Nothing is quite as surreal as walking down the streets of San Francisco, turning into a doorway and finding yourself in a dimly-lit German establishment. It's like a little bit of Gamescom eschewed its home city and sauntered over to the East Bay. (At least, that's how it was for me. Moodily illuminated Europeans eateries weird me out ever-so-slightly.)
Surrounded by slightly cheeky murals, a whole bunch of journalists had the opportunity to cross-examine the PlayStation Vita's Gamescom lineup last night. Naturally, USgamer was part of that contingent. In between figuring out controls, waiting in line for a turn and navigating past lightly inebriated folk, we managed to play a lot of games. Some, of course, we liked a bit more than others and, in case you were wondering which ones caught our eyes, we've got a handy-dandy compilation of exactly that right here.
Dragon Fantasy Book II
Hey, you like 16-bit Japanese RPGs, right? Like Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, that sort of thing? So do the guys at Muteki Corp. -- so much so that they've basically made their own. Like the first chapter of Dragon Fantasy, Book II channels all those Super NES role-playing games into a fairly faithful experience, all the way down to the use of the Chicago font (which Squaresoft used for their games). Battles draw heavily from Chrono Trigger, with seamless transitions and even some remarkably familiar visual effects, though combat plays out in a straight turn-based style -- no Active-Time system here. Oh, and there's ship to ship combat, but not the dull, drawn-out kind that Ubisoft keeps showing off for Assassin's Creed. Breezy, simple ship-to-ship combat, like the tank battles in Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime. Basically, it's a compact distillation of your favorite classic RPGs. And that's great.
Forget the Twitter meltdowns and arguments and impolitic remarks and focus not on Fez creator Phil Fish's gonzo online persona but rather on Fez itself. The Vita rendition of the game feels remarkably faithful to the Xbox 360 version, with the same puzzles, the same mind-bending rotating world, and the same odd humor. The version Sony is currently showing off feels pretty rough -- the action feels sluggish in large, open areas, and some of the fonts are borderline illegible -- but that's because the people responsible for porting the game were working on the Vita conversion of Spelunky until a few weeks ago. By the time Fez hits PlayStation (presumably early in 2014), it will hopefully be running more smoothly.
Jeff Minter really likes Tempest. So much so that he keeps remaking it -- not only with direct descendants like Tempest 2000, but also with more out-there versions like Space Giraffe. If you take a moment to decode the title of his Vita game, you can probably guess where on the gamut this one falls. Assume T means Tempest; x is a numeric variable; and K is short for 1000, as in kilometer: Tempest x-thousand. Not surprisingly, then, this is a unabashed imitation of Tempest, all the way from the little moon-shaped ship you control at the perimeter of the screen to the shape of the stages to the way you can skip ahead to advanced levels for a score bonus. Unfortunately, it still feels pretty rough; the controls are super floaty, and the analog stick lacks the precision of the original Tempest's spinner controller. It sure is trippy, though.
Aban Hawkin and the 1001 Spikes
10001 Spikes is just as nasty today as it was at E3, but the latest version features some extra tricks: Namely, unlockable alternate characters. Aban Hawkin is still the main character -- the Mario of this production -- but now you can access alternate playable characters (some drawn from games like Tempura of the Dead, others obvious homages to characters like Ninja Gaiden's Ryu Hayabusa). Each character brings his or her own skills to the table. Aban dressed as Ryu can perform a wall jump, while his sister can cling to ledges, and the Nyx from NyxQuest completely breaks the game with a quintuple jump that combos into a glide. Good thing she's unlockable last, eh? Further adding to the complexity are a variety of multiplayer modes, including one where players steal lives from one another by completing certain goals. The meanest game just got meaner.
Doki Doki Universe
HumaNature Studios' new endeavor is a puppy. A big, digitized puppy with liquid brown eyes that pleads with you, 'Love me?' Rarely have I encountered anything that has been so furiously good-natured, so intent on being unconditionally happy. From what little I could gather,(the PR person had shrugged helplessly when I asked them to tell me more) the idea behind Doki Doki Universe is that you're this skinny, earnestly adorable robot who is being taught what love is. To do so, you're supposed to help fix people's problems, get them to be happy, summon weird creations from the ether as and when appropriate ("Hey, I wonder how that sad Egyptian girl would react to a saber-toothed - well, I don't know what I was expecting."), throw people and pieces of scenery around and ... stuff. Any game that asks you to help cheer up a lonely cactus by conjuring the image of a dolphin from thin air is a-okay by me.
Having never played the PS3 version, I was a bit blown away by Malicious: Rebirth. Holy Magikarp, it's a lot of fun. An unconventional little action game, Malicious: Rebirth puts you in control of what is known as the 'Spirit Vessel', the guy (or girl) wielding the Mantle of Cinders, an awesome weapon reminiscent of those used by the chicks in Skullgirls (another completely rad game). It's your only weapon but a deeply satisfying one to use. Want to charge your enemies like an airborne jouster? Turn your floaty, flowy cloak into a gigantic lance. Feeling Fight Club-y? Go with giant fists and beat on the bad guys (who are available in copious amounts). Malicious: Rebirth doesn't make you wait to take on the bosses. You can do it the instant the level loads. Granted, the bosses are also generally big, heavily armored and prone towards doing massive amounts of damage to you so killing them may not be something that happens immediately. Though the controls don't handle quite as well as I would like them to, Malicious: Rebirth is joyously free-form (you can dash up walls, fly through the air and just ... run circles around everyone) and has a health system that involves your limbs falling off when you take sufficient amounts of damage.
Atomic Ninjas, you disappoint me. You can't tease me with a fun, promising tutorial then declare you're done with me. It's just sadistic. Brightly colored and informed with cubical-looking denizens, Atomic Ninjas is a multiplayer action game that reminds me just a tad of Vlambeer's Super Crate Boy. In the practice level, I got to romp around a variety of platforms, swing from the ceiling with the help of grappling hooks and exploded, just once, from overusing a rocket strapped to my back. What's interesting about Atomic Ninjas is that you can't actually kill your opponents. Nothing in the game's arsenal will permit you to directly reduce an opponent into an explosion of particles. Instead, you're going to have to be clever and make use of environmental hazards.