Project X Zone: Resi vs Tekken vs Mega Man vs Virtua Fighter
24th Jun 2012 | 12:01
Nintendo Direct is fast becoming our fave Ninty 'thing' since Iwata Asks, though it's always a bit of a swizz to see so much brilliant stuff in the Japanese version while we're treated to a thick red bar saying 'European details to be confirmed'.
One such title, teased by Iwata in February, was a mysterious collaboration between Namco Bandai, Capcom and Sega. Two months later we got a gobsmacking trailer and a slightly less gobsmacking title: Project X Zone. It's fair to say the latter doesn't come close to the excitement of the former.
So what is it, then? Why, only the greatest bit of fan service since Super Smash Bros, that's what. In the absence of Sakurai's multiplayer brawler/Nintendo love-in, this celebration of some of the three publishers' best-loved characters is the kind of mutual backslap we can get behind.
Namco Bandai have been at pains to point out that it's not a sequel to PlayStation 2 strategy role-player Namco X Capcom, released in Japan in 2005. It certainly looks like a spiritual successor, however. Though all we've seen of the new game so far is its combat, it's reasonable to assume that it follows a similar template: turn-based movement on a grid, with real-time skirmishes when you encounter an enemy.
The action we've seen suggests a return to the Branches system of Namco X Capcom. In that game each attack - allocated to a single button in combination with a direction on the D-pad - consumed a single branch, with special aerial combos often giving the player more branches to use, along with items and statistical buffs. With special move gauges, it played like a simplistic beat 'em up with damage represented by floating numbers instead of bloodied noses. An extra screen has allowed developer Banpresto to declutter the rather busy PS2 game - all the better for showing off the glorious sprite work up top.
And it is a bit of a looker. True, we didn't invest in 3DS just to witness a 2D revival, but the sprites are large and detailed and the animation has a wonderfully hand-crafted feel. This is most notable in the giant avatars that show up to accompany the most spectacular moves, and there's real weight and heft to the combat. It could well be a bit button-mashy, but when the results are this dazzling, perhaps that doesn't matter.
Besides, there's an undeniable frisson to seeing some of these characters in action outside their comfort zones. All characters fight as a twosome, so Chris Redfield blasts the BOWs from Resi Revelations with his Magnum while Jill traces enemy weakpoints with the Genesis scanner. Ryu and Ken from Street Fighter pull their usual fireballs-and-dragon-punches shtick, while Devil May Cry's Dante switches between twin pistols Ebony and Ivory and sword Rebellion, joining up with Demitri Maximoff from cult brawler Darkstalkers.
And no Capcom crossover would be complete without Mega Man - or Mega Man X, here accompanied by Zero of freakishly-long-hair fame. Dead Rising's Frank West also shows up, presumably in an attempt to make up to Nintendo gamers after Chop Till You Drop.
Namco Bandai, meanwhile, are represented by the likes of Jin Kazama and Ling Xiaoyu from the Tekken series, as well as Yuri from Tales Of Vesperia and Ichiro Ogami from Sakura Wars. There's also Kite and BlackRose from the ultra-niche .hack series, and KOS-MOS from Xenoblade Chronicles precursor Xenosaga. These names might not mean much to western players, but it's heartening to see lesser-known characters get a chance to steal the limelight. Smash Bros got the right mix of fan favourites and bit-parters, eliciting 'ah!' and 'uh?' from players in equal measure. Let's hope Banpresto pulls off a similar feat.
PAI THE PIPER
Then there's Sega. So far we've got rifleman Kurt and lance-wielder Riela from the third game in the critically-lauded Valkyria Chronicles series, and they're joined by Akira Yuki and Pai Chan from Virtua Fighter, who can obviously handle themselves in a scrap. Leanne and Zephyr from saucy Other Formats RPG Resonance Of Fate also put in an appearance, but best of the lot is Ulala, star of funky rhythm-actioner Space Channel 5. She might seem more lover than fighter, but she can call upon Fantasy Zone's chubby Opa Opa ship and Dave Harrier from Space Harrier to help her out of a tight spot.
That's the roster so far, but we're promised more surprises to come, and we'd put good money on that happening. Namco X Capcom's credits fair groaned with talent, with over 100 characters popping up throughout its 70-hour campaign.
Talking of the story, Namco's keeping tight-lipped on that one, but if bookies took bets on JRPG plots they'd already be paying out on 'a range of heroes are forced to put aside their differences to conquer an ancient, unspeakable evil'. The focus on characters over systems so far is understandable, but we want to see a bit of substance with our fan service.
Here's hoping we get that - and news of a western release, natch - in the next Nintendo Direct.