As much as Capcom's Vs series tapped into comic book bizarreness to explain a crossover of worlds, and wisely ignored in-depth analysis of a diverse cast meeting for the first time, so to does Namco's three-way fighting strategy title.
Pulling together the worlds of Sega, Capcom and Namco Bandai, while sticking to a simple MacGuffin introducing the dimension swap (Portal Stone!) and retains a self-referencial dialogue to its cast, as well as an already established knowledge of those from crossover companies they encounter.
So we have the likes of Ryu, Ken, Akira, Pai, Dural, Jun, Jin, Xiaoya cropping up within the first fifteen minutes of the game's opening, all with their own agendas and goals, which all intermix rather nicely. Ken's aware of Jin from the fighting circuit, while Jin's demon blood reacts to Red Gargoyles - cameoing from Ghouls 'N Ghosts - that suddenly appear. There's a lightness to the dialogue that skews to comedic but not outright comedy. We're already looking forward to seeing what Devil May Cry's Dante has to say later on.
Given it's healthy dedication in promotional artwork to those characters more prone to fight with their fists, it'd be easy to assume that this would be another Vs brawler, albeit shrunk down onto the dual screen of the 3DS. There is an element of that, but the one-on-ones (or two-on-twos, as is most common here) is the end clash in a gameplay process that's more turned-based strategy in its origins.
Whatever cast are mixed up in the story at that present time (and the game promises to hop between its fifty plus characters as the narrative sees fit) are dropped onto a location and given a set number of tiles that they can move, heal, attack or defend on each turn. Attacks are initiated by entering the tile directly beside a enemy. If they get first strike, there's a drop down menu allowing you to try to dodge or defend, but both with a XP deduction. Come your attack, the gameplay switches to a one-on-one brawler style, but retaining the pixel art design all the characters are blessed with.
This again is turned based, but there's a few nods to the fighting fraternity, energy bars being only one. All unlocked combat moves are started with a directional tap of the D-Pad and a button press. Your characters always come in pairings, and double-team their target, finishing with an air launcher, granting the option to juggle and score more hits. There's also the option if another allied pairing is within close range on the battlefield to tap another button for a four-way chained special. Additionally to this there'll also be singular support characters that can be called in during fights.
Currently the biggest problem we have with the game is on the depth of the combat. While each pairing will unlock five combo moves over time, emphasis - seen through trailers and our own hands-on - on defeating enemies swiftly is in the juggling system. Each attack will end with a launcher, and on the enemy rebound off the wall you need to time a next attack to keep them in the air. This was remarkably easy at the early stages , but more importantly that lack of skills needed made it monotonous. Hopefully there'll be additional tricks to stop repetition setting in.
There's little down time between battles in this opening half hour, with text-based dialogue interchanging with combat regularly. Learning the tactics as you fight is alright by us, though we'd like to see some breathing room or the odd nudge towards more than just being on the battlefield. We'll hopefully see more with a longer play session;
the strategy genre is one that has never easily fitted into a brief play during a trade show or multi-title event such as the one we're at.
We're glad the game is making the trip over from Japan, were the title has been available since late last year. A rep tells us that the mountains of text dialogue has held up the conversion process, and that Namco are sticking with Japanese voice-overs in order to get it out as soon as possible.
It's something that adds to the character of the game, and the text we scroll through is sharp enough to make it worth reading rather than skipping through: the game's as much about fan service as a solid strategy title. Hopefully the two compliment each other come the game's launch in the UK this summer.