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E3 2009 Day One Coverage - Includes Brutal Legend, Rock Band: The Beatles, and New Super Mario Bros. Wii
Posted on Wednesday, June 3 2009 @ 00:20:23 Eastern

Contents: The "New Old" Event Comments, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Demon Souls, Blur, Brutal Legend, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, The Beatles: Rock Band

The "New Old" Event

First, let me tell you that this year's E3 is exactly what the convention needs to get out of its last two-year rut. From what I could gather, the venue and the crowds are comparable to the E3 2006 conference (that is, before they couldn't decide whether E3 was a consumer show or a private get-together of very few people. Both the large areas in South Hall and the West Hall - both of which are at least as large as the Moscone Center in San Francisco where the GDC convention is held - were actually in use (which weren't the last two years. Though there were a few stretched lines to see games and products like God of War III and the PSP Go!, nothing had more than a ten-minute wait and most had plenty of stations for anyone to waddle over and play. Even better, with the million-dollar booths and the return of booth babes (few and far between, but they did exist, as Chris Hudak would attest... ... I'll let you figure out what that means), the spectacle has finally drawn back the major news networks like CNN to cover the event once more. And that kind of coverage is priceless for publishers.

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor
Publisher: Atlus Co, Rating: T, Platform: Nintendo DS, Release Date: June 23rd

The Shin Megami Tensei series is one of the best RPG franchises still around today (I gave the last two Persona games an A-), though it doesn't get much love from the general public (...yet). But that doesn't mean that the series is going away anytime soon: Cue Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor for Nintendo DS. A trio of friends in modern, hip Tokyo have uncovered an e-mail with an encryption program for their computers (actually, Nintendo DS-looking devices themselves) that seems to be tied to mysterious murders throughout the city apparently done by a "mysterious beast". When they activate the program out of curiosity, they find it to be summoning program for demons - all from the Shin Megami Tensei universe.

To defeat them, you must master the combat system, a hybrid between grid-based SRPGs and traditional three-on-three JRPGs. Each of your human characters can control up to a team of three - two demon monsters plus himself/herself - and whenever one of your characters attacks/defends against an enemy team in the grid-based system, both teams face battle in a three-on-three match-up for a specific number of turns. As usual, your team will gain experience and macca (money) for defeating enemies, while recruiting demons and boosting their stats as you see fit.

Most intriguing of all, the main character soon discovers that he can see a number floating above people, and the number "1" appears above both of his friends. As he soon discovers, in perhaps a reference to the popular anime Death Note, the number indicates the number of days that that person will die. Suffice it to say, this "Death Clock" will have you running through the streets of Tokyo in order to safe your friends from their impending doom and perhaps the fate of the world itself.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii
Publisher: Nintendo, Rating: Pending (likely "E"), Platform: Nintendo Wii, Release Date: Holiday Season

Not many Wii titles intrigued me this year, apart from one special title to be mentioned later and the games tied to the Wii Motion Plus (and that's only because I'm wondering how much better the should-have-been-included-in-the-first-place peripheral makes the Wii-sensing as it is now). But one game no one could missing walking into the veritable white of a Nintendo booth was the party-driven New Super Mario Bros. for the Wii, accompanied by remixed Mario tunes that came out of the ceiling speakers.

The short demo challenges four players to complete a three- to five-minute Super Mario Bros. stage in standard side-scrolling fashion with the best score. As you might expect, this means a lot of fighting and jump-sabotage for mushrooms and goomba stomps between Mario, Luigi, and the two colored toads (for players 3 and 4). Shaking the Wii-mote also has been integrated into the 3-D 2-D experience (like New Super Mario Bros for the Nintendo DS, it uses 3D character models on a 2D plane) - the new propeller power-up allows you reach new heights, and if you die, you return inside a bubble that can burst quicker if you shake the Wii-mote. Of course, the name of the game is to keep as many lives as possible while collecting star coins before everyone else does. The appeal of this game knows no bounds, and I project that it will be a major seller when it comes out for the holiday season.

Demon Souls
Publisher: Atlus, Rating: Pending (likely "T"), Platform: PS3, Release Date: Pending

A cross between Diablo and Bladestorm, Demon Souls pits you in the medieval land of Boleria, which has been cursed by demons whose souls have been rumored to endow warriors with supernatural strength. Traveling through tight stone corridors and damp muddy lands surrounded by castle walls, you must steel yourself against enemy knights and legions of undead, not to mention gargantuan bosses. It has all the traits of a hack'n'slash fest - you can choose from a host of classes (magician, knight, temple knight, thief... just to name a few), modify your facial structure, and collect dozens of quick-healing herbs, armor, and talismans (some of which can be traded with said demon souls). Eventually, however, you will die and enter the Nexus, where you live on as a soul who can still battle enemies but have half the health until you recover your physical body once more. In the meantime, players can touch your bloodstain (at where you died) and see how you died (a neat feature, no doubt). Right now, the game feels sluggish in a Kingdom of Fire: Circle of Doom kind of way, where blocking, parrying, attacking, and item actions all seem like they are done in molasses. Hopefully, they can speed up the action to a Dynasty Warrior level - if so, it will be one of the best 3D hack'n'slash titles to date.

Blur
Publisher: Activision, Rating: Pending (likely "T"), Platform: Xbox 360, Release Date: Fall 2009

Putting its hands on the steering wheel of the racing genre, Activision had stations of pre-alpha builds of the new bombastic multiplayer title appropriately named Blur, which takes the Super Mario Kart formula and hardens it to the Extreme Max of Manliness. Okay, maybe not that far, but it's close enough. Taking it from makeshift tracks in car junkyards to the downtown streets of Los Angeles, Blur challenges up to 20 players (as least as far as I have seen) through a four-track event full of destruction and sheer mayhem. You'll drive through item pick-ups like Shock, Barge, and Mines and send your competitors drifting into no man's land (don't worry if you drive out of control - there seems to be an automatic reset to the center of the track if it happens). Cars have health and shields as well, so you can take a lot of damage before needing to be repaired, but of course, if you're taking damage, you're doing it wrong.

Brutal Legend(to clarify, the "u" has two dots above it)
Publisher: EA, Rating: Pending (likely "T"), Platform: PS3, Xbox 360, Release Date: October 13, 2009

In what can be called a total rad vortex of extreme awesomeness, Brutal Legend is like a Jack Black (voice of main character, Eddie Riggs) interpretation of what Fable II should have been like... if it was paved in rockatude. It doesn't seem to change much in terms of the common linear adventure formula, but it's one of those games where the style is so over-the-top that that's all you see. Instead of a sword, you wield a mighty axe. Instead of casting magic out of your hands, you use a guitar that riffs out lightning and pillars of pyrotechnic fire. Instead of running through hilly greenlands, you trek through a hellish underworld that looks like an overblown shrine to Satanism, with roads and mountains made out of skeletons, red seas, pale stone terrain, volcanos, and a non-aromatherapeutic set of blood-red candles adorned with ritual circles (just for good measure).

Through this demonic Metalocalpyse-esque "open world", Eddie will have to defeat scores of skeletons and demons donned in red cloaks. None of them pose too much of a problem, especially when you encounter your lady rocker chic partner later in the game (you can throw her around Princess Elika-style) and gain access to a one-off stage where you're revved up in a "relic" super-sized Rock-mobile that can plow through the undead like a bulldozer run on overdrive. Though the game doesn't seem to be as innovative as Psychonauts, Tim Schafer should be pleased with how well the game's is being received by the common man (with a burning rock star soul), which should drive sales - and hopefully not run Double Fine into a wall.

Tatsunoku vs. Capcom: Ultimate All Stars
Publisher: Capcom, Rating: Pending (likely "T"), Platform: Wii, Release Date: Winter 2009

The revival of fighting games is nearly complete - with Marvel vs. Capcom 2 to be released on the Xbox Live Arcade soon, Capcom treats us to another game once only reserved for our Japanese brethren: Tatsunoko vs. Capcom. For those of you who don't know, Tatsunoko is the anime company responsible for Speed Racer and Gatchaman (and even playing a part in Neon Genesis Evangelion), and obstacles of getting any Tatsunoko game in the US are almost insurmountable (the Tatsunoko name is owned by about thirteen separate companies in the States). So really, we should just be lucky that we will be graced with its presence.

Tatsunoko vs. Capcom works in much the same way as the first Marvel vs. Capcom - except with insane match-ups between Chun-Li, Tekkaman, Karas, and Viewtiful Joe. All of the trappings of a bombastic fighting crossover title are here: the air-dash juggles, the ridiculous string chaining of regular moves into super and hyper specials, the eye-popping visual effects (glass breaking and strobe lights and electricity and mechanical gear menu interfaces), and the complete dismissal of gravity. Power gauges for specials can store up to five, character assists can be activated at any time, and any red health regenerates when a character is resting off the screen. There are also Aerial Raves where you can switch out characters in mid-air. (Whew!) As if it couldn't get any more over-the-top, damage is done in the BILLIONS (which means that Ryu has, I guess, a TRILLION hit points). The skillful players at the booth used arcade sticks that came in a white chassis and baby blue buttons (with a baby blue lollipop joystick) - it looked like a Hori stick and there is no word yet on a bundled stick that comes with game (but I'm keeping my fingers crossed).

The Beatles: Rock Band
Publisher: MTV Games and EA, Rating: T, Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, Release Date: September 9th, 2009

It's more than just Rock Band with Beatles in it... at least a little bit. (But first, please note that "The Beatles" comes first before "Rock Band" in the title - I find that honorable and a better marketing campaign since who doesn't know the Beatles, eh?) Where this band-centric title differs the most from the original series is the up to three-part harmonies embedded in the vocal track, harmonies that The Beatles are known for. Two additional players (or two guitarists that can sing at the same time) can jump in and provide a vocal backdrop to the melody - hitting the melody line is the one that counts, so if the harmony singers don't hit their parts, that's not a problem. Some leniency on the difficulty has also been provided in the form of an automatic no-fail Easy mode and a toggle to switch on or off No Fail right at the instrument selection screen.

Some people will question why there isn't a third guitar (even though you can choose from three different guitar peripherals for the game, each one inspired by their Beatles guitarist counterpart). But you don't feel like you're missing something (especially if you never had it). And it would be a tight squeeze to fit in another guitar track on the screen, anyway.

All 45 songs will be available at the start, so you don't have to play through career mode to unlock them, though you will want to just to experience the band's chronological rise to super stardom from the Ed Sullivan Show to their later songs after 1966, which the Harmonix team has dubbed The Dreamscapes period. (Here, the background includes late 1960s-styled artwork to suit the mood of the song). Apart from some aesthetic differences - the stars in the upper-right-hand corner are translucent, and the tracks start out greenish-blue and turn purplish-blue during overdrive - the Rock Band style remains unchanged. So far, The Beatles: Rock Band seems like a good synergy between one of the most important (if not the most important band) of all time and one of the best rhythm franchises of all time.

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