What I Learned at Fantastic Arcade: Thursday

or, OMG, I got a new 3-D hat!

Journey: Where's that damn raccoon suit?
Journey: Where's that damn raccoon suit?

The Fantastic Arcade isn’t even running on all cylinders -- no talks, just arcade anarchy so far -- but it's already superior to last year. How the next days’ panels will fare will be interesting, but the caliber of the games is, in my opinion, superior to 2010’s stellar lineup. Here’s a few things I took away from the first day:

The spirit of Fumito Ueda lives on the PlayStation

Two of the most impressive titles I played were part of the PlayStation lounge which showed off the platform’s upcoming downloadable titles. Papo & Yo is the story of a young boy with a vivid imagination, a helpful robot, and a quick-to-anger monster. Set in the unique environs of a South American favela the game looks beautiful and lends it a unique perspective. Why puzzle-platformers insist on being set in magical lands with fluffy clouds is beyond me. The way the characters of Papo & Yo interact -- helping each other by using their unique abilities -- reminded me of Fumito Ueda’s lauded (and soon to be re-released) Ico. Both games put the player in control of a child faced with a dauntingly huge and fantastical world.

Art-game developer Thatgamecompany brings Journey to the arcade. The game has the signature lack of obvious plot and structure that players have come to expect from their previous games Flower and Flow. However, Journey, from the moment the player awakens, presents a dizzying landscape of shifting sands and monolithic stone structures. The architecture and scope of the buildings also felt partly inspired by Ueda’s Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. Despite Journey’s art-game trappings it is deceivingly playable and fun. The lure of the mysterious mountain looming in the distance was enough to keep me traversing the dessert. That and the promise of more jaw-dropping vistas along the way.

Fantastic Arcade can bring out the indie in anybody

Last year, Xbox showed off it’s wares to the Fantastic masses. This year, Sony takes over touting the abovementioned games along with others. The laser-light show of Retro/Grade the shadowy realm of Closure, the austerity of Eufloria, and the Technicolor kiddie-ride Okabu, are just a few. Like last year’s Xbox offerings, the side-by-side-by-side (etc.) non-shooters is a testament to how prevalent indie gaming has come. The locally developed Starhawk, while visually and technically impressive as well as fun, stuck out from the crowd of atmospheric and often impressionistic titles. It’s a testament to Sony’s upcoming releases to say that they manage to make that behemoth of a corporation look just a bit more cuddly.

Fez is awesome

No, seriously, Fez is freakin' awesome.

The HighBall is “Street Pass” heaven

OK, the Nintendo 3DS isn’t changing the face of gaming the way the Wii did. But that doesn’t mean those of us who spent the money to play 3-D games without glasses can’t reap the rewards of our loyalty. The handheld devices are built to recognize other 3DSes and add the respective avatar to the original system. These are called Street Passes, and to date they’ve been kinda hard to come by. I brought my 3DS to the HighBall on a lark and left with four new cyber-friends (and ultimately a new hat for my avatar … woohoo!). That might not sound like much but it doubled my current Street Pass total so, needless to say, I was giddy. Seriously giddy. This is an open call to keep those often maligned hand-held devices on your person and set to accept my virtual friendship.

See you there tomorrow at the Director’s Commentary for locally developed Lost Mars.

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ff2011, FF2011, Fantastic Arcade, Journey, Fez, Papo & Yo, Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Fantastic Fest 2011

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