Please Note! Just as two people can draw two wildly different images from a Rorschach blot, everyone who goes to the Tokyo Game Show will come away with their own conclusions and opinions. I went, and these are mine. If you read another writeup that says entirely different things about the games I mention that does not mean I or they are wrong. It means the wonderful random nature of the human animal has reared its head again, and you'll have to draw your own conclusions.
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TGS 2003: Lawrence speaks

 


TGS was great. Kinda. Mostly. Some parts sucked. In fact, most of it sucked - but the stuff that was good was really good. I attended with Scott Mollet who writes the occasional piece for InsertCredit.com and we both agreed on the Game of the Show. It was a remake, but intensely truthful to the original. Does that mean the rest of the show was really bad? Well, that's up to you.

To start, everyone showed the same game: the 3D adventure. Every company had the same game on offer, in four varieties:

the 3D adventure shoot-em-up
the 3D adventure beat-em-up
the 3D adventure RPG
the 3D adventure cute-action-game

Sure, they differed slightly in terms of frame-rate, animation quality, style and theme, but they were all the same from a distance and I'm sick and tired of this shit. Every booth had the same damned game on, you couldn't tell from a distance whether it was the new Onimusha from Capcom, Konami's Castlevania, Aruze's Shadow Hearts 2, Sega's Kunoichi, Taito's Bujingai, NCSoft's Lineage 2... They're all the same! Even when one is complete garbage and one is brilliant, I think we can all agree that when every company is showing a game that, at first glance, looks the same as another game in every booth, that it's a bad thing. The Japanese game market is in serious danger of stagnation, if this is any kind of yardstick.

There were remakes a-plenty. Most were exactly what you expect: Shiny remakes of old games; new twists and visual flair, but the same ol' same ol'. Konami's Treasure-developed Gradius, Hudson's four-pack of Lode-Runner, Star Soldier, Bonk's Adventure + Adventure Island, Sega's line of Ages remakes (Most of which totally underwhelmed), Taito's Space Invaders Anniversary... Using this yardstick again the Japanese game insdustry is gouging out their history for lack of new content.

It wasn't all gloom and doom - the cellular phone gaming sector was booming. A little chat with a Namco rep was very enlightening: Cellular games are Namco's biggest source of profit by division. The math is simple: Tens of millions of subscribers, minimal programming cost, and near zero R&D when most of your games are ports. Namco wouldn't give exact figures or details, but they claim 'several hundreds of thousands' of monthly subscribers or downloads at three hundred yen per pop ($2.70 at today's exchange). Ringtones were also a huge moneymaker for Namco. Today's phones are capable of amazing feats compared to what was available even two years ago, and most every large company bar Nintendo has a significant investment in the format.

I played Castlevania, and it's exactly what I expected, with one flaw and one pleasant surprise. It's your standard 3D platformer, and if you think Devil May Cry with a whip you're not far off the mark. The camera is the flaw: it works very well except when entering a room, when it faces the player and you're forced to walk into the room to get the camera behind you. Blindly walking into a room full of baddies is, I think, universally understood as "bad!". On the other, happier side, your standard 3D platformer game mechanic of "walk toward enemy and pound on the attack button to perform combo hits" can change targets in mid-attack. If you're surrounded by three skeletons you can rapid-fire two hits to the first, two to the second, and finish off on the third. It doesn't auto-target, so you're free to hit anything you successfully aim at with the analogue stick. Castlevania it ain't, but an above-average 3D platformer it is.

Gradius, another remake, is at least as pretty as the screenshots you've seen. We all know what Gradius is, and you either love it or couldn't care less. There's nothing new here, it's just sugar-coated.

Capcom put on a good show, with a lot of playable games. Onimusha Buraiden looked like great fun, but even with two pads out, only one-player matches (of 4 possible) were selectable. It's basically PowerStone with samurais, and that's not a bad thing. Very pretty. Onimusha 3 was looking very good, and there's likely nothing comparable to seeing a virtual Jean Reno talking to a fairy in a PS2 game. Maximo 2 was on offer, looking very much like the first but better, and the Street Fighter Super Duper Whatsit +alpha as being shown, looking every bit as a Super Nintendo game should. Videos were shown of Killer 7 and Biohazard 4, as well as Crimson Tears and Rose of Glass.

Sega's booth was hugely disappointing, with only Billy Hatcher looking like something fun to play, with great control, sound, graphics... A nice package. Kunoichi didn't look as good as other 3D adventure games on offer, sad to say. Their Sega Ages 2500 series was, by and large, complete crap. Half-assed 3D remakes of Golden Axe, Virtua Racing, Space Harrier and Gain Ground were shown, but not playable. Virtua Racing looked unimproved from the arcade, Golden Axe was apparently made of polygons badly pasted on the 2D original, and the unknown classic Gain Ground gained nothing from a 3D makeover beyond a smaller playing area.

Konami's booth was the largest, I think, but they shoved in a huge amount of games from their near-subsidiaries Hudson and Genki as well. Actually Genki only really had one game on offer, the PS2 sequel Kaido Battle 2: Chain Reaction. If you like drifting, Japanese roads and sexy ricemobiles, this game's for you. If Castlevania was Konami's big push (And it was) Hudson's was Far East of Eden: Manji-maru. Yes, it's another remake/sequel, but they seem very proud of it. Most of this enormous booth was single-screen playable demos of new and recent titles, with nothing really exciting shown (except the Game of Show as decided by Scott and I). Oh, and Metal Gear Solid 3 managed to look super impressive, fun, boring, more-of-the-same, stupid, innovative, lame and nifty all in one ten-minute video. Not playable, sadly, so it's a bit of a wild card.

Namco had a small booth with not much to say. There was video of Baten Kaitos which I confess I completely ignored since RPGs are kind of off my radar. R: Racing Evolution was playable, and it looked identical on the Cube + Xbox, either a GC programming tour de force or a sign that Namco's portable game programming (shown first with Soul Calibur 2) is still in use. It looks great, but I couldn't spend enough time with it to see how it compares to the old RR Games. The Skyline drives like a tank, BTW. Breakdown was playable, but it failed to impress. It looked and played like a strictly average FPS game, and it starts with a really lame 'can't leave this room until you do some unknown action' bit, which soured me right off the bat. Jerky control and no special features, sad to say. Time Crisis 3 was playable, and they might have mentioned XenoSaga 2.

Sony's booth had only two things of note: Gran Turismo 4, which you either rabidly anticipate or have only a passing interest in, and the Eye Toy, currently tearing up the charts in the UK. GT4 was gorgeous, and you couldn't tell whether it was real life or a game. The Eye Toy, Sony's webcam-like controller peripheral, was curious. The demos they ran didn't seem to really show it off well, but the dancing troupe featuring a pre-teen girl, 2 teenaged boys, a girl and a grandmother was ... pleasantly uninteresting. Also Siren was shown in a smoke-filled darkroom, and it's a perfect example of how a 3D adventure game can turn out if it's a Silent-Hill clone. As in previous TGS events Sony seems content to blow a fortune on the contsruction of the booth, stuff a million games inside, and show very little new stuff. Hi, we're Sony, and we're kicking your ass.

Microsoft didn't even bother with a booth in the main hall, choosing instead to set up shop between Atlus/Takara and Ragnarok Online. They had lots and lots of booth babes, playable Tekki 2 (Steel Battalion) and Gotham Racing, and a few other odds and ends. The head man from Tecmo made a brief appearance, but aside from some footage of Dead or Alive Online on the world's largest plasma TV they had nothing else to show. Oh, yeah, that's a lie. They had a commercial looping specifically designed to introduce the Japanese public to XBox Live. It was screamingly loud, totally x-treme, and in your face. No wonder it doesn't sell here. With ads like that it's a wonder it sells anywhere.

Taito had soul-crushingly beautiful booth-babes, but little new game-wise on show. The 3D adventure of the day: Bujingai featuring Gackt, and a new Energy Airforce summed up their booth. But the girls... Taito knows how to get your attention one way or another, and they had mine. For about sixty seconds. Sorry. =/

Bandai was showing their usual licensed crap, though they've learned how to make it very visually attractive. All the licenses in the world and they still can't make a good game to save their lives. Macross, another crappy Evangelion game, ... It was all crap. Pretty across the board, but completely crap. They also showed off a red GameCube + GBA set with a Gundam motif (see pic).

Sammy showed their usual line of basically nothing, with their 3D adventure game Seven Samurai 20xx, a line of peripherals that look disturbingly like ASCII's old catalogue (read: Identical) and some pachinko crap. Also they were very proud of their Guilty Gear X Mobile cardgame for i-mode phones, which seemed capable of only producing "error" no matter what you did.

Square Enix was happy to show a Front-Mission collection with the first three games in a single package, as well as Front Mission 4, a pile of RPG stuff, and a super secret "stop filming the screen please" ten-second video of Cloud walking through a church and then looking at the camera before fading to black. I have no idea. RPGs... Under my radar.

Oh, right, the ngage. Nokia will release it in Japan, but it can't be used here as a phone, just a game system. As a game system it sucks ass. As a phone it sucks ass. See the sidebar for a picture of the ludicrous game-changing procedure, involving a complete shell and battery removal. I played MonkeyBall on it. My cellular phone has higher resolution and the same sized screen. Here in Japan at least celphones already do hi-res full-colour games, and they do it almost as good (And some seem better) and are also great phones that don't look like saucers embedded in your head when you talk on them. Note to Nokia: You're stupid.

Oh, right (2): Game of the Show, decided unanimously:

Bonk's Adventure, for GC + PS2, by Hudson.

We were allowed ten minutes or less with every game, and it took only about sixty seconds to decide this game was the one. Dead-on 2D gameplay, graphics reminiscent of Yoshi's Island, and levels almost identical to the original. A brief conversation with some Konami + Hudson reps revealed this game was identical to the original, though I fear something was lost in the translation as there are many subtle differences - it's not as annoyingly repetative as the first for example. This one's going to be a treat, and like Star Soldier, it won't sell at all. Poor Hudson.

And that, in a lengthy nutshell, was my TGS experience. Here's some pics for you, excluding 30 amazing shots I took that were corrupted by my camera. =~(

Lawrence Wright - nfg games

[next: Scott's impressions, movies]





 

[Lawrence's take]

[Scott's take]

[TGS/industry opinion]