Battle of the Bands
- Developer - Planet Moon Studios
- Release date - 16th May
These days there's always an elephant in the room. If you're making an MMO it's World of Warcraft. If you're making a shooter it's Halo. If you're making a fuss it's Naomi Campbell. Pity poor Planet Moon, then, because Battle of the Bands is up against industry super-elephants Guitar Hero and Rock Band.
At a glance, it's 7/10 as usual. Instead of the icons moving down the screen and you matching them, they move up it and you match them. That should confuse the lawyers. Instead of doing combos to build Star Power for massive bonuses, you do combos to fire off attacks for massive bonuses. By now the lawyers have gone home.
But actually it is quite different. For a start, it's on the Wii, so forget button-matching, this is gesture-matching. Those icons with arrows on represent a direction that you have to thrust the Wii remote, with firm, Sooty-waving-a-wand movements the best. (P.S. Whatever happened to Matthew Corbett?) You also have to wiggle the remote left and right to match zigzag patterns - some as broad as the icon area, some much smaller, requiring precise hand movements.
The other actually-it-is-quite-different bit is that it doesn't just have adversarial layers, like Guitar Hero III, but, as the title suggests, battling is the whole point. Whether you're playing single-player or against a real-life friend, there's always another band on the other side of the screen trying to outdo your efforts.
This has several gameplay implications. Most obviously, before each round you have to pick from a range of possible attack moves that can be deployed. These will break up your opponent's moves, perhaps reversing his controls, and are activated by performing sequences of combos. When they're fired off, the person on the receiving end can block them by timing B-button presses to raise a shield, although if he or she can't keep the rhythm then the hits will rain down. The other implication, of course, is that failure is no longer missing too many notes and being shot down; it's not scoring as many points as your opponent.
But more noticeable than any of that is the stylistic implication: there are two bands on-screen, and the band who is performing the best is the one whose version of the current song is heard predominantly. There are over 30 songs (many licensed, from the likes of Keane, Gorillaz and many others), but they're not the original recordings or even "as performed by"; instead they are re-recorded in Country-and-Western, marching band, Latin, hip-hop and rock styles. Depending on which band you play as, you'll hear one of those styles when you're in front and another when you're losing. (See what we mean in the THQ Gamers Day video.)
In total there are 11 bands to choose from (each with its own strand of the Adventure mode for single players), and they're all made up of silly stylised characters. There are giant funky Afros and loud capes, sombreros and luchador masks, fire-breathing, suits of armour... Sometimes it's like watching Grim Fandango vs. Asterix and sometimes it's Army Men vs. Chili Peppers.
Overall it's clear that it's not trying to be Guitar Hero or Rock Band, really - it's a simpler, sillier game with a sense of humour and good old-fashioned abstract concepts rather than pretending to be in Almost Famous. It won't have as much hardcore appeal, but the controls work well and it plays a satisfying game. It's not an elephant-beater, then, but it's got some tricks up its trunk.
Big Beach Sports
- Developer - HB Studios
- Release date - 27th June
Like Wii Sports before it (we did, and so did you), Big Beach Sports is a collection of mini-games based on popular sports. Well, sports anyway. Along with football, American football, bocce and disc golf, there are cricket and volleyball, both of which were given an extended outing at THQ Gamers Day.
Volleyball, first, is an all-Wiimote affair with two players a side, and like Wii Sports tennis movement is automatic. You flick the Wiimote upwards to set the ball for a partner, and then once it's pumped up above the net you swing your arm like a closing mousetrap to crush the other side's tail of hope with a ferocious spike. Early morning metaphors for victory - you can be the cheese, if you like.
Doing things more vigorously means more power behind the spike, and there are also options for net defence by flicking up and pressing B. Serves work much like Wii Sports tennis - flick and then swing your arm. Remember to fasten that wrist strap. And that seems to be all there is to volleyball, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, although without the obvious timing elements of Wii Sports games, the potential for strategy and improvement could be stunted. We certainly had no trouble dominating from the get-go.
Still, cricket! You can bat and bowl. Batting is the more interesting, as the game encourages you to hold the Wiimote like an actual cricket bat, and swing it like one as the ball approaches. This is timing-based, with shots taken too fast lacking power and often drifting into the grateful hands of a fielder, and slow shots often missing the ball completely on its way to the stumps. A well-struck shot, though, can disappear into the water off the edge of the beach for six. Running is automatic, so you need to be sure of your timing or you can end up getting out pretty easily to run-outs. There's no defensive shot option that we could figure out.
You get a couple of overs' worth of balls to post a score, and then it's your turn to field. Or rather bowl, since fielding is automatic. Bowling involves hitting A to start your run-up and then swinging your arm "like a windmill" when prompted - although you can just do a chucking motion if you prefer, as the umpire seems to be asleep. Unfortunately there's no sledging option, but since you can always lean over and shout "mind the windows" at your Mum in real life we can live with that.
Not the most elaborate interpretation of the sport, then, but a very approachable one that nobody will struggle to pick up. Judging by the demos we saw of the other sports, this has been HB Studios' tactic for everything, and given some of the execrable nonsense that rides high in the Wii charts at the moment, that's probably not a bad thing.
It's also very lush and colourful, with a touch of Animal Crossing about it - in particular the character designs. You can personalise your little boys, girls and monkey type avatars by exporting them to DS, according to a Powerpoint presentation stuffed onto our press disk, but there's no word on Mii support. All in all, surprisingly not hateful for a Wii Sports clone, and you might want to tuck into the trailer on Eurogamer TV to measure the mildness of your own enthusiasm.
- Developer - Rainbow Studios
- Release date - 2008
On paper, Deadly Creatures sounds like it might be terrific: a game where you play as a spider or a scorpion, and get into fights. Except it mainly sounds like this if you imagine it on videogamey paper, where both creatures are anthropomorphised into colourful, Yoshi-esque caricatures, perhaps fighting some sort of evil pesticide chairman with a big moustache on the moon or inside a volcano, and where you upgrade your eyes by collecting concealed hats.
The reality, at least at THQ Gamers Day, was a bit different, and to be fair very obviously unfinished. The action-orientated scorpion gameplay being shown involved using the nunchuk to crawl around in dusty caverns full of massive dusty skeletons and half-buried dusty green bottles, or a public convenience borrowed from Trainspotting.
The fighting involves locking on with A, then stabbing at enemy wolf spiders and bugs with your claws by pressing B, flicking up on the Wii remote to use your venomous stinger, and blocking with C. When you've reduced an enemy's health sufficiently, you can grab them by pressing Z and B at the same time, and then follow on-screen prompts for moving both hands up and down to slam them to death.
You can also unlock a tail whip move, activated by swinging the Wiimote from side to side, and a digging move. It's not clear what happens as the gameplay and levels develop, but there's some semblance of having to explore as you can climb on certain walls, which switches the perspective a bit. In the demo, this was used to highlight a giant spider grappling a lizard in a nearby web.
It's also worth pointing out that in the amazing din of the flashy THQ Gamers Day, it was impossible to make out what was going on with the audio, so the reactive soundtrack and supposedly atmospheric effects were lost on us.
We also got to fight a tarantula at the end. Which was nice. We've always wanted to do that. But conclusions were difficult, if not impossible to draw. The most obvious one though was that the stuttering demo, regularly jerking to a standstill with placeholder menus all over, is probably representative of a game a good few months further away than any of the other fairly finished Wii titles on display. We still like the concept, and hopefully when we next see it in action it will be more complete - and we can get a good look at the stealthy tarantula sections as well.
- Developer - Blue Tongue
- Release date - September
We like games with nice indie back-stories, so we'll indulge de Blob's: originally a Dutch PC freeware game that you can still download, it was put together by Utrecht University students to show how the railroad section of the city might appear in ten years' time. For some reason the answer was a game where you prance around covering clusters of curvy skyscrapers in bright paint. According to THQ's press bumf, "the city of Utrecht has since adopted the character of de Blob to be its mascot", and Utrecht does seem to be well into it. So what's the Wii version like?
Well, it's a sort of 3D platform game where you play a little grinning blob who rolls around according to what you do with the analogue stick, and has the power to colour entire buildings by dousing himself in paint and bashing into them. This needs to be done, too, because in the world of de Blob the evil INKT Corporation has declared that colour is a crime, and sucked the consequently white and grey world dry of it.
As you navigate the futuristic streets, you can jump up by flicking the remote, and slam down on things while airborne by pressing B. These things include roving Leech Bots - the INKT Corporation's evil colour-suckers, but also your allies in the sense that they fill you up with "paint points", which govern how many times you can splatter a new building, tree, statue or other object before you return to your silvery base colour and need to hunt down some more paint.
As well as moving around and jumping on things to try and reach high points and colour everything in sight, you can also stick to the sides of buildings and roll down them gradually, using additional flicks to bound from one surface to another. Using these wall-running and surface-to-surface jumps, you can reach even more unassailable heights and foment your colourful little revolution. You can centre the camera with Z, although it rarely caused us enough problems to necessitate this.
There are missions as you go. First these help you learn the ropes - asking you to follow waypoints you can only reach by wall-running - but they soon change up. An early one tells you that an INKT security camera is facing a particular direction, allows you to tap into it, and challenges you to make the area it surveys as multi-coloured as possible.
Once an area is colourful enough, you can activate an icon that properly brightens it up, along with its subdued citizenry, and providing you've amassed enough "colorwatts" you can open a gate to the next bit. Maximising your impact seems to involve mixing up your choice of colours. Although the basics are red, blue and yellow, you can create mixtures by hitting one colour and then another, as the game sometimes asks you to do.
Along with Story mode, which is the one we saw, there's multiplayer, and Sprint levels that ask you to complete a single objective as fast as possible, with various medals to earn. You can see some of that in our EGTV gameplay videos, and Blue Tongue points out that improvement unlocks additional content from the game's Art Gallery.
It's certainly a game where the artwork will win it points. It lacks the subtlety of personality that made Katamari Damacy such a treasure, looking a bit more like a Nickelodeon Mercury Meltdown, but de Blob is a good-looking champion and the way he (she? it?) trails paint around and splatters buildings is fancy enough. Rather than simply rollering it on, his initial impact splatter gradually radiates out in tendrils of light and dark shades. Depending on the colour you're using, the music alternates between various styles, too.
Providing it keeps evolving as it goes on (and the signs are there that it does, as those videos demonstrate), it could be one to watch. Just remember to wear old clothes.