In Japan, Capcom has published Western games that nobody else would touch, like Grand Theft Auto III, and proven that they can be a success with the country's notoriously picky gamers. In Europe, Capcom has just signed up two games from Japanese developer Spike - Way of the Samurai 2 and this, Riding Spirits II - sequels to games that nobody around here can remember except fanatical weirdoes like me. So the question is, can they emulate their own success?
Sadly the answer is probably no. Way of the Samurai 2 and Riding Spirits II both enjoyed a measure of success at retail in Japan, but obviously neither is comparable to the Western games Capcom publishes in Japan in terms of sheer sales volume. GTA3, to stick with that example, has sold millions in the West and easily more than ten million as a series. Spike's games have not. However that's not to say they won't enjoy some success in Europe. With the right marketing, Way of the Samurai 2 in particular could certainly press the right buttons for gamers yearning for a bit more choice in how they approach something.
But what of Riding Spirits II? Obviously it's destined to end up compared to Climax's MotoGP 2 - in the public's eyes the foremost crotch rocket series at the moment on PC and Xbox, and one of the Xbox Live service's best and most popular titles. Spike is no slouch though, and although some early and pixelated screenshots have received a light ribbing so far (for the record, this shot has nothing to do with Armageddon - the film or the apocalypse), on paper the game is a very serious simulation. Indeed, Spike's aim is to make the PS2's most comprehensive bike game by building on the original with more bikes, tracks, gameplay modes, and above all far more realism.
And it seems they're quite serious. The M.R.S.S is a good example. That stands for "Motorcycle Real Sound System". It sounds like a gimmick, right? Something designed to fill out preview copy (cheers chaps!), but in fact it's all part of the quest for realism. Instead of just wheezing and roaring through a tea towel or scouring the net for sound effects, Spike has developed a system that actually simulates the action of each piston with some scary physical calculations, synthesizing a unique engine noise depending on the build of the bike. Not only will it be possible to pick between different makes and models, but tiny differences should be perceptible after fitting a new exhaust or even just a basic tune-up.
There will be no shortage of bikes, either, with some 330 in total making it into the game with engine sizes ranging from 250cc to over 1000cc. The roster even includes bikes from a number of European manufacturers - Ducati, Aprilla, Triumph and BMW - as well as the expected Japanese models from the likes of Honda, Kawasaki, Yamaha and Suzuki. In-keeping with the game's attention to detail, Japanese tune-up shops Yoshimura and Moriwaki will also be represented.
Each bike can be raced in a variety of modes on fifteen tracks across the globe, including the familiar sights of Suzuka and Twin Link Motegi. RS Mode (Riding Spirits, we'd imagine) is what you might term 'the career option', where players compete to progress through the ranks and earn points, which can then be put toward purchasing new bikes and spicing up existing models. Obviously the game also boasts an Arcade mode, but RSII's big additions are 100 Battle Mode, a series of trials versus CPU opponents which test individual skills and driving techniques, and Motard Racing Mode, where riders compete on circuits split between tarmac and off-road sections. The idea is that the mixture forces the player to consider their attitude to cornering and indeed their pre-race set-up. And despite treating bikes like confetti (after all, if you aren't rumbling through its 330 bikes at a pace, you'll never see them all), tuning in RSII is something you'll need to pay a lot of attention to. You can even tune your rider's appearance with leathers and helmets from well-known brand names like alpinestars, Aria, Dainese and Shoei.
Amongst those who played it, the original Riding Spirits was thought to be the best bike game to date - and that includes the widely acclaimed MotoGP series. If there's one thing that Spike needs to overcome though, it's those questionable visuals, which are bright, brash, chunky and basic - in other words worryingly modest, particularly compared to the borderline hallucinogenic visual effects seen in the MotoGP series, a far sleeker, smoother and more exotic beast, graphically speaking.
Still, it's what happens on the track that matters, and if Riding Spirits II lives up to the hardcore mantle laid down by its predecessor, all we'll have to do is convince people that it looks like that because it's got more going on behind the fibreglass. And, if you listen very carefully, you can just about hear it roaring down the road to completion. It should be with us by the end of March 2004.