As it turns out, Square Enix isn't the only publisher in Tokyo taking advantage of the assembled media, as Tecmo rounded up dozens of journalists and gathered them together in the trendy Shibuya district at Club Camelot to unveil a grip of new software, while bringing us up to date on some other, highly anticipated games.
First, a couple of interesting announcements out of the Tecmo camp. First up, Team NINJA is no longer the only 'team' at Tecmo. While Tecmo has always maintained multiple internal development teams, Team NINJA was the only one with an easily identifiable name. But now, Keisuke Kikuchi -- the producer responsible for the development of games like Super Swing Golf, the Fatal Frame series, Gallop Racer, and Tokobot -- is now heading up an internal development team known as Team Tachyon. A tachyon, as defined by Encyclopedia-Britannica as a "hypothetical subatomic particle whose velocity always exceeds that of light." Whether this means that Team Tachyon will be producing games at an alarming rate remains to be seen, but Tecmo hopes this marks the beginning of a new marquee development team with a unique identity, that stands beside -- and not behind -- Team NINJA.
One of the first new games out of the Team Tachyon stable, is the upcoming [Register or Login to view links]. While this may not be the final name for the product, what is known is that the game is in development for the Nintendo Wii, with all of Rygar's signature moves performed with the nunchuk and remote. As Team Tachyon's Keisuke Kikuchi demonstrated for us, players use Rygar's famous 'diskarmor' shield/weapon by creating a circular motion with the remote, as if you were attempting to lasso cattle, and lashing out with the controller to attack. While the full extent of the controls have yet to be revealed, maximum destruction is one of the key elements in this upcoming Rygar game, and you can expect plenty of things to smash, whether it be destructible environments or enemies. As you can tell by the artwork, Rygar has a whole new look that moves away from the loincloth'ed, girdled heroes of Rygar games past. While we didn't see the game in action, the all-new, tribal alt-rocker Rygar shows the direction Tecmo is taking the franchise, and from what little we saw today, it seems like this direction is a good one.
Another game announced by Tecmo -- and directed by one of Kikuchi's proteges, Masahiro Shidara -- takes aim at the Phoenix Wright/Trace Memory/Hotel Dusk brand of graphic adventure game, is a Nintendo DS title with the somewhat literal working title [Register or Login to view links]. Few Western gamers are likely to be familiar with Kyotaro Nishimura, a Japanese writer born in 1930, who is best known for his 'mystery train' novels. This DS game is based on an original concept created by Nishimura, and is being supervised by the author as well. The DS' dual screens are put to good use as the upper screen is used to display the scene in question, while the lower screen offers detailed close-ups of various points of interest that players can examine. By touching specific research points with the stylus, an even closer view of the item or place is offered. Basically, one thing leads to another and it's up to the gamer to put these clues together. The plot finds the hero, Isshin Arata, on a journey to solve his father's unexplained death, and travels to Kyoto to begin his quest. This premise launches the game, in which the player uses the powers of deduction to solve his father's murder. Using the stylus, gamers must catch the contradictions in the testimonies, draw the correct routes of a suspect's course of actions, and solve numerous puzzles.
In addition to the bigger, game-long story arc, shorter 'deduction games' are offered to switch things up. These deduction games can be solved in about five minutes or so, allowing players to analyze and uncover loopholes in testimonies, look for proof of doctoring and forgery in pieces of evidence, and, according to Tecmo's press materials, "solving the trick of train." "What is the real meaning of the dying message?" "What is the secret hidden in the commemorative photo?" These are the sorts of brain teasers DS Kyotaro Nishimura Suspense will offer as a change of pace from the main game.
A game that Tecmo showed that's now celebrating its 10th anniversary is [Register or Login to view links] (also known in Japan as Monster Farm). This series, which originally made its name on PlayStation, was famous for its random monster generator which called for players to insert random CDs (and eventually DVDs) into their consoles, at which point the Monster Rancher game, which was loaded into the system's memory, would read the length and quantity of tracks on the disc and create a monster based on that data. The Nintendo DS iteration continues the trend, but generates monsters through different means. By either drawing shapes or symbols (or anything, really) on the touch screen, or speaking into the built-in microphone, Monster Rancher DS will turn that input into a random monster (for example, the classic Suezo model). Another method which players can use to generate monsters is by placing random Game Boy Advance cartridges in the DS cartridge slot. The press materials Tecmo gave us were particularly amusing. Scheduled for a July 12th release date in Japan (no U.S. release date has been announced as of yet), Tecmo encourages gamers to "Breeding, Combine, Battles" while pointing out awesome features like "Trainings in the farm!" and "Breed monsters with love!" Some elements of Monster Hunter DS function like a board game, while the traditional arena battles return, in full 3D.
Another big revelation was the announcement that Tecmo Inc. (the American branch of parent company Tecmo Ltd.) would begin a new initiative in creating properties specifically attuned to the North American market. The first salvo in this endeavor is the resurrection of the [Register or Login to view links] franchise, which wasn't shown in-game, but via a short promotional trailer which showed Tecmo Inc. vie-president, John Inada, portraying a particularly enthusiastic couch potato in baseball cap and 'maximum funk' wig, playing Tecmo Bowl on the sofa. The surprise announcment drew cheers from the audience, an audience who clearly remembers the simple controls and super-fun gameplay of the original games. Let's hope the new revival -- in an age of mega-licensed NFL monopolies (see: Electronic Arts) -- can find its own niche and thrive.
The next game Tecmo brought to the stage was [Register or Login to view links], by this point something less of a surprise, but now featuring an official street date. This PS3 game will now ship in Japan on June 14th, while the North American version will arrive only a couple of weeks later, shipping on July 3rd here. To commemorate the event, Tecmo brought up the 'world Ninja gaiden champion' -- who pit his skills against an international phalanx of rivals in a ladder of special Mission Mode challenges at Tokyo Game Show a couple of years ago -- to the stage, to tes his skills against Ninja Gaiden Sigma's toughest bosses, including Rachel's sister, Alma. What was surprising was how badly he got owned by the pair of bosses, retrying the stage no less than three times, with the crowd groaning loudly with each defeat. In case you've downloaded and played the demo from the PSN marketplace, and thought that perhaps the CPU A.I. was 'too easy,' compared to Ninja Gaiden/Black/Sigma's fearsome reputation, rest assured that it was dialed down for newcomers, and that the final game will hand you both halves of your ass.
The final showcase brought Team NINJA boss, Tomonobu Itagaki, to the podium, to unveil, finally, their Ninja Gaiden game for Nintendo DS called [Register or Login to view links]. Much debate has taken place on the Internet as to the game's controls and graphics, but we can reveal these things having now seen the game in action. Giving a thorough demonstration of the game's speed and functionality, Itagaki highlighted each feature one at a time, with the disclaimer that the A.I. had yet to be tuned, stating that the game would be "much harder" by the time it ships. The visuals are composed of 3D character, enemy and monster models set against lavishly illustrated 2D 'pre-rendered' backgrounds, that are less 'rendered' than they are 'painted.' This helps the characters mesh with the environments in a more organic fashion than in a game like, say, Resident Evil: Deadly Silence, where 3D models popped out noticeably against the more distinct backdrops.
[Register or Login to view links] that "Ninja Gaiden DS is the speediest of all the Ninja Gaiden games in existence," he wasn't far off. All of the game's controls are handled via an intuitive stylus-exclusive control method, with every button on the DS functioning as the block-button, allowing gamers to hold the DS however they see fit, although the game is ideally held 'Brain Age-style,' like a paperback book.
With a topographical map displayed on the left panel, and all of the action taking place on the right side, Itagaki ran Ryu Hayabusa through a series of drills designed to show off the game's controls. Set six months after the conclusion of Ninja Gaiden/Black/Sigma's storyline, many of the enemies you encounter in are often quite familiar. Dispatching them seems simple at first, but it's surprising how much finesse you can extract from a game designed around a series of screen taps and slashes. Tapping the screen twice will cause Ryu to jump, while double-taps result in double-jumps. While airborne, tapping an enemy or slashing an enemy or slashing downward will cause him to throw a shuriken, slash at an enemy with his katana, or do a heavy downward slash on a foe, respectively. As you kill enemies, they will release soul orbs, as in the Xbox/PS3 games, filling his ninpo meter. Once you have gathered the appropriate amount of 'Ki' you can then trance the appropriate Sanskrit letter (within a time limit) to unleash a powerful ninpo attack. The ninpo attack is displayed on the right-hand screen while an animated Ryu Hayabusa traces the pattern in midair (also giving the player an on-screen cue) on the left screen.
During the demonstration, Itagaki performed such visually impressive ninpo attacks on the enemies, while also executing many of the signature moves Ninja Gaiden fans will expect, like the endless wall jumps Ryu is capable of (to scale the game's highest heights), as well as multiple air combos in which he destroys one enemy after another in a chain before touching the ground. The game definitely moves fast, much faster than we expected, and it looks beautiful. Itagaki joked that they'd built a "new graphics chip just for this game," kind of like that old rumor about a Sega Saturn graphics upgrade cartridge back in the 90s. While obviously a jest, he said it to underscore just how impressive the graphics Team NINJA has achieved on DS are. Without a hint of hyperbole, after seeing this game in action, it's obvious we've never seen a game look this good on the DS before, and Dragon Sword is testimony to what the system can really do. Hell, it's arguable that this game looks better than anything running on the PSP at the moment, which shows you how close the two systems are, graphically, in the hands of the right developer.
Cutscenes are portrayed in moving storybook style, much like the Metal Gear Solid Digital Graphic Novels, with some static scenes mixed in with animated sequences. The visuals aren't restricted to looking at Ryu from a static overhead or third-person position either. While the backgrounds may be 2D, they do move with Ryu's movements, so that they seem less static than they could be. As one area transitions to another, Ryu will often fill the screen, showing off the level of detail in the polygon model, which is impressive, especially considering what we're used to seeing in a DS game. Dragon Sword's visual prowess became most apparent when Itagaki reached the demonstration's final boss fight, against a huge monster approximately four times the size of Hayabusa himself. Composed of sinewy muscle and bony appendages, this lavishly textured creature made for an action-packed fight, as it seared the level with lasers (resulting in the appropriate, corresponding explosions), forcing Itagaki to jump and double-jump while anticipating the attacks. Occasionally, the creature got the better of Team NINJA's boss, grabbing Ryu in its jaws before giving him a chomp and letting him go again. Through a series of skillfull blocks, slashes and Esuna drops, Ryu eventually stood victorious over the fallen boss, resulting in a loud round of cheers from the assembled media. Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword is fast, beautiful, and unlike anything we've seen the DS do yet. As Itagaki wrapped up the demo, GameVideos director Ryan O'Donnell turned to me with the same "I need to have this game NOWWW" look on his face, this game is that impressive.
Slated for a 2007 release, Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword should rest high atop almost any Nintendo DS owner's wishlists for the year, and if you're interested in seeing the game in action, check out our [Register or Login to view links] so you can see that the proof really is in the pudding.
With that, Tecmo's 'Nite Out 07' event concluded, leaving us with plenty to write about and even more to anticipate over the upcoming year. As Tecmo's global plan to elevate to the company to the next level in game publishing, the evidence on display showed that they're headed in the right direction, reinvesting in existing franchises, expanding beyond the shadow of Team NINJA, and using Team NINJA to spearhead the assault, creating a comprehensive, multi-tiered strategy that should pay dividends as their game plan moves forward. As the software we mentioned here reaches advanced stages of development, we'll revisit them at such times, but for now, be sure to check out the videos and screens we've collected.
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