Today, I saw that IGN had published a piece entitled “10 Of The Best iPad Board Games“. I expected an opinion piece. I expected to disagree with a lot of the picks. What I didn’t expect, from what I’d assumed was a professional and reliable source, was a lazily written article full of nonsense and factual inaccuracies.
After the tragic loss of the original Jumping the Shark #129 and the subsequent (and awesome) Cackowski-Schnell One-Man Jam that replaced it, the gang gets back on track this week by reminiscing about the week that was at E3. We talk games. We talk fashion. We talk fine dining. And we talk who would win in a battle royale between dinosaurs and plankton. (At least two of these things are true.) As this posts I’ll literally be on a plane bound for Vegas, so I leave you in the steady hands of the writers here who actually -you know- write stuff. Have a wonderful week everyone. Hopefully I make it home without being destitute and hooked on crack. No promises.
One of the problems of being at E3 is that you don’t always know what the general perspective of E3 is. I’m not sure if that’s an actual problem or just a blissful result of being in your own self absorbed world of giant, transforming robots and physical embodiments of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.
So, when I read Michael’s excellent Gravity Rush piece, I wondered why he thought that Sony had given up on the Vita. After all, I spent a good hour going from one Vita title to another at the Sony booth at E3, surrounded by other folks similarly interested in Sony’s little handheld powerhouse.
As it turned, out, Michael was talking about the lack of Vita coverage at the Sony presser, which gave the impression that Sony was over the Vita. It’s perfectly understandable and yet another reason to avoid those vapid PR spectacles and instead seek out information on individual games.
The game that I spent the most time with at the Sony booth was the upcoming Sly Cooper game, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time. I was first drawn to it on the PS3 but once I saw it on running on the Vita, I knew it had to be mine.
Simply put, they’re the same game. And when I mean it’s the same game, I mean that between the visual style of the game and the power present in the Vita, the two games look identical. It reminds me of Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 on the Vita. Add to the visuals the fact that the Vita has two thumbsticks, like a PS3 controller, and gryoscopic doo-dads, like a PS3 controller, and you have a handheld game that plays almost identical to its larger console counterpart.
I say “almost” because, as nice as the Vita’s screen is, sometimes a larger screen is nice for seeing hidden objects, alternate routes, etc, but even so, the fact that the Vita version of Sly Cooper plays the same as the PS3 version means that I’ll gladly play nothing but the Vita version. For the record, the two games being identical isn’t some marketing speak. I specifically chose to play the same level on both systems in order to compare and contrast. What can I say, you can take the man out of QA but you can’t take the QA out of the man.
Despite being developed by a different studio than the previous three games, this is definitely a Sly Cooper game, with all that entails. The slow, somewhat stilted dialog that starts each mission is still there, as is Sly’s set of acrobatic moves. With this version, Sly can change costumes and gain extra abilities as a result of the quick change. The level I played had Sly dressed up as his Robin Hood-esque ancestor and using a bow and arrow to sling ropes across the circus tent he was climbing up. If you’ve played and enjoyed Sly Cooper games in the past, I think this will scratch that itch for 3D platforming and thievery.
If you feel like dropping the cash on both versions of the game, you can do the whole cross platform play and swap your saves across hardware for a completely uninterrupted Sly Cooper gaming experience. I have no desire to do that, but I can understand the appeal, especially if you were playing a ton of Sly and then embarking on vacation. I’m not sure any game is worth almost $120 for a contiguous play experience, but I bet Bill would pay that much to be able to play Dark Souls at every waking moment. Me, I’ll stick with the Vita version. It’s cheaper, it looks just as good and I can bring it with me to work for lunchtime play.
After that it was off to try some Jet Set Radio. I never played the original game and I know that it is much loved by the Dreamcast fans. Maybe I’m just terrible at it, but I didn’t get it. I’m hoping that they release a demo that I can try under better conditions, because if my performance with it at E3 is any indication, I’ll just be wasting my money. It did look nice, for whatever that’s worth.
After the shame of Jet Set Radio, I moved down a couple of units and picked up a game from Xseed called Orgarhythm. Usually when I play a game I prefer to be allowed to do my thing in silence while I figure everything out, but the woman standing at the Orgarhythm section and playing the game was so enthusiastic about it that I didn’t mind her giving me the ins and outs.
The game is a combination rhythm-RTS in which you control a host of armies as your main character, a deity of some sort, casually strolls across the countryside. As he walks, music plays and your job is to queue up his armies and their attacks based on the beat of the music. The game is played with nothing but the touchscreen and while it did take me a few minutes to figure out what I was doing, soon I was bopping my head along and ordering waves of attacks.
The better you are at tapping out the army selection, unit selection and then drawing a line for your armies to follow, the more units you get at your command. In addition to the rhythmic aspect, there’s an elemental aspect to your armies and the attacking enemies meaning you have to make sure you’re deploying the right armies based on the enemies that are attacking.
Once the game gets going and you’re fending off attacks and adding units to your ranks, special bonuses and power-ups become available. Being rewarded with a larger army and more powerful attacks was a great incentive to keep tapping out the right rhythm as was the fact that your deity doesn’t stop walking for anything. Knowing that you have to be constantly on guard lest your character die is incredibly motivating.
Finally, while I didn’t get my hands on the Vita version, I did manage to play the PS3 version of PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. It’s not a bad take on Smash Bros., with all of the chaos that brings with it. I’m not too keen on having to completely drain your opponents’ health bars before you can kill them as one of the things that brings such depth to Smash Bros. is how different characters can knock you off of the stage more easily than others. Still, if you’ve always wanted to play Smash Bros. but are somehow wedded to Sony products, I can see this holding appeal.
It’s a shame that Sony didn’t mention the Vita more in their press conference as this system needs all of the public praising it can get. At least they did have games, and pretty good ones at that, for people to play. At the Nintendo booth, the only way to get your hands on a 3DS was to flag down a booth lady and ask to play the unit tethered to her waist. Gee, thanks Nintendo, I think I’ll pass.
I wasn’t planning on picking up Gravity Rush, the first retail game for the PS Vita that isn’t a port, an extension of a franchise, or otherwise forgettable. It’s a game- and brand- designed from the ground up for the floundering platform. It leverages the handheld’s strengths while presenting a full “console” experience, as was promised by the Vita’s press copy. I tried the demo Monday night, I was at Gamestop Tuesday morning with a pile of trade-ins, and I left with a copy of the game.
Here’s the rub. This Gravity Rush, like Vita itself, is doomed. It is destined to be underplayed, under-noticed, and undersold. But also like the Vita, it’s not likely to be underappreciated by those who experience it because it’s a really, really damn good game for a really, really damn good platform. Sony’s continued mishandling of the Vita (the company apparently forgot about it at E3) is no more evident than in its failure to release Gravity Rush as the flagship launch title instead of a scaled down, watered down version of Uncharted.
Gravity Rush isn’t a mold-breaking, lightning-in-a-bottle title. It doesn’t create a new genre and its ambitions do not lie in telling a Bioshock-level story. But what is is, and where it innovates, is in bringing together modest ambitions to deliver a supremely solid, highly stylized game that has “cult smash” written all over it. This is a game very much in the old Sega Dreamcast mold, another possible Jet Set Radio. And then there’s that whole gravity shifting thing, which feels completely fresh, novel, and most importantly fun. If you’re whining about how all “they” make anymore is military shooters, here’s one for you.
It’s a superhero origin story game. It’s a surprisingly focused open world one. It’s an action brawler with an upgrade system. It’s a puzzle-platformer and there’s some stealth gameplay. It has that orb thing from Crackdown. And it’s wrapped up in a drop-dead gorgeous comics style that’s as much Marvel as it is Manga. The young protagonist would fit right in with the X-Men.
I’ve only played for about two hours but I love it. It’s dazzled me, it’s delighted me in that short time. Not many games these days do that since so many focus on the Blockbuster Moment, this-world-is-shit angst, or boo-ya murder fantasy. There was one point last night where I was trying to collect these gems and I was floating in zero-G free fall and I was twisting and turning to see them, using the Vita’s gyroscope. I was on my couch with the Vita over my head, eyes toward the ceiling. It was immersive, and the control was dead on so the illusion wasn’t broken by implementation. It’s been done before in other IOS and 3DS games, but nowhere has it been more effective. The thrill of empowerment when you use the gravity ability to walk up walls or fall into the sky is awesome.
But it’s not the same sense of badass power that the Arkham games give you. It’s more like you’re a kid, like Peter Parker, discovering your abilities and how to use them. The first hour of the game is clumsy and awkward. You blow off out-of-bounds often. You fall. You get disoriented. You crash into statues and miss kicks. It makes sense because you’re learning. Some critics have already complained about these elements, of course. They’re missing the point.
I’ve still got 10 to 12 hours to go with the game by accounts. I almost want to stop playing it now in case it becomes repetitive, boring, or loses focus in sidequests during the middle game. Right now, I feel like I’ve played a truly new game and not just for the Vita. Refreshing, joyful, and passionately made games are rare these days and I almost don’t want to spoil it.
A zillion people will play some puzzle-platformer designed by an arrogant ass that claims that Japanese design is dead. But the number of people that will ever get to play Gravity Rush is likely exponentially smaller due its appearance- and in fact, its dependence- on a poorly adopted platform. It doesn’t help that it’s a product marketed by a company that is clueless as to how to sell it or to make consumer want it. Is it worth buying a Vita for Gravity Rush? Hell no. But if you have one (or access to one), this game is as good an argument for the underachieving handheld as anything else. The tragedy is that it may turn out to be one of the best games of the year on any platform.
Let me back up: Epic Mickey sold rather well, upwards to 2.5 to 3 million units. The actual game, though, was a letdown for many — especially considering how well that game showed at E3. It had a lot of people, people who usually don’t give games of its ilk a second glace, giving it a second glance.
Reviews were mixed and extremely polarizing. You rarely see this level of division— and it’s one of the things Metacritic is very good at revealing. Not so much the scores in and of themselves but the range of scores.
Sure you may see some Yahoo be an outlier and give Red Dead Redemption a less than glowing review (what a dummy) but to see so many great reviews and then so many “this is crap” reviews is rare.
So Epic Mickey 2 is in development and the trailer shows off some gameplay and has Warren Spector telling everyone about the new spin. He also mentions the camera which was a HUGE issue with the original and Spector has I guess changed his tune because he used to think the camera was A-OK in the first game. Funny how that works. I love Spector’s work but his reaction to Epic Mickey’s critics never did sit well with me.
If reviewers want to give us a hard time about it because they’re misunderstanding the game we made, it’s not for me to tell them that they’re wrong, absolutely not. But I wish people would get it out of their head that we made a ‘Mario’ competitor, because we didn’t.
I want Epic Mickey 2 to succeed and getting it out of the Wii exclusive realm and “enhancing” the camera, as Spector puts it, will go a long way into making that happen.