Heading into my trip to E3 with the KmartGamer team, I was looking forward to my meeting with Namco Bandai. I had high hopes for Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, plus games like Dark Souls and SoulCalibur V were high on my interest list. I got to see and experience a lot of games during my time with Namco Bandai, but when my time was up, I had mixed feelings.
The first game that I got hands-on time with was Ace Combat: Assault Horizon. My first thought was that it’s a better-looking game than its predecessors. That’s high praise, considering that I have enjoyed every game in the series so far. The game plays fast, the frame rate is smooth, and it’s got a gritty feel to it. At first, the game played with familiarity. Flying the aircraft felt a little too sensitive at first, but I quickly compensated for this and took down a few enemy planes with missile strikes. Things were going well, until I had to enter the close combat “dogfighting” mode. Getting into this mode requires players to keep the target directly in front of them at close range and press the L2 and R2 buttons. It’s not at all intuitive and really ruins the experience that Ace Combat veterans have enjoyed for years. I understand not wanting to do the “same old thing”, but this… this is broken. Worse yet, the experience was damaging enough to kill my personal excitement for the game despite the other positives it has.
Next up was observation time with Inversion, a third-person shooter set for release next year. It’s easy to think of Inversion as just being another shooter, but the use of gravity in the game really does add a unique component to the game. Players can use the environment to their advantage at will, summoning lava or pulling off gravity tricks which seemed a bit similar to Bulletstorm. Enemies can be tossed into the air or grabbed from a distance and pulled towards the player. Perhaps the most interesting part of what I saw was that gameplay can take place on walls or even on ceilings above the action due to gravity changes. Standing on a wall, players have to adjust their approach to combat. Inversion shows promise in a sea of similar shooters.
Dark Souls was my next destination, and I can already tell fans of Demon’s Souls that this game is going to be as good as advertised. From Software has ratcheted up the difficulty; in fact, the person who demonstrated the game for me was having a difficult time staying alive himself. The visuals looked about on par with Demon’s Souls to me, but graphics were never the strong point for either game. It’s about the combat, the challenge, the setting and the online functionality. If you’re going to be getting this game in October, I highly suggest buying a replacement controller right away. That way, when you break your controller out of frustration, you’ll have another right away.
Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon brings back the bugs with improved graphics and a new squad/class mechanic. Taking down the ant hordes is still fun, and the visuals have been tightened up for this sequel. Unfortunately, I wasn’t sold on the classes and squad mechanics. That’s probably more a matter of personal preference, but I felt like it impeded on my ability to just pick up and play the game. Co-op fans will probably like this, and the $40 price tag should be inviting for many.
While playing Earth Defense Force, I was tapped by my Namco guide who beckoned me into a small room where SoulCalibur V was being demonstrated behind closed doors. Producer Hisaharu Tago was in attendance for the demonstration, which showcased four fighters. The two new ones, Patroklos and Pyrrah, the son and daughter of SoulCalibur‘s Sophitia. Siegfried and Mitsurugi were the other two characters. The move sets for all of the fighters were largely pulled from SoulCalibur IV, but there were a few new tricks to be seen, including special moves that could be triggered after a “special meter” of sorts was filled up. SoulCalibur V will be taking place 17 years after the events of the last SoulCalibur game, and returning characters will show this difference. Mitsurugi looked to be more affected by the age change, with longer locks and a bit of graying. Despite the age, both characters still maintain their fighting skills as I saw in several matches as demonstrated by a Namco employee.
A few nuggets of information pulled from the presentation included:
- 20-30 characters are targeted for the final game, with a 50-50 split between new and returning characters.
- One of the goals with SoulCalibur V is to win over the hardcore fighting fan.
- The new EX/Super attacks were inspired by the Critical Edge Attacks from Soul Edge; success of these attacks will be based on determining how and when to use them.
- There will be post-release updates to tweak balance, much like Mortal Kombat.
- New characters will be a better fit for experienced players, and will have interesting variations on familiar attacks.
- Expect a more robust solo gameplay mode with focus on the game’s story.
I did ask Mr. Tago if there was a more specific targeted release date and he laughed, adding through an interpreter, that the development team knows that fans are very excited to get their hands on SoulCalibur V and that they’re working very hard to deliver that experience as quickly as they can.
Even at this early stage of development, there’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to SoulCalibur V. The visuals have already taken a step forward and the new character designs for Pyrrah and Patroklos look great. It’s going to be a long but hopefully worthwhile wait for the tale of souls and swords to be retold anew in 2012.
One last stop on the Namco tour led me to Galaga Legions DX, which is scheduled to see release for Xbox LIVE Arcade and the PlayStation Store sometime this summer. Although Galaga Legions never resonated with me, Galaga Legions DX is a different animal. The game has evolved into a twin-stick shooter, a la Geometry Wars or Super Stardust HD, and the focus is now on eliminating enemy waves as quickly as possible. There are definite parallels between Galaga Legions DX and Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, as players are battling the ticking clock more than avoiding death or dispatching enemies. Once that timer starts running, it’s a race to find the quickest way to wipe out enemy waves of ships. Some waves will have an enemy with a bomb that takes out the whole squadron; others require watching patterns to effectively kill them off. It’s expected that Galaga Legions DX will release for $10 (800 Microsoft Points) when it lands this summer, and I’ll be reviewing this game for certain.
My Namco experience, as you can see, was a mix of excitement and disappointment. SoulCalibur V and Galaga Legions are now squarely on my radar and my anticipation for Ace Combat: Assault Horizon has been dashed considerably. There were even more games that I was unable to cover in the time allotted, like Tekken Tag Tournament 2, White Knight Chronicles 2, and others. It’s good to see that Namco has so much on its release schedule, and the publisher looks to be giving us lots to talk about well into next year.
Namco’s Ridge Racer series and I have a long history.
Nearly 16 years ago, I played Ridge Racer for the first time on an import PlayStation unit at an independent game store. I was hooked almost instantly. It’s not that Ridge Racer necessarily did anything different than other racing games that I’d played before, but it was colorful, fast, and the music stayed in my head long after my play session came to an end. I knew from that night on that I would be spending $300 on a PlayStation come September 9th, 1995… and that was only the beginning.
I’ve played almost every Ridge Racer game since. Ridge Racer Revolution was decent but felt more like an extension of the original when it debuted in 1996. Rage Racer followed in 1997, and it was a stark contrast to the earlier games as earning money for winning races and choosing the right car for each race were much different than the straight arcade style that the Ridge Racer games were known for previously. Ridge Racer Type 4 made tweaks yet again with the Real Racing Roots ’99 campaign, improved visuals (like taillight streaks), and a jazz-infused soundtrack that still rates as one of the best around. I still own all of these, save for the original Ridge Racer, which I’m hoping makes its way onto the PlayStation Store at some point.
When I bought my PlayStation 2 in 2001, Ridge Racer V was one of the games I got at the same time, along with NHL 2001, SSX, and Swing Away Golf. Ridge Racer V was a big jump in terms of graphics for the series, and the return of the original Ridge Racer course with a new coat of visual paint was amazing to behold. The lighting effects blew me away and the framerate had been greatly improved over the 30fps from the original PlayStation title. These visual improvements didn’t get in the way of classic Ridge Racer gameplay, which was very important. The interesting story mode was gone, in favor of a return to a more arcade-style feel, but Ridge Racer V felt like a return home for a franchise that had undergone changes for the previous two installments– and that was fine by me.
Getting an Xbox 360 and a PlayStation 3 over the course of this console generation, I bought Ridge Racer 6 and Ridge Racer 7, respectively. I wasn’t initially a fan of the new focus on drifting and gaining nitrous boosts, but it grew on me. The visuals were improved once again, and seeing Ridge City in high definition was– and still is– jaw-dropping. I still own all three of these games, as well. As with Ridge Racer V, there were nostalgic nods to previous games in the series. Music tracks from past games were available for download. The infamous Ridge Racer helicopter looked better than ever, as did the original Ridge Racer course– which was beautiful in its familiarity. Ridge Racer 6‘s World Explorer mode was an interesting way to approach single-player racing and the accent on collecting cars was reminiscent of Ridge Racer Type 4. I prefer Ridge Racer 7, if only because it feels like a more complete version of Ridge Racer 6 and the ability to adjust and tune vehicle parts was welcome.
When I found out that Ridge Racer 3D was going to be a launch title for the Nintendo 3DS, I knew that I had to have it… even though I really didn’t know what to expect from it. Screenshots weren’t exactly promising,, but I was still excited. The prospect of Ridge Racer in 3D was admittedly pretty cool, and I had faith that we wouldn’t see a disastrous effort like we’d seen with Ridge Racer DS… which was a sloppy port of an already-weak game in Ridge Racer 64. In a sea of average launch titles, I had hope that I could count on Ridge Racer 3D to be a good complement to Super Street Fighter IV.
Then… I played it. A lot.
Ridge Racer 3D won’t win any awards for technical achievement. The frame rate returns to the the PlayStation’s familiar 30fps and lots of visual touches that we’ve been accustomed to seem to be missing. The game really doesn’t do much to break the mold that was set by the others in the series, but it’s still a fantastic experience and was meant for me, the Ridge Racer fanatic. It’s all about fan service, and Namco delivers it in spades with this game. Bits and pieces of many of the games that I mentioned earlier are here: classic race circuits, classic music, and classic gameplay. Car models aren’t all that detailed, but seeing them approach (or blow by you) in 3D is pretty amazing. Seeing tracks from Ridge Racer Revolution, Rage Racer, and even variations of tracks from Ridge Racer 6 makes me smile. Music tracks from older games join with new creations to fill the soundtrack, and the built-in psuedo-surround effect from the 3DS’ speakers adds to the quality. The Grand Prix progression is a cross between Rage Racer and Ridge Racer 7 as points are used to buy new vehicles and upgrades. The gameplay is pure Ridge Racer, no matter whether you use the D-pad or the analog disc, as you tear around the track and deftly drift through corners and hammer the gas to straighten out. There is an option to drift “on demand” with a button press, similar to Tokyo Highway Battle, but series veterans not only won’t need this… but they won’t want it.
The formula feels similar to what Namco did with its Ridge Racer release for the PSP, but with a 3D coating. The experience is pretty long; a couple of hours into the game, I’m only just now unlocking the second tier of cars with more power and speed. I’m aiming to turn in a review for Gaming Nexus, but may do one here as well. What I can say, even at this early stage, is that Ridge Racer 3D is already my favorite 3DS game and looks to stay that way for at least a few more weeks.
Thank you, Namco, for giving me the game that I didn’t know I wanted.