Crispy Gamer

Namco Bandai Editors' Day 2008

For last week's Namco Bandai event in San Francisco, they led us journo-sheep onto a little van-bus, white and nondescript on the outside. On the inside, however, it was made into this faux tiki hut with bamboo paneling all over and (ew) blue neon molding, too. There was a stripper pole in the back, but no stripper. I thought, boy, it would be great to have Soulcalibur's Taki in the tiki on that pole, probably because I've been dreaming of the new SCIV since I got to San Francisco almost a week ago.

Also in the van, there was a bar, but no booze. It was a wretched affair all around, and it made Scott Jones get all mischievous with the publicist, probably just to brighten everyone's aspects in this weird bamboo environ. Really, I could have cared less about a stripper in the early afternoon, 'cos the sun makes them look like the pasty-faced night owls that they often are. And the early afternoon booze? I don't roll that way. Still, a pole without a stripper looks, well, unfinished. To get completely crazy, I guess they needed that energetic guy from Gametrailers who did the pole like it was part of his best girlfriend during a Game Day in Dubrovnik. But I digress.

For this is about Namco Bandai. See, within the chiaroscuro confines of a club called Mighty, Namco did an "Elvis Costello circa 1978" kind of show. In other words, its opening remarks and descriptions of games were short and impassioned, designed to leave us wanting more, much more.

I'm not sure what I thought of Afro Samurai, which could well be a big seller for Namco Bandai. On the bright side, it's got real Hollywood stars: Samuel L. Jackson, Ron Perlman and Kelly Hu. Based on Spike TV's animated series, the game takes place in years hence but in a feudal Japan. The graphic novel-like artwork surely enhances the vengeful "man without love who sheds no tears." In the first trailer, you see the words "Blood is Beautiful," surely a riff on abolitionist John Swift Rock's "Black Is Beautiful" mantra that was first espoused in the 1850s and gained more popularity and ubiquity in the 1960s. However beautiful and stylish the new gameplay montage was that premiered at the event, it still looked a bit like Devil May Cry 4, with hacking and slashing that goes on while you're airborne. What was seen looked fine, but would there be enough new story and gameplay to set Afro Samurai above the rest of the onslaught of games that always come in the fall?

The game that might be the culty underdog of the bunch was We Cheer, a rhythm-based cheerleading game for the Wii that, at first blush, seemed like a marketing ploy to get the hundreds of thousands of cheerleaders to play a game. Yet the closer I looked, the more sense it made. A combination of PaRappa the Rapper and Elite Beat Agents, We Cheer is cute but challenging, probably geared to cheerleader wannabes more than cheerleaders themselves (who are already busy, dancing, competing and yelling "Watch out! We're here! Everybody stand clear!") I wondered, though, if there were a single-player story mode that includes a few mean girls, a sprained angle or two and some acne agony on game day.

Then, there was a Panda game for the Nintendo DS. There was no trailer, just a baby giant panda seemingly humping a huge red ball. It's a smart move to create National Geographic Panda, because the game features one of the world's best-loved animals. After all the success of virtual pet games with dogs, cats and hamsters for the DS, putting a panda in a game that has the National Geographic moniker seems like a winning combination. Yeah, you raise your panda and meet other pandas along the way, but you'll learn, too, with snippets of National Geographic articles that are available daily in something called the Panda House. Face it, hardcore daddies. You'll surely be getting this game to satiate your pet-loving kids this fall.

At the end came the big game, the lollapalooza, the behemoth of Namco Bandai games this year, Soulcalibur IV. The fighting game starring the Edgemaster and his mythic pals is moving from a June release to a July 29 release date, thus making the soul yearn rather than burn. Oh, the waiting, the patience that needs to be mustered -- but, boy, will it be worth the wait. Namco Bandai announced a special tin box collector's edition that excited me to no end, for inside will be a mini coffee table book, a t-shirt and special downloadable content.

But what downloadable content? As you know, Yoda will be in the Xbox 360 version and Darth Vader will be in the PS3 offering. So will the downloadable content within the collector's tin include Vader for the 360 and Yoda for the PS3? Probably not. The content will more likely be weapons and pieces of clothing for your existing characters. Why not Lucas' famous characters? Probably because the company wants early-adopter Star Wars fans to purchase both editions.

I went to look closely at Soulcalibur IV, probably my favorite series of all time. While the graphics on the Xbox 360 and PS3 looked incrementally better than those of the last iteration, the gameplay looks seriously tweaked. Since this is my game (and I suck at many that aren't), I wielded a few choice moves to pretty much beat the pants off those who deigned to challenge, which got Scott Jones to yelling, "Stop it with that long shish kabob!" That actually was new character Hilde's weapon, which has the length of Nightmare's sword, though the delightful Hilde moves with more alacrity. (Check out our forthcoming SCIV preview for far more details.)

For those who love animation, anime and cartoons, the follow-up to Tales of Symphonia and Tales of the Abyss looks promising, especially to those role-playing micromanagers who love to do everything from constantly change weapons and magics to cook food to increase health. Tales of Vesperia was introduced not just with a trailer, but with an appearance by sometime New York City-dwelling Japanese pop star Bonnie Pink, who penned and sang the game's theme song (not for us, but in the studio for the game). Pink, whose popularity peaked in the early part of the decade, is a facile singer whose voice can only add to the console game's panache. Its real-time combat system and twisting, turning story revolves around protagonist Yuri Rowell who controls an arcane power called Blastia by which he can rule the world or destroy it. My one bugaboo: While this is the first time the series will be featured with HD graphics, I didn't see that the artwork looked all that different from previous games in the series. Maybe they're still in tweaking mode.

I had pretty much viewed all the demos that needed to be played, so I hopped in a cab with fellow Crispyites to head back to the Westin Hotel. Namco Bandai was kind enough to give us a swag bag. Inside, I hoped to find a Soulcalibur t-shirt. Instead, there were two Bonnie Pink CDs and an Afro Samurai shirt -- which was more than gracious. Both small gifts seemed to signal to me the games that were of the most future import to the company, Afro Samurai and Tales of Vesperia. But don't they know that this particular soul still burns?