Disney Game Impressions
At the E3 trade show, I spent about an hour checking out four big Disney titles. For the Wii I saw Spectrobes demoed, and played Toy Story Mania briefly. I also played Kingdom Hearts 358/2 on DS (technically I played it at the Square-Enix booth, but it was featured in booths by both companies) and saw an extensive demonstration of Split Second for the PS3 and Xbox 360.
Kingdom Hearts 358/2 (DS)
For the three of you reading this who don’t know, Kingdom Hearts is a game series which combines elements of the Disney and Square-Enix universes using Action-RPG game play. The newest game in the series has multiplayer and single player modes and releases September 29, 2009 in the United States for the DS. The line for multiplayer was long though, so I chose to stick with single player.
Playing the title for the first time, my initial observation was that the control scheme in Kingdom Hearts works well, largely because the buttons are mapped sensibly.
Beyond the intuitive control, the next encouraging sign was that the game had a fun combat system. Locking on to an enemy and then attacking with another button has been fairly standard in Action RPGS since the days of the Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time and the system worked well in Kingdom Hearts 358/2 as well. Since you need a responsive camera though for this type of game, it usually does not translate well to portable games. However, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 allows for easy manipulation of the game camera allowing the player to easily keep track of the enemy in battle which is a big plus for the game.
The focus of the level I played was on dungeon crawling. Beneath the surface of the earth a multi-floored dungeon full of enemies and locked doors led to the next area of the game. To reach the next area I had to do the usual action-RPG fare – switch levers to open certain doors, kill enemies, and find keys to open the more important locked doors. As is the case with good action-RPG games the process behind activating the levers and finding the keys varied quite a bit even in the short time I spent with the game. Eventually, I opened the main door at the end of the section and was treated to a short story sequence with beautiful graphics for a DS game. Every story section has a look of similar quality to the one shown below.
Before I could advance further a larger enemy, about three times the size of my character, appeared to inhibit my path. Since I had been expecting the demo to end, I was surprised at the baddie who appeared causing me to accidently push the wrong button and waste my healing item. After a valiant effort tracking, locking on to and whacking the enemy with my weapon I was killed in cold blood about twenty minutes after I started playing
I intended to go back and kill the annoying bugger, but the line behind me had grown and so I decided to leave. But the game is fun, sporting graphics that look like many of the better Nintendo 64 titles, and enough interesting cut scenes to make you want to keep playing to advance the plot. These are the hallmarks of a good action RPG so Square-Enix has done its homework here.
Toy Story Mania (Wii)
My time with Toy Story Mania was extremely brief. However, I did get the chance to play a fun mini game for the title against a Disney representative. The game is set to release for Wii this Fall.
Toy Story Mania for Wii is largely inspired by the attraction of the same name at Disney’s California Adventure. The mini game I got to try was similar to skee-ball. For those who have never played skee ball, the object of the game is to try to roll a heavy ball up a ramp, catch some air, and then have it land on another slanted platform so that it rolls into a hole. The challenge is that it is far easier to get the ball to land near the bigger, lower hole which is worth fewer points. Winning involves getting the ball to stay higher above so that you can collect more points by avoiding the lower valued holes.
In the Disney version, the balls only go up an initial ramp on the platform where they start, but the goal is to use the motion controls to aim the balls so that they will land in the holes with more points. Essentially, the game uses the Wii Remote to mimic the motion of your arm aiming the trajectory of the ball in real skee ball (image courtesy of Kotaku).
As you can see though, the idea is fairly similar to skee ball in arcades, it just borrows from the Disney universe to make the game play more variable and socially oriented since in ‘real’ skee ball only player can play on a single lane.
I have no idea how the rest of the Toy Story mini games played, but if they are shallow fun like this one was, the game could easily sell over a million copies.
Split Second (PS3/360/PC)
Split Second had a pretty good buzz going on the show floor. The game in a nut shell is a racer that lets each racer – computer or human player – strategically inhibit the path of the other players trying to reach the finish line ahead of them by destroying portions of a city set designed for a reality show. So if you are falling too far behind, but you have earned the right to destroy a portion of the city, you can just have a building fall immediately in front of your rival’s car. It may sound cheesy but it was actually pretty impressive to watch and it seems like it could be a lot of fun to brag about this kind of planned mayhem on Xbox Live.
As you can see in the image above, the game has a beautiful look to it as well, but manages to retain the feel of a Burnout more than a Gran Turismo or a Forza. Despite the near photo realistic look of the cars, the most impressive feature of the game graphically was the way the set pieces from the fake city collapsed right on cue, and remained on the ground laps after their initial destruction. Since most arcade racers don’t really have anything going for them but the fun of reacting to the mayhem its interesting to see how well the usage of the planned destruction actually enhances the game play, as the inhibition of one rival in lap one could end up biting you pretty hard in lap two if you happened to forget about the placement of the object still laying on the ground from before.
This “ground breaking” racer is supposed to release on an HD console near you in early 2010 from the House of Mouse.
Spectrobes: Origins (Wii)
Disney has had a lot of success with the Spectrobes franchise on the DS. So it isn’t surprising that the company has decided to move the franchise to the Wii. Like Kingdom Hearts 358/2, the newest Spectrobes is also an action RPG. Unlike Kingdom Hearts 358/2 though, which hardly uses the interface advantages of its platform Spectrobes actually uses the motion control facilities of the Wii to enhance its action elements in an effective way based on the demonstration I witnessed.
The game is similar in many respects to Pokemon. You move around space, find bony remains of dead animals and then reanimate them. When your dead friends have been reanimated, you battle them and gain experience. The critters are aligned closely to a specific element which gives each creature specific advantages or disadvantages in battle when fighting against other types of species.
Still, what seperates this game from many others in the wider genre is how it uses the motion controls to enhance what it offers. The coolest Wii motion enhancement I witnessed involves what I like to call the ‘x’ attack. After drawing the Wii Remote and Nunchuck down in opposite directions, and then moving them outward in the opposite direction a powerful attack can be released which decimates nearby opponents. There were no hiccups in the demonstration, and in other situations the IR functionality of the Wii remote was used for locking on to bad-guys which further adds to the game play because it simply has a more natural feel then pressing a trigger button.
I also got a brief look at what amounts to a fossil excavation mode. In this mode, a player is given a number of options for carving away layers of rock to free a fossil which can be used in the main game. There are bombs, chisels and other tools which can be used to expose the locked in fossil. Each tool comes with a risk and reward though. Bombs may chip off part of the bone and damage your critter when he is reanimated offsetting the speed of detonation, but using the chisel may prevent you from fully excavating the bone before the time runs out even though you are far less likely to damage the bone in the excavation. This mode could have easily been a cheap add-on to the main game, but it actually looks well thought out and fun.
Overall, it looks like Disney has another big hit in its Spectrobes series on hand. More importantly, it looks like a good game.
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