Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Once Again Belated: E3 2008 Games of Note

Yeah, this one's ridiculously late too. I got lazy that week and planned to wait until the next week. Then our air conditioning gave out and we had to wait about a week before we finally got our system replaced. North Carolina summers without air conditioning are, shall we say, less than pleasant. Anyway, late though it is, time to finally talk about E3 2008 Wii and DS games of note for a bit. The next entries'll hopefully be of more interest to you non-gaming readers - the few of you who still drop by here now and then - as I intend to get back to writing more regularly over the remainder of the year.

Wii

Captain Rainbow - Insecure as gamers are, the gaming community made haste to jump all over this game simply because of its name. (Something along the lines of "ZOMG NINTENDO'S CALLING US GAY!!11" From the same crowd, of course, that thought they were subliminally doing that with the Super Mario Galaxy cover. The online gaming community, by and large, is dominated by insecure teenagers and manchildren. You can't really blame Nintendo for trying to make gaming more appealing to the masses, rather than focusing on this crowd.) Personally, I'm looking forward to this adventure game from Skip, the dev team formerly of Love de Lic (Chulip, Moon, Lack of Love) best known for the excellent Chibi-Robo Gamecube and DS games (As well as the party game L.O.L. on the DS). The game itself seems to play very similarly to the Gamecube Chibi-Robo and Chulip on the PS2 (Both of which I highly recommend), telling the story of an unpopular children's television hero - the titular Captain Rainbow - and his adventures on an island full of cast-off D-list Nintendo characters with problems that need taking care of. With characters ranging from Birdo to Crazy Tracy (Or possibly Ness's sister Tracy from EarthBound, hard to say yet) from Link's Awakening to Little Mac from Punch-Out, the game simply looks like an extremely humorous adventure with lots of great classic Nintendo fanservice for those of us who grew up with their games.

Oneechanbara: Bikini Zombie Slayers - A surprise announcement from D3 just prior to E3 revealed that they would be bringing their cult cheesecake zombie franchise to the west on the Wii (And seemingly other installments to other platforms in the future as well.) in early 2009 as the series' official western debut. The series stars the bikini and cowboy hat-clad Aya and schoolgirl uniform-clad Saki, two katana-wielding young women who take it upon themselves to slay hordes of zombies whenever they rise up to threaten Japan. (As they seem to one way or another in each installment.) The series' appeal lies in the B-movie cheesiness of its premise between the zombie hordes and scantily clad women and its arcade style addictive hack and slash gameplay. Rumor has it that we may be seeing exclusive content in the western release as well.

Mega Man 9 - Recently announced by Capcom as a WiiWare exclusive to much fanfare, Mega Man 9 promises to bring us back to the series we grew up with and loved, bringing a full-on new NES installment to the series on WiiWare - a love letter to the Wii and fans who grew up with the original games. Inafune himself openly decried the so-called "necessity" of high definition in visuals with the game, and promised it would surpass Mega Man 2, the widely-regarded best game in the series. Confirmed for a September release, this is one to keep an eye on.

Dead Rising: Chop Til You Drop - A major megaton announcement from Capcom came in Dead Rising not losing its Xbox 360 exclusivity to the PS3 as expected (When it frankly would've made little to no profit on the platform anyway.) but to the Wii with Dead Rising: Chop Til You Drop. Effectively a remake of the first 360 game in an overclocked Resident Evil 4 engine, Capcom promises up to - if not over - 100 zombies on screen at once (Not quite the sea of zombies in the 360 original due to hardware limitations, but nonetheless an overwhelming horde at all times.), more and new types of enemies in addition to more enemies in general, and the same vast Dawn of the Dead style mall environment in which to combat the zombie hordes with whatever you can get your hands on. (The gun controls should be vastly improved as well, considering their brilliance in Resident Evil 4 Wii, while Dead Rising's on the 360 were very awkward and clunky at best.) the visuals are also on par with the 360 original's - as they hadn't pushed the 360's hardware much to begin with anyway - making it one of the best looking Wii games to date. With more content overall, Dead Rising: Chop Til You Drop serves, with Mega Man 9, as a shift in Capcom's third party treatment of the Wii to taking the platform far more seriously, giving fans the sort of core-market-oriented games they've been dying for.

The Conduit - Another of the most highly anticipated Wii games to date, High Voltage is developing a Wii FPS that promises to be the Wii's first truly killer release in the genre, and a strong response to the PS3's mediocre but hugely hyped Resistance games and the Xbox line's vastly-overrated Halo series. Admittedly, I'm not a big FPS fan myself, so I'm not going nuts over the game, but it's regardless a major and long-overdue third party game in a genre the Wii's needed more of (Especially compared to the other two, overrun with awkward FPSes using traditional controllers as they are, considering that the Wii controls allow you to do much more with the genre than traditional controllers can.), and given High Voltage's extremely strong Wii track record so far, The Conduit's a game to absolutely keep an eye on. It looks gorgeous, and the gameplay certainly looks fun and promises to answer to Wii-owning FPS fans' long-untended needs.

Tales of Symphonia 2: Dawn of a New World - Namco has confirmed the long-awaited sequel to Tales of Symphonia on the Gamecube for a Wii release this fall. Though this JRPG (With the series' much-beloved action-oriented battle system) has drawn some advance criticism - a) the original game's cast only return as guest characters who can't be leveled or have their equipment changed, b) there's only two new playable human characters and your other two party slots are filled by trained monsters you collect, c) the overworld is a point and click map instead of a full globe to walk around on, and d) Nintendo isn't handling the localization, and as such, the original voice cast isn't reprising their roles. All valid complaints, but none of them make it a bad game, certainly - just a different experience befitting the new world that came of the original game's ending. As a fan of the series who thoroughly enjoyed the first Symphonia installment in the Tales series, I'm certainly looking forward to Symphonia 2. And with the series director having confirmed that the next main series Tales game (Of an epic scale comparable to the first two games in the series, Phantasia and Destiny.) to be a Wii exclusive, the Wii's seemingly become the series' main home. (Defying Xbox 360 expectations with Tales of Vesperia hitting that. Though ultimately, JRPGs don't sell particularly well on that platform - or the PS3, for that matter - and given that Vesperia isn't beyond what the Wii can do on technical levels, a port of that to the Wii down the line wouldn't be a surprise.)

Spore - In addition to its hotly anticipated PC release, Will Wright's first new franchise since The Sims, Spore, is coming to the Wii and DS as well. And in general, it looks similarly addictive and engrossing, the game's visuals nothing beyond what the Wii hardware can pull off - likewise with its online focus. (There's much to be confident in, given Electronic Arts' more-than-competent handling of online play on the Wii so far with Medal of Honor Heroes 2 last year.)

Arc Rise Fantasia - While not actually shown at E3, Marvelous unveiled Arc Rise Fantasia recently in Japan as another major exclusive JRPG coming to the Wii - and no doubt coming westward in 2009 - with character designs by the artist responsible for those of Eureka 7. From the Famitsu scans posted online so far, it looks intriguing.

Little King's Story - Another Marvelous/Xseed showing, Little King's Story another of my personally most-anticipated Wii games. In this adventure/RPG/real-time-strategy/life sim game, you play as the young sickly boy Corobo Bread, who comes across a magic crown that makes him king of the area. Setting out as king and supported by a variety of literary-inspired characters (Including heavy influences from The Little Prince and Don Quixote.), you build up an eventual globe-spanning kingdom as Corobo, with each of your kingdom's residents having names, jobs they attend to daily, their own needs, routines to follow, and development. The game crosses numerous genres and has a very strong development staff behind it - including members of the Harvest Moon team. An absolutely fresh game to look forward to in Winter 2008.

Rune Factory Frontier - Yet another Marvelous/Xseed game due out in early 2009. A follow-up to Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon on the DS, their action RPG spinoff of the popular cult Harvest Moon farming sim series. With gorgeous, inspired environments, a good cast of characters, and much exploring to be done - farming and adventuring to be had alongside the usual pursuit of a spouse. Marvelous's offerings in the west through their new partnership with Xseed are quickly making them one of the Wii's strongest third party supporters. And given Rune Factory's use of Nintendo WiFi for a few online features on the DS, I wouldn't be surprised if we saw a few online features in the Wii installment as well.

Sim Animals - EA only showed this non-gameplay trailer of their essential Wii/DS answer to the Xbox 360's Viva Pinata games, an effective Sims style game focused entirely around animals in the wild. From the short trailer and details revealed so far, however, it looks to be an exciting and worthwhile title. EA has certainly been picking up the pace on the Wii and DS - certainly something nice to see, given their often questionable history in the past.

Fragile: Farewell Ruins of the Moon - Another JRPG not shown at E3, but given Namco's track record, its western release is undoubtedly a sure thing. Set in a post-apocalyptic Earth setting, as young Seto, you explore a vast, barren, atmospheric world. Looking easily as gorgeous as an Xbox 360 game in terms of character designs and models, with breathtaking environments and impressively mood-setting music, it's one of my most anticipated Wii games to date.

Spyborgs - Bionic Games' oft-misunderstood Wii debut. Gamers expected them to unveil something violent and M-rated. But with numerous seasoned former Insomniac employees involved with th company and the game, we're seeing a very intriguing and comical adventure game coming from Capcom here, taking inspiration from cartoons and games like Psychonauts. That said, Spyborgs looks like a lot of lighthearted fun. The market can always sorely use more games driven by a sense of humor.

Fatal Frame IV - The latest installment in Tecmo's notoriously terrifying survival horror series about ghost photography and combat was directed by Suda 51 of Grasshopper Manufacture (Killer7, No More Heroes, The Silver Case, and Flower, Sun, and Rain) fame, and is now being co-published by Nintendo. (And as such, the game has gotten some Nintendo fanservice content in the form of costumes exclusive to the game.) I just hit at the end of July in Japan, and will likely hit in the west sometime in 2009, since all the other games in the cult series have crossed the pond so far. Given the series' track record of quality and Suda 51's brilliance as a director, Fatal Frame IV could very much be a survival horror game not to be missed. And with Nintendo co-publishing, there's a good chance that it won't be near-impossible to find a copy of this entry in the series, unlike the others.

Castlevania Judgement - Widely slammed so far for being a fighting game instead of a new 3D Castlevania adventure game (In the vein of the PS2 installments, which were fairly mixed experiences overall) or a new 2D WiiWare installment (As fans have been begging Koji Igarashi for, and he's since hinted at may happen depending on how well Mega Man 9 does.), I'm waiting on further details before I pass judgment myself. The Wii crowd loves to jump to conclusions - especially when a game falls off the beaten path - particularly skewed to the negative. This interesting fusion of the Castlevania series cast with Power Stone series style action certainly has my attention, though.

Wario Land Shake It! - Nintendo's biggest core-market-oriented showing of E3 was the rather gutsy return of Wario to full gorgeous 2D in his upcoming platforming adventure this fall controlled similarly to Super Paper Mario. It looks to capture well the magic of the portable installments in the Wario series with some of the most impressive 2D visuals in a console game to date.

Wii Music - Not exactly a competitive game like Guitar Hero or Rock Band, Wii Music's gotten some rather mixed reactions so far. (Including a lot of angry "core" gamers throwing fits over its simply being a fun, relaxing pick-up-and-play music game.) Conceptually though, it's well executed and certainly looks like a lot of good, simple fun, so it should be worth picking up. Admittedly, I'll probably wait for it to hit bargain bin prices though, myself, with my priorities lying elsewhere.

Call of Duty 5: World at War - Like The Conduit, another likely killer FPS on the Wii. This time around, the Wii seems to be getting a rather equal release compared to the 360/PS3 version, with quality online play, simply trading visuals quite on the others' level (Though it's still technically quite nice looking on the Wii.) for far superior controls. Between this and The Conduit, Wii-owning FPS fans have a good bit to be happy about.

Rayman Raving Rabbids TV Party - Those lovable screaming Rabbids are bad for a third party gaming run on the Wii this well as well. More goodness for fans of the series.

Animal Crossing: City Folk - People are, predictably, already complaining that the graphics don't push the hardware. (Though as a franchise, Animal Crossing has never been about putting technical prowess in the graphics. It's all about the social interactions and relaxing atmosphere.) As far as I'm concerned, it's easily Nintendo's game of the show.

Major Minor's Majestic March - The PaRappa the Rapper series creator and director's first music game beyond that series, having had to leave PaRappa behind in Nanaonsha no longer developing for Sony platforms. Rather than playing as a two-dimensional rapping puppy with plenty of unintentionally hilarious lyrics, this time around, you play as some sort of cat-like animal leading others in a marching band through various environments in this unique rhythm/music game. Impressions by Rawmeat Cowboy of GoNintendo were that it was disappointingly repetitive at E3, but hopefully it'll be improved a great deal before release. Either way, as a PaRappa fan, I'll be picking up the game when it gets cheaper down the line.

Wii Sports Resort - Wii Sports Resort is planned to be packed in with the Wii MotionPlus Wii Remote expansion to allow 1:1 motion controls. And from what they've shown of it so far, it should be more of the same kind of fun we got out of the original Wii Sports game packed in with the console itself.

SPRay - This Mario and Zelda-inspired Wii adventure from Tecmo looks promising. The character designs remind me a bit of the Dragon Quest series.

Lost in Blue - The first Wii installment in the cult DS island survival sim series, Lost in Blue, is definitely very visually underwhelming. But gameplay-wise, it looks to make up for that well with the same sort of addicting day to day survival activities that made the DS games so addictive.

Mad World - Yet another of the many strong core-market-oriented third party games coming to the Wii that Nintendo fans online love not focusing on in lieu of simply complaining about everything Nintendo does in regards to the core market these days, sadly. Published by Sega and developed by Platinum Games (Formerly Clover, the developer behind Okami and the Viewtiful Joe games), Mad World looks to potentially outdo No More Heroes in terms of sheer graphic violence - continuing the Wii's trend of being the platform with by far the most violent games of this generation. But like No More Heroes, it also retains a strong sense of playful, twisted humor rather than taking itself seriously. As unappealing as a black and white action game about slaughtering with a chainsaw might sound conceptually at first, Platinum Games is doing a great job in putting together an immensely fun-looking product.

Sonic Unleashed - The Wii version of the multiplatform-release Sonic Unleashed looks like a great deal of fun too, as Sonic and The Secret Rings was. I'm looking forward to the return of the A-life system with Chao-raising as well.

Sonic and The Black Knight - Actually recently unveiled after E3, Sonic and The Black Knight is a Wii-exclusive follow-up to the Arabian Nights-based Sonic and The Secret Rings, this time focused on Arthurian legend, with a great deal of RPG-esque content (Not unlike Secret Rings), which should lend the game a great deal of depth and make it a very complementary release to the upcoming Sonic Chronicles on the DS. Sega's been doing an excellent job with Sonic the Hedgehog games on Nintendo platforms as of late.

Harvest Moon: Tree of Tranquility - This game marks the Wii debut of the Harvest Moon series (As new installments go, at least, the very original game on the SNES having hit the Virtual Console a few months back.), and it looks absolutely gorgeous and atmospheric - like a fuller realization of the A Wonderful Life games on the Gamecube (And the PS2 port of the first one), which looked beautiful, but sorely lacked in substance. (If you pick up any one last console Harvest Moon from this past generation, make it Magical Melody on the Gamecube.)

DS

Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia - The much-loved 2D Castlevania action-adventure series continues on the DS with Order of Ecclesia being its latest installment, starring Shanoa, the series' first lone female protagonist fighting Dracula in a very long time. The series has a top notch track record with this directorial approach from Koji Igarashi, having taken the series in this RPG-influenced direction started with Symphony of the Night over a decade ago. Order of Ecclesia'll be one not to be missed.

Viva Pinata: Pocket Paradise - Rare brings their well-regarded post-Nintendo life sim series, Viva Pinata, to Nintendo audiences at last on the DS this fall with Viva Pinata: Pocket Paradise, an effective portable remake of the original Xbox 360 game with several new pinatas brought in from the forthcoming 360 sequel, which also looks to be quality. As a life sim fan, I'm looking forward to this one quite a bit.

AWAY Shuffle Dungeon - One of E3's DS surprises, a DS dugeoncrawler developed by Mistwalker and picked up for western release by Majesco Entertainment, which has continued to carve out an interesting niche for itself on Nintendo platforms as of late.

ASH: Archaic Sealed Heat - One of the largest and most gorgeous DS games yet. It wasn't actually shown at E3, but it has been confirmed for a North American release at some point, with an ESRB rating of E10+ already announced. At this point, it's just a matter of waiting for Nintendo to nail down a date for this highly-anticipated hardware-pushing Mistwalker DS strategy RPG.

Tales of Hearts - Also not shown at E3, and only just recently announced in Japan. I can't say I love the more "realistic" Final Fantasy style approach to the cutscene FMVs, but the core game very much looks like the Tales series gamers have come to know and love. Namco has yet to release any of the Tales DS games in the west - outright stating that Tales of the Tempest and Tales of Innocence wouldn't be seeing the light of day here, but perhaps Hearts will have a shot at breaking that trend.

Elebits: The Adventures of Kai and Zero - In an odd turn, rather than following the original directly in terms of gameplay and style, Konami's opted to make the sequel to Shingo Mukaitoge's Elebits on the Wii an adventure game on the DS. There's not much information on it available yet, but as a fan of the original, it's certainly intriguing.

Chrono Trigger DS - Yes, we're never going to see Chrono Trigger on the Virtual Console, sadly. And personally, as they're no doubt going to retranslate the game, Ted Woolsey's original translation will be sorely missed. (As his was in Final Fantasy VI Advance.) But I am looking forward to being able to play Chrono Trigger on the go on my DS, with new content being added. (Which is suspected of being the Singing Mountain area of the game that was never included in the original SNES release, though designed.) As one of the best RPGs of the 16-bit era, anyone into the genre who hasn't played it owes it to themselves to pick this version up when it inevitably comes west.

Flower, Sun, and Rain - Suda 51's masterful Groundhog Day style hitman PS2 adventure is finally coming west (With a North American release also confirmed at E3) on the DS. A game to jump on for any fan of Killer7 and No More Heroes. Stylized as hell, as you'd expect, with a brilliant narrative, and it represents the first PS2-to-DS port we've seen. (Which largely works out because the actual visuals themselves don't take too much hardware horsepower. And by DS standards, the environments are impressively vast and immersive, in full 3D.)

Populous DS - Having grown up addicted to the PC and SNES versions of the original Populous, I was ecstatic to learn they're bringing the DS Populous - which returns to the series' roots after sequels had strayed from them - westward.

Moon - A new DS FPS by Renegade Kid, the dev responsible for Dementium: The Ward. It looks like an extremely atmospheric experience.

Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood - Bioware makes their Nintendo platform debut in working with Sega on Sonic Chronicles, Sonic the Hedgehog's first full-on venture into the RPG genre, due out this fall. Given Bioware's strong track record as a western RPG developer, I have high hopes for this one.

Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness - Due out later this month, Island of Happiness looks to be the first Harvest Moon DS installment worth picking up beyond the Rune Factory spinoff. The setting and society building aspects on the island bring a great deal of additional depth and variety to this wonderful cult series.

Kirby Super Star Ultra - And lastly, the reason we're not getting Kirby Super Star on the Virtual Console either. Unfortunate, but in the least, this new DS version looks even better with its new content. Another Kirby classic.

I'm pretty sure that just about covers everything I felt was worth noting. I might have missed one or two things here or there, largely because I took way too long to get around to writing this, but hey, despite the delay, maybe this'll come in handy to somebody someday. Watch this blog for more upcoming posts on a variety of subjects! (Astounding!) It'll be coming out of hibernation soon as I move towards finishing Project 27 Days.

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