Quick looks / Namco on the horizon

Just last week I had the chance to check out some of Namco’s most recent games at a little PR blitz they had going on. They showed off a variety of games. Some upcoming (Knight’s Contract), some already out (Enslaved), some for the new motion-sensors on the horizon (Body and Brain Connection, Time Crisis Razing Storm), and some for the iPhone and iPad (Bit.Trip Beat, House of Glass). While the majority of games shown were on the Third Person Action side of things, it was clear that Namco’s aiming to please any and all gamers, and it’s possible that they have indeed covered all bases. Here are a few of the highlights of my visit.

Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom: The brief glimpse of this game looks like it will be the third-person action game for the not-so-action savvy. Sure, you play the role of a warrior figure and you’ve got your staff for pulling all the button mashy combos, but the crux of this game will be the Majin that’s following you around. He’s a big green oaf with a huge smile on his face and a willingness to do just about anything you tell him. This leads to multiple ways of approaching situations, and likely some creative means of solving puzzles. While your Majin can hold his own, also expect to have to protect him from time to time as well. I didn’t get a thorough glimpse of this one, but I’m definitely keeping my eyes open to see where this one goes. The idea of getting creative with it has a lot of potential to me. Watch out for this one next month on PS3 and Xbox 360.

Knight’s Contract: The other third-person action game. Here you play the role of a seasoned witch executioner, Heinrich. He’s been cursed with immortality, and makes a reluctant alliance with the witch Gretchen who promises to lift his curse if he helps kill her evil sisters. It’s a setup for lots of bloody battles, and is a raw combat-based counterpart to the two-man playstyle that I saw in Majin. This one’s for those that don’t like the idea of solving problems with more than weapons and black magic. The visuals and story pull a lot from German folklore, and so far, that’s probably the most interesting thing about the game. Here’s hoping for a well-laid story to accompany the thrashing and bashing. This one’s going to hit the PS3 and Xbox 360 next year.

Time Crisis Razing Storm: This one is Namco’s first entry to utilize the PlayStation Move. If you don’t know, Time Crisis is an arcade on-rails shooter series that you’ve probably seen in arcades involving a foot pedal for taking cover. This is essentially that game, but you get three in one. Time Crisis: Razing Storm, Time Crisis 4 Arcade version, and Deadstorm Pirates, another shooter that never quite made it stateside. Naturally, expect the games to have full two-player co-op, but Razing Storm will also feature an eight-player online multiplayer mode complete with freedom of movement. How that will fare is yet to be seen, but it won’t be long. The game comes out October 19th for PS3.

Body and Brain Connection: And this is Namco’s first step into the Kinect realm of gaming. It’s a brain trainer, not at all unlike Nintendo DS’s own Brain Age. In fact, it has the very same doctor seen in that game, and he’s as encouraging and informative as ever. Here, Namco makes use of the “body as a controller” in ways meant to exercise your coordination on top of everything else. I only got to try out one game on it, where I controlled Dig Dug with my left hand, and Pac-Man with my right. On each side of the screen, a few ghosts chased each character, and it was up to me to keep each of them away. At first it was simple enough, but it eventually got tougher as they chased me down more. It wasn’t until some time later that I considered how completely ridiculous I looked with my palms out and moving them about while staring at old 8 bit figures moving around a black screen. Still, true to its name, it was a workout on my brain, and the most mocking moment of my visit. It was also the most distinct, though, since I hadn’t gotten a chance to mess around with Kinect up to that point. Expect this one early next year.

Namco also had a strong iOS showing, flaunting several games for iPhone and iPad, such as Gaijin Games’ Bit.Trip Beat HD. It’s pong with a beat, and now for systems other than the Wii. It’s fun as ever, and now portable. Not much more to say than that. It does have a couple new songs from some subsequent Bit.Trip releases in there for a little bonus content, though. Not too shabby. I’ll admit, I had a hard time letting go to continue looking at other games.

Another I was shown was a puzzle game called House of Glass. This one reminded me a bit of 7th Guest with its visuals, but more Tangram-focused with the puzzles. You are given shapes, and you rotate them about to fill a larger overall shape. The twist with this one is the ability to rotate the objects in 3D as well. Might be a fun one for long plane rides and the ilk. Expect it soon.

Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2: I’ll admit, I liked the first Ultimate Ninja Storm more than I should have. The animation was fantastic, and the fighting system, while simplistic, felt really good and lots of fun. With the sequel, it looks like most things have gone untouched overall, but now it will also be available on Xbox 360 as well as PS3, and even offer an online component. For fans of the series, it looks to continue the story where the first game left off. What’s more? It comes out on the 19th of this month.

The goal of the event seemed be to drive home the point that Namco’s been busy, and that they’ve got a lot to offer to a very wide gaming audience. They also had a new Active Life title for the Wii on display. Again, it felt a little third-person-centric, but that also means that they have a strong presence in that genre. Everything else did show a rather surprising diversity for a company that’s generally known for Ridge Racer, 3D fighting games, and classic arcades. In fact, it was good to be surprised in that way. Will it be enough to kick up sales? Only time will tell. But what they have coming up is no slouch of a lineup. And on the far horizon… well let’s leave it with the fact that I still really like Tekken.

Namco’s poising themselves for a company with a lot of momentum in a lot of markets. Let’s hope they can keep it up.