PAX East: Capcom, Sega, and The Waning of Japan

To get into the 2K booth would take two hours. Want to see and play “Max Payne 3”? That line winds around the BCEC.

Want to play “Dragon’s Dogma”? That’ll be maybe fifteen minutes.

As we’ve reported, Sega took a real hit recently and Capcom is facing the serious question of whether to ditch consoles altogether in favor of casual gaming. And their lack of influence is reflected in their booths, which are smaller and less crowded, and in the content of those booths, which features a lot of two giants in the gaming field playing it a little too safe.

There’s a lot of nostalgia in the air in these booths. Capcom had a whole host of games, but the focus seemed to be on the arcade collections, shooters, and the “Devil May Cry” HD collection. But it’s a shame, because Capcom has some pretty interesting games coming up.

For example, “Dragon’s Dogma” might be one of the more exciting games in the entire show. It’s been called a “Japanese Skyrim”, and that’s both accurate and reductive. What appeals about it is that “Dogma” isn’t quite so depressingly self-serious or so wrapped up in its mythology; granted, it’s not breaking new ground here either, but honestly, this game is worth the price of admission just for that wonderful moment when you realize the cling mechanic lets you climb bigger enemies to stab them in the face, or grab smaller enemies and chuck them off the nearest cliff.

Then there’s “Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor”. Yes, it’s back, and this time, it uses the Kinect. If it sounds a little gimmicky…well, it kind of is, but it also feels more natural than previous iterations of the franchise. It takes some getting used to, since you’ll be using the controller and the Kinect together, but frankly, there’s nothing quite like it once you get the hang of it, and it’s more intuitive than you expect. Not that it doesn’t have a steep learning curve, but you get rewarded with explosions.

Sega, meanwhile, was even more nostalgic. Sonic, the Aliens license, House of the Dead, Virtua Fighter…it’s almost like they’ve just given up on original properties. “Virtua Fighter” looks good on consoles, but it’s not breaking new ground. “House of the Dead 4” is…well…it’s what you expect. “Sonic 4” is classic platforming…but it comes up short next to another platformer they were showing: “Hell Yeah”.

“Hell Yeah” is an open-world platformer where you play a zombie rabbit rolling around in a giant circular saw and wielding a machine gun as you explore Hell to get revenge on whoever posted embarrassing photos of you on the Internet.

Yeah. It’s weird. It’s also hilarious. Instead of hopping on enemy heads, you shred them into steaks, smearing the screen with bright, cartoony blood. Oh, and you have finishing moves.

In short, it’s the kind of insanity Sega used to turn out on a regular basis. And it’s got two screens on a booth covered with Sonic. Granted, it’s a downloadable title, not a AAA disc-based game, but it has the feel of a breakout hit, if it gets some publicity behind it.

Meanwhile, “Aliens: Colonial Marines” mostly served to remind us of the last few Alien games. Gearbox is working its ass off on this title, but there’s a limit to how much variety you can put into something like this. Meanwhile, at a nearby booth, “Natural Selection II” was playing and pretty much outpacing the franchise that inspired it in pretty much every way.

It’s depressing, in a way; you can see these companies struggling to redefine themselves in an industry increasingly dominated by European and American developers. Even “Hell Yeah” was developed by a French company. I don’t think the implication of Japan’s fading relevance in a market it pioneered was intentional…but like it or not, it’s there.