Project P-100 Preview: Wii U's Secret Weapon
It feels wrong to turn Project P-100 into sentences. It feels wrong to try and turn it into words, really. Instead, it should be left to exist as it is: a confident, colourful tangle of frantic, wriggling onomatopoeias. You know, the kind of thing you might get if you shut a very small, very fancy dog inside a washing machine and then dialled in the jauntiest of spin cycles.
It's only fitting really. After all, Project P-100's the debut Wii U offering from Platinum Games, and it's the latest title from amaze-o action director Hideki Kamiya. It's also, for me, the game of E3 2012, no questions asked. No questions whatsoever.
Okay, maybe one question: what is it? It's a muddle of familiar elements, actually, jumbled together to form something entirely new. It's isometric, for starters, taking a viewpoint so often reserved for strategy and filling it with arcade excitement. In the babbling team of happy little superheroes you move around en masse, you'll spot the top-heavy bodies and pointy legs of Viewtiful Joe, along with a little of Pikmin's crowd control mechanics.
Get into a rumble and that corrugated hit-pause comes right out of Bayonetta and indeed any good fighting game, as does the surprisingly technical insistence on blocking and dodging if you want to stay alive. P-100 takes all of these ideas, though, and turns them into something both fresh and completely natural. Nice work, Platinum.
I guess it's a brawler at heart: aliens are invading the game's colourful Jetsons-tinged world, and it's up to you to save the day. You do that not as a single hero, mind, but as a whole crowd of them; a bunch of silver age misfits who enter the action with teeth gleaming, masks covering their eyes and - occasionally - a toilet cistern wedged on their heads.
Your gang moves as a single unit, and you've got a standard attack that sees you launching the entire gang at an unfortunate enemy and pummelling away in a flurry of fists and boots. Standard attacks seem to charge up your battery meter - this takes up a surprising amount of the screen - and the battery meter, as far as I can tell, allows you to pull off Unite attacks.
Unite attacks are amazing. They're triggered by either sketching a shape on the Wii U's touchscreen or by tracing it out with the right thumbstick. Draw a circle, and you'll turn your heroes into a giant red fist. Draw a line, and they'll come together to form a gleaming blue sword. Draw a right angle and you'll get a huge luminous green gun. And that gun is something else; it looks a bit like a water pistol, but it allows you to blow through enemies in seconds.
The gun and the sword speak for themselves - the former gives you a good ranged attack, while the latter offers a decent crowd-clearer. The fist, meanwhile, allows for a nice blast of localised damage, and can also be used in very simple puzzles. One, for example, sees you using it to turn a giant tumbler on the side of a building, winching open a garage-style door.
Inside - and now playing the game from action unfolding on the touchscreen itself - you'll use it to spin cogs, allowing you to control a massive combination lock on the outside of the building. Check back on the big screen to see how you're doing. Job done? After that, you're back out into the fray again.
The game's breezy open-air environments are riddled with collectables and destructible elements, and you can use a double-jump to get onto rooftops and explore every last inch of them. The big attraction, though, are the giant invaders thudding to earth every few feet and requiring a concerted effort to put out of commission.
There are massive robots that look a little like that thing out of Lost in Space after a Tron-styled paintjob, and they're backed up, in the first level alone, by a humongous tank, a truly colossal helicopter - after Prototype, it feels so good to be punching these guys again - and a mega-boss right at the end who's so monstrously gigantic that most of the fight takes place on his left forearm.
Fighting's not just about spamming the enemy with Unite attacks, though: you'll need to know when to block and when to dodge - the former transforming you into a wobbling mass of jelly, the latter seeing you spring back from the action like a kind of luminous Slinky. When any of your heroes are dazed, you can rush around and bring them back to life, and you can even recruit passing pedestrians into your team with a quick encircling move. Apparently, by the end of the game, you'll be in charge of crowds of them. Crowds!
It's thrilling stuff, and Platinum's one of the few outfits I trust to keep this kind of pace, intricacy, and invention going without running out of new ideas. Also, for all its leftfield notions and weird action concepts, it's worth noting that P-100 always feels completely natural, too.
Like Viewtiful Joe, it's easy to look at the screen and be completely overwhelmed by what's going on. Once you're playing, though - guided by each little piece of feedback, from a recharging battery to the rumble of a successful attack - you might as well be right inside the game world, stuck on the other side of the screen dodging between retro-futuristic roadsters, taking on bubble gum card invaders and filling the air with shards of sci-fi armour that mingle, in a rather pretty manner, with clouds of drifting cherry blossom.
Excited? This is the star of Nintendo's line-up, if you ask me: the game I'll be keeping my eye on most intently during the countdown to the Wii U's launch. It took just fifteen seconds of a ten-minute demo to fall in love with what Platinum's created. The rest of the time was spent with the realisation that Christmas suddenly feels like a very distant prospect indeed.