Has it really been a year since the Tokyo Game Show 2008? Yes obviously the clue is in the title. Back then I tried to justify my plane fare by writing about some of the stupider stuff on the show floor, in a roundup titled Super Happy Fun Time. Who knew that Hula Wii, National Geographic Panda and Mysterious Smoking-themed Game wouldn't turn out to be blockbuster hits after all?
This year there was a whole new raft of wacky old nonsense to enjoy. Read on to find out why the future of gaming involves ninjas, pigeons and boxing gloves on sticks. Plus, say hello to the most blatant rip-off of the Wii remote we've seen since E3 2009.
Don't Lose the Secret
Nintendo has a lot to answer for. Remember when games were all about having a nice sit down and pressing a few buttons? Kids today won't even pick up a controller unless it's got an accelerometer or a magic ping pong ball on the end. Next thing you know someone will invent a crazy new camera so you don't have to pick up a controller at all, just wander round your lounge holding invisible steering wheels while talking to 12 year-old boys.
Students at Nihon Kogaku College are hoping to cash in on the trend. I was not drawn to their stand at the Tokyo Game Show by the shrieking woman dressed as a maid, which is as common a sight in Japan as people buying Lidl carrier bags filled with crack are in Catford. No, it was the man holding a boxing glove on the end of a big stick.
Turned out he was standing in front of a large plasma screen which showed a cutaway of a house. An animated figure stood on the ground floor, banging away at the ceiling with a broomstick. Every so often a strange blue or green lumpy thing would slither across the floor of the room above. In response the animated figure, and the real-life man, would thrust their sticks up and down enthusiastically.
Needless to say I had to have a go. A nice English-speaking gentleman explained how to play, which was largely unnecessary as I had gathered it involved thrusting the stick up and down. However he did reveal that the green and blue lumpy things were in fact ninjas, and that the object of the game was to bash them out of your house. He also said the stick had a bluetooth device in it which meant your movements were replicated on screen.
I asked the nice man what the game was called. There was a lot of discussion in Japanese with the game's creator. "It's called Don't Lose the Secret," he said eventually. "You must protect the secret from the ninjas."
What is the secret? "I don't know," said the man. "It's not important. The important thing is to kill ninjas."
I picked up the stick and set about battering them to death, with considerable success. The shrieking maid got so excited I wondered if she was also implanted with a bluetooth device. It was all quite tiring so after a few minutes I handed the stick back, made my excuses and left, wondering how Project Natal expects to compete with THAT.
I tried to walk straight past the Athrow stand, but was distracted long enough by the posters ("Do Enjoy Real Sports! Do Enjoy Real Fun!") for a man to press three plastic darts into my hand. He insisted I throw them at the electronic dartboard. I explained I am terrible at darts but he wouldn't take no for an answer, probably because I don't know what the Japanese for "no" is.
The first dart hit the board, but not any of the coloured sections. The man looked disappointed. The second dart, by some bizarre fluke, hit the bullseye. The man became excited and started jumping up and down, like a hyperactive Japanese Jim Bowen. The third dart bounced off the top of the board, flew backwards through the air and almost hit the man in the face. He looked as if he was about to cry.
The man soon cheered up though, perhaps on realising he hadn't just lost his sight, and pressed an envelope into my hands. This turned out to contain a germ-protecting facemask - presumably Japan's equivalent of Dusty Bin. He also gave me a flyer printed on high quality glossy cardboard. The money would have been better invested in the copy translation.
"We will do best to be a new leader on the field of SPORTAINMENT based on new products and best services with digital soft dart ATHROW that come out," reads the flyer. "We would like to thank you for your endless concern." You're welcome.
Not a game, but a brand new type of controller. All right, "new" is a bit strong. If you haven't guessed from the name, it's a white remote control-shaped motion sensing controller which lets you play games by waving your arms about.
The major difference is that the Cywee Z works with the PC. It even doubles up as a mouse. And it's comprised of two sections joined at the middle, which you can twist so they're at right angles to each other. You can then hold the Cywee Z like a gun or steering wheel. A rubbish gun or a rectangular steering wheel.
The idea is to let PC gamers experience playing their favourite titles using a motion-sensing controller, as the lady on the stand explained to me. The idea is fundamentally flawed as PC gamers would rather anally ingest a pineapple than waggle a bit of plastic around in order to play Call of Duty, as I explained to her in my head.
The lady showed me how to play Burnout Paradise using the Cywee Z - tilting it forward to go faster and from side to side to steer. Braking is done by pressing the buttons on the inside of the controller. It's just like playing a regular Wii racing game, only with better graphics and worse controls. Points for the name though.
This 2D side-scrolling platformer was made using XNA by a student at Niigata Computer College. It's a Sonic the Hedgehog clone at its core, the most obvious difference being you play a pigeon who is a ninja. The ninja pigeon lives in Paris, or rather the version of Paris which exists inside the student's head, which is a cut-and-paste mishmash of endless Eiffel Towers and Arc de Triomphes.
The ninja pigeon races around rooftops, jumps over gaps, slides down guttering and so on. He can reach quite a speed, at which point he starts leaving a sparkly trail behind him. There are some things to collect if you can be bothered. In short it's massively derivative, but earns points for starring a ninja pigeon, being called Ninja Pigeon and being better than any Sonic game produced in the last 15 years.
Stop Stress: A Day of Fury
This Wii exclusive appears to be inspired by the movie Falling Down, in which frustrated commuter Michael Douglas goes bonkers with a baseball bat. It's billed as "The funniest ever anti-stress therapy game," and it's certainly the most hilarious one I've played this year.
Stop Stress is played from a first-person perspective. The level I tried out was set on a bridge, where your character is surrounded by gridlocked traffic. The nunchuk is used to move the camera about and the remote acts as a virtual baseball bat - you can swing it about to shatter the windows of cars and so on. There are also crates to break, many of which contain goodies. The giant mallet proved to be a particular favourite as it's useful for smashing passing birds over the head.
If this all sounds like your idea of fun, good news: there's a chance Stop Stress might actually make it to Europe. The game is being produced by Abylight, a studio based in Barcelona. The developers' previous credits include The Revenge of the Smurfs, Inspector Gadget Racing and Hugo 2 1/2, but let's try not to judge. It's scheduled to go on sale here in time for Christmas.
I had quite a good time with Stop Stress: A Day of Fury, until a giant monkey in a nappy appeared and started throwing bananas at me. I made my excuses and left.
Another student production, this time from Taipei's University of Art & Mobile Entertainment. According to the accompanying brochure, Party Magic is an iPhone game for up to four players. According to the nice students who showed me how to play, it's great for breaking the ice at parties.
Each player selects a brightly coloured monster to be their character. Icons representing each one then appear on the screen at random, and everyone tries to tap their monster as many times as possible before the time runs out.
It was all very polite. The students seemed to hold back until I had tapped my monsters before going for theirs. The closest we got to underhand tactics was when one of them shielded the screen with his hand for a split-second, then apologised. Perhaps this is a cultural issue - if these were British students, they'd have spilled cider all over my shoes and tried to steal my pen. Or perhaps they were just being kind.
Implausibly, I won. This meant I got to spin a virtual wheel and make one of the students perform one of the acts on it, which ranged from things like "Make an animal noise" to "Buy everyone a bucket of KFC." Again, there may need to be some adjustments for the UK version - "Drink 15 shots of Sailor Jerry" or "Get off with the dog" would be more culturally appropriate. But Party Magic was one title I could see becoming a hit over here, providing they don't ask more than 59p.
The Last Escort
I think this is a dating sim. All the characters in the demo I played were tall, slim young men with dreamy eyes. Their hair was so over-styled and spiky it made the people in the Studio Line advert look like they'd just been out in the rain.
I spent eight minutes trying to work out what was going on. Whatever button I pressed just resulted in yet more endless reams of Kanji script scrolling across the screen. All the while, the men with the dreamy eyes gazed out at me intensely, half-smiles playing across their delicate lips. I walked away feeling like I'd just been groomed.
And you thought no one made GameCube games any more. Bet you thought no one made games which you play by blowing into a microphone attached to a set of Donkey Konga bongos, either. The PiCT CUBE production team from the Osaka Electro-Communication University is out to prove you wrong on both counts.
Blowing Racing is a side-scrolling platformer starring a poorly animated yellow blob who wears a sombrero and has a bikini top where his eyes should be. Other characters include a flying child, a blobby green cyclops and a crap robot.
To play the game, you blow into the microphone attached to the bongos. This makes the yellow blob run along the ground. To make him jump, you tap the bongos. There are platforms to leap between, gaps to avoid, stupid little red things to collect and so on.
The whole thing is completely exhausting. You have to blow into the mic constantly to get anywhere at all. You must hit the bongos with the force of a stampeding elephant to successfully pull off a jump. It probably doesn't help if you have a hangover and an empty stomach. Playing Blowing Racing nearly made me faint and gave me a headache.
However, the woman from the university did give me a free biro. And the main character wears a sombrero, and there are bongos involved. So despite the stupid premise, poor quality visuals, last-gen inanity and total impossibility of this game ever making it into the shops, I declare Blowing Racing to be Eurogamer's TGS 2009 game of the show.