Monday, May 27, 2013

Project X Zone demo impressions; character mash-ups are getting ever more impressive

Last week a demo popped on to the 3DS eShop download store for Project X Zone. Useless name aside, this is a game worth paying attention to because it perfectly demonstrates the value of the clever application of characters in building a compelling game experience.

We've seen character crossovers before in popular games, of course - Nintendo are experts at it, with franchises such as Smash Brothers, Mario Sports and Fortune Street (Boom Street for the US) all resting heavily on an assortment of Nintendo characters coming together to share in an activity for gamers to enjoy. But fundamentally most of those games are good quality games, and when they're not (Mario Sports Mix, for instance), they don't tend to be engaging games despite the license.

But Project X Zone, based entirely on the demo and what I've seen and read of the game, manages to get away with being a reasonably average tactics RPG by virtue of its characters. For people who aren't aware of the game, it takes characters from a huge number of SEGA, Capcom and Bandai Namco franchises and throws them together into conflict with other famous names. We're talking about over 200 characters in total, such is the scale of the game. And it's the characters that people remember from those original games that are the entirety of this game.

Here is a game that features some very basic visuals, very basic combat structure and a plot that cannot possibly be cohesive since it involves the worlds of Space Channel 5 and Street Fighter together. In fact, the game doesn't even try and be cohesive, which seems to be a wise decision. For instance, when each character has his or her new turn the music also changes to match the franchise they're pulled from. It might not be cohesive, but it's certainly exciting as a fan of the franchises to watch these franchises team up to lay the smackdown on some nondescript enemies.

The demo only gives players the one level to work though, and in that time it's not even close to enough to get a proper feel for the game's combat system or how the larger plot works together. All that the demo allows players do is to realise that it is the characters that are what this game will live and die by. Interestingly this game is developed by Banpresto and Nintendo's own studio, Monolith Software (the folks behind Xenoblade), so I'm sure the broad experience is actually quite compelling, but it's just not what I got a feeling for from this game.

Project X Zone shows just how much game developers are waking up to the power of cross-over experiences. Before Nintendo struck gold with its Mario crossovers these things were rare, and limited. Now, though, we're seeing characters across multiple franchises and development companies buddying up for increasingly complex character mashups. They might only be fan service at the end of the day, but boy are they fun. 
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