Namco Bandai Media Tour Wrap-Up

Without a doubt, 2007 is going to go down as “The Year of Too Damn Many Great Games.” On the other hand, with so many ‘A’ titles competing for your hard-earned dollars, a number of otherwise decent, under-hyped games might get severely overlooked. Therefore I’m going to try and cover a couple of cool releases that would otherwise get buried in the late summer to fall pre-holiday crunch. Whether you’re a fan of dynamic aerial combat, anime fighting action, arcade light gun brilliance or collecting clumps of colorful hi-res refuse, Namco Bandai’s got you covered, and then some. With these and a few other titles, the company certainly has an interesting collection set to hit stores for the remainder of 2007 and beyond for the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PSP and Wii. I got a bit of hands-on time with a few in-progress builds, all of which are coming along quite nicely indeed…

Formerly one of the key games in Sony’s arsenal, the Ace Combat series moves over to the currently more popular Xbox 360 with the exclusive Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation. Featuring the most realistic planes in series history (thanks to a little Unreal 3 power under the hood), branching missions paths and rock solid control, this looks to be the best Ace Combat yet. A truly eye-popping first mission was thrilling from every angle as multiple friendly and enemy jets darted through the clear blue skies. A few hundred lucky folks who pre-order the game will be able to nab the super limited edition Hori flight controller (which looks stunning in 360 white, by the way), but the game controls beautifully with a stock controller. As great as the game looks, some picky graphics hounds might gripe at some flat ground textures when scraping too close to the deck. Then again, you might be too busy shooting down bogies (or trying not to be shot down) to notice. Online play might be where the game really shines, given the need for a decent modern flight sim in the 360 library.

Speaking of 360 exclusives, Beautiful Katamari takes the popular bizarre rolling-up-stuff game to new high-definition heights with super crisp graphics and gameplay that’s just as much fun for spectators as it is for players. In fact, since I was up the previous night working on a little side project, I sat out the hands-on time at the event just so I could watch someone else play the game who wasn’t needing six cups of coffee. Of course, seeing the game in action made me want to play it, so I ended up downloading the demo off Xbox Live later that day and found things to be pretty solid overall. The new menus, multiplayer modes and potential for wacky download content should help the game do reasonably well if it launches at a decent price point. I’m secretly hoping someone has the smarts to cook up a longer version of the 2D game from the end credits of Me and My Katamari on the PSP as a future download, as that bit of inspired greatness made the portable game worth completing.

PS3 owners, fear not, you’re not left out in the cold at all. Hell, Time Crisis 4 is not only exclusive to the console, it comes with an all new, redesigned Guncon 3 peripheral and first-person shooter missions not found in the arcade version. Despite being day-glo orange (safety first, kids!) the Guncon 3 looks awesome with two small analog sticks that allow for precision movement in the FPS sections and quick direction changes during shooting. The action is guaranteed to get the adrenaline pumping at every turn as you’re ducking for cover, popping out to take down everything from armed goons to swarms of bugs with four selectable weapons. There’s almost too much going on as enemies and shots come from every angle and you’re never in one location for longer than a minute, blasting the crap out of anything coming your way. I only played one mission, but it was enough to convince me that I need to pre-order the set.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Namco Bandai event without an anime-related game or two on the scene. As one of the company’s more successful anime-based series, there’s little doubt that Naruto fans will be thrilled at two all-new games exclusively for the PlayStation 2 and PSP respectively. Naruto: Uzumaki Chronicles 2 (PS2), a follow-up to the well-received fighting action game, adds drop in/drop out co-op gameplay along with new anime-style 3D characters and even more nicely detailed environments. Like the first game, the action is a blend of arcade style beat-em-up and light RPG elements, but the added two player mode should keep the kids from battling each other for controller time. Granted, non-Naruto fans out there who can’t stand the orange-suited overeager ninja will most likely turn up their noses at this one. However, developer Cavia has done a pretty super job with this sequel.

Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Heroes (PSP) was a real surprise on both visual and gameplay fronts, looking exactly the same as its home console cousins and controlling just as fluidly. In this installment, players will be able to choose three characters from a roster of series favorites as their main fighting force to go up against the CPU’s (or another live player’s) trio. Lose a match and the next guy or gal in your team is up – if all three go down, it’s game over. The same multi-plane attacks found in the home games was present and accounted for yet surprisingly, the map I played on was larger and had more planes. This made me really want to take the final version of Heroes for a spin just to see what else Cyber Connect 2 has managed to squeeze out of the PSP.

Although I had a blast, a couple of upcoming titles I’d have loved to see more of weren’t at the event. If you’re into Japanese RPG’s, definitely go download the Eternal Sonata demo off of Xbox Live, as the game is a true gem to behold. Dynasty Warriors: Gundam, that inspired mash-up of Koei’s seemingly endless hack & slash franchise and Sunrise’s seminal anime series was also MIA but is another fun demo to download. I’m absolutely looking forward to Culdcept Saga, the board game/card battle RPG that just might be one of those big sleepers when it’s finally released. Additionally, two of the games shown at the event can’t be properly discussed until mid-October, so you’ll have to hold your breath and hope your air holds out until then. Nevertheless, the whole turning blue in the face deal just might be worth the effort. Let’s just say that Nintendo Wii owners are going to be dancing in the streets on the way to their favorite game shop and leave it at that…

(note: images and such to come later today, as I’m in the midst of some computer issues, grrrr)

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