ECTS/E3 2003: Sammy Atomiswave
09292003
by: mathew kumar / brandon sheffield

 


At ECTS, I didnít ever actually bother with the map, so finding Sammy was a little harder than it should have been. I should have known, though, when we reached an area where Alex said:

ďHmm, itís all looking a bit Kentia.Ē

Now. I donít mean to be too hard on Sammy, but they could have put a little bit of effort in. Sitting in an undecorated stand, facing the wrong direction at the furthest end of the hall, probably isnít the greatest plan. But for the most part, the 4 AtomisWave machines were in constant use.

I donít know if they were showing Seven Samurai again behind closed doors. Sammy Studios were certainly on hand and in meetings all day, every day, so I imagine they were. But the only thing I could really get a hands-on with were the AtomisWave machines.

Dolphin Blue

Mathewís take

I think this game made me wonder if I was cut out to be a game journalist, even in the amateur respect. Brandon had already told me he felt the game was "HELLA" uninspired, in fact, he said it was the worst of the bunch in his E3 report.

I think Iím having a little trouble with that idea, because the first thing I thought when I saw it was -

Itís Metal Slug -- but itís hi-res, itís got some nice polygon graphics going on, and you can ride dolphins.

I canít say I wasnít excited by the prospect of this on free play. And Iíll admit, itís quite workmanlike. It doesnít do anything particularly new. ButÖ

Itís Metal Slug.

I love Metal Slug; running along, pumping bullets into enemies that -- uncommonly -- have some character. And this has some character too -- although its art design is about as new as its gameplay (this time derivative of Skies of Arcadia):

ITíS METAL SLUG.

I shouldnít be rewarding Sammy for this -- but if youíve played each version of Metal Slug to death and you still want more, play this. Of course if you havenít, this at least has some swimming sections and funky forced-scroll dolphin-riding sections. I love it, no matter how cynical I should be. Maybe Brandon has something to say about it, to change my mind.

Brandonís take

*disclaimer!* I played the 80% build at E3. Mathew played the 100% complete version. So keep that in mind.

OMG! Itís the Metal Slug clone that all the kids are talking about; the one with the 3D backgrounds and the dolphin riding. It does have those things, and in spades. But itís missing some important stuff Ė namely the personality and humanity Iíve come to expect from a run&gun these days.

Nearly every enemy looked and acted the same. There was no real character to them, and the AI felt flat-out stupid when compared to say, a Metal Slug 3.

The graphics, admittedly are very pretty. But playing the game, I kept getting sidetracked by looking at the Sushi Bar console to my left, or thinking about interviews, or what I was going to have for lunch tomorrow. It didnít hold my attentionÖthereís just something about the sound design and the character art that doesnít draw me in. It had this effect on several of us at E3.

In Metal Slug, of course, each character is different, dynamic, and appears to have a life outside of war, just by virtue of the way they animate and interact with the environment. This is true of the enemies as well. But thereís none of that in Dolphin Blue Ė itís just an action shooter. Itís pretty good at doing what it intends, then. But itís just not something Iíd want to play again and again.

BecauseÖat the same time, while itís not got the character and heart of Metal Slug, itís also not as technical and precise as other games in the genre. Itís a bit too slow, and lacks the twitch element we expect from a Contra title, or the GI Joe franchise, for instance. It straddles that fine line between the two paragons of the genre, and as a result doesnít quite manage to be distinct enough to make an impression on me.

This is one of those titles that will really polarize an audience. Play it and see for yourself, I sez.

Demolish Fist

Mathewís take

ďWell the world donít move, to the beat of just one drum, What might be right for you, may not be right for some.Ē

It takes different strokes to move the world; yes, it does. This was Brandonís second most played game of E3. Of E3! He didnít even bother to play Zelda: Four Swords!

There are, in my mind, several ways to tell -- within seconds -- if the game you are playing is terrible. After the seminal "Start to Crate Test", I think comes the "Walk Test". How your character walks is what youíre going to see the most in the game, right?

The one character, Leoneed, walks like heís on the most leisurely stroll in history. It seems as if heís dawdling down to the shops one morning for a Sunday paper; not that heís surrounded by a motorcycle gang, attempting to slap, perhaps, the HELL out of him.

I get no feeling of character from anything in this game. Iím not going to blame it on the polygons, as it all looks very nice. But itís as if someone approached a team of Microsoft Word programmers, handed them several Japanese art books, and asked them to make Final Fight. Weíve got Leoneed (or, essentially, Law from Tekken), Vanessa May, apparently taking time out from her world tours to cosplay as a member of STARS and limply fight street thugs, or Undead (Christ, I donít even know where to begin. Raiden? ? Any one of the recent Castlevania leads?).

Itís not like the design had to be so dull. The characters are all members of "The Missionaries", the special operations unit of "The Church" -- an organisation dedicated to fighting violent crime and terrorism. (Ooh, topical.)

Wouldnít they be cooler if they were all, I donít know, kung fu priests, swinging rosary beads and throwing crosses? The smart bomb move could be the Virgin Mary crying a river of blood, washing away all the enemies!

No?

Well, then itís a shame that itís just all so dull, to be honest. The fighting, with combos, blocking, and a pleasing ĎVertigo Modeí in which your chosen character can rack up a hideous combo, is all very solid. But itís all wrapped up in such a characterless, meaningless brawl that I was glad to stop playing.

Brandonís take

If this were Timís story, Iíd be round about ready to Ďfireí Mathew for canning my Ďmost played game of E3í. As it is, heís on thin ice. We all know fire and ice simply do not mix. GUFFAW.

So hereís why heís incorrect this time, the poor misguided bastard.

There has not, to date, been a great 3D beat-em-up. Fighting Force kinda triedÖbut we all know what happens when you only kinda try in this business. (and bear in mind, Iíve never gotten to play Spike Out.)

However!! This is a very, very good 3D beat-em-up. Given the slim competition, Iíll confidently call it the best 3D beat-em-up that I have ever played. The system is rather cool Ė button sequences and directional leanings yield a solid set of fixed combos. Branching is also possible Ė not to the extent of Her Knights, but a fair bit more than Final Fight 3.

Hell, I love that the characters are nonchalant when they fight. Isnít that the primary mark of a badass? Last I checked - very recently - it was. I meanÖyou can pick up cars and throw them. Everybody in this game is a goddamned superhero. The character design is more than stylish, the action is smooth and the levels are dark and threatening. There was a lot of work put into establishing a mood for this gameÖand itís not much of a surprise, given that this is a Dimps property.

More than that, this is the first Dimps game that is not built around an existing licenseÖthe first game thatís theirs, after all of that (largely solid) Bandai work. And it shows in the heart they put into Demolishfist. Itís funny how Mathew and I are completely opposite as regards this game. I really got a distinct feeling of character from it, given the nifty Daraku Tenshi-esque designs, the ridiculous bonus stages (DESTROY ALL FORKLIFTS!!! for some reason), the dark, gritty environments and the fun, if slightly mindless combo system.

Eric-Jon felt the same way about this gameÖthat lends credence, does it not? I am confident that with more playtime, Mathew would come around to feeling this way as well.

Case in point, Mathew had a problem with the characters not running Ė but a double tap on the stick makes them do just that, and they seem pretty urgent about it. If youíre looking to play a 3D beat-em-up, this is a good way to go.

Maximum Speed

When I arrived in London the first thing I did was check out the arcades around Tottenham Court Road. I was on the lookout for Initial D, because Iíd never played it. I found it the first place I looked: an arcade situated beside the "Scientology Shop", which offers free IQ tests (the results of which, I imagine, are "You should convert to Scientology!").

Initial D is everything an arcade racer should be. For one, the card system really adds something to the experience. The turning circle of the wheels is huge, so it feels a lot closer to driving than it could at home. It was so good, that I continued to think about it all week before I finally managed to take time out from ECTS, to find and play it again.

Maximum Speed is everything an arcade racer should not be, in this day and age. For one, it doesnít look any better than the original Daytona USA -- and it plays far worse. The selling point is that you can choose to drive either trucks, stock cars, or Formula-1 vehicles. After playing the game in stock car mode, I actually could not bring myself to try any of the other options. Iíll take an educated guess, though, and say that the driving feels the same in every possible vehicle. From what I've seen, the driving model is horribly unsophisticated, and the tracks are generic to the point where I imagined I would go into a coma.

A "White-Hot Racing Game that Will Thrill All Your Senses!Ē, this is not.

Brandonís note

Discussing a game without extensive play?? We at insert credit would never condone that.

Sports Shooting USA

This was actually available in the arcade where I played Initial D and Demolish Fist. I didnít try it at the time. I canít say Iím overly bothered by the loss. It is something to note, though, that someone was playing Demolish Fist while I was there. I couldnít tell if he was having fun or not. I put some money into a Metal Slug 3 machine, rather than try Sports Shooting USA.

This game is actually quite interesting in theory, as the gun has a laser sight; if you look through it, it should offer a direct hit wherever you are aiming. Since I canít believe that Sammy would exhibit a machine that was badly miscalibrated, Iíll conclude that it just doesnít work. Tied to the lack of depth that a monitor has, this system is just far too messy -- and it doesnít have the precision that a sports shooting game needs, particularly in two-player mode. If you are not facing the screen dead-on, the aim is even further off. Even were the game precise, it would still merely be a humourless Point Blank with a cheap, plasticky gun.

Compared to Virtua Cop 3, this seems wilfully backwards; possibly an attempt to draw in the "Golden Tee" golf crowd. It might succeed if it weren't that the weapon looks like a 99p space gun.

Sushi Bar

Good god man. A copy of this game belongs in every home. If youíve any plans to purchase an Atomiswave mainboard, and I know that several of you out there do, do not hesitate to purchase this game. This is the puyo puyo successor Iíve been awaiting. Forget this Puyo Fever business. Sushi Bar is the next level for puzzle fans.

You take the role of a young sushi chef, competing forÖwellÖsomething. Thatís not important.

So youíre up there at the top of the screen, in all of your high-res animating glory, towel wrapped around your head, tossing sushi combinations down to the proverbial customer. You grab them in groups of three or less as they rotate around a conveyor belt. This makes the action incredibly frenetic, but also very tactical, given that you actually choose your own pieces.

You then have the option to rotate the pieces, but thereafter you must drop them directly. No guiding of the sushi is possible after that, which makes it distinctly different from most other puzzlers out there. It doesnít feel like a hindrance though, it just takes a different strategy to get into the groove.

Four pieces of like type linked together will eliminate the string of sushi. Naturally, chain reaction eliminations cause flotsam to fall on your opponent. These are represented by empty plates, which are worth no points, and do not link together.

At any given time, there are sushi combinations that are worth more points and do far more damage than any other. This comes up in the far upper corner of each playerís screen. When youíve gotten a particularly nice run, a gigantic sushi piece will appear on the conveyor belt. This piece counts as a chain all on itís own (sort of like a square gem combination in Super Puzzle Fighter II), and does extra damage if used in a chain. It does even more damage if it happens to be the sushi-of-the-moment up at the top.

If you watch the video, the system will become quite clear to you.

The system makes this game utterly playable. The character designs and lively animation give it presence and appeal. The frenetic gameplay gives it a long lasting freshness.

Itís damn fine. If you see this in your local arcade, donít spare the quarters. I was contemplating prior to E3, whether it would be even possible to make a puzzle game with a new gameplay system these days, as the establish trends are just so lordly, and tend to influence all other games that try to enter the genre. But Sushi Bar manages to stay unique, though the governing tenets of play are largely familiar to us.

Demolishfist was my second most played game of E3 - this was the first. And unquestionably my favorite.

Final notes from Brandon:

The Atomiswave is an interesting beast. Itís got Sega chips at the core, backed by Sammy dollars. Arc System has pledged themselves to it, as have Dimps and IGS. Arc and Dimps both contain ex-SNK members, and IGS is SNKís most loving imposter. And now SNK has even thrown their proverbial hat into the ring.

Atomiswave is in a great position to assert itself as the savior of deep-investment (or Ďhardcoreí) gaming. Itís very curious to see all of these companies uniting under one arcade board, but hopeful as well.

The great thing is, Sammyís amusement section is building ties with the console sectorÖso thereís a much better chance that we may see some of these games come to the home. Keep your fingers crossed. This could be just the thing weíve been waiting for since the untimely demise of the Dreamcast/Naomi coupling.

Mathew Kumar is White-Hotter-Than-Ever!

Brandon Sheffield mourns the lack of vegetarian sushi selections in videogames.


 


Dolphin Blue 1


Dolphin Blue 2


Sushi Bar 1


Sushi Bar 2