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GDC 2011: Capcom's Cavalcade

Capcom
With the 3DS right around the corner lots of studios are working to develop new software titles that harness the awesome visual power of Nintendo's shiny new baby. And some folks are just releasing stuff they've put together for consoles in order to have something ship in the launch window. With what I saw at my appointment Capcom is the latter, but the results of the two titles they're releasing, Super Street Fighter IV and Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D, were impressive enough to overcome jaded skepticism. Also, Okamiden for the DS.

Okamiden

I'm risking wrathful gaymer backlash for saying this, but y'all deserve to know the truth: Okamiden is butt-ugly. I played the original Okami and loved every minute of it. The action was good, the story had a wonderful sense of humor, and the simplistic visuals were a wonder, particularly for the PS2's processing power. Sadly, only quality storytelling survived the transition to mobile. I was genuinely excited to get my hands on the sequel and play through the adventures of Amaterasu's pup, Chibiterasu, so loading up the game and seeing how poor the graphics were and feeling how weird the controls handled was a major disappointment.

The story, as much as I got to play through, seemed to be same-song, second-verse, which is not always a bad thing. Evil gets unleashed and starts wreaking havoc in Japan, Issun meets up with with the sun goddess('s son) and battles demons while occasionally using the Celestial Brush to alter the world. It's a solid setting and the dialogue is just as sharp and amusing as its console predecessor.

Something about the controls, though, feels off. It's hard to put my finger on, but it feels like there are frames of animation missing or something. Running around the game world isn't such a big deal, though Chibiterasu does seem to move faster than the running animations would indicate, but once battle begins something just feels off. It's not enough to impede gameplay, thankfully, but there's just this pervasive sense that something's not quite right which winds up being quite distracting.

One thing that was done oh so very right was the use of the Celestial Brush. When you hold down the left shoulder button to paint, you pull out the stylus and draw on the bottom screen, which is a major no-brainer design choice. Capcom could've just phoned it in with the complexity of using the brush and kept it the same as the console and likely no one would've paid much notice; however, they took things a step further to take advantage of the touch screen. Some designs and symbols remain simple, such as painting a circle to bring out the sun, but to revive a tree, for example, you have to trace the outline of said tree to get a result. Adding to the complexity, Chibiterasu isn't as powerful as his mother, so he has a limited amount of time in which to paint before the brush runs out and he has to start over again. This was a very wise design choice, and I'm so glad that they went with it.

The visuals are just a mess, unfortunately. Jaggies abound on the polygons, the textures are large and blocky and look like something off the N64, and curious choices are made with sprites. For example, Issun's sprite is quite large given how small he's supposed to be, and by being so large you notice that he has absolutely no animation whatsoever. The sprite still bounces around and moves, but it's the same static sprite used the whole time, so you feel like you're watching someone play with a picture attached to a puppet string.

I know that there's only so much the DS can do as a handheld system, but beautiful games have been made for it and the Okami world's signature is beautiful, simplistic, cel-shaded graphics which are not so intensive on a graphics processor, so there's no excuse for it to look so unpolished. The slightly off-kilter controls can be adjusted to as there's nothing inherently wrong or broken with them, but the ugly graphics will just grate on your retinas for the duration of the game. Honestly, I they should've been working on a 3DS version that would've blown everyone away instead of a DS version that's just meh.

Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D

RE:TM3D suffers from the complete opposite problem as Okamiden: the visuals are very strong (in fact, they used a lot of the art assets from RE 5), the controls are...well, they're on par for contemporary Resident Evil titles, but the gameplay was a bit dull and the story non-existent, at least in the build I was playing.

RE:TM3D is a pure action game through and through. You pick one of the cast of the RE franchise to go through 30 different challenges from both RE 4 and RE 5, leveling up along the way via skill trees, and seeing how well you can do. In the build I played, you could pick from Chris Redfield, Claire Redfield, Hunk and Krauser to play the first "stage" of either RE 4 or 5. The goal was pretty simple: kill lots of zombies in a limited amount of time. Kill chains and bonus totems will give you more time, enemies drop ammo to keep you going, and there's no Ashley to take care of. The only problem was that this got boring really fast. Also, I was playing with the sound off and a chainsaw zombie snuck up on me and landed an insta-kill, so I'm a little bitter.

I just don't understand why they chose the build they did to show off the game. It's great for a proof-of-concept or as a showroom/tradefloor demo, but it was far too sparse in its content and features to be showing to the press. Still, I imagine that the retail product will be of quality and well-received, so keep an eye out for it.

Super Street Fighter IV

Of the titles presented to me, this was the one that impressed me the most. The visuals were slick and the 3D effect worked well when playing, and the gameplay was virtually identical to its console counterparts.

You've probably heard of all the features that the game has, so there's not much new ground to cover there, but there are three things that I saw that I want to touch on. First is the 3D enhanced view. Now, the whole game is in 3D, but in the enhanced mode the action takes place over the shoulder of the character you're playing. The effect is nice, but for me personally it was a new challenge to overcome as the controls don't adapt to the new angle. In other words, I kept trying to press up and right to move forward, but I only needed to press right as if I were still viewing the game from the side. Likewise, command inputs for moves are not readjusted for the new viewing angle, so it creates a small amount of cognitive dissonance between the actions of your thumbs and what you see with your eyes, particularly if you have experience with 2D fighting games.

Second is this rather thoughtful implementation of a feature that I believe was called remote viewing. The 3D effect of the game is lost when trying to watch over the shoulder of friends that are playing, and doing so without distracting the player is a difficult feat to accomplish in any case, 3D view or not, so Capcom implemented this remote viewing feature where you can drop in and observe the match from your own 3DS. You get to see all of the action without hovering and the 3D effect remains intact. It's a small thing but a neat one, and I imagine more developers will start using a feature similar to this in their titles, so yay Capcom for being the first out of the gate with this idea.

Lastly, even with the analog disc, the 3DS' controls are still not quite like those of a proper controller, which in turn are still a bit removed from an arcade joystick. This can make pulling off some moves a bit frustrating for experienced players and pure arcana for fighting game newbies. To compensate for this, there is an optional mode that turns the touchscreen into a small set of hotkeys that, with a touch, perform two moves from a character's move set, a super attack, and a maxed out super. This is not so essential for characters like Ryu or Chun-Li whose special moves don't require as much finesse, but it's a godsend for characters like Hakan or Zangief who need 360 degree rotations to execute their attacks.

Super Street Fighter IV is a straight-up port, plus a few bells and whistles, but it's a port that makes sense and it's one that is being well executed, so I'm looking forward to the retail release.

And girls who like girls who like rumble packs!

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