Special: From Castlevania, to Ninja Turtles, to Metal Gear Solid games, Chris had the Konami booth covered and gives you the tour.
Castlevania: Curse of Darkness (PS2, Xbox)
I'll say this: I know there is a legion of Castlevania fans out there. I am not one of them. I don't think I'll ever be one. I've attempted to join the series ever since my first experience with one of the early Castlevania games on the NES, but was ultimately dissatisfied with that one and future titles too. Getting a look at some new Castlevania games this year still hasn't made me a lover of these gothic Dracula-slaying games -- but, they're still okay games in my book. Castlevania: Curse of Darkness is one of the two new ones from Konami's booth. In Curse of Darkness, the main character named Hector is actually a former man of evil himself, having once served Dracula. Now he's become disenchanted by "Mr. No Reflection's" power and wants to lead a normal life. The only problem with that is once you go black, you can never go back.
The most interesting element of gameplay being used in this latest Castlevania installment is that Hector will have at his disposal various creatures called Innocent Devils. These devil beings are manifested by Hector to add a dual layer of companionship in the series' usual single adventure. One devil character for instance is a rock giant who is able to smash down heavy doors for Hector when he needs the job done. Another type is a bird who could lift Hector over widened gaps or simultaneously drop bombs onto enemies overhead whilst Hector runs them in with his sword slashing tactics. The gameplay aside of this will consist of the usual exploration and leveling up by way of defeating enemies (such as the oft seen skeleton warrior, or even the giant brute boss who picks up and swings around stone pillars). Decent but not terrific, Curse of Darkness embodies this sharply textured castle structure that's stark in contrast, sort of plain, and overall just not really my type of visual interface. For Castlevania fans though, the addition of diverse devils to help out with puzzles and combat appears to be a unique enough concept that should be fun (for you guys) come this fall.
Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (DS)
As mentioned already, I'm no Castlevania fanboy. I'm not even a lover of the series. I've played bits and pieces of Castlevania games over the years, and still I've never found the draw quality into it. So here I am now, expressing my outsider feelings on yet another Castlevania game, subtitled Dawn of Sorrow. This being the first Castlevania game for Nintendo's DS system, the unique mechanic here of course is to draw. With the stylus, the direction of the game will follow players as they activate paths and defeat certain enemies by etching in lines across the screen whenever a magical icon appears. The stylus will also come in handy now for tapping on the touch screen with the pen to break away ice blocks barricading passage to staircases and such. Gameplay controls and visuals in Dawn of Sorrow were a treat handheld-wise, as it seems the way the series is known best with fans is with its 2D counterparts rather than the convoluted 3D ones. I still can't call myself a fan of the series sadly, but Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow is coming along well for yet another Castlevania game fans will likely eat up this fall.
SLAI: Steel Lancer Arena International (PS2)
Otherwise known as Steel Lancer Arena International, S.L.A.I. is the shortened acronymic result for the spiritual sequel to Genki's own Phantom Crash (a mech combat game that released on the Xbox in 2002). S.L.A.I.'s main focus is not to be one of those other offline mech games like Phantom Crash was or the even the Armored Core series (which still has yet to head online here in the States), but to introduce the first fully multiplayer mech game that connects you to others via a live network of players. Up to four people will be able to participate in battles online using their bot's missile, machinegun, or various other types of weapons as the game will provide more than one million configurations for customization options. Players will be able to swap out body parts and weapons by buying upgrades and then taking the scraps to a specialized tuning shop for applying hundreds of possible transformations.
About the online aspect of S.L.A.I., while four players are capable of combating, it'll be possible for two others to sit on the sidelines and jump into the fight in a rotating cycle whenever mechs are defeated -- which is kind of interesting. Two people can compete against one another in an offline mode, as can single players journey through over 50 hours of story segmented gameplay. There isn't much to report about S.L.A.I.'s graphical capabilities, however, as there isn't much that's special about them. Arenas taking shape across different major cities like Hong and New York, and will put players into average settings like the one shown that seemed to be in a very confined and arcade-like crate-stacked compound. At least special properties will fathom in the form of doing things like turning your robot into a near-invisible target to help avoid injury. Being the first mech game to head online in the U.S., S.L.A.I. does have some potential to be a hit with gamers who've wanted to beat each other's butts with bot on bot action. Look for S.L.A.I. this fall.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3: Mutant Nightmare (PS2, Xbox, GameCube, DS)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! Turtles in a half shell, TURTLE POWER! Those were the days, when cartoons were in their prime and turtles were kicking butt. I was one of the kids who watched all the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shows, bought the toys, the coloring books, saw and loved the movies, and even had some tighty whities with the characters printed on it. Nowadays, cartoon land is revisiting the once great show it abandoned years ago. And of course, Konami's been there to bank some green off the return to green. Mutant Nightmare will play similarly to the previous two Ninja Turtle beat-'em-ups released over the course of last two years. This, except for some new additions (naturally). You'll walk around attacking Foot Soldiers with your choice of Turtle character, but one thing that's changed is a mechanic where obstacles must be conquered if any progress is to be made. To do this, the game will alert you at certain points when you come across a hurdle like a really high wall or a large pit of spikes that you can't simply hop over. The game allows for a turtle partner to automatically bring your playable Turtle up and over or across these hurdles. While I've only had the chance to play the DS version of the game (drawn with 2D sprites that are nicely modeled and animated), screens of the 3D versions reveal an interesting array of cel-shading techniques to capture the show's cartoony nature. Konami's newest approach to pair Turtles with Turtles should be a welcome change for the game when it hits multiple platforms sometime in the fall.
Metal Gear Solid 4 (PS3)
Hideo, you slick bastard. For years Hideo Kojima's been the mastermind behind the greatest stealth-action series ever invented. If that statement sounds condescending toward Ubisoft's own Splinter Cell franchise, well...it is. But let's focus on my personal number one, the Snake whose skin is so Solid, it makes Raiden look like he's compensating for something. Joking aside, I am a fan of Raiden's and can honestly say that Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty is my favorite of the Metal Gear Solid series. Not only that, but I consider it to be my favorite game of all-time. Metal Gear Solid 2 spun an epic and unforgettable storyline for one thing. The ingenious next-gen gameplay system, the above-and-beyond graphical interface, and the topnotch voice work all came together too in such a high quality fashion that it has the generic Sam Fisher character still wishing it was him. And now, Konami's hilarious preemptive Metal Gear Solid 4 video footage makes me excited to see that Konami's returning to the continuation of Solid Snake's and Raiden's story arc, where we last left them milling around in the crowded streets of New York City.
What surprised me about Konami's Metal Gear Solid 4 video is that one, Hideo Kojima is officially directing the game. He said he wouldn't, but you figure a better man than he could not be found to replace his cushy seat. Just as it should be too, because it'd be disappointing if Hideo's genius were to go unfounded in any of the Metal Gear Solid entries (since he's pretty much its father). Next, the video that saw Solid Snake competing for a spot to sit in a circular assemblage of chairs up against an incoming flood of Genome soldiers in a wide-open circumference, was to convey how there'll be no place to hide for Snake anymore. If this bare stealth environment is to improve upon the camouflage function birthed in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, then it should be very interesting to see what becomes of its evolution whenever Konami decides to unveil all facts and figures in the coming months.