Leipzig Game Convention '06 Round-up

[Originally posted on 1Up.com]

Saturday - With initial plans revised (the news that neither Wii nor PS3 would be playable broke as late as one week prior to GC) I went into the Leipzig Games Convention with the hopes of at least being able to play some upcoming titles for PS2, Xbox360 and the handhelds.

My plan was to first find my way to the Nintendo booth to try out the DS-titles before too many people filled the stand. But, having miss-read a sign I ended up in the wrong hall. So I happened upon Ubisofts booth and checked out Dark Messiah of Might & Magic. This game was quite impressive, the graphics are top-notch and the gameplay mechanics where well developed making it easy and intuitive to control. Physics plays a large part and there are lots of Half-Life 2:esque puzzles like knocking out suspensions from under rickety platforms, shooting ropes to drop suspended items on enemies, trowing things to knock enemies off cliffs or kicking them into spikes. This game has great potential, definitely one I plan to pick up.

I managed to find my way to the Nintendo booth, which was filled with DS-stations many of them situated amongst beanbags on the floor, creating a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere, lot's of people brought their own DS:es as well which Nintendo obviously anticipated and had prepared ample space for these people to lounge, playing their own games or downloading one of the demos from the available download station.

I tried Contact which looks like a good and light RPG, which just might suite me, I just can't be bothered with the more traditional RPG:s any more, there's too much inventory management and level-grinding which just frustrates me. This game looks to be more leaning towards the adventure element of RPG:s and I really like the art-style with the flat cartoon style of the professor and the more painted style of the main characters screen. It looks beautiful, especially for a DS-game. This is actually something that we're seeing more and more, the initial DS games looked very much like N64 games, but now it seems that developers are really starting to master the system and are pumping out some really gorgeous graphics in their coming titles.

I downloaded the 42 All-Time-Classic Games demo and tried out Darts, Billiards and Texas hold 'em. You can't really go wrong with a collection of classic games like chess, card games, backgammon, etc. Although it doesn't really interest me, I think this could be perfect for some of those non-gamers that bought their DS:es for Brain Age, Animal Crossing or Nintendogs. There was one problem with the billiards game though, trying to aim for the lower right hand side pocket while holding the stylus in my right hand was difficult, and I suppose the same would be true for a left handed person when aiming for the lower left hand side pocket. There needs to be a way to rotate the table for this to work, and maybe there was, but I couldn't find it.

Nintendo held several live shows during the convention, where a couple of German hosts talked about and demonstrated several DS-titles, seems like Brain Age is the latest thing there, because this got a lot of attention, there was a Mario Kart DS race with some kids from the audience and two guys got to dress up in Sumo wrestler suits disguised as Mario & Wario to take each other on in the ring, Mario obviously won. After the show some free bees where tossed out into the audience. Trying for a Nintendo-wallet I was savagely scratched by some fanatic girl and had to give up on it. However while sucking my finger to stop the bleeding I managed to secure a DS-branded bag, so that was a nice consolation. It's a really nice bag, and I was actually in need of a new one so that was great.

I strolled off and found Activision's booth, I was hoping that they would have Guitar Hero II playable, but wasn't really expecting it as their distribution deal is fairly new and thought they would focus on their existing titles. But to my surprise there where no less than 8 demo stations for GH2 with two guitar-controlers on each, as well as a stage where two people could try out the game in front of an audience. Well, this is where I spent most of my time, I was up on stage two times, each time getting a nice GH2 T-shirt for the trouble. I tried out Strudder, YYZ, John the Fisherman and You really got me Now, but the track I spent the most time with, was that song-of-songs War Pigs, that was a lot of fun! The only problem, and the reason I actually went on to see the rest of the convention, was that the noise level was so high, that even with the TV:s volume cranked up to max it was almost impossible to pick out what sounds where coming from your demo-station. This was also a reason for sticking with War Pigs, as I know the song by heart and could follow it by singing it in my head. Playing on stage made this easier though. Some of the major gaming-sites have been saying that the GH2-demo songs where harder than the GH songs, but I can't say I agree, they're pretty much on par as far as I can tell.

Activision's booth was one of the bigger ones, only out-sized by Sony's Playstation area and Microsoft's Games-for-Windows\Xbox area. Besides the GH2 demo stations and stage (where a band played on several occasions) it contained a Tony Hawk-branded half-pipe where a skateboarder, in-lines skater and a BMX-biker performed off-and-on which drew huge crowds. There was also a "cinema" where Lucas-Arts where showing their next-gen technology. This included the Indiana Jones San Francisco cable-car video which you might have seen and the recently released next-gen Star Wars concept video. The part that I hadn't seen before was a live demonstration of the engine used for the up-coming Indie game, this was really cool, they demonstrated how material really behaves "correctly" so wood splinters, glass shatters, metal buckles, etc. based on where and how it is struck. Also the AI characters would try to grab on to things when they where flung off ledges and the like, but the switch between AI and rag-doll "mode" was all too apparent and the characters where way to puppet-like. As soon as they lost their balance the rag-doll physics would kick in and it would be as if they just went unconscious, they didn't try to brace themselves so this created a stark contrast and gave the eerie feeling of their life being switched off and on like a light switch, which, in an "uncanny valley"-moment completely broke the suspension of disbelief. But the material physics demonstration was really cool, the showed a video where R2:s where flung at different objects to show how they break or deform differently. For this purpose they had taken the famous Han-frozen-in-carbonite figure, but replaced Han with Jar Jar which I thought was pretty funny. They then demonstrated how the encased Jar Jar behaved differently depending on which material they set it to represent. When made of ice, tossing a couple of R2:s at it would crush it realistically, set to metal, he would dent and when changed to jelly the R2:s would make him wave and jiggle around, it was really impressive.

Visiting the Konami booth there was a reel running with their upcoming titles, mainly focused on MGS4, Elebits and Pro Evolution Soccer 2007. I tried Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin which plays like you'd expect, just like every other 2D Castlevania game. Seems solid, but personally I think I'm done with them. I also gave Lunar Knight a go, same thing here, it plays pretty much like the Boktai games but without the irritating sun-sensor. It looks great and felt very polished, but I'm not sure if I'm gonna bother with it, we'll see.

Back at the Nintendo booth I played the Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass demo. It was fairly easy to control using only the stylus but since tapping things is context sensitive, it can sometimes be difficult to know if you missed, are standing in the wrong spot, or simply can not interact with whatever item you tap. Other than that it looks great and does a great job of capturing the Wind Waker art and feel.

Then I gave the NDS Browser a try, navigation was fairly easy and switching the regular and zoomed-in views between the upper and lower screens works well and makes surfing a lot easier than on other devices with small screens. Using the stylus it was fairly easy to scroll and enter text in fields as well, however some pages displayed strangely. I'm not sure if this is do to the size of the screen or the Opera browser, though.

A quick look at the Nintendo MP3 Player proved it to be ugly and had a clumsy interface, unless you're really intent on cutting down on gadgets in your pockets I would advise against this thing. Most phones coming out now will play MP3:s anyway, so there really isn't much need for this.

A game that I hadn't heard of and that seems to have slid under the radar of several sites as well was Eragon. It's apparently a game based on the upcoming movie, which in turn is based on some popular Fantasy book series. This was a fairly nice looking 3D action game. The main character (Eragon I suppose) is controlled using the D-pad and the stylus is used for aiming with his bow among other things. Looks to be an OK license-game.

Star Fox Command was more fun than I had been previously led to belive by previews I've seen, although it definitely needs some polish, the controls where a bit sluggish so they better get those fixed before it's released.

Yoshi's Island 2 looked good but I couldn't quite get to grips with the controls, but it looks promising.

Mario vs. DK 2 - This game needs some work, either that or there was a calibration issue with the machine I tried it on, because it registered the stylus somewhere other than where I was touching the screen, also even when I compensated for this off-set it didn't always react. It has some promising gameplay ideas though, taking alot of inspiration from games like Lemmings and The Lost Vikings.

Strolled off to the Sony Playstation area and tried to download some game demos using my fake 2.7 firmware which didn't work so I gave up on that. Then I tried out SOCOM US Navy Seals Fireteam Bravo 2 which played well and looked nice, can't say if there was anything different from the first one since I haven't played that.

Killzone PSP was a real surprise, this looks beautiful and seems pretty fun, but it was hard and takes some learning, but could be a quality title that the system needs.

Ended the day with a close inspection of the PS3-behind-glas which actually looks kind of cheap! When stood on it's end, the top, where the ventilation holes are is made of semi-transparent plastic which looks really low-budget. We'll see if this is the final design, I hope they change it so that it looks a bit more expensive for all those poor saps who are pre-ordering.

Phew! What a day, 11-hours later and I'm completely nackered, it feels like I've been to an indoor concert all day! McDonald's sure hit the spot!

Sunday - Back for more, started off with more Guitar Hero II while the noise level was low enough that I could actually hear what I was playing. A live band did a few songs on the GH2 stage which was kind of cool. Next I went into a second theater, next to the Lucas Arts one, which housed a Call of Duty 3 demo, running on the Xbox 360, looked good but didn't really show anything that we haven't seen before.

I headed off to Capcom to play Lost Planet multi-player. This was a very polished experience, a standard third-person shooter setup but with some elements of hitting a button a bunch of times to simulate effort, much like raising logs\ rocks and opening portals that was in King Kong and RE4, felt fitting. I was afraid I was gonna get my ass kicked since I haven't played the single-player demo, but I actually finished 3rd and then 2nd out of 8 in the two team-death matches we played.

Bad Day L.A. was a title that's intrigued me and I went to check it out next. It has a really cool art-style and it was easy to control and the play mechanics where fun and fresh, the game provides you with a nice balance between linear levels and some GTA-like free roaming and do-what-you-want mentality. You can for instance extinguish cars and people who are on fire or run around and just bash people over the head with a tire-iron.

Another visit to the Nintendo booth and I gave Mario Slam Basketball a try. This was actually alot of fun, you navigate the character with the d-pad and dribble with the stylus, giving you full control over how fast and where you dribble, which was really cool and involving. I usually don't gravitate towards sports titles, on the contrary I actively avoid them, but this looks like one I might have to get! This title shows the great potential for a Wii version as well...

Well I spent the rest of the day checking out the big Pong-tribute art section and playing more Guitar Hero II, keep a look out for my video re-cap of the event, coming soon...

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