For the last few years, Captivate has been Capcom’s annual showcase of its upcoming titles. It’s been their way to generate some buzz and show off games that are near release or in development before the craziness of E3 hits. This year, Capcom displayed its latest wares in Honolulu. Over the next few days, I’ll be rolling out impressions about what the Japanese publisher of the Mega Man and Resident Evil games showed off.
Most of my handheld gaming’s been happening on iPhone and iPad lately and it’s gotten to the point that I barely glance at my Nintendo DS, PSP or PSPGo when I get ready to travel. But the NDS games Capcom showed off during Captivate–Okamiden and Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective–may very well change that.
AS the name would imply, Okamiden follows up on Okami, the beloved mythological adventure title that debuted on PS2 and jumped to the Wii. The game stars Chibiterasu, the son of sun-goddess-turned-wolf Amaterasu, as he teams up with human companions who’ll help him drive back an evil darkness just as his mom did. One of those human characters is Kuni, son of adventurer Susano from Okami. The playable levels saw Kuni riding Chibiterasu around a piece of crumbling landscape in the mythical land of Nippon. The signature Celestial Brush mechanic makes a return in Okamiden. In the first game, it let players “paint” on the gameworld to fight enemies and solve puzzles. That drawing feature finds a natural home on the DS system’s stylus-and-touchscreen mechanics and the brief demo let players reconstruct bridges, revive dead trees and slice obstacles apart with sketching, circular and slashing motions of the stylus. Some of the puzzles require Kuni and Chibiterasu to separate and trigger The parchment-painting aesthetic of Okami gets miniaturized perfectly on the DS and so far Okamiden’s characters look to bring a ridiculously cute twist to the Japanese myth-inspired action. Seriously, watching Chibiterasu and Kuni jump around while hugging (1:29 in the trailer) should melt any gamer’s heart.
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, the other DS game that debuted at Captivate, is a spiritual sequel of sorts to the mega-popular Ace Attorney games. Created by AA creator Shu Takumi and other members of those games’ dev team, the game puts players in the role of a newly-minted ghost trying to prevent the murder of a young woman. The reasons for that particular woman needing to stay alive will become apparent as the game goes on. The ghost, a recently-deceased dude named Sissel, learns from a talking lamp that he can possess inanimate objects and manipulate them by doing tricks.
The game’s really charming and much of that comes from the smooth, intricate animations, which look like pop-art watercolor drawings coming to life. In terms of mechanics, it shares strong similarities with the clue-hunting mechanics of the Ace Attorney games but offers some nice evolutionary twists, too. Ghost Trick opens with the aforementioned young woman being chased by an assassin. You quickly learn that you can toggle into a Ghost view where time stands still and then find out that you can move your soul into select objects that are nearby. Taking possession of a railroad crossing signal, you distract the assassin enough for the girl to bolt across the screen. She still wasn’t safe, though, and the player jumped into a number of objects before hotting on a guitar startled the assassin. Despite all of that, the killer gunned down the girl and it was then that the most potent of Sissel’s ghost powers were revealed. Talking Lamp tells the deceased detective that, since she’s only been dead for a little while, he can rewind the last four minutes of her life and try to stop the assassin again. You’ll be able to do this as often as you want. These rewind sections are on a timer, which make them a challenge even when you repeating stuff from the first part of the sequence.
Aside from its fun touchscreen mechanics, the other really great element of Ghost Trick was its sharp localizaion. It’s still true that Japanese games can seem a bit off when they come to the States, thanks to weird dialogue and odd menu configurations. The dialogue in Ghost Trick was pulpy and sharp, making the main character seem like he, too, could barely believe what was happening. A Capcom rep said that they’ve been using the term “optimistic noir” to describe the game’s vibe and that’s fairly accurate. Despite controlling a dead lead character and having to forestall the murder of another, Ghost Trick didn’t feel morbid or depressing.
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective hits the Nintendo DS this winter and Okamiden is being developed for a 2011 release. Look for more from Captivate 2010 later today.