This was the focus of Sony's booth this year. There was a stage area set up for it with two Media Molecule developers leading a small crowd in "WE LOVE SACKBOY!" chants, occasionally tossing out free T-shirts and walking a lucky attendee through the character and level creation process. Check it out: a few clicks and poof ... Sackboy can turn into a Sackgirl. They even showed off the animation routines and had him headbanging along to some music. I was a little disappointed with Sony's booth overall compared to years past, though. LittleBigPlanet was the only game of note on display, and you had to wait in a short line to play it at one lone demo station. The company has had a lot more demo kiosks at previous Comic-Cons.
Even if Sony's booth layout underwhelmed a little, LittleBigPlanet did not. I was impressed with how good the game looked on the 60" 1080p display, and the four-player co-op mode was perfectly suited for multiplayer fun at a convention. Jumping over obstacles like a watermill traversing a deadly pool, collecting point orbs, and interacting with your fellow sack-players as you raced to the stage end was a good time. I still think that the platforming itself takes a backseat to the level creation aspect of the game, and I'm not sure if it would have been as engaging if I were playing alone. but the four-player mode is a winner. LittleBigPlanet should make for a great party game, both online and off.
I didn't actually play this "first-person platformer" from EA (no pictures allowed), but one of the developer reps walked through a level demonstration of Mirror's Edge and gave me a good idea of what it was like. You play as Faith, a "runner" who is the only means of transporting secure information in a futuristic Big Brother society. There are many paths through the rooftop environment that was on display, with the fastest ones requiring knowledge of all the stage's shortcuts as well as Faith's advanced moves. The recommended route is highlighted via key landmarks tagged with the color red, making it easy to know where your goal is among all the skyline geometry.
As the developer whipped over fences, slid under barriers, and wall-jumped across perilous gaps at lightning speed, it was easy to see what all the hype was about. Mirror's Edge immerses you in the first-person perspective with its attention to detail; watch Faith's hands shoot up in front of the screen as she clings to ledges or steadies herself while scaling dizzying heights, all while things bob and sway in a lifelike manner. It reminded me of Namco's Breakdown, where a real effort was made to put you in a first-person perspective that literally looks through a character's eyes. There is combat and weaponry, but the developer stressed that the focus is usually on evading your enemies, and that it was possible to get through the entire game without firing a shot. I've never been a fan of platforming sections in FPS games, but this could be the game that finally makes it work.
Mega Man 9
The Wii version of Mega Man 9 was playable at Capcom's booth, and it's shaping up to be the sequel that fans of the NES games have been waiting for. I watched a girl who was quite good blast her way through a stage that easily could have been mistaken for an outtake from Mega Man 2. The level design was inventive and on par with the NES classics. Controls were simple: just turn the Wii remote sideways and play traditional style, using just the d-pad and the 1 & 2 buttons. Mega Man 9 should be worth the Virtual Console points for any fan of the series, and here's hoping it's successful enough to start a trend of more new inexpensive retro sequels.
The grappling hook hero was back at Capcom's booth, in a demo that offered two stages: a dense city and a jungle cliffs locale. The gameplay of Bionic Commando was straightforward, standard but competent third-person action, with a nice blend of gun-and-grapple combat. Technically, things were a bit rough in this build. The best feature of the game is Commando's ability to swing from building to building like a robotic Spider-Man, so I was a little dismayed to find that so many of the skyscrapers capped you off about halfway up with invisible walls. Likewise, I wasn't able to rescue myself from falling into a pit in the jungle stage, as the grapple arm usually bounced off the cliff walls. I ended my hands-on by falling into a bottomless pit, which crashed the demo. It's always nice to see classic game franchises resurrected, and hopefully some of the rough spots will be ironed out in the final code. At this point, the game was good but not great.
Tales of Vesperia
RPG's never play well at a convention. They're just too slow-paced and quiet to carry across much subtlety and atmosphere amidst the cacophony of the expo floor. That said, I enjoyed my time with Namco's Tales of Vesperia for Xbox 360 more than I expected. The graphics are very similar to Tales of Symphonia, but with a more detailed semi cel-shaded appearance. The combat is also largely a holdover, with responsive real-time attacks, magic "artes," and NPC teammates who you can control on the fly. No random battles here; all opponents are visible on the world map.
The little touches were my favorite part of Vesperia. The best JRGP character design in a long time is Repede, the one-eyed wolf who never stops smoking his pipe even during the most kick-ass of battle animations. Just looking at his character art thumbnail in the party menu was enough to get a chuckle out of me. Then you have the chick who yells, "Just GO AWAY!" at the onset of a battle. Now how many times have you wanted to scream that during a JRPG? I was tempted to quote that line very LOUDLY as I wriggled my way out past the cosplaying masses of the Convention Center, but I'm happy to report that the games of Comic-Con were worth the struggle.