While Nintendo and Sony continue to play down the potential GBA/PSP market overlap, we couldn't help but chuckle at the latter's decision to use the Grim Reaper as a basis for its first public demonstration of PSP software. A subtle joke? Maybe not, but there's still plenty in Backbone Entertainment's "Death Jr." that will leave the Sony crowd smiling.
Shown off at the Game Developers Conference yesterday by Digital Eclipse's Chris Charla during Sony America's big presentation, preview footage of Death Jr. showed off a quirky little reaper tottering around 3D environments that were arguably on a par with early PS2 titles in terms of visual quality.
Charla went one further, telling GDC attendees that, "Polygon for polygon, PSP has more power than PS2." Death Jr. certainly gives us an idea of what the handheld is capable of, as our little anti-hero prances around performing a number of swirling scythe upper-cuts, launching explosive projectiles out of a sort of shoulder-mounted rocket launcher, and unleashing various sparkling attacks on skull-headed red enemies.
Junior seems very manoeuvrable, darting around proper 3D environments that look a bit Nightmare Before Christmas-ish, full of sweeping shots dragging a camera through the sky from the faintly octagonal moon down to the basic geometry of a moonlit, slightly skewed town and cobbled streets. Well, streets with cobble textures.
Clearly a throwaway element but nonetheless quite impressive was the sight of flowers drooping one by one as the little reaper toddles past, their individual stems arcing to the floor as they wither and die. The trailer also showed off lots of dancing flame effects, particularly impressive when Jr. shot some evil bird things into pieces from a rope bridge strung across a moonlit street.
As he swung his little scythe around leaving streaks in the air, Charla's claim that "A huge number of effects that are given to you in software on PS2 are available in hardware on PSP" seemed all the more believable. He also said that Backbone had its first PSP game up and running within two man-weeks, and a PS2 project ported over within four, which is encouraging news for publishers keen to make some more cash from their back catalogues, although perhaps not so good if you were hoping for a handheld with more than just old console ports to play.
Still, Death Jr. is at least one PSP exclusive, and SCEA executive veepee Andrew House told the assembled ranks of press and devs that 81 developers are now at work on PSP games worldwide. That's 23 in North America, 24 in Japan and 34 in Europe, which is quite something for a start-up handheld. If only the poor old Neo Geo Pocket Colour had enjoyed such widespread support. Sniff.
We'd expect Death Jr. to make another appearance at E3 this year, when Sony is expected to show off rather more PSP software ahead of the console's planned launch in early 2005 in the West.