The remainder of my time on the Expo Floor was spent playing smaller games, primarily on the 3DS. If there is one regret from this year’s PAX East that I have, it is that I didn’t try enough games. I heard too late that the Far Cry 3 line was relatively short. I forsook Natural Selection 2 because the very sight of a keyboard and mouse felt uncomfortable. I strolled on past a variety of Indie titles simply because, well, I have mixed feelings on them as a whole. It was a big regret, especially since some of the smaller titles were a highlight last year (such as Fallen Frontier by Moonshot Games, who were conspicuously absent this year). Still, I mostly enjoyed what I played this year, so no time wasted at least.
Fatal Frame released well after I gave my Playstation 2 up to my brother, so I can’t really make comparisons as to how this spiritual successor looks to be measuring up. It really does seem like an interesting concept, making use of the gyroscope and camera to make a more in-depth gaming experience. Unfortunately, relying on these tools hinders the game’s, and platform’s, goals.
In order to look around in the game, you must move the 3DS physically. While out in the real world I won’t be tethered to a gaming station like at PAX, the limited movement available certainly showcased the limitations of the design. Spirit Camera pretty much requires ample space to maneuver yourself, which limits to playing at home in a spacious room. Imagine being on a crowded bus or subway and moving the system around, pointing it at the faces of strangers that might not be taking the constant movement and body rubbing too kindly.
More so, the game requires the AR Booklet in order to play. These two factors anchor the player in a location like a bedroom, where they will have space to move without disturbing anyone and have a place to keep the AR Booklet.
This also interferes with the game being horror-based, though. While I was at PAX there were multiple times when the 3DS camera was unable to pick up the necessary AR information due to insufficient lighting. By which I mean, there was a bit of a shadow over the booklet and you needed to get it just right for the 3DS to register the image.
Now, maybe it’s just me, but it seems requiring a brightly lit room to play the game is counter-intuitive when trying to establish a horror-based atmosphere.
It seems to me that, in an effort to use two of the platform’s less traditional methods of input for core gameplay, the game has sabotaged itself.
Even so, it was still fun to play. I think the most interesting part of the game demo was “fighting” a spirit using the gyroscope and camera. I had to look around in order to find it, and then keep the camera locked on its position in order to attack. The longer you hold the lock, the more damage you deal. In addition, the camera is necessary for blocking a foe’s attack. The HUD will change colors and, in the demo at least, provide plenty of time to react.
Spirit Camera should actually be a pretty accessible game, and for those that were big fans of Fatal Frame I imagine this will be an excellent title to add to your collection. Unfortunately, I don’t happen to have much space in my bedroom to play it, nor do I have the best lighting available. As such there’s not much reason for me to get the game, and makes it a tough sell to others in similar living situations as I.
They should have just called it Nostalgiarhythm, because that’s one of the biggest reasons I’ll be grabbing this game. It’s been a firm belief of mine that emotion is the easiest way to embed into someone’s memory, and music is definitely one of the strongest ways to go about it. So take the music from twenty-five years of a franchise and cram it into a single game, and you’ve pretty much guaranteed yourself a hit.
I selected Final Fantasy VI for my demo session, which opened up a playlist of some of the best tracks from the game. The introduction, the world map, the boss theme, the opera and the ending music all played through to showcase the game’s different modes, and all I could think of the whole time was playing Final Fantasy VI as a kid.
Most of the gameplay works pretty similarly to each other. You either tap the touch screen, hold the stylus or swipe it in a certain direction in time with the music. It’s very simple and consistent throughout the different modes, with the only real change being how it is presented on screen. The one exception were the intro and outro portions where musical notes floated towards a crystal. The timing required isn’t quite so clear, however, nor is it made apparent what the different feedback means. There were times where my timing seemed off and a green light burst from the crystal, and other times when my timing felt spot on and a red light emerged. The only real feedback was if the music stopped playing at all.
Even so, the real joy you’ll get out of this game is simply based on how much you enjoy the music from Final Fantasy or like rhythm games. For some of us older fans, most of the joy will lie in the earlier tracks. For newer fans, in the more recent ones. In any event, it looks like a game worth getting time out of.
Curiously, there does seem to be a level-up component tied in, but I don’t really know how any of that functions. Additional depth to the game, I guess?
Heroes of Ruin
This demo was a bit ill-conceived. I at first thought I stumbled upon a bug when trying to break down a barrier of sorts to get into the quest area and restarted the demo to be sure. It wasn’t until a representative observed and brain-stormed, remembering you needed to finish with a charged attack to bust it open. It was tedious, pointless, and communicated at some point in the game prior to the demo.
I’m guessing this was originally intended to be played by press who would be guided by developers the whole time.
I wasn’t the only person that ran into this issue, and as the demo went on I found myself trying to figure out the level-up and status screens in an effort to gain new abilities and assign them to shortcut keys. It took a bit before I realized that I wasn’t nearly advanced enough to try these things out. So I progressed through, grabbing random item drops along the way, until I reached the boss who became invincible two-thirds through the fight. Turns out some of those “side” quests may have been much more imperative to defeating the boss, and without them I was doomed to fail.
Suffice to say, Heroes of Ruin did not leave the best of impressions. At its very core it is a simple dungeon-crawling loot-focused RPG where you wander tunnels in order to find stuff. If you are hankering for a game like Torchlight or Diablo but have no other portable device to play them on, then you are the market for Heroes of Ruin. That’s about it, though. It’s simply unremarkable. Not bad, just unremarkable.
I wonder, though, if my opinion might have been better if the demo were customized to teach me some of the mechanics. If, after five or ten seconds of ineffective hacking and slashing at a door, a pop-up stated I needed to charge my attack in order to break it down. If the game had stopped me and said “You cannot enter this boss fight until these quests have been completed”. Or perhaps if some of those additional skills and attacks were available to give me a greater sense of combat depth.
All-in-all, the only real reason Heroes of Ruin is memorable is because the demo seemed to do a number of things wrong, and that’s not something you want to be remembered for.
Mark of the Ninja
If I hadn’t gotten into the Aliens: Colonial Marines line, then this would have been my pick for Best of Show. I never got to play their game Shank, and had in fact confused it with DeathSpank on more than one occasion due to similar art styles. I haven’t played either game. Mark of the Ninja, however, is now on my radar.
It seems so hard to find a stealth game that really gets the idea of being a bad ass sneaky bastard. You should be vulnerable, forced to hide in shadows, but you should also be capable of escaping if you slip up and get noticed. Mark of the Ninja gives you plenty of ways to escape, even in a situation they constructed specifically to harshly teach you how to properly play the game. Be careful of an enemy’s line of sight, take note of how much noise you’re making, and always be sure to peer through a grate or door before going through.
The most amazing thing is, it’s all done in a 2-D side scroller. The best stealth game I’ve played in years and it’s a simple side-scroller. It’s not trying to reinvent the wheel, and it’s not trying to mimic Metal Gear Solid or Splinter Cell. It is its own thing, and thinking back to it gives me plenty of tingles.
I’m prepared to once again be floored by a simple, $15 downloadable title, just as I was when I first played Dishwasher, Castle Crashers and Shadow Complex.