Attending PR events for games' publishers can be an odd experience. Wherever the showcase is, the room is full of monitors playing the latest iteration of not yet released titles and now with the PlayStation Move and Xbox Kinect there are people swatting at thin air either with an ice cream cone in their hand or holding nothing at all. Frankly, I love it!
At Sega's Spring Showcase yesterday things were divided into more than one room which helped lessen the madness, but there were still people swinging their arms and flailing wildly, so that's where we started. We got to check out Virtua Tennis 4 both on the 360 with Kinect support and on the PS3 in 3D and with the Move.
There has been much debate above whether the Move or the Kinect is the better system – and no small part of that debate centers on whether it's better to be able to play without holding a remote in your hand. I think that there are certainly times when the ability to goes hands free is better, but if you're playing a sport where in real life you'd be holding a racquet or a club or a bat in your hand, it seems only natural that you'd want to do the same in a game. It is, hypothetically, possible to hold something in your hand while playing the Kinect to improve the simulation (we'd have to see how a game actually registered that to be convinced it was truly a possibility). With the Move you already have your controller in your hand and while it doesn't have the same weight as a racquet, bat, or club, it is a better simulation than having nothing.
Playing Virtua Tennis 4 on both systems, we can say unequivocally that we were better with the Move and found the title more appealing on the PS3. As opposed to getting a whole lot of hard fought losses as we did on the Kinect, with the Move we wiped the floor with our opponent. Hitting shots on the Kinect was a little harder to judge, and backhands nearly always resulted in horrifically weak shots which didn't make it back over the net. That was a problem we didn't experience with the Move, and with the Move it was also far easier to charge the net – just hold the controller in front of you and point it towards the screen and you were on your way. On the Kinect, charging the net required a step forward at just the right time and that too was harder to judge.
To be very clear – both experiences were enjoyable, we can imagine playing on both systems for hours with friends, but we definitely preferred the Move. Perhaps the most important part of that last sentence was the "with friends" bit – as much fun as the Move and Kinect may be, they don't allow for the same degree of control as using a traditional gamepad. People going through the career mode—which has been expanded for this latest outing—are probably going to want to do it with an old-school gamepad instead of on a Kinect or Move so that they can have much more control over the ball.
Slightly winded from humiliating Andy Roddick in Virtua Tennis 4, we moved on to Yakuza 4 where we saw some of the minigames in action and got a glimpse of the world in which the title operates. As has been highly publicized, unlike Yakuza 3, Yakuza 4's North American release will contain the minigames which were in the Japanese version. Now, as for the specifics of the minigames we saw, we can say that the title certainly earns its M rating and that those people who detest the appearance of adult themes within videogames will not particularly enjoy Yakuza 4's offerings.
As for the game's world, it seems to be of very good size and offers a whole lot of details – shops sell real world brands; loads of sidequests exist; and if you head down the wrong street, gangs of thugs will try to give you what-for. Playing through everything in the entire title, including all the sidequests, we're told will take somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 hours.
From the mature to the ridiculous, the next title we saw was Super Monkey Ball 3D. Never having gotten our grubby little hands on a Nintendo 3DS until yesterday, it took a little time for us to get acclimated to the 3D-ness of it all. Once we did, we quite liked what we saw. Monkey Ball's graphics, running at 60 frames per second, were really impressive – fluid, bright, and beautiful. Trying to hold the system perfectly still so as to not move the screen from the 3D sweet spot proved a little difficult, but we eventually get the hang of it and grabbed our fair share of bananas.
Well, we did in single-player, but playing local multiplayer was a different experience. We saw two different multiplayer modes, the first of which had us bash one another repeatedly, something which we spent more time doing than grabbing bananas (it's the bananas which determine victory, not the bashing). The second multiplayer game was a kart-style racer and even though we ran our first lap rather slowly, we picked up the pace for the second and third laps and finished respectably (low overall but in spot two of the four humans playing).
The kart racing was great, and we look forward to seeing just how deep that mode is upon the game's final release. In fact, Super Monkey Ball 3D pretty much convinced us that the 3DS is going to be this Christmas' hot item (despite its release in late March). Seriously, put your order in now for one – we're excited and once you see it we think you will be too (more on the 3DS from us closer to launch).
With our time at the showcase winding down, our next stop was Shogun 2: Total War… or is it Total War: Shogun 2 (seriously, even their Facebook page says it both ways). It looks like a real time strategy game for the ages, with an incredible amount of depth, beautiful graphics, and depth… a whole lot of depth. Did we mention that there is a whole lot going on in the game?
Although it looked like nearly all of the game was available, we spent a ton of time going through the tutorial. As with other Total War titles, what you're looking at here is a serious real-time strategy game, one where you're going to want to employ tactics beyond just "defeat the enemy by sending wave after wave after wave of humanity at them in order to crush them with sheer volume." We actually did employ that strategy in one battle and it worked, but the losses we took were significant and upon finishing the battle, the game suggested that the cost of the victory was too great (we felt very special when we were told that such a response from the game was unusual).
Beyond being deep, Shogun 2 looked fantastic and it was easy to get the game going even if we didn't have a perfect feel for all the nuances. It's clearly a game that you're going to be able to spend a ton of time playing over and over gain.
The last title we saw yesterday was Conduit 2, a Wii-exclusive sequel to the original Wii-exclusive The Conduit. The new game picks up immediately on the heels of the original and features a greatly expanded game world. Rather than being a linear title, Conduit 2 operates on a Hub system (at least it does once you get to the Hub in the game) and you can go through a lot of it in an order of your choosing. The new Conduit also sports boss battles (with monster-sized bosses), more guns, more bonuses, MotionPlus and Classic Controller support, and more types of baddies. It definitely feels like they took a decent title and have expanded it enormously.
The graphics of the original Conduit were pretty impressive, and we liked what we saw of the second one as well. The game still operates on the Quantum 3 engine which is obviously further along now than it was nearly two years ago when the original was released.
We played a co-op multiplayer level (several competitive games are also available) set to a low difficulty level which gave us a great feel for how to move around utilizing the Wii Remote and Nunchuk. Sadly, that low difficulty meant there were few enemies out there and those that were there were weak, but it still felt satisfying to blast them away. Conduit 2, unlike the original, sports regenerative health as opposed to requiring medipacks or the like, and High Voltage told us that they felt as though regenerative health would help with pacing in the main storyline. Perhaps more than with the other titles we saw yesterday, it will be interesting to check out how the final game functions upon its release and whether the changes to the original are for the good.
There were no throwaway titles at Sega's event and seeing their offerings got us incredibly jazzed for the Spring. Obviously we're not saying that all the games will be brilliant—until final versions are available to be scrutinized that determination can't be made—but there was nothing we could instantly dismiss as not having a chance. Sega is clearly trying to make good use of the ever-expanding game technology available and looks as though they may have some hits on their hands.
Article first published as Games Galore: Sega's Spring Showcase on Blogcritics.