The PlayStation Experience returns to Anaheim, California, this year to celebrate the brand that Sony built over twenty years ago. Bandai Namco invited Darkstation to a pre-show event and offered us a first look at games they (by the time you read this) will announce at the two day event.
Ace Combat 7 VR
I am a huge Ace Combat fan. From the moment I played Ace Combat 4 on the PlayStation 2, I was hooked on these story heavy, arcadey flight sim games. Rather than be hardcore flight simulators, Ace Combat was more about fetishizing real world aircraft against the backdrop of the geo-political struggles of an alternate Earth. It's like Gran Turismo but without the tuning. I couldn't have been more excited to walk into the room Bandai Namco space and see a big display for their upcoming title, Ace Combat 7. I was even more excited to see that everything I love about the series - the music, in-flight dialog, and sound effects - were back in light of the previous game, Assault Horizon, grounded itself in the real world.
The demo I played was a mission designed specifically for PlayStation VR. Ace Combat is a natural fit for VR and its most notable benefit was the ease of looking around in cockpit view. Looking around is as natural as turning your head, unlike the previous games that snapped the camera in the direction of the analog stick is pointed towards. Tracking targets is a lot more comfortable as is the chance to stop and admire the roses. Ace Combat games are beautiful looking games and its nice to take in the details of the engagement zones (in this case, a large ocean occupied by numerous islands). VR also captures the claustrophobic interiors of a jet fighter. It's one thing to the play game sitting on a couch eight feet away, but strapping on the headset and be transported into the cozy confines of a million dollar machine of war is really something else.
The Bandai Namco reps on hand didn't reveal a launch date beyond "2017," but they did tell me that Ace Combat 7 won't require a VR headset. For those who have it (I really want to get one now), the ability to play the VR missions is, as the rep gleefully shared, "icing on the cake."
Digimon World Next Order
Now, I'll be honest with you. I don't know much about Digimon outside of a cursory glance of the television cartoon show. I knew it either had roots in or "me too" familiarity with Pokemon but after playing through a short demo, I can see that Digimon has its own way of doing things. I was presented with a pre-made character in a monster-filled overworld map. I had control over two Digimon creations, a wolf-like animal and a giant dinosaur, the followed me around like loyal puppies. Unlike Pokemon, these monsters more or less control themselves in a fight and your job is to provide support. You are free to direct the attacks of your Digimon monsters or let the AI do the work until the creatures get themselves into trouble. Outside of combat, you'll have to care for these creatures to a surprising degree. They develop personality through your interactions, meaning that without proper care and praise their effectiveness in combat is diminished.
Bright and colorful, Digimon World Next Order will surely endear itself to younger audiences, though its all ages look means that anyone who appreciates monster management games is surely to find something enjoyable.
Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers Mega Battle
Personally speaking, it's hard to keep track of how far the Power Rangers reach extends. I watched a few seasons of the original show in the 1990s, up to where the evil Green Ranger became the good guy White Ranger (can you believe that the White Ranger was a redeemed Tommy?! Man, what a twist!). Much like Transformers, I drifted away from the series just when it started to iterate itself over and over. Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers Mega Battle is a game designed for fans of the original series. A side scrolling brawler in the style of Konami's TMNT Arcade, four players can control Jason, Trini, BIlly, Zach, or Kimberly (oh, Kimberly) as they do battle with Rita Repulsa and her army of not quite Footsoldiers in the fictional Angel Grove.
What really stood out to me in this preview was the game's great sense of humor. It acknowledges the innate silliness of the show through funny winks and nods. The game itself is everything you'd expect from a old school-inspired brawler. Designed to accommodate four players, playing solo wasn't quite as fun as I imagine it'd be with a group. By myself, I felt like there was a lot of empty space in between fights, as if they had the same amount of content in a TMNT Arcade level inside a longer, stretched out map. More enemies (perhaps some that don't take forever to kill) would go a long way to keep the action and pacing at a good clip. There's a really good opportunity for some nostalgic group fun in Mega Battle. It just needs a bit more meat on its bones.
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.