We've seen quite a lot of SEGA SuperStars over the past few months, and, to be honest, we're sold on it already - on the strength of the Samba de Amigo, Virtua Fighter, Sonic and House of the Dead mini-games alone. Rain or shine though SEGA keeps inviting us back for another look, and as much as we'd like to say 'enough is enough and give us a call when the review code's ready', it just keeps getting better and better, and the games list keeps growing - and we can't resist blabbering about it.
Eye On The Prize
On our most recent trip to the publisher's London HQ, we were once again thrust in front of a new build, and at this point - a couple of months ahead of the game's planned release date - it's really starting to come together. There's a glossy intro movie in place now, complete with a catchy theme tune, the menus are much nicer than the placeholders we've seen in the past, and there are all sorts of neat little touches in place - like a dinky Chao sat in front of a small television set in the corner of the load screen, which just happens to be displaying whatever the EyeToy can see at the time.
We weren't there to admire the presentation though; we were there to flap our arms around and work up a sweat in front of some more of SEGA's most popular properties - in this case Billy Hatcher, Virtua Striker, and Crazy Taxi. Most were in full working order, although SEGA reps were keen to stress that - just as the presentation and responsiveness of Sonic and co. changed between E3 and when we saw the game again in mid-July - these titles were also in a constant state of evolution, and Sonic Team was still buffing and shining them as we stood around making fools of ourselves.
As we've pointed out in our previous look at Sonic and House of the Dead, and Samba and Virtua Fighter, SEGA SuperStars is a bit different to the average EyeToy package in that a lot of its games are more than just simple parlour tricks. Sonic, for example, is split into various levels and actually takes some effort to succeed at, while Samba knocks Sony's EyeToy Groove release for six in one fell swoop.
At first glance, Billy Hatcher seems to be from the Sonic school of mini-games - a graphically impressive offering that adapts its subject matter into a level structure more or less directly, rather than just extrapolating elements and asking you to wash windows with an egg or something. In this case, the player is given control of Billy as he does what he usually does - rolls eggs around - and the idea is to squash a certain number of enemies in a vast, maze-like arena and then run through a skull-and-crossbones-emblazoned gate before the clock ticks down to zero.
Graphically it is the GameCube game for all intents and purposes. Billy's model and his egg are the same, and his enemies are the same bouncy, albeit rather simplistic critters that populate the levels of that particularly under-appreciated Cube platformer. Rolling him around takes a little getting used to, but after a few minutes we had it more or less to a tee. On the screen are two hand icons, and the idea is to tap them rhythmically at the same time to move Billy forward, and then tap one or other faster to turn him left or right. It's certainly a novel way of translating the analogue stick controls over.
It also looks like you'll be able to grow the egg at some point, judging by the various fruit icons strewn around the map, although if that is the plan it wasn't active in this particular build. Nevertheless, Hatcher is yet another string to SuperStars' rather unusual bow, and with a little refinement could prove very popular. What sort of refinement? Weeell, perhaps Billy could do with moving around a bit faster, and we want to see ramps and jumps and other silly things dotted around the level - at this point it's all a bit flat. It's worth stressing once again though how much of an improvement Sonic's controls were in the post-E3 build - Hatcher will probably follow a similar course of improvement.
Equally unconventional was Sonic Team's take on Crazy Taxi. Nope, you're not controlling the car here - instead you're potential passengers, and the idea is to jump up and down, wave your arms and generally cause as much commotion as possible in order to flag the blighter down. It sounds a bit silly and throwaway, but it's hilarious to watch other people doing it, especially when you consider that the game takes advantage of the EyeToy camera's microphone facility, encouraging you to make as much noise as possible as you're leaping around like a loony. If you make enough of an impression, you'll fill up a meter and the taxi will pull over.
Not quite as enjoyable as CT, but still a bit more enjoyable and task-based than its EyeToy: Play cousins, is the developer's take on Virtua Striker. Here you have to header a football into balloons in front of a stadium graphic. It's a bit daft, but it has all the trimmings - right down to the dodgy announcer voice and crowd sound effects from the arcade titles - and it's not as easy as it sounds. The ball drops from the top of the screen, and the balloons are organised so that the higher scoring ones are further away. If you're clever though (or more likely just plain lucky) you can head the ball into the nearest one, see it bounce up in the air again, then head it onto the second. Which we managed a grand total of, er, three times.
Still, we liked all three. They weren't completely finished, of course, but the foundations are there, and when you consider they're just three of a host of SuperStars games, many of which look to have plenty of longevity, you can probably see why SuperStars is just about the only EyeToy game on our radar. And believe us when we say that the rest of the games - i.e. the ones we can't tell you about yet - are far more inventive and exotic than anything we've written up so far. By the time it all comes together in October, SEGA SuperStars could be the EyeToy game that saves the little black fella from an ignominious future on eBay.
SEGA SuperStars is due out in October by SEGA's current estimates. Check back soon for more on the game including screenshots and four more mini-games based on popular franchises.