Every year, as the San Diego Comic-Con gets more and more like E3, the real E3 becomes less and less the premiere gaming event that video game fans waited all year for. The game-related booths at Comic-Con now take up nearly a quarter of the San Diego Convention Center's main hall, and some of them are almost as elaborate as the indoor skyscrapers of E3 past.
Here are my quick impressions of the games of Comic-Con 2008:
This Namco Bandai game, based on the anime series, was the first demo I played at Comic-Con, and it turned out to be the best. The high-quality, sketch-lined look makes it appear more like hand-drawn art than any game I've seen. Attention to detail, like in Afro Samurai's dangling cigarette and flopping hair animation, really gives the impression that you're playing a cartoon, and a very high-quality production at that.
The game plays as good as it looks. I had no problem jumping in and slicing and dicing my way through the brigands in a quaint Japanese village, finishing combos with "focus attacks" by holding the triggers and hitting attack buttons. A horizontal focus strike will chop a guy clean in half at the waist if you're lucky, or maybe sushi off one of his limbs. The vertical slash is harder to aim, but extremely effective against jumping foes.
A focus strike sends the action into stylish slo-mo and black & white - except for the copious amounts of red blood when Afro dissects them fools. Bonus points for the elegant way new baddies are introduced - via a momentary split screen so that they never seem to come out of nowhere, no matter what direction you're facing - and for the excellent, profanity-laden voice work by Samuel Jackson, (who also does the lines in the animated series). Afro Samurai is one mean muthafo' of an action game.
The portion I played of this PS3 demo centered on trying to capture a ghost in the middle of an industrial-looking room. My first impression was that the controls were unintuitive, overcomplicated, and squirrely. It seemed to take way more work to corral the ghost than was necessary. Pin down the little spud with a proton stream, toss a containment trap in the right spot, open it, guide the ghost over ... Whoops, he flew to the other side of the room. Time to repeat the whole process!
I didn't really understand the cash grab aspect of the game and mostly ignored the running tally of how much money I was earning. I guess it's true to the style of the movies in that the ghosts take awhile to reign in, but I ended up wishing that the ghost busting action was a little more streamlined. It's going to get old fast, unless there is a lot of variety in the ghosts and the tactics used to bust them. The environment was pretty bland and the graphics weren't as nice as I expected from the web media I'd seen, though a rooftop level or a less closed-in city stage might've looked more impressive. There were some nice touches like voice work from the original actors, and the proton beams look great and left burn marks across the wall. The sidekick Ghostbuster's AI seemed pretty responsive in helping you pin down the ghosts. Overall though, it was a bit of a letdown.
Didn't spend much time with this one. Good graphics for the Wii, with an eye-pleasing art design and especially nice-looking water. You herd sheep, birds, and other critters around an isometric landscape towards a goal, playing a sort of UFO-shepherd using an alien tractor beam. A pleasant puzzler, but not something that held my attention long at a crowded convention. It looked like it could get boring without a lot of variety to the terrain and objectives.
Cute little game that could be summed up as Katamari Damacy meets Jet Set Radio. You control a happy face blob critter, running into paint buckets and colorizing every surface (and life form) you come across to rack up points. The cityscape is a blank slate at first, stripped of all its color by an evil government that apparently has a thing for white walls. But de Blob gonna change all that, and extra points are awarded for the style with which you splatter paint. Be careful not to soak up the black ink though, as it will obliterate everything in your path instead. The cute designs and easy-to-grasp control scheme made this a fun diversion at Comic-Con for a few minutes, but I'm not sure how long it'd hold my attention at home.