Atlus E3 Showcase

Atlus was one of several publishers that used their booth space to show off more than one game. Making efficient use of their space, the hands-on demos that were available continued to honor the company's reputation for localizing and publishing an eclectic mix of games and genres. Abyss Odyssey

Abyss Odyssey is one of the most beautiful roguelikes I have ever seen. Presented in the style of gorgeous Art Nouveau, the game's beauty contrasts with the dangers that lie within an underground cave. Developed by ACE Team, a studio who knows a thing or two about art design (see Rock of Ages and Zeno Clash), Abyss Odyssey was the game I kept going back to during my booth tour. The game mashes together three unique gameplay systems: the unpredictability of a roguelike, visceral hack and slash combat, and platformer exploration and navigation. These systems work very well against each other and after five minutes of play, I was already hooked.

The story involves an underground world that has been occupied by monsters, themselves being the physical manifestation of a slumbering Warlock's nightmares. Your quest is to reach the Warlock at the bottom of the abyss and wake him up. To accomplish this task, you'll employ the talents of three heroes, each with their own personalized special abilities. These characters are equipped with specific weapon classes, like swords, magic staffs or heavy lances and axes, which can be replaced stronger gear found as loot or purchased from vendors. To reach the Warlock, you'll have to move downwards through a series of rooms filled with enemies of varying difficulty. The game map uses a color coded system to help the player identify how easy or hard a room will be: pink-tinged rooms are the easiest to clear, a gentle red suggests medium difficulty, and rooms filled in with a deep crimson signify maximum difficulty. Abyss Odyssey supports drop in co-op to help ease the burden of difficulty.  The map is designed with branching paths, allowing you to travel in different directions with pathways lead to special challenge rooms or quicker routes through the abyss. Reaching the Warlock is only the beginning. After confronting the Warlock the first time, a New Game+ opens up that summons new enemies and obstacles into the game.

Abyss Odyssey is on track for release this July and I can barely stand the wait.

Rollers of the Realm

When I first heard about Puzzle Quest, I honestly thought the concept sounded absurd. Merging RPG questing and character development with Bejeweled? Posh! And then I played it and realized just how wrong my impressions were. I felt this way again after being introduced to Rollers of the Realm, a game that grafts that same RPG experience with the intense, score driven play of pinball. I mean, seriously, RPG pinball? Excuse me while I catch my monocle.

Seeing Rollers of the Realm changed my tune right quick and I was left feeling so impressed at how Phantom Compass managed to weave together two completely different games so coherently. The game's pinball tables act as stages (of the theatrical variety) where the action unfolds. Each map has the look and spirit of a pinball table, complete with flippers, bumpers, portals and area-specific obstacles like walls, traps and breakable wooden objects. The player characters are represented in-game as balls with unique abilities and attributes that will help them complete a series of level-specific objectives. In the first level of the demo, for example, my rogue character needed to steal a specific  amount of money from NPCs that stood in place of traditional pinball bumpers. Striking them awarded gold coins rather than points. Stealing enough cash earned the ire of the local authorities and in order to escape the level, I had to steer the ball to a portal exit, using flippers and a putting a little English on the ball via the analog sticks.

The second stage consisted of a boss battle. Citizens with fat wallets were replaced by enemies that could be damaged and killed by striking them directly. Striking targets, collecting gold and breaking obstacles fills your character's ability meter that, when used, launches a special ability. My rogue's special ability allows her to bring her dog into battle which basically gave me some sweet multi-ball action.

Rollers of the Realm is one of those high concept ideas that benefits from being seen in action. Blending the score driven gameplay of pinball with the methodical narrative of role playing games sounds "interesting" on paper but watch as those elements come together so comfortably is a total surprise.

Citizens of the Earth

One look at Citizens of the Earth and the similarities between it and Earthbound are readily apparent. Both role-playing games eschew the traditional fantasy or medieval setting and opt to tell its story in modern day planet Earth. The adventure begins with the player taking control of the newly elected Vice President of the world who has returned to his hometown to savor his victory. His homecoming is troubled by a strange series of events that warrants an investigation. By commanding a party of citizens and other regular Joes, you'll explore the planet engaging strange creatures in familiar turn based combat. The art direction for the game is pretty great, with developers Eden Industries populating the world with caricatures of classic American personalities including, but not limited to, Bob Ross lookalikes, sailors, conspiracy lunatics, meaty housewives, beatnik protesters and vintage coffee shop waitresses. Unfortunately, I didn't get to play Citizens but I am no less intrigued by it. I really liked Earthbound, even though I didn't finish it, and I love the idea of setting an RPG away from Final Fantasy-styled locations. After all, real life doesn't need dragons or mystics to be scary and adventurous.

Teen Services Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.