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San Diego Comic-Con 2010
The X Button at Comic-Con: Friday, July 23

by Todd Ciolek,

Comic-Con is in full swing once the weekend hits, and this means longer lines and more crowded booths for anyone braving the displays put up by video-game companies. And heaven help you if they start giving away free merchandise. But for the chance to play and, well, criticize the next Metroid game, I took the risk.

Nintendo's booth showed off the recently released Dragon Quest IX and several Pokémon titles, but a lot of the attention was reserved for Metroid: Other M, which isn't out until August 31. Set between Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion, the game initially finds Samus Aran investigating a monster-filled space colony alongside her old friends from the military. And it just so happens that the unit is commanded by Adam Malkovich, who figured prominently into Metroid Fusion.

As an attempt at marrying typical side-scrolling Metroid action to optional first-person viewpoints of Metroid Prime, Other M works surprisingly well. The free-roaming segments make it easy to target enemies and jump around easily, while switching to first- person mode (by pointing the remote at the screen) makes for a smooth transition. It can also leave Samuel wide open to attack if she's not quick enough, of course, so the game cuts players a break when it comes to recharging her energy. Boss fights (and mid-boss) fights are particularly interesting, as Samus can shoot, cooperate with her space-marine cohorts, or pull off up-close finishing moves.

Other M's only real problem so far is its storytelling. Now, I have no objection to Metroid having an extensive story; I think it's good for Metroid, as the only major Nintendo franchise with a consistent plot and characters, to further that plot before it goes stale. The problem is that every part of the story is driven home without any subtlety. In the early cutscenes, a bored-sounding Samus painstakingly explains how Adam was the closest thing she had to a father, and how she rebelled against the sexism of the military (yes, centuries in the future, and the army's still a boys' club) by giving Adam a thumbs-down salute. It's all clichés, from the space marines to the Aliens nods ("They're coming outta the walls!"), and it'd be much better if the game showed instead of telling. There's something interesting behind the wrecked space colony that Samus and Adam's marines are investigating, but as someone who's liked Metroid since the NES days, I feel as though I'm watching it fall off the stage in the talent show of video-game narratives.

CAPCOM's Marvel vs. CAPCOM 3 panel unveiled two new characters, and once again the Internet ruined everything. The latest additions are Okami's wolf Amaterasu and Marvel's Thor. and someone online dug up a Marvel-released screenshot of them the day before CAPCOM's panel. Another dead giveaway came from the game's trailer, where a silhouette of Viewtiful Joe can clearly be seen next to other CAPCOM-character shadows. But hey, official confirnation is always nice, and I'm very interested in seeing how the four-legged Amaterasu plays compared to the bipedal and more conventional fighters.

As for the currently available Marvel vs. CAPCOM 3 cast, they were all put through their paces during tournaments and open play. The game ruffled a few feathers by using three attacks buttons, similar to Tatsunoko vs. CAPCOM, but all of the characters showed off robust movesets, particularly when it comes to aerial moves and juggles. Dante and Trish, both of Devil May Cry fame, are standouts on the CAPCOM side, as they hurl all sorts of projectiles, while Deadpool and, surprisingly, Super Skrull seemed the most fun in Marvel's camp. The characters have the same glitzy appeal as Tatsunoko vs. CAPCOM, and the backdrops have much more personality than those boring stages in Marvel vs. CAPCOM 2. There's even a level featuring the Bonne family and their Servbots, just to taunt those of you who demand another Mega Man Legends.

The CAPCOM booth also showed off Okamiden, a game so cute it's sometimes hard to properly play. Let me put it this way: the wolf-pup Chibiterasu lets his allies ride him by nipping them and tossing them onto his back. I made Chibi do this four or five times before I got tired of watching it and started on the game itself. In fact, much of Okamiden is like that: the original game, with its wolf-goddess and paintbrush gameplay, turned precious and DS-sized.

The initial stage of Okamiden is just as introductory as the PS2 title, as Chibiterasu and his first humanoid ally, Kuni, scour islands in a field of stars while learning about the game's paintbrush mechanics. It's all done with the stylus, and it's intuitive: hold R or L to spread a transparent canvas over the lower screen, and then draw slowly for thick brushstrokes or quickly for thin ones. And then you might run into some Chibiterasu-like baby penguins. And there the game goes again.

If there's one upcoming CAPCOM that I hope isn't ignored this year, it's Ghost Trick, the new DS puzzle-adventure title from Phoenix Wright creator Shu Takumi. It's less like the Phoenix Wright series than you might expect. Sure, it has goofball characters fumbling through several small mysteries within a larger one. And yes, it spends a lot of time talking, both in player-directed tutorials and conversations among the cast. Yet Ghost Trick is different in its aims and its atmosphere. Its heroes, villains, and suspects have a stylishly angular and clean look compared to the anime-like art of Phoenix Wright, and Ghost Trick renders them all in deliberately flat, impressively animated two-dimensional fashion.

Will Ghost Trick find the same cult following as Phoenix Wright? It's hard to say. Ghost's sharp looks certainly enhance its tale of the disembodied Sissel trying to solve his own murder, and the item-manipulating puzzles are more compelling than Phoenix's look-here-and-there investigations. Sissel's sidekick Lynne, a detective so upbeat she's cheerful seconds after her own death, is also straight from the Phoenix Wright academy of weirdos. Still, Ghost lacks a clear antagonist for Sissel to play off (and for female fans to giggle over), and some people may think it's just too cartoonish and strange. Please don't be one of those people.

More to follow tomorrow, including the Street Fighter IV panel that might see a new game announced. I'm holding out for another Battle Circuit.

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