The 3DS games of TGS: Preview
Ninjas, Disney heroes and a certain blue hedgehog made for an interesting lineup.
Given the number of delightful oddities that came out of Japan when the DS first launched, it's been rather sad to see such a conservative first wave of 3DS software. With that in mind, not to mention the relative paucity of announcements at E3 a few months back, this year's Tokyo Games Show was an important week for the handheld. Would developers finally step up with some serious support for the system, or would the industry place all its chips on PlayStation Vita?
Nintendo's potentially game-changing announcement last week that it had somehow wrestled Monster Hunter 4 away from Sony and onto 3DS firmly ended those fears, and the healthy number of interesting titles playable on the show floor was further proof that the 3DS is finally starting to pick up some steam.
While the Vita stand unsurprisingly hogged much of the spotlight, with enormous queues to check out Sony's new system in its first Japanese public appearance, the biggest buzz undoubtedly surrounded a 3DS game. We headed over to the Monster Hunter Tri G booth about an hour after the doors opened only to be told all tickets for a ten minute slot on one of the 20 or so 3DS units had already gone for the day.
Anyway, here's our pick of the Tokyo Game Show 3DS slate. Bear in mind we've only included freshly-announced titles. Known quantities like Resident Evil: Revelations and Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater were on hand too, while Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright drew crowds to Capcom's stand with an impressive new trailer.
Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance
The latest installment in Square's action RPG Disney crossover was one of the prettiest 3DS titles on display. Bursting with color and lively background detail, visually it was easily a match for many of the games on show over on the Vita stand.
The key evolution since the franchise's last main outing, the PSP's Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep, is the speed of the gameplay. Combat is now lightning fast, and returning hero Sora (Riku is also playable) zips around the environments at a maniac clip courtesy of a new rail-grinding ability. On top of that, you also have a couple of eccentric animal allies following you around to help out in scraps.
The demo was too brief, and too Japanese, to get a proper idea of exactly how this will all add up in the finished product, but it was a promising first showing for the game.
Funny enough, Dream Drop Distance was the only title we played at TGS that had us pining for a second circle pad, with the cumbersome shoulder button camera controls struggling to adequately frame the action, leading to a few frustrating deaths.
Rhythm Thief & The Emperor's Treasure
Pardon the pun, but Sega was making a real song and dance over its new rhythm action effort on the TGS show floor, with a huge chunk of its stand given over to the game. And it would be nice if customers' enthusiasm matches the publisher's when this launches next year, as it was one of the highlights of the show.
The premise isn't particularly original, this is essentially a Professor Layton adventure with the brainteasers swapped over for Rhythm Heaven-esque music mini-games, but it's a clever fit nonetheless.
We only got to play two of the games, an Elite Beat-aping one where you had to swipe away at the touch screen to complete a dance routine, and another where the titular thief had to sneak around a museum to the beat of the music. Both offered light, frothy fun and, crucially, the tunes got our toes tapping.
It was hard to make head or tail of the story that the mini-games are wrapped around given that it was in Japanese, but it's beautifully animated stuff. Given the absence of the sort of curios that made the original DS's first few years so interesting, it's heartening to see a new IP matching that sort of spirit finally heading to its successor.
Bravely Default Flying Fairy
It's a beautifully absurd name that's unlikely to make it out of Japan, but here's hoping that the game itself does. Judging from the brief TGS demo, it's one of the 3DS's most exciting prospects.
Set in a fantasy universe that's been executed with an effective painterly touch, Bravely Default Flying Fairy mixes a vibrant over world with characters handsomely designed by Akihiko Yoshida (a Square stalwart who was at the heart of both Final Fantasy XII and Vagrant Story).
The battle scenes themselves are being kept under wraps, leaving the AR functionality to take centre stage for the TGS demo. Using an AR card, Bravely Default conjures up a female character who paces around the player, calling for help as an ominous sound draws nearer.
The ground opens up beneath her, swallowing her whole and drawing to a close an interesting glimpse of how Square can use some of the 3DS's more curious technology to embellish its famous dialogue-driven cutscenes.
An intriguing game for sure, and fingers crossed that Square finds a more attractive name and ports it across soon after its projected 2012 release.
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy
For a company with a long history of conjuring strange monikers for its games (see above, if you had any lingering doubts), Square Enix has reached a new high or low, depending on your perspective, with Theatrhythm Final Fantasy.
So preposterous is the name that it kind of obscures how brilliant an idea it is that lies behind this 3DS exclusive, and how long overdue a Final Fantasy rhythm action game is.
Final Fantasy games have long been known for their stirring scores as much as they have their emotionally wrought story lines and increasingly outlandish haircuts.
Theatrhythm is the perfect theatre, ah, we're beginning to see what they've done there, for the music of Nobuo Uematsu et al, and it takes a whistle stop tour through the series highlights.
Each game is represented by three pieces of music, taking in everything from the wistful Morricone-esque field music of Final Fantasy VI to the melodramatic strings of Final Fantasy XIII's battle music.
The actual interface for the game is clunky but reliable, a series of taps and strokes being overlaid on a cutely realized pastiche of the relevant game. One that's sure to make the jump from Japan, and like SEGA's Rhythm Thief, it's another very welcome curio.
Tucked away discreetly elsewhere on the Sega stand was this modest arcade revival from Assassin's Creed: Bloodlines developer Griptonite. It's a straightforward left-to-right platformer that stays true enough to the source material, with hero Joe Musashi leaping around old Japan, lobbing shuriken at foes.
The basic platforming occasionally gives way to twitchy into-the-screen 3D horse-riding sections where you have to dodge trees, unseat pursuers and leap over obstacles. It's not bad by any means, the mechanics feel pleasingly sturdy, there's a cheery retro spirit about the whole package and the difficulty curve doesn't pull any punches, but it was hard to muster too much excitement.
Sega seems to be relying on nostalgia alone to sell the concept, rather than any actual gameplay innovation, a fact made worse by the fact that it looks like an upscaled DS game. It might have made for a tempting eShop download, but Sega will have a tough time justifying a full $39.99 price tag.
Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime 3
The original DS Rocket Slime deservedly picked up something of a cult following when it launched back in 2006. An inventive, colorful action RPG aimed at a younger crowd, it still stands up as one of Square Enix's more enjoyable franchise spin-offs. This sequel (the first GBA title never made it West, hence the '3') offers more of the same. And when we say more of the same, we really mean it. Hold it up against its predecessor and you'll be hard pushed to spot much of a difference.
Again, our limited linguistic abilities prevented us from figuring out exactly what is going on plot-wise, but the key difference is that the action has shifted to the high seas, with its predecessor's occasional tank battles replaced with combat sequences that see you bombarding enemy vessels with your cannons.
There were many more sophisticated handheld RPGs on display on the show floor, but Rocket Slime 3 seems like a bright, cheerful and welcome addition to the growing 3DS library nonetheless. Providing Square chooses to localize, that is.
Beyond the Labyrinth
A little bit Ico and a little bit Resonance of Fate, this RPG from Star Ocean developer Tri-ace is as beautiful as it is obtuse.
Visually, the titular labyrinth that has a touch of Ueda in its blend of moss, sun and sculptured stone, is beautiful. Unfortunately, Beyond the Labyrinth's grid-based navigation makes it a world that's painful to explore, and its battle system is impenetrable in its current guise.
Elemental attacks are combined to take down enemies in combat that's seamlessly woven into the exploration, and there's an ethereal female character who must be protected at all times.
Tri-ace's strategy RPGs are often slow to reveal their charms, so with a little more time and some localization, Beyond the Labyrinth could still reveal a game that's the equal of its impressive visuals.
With the absence of a dedicated Wii game for SEGA's mascot this year, this 3DS game is the sole Nintendo outing for Sonic, though Sonic Generations looks more than capable of carrying the torch on its own.
Like the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of this 20th Anniversary celebration, this bundles together highlights of the hedgehog's checkered past, though the switch in hardware means a subtly different approach.
Classic Sonic plays much the same as on Generation's home console counterparts, while the levels lean more on the DS's Rush games than it does Sonic's more recent 3D outings.
Which turns out to be a smart move, as the linked grinds and loops of Rush are more in tune with handheld gaming, and make for richer pickings than some of the lackluster home console games offer.
It's smart and attractive, with only the occasional dip in frame rate in what's still an early build threatening to spoil Sonic's birthday party.
Hot-Blooded Tough Guy Kunio 3DS
An unfamiliar title, but one look at Hot-Blooded Tough Guy Kunio 3DS should put you in familiar territory. This is a welcome revisit to the world of River City Ransom from BlazBlue developer Arc System Works.
As one of the archetypal 8-bit games, it's surprising that this particular franchise hasn't been earmarked for the 3D Classics range that's been dribbling onto the 3DS's eShop, and it's hard to see what this all-new game offers above and beyond a simple remake with a tacked-on extra dimension.
Only the arena-based arcade mode was available to play on the show floor, and it revealed the simplistic pugilism to be complete and largely untouched.
Nintendo has already proven how well retro visuals translate to the 3DS, and this particular game is at least making a little extra effort in that regard. Backgrounds boast impressive depth, and the shoulder buttons allow you to zoom in and out of the action.
It's unlikely this will ever make it out of Japan as a boxed game, but as a downloadable, Hot-Blooded Tough Guy would be a welcome addition to the still sparse 3DS eShop.
Used under license from Eurogamer.