Link will play a harp in Skyward Sword

Eiji Aonuma has announced that Link will have the chance to play a musical harp in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. The Zelda producer told Nintendo Power that the harp will almost identical to the one played by Sheik in Ocarina of Time. Players will use the harp to find “something important” and will be controlled by rhythmic strumming (via MotionPlus).

Aonuma said: “The harp is sort of the central instrument that you’ll see this time. With a lot of previous Zelda games it has been about inputting specific notes to compose things. Given the nature of what a harp is, and the fact that it’s an instrument that one strums, this time we’re using the Wii MotionPlus to really make it based on the rhythm of strumming to get across the musical element.”

Other details leaked in the interview include:
– The game is now nearing the final stages of development.
Shigeru Miyamoto is helping on the game’s finishing touches.
– The localization of Skyward Sword will begin shortly.
– The plot has a large focus on the creation and forging of the Master Sword.
– Skyward Sword will feature a handful of full orchestrated songs.
– In The Legend of Zelda timeline, Skyward Sword is set directly before Ocarina of Time.

Bargain gaming at ‘The Steam Summer Camp Sale’

Summer is a notoriously bad season for video games. Although this year has a few exceptions (Deus Ex: Human Revolution, The Last Story and Bodycount) the next couple of months are inevitably going to drag. Luckily Steam has got your back, discounting dozens of titles in a rather special summer event.

The Steam Summer Camp Sale started yesterday and will run until July 10th. In the meantime you can purchase a selection games at startlingly low prices, emphasised by daily deals that aim to be knock off even more dosh.

Steam users can also participate in camp ‘activities’, a special set of achievements that can be traded in for in-game items. It all sounds rather exciting and encourages players (especially school kids that will soon be on holiday) to purchase and play a variety of games.

Some of my highlights include:
* Borderlands (Game of the Year Edition): £7.50 (-75%)
* Medal of Honor: £6.79 (-66%)
* BIT. TRIP RUNNER: £1.75 (-75%)
* Recettear, An Item Shop’s Tale: £3.25 (-75%)

So what are you waiting for? Check out the sale here.

Photo diary: MCM Expo (May 2011)

Attending the MCM Expo in London is an exhilarating, tiring and joyous experience. It’s basically a convention packed to the ceiling with video game booths, anime merchandise and independent comic book artists. If you’re interested in any of the above, I highly recommend checking out this event in the future.

The photographs below show off some of the titles which I was lucky enough to play and watch.

You can’t get around it. Visually, Solarobo: Red the Hunter has a lot in common with the Star Fox franchise. Cute animals pilot giant mechs or flying airships, happily exploring a futuristic fantasy world. Developed by CyberConnect2, Solarobo is said to be the spiritual successor to Tail Concerto. The DS title uses a fairly decent 3D engine, although most of the gameplay mechanics felt fairly unimaginative. Meh.

Warner Bros continued to push Batman: Arkham City, although they were only showing an old trailer on the floor. The pod to the left was showcasing a version of Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters, a generic brawler with squad mechanics. It looked so boring that I didn’t even bother picking up a controller.

This was my first chance to try a Nintendo 3DS. So what better way to start than with a hands on demo of Ocarina of Time? The 3D effect was subtle but significant, dropping distant vistas into the background and pulling speech bubbles out of the screen.

Graphically the game was a small step up from its N64 origins, cleaning up some of the nasty edges and adding some vital new pixels. Although it hasn’t sold the system for me, newcomers to the Nintendo brand and Zelda fanboys will surely lap this up.

Capturing 3D footage with a standard digital camera results in some odd effects. But you get the picture… it looks quite pretty.

Dead or Alive Dimensions was just as I expected. It’s a great representation of the home console outings, but adds very little in terms of new ideas or mechanics. Scantily clad women and muscular ninjas pummel each other until one throws in the towel. If you’ve played Dead or Alive 3 & 4, you’ll know exactly what to expect from this handheld version. The 3D effect was pleasant, but rather unnecessary.

JRPGs have a hard time trying to win my praises at the moment. This tutorial of Xenoblade Chronicles was dry and repetitive, forcing me through some mundane combat scenarios and uninspired locales. The game also suffered from sub-par graphics, looking embarrassingly last generation. Perhaps this was an unfair representation of the final game, but it left me feeling a bit bewildered and let down.

The Gears of War 3 booth was crammed with gamers all throughout the day. Epic Games was only showing the multiplayer beta that was recently made available on Xbox Live, but it was still insanely popular. It’s everything that you’d expect from a Gears title; roadie runs, chainsaw kills and hilariously bad dialogue. This will inevitably sell like hot cakes when it drops in September.

This was one of my most anticipated titles of the day. Playing Child of Eden was a fantastic experience, combining unique electronic music with engaging Kinect enabled gameplay. Using both hands to track enemies and dispatch them felt incredibly natural, especially when using the right hand to swipe at highlighted targets.

This is Jane Douglas from GameSpot UK running through one of the levels. She was far more competent than me and did a great job showcasing the game during the Sunday Q&A session. Although I’m yet to purchase the Kinect accessory, this definitely piqued my curiosity and got me excited for its June release.

It was refreshing to see the MCM Expo take on a more video game centric approach this year. Trawling endless anime merchandise quickly becomes tiring and tedious – so the GameSpot UK stage was a welcome addition. If the team decides to come back I’d like to see an even greater variety of games and interviews, especially as the event now spans across three days. Ultimately I had a great day and look forward to visiting the convention again in October!

London MCM Expo (May 2011) – Most anticipated

This weekend the London Excel Centre is taken over by MCM Expo, a bi-annual celebration of comics, movies and video games. I’ve been lucky enough to win a weekend pass courtesy of GameSpot UK (thank you very much!), so I thought I better jot down some of the games that I’m most excited about seeing.

Okabu:
Before GameSpot UK announced their stage schedule for the show, I’d never heard of Okabu. This delightful little puzzle adventurer allows players to take control of various clouds, directing local tribesmen in a bid to save their land from industrialists.

The cel-shaded visuals take inspiration from Wind Waker, combining them with tribal music to create a fun, original presentation style. Set for release some time in 2011, HandCircus will be at the MCM Expo for a Q&A session on Friday afternoon.


Child of Eden:

Child of Eden is the most anticipated title for Kinect. Period. The blend of direct cursor control, eclectic music and vibrant visuals has grabbed the attention of gamers worldwide. Designed by the creator of Rez and Lumines (Tetsuya Mizuguchi), there are understandably high expectations for this intriguing hybrid of rhythm and action game. If you’ve got plenty of questions, ask them at the Q&A session on Saturday afternoon. Oh, and you can also go hands on with it at the GameSpot stall.


Deus Ex: Human Revolution:

I love cyberpunk. I also love most of Square Enix’s output. Therefore Deus Ex seems like my perfect release, throwing a hero with prosthetic arms into a world on the brink of nanotechnological breakthrough.

Players can upgrade their mechanical implants to improve their combat, stealth and social skills, thereby allowing multiple approaches to a single level. Impressively, it is said that these alterations can even allow a player to finish the game by killing only the boss characters. The art direction looks stunning on this title, but I’m sceptical to see if the gameplay can match it. Look out for the Q&A sessions on Saturday and Sunday.

Shadows of the Damned:
Anything that Suda 51 is involved in is mental. Absolutely and unashamedly mental. This latest concoction pairs the creative genius with Shinji Mikami (the guy behind Resident Evil) in a demon hunting action thriller. The dialogue is hilarious, the graphics are vulgar and the gameplay outright violent.

Expect doors to be barred by demons’ pubic hair, a giant Minotaur to fire his number two’s all over you and a barbaric main character. I’m almost certain I’m not going to like this game, but feel it needs to be experienced all the same. Expect to go hands on with it at the GameSpot stall.


So that’s pretty much it for me. What are you most looking forward to seeing and playing? Drop your comments below!

SSX Deadly Descents is renamed as… SSX?!

EA has added yet more confusion to the strangely defined SSX Deadly Descents by announcing that the game will now be titled simply ‘SSX’. A quote from Creative Director Todd Batty in Gameinformer (and found subsequently via videogamer.com) says:

“We wanted to make sure we hit the over-the-top arcadey gameplay in all of these different gameplay modes. We decided to lead with the new Deadly Descent gameplay in that trailer, but all of the classic SSX style will be there, too.”

Fans had been dubious and worried since the initial trailer for SSX Deadly Descents dropped earlier in the year. A dark skyline and edgy visuals suggested that the developers were aiming for a more hyper realistic game in line with Stoked or the original Amped games. It looks like the SSX team has taken the fans’ concerns on board and tried to reassure them with this broader description of the game.

“We’re a little challenged with how many levels we can put on the disc, honestly, but we’re thinking it will be somewhere in the vicinity of 70 mountains. By comparison, SSX 3 had one. The hub works kind of like Google Earth. You can spin the globe around and pick a mountain range you like then zoom in on that and pick a mountain you like from there, then you get to race down the crazy arcade courses that we’ve built on top of real-life mountains.”

Creating 70 mountains from scratch will be no easy feat. I absolutely loved the mountain from SSX 3 and would prefer to ride a small number of phenomenal courses than a dozen uninspired ones. Still, EA Canada have had this game in development for some time now – so who knows what kind of snowboarding madness they’ve been brewing.

This ‘behind the scenes’ trailer offers some insight into the style and reinvention that they’re aiming for. Racing and insane tricking will be present and accounted for, although this time they’ll be supplemented with the threat of natural disaster. Avalanches and cave-ins were a couple of examples shown in concept art. Todd Batty emphasises staying ‘true to the franchise’ – I really hope that he can deliver on this one.

Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light

Square Enix tries to recapture the origins of the Final Fantasy franchise in a portable adventure that is both charming and infuriatingly archaic.

Followers of the JRPG genre align themselves into two fairly distinct camps. One recognises and embraces the need for evolution, giving recognition for the fresh but often flawed gameplay mechanics in recent titles such as Final Fantasy XIII and Resonance of Fate. The other condemns these failed ideas as the reason for the genre’s recent decline, resisting the trends of linear exploration and emphasis on graphical presentation. They frequently call for a return to the ‘good old days’, where turn based combat was king and random enemy encounters were the norm.

Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light is a game built almost solely for the latter. Everything about it reeks of an adventure that could have been published in the 80s or 90s. Take the plotline for instance; the game surrounds a boy named Brandt, who is summoned by the king to rescue a kidnapped princess. The four other heroes include a spoilt girl from the royal family, a loyal soldier of the kingdom and a reluctant, brooding chap. They’re all purposefully stereotypical and pigeonholed into a journey that is predictable at every turn.

Weapons, magic and additional items can all be found and bought in the local villages. Combat is strictly turn based; party members exert varying number of action points (that act like magic of MP) for every physical attack or spell. Akin to some of the older Final Fantasy iterations, party members can obtain ‘crowns’ that change their job class as the game progresses.

Sound familiar? It should. For better and worse, Square Enix has chosen to make this portable experience incredibly traditional. Older players will welcome some of this familiarity in a similar manner to fans of Pokémon or The Legend of Zelda; retreading a well worn path can feel reassuring and comforting in The 4 Heroes of Light. Unfortunately, many of the gripes I have with the JRPG genre have been brought forward as well. In comparison with modern video game standards, it’s very hard to forgive some of the aging design choices.

The first is random encounters. One of the advancements that I’ve come to cherish in the RPG genre is the ability to pick and choose my battles. It allows players to grind only when they feel that it’s necessary and conversely push onward when they just want to progress the story. The Persona series and Final Fantasy XII/ XIII are shining examples of this.

In my opinion, returning to a random encounter system in Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light is counter intuitive. It’s irritating to become bogged down in an area with a particularly high encounter rate, increasingly hammering the attack button just to get back to dungeon exploring. Those who argue that grinding is ‘a necessary evil’ are wrong – more often than not, it’s just a cheap way of extending the overall length of the game.

The inventory system is also rather baffling. With only 15 slots per character (which include obligatory spell tomes and equipment) I found myself depositing items in the village storage hut with alarming regularity. In the more lengthy and intricate dungeons I found myself having to discard some of the weapons and health tonics that I was picking up; a wasteful and annoying consequence of the system.

Variance between dungeons is excellent, but the aesthetics within them are monotonous and dull. The repetition of textures means that it’s also easy to lose your sense of direction; the absence of a touch screen map (such as the one in the excellent The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks) is sorely missed.

The 4 Heroes of Light redeems itself with a fantastic presentation throughout. The 3D engine is very impressive, utilising a picture book aesthetic that has rarely been used elsewhere. Combining a water colour palette and cel-shaded line art, the characters really pop out from the screen and help bring some life to the adventure. The way that party members change their appearance when you swap their equipment is another neat touch. The towns are expansive and occasionally take up multiple levels, filled with interesting houses and townspeople. It all adds to the grandeur of a global adventure, something lost in many linear JRPGs.

I’ll be honest – I didn’t play this game to completion. Maybe that deducts some of the credibility of this review, but I would argue that I still experienced a thorough representation of the game. If you’re a fan of old-school RPGs, I can recommend this as a solid portable adventure for the Nintendo DS. For anyone that champions the recent advancements in the genre, you’re best looking elsewhere.

Gears of War 3: Trailer

You either love the Gears of War franchise, or you hate it. Both games have never tried to hide what they’re about; a white knuckle-ride pumped with so much testosterone that you hardly notice the absence of a single logical plot point. Brilliant in co-op, both offline and online. Point the analogue stick and shoot alongside Marcus, Dom and the Cole Train. Simple.

So as you’ve probably gathered from the trailer above, Gears of War 3 has just been announced for April 2011. Not a lot seems to have changed from the visuals or core gameplay, but the atmosphere is a lot, lot darker.

It starts with the gripping audio. The song in the background is Heron Blue by Sun Kil Moon, a chilling vocal track layered over an ever looping guitar riff. The motion cap for Dom is as hammy as ever, but when he hits the ground and looks up wearily at the locust (0:30 – 0:45) there’s a genuine sense of weariness and despair. With Maria truly gone, perhaps there is little left for him to fight for. Did I mention how cool his beard looks as well? I like beards.

Delta Squad is no longer overrun by masculinity! Anya makes an appearance as a female COG, unleashing hell with her own assault rifle. I’m hoping for some classic brotherhood banter about her inability to drive or carry weaponry properly in the campaign. There were a few hints at a love pairing between Anya and Marcus, but I actually hopes that this emerges as nothing more than courting. Somehow I just can’t see Epic doing a traditional romance justice in the Gears universe.

The new giant Lambent looks interesting enough, but did anyone else notice that some of the locust were shooting at it from the front row? Perhaps this is hinting at some more problems with their inability to control the ranks.

Lastly, the message ‘Brothers To The End’ sends a chilling reminder that this could be the last instalment for Gears of War; or at least with this current set of characters.

I’m not too bothered about how Epic has fine tuned the gameplay, because Gears of War 2 was already a pretty well refined beast. I’d really like to see the team step up the plot instead, with a larger focus on:

* Adam Fenix. He was hinted at being still alive in Gears of War 2, with the message “This is Adam Fenix, is anyone out there…? Can you hear me…? This is Adam Fenix, can you hear me…? What have you done…?”

* The Pendulum Wars. The name on its own sounds epic. What happened and how were Delta Squad involved?

* Locust vs Lambent. From the looks of it, the COGs are going to be teaming up with the locust in order to bring down the more formidable Lambent. It’s a very unoriginal plot device, so I’m hoping Epic do something a little more original with it.

* Why was Marcus in jail at the start of the first game!?

* The emotional toll of the war on Delta Squad. Rather than constant action, I’d like to see some moments where our heroes reflect on the situation and show some of their weaknesses. Dom’s storyline goes someway to fulfilling this at the moment, but Gears of War 3 could truly become a classic if it pulled on the heart strings a little more often.
JetSetNick