Critical Gamer at Tokyo Game Show 2009

Our man in Japan, Matt M, was at this year’s TGS on a press pass. Yes, we’re jealous too. This is what he sent us to make us more jealous still…

What follows is my account of two days spent at the industry-only days of Tokyo Game Show 2009. I have only written about what I played, or saw directly, so apologies for anything that’s missing. Though to be fair, I don’t think I could have possibly fit any more into the 14 hours I spent on the show floor at Makuhari Messe.

Tokyo Game Show 2009, my first time attending as press, was as hectic as it was entertaining. From playable demos and non-event keynotes, to an influx of Western games, a huge presence for portable titles, and even a golden throne, TGS was a whirlwind of activity and excitement. Although many have rightfully expressed concerns about the lack of new titles, announcements and innovation – especially from Japanese developers – there were plenty of games ready to be enjoyed.

For ease of use, I have split things into alphabetical order. A general lack of new, platform exclusive titles has rendered a platform specific format somewhat redundant. Also, be sure to keep an eye out over the next few days, as we will be featuring some more in-depth reports on a couple of the following games.

Assassins Creed 2 (PS3,360,PC) Played on – PS3

First off, the demo had a really nice set up, with an English speaking member of staff demonstrating the controls and answering any questions that I had. I jokingly asked him how many times he had played through this section of the game, and he informed me “about 100!”. As for the actual game, there was only so much I could garner from the Venetian level. The climbing and diving head first from buildings remains as exhilarating as before, but there were some very evident problems with the collision detection and the combat remains quite limited, especially considering that Ezio is supposedly a multi-skilled assassin.

The first new feature I was shown was swimming, a skill that had strangely evaded the otherwise nimble Altair in the first game. Obviously, this new skill is quite useful considering you are now plying your trade in Venice! Another welcome new feature was the ability to earn money, which you can use to buy the services of onlookers. For example, you can hire a couple of fetching ladies, or strong armed thugs to cause a distraction to aid you in your endeavours. Graphically, the game looked a little rough around the edges, which is a concern considering how close it is to release. Overall, from what I have seen and played so far, Assassin’s Creed 2 is sure to please fans of the first game, but is unlikely to win over its original detractors.

Bayonetta (PS3,360) Played on – 360

Sega were on fine form at this year’s TGS. Bayonetta, Valkyria Chronicles 2, End of Eternity, and the Yakuza 4 mammoth preview constituted a very successful showing for Sega and its partners. I was fortunate enough to get some behind the scenes time with Platinum Games’ Bayonetta, and I was suitably impressed. The combat is absolutely frantic, and although it’s more than reminiscent of Devil May Cry, I would say it goes a step beyond. During the first level of the demo, Bayonetta is fighting a collection of demons on a huge clock face, which has evidently fallen from a giant tower, and is now tumbling through the air. With so much going on, and so many OTT moves available, common sense would dictate that it would run the risk of trying to do too much; yet I always felt I was in full control. It is also extremely pretty and it sounded great. My only concern is, when playing through the whole game, will the frantic style begin to wear thin and become a little too repetitive, which I found to be the case with the DMC series. However, at least in a short burst, Bayonetta proved to be highly entertaining and worthy of the hype.

Biohazard: The Darkside Chronicles (Wii)

I had two opportunities to play the follow up to Umbrella Chronicles, once at the Capcom booth and the other in the Capcom press room. This afforded me the chance to explore levels from all three of the scenarios (Resident Evil 2, Code Veronica and a new narrative following Leon and Krauser), which all played in a very similar fashion to its surprisingly enjoyable predecessor. The zombies seemed a little less susceptible to bullets this time round, there is a nice array of enemies and Capcom have once again ensured that the on-rails gameplay is supported by a strong narrative. I only had one real gripe, that being the overly wobbly and disorientating camera, which attempts to build suspense but ends up leaving you feeling slightly travel sick. Otherwise, it’s another sound entry into the Resi series, and one that I will be picking up when it’s released in November.

Darkside Chronicles also provided one of the funnier moments of the two days. I played co-op with one of the girls at the Capcom booth, who more than held her own throughout the game, but pulled back at certain points to allow me to fully experience the proceedings. However, her competitive nature quickly shone through, as time and time again she raced to pick up new weapons from the foreground before I had time to even register their presence! I guess she needed something to keep herself amused after two days of playing the same game over and over again.

End of Eternity [Resonance of Fate] (PS3,360) Played on – 360

Initially, this was not a game that I was particularly aware of, let alone interested in but I was under very strict orders to make some time for a hands-on! Details will be forthcoming.

Final Fantasy XIII (PS3 [platform exclusive in Japan],360) Played on – PS3

It’s everything you would expect it to be, playing smoothly and looking amazing. Though I have to say, my gasps of awe were saved for the final screen of the demo, which revealed the price point of ¥8800 (£61), before tax! I had the chance to play through two short sections of the game, with two different sets of characters, which were centered on a series of short fights. It played like a charm, demonstrated a great deal of flair and style and looked like a million dollars. The new combat system, whilst demonstrating some new features, will be easy for any fan of the series to get into, and the summons were very impressive. The camera was a bit unwieldy at times, but that’s just nitpicking. Be excited, very excited.

God of War 3 (PS3)

I’m a big fan of the first two games, so I was positively chomping at the bit to finally have a go at the third installment. So I joined the back of the queue and prepared myself for a longish wait. An hour and 20 minutes later and I was well and truly sick and tired of seeing Kratos pull out a Cyclops’ eye, on loop, on a screen overhanging us waiting punters. Finally I was summoned behind an ominous black curtain, only to be ushered into a second queue!

Anyway, eventually I got my grubby hands on the game, and I have to say, I was a little under-whelmed. The gameplay was standard GOW fair, and there was a certain amount of graphical polish, but it just didn’t seem to all come together. Granted, it was only a 15 minute demo, but it left me just a little less excited about its March 2010 release. Of particular concern is the dodge/roll command which is controlled by the right analogue stick. This was never a problem in previous installments, so I’m not quite sure why I found it to be so problematic here. It was especially difficult and disorientating to pull-off when used in tandem with other buttons. Most of the elements of a great game seem to be present, but on this particular day, and for me at least, they didn’t quite come together as I had hoped.

Lost Planet 2 (PS3,360) Played on – PS3,360

Going into the show, I had little to no expectations for the follow-up to 2007’s Lost Planet. But, after two separate multiplayer demos, I have been well and truly won over. My first hands-on was an all too brief co-op with four players, which was thoroughly enjoyable. It was actually the last section of the demo which is already available on the Xbox marketplace and the PSN store. Capcom have seemingly taken the approach of making a Monster Hunter clone, but with guns, and it comes across really well.

The next day, I was able to try a different portion of the game, a 4 on 4 capture the flag / team death match type mode, which was also highly enjoyable, although wasn’t nearly as gratifying as taking down the beast in the first co-op. LP2 was one of the most fun games I played over the two days, and its December release is now firmly on my radar.

Metal Gear Solid – Peace Walker (PSP)

This game absolutely dominated the floor space at the Konami booth, with the Raiden led MGS Rising being notable only by its absence. Upon joining the line, we entered a small staircase, where we were greeted by a soldier barking tongue-in-cheek orders. We were then led into a cargo crate full of screens and USB cables, where we were able to download the TGS demo of MGS PW to our own PSP, to take away and enjoy. I will be dedicating an entire post to the three level demo, which should materialize sometime in the next couple of days.

Monster Hunter Tri (Wii)

Despite residing in Japan, the home of all things Monster Hunter, my knowledge and experience of this series is acutely lacking. But, upon entering the Capcom demonstration room in the New Otani hotel, just across from the main convention, I was ushered into a 4 player co-op game of the forthcoming western instalment of the series, Monster Hunter Tri. It was fun trying to take down a massive beast with my fellow hunters, and I can certainly see the appeal of the concept. The PR guy waxed lyrical about the upgrade system and special moves peculiar to each class, and it all sounded suitably impressive. However, it was not without its faults. It wasn’t exactly the prettiest game in the world, even for the Wii, and the slightly bumbling controls were less forgivable on a home console than they are on a PSP. Still, this is likely to be huge.

Ninja Gaiden Σ2 (PS3)

Winner of the shortest queue award, a brisk 30 second wait over at the PlayStation booth, Ninja Gaiden Σ 2 provided a pleasant surprise. I had never played a Ninja Gaiden game, so I had very few expectations and came out thoroughly impressed. The main character moves smoothly and effortlessly, gracefully jumping from one enemy to the next, severing a leg here, and an arm there. It also featured some rather impressive backdrops, from modern rooftops to a river lined with cherry trees in blossom. Tecmo, you have my attention.

PSP Go

I was able to spend a limited time with the PSP Go on both days, briefly playing Gran Turismo and a more extended session on LittleBigPlanet. I will dedicate a separate article to this in the upcoming days leading up to the October launch, so be sure to check back.

Quantum Theory (PS3)

Tecmo’s venture into the realm of Gears of War clones was extremely forgettable. I applaud Tecmo for trying their hand at something a little different, for them at least, but the game presently has too many issues for me to be more optimistic. The concept of organic surroundings that shift according to your movements does sound very promising, but was not immediately evident in the demo. Graphically it’s unimpressive, the combat was fiddly and unresponsive, and it tried to ape Gears more than I was comfortable with.

Ryu Ga Gotoku 4 [Yakuza 4] (PS3)

The extended trailer was definitely one of the highlights of the show, as well as being one of the highest profile Japanese titles featured. A good ten minutes longer than the trailer that I have seen doing the rounds online, it was as impressive as it was loud. Led into a closed-off theatre in the Sega booth and greeted by hostess models, we were treated to a trailer which covered the 4 main characters, the story, combat, setting, product placement, available extra curricular activities and the voice talent. The story follows the four main protagonists through their life on the streets of a pseudo-Shinjuku, and was as bloody as it was exciting.

The combat is as crazy and unrealistic as previous instalments, and the cut scenes demonstrated an impressive eye for detail, and represented a significant graphical achievement. One scene that particularly stood out depicts one of the leads, a dangerous looking, hulking assassin, entering a Ramen shop full of goons, which he proceeds to light-up Desperado style with his vast array of pistols, one of which he keeps clasped between his teeth! Of course, there are the obligatory past-time activities to keep you amused, like karaoke, bowling and visiting a hostess bar, and the create a hostess mode looks like it will provide hours of fun. The whole thing was extremely film-like, and with the recent announcement of Yakuza 3’s forthcoming English translation, we may allow ourselves to be optimistic that Yakuza 4 will follow suit in time.

The Sony Keynote

This was the first part of the day for most of the press contingent, and a slightly disappointing one at that. There were no big announcements, and aside from a few interesting soundbites from SCEI CEO Kazuo Hirai, there was nothing new. Kaz Hirai merely recapped Sony’s performance of late, stressed the importance of network and interactive entertainment, referencing Little Big Planet numerous times in the process, waved around a glow stick/motion control wand and talked about his dreams of video games that respond to your emotions. It was pretty standard, but forward-thinking stuff.

Uncharted 2 (PS3)

My first point of call for day 2 was Uncharted 2. As soon as the doors opened, I made a bee-line for the Sony booth, and I was able to sit straight down and get into my most anticipated game of the year. I know it’s near release, has a popular and widely available multiplayer beta, and has already garnered sparkling reviews; but I just couldn’t resist the chance to sink my teeth into it a couple of weeks ahead of schedule. Set in the already familiar 5th stage, in a partially destroyed Himalayan town, events unfold with Nathan Drake being chased down an alley by a runaway truck, and moves into a shoot-out and climbing section. The stage adequately demonstrated Drake’s combat and climbing skills and was an absolute tour de force. And for the record, the water effects are excellent once again, with water realistically rippling and leaving our protagonist’s clothes drenched. It was just a shame that, playing the Japanese version, I wasn’t treated to the voice of Drake as I know it. It’s not exactly breaking news, but Uncharted 2 positively oozes charm.

Valkyria Chronicles 2 (PSP)

I loved the original, so I jumped at the chance to try Sega’s sequel on the PSP. Sony had dedicated a large portion of their booth to the PSP, with a number of games available to play on a raised platform overseeing the show floor. Fans of VC will be happy to hear that this is more of the same, and I mean that in a good way. Despite the overwhelming number of kanji, I had no problem navigating the screens and taking the enemy’s base. The story book style graphics are still present, as are the central game mechanics; but as for the narrative, a real strength of the first game, the trailer didn’t reveal any new details. The demo stage was a little small, and light on combatants, but I’m not sure if this was down to the limitations of the platform, or just the style of that particular level. Either way, with over 200 missions promised, VC fans can be reassured that they will be getting their moneys worth.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

One comment

  1. Patrick G /

    Everyone I know wants to go to E3 but I always wanted to go to TGS, sounds like it was brilliant again this year. Looking forward to your End of Eternity preview 🙂

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