The term comic convention has been a misnomer for a while now. Time and attention has been mostly redirected to movies, TV shows, and the ogling of half-naked women. Comics are just a foundation upon which to build a momentary edifice to all remotely nerdish cultural matters. Comics vestigial impact was more pronounced at last weeks New York Comic Con than at the big shebang out in San Diego, Calif., but still far from overwhelming. Video games dominated a surprising portion of the floor, with several companies wheeling out demo versions of forthcoming games, from pre-alpha builds all the way up to final release copies. Heres the first of a few posts covering my thoughts on the games of NYCC 09.
Segas booth highlighted its commitment to the Wii, showing off three M-rated or adult-skewing titles for Nintendos omnipresent console. The most promising is MadWorld, a stylishly ultra-violent romp from the makers of Okami and Viewtiful Joe. Taking nods from Smash TV and Running Man, MadWorld puts the player in control of a game show contestant racking up points and dollars by murdering as many people as viciously and imaginatively as possible. The graphic violence would be a massive turn-off if the game wasnt so damn ridiculous. MadWorlds comical beheadings and dismemberments take cartoon violence to rarely reached levels. If Dario Argento ever directed a "Tom and Jerry" short, it would probably look like this.
The games surprising sense of humor and brilliant visual aesthetic (its all in black and white, except for red blurts of blood, like Frank Miller's Sin City) elevates MadWorld above the similarly violent but uninspired Manhunt 2. I played about 15 minutes of an almost-finished build at NYCC, and enjoyed every second of it. The Wiis motion controls are integrated seamlessly, and never feel like a gimmick. Like Suda 51, the designer of No More Heroes, MadWorld's designers love to simultaneously mock and pay tribute to the nonsensical stereotypes that have calcified in video games over the last few decades. Never has such self-awareness been more blatant than in MadWorld.
The Conduit's become a bit of an internet cause celebre for Wii fans, held up as proof that the Wii either is or isnt capable of high-quality graphics. I couldnt care less how advanced a games graphics are, as long as they have a distinct style that fits the game-play. Although the Conduit certainly looks impressive for a Wii title, it cant match up to the visuals routinely cranked out on the 360 and PlayStation 3. It also doesnt have the most inspired design, and comes off as something of a generic sci-fi first-person shooter.
The games success will rest primarily on its controls, and those found in the early build shown at NYCC are good. The standard FPS dual-joystick setup found in 360 and PS3 shooters is a fine control scheme, but cant match the elegance and intuitiveness of pointing and clicking with the Wiimote and nunchuk. The Conduits controls are similar to those found in Metroid Prime 3 and Medal of Honor Heroes 2, two games that have been the Wii standard-bearers for the genre. Like Medal of Honor, the Conduit also allows players to define their own dead zones (the amount of space in a first-person game that differentiates between aiming and an attempt to turn). If youre a crack-shot you can dial that zone down substantially, making it easier and faster to move your characters field of vision. If you get whiplash or vertigo from spinning around too fast, you can enlarge the dead zone box and make turns slower. The core mechanics all run very smoothly, from moving to aiming to shooting, and allow players to feel more immersed in the game than a typical console FPS would.
Most other aspects about the Conduit are less striking, however, including both the art and level design. The level I played consisted of fairly linear city streets overtaken by anonymous aliens. A boss battle featured a fight against a substantially larger but similar looking alien within a clearly defined and boxed-in rectangular street block. The controls made the game fun, but there wasnt a single blow-away moment, and especially not the series of said moments found in MadWorld. Still, despite feeling uninspired, I had fun playing. For first-person shooter fans who only own a Wii, its shaping up to be a must-own. With any luck, the final version will feature more involving levels than the one demoed at NYCC.
The House of the Dead: Overkill
I didnt spend as much time with the House of the Dead: Overkill as I did MadWorld or the Conduit, but I still gave the final retail version a quick whirl. Its a standard on-rails light-gun shooter, in the style of the original arcade House of the Dead. The game-plays exactly what youd expect: Youve got to take aim and blast away the infinite number of zombies jumping out in front of your character as he or she follows a fixed path through a variety of creepy environments.
Again, the controls are the major selling point here, but unlike the Conduit, THOTD: Overkill has style to spare. Its reminiscent of Left 4 Dead, with a campy B-movie feel that pays homage to either Tarantino's and Rodriguezs Grindhouse, or the older movies to which Grindhouse paid homage. THOTD: Overkill is another game that'll be most valuable to gamers without an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. As entertaining as the games aesthetic is, it cant make up for musty game-play. If the House of the Dead: Overkill was a traditional first-person shooter, and not an archaic relic that removes almost all choice from the gamer, it'd be hard to beat. The game was released the Tuesday after the convention, so you can see for yourself.
Check back later this week for more on the games of NYCC 09.
(Photos by Garrett Martin)
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