The closure of Capcom's Clover Studio - the division responsible for the likes of Viewtiful Joe, Okami and God Hand - was met with plenty of wailing and gnashing of teeth among gamers. That's understandable - studios creating high-profile original games aren't exactly ten a penny, after all. Still, just because Clover's doors were shut last March doesn't mean that the creative talent that fuelled the studio dissipated. Instead, the key players reformed as a development company called Seeds, Inc - which was subsequently renamed to PlatinumGames Inc.
Which brings us to today. In search of a source of original IP to shore up a side of its business that's seen as lacking, resurgent publisher SEGA has jumped into the gap left by Capcom's abandonment of Clover's talent. Signing a four-game deal with PlatinumGames, SEGA has in a single move added a raft of games to its line-up from some of the best-known creative names in the Japanese market. Not bad.
What's more, we can tell you about three of those games right now. A fourth game, which is being directed by Shinji Mikami (you know, him who created Resident Evil), remains under wraps for now, but there's plenty to be excited about in the first three, all of which are being produced by Atsushi Inaba, former CEO of Clover. Without further ado...
This is the first game Platinum had to show off, and while the video trailer we saw was brief and somewhat abstract, it laid out the stall for this PS3 and 360 game pretty effectively. It's got a lithe, athletic young lady shooting the hell out of a suspiciously demonic-looking beast, then flipping around like a mentalist, kicking it in the head... And shooting it again for good measure, using a gun mounted in her enormous high heels.
Ridiculous? Of course - deliciously so. Not that that should come as a surprise, once you discover that the game is directed by none other than Hideki Kamiya, a man whose previous credits include directing the likes of Resident Evil 2, Devil May Cry, Viewtiful Joe and Okami.
It's the Devil May Cry background that shines through most clearly here, and Kamiya himself freely acknowledges that. Announced as the creator of Devil May Cry, he's quick to point out that the action genre (or at least, that specific niche of the action genre) really hasn't moved on since the original Devil May Cry. Bayonetta, he reckons, won't just be another "stylish action" game - it'll take the genre to the next level entirely.
Details, man, details! Okay - it transpires that the central character, the eponymous Bayonetta, is actually a witch who's been resurrected in the present day. For reasons as-yet unclear, she's got to battle a host of angels (we've got a pleasantly blasphemous feeling about this one), and along the way, she'll be using an assortment of ballistic weapons, with those ludicrous high-heel guns being a key part of the arsenal, and a major aspect of the gameplay.
That's about as much as we know about Bayonetta so far, but as Platinum's only announced "hi-def" project, plenty of attention is bound to be focused on the game. Despite the DMC style, Kamiya is also a director who's proved that he can do more than just returning to his previous glories, and who's comfortable working across a variety of genres - so who knows, this could really be the (gun-heeled) kick in the backside that the action genre needs.
Unlike the other two titles Platinum has announced, Infinite Line isn't actually being developed internally at the studio. Instead, the DS title is being directed by Hifumi Kouno at external studio Nude Maker - you may recall him as the guy behind Steel Battalion. (Less famously, he also directed Clock Tower.)
The idea behind Infinite Line is that you take command of a starship, customising your ship and its crew as you progress through what is essentially a science fiction-RPG. Despite being on the diminutive DS console, Kouno is promising a vast game world - along with over 200 ship designs to mix and match, and nearly 200 crew members to choose from and interact with.
Actually, if anything, at this point the game sounds a bit like Konami's venerable (and largely excellent) Suikoden series, which had a similar mechanism where you recruited from over a hundred characters to gradually expand and populate a castle. We don't know how accurate the comparison will turn out to be, however - the only influence Kouno cited in his brief presentation was the late Arthur C Clarke, whose early novel Childhood's End was apparently a major inspiration.
Graphically, the game sports beautiful ship designs from an accomplished (although as-yet unidentified) mecha designer, and the mock-up screens we were shown make the game look like a strange hybrid between an Armored Core-style customisation-heavy game, and an RPG. An intriguing concept, albeit one which has the potential to turn either into a compelling experience or a stat-heavy snooze-fest. Fingers crossed for the former.
Like the other games on display, Infinite Line doesn't have a release date as yet, but Kouno suggested that we'd be seeing more about the game in the "near future" and SEGA's official site for the game suggests it will be released in 2009.
We have, arguably, saved the best for last. MadWorld is a Wii-exclusive game which is being directed by Shigenori Nishikawa, who worked previously on the likes of Resident Evil 4 and Time Crisis 2. (And Time Crisis 3, but he ruefully suggests that he'd prefer to forget about that particular incident.)
According to Nishikawa, the idea behind MadWorld isn't to create something depraved or perverse - instead, he says, he wants to make a fun and exciting game which just happens to include gruesome violence. On first impressions, we'd say he's succeeded. MadWorld looks fun and exciting, certainly - but it's also the most hilariously over-the-top, ultra ultra violent videogame we've seen.
Rendered entirely in black and white, in a style not dissimilar to Frank Miller's seminal Sin City graphic novels, MadWorld's stark urban environment is, essentially, filled with things that cause pain and people on whom pain needs to be inflicted. The basic controls seem to revolve around picking up enemy gang members by the throat, and then carrying out a host of incredibly violent (and darkly hilarious) fatality moves on them. If you get tired of that, you also helpfully have a chainsaw mounted on your right arm, which you can use to dismember your foes.
As a result, the black and white environments quickly get splashed with red, since the only thing in this world that isn't black or white is blood. The visual effect is fantastic, as you'd expect - and when you start racking up the fatality moves, the whole thing rapidly becomes a lather of blood and over-the-top violence.
This isn't so much Hostel and Saw as Arnie and Sly, however. Moves we spotted included ramming enemies onto spikes, or ripping up signposts and shoving them through their heads - all played for laughs in the most cartoonish manner possible. Thoughts of a moral panic weren't far from the heads of anyone who saw the game - but like No More Heroes before it, we suspect that MadWorld will escape the mad googly eyes of the tabloid press simply because it's too ridiculous, too over-the-top and too cartoonish for them to notice.
The whole tone of the game, in fact, is easily summed up by an odd mini-game which our anti-hero, Jack, encountered towards the end of Nishikawa's demo (unlike everything else, MadWorld was actually shown in full working form, not just as a video). Called "Man Darts" (which should be enough to make you pre-order the game straight away, really), it saw Jack swinging an increasingly bloodied club in order to fling gang members head-first into the face of a giant dartboard - with the requisite crowd cheers and Bullseye scoring noises.
Brilliant. As with all the others, no release date for MadWorld was forthcoming, but the code Nishikawa demonstrated seemed very stable and pretty complete. We'll definitely be keeping an eye on this one - fun, exciting, and gruesome are three of our favourite adjectives, after all.