Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Reverse Psychology

I think I hated this last year. Couldn't accept it for the world. Now, I'm seeing things.

I see a very twisted, mcabre visual style. I see some inspired enemy design. I see dynamically morphing environments and an impressive sense of scale. I see a battle system that looks, surprisingly like DMC1, but with an added level of flourish. It looks cool, it looks does look like Devil May Cry.

Honestly, it looks a lot like Devil May Cry 2 visually, but without the suck.

I'm turn an eye to this. Not a blind eye, but one wide open, and accepting of change. I still don't like the way he looks, but it isn't nearly as distracting as it was last year.

I do like this video. It's making me smile.

Once again proving that really, gamers have no conviction, and that if it looks cool enough, eventually, despite our dissent, we will crack in the name of the game.

Cool artwork, too.

Continue Reading..

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Ninjas hiding from the truth.

Ninja Gaiden 3 is in development, and it's no secret to avid followers that this will be the first NG title to be an completely original development not based on a previous work. Though the action looked serviceable enough, and violent enough to satisfy, something seemed to be missing. Specifically, an over-the-top amount of violent payoff to match the on-screen action. When asked about whether they would be returning to the all too famous decapitations and dismemberment characteristic to the Ninja Gaiden series since its reboot back in 2004, This is what Team Ninja had to say about the matter:

"We don't think people want to see that anymore," they were reported as saying at Gamescom last week. "They've already seen it."

Yeah right.

More like "We aren't talented enough to have a full dismemberment system in place on both consoles."

I'm seeing a pattern here. To this writer, it seems like excuses wrapped not in good intent, but in their own shortcomings as a developer, especially with their notoriously abrasive, yet perfectionistic leader gone. Let me explain.

Tech savvy gamers know for a fact that the 360 has a higher fill rate than the PS3. In terms everyone can understand, this means it has an ability to display more polygons on screen at any given time. In terms of Ninja Gaiden, specifically it's sequel, it meant they were able to have a fantastic gore/dismemberment system in place that even occasionally compromised the game's otherwise rock solid framerate, slowing things down when there were simply too many bits and pieces flying about.

It's my theory that this system, one that bogged down the 360 at times, was just about impossible to port over to the PS3. While it's a trial indeed to port over (and in some cases, upgrade) the vast majority of the game's assets intact, that wasn't the difficult part. The most difficult part would be getting that gore under control on the PS3...and they couldn't. They dropped the ball, and gave an excuse.

“Each game has its own concept and with Ninja Gaiden 2, the focus was on extreme violence. But with Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, we really questioned whether violence is a necessity for a game, so we decided to move away from that trend. So the violence ‘approach’ is not the way we approached the development of Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2. Being able to unlock higher levels of gore would be out of kilter with the concept of the game.”

Motion controlled breasts were not, however.

Remarkably similar, no? The quality of Team Ninja's games have been in decline ever since Itagaki left, and Yuusuke Hayashi keeps proving time and time again that he cannot uphold that standard since his departure, instead masking his shortcomings in tired excuses like this. I heard nothing of this in the original Ninja Gaiden port, which had the decapitations intact and took the time to improve visually...but the source material was from the last generation of hardware. The second game takes advantage of a specific next gen hardware advantage and has that specific feature cut. The third game is multiplatform out of the gate and has every aspect cut. That can't be coincidence.

The funny thing is, while he may be fooling anyone else blind enough to accept that tripe, this was all to familiar to the MGS2 debacle on the Xbox, one that is all too familiar.

Last generation, a perfect example of this was Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance on the original Xbox. Being a port of the original MGS2: Sons of Liberty on the PS2, the game was specifically designed to take advantage of the system's strengths, most notably the console's fill rate to create the still amazing to this day rainstorm in the tanker chapter. When this game was ported to the Xbox, the textures were better, the sound was better, and overall the game had a much cleaner look. However, the rainstorm was a bit too much for the system's architecture (particles, natch), and what was a perfectly smooth experience on the PS2 turned into a slow motion spectacle worthy of Zack Snyder on the Xbox, turning every scene outside the ship into a slideshow. Was it the Xbox's fault? No, it was more Kojima Productions' doing by not optimizing the game on different hardware, deciding that it would be easier to just dump it on the Xbox intact and let the chips fall where they may.

This is exactly what I feel is going on here, except instead of leaving the original game concept intact come hell or high water, they're instead omitting aspects of the game, leaving the fans to stare and shake their heads in bewilderment every time a new statement like that comes out. Yes, Ninja Gaiden is a great action game, but part of that enoyment comes from the visceral action, and yes, later on, the absurd amount of gore that came as a result. Omitting those aspects (using us as an excuse no less) is only going to hurt them in the long run, because as far as I can see, the God of War series is still going pretty strong, and Kratos has never run into an enemy face unworthy of evisceration. Imagine if Sony Santa Monica said they were cutting the gore from the PSP version of God of War, stating that it was time to tell a more "mature" tale for a different audience unfamiliar with Kratos. You'd think they were full of shit, right?


Continue Reading..

Groove Coasting

Few games have inspired a state of wonder and excitement in me the way Groove Coaster has.

Reisuke Ishida, creator of Space Invaders: Infinity Gene is back. Already having reinvented the classic shooter for a new generation, he’s got his sights on a new genre—rhythm action. Sometimes, it’s the simplest things that resonate the most, and if a Tron-esque visual style, married with an uptempo soundtrack and evolutionary gameplay could work for the most basic of shooters, could the same treatment be used to revive the rarely changing rhythm landscape?

Groove Coaster
For: iOS 4.2 (iPhone, iPad, iPad 2, iPod Touch)
Publisher: Taito corp.
Price: $2.99
Release: 7/28/2011 (North America)

The premise is simple, your avatar follows a line from start to finish, and along the way, there are dots along the way that you have to tap in rhythm to the song being played. When you’re successful, the instrument in question rings out and the song sounds better, miss one, and the instrument sounds muted. However, to offer such a plain explanation would be selling the experience short, as the game expands from simple taps, to holds, to all out swiping gestures at higher difficulties, and the lines themselves change depending on the song played, veering off in strange angles and wrapping around itself in tune with the song. It’s surreal and exciting all at once.

This is exactly where Groove Coaster shines. One conundrum of rhythm games is that no matter how great the music is, most offer up the same interface and visual feedback no matter the song being played, leaving the difficulty to be the only distinction between tracks. Here, I can’t say the same thing. Each visualization here not only is unique to the song being played, but are also so distinct, each song feels like its own experience, and it’s one related to the song being played in a more intimate fashion. So where a techno song is filled with harsh lines and curves that veer off at ninety degree angles to the beat, a jazzier song is filled with softer curves and a slower pace that feels more akin to travelling on a wave of sound. The decision to use wireframe visuals was a wise one, and one that’s easy to appreciate especially as the game starts playing tricks with depth and other effects to obscure notes.

For the diehards or rhythm aficionados, there’s a leveling system in place that unlocks new skins, avatars and items, which serve as modifiers for each track affecting things like the visuals, just in case you need the visuals even more trippy than they already are, or how you accumulate score. Having Game Center, Leaderboards for each song are also a must, and there are plenty of reasons to return to each song, not that anyone would complain about the 16 already on display. All this and I haven’t even mentioned the in-game store with extra tracks, avatars and items to buy…

Groove Coaster is something special. Not just because of the visuals, or the excellent music, or the ingenious touch-screen gameplay, but rather, how all three manage to come together in a way that would make Tetsuya Mizuguchi lose sleep at night. It’s an innovative, engaging ride of sights and sounds that filled me with a feeling of excitement I haven’t felt since playing the original Rez on the PS2 nearly a decade ago. Long story short, if you have a pulse at all, you’ll find something to enjoy here. Is there a higher recommendation than that?

Rating: 9.5

Continue Reading..