style play with classic Disney characters. It looks like players will control a boy from a fantasy town (character design is by the same guy who did FF VII, VIII, and X) as well as Goofy and Donald Duck! Environments are everything from Tarzan's Jungle, to Peter Pan's London, to Sleeping Beauty's castle, in addition to original worlds. Exactly what the story is and why Disney characters are involved is unclear. All that the demo movie reveals is that the hero wants to see the rest of the world and that a key is very imporant to the story. If this is half as good as Square's partnership with Nintendo in Mario Story, then we're in for a great RPG.
Predicted score: 97%
Jak and Daxter
Naughty Dog has moved on from their Crash franchise to create this gorgeous 3-D platformer. The heroes, a human and weasel (?) pair, must jump, spin, and smash their way through highly-detailed, cartoony environments with a fantasy/pirate theme. Gameplay is very reminiscent of Banjo-Kazooie, as is the level design, but second generation PS2 graphics blow away the N64 duo. Whether or not the game will blow us away with innovative gameplay, or merely be derivative entertainment is yet to be determined, but this is Sony's big platform adventure, and it's definitely a game to watch.
Predicted score: 88%
Klanoa 2 plays just like the first game, and that's a great thing. Players can grab bad guys with Klanoa's ring, and either throw them at ememies or throw them at the ground for an improved jump. The sequal uses cel shading to give the 3-D world a bizarre 2-D feel (which is appropriate as the game is controlled in 2-D). It's a lot like Sonic the Hedgehog on Genesis, only with more puzzles and less speed. With 25 enormous levels, this promises to be one of the best platformers of the year, if not the best 2-D game.
Predicted score: 89%
Spy Hunter: The Return
Midway has reinvented one of its all time most popular games from the 80's, Spy Hunter, in full 3-D. Unfortunately, it's not half as fun as the original. All of the details from the original make it in again: bullet-proof badguy cars, loading vans, oil slicks, and smoke screens (unfortunately there's no Peter Gunn music- at least not yet). It all adds up to a pretty mediocre action shooter. I don't know if Midway could have topped the classic, but this game leaves one feeling more nostalgic than entertained.
Predicted score: 72%
Ubi Soft has experience working with Batman- unfortunately that was with Return of the Joker, perhaps the worst PSOne game of last year. Well, the new Batman game uses the characters and likenesses of the second incarnation of Batman: The Animated Series. The demo featured levels for Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, and Harley Quinn, though many more villains are promised. The graphics are decent, but the game play is disappointing. Fighting enemies is mostly a button hacking affair. Using items like batarangs and grappling hooks requires switching to a first person mode, making them gimmicks rather than tools to use seamlessly in gameplay. I've been waiting for a 3-D batman game for years, but I'm worried that this won't be the game I was hoping for.
Predicted score: 71%
I only bring this one up because if it's any indication, Midway will be going bust by next E3. The graphics are attrocious, the controls terrible, the gameplay shallow, and the fun factor is nil. It looks worse than many PSOne games. Worst game I played all show.
Predicted score: 23%
Ubisoft's PS2 follow up to Rayman is a combination racing and deathmatch game featuring Rayman characters and worlds. It's unclear if there's any single player mode to it, but based on the demo, it's definitely not up to the high standards of the great Rayman 2.
Predicted score: 65%
Ubi Soft's best looking game, Tarzan has beautiful jungle environments that players zip around at incredible speeds. Gameplay modes include surfing and bungee-jumping inspired levels in addition to more traditional platform fare. This should be a great platformer for kids and a fun rental for serious gamers.
Predicted score: 82%
A blending of Tempest with Parappa, Frequency requires 1-4 players to zip around the sides of an octagonal tube, hitting buttons to the beat to complete the different instrument tracks. Depending on what side you're on, you might be creating the drum track, the vocals, quitar, or whatever other sounds your selected song requires. The game features licensed music from the Crystal Method and others and has a beautiful rave-inspired look to it. My only complaint is that you need a separate audio output for each player to really enjoy it. I was really digging the 4-player, 4 screen networked game, but the 2-player split screen game was a bit jarbled. This is a serious fault that hopefully Sony can work out, as otherwise, this is one of the best music games on the gaming radar.
Predicted score: 84%
What a bizarre game. Even after being desensitized to weird music games from Parappa, Lammy, and Vib-Ribbon, Gitaroo Man still blows the mind. Players control U-1, a geeky elementary school kid who is also the descendant of Gitaroo Man! With the help of his transforming dog, Puma, U-1 must battle musical opponents to save the world. The gameplay alternates between attack mode where you must move the analog stick to follow a line on the screen while pressing o when indicated, to the defense mode where you press the four buttons at the right time to block attacks. It sounds simple, but the demo level was so hard that I never saw anyone beat it all weekend. Still, it's cool and fun enough that I deffinately want to play it some more. Featuring artwork by "Illustrator 326," this is quite possibly the weirdest game in the weirdest genre ever.
Predicted score: 74%
Blood Omen 2
Eidos should NOT have unveiled this game in playable form. The graphics are lackluster and the gameplay is TERRIBLE. It will likely be improved before release, since Legacy of Kain was such a fun game to play, but the incomplete build shown at E3 was rather pathetic.
Predicted score: 60%
Mobile Suit Gundam: Journey to Jaburo
Why oh why doesn't Bandai license Gundam to someone who knows how to do mech games right (**cough cough Konami!**)? The first of two planned Gundam games for PS2, Journey to Jaburo sports lousy controls, terrible graphics, stupid enemy AI, and dumb gameplay. The only good thing are the anime cut scenes. Avoid this one like the plaugue unless you must have everything Gundam. This is a BAD game.
Predicted score: 18%
Mobile Suit Gundam: Zeonic Front
The slightly improved follow up to Journey to Jaburo, Zeonic Front features squad based mech action. The graphics and controls are still lousy, but there's more for the player to do this time. The version shown was pretty incomplete, so there might be hope for this game yet… but then, this is Bandai we're talking about…
Predicted score: 34%
Yaya Caballista: Featuring Gawoo
Yes, this game looks an awful lot like Jet Grind Radio, but it plays much differently. Using a fingerboard that fits over the dual-analog sticks, players must fight off alien Gawoos who are vulnerable only to skateboarding tricks. Bizarre. After completing a series of sub-levels, players must fight a big boss- the more complicated the tricks you do in front of him, the more damage he takes. Most people who stopped to try the game were turned off by the odd controls and weird concept, but when I stuck with it and figured things out, I had a lot of fun. Unfortunately for Koei, I think this one is too weird for most skateboarding fans.
Predicted score: 78%