Here Matt previews the games he managed to try at EGX 2023 and gives thoughts on each as they head towards release!
The demo available at EGX was a 10 minute demo (PC Version) where you could choose 1 of 2 zones to play-through (or if time allowed both) and a choice of the 4 main characters: Sonic, Knuckles, Tails and Amy. Having chosen Sonic for my trial I moved into the first zone, named Bridge Island Zone. You are plunged into an element of familiarity as this has the feel of 1st level Sonic zones gone by but the presentation of this really stood out. The environments popped beautifully and the action flowed at a solid 60fps throughout. Performance across PS5 and Xbox Series consoles I would expect to be similar. Nintendo Switch runs at 60fps but a lower resolution (Thanks Miles Prower for confirming this).
Pictured Left to Right: Sonic Superstars EGX Booth and In-Game Screenshot (Courtesy of SEGA)
One element of chatter online was based around how Sonic would control in this sort of game following on from the last attempt at a 3d/2d Sonic game (which was Sonic 4) and the floaty nature of the controls in that game. Having sampled Superstars for myself I can safely say that the controls are very much in line with Sonic Mania and feel very familiar indeed. Sonic felt responsive in his movements as you moved through the level with all his familiar moves there to be utilised as required. One new addition is the use of powers when you collect Chaos Emeralds and this is something I initially struggled to get to grips with.
Pictured: In-game action shot of the water power (Courtesy of SEGA)
To access the emerald you find large rings (reminiscent of Sonic 3 + K and Sonic Mania) to enter the special stage, where you essentially use a lock on to swing towards the emerald to collect it. The stage itself was quite fun it must be said. Once you are successful you are granted the power attached to the emerald and a small tutorial to learn how to use it. The tutorial itself explained how to use this power and allowed you to use an example to try it out just the once. Ideally I would have liked a few more attempts at this to get it down in my mind. Unfortunately, I had to waste time in the game demo to work this power out properly. The power in the demo was linked to water and allowed Sonic to climb waterfalls to higher ground/secret areas. Once this clicked it became fairly intuitive to use but being an old school Sonic fan it took me some time to add this idea to the repertoire of abilities Sonic has. That said it was well executed.
Finishing off the demo I made it to act 2 and the boss fight with Robotnik, who appeared in a robot very close to the design of the end boss in Sonic 2. Here he would put up his dukes to bat your attacks off. To deal damage you must wait for an opening and then launch into your attack. In true Sonic 2 style he would fire his hands towards you which would give you an opening to attack as well. After 3-4 hits the first part of this fight is completed and the second phase begins. The robots legs are removed and Robotnik flies around the ground in what was an electrified circle caused by the hands he would use to fire at you. He would then charge at you with Sonic having to dodge out of the way and then look for the opening to attack. Once the boss was destroyed the level was completed and the demo over.
While I didn’t get to play this zone I saw a Jungle themed zone also available in the demo and this really gave me some Sonic CD vibes in terms of the exploration elements of Sonic Superstars, some of which were introduced in the zone I played. That might divide the crowd in some respects but on a personal note I felt this worked really well and they had the balance of speed and exploration pretty much spot on in the level I played.
Another couple of things to note is that the music felt and sounded really good using a mix of some old, familiar sounds with new tracks, with the music fitting the levels nicely. I also saw some really nice little touches – one example being when Knuckles is in a boss fight he throws his hands up in a boxing type stance as if to say bring it on.
Sonic Superstars is a very solid entry into the 2d(ish) Sonic series from what I played. I cannot wait to sit down and play this fully upon release.
Like a Dragon: Gaiden
It is no secret that I have been suffering from what I called Yakuza fatigue recently having completed Yakuza: Ishin in the first half of this year. Don’t get it wrong, the game was great, but it felt like something was missing, things had gone a little bit stale and some changes to the series would be needed in order to reignite that passion I have for these titles. Thankfully, I can safely say LAD: Gaiden seems to have attempted some of this (in the demo slice I played) while retaining all the outlandish quirks of a LAD title.
The demo on offer was a 15 minute slice of a Colosseum type setting on a party boat that very much reminded me of the Shenmue 3 boat DLC in terms of the vibe it gave off. Things kicked off with a small cut-scene explaining why you were on boat, then opening one of the containers to reveal this gambling/fighting den. Once the scene concluded you are immediately thrown into your usual LAD type fight with some random goons. This was a perfect opportunity to try out Kiryu’s new fighting style – agent mode. Here he mixes gadgets with plain punches to the face and it works impeccably. In terms of a refresh of the brawler style fighting the series has this was very much what I was looking for.
You are given opportunity to try each new move (throw a timed bomb, call a drone, charge attack using jets in his shoes or my favourite the spider which fires wires at enemies to restrain and throw them around) before completing the battle as you saw fit. I very much liked the Spider move which allows you to clear opponents quickly, creating space for you to go into one v one brawls or utilise your other gadgets to clear the remaining enemies. The bomb has its hazards in that while it deals a tonne of damage it can also impact you if you are too close when it goes off. The charge move is very much a play on the shift/sidestep but given attacking properties and the drone is hilarious as it flies around bothering opponents for long enough to allow you to smash them in the face. One thing I couldn’t get to work through the demo was the Dragon/Yakuza style fighting. Whether this was my controller or the demo simply not allowing it I don’t know but this would have been interesting to try.
Pictured: Spider in action. Screenshot courtsey of SEGA
Moving off from the initial fight you are then given free rein to try the mini-games, fighting arena and talk to NPC’s as you like. As a Shenmue fan you can probably guess where I ended up… playing some good old fashioned darts! With the fighting arena you are presented with 2 gauntlets to try – each with their own respective challenges. Both were fun to play and showed off the combat in a really good light.
The presentation of LAD: Gaiden is very much in keeping with other titles in the series but felt much snappier in movement when compared to Ishin which used Unreal 4. Gaiden uses what looks to be an improved version of the Dragon Engine and it certainly benefitted from this. With RGG considering whether or not to use Unreal after Gaiden and LAD 8 I would be of the view that they modernise the Dragon Engine as it works superbly for the games. That’s not to downplay Unreal but I feel they have a long way to go to replicate the feel of LAD games in that engine which will take time.
From a 15 minute demo you only gain a small sense of what is to come from this game. But having been able to sample this I am confident in this reigniting the passion I have for the LAD series and look forward to the full game. It does beg 2 questions, would Shenmue 4 look awesome in that engine and why is there not a physical release of Gaiden in the west?! Gaiden releases on 9th November 2023.
Like a Dragon: Infinate Wealth
Easily the longest wait of the day was for the demo of Infinite Wealth. Now, anyone who knows me and the games I play knows that I have never got on with turn-based combat games. They frustrate the hell out of me. So when I took the plunge on Yakuza 7: Like a Dragon it was based on previous entries having such a good story, mini-games and atmosphere that I could overlook the turn-based combat which did invariably annoy me in parts.
That said I was not disappointed in Yakuza 7 and was hopeful that they would have made some tweaks to Infinate Wealth to make the combat more tolerable! Safe to say while it hasn’t gone as far as I would like, the game has made some tweaks which I will go into later.
The Demo itself was a 20 minute slice of what seemed to be an early part of the game. You opened up with a short cut-scene and then straight into the main gameplay loop. This time you are in a totally new area with the game being set in Hawaii and for me this is a hugely positive change. What it gave me was a familiar system but with a whole new setting to explore, people to interact with and mini-games to play. The atmosphere was well captured as you explore the area with you being able to hear American English conversations as you walk (or Segway) down the street. That refresh just lifted the whole thing for me and felt like it gave Kasuga and co a new lease of life while helping cure some of that LAD fatigue I have been getting.
Pictured: Cutscene from announcement trailer. Image Courtsey of SEGA
Helpfully, you are plunged into a fight immediately and this is where the most exciting change came in for me. Yes the system is still turn-based and my ‘issues’ with that will never go away but they addition of Kiryu to the party grants you his special ability, which is to free-roam for a short time during the fight and kick some ass! Now this is a limited power based on his Dragon meter being filled, which is understandable as I would spam the hell out of it otherwise, but what it did for me is add in a new dynamic that I sorely missed in Yakuza 7 having been so accustomed to the brawler style of previous entries. One other immediate fix here is the ability to now move characters around their environments within a small area, providing more control and tactility. Moving next to a chair I selected it to use as a weapon for my next attack. Add in some beautifully captured tag team moves for the party and you have a system there that I can understand its appeal despite not being a personal fan of the format. The fight itself was a formality once I used Kiryu’s free-roam though I did not use this for the other fights I engaged with later on.
Pictured: Turnbased Combat in Infinate Wealth: Image Courtsey of SEGA
Once the fight was complete and having successfully battered all into the ground it was time to explore. Here, I made a conscious choice to not go near the story objective as I don’t want anything spoiled. Again, in true Shenmue fan fashion, I went straight to the mini-games and needless to say they are insane (in a good way) but some may scratch their heads at one of them. The first one I tried was called ‘Sicko-Snap’ which is essentially a Pokemon Snap inspired mini-game, except here instead of snapping Pokemon you ride a trolley tram taking photos of very inappropriately dressed males in order to have them arrested later on. The whole premise and mechanics of this game is explained in a brief tutorial before you embark on your first trolley snapping ride around town. Most of the characters to snap are easy to find but there were a few that would pop up put of bushes, ride across your view on skateboards or be caught in all sorts of misdemeanours. The aim of this game is simple, snap as many of these as you can as best you can. There’s a simple target score to clear the stage and then presumably move onto the next one. This demo only had one stage open. The mini-game works well and I had fun with it overall even if it was slightly bonkers in its nature.
The second mini-game was a food delivery game which when you play it you can immediately feel the Crazy Taxi vibes from. The aim of this is simple, collect food based tokens (Sushi, Burgers, Pizza etc) each with differing values and deliver them to customers based on the number they require. In return you make money for each delivery which equates to points at the end. You pedal around on a bike at speed with varying power-ups and golden tickets which can boost your score multiplier as you go. Also, you can gain more points by performing tricks as you ride around. Luckily, I had tried the tutorial on this before going into the main mini-game but I still felt the tricks felt a little counter-intuitive to pull off in terms of the control scheme though I feel it unfair to judge this on what was a one-time attempt and would love more time with it. Overall it felt like a really fun mini-game and one I can see myself wasting hours on.
Pictured: Delivery Game in Action. Screenshot Courtsey of SEGA
Outside of this it is worth nothing that SEGA have allowed for various Model 3 titles to be available to play in the arcades of the full game which is fantastic for people who have never played these titles but also begs the question as to why they haven’t released a proper Model 3 era package on consoles. Take my money SEGA!
LAD Infinite wealth has a very heavy story with the current set-up of mini-games and entertainment a welcome relief from some of the tough themes that the game will cover. I was really impressed by Infinite Wealth and will be certain to pick this up when it releases (both physically and digitally) on January 26th 2024.