You know what's crap? Waiting for stuff. And it's even worse when there's a boatload of potentially very exciting games involved, like there was at GAMEFest in Birmingham this weekend just gone. A whole bunch of this autumn and winter's brightest and best filled the NEC show room, but with only short demo time available for each one, I am forced, as is customary, to continue holding back the serious analysis until fuller review-type circumstances come around.
But you know what? I don't care about that. I want to review stuff, and I want to review it now. So using sharpened journalistic instinct (and no small amount of guesswork), I'm going to provisionally review the demos I played with actual numbers and everything.
Please note though. This is a lighthearted article for the purpose of fast, focused previews and general fun-times. All the games covered will be getting proper reviews at the appropriate time. These scores I'm putting down here reflect only my enjoyment of the demos, and do not necessarily reflect what the final verdict will be. In any way. At all. Video game PRs, calm yourselves.
To be fair, I didn't last too long in Dark Souls. Yes, it was sort of hard, as the series' reputation constantly suggests, but I also picked up the demo part-way through the previous pod-tenant's play, and thus was cast into an unfamiliar location with an unfamiliar character and had to work out the controls along the way. Yeah, I could have backed out and started again, but the menus were long and complicated, I couldn't get them to work properly, and I was really tired by that point so JUST LEAVE ME ALONE, OKAY?
But yes, Dark Souls is kind of hard. And good. To be honest, I didn't find things as soul-twistingly difficult as many claim the game is. It was more a case of staying alert to what was up ahead and preparing accordingly (zombie archers? You'll want a shield then, but use it very wisely), but definitely far more demanding and satisfying than the requirements of 90% of action games out there right now. In the end I got insta-killed by the same giant Asylum Demon that wiped Cundy the other day, having accidentally fallen into its domain from the floor above. It killed me unapologetically. It really did not care at all.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
It's tricky to appraise a Zelda game based on a short demo. After all, the joy of the series is in the tens of hours of exploration, character development, back-tracking, unlocking and discovery. It is not in trying to get as far as you can through a (probably) specially- created demo dungeon before the unseen time limit runs out and boots you back to the title screen. Neither is it in partaking in an isolated, out-of context boss fight, selected from said title screen like some kind of cheating, debug-code stealing, 1337x0r h@x0r scum.
But still, the dungeon was rather stunningly pretty, the enemy design and animation a beautiful hark-back to the tone of Wind Waker, and piloting the flying bug item worked excellently with Wii MotionPlus. I might not have had time to properly get a feel for the structure and flow of the dungeon as a whole, but casually cutting spider-threads and dropping the ugly great eight-legged f*ckers from a great height was both effortless and therapeutic. The boss fight was a bitch-hard sword dual that I sort of half gave up on towards the end, but I suspect that was more due to the situation not allowing me to properly explore the nuances of the Wii MotionPlus sword fighting than the quality of the game. So yeah, I have faith this one is going to be at least up to the usual standard. Possibly better.
Mario Kart 7
Instantly familiar, instantly accessible. That's typical for Mario Kart. But for the first time in quite a while, the series has managed to atypically avoid instant ennui. As gimmicky as they might look, those hang-glider and underwater bits really do add some freshness to MK, the submerged sections playing around with floatier physics thanks to the greater resistance of the environment around your kart, and the fully-controllable winged flight (automatically activated after a big jump) opening up loads of potential for veering far from the track to find secret routes, or sneaky overtaking and the skipping of corners way above the roar of engine and stench of exhaust.
Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One
I'll admit, I had my doubts about this one. Frankly, it's screamed "gimmicky co-op spin-off" right in my face from day one. And to be fair, it still sort of does. But the difference now is that it now feels like a fun gimmicky co-op spin-off. Just with two players (as I experienced it, with a good-natured randomer from the show floor), the co-ordinated set-pieces were rather a hoot, in a kind of LittleBigPlanet-But-Less-Brutal kind of way. One minute we were engaging in some gleefully hairy daisy-chained trapeze swinging to negotiate a very wide pit of death, the next we were running from side to side on the deck of a flying car to steer amongst speedily oncoming traffic, and the next we were tactically choosing our targets on a building-sized boss to concentrate our efforts for a damage bonus.
The stage itself was of the overly simple "walk in a linear line and kill everything along the way" school of Ratchet & Clank level design (potentially as a safety-net against anyone getting lost), but if the final game can keep throwing in the set-pieces with increasing imagination (and if you'll definitely have people to play with), it could be rather a hoot.
Score : 7
Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City
Speaking of co-op spin-offs, this is not Resident Evil 6. It is not Resident Evil 6 at all. It's a combination of much tighter, sharper shooting control, much bigger numbers of easier-to-kill zombs, asymmetrical team tactics via co-operative character buffs, and a whole lot of violence. Despite all of the changes though, it does a brilliant job of evoking that dark, dystopian, society-in-collapse feel of Resident Evil 2 and 3. In fact atmospherically and visually it's spot on. It's also potentially very satisfying, provided you can co-ordinate with a regular team of players. The zoomed-in over-the-shoulder view currently feels a little too zoomed-in for comfort, but hopefully that's something we can get used to with extended play.