E3 Impressions: Namco-Bandai

8:00 PM, Jul 16, 2011   |    comments
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After Nintendo's press conference, I headed right to the Los Angeles Convention Center for my first appointment, which was with Namco Bandai. They had a number of offerings, and I was able to get playtime with five of them; two big-name PS3/360 titles, and three smaller titles for Nintendo systems.

The first game I went to check out was Dark Souls, the sequel to Atlus's breakaway hit Demons' Souls. I've never played the original game, so I have no real point of comparison, but I have been told many a time about its relentless and unforgiving difficulty. I was also told that the gameplay and controls are very much similar to what they were in the original title, which should assuage any concerns of major Demons' Souls fans.

Throughout the entirety of my demo experience, I noticed the game had a common thread: if you take the straightforward path through the level, you are going to die horribly. The demoers made a point of this by continually taking me down the straightforward path, laughing a bit as I died, then telling me where I should have gone. For example, immediately at the start of the level, they told me to head forward and left, where an enormous wyvern was waiting to cook me alive inside my armor, which is exactly what happened. I was then shown a switch, which opened a gate to a side path, where a giant armored boar gored me to death.

The game is absolutely merciless, to be sure, but after coming to grips with it and finding a less death-filled hallway, it's hard to say the game is unfair. Charging in headfirst is something that is heavily punished, but if you play it smart, you'll "only" have a fairly tough time with the game. I still ran into a number of lower-level skeleton enemies on the "correct" path, which took out my HP by a lot since I wasn't particularly skilled, but it felt within the frame of reason. After a while, too, I managed to get to a fireplace, where my progress was saved, and I was given five health-restoring tonics. There are a few of these in each level, so you don't have to re-suffer too much upon death. You can also see certain hints from other players, and even watch replays of how they died so you can try to avoid a similar fate.

After playing through the normal level, I decided to be a sadistic jerk and invade somebody else's demo, trying to kill them. In this mode of the game, which I'm told was in the original as well, I was able to run past all the enemies in the level and make a beeline for the actual player, or as much of a beeline as I could make without knowing where they were. I found him and started attacking, and we had an impromptu battle in a secluded area with no other enemies, which he would have had to fight along with me. The concept of invading a space seems pretty mean, but he managed to kill me with just a sliver of his health remaining, so perhaps it's not as bad as I thought.

This looks like it's a thinking man's RPG, and one for really dedicated people, but even as I was dying/barely scraping by, I was enjoying my time with the game. The controls work well, though they're placed a little awkwardly for a guy who'd been playing a lot of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night just prior to the show. The gameplay is a bit slow, but not overly so, and this gives you more time to take in the absolutely gorgeous visuals of the game. The graphics are rendered incredibly, and the environments are very realistic and impressive, though a bit lacking in color. Dark Souls looks like it's going to be a perfect sequel to Demons' Souls, when it releases later this year.

Pac-Man and Galaga Dimensions is a collection of games from Pac-Man and Galaga, as one might expect. The two original arcade titles are included, along with Pac-Man Championship Edition and Galaga Legions, two recent remakes that appeared as downloadable titles on Xbox Live Arcade. The centerpieces of the package, however, are two new titles that take advantage of the new features of the 3DS: Pac-Man Tilt and Galaga 3D Impact.

Pac-Man Tilt is a platformer with a bit of a pinball influence to it. Pac-Man runs along a brightly-colored neon world, navigating plateaus and platforms, as well as pinball flippers that can send him skyward if you are skilled enough. The game's title comes from its tilt mechanic, which is one of the ways you'll navigate Pac-Man around this world; if you tilt your 3DS, the titular character will start pitching forward, and eventually will curl up and start rolling. You'll need to use this mechanic in order to make it past some of the enemies and obstacles, as Pac-Man becomes rather damaging as he rolls. It might have been because I was bad at it, but the game seemed to move fairly slow in general; it could sometimes take several tries to get a movement correct, but even if I was doing well I was never able to get the gameplay going very quickly. It was also a bit difficult to tell why the tilting was necessary from a gameplay perspective, when you can still walk around normally with the Circle Pad. If the game were entirely tilt controlled, I think it would have been a great benefit to the title.

The Galaga title, Galaga 3D Impact, seemed to take a lot of inspiration from the Face Raiders 3DS pack-in. Your character flies along a track on some celestial body, and Galaga bug-style enemies will fly at and around you; in order to aim at them, you'll need to turn yourself and the 3DS system to get them in your sights. The tilt mechanic works very well, similar to Face Raiders, but you get a better sense of excitement by speeding through space. I'm not sure how the game escalates in difficulty, as I didn't get much time with it, but the gameplay as seen seems quite solid. It's good to see developers taking advantage of the special features of the 3DS.

Power Rangers Samurai was a very straightforward game from what I played; it's very uncomplicated, and designed to appeal to the younger fans of the currently airing Power Rangers television series. You play as one of the five Power Rangers, using your Wii Remote to paint out a kanji character that lets your character transform; you then are set upon a fairly linear world to defeat the numerous enemies that appear, and that's pretty much the gist of the entire game that I was able to see. The controls are simple as well, with weak attack, strong attack, super attack (limited by an energy meter), jump and guard being pretty much the entirety of what's used; there are some combos available as well, but I had a bit of trouble getting these to register for the most part.

When I say linear, I mean it, too. The game is a constant movement from one enemy-filled area to the next, sort of like Turtles in Time converted into 3D. There are some minor branching paths where extra health is stationed, but the game doesn't exactly offer a wide variety of gameplay options. Battles aren't particularly difficult, either; anything that you can't kill by mashing the attack button, you can usually wipe out with one of your enormous super attacks. What the game has is done well, but it just doesn't have much. The game seems to be of the opinion that games for children need to be heavily watered down, which any life-long gamer knows is a ridiculous notion. Perhaps the later parts of the game scale up in difficulty, but what I was shown at the show wasn't horribly promising.

The other Wii title, Go Vacation, is a mini-game collection that offers the player a large number of games and sport events, including a number that are not commonly found in sporting titles, like snowball battling or surfing. The game is based in a large vacation area with four different resorts, each one corresponding to a different season; for example, you'll be surfing in the summer resort, and ski jumping in the winter resort. You navigate these resorts using motion controls that I never managed to get a hold of, and hopefully steer your character toward one of the events instead of into a wall, repeatedly.

The game apparently contains over 50 different mini-games, and each of them have different controls, which can be a mixture of motion- and button-controlled. Fortunately, while navigating the overworld was a pain, most of the mini-games control rather well; I was quickly able to get a grip on throwing snowballs and managed to defeat the demonstrator there, though he easily trumped me in the surfing game. Namco is quite proud of the variety available in Go Vacation, most notably the less-common sports that are not often found in compilation titles like this one, and the games I saw there (snowball fighting, surfing, and ski jumping) seemed to fit the bill, generally. The mini-games aren't exactly packed with strategy, but with so many available this is probably to the game's benefit. While there are some complaints (I'm pretty sure I mentioned the overworld), the meat of the game looks well constructed, and I think it could be a good family buy when it is released later this year.

Later in the day, I was able to go back to Namco for a private demonstration of the upcoming Ace Combat: Assault Horizon. I've played previous entries in the series, but this game seems to be a bit of a series reboot, taking it in a more action-oriented direction. A producer of the game was on hand to give a demonstration and discuss the game, so I sat and watched as he played through one of the new mission types, a bombing run level.

While the original Ace Combat games were heavily focused on dogfighting, Assault Horizon hopes to mix the series up with new gameplay types, such as helicopter missions or bombing runs. They're also trying to bring the player closer to the action, which was a little hard to see in the bombing run but became quite evident later on. They're looking more at closer one-on-one dogfights, as opposed to locking onto distant targets, with their new Close Range Assault System engine, as well as a Dogfight Mode.

I watched as they played through a bombing level, using the new Air Strike Mode as he flew a bomber over a series of targets. As you fly over, you get a top-down view of your targets from the bombing bay, and can move your wireframe aiming reticule over the area to select bomb locations. If your bombing run is successful, you'll follow one of the bombs down as it explodes. In addition to aiming the bombing reticule, you'll also be flying the plane at the same time, and occasionally shooting out flares to distract heat-seeking missiles. It might be a lot to take in, but it looks like it keeps the gameplay interesting.

After my private demonstration, I also got to check out a helicopter mission on the show floor, which was a lot of fun. After learning how to control the vehicle, which took a bit longer than I expected, I headed over to a nearby town where two infantry groups were battling each other on the ground, and I had to provide aerial support to one team. To say that I was close to the action was an understatement; I could watch the individual people running forward and taking new locations, as my missiles and guns targeted and eliminated tanks, rocket launchers, and basic infantry. The gameplay is refined very well, and while it takes a minute to get used to the controls, you'll soon be blasting away enemies easily and effectively. It's great fun seeing the troops on the ground respond to your actions from above. The action is very engaging, and I had a hard time pulling myself away from the booth. I can't wait to see more of this type of gameplay.

The developers have had good support from a number of aircraft licenseres, as well as the United States Air Force, who might be doing a cross-promotion with Namco Bandai. The game will also use real-world locations and settings for the first time, including a Capital Conquest mode, where players fight over famous cities online. It's a team-based effort, but players are allowed to freely choose their aircraft; the goal is to use strategy and have a good balance of aircraft, in order to take out the other team.

- Jim Avery for news10.net


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