Format: 360, PS3
Release: October 22
Developer: Platinum games
A game tester’s chair typically has several previous owners, and is always found among others of its kind. In an average studio it’s typically joined by a half-decent TV and maybe a pair of headphones. At the office of Platinum Games, the testers’ chairs are different. As well-engineered as Sam Gideon, the hero of the studio’s latest project, Vanquish, they face high-end flatscreen displays, surrounded by full 5.1 audio systems. It may seem like a little detail, but details are important when you want your next game to sell millions.
Platinum Games bears expectations that come from its founders’ pedigrees, whether that’s Hideki Kamiya and Shinji Mikami’s separate reigns on Resident Evil, or the blooming of Clover with Okami, Viewtiful Joe and God Hand. The studio is now four years old, about to release its fourth game (the last to be published by Sega under the companies’ current deal), and the past year has seen it deliver a 10 that we didn’t quite see coming in the form of Bayonetta, along with Infinite Space, a DS game of serious depth that rarely leaves the cartridge slot.
Platinum is no ordinary developer, and impossible to pigeonhole. Let’s return to those seats for a moment. The swish setup might suggest a studio obsessed with optimal playing conditions, yet you can change the size of Vanquish’s subtitles to better suit SDTVs. There’s that lineup of star development names – and then there’s the studio itself, where Atsushi Inaba and Hideki Kamiya sit among all the other employees at boringly normal desks. Platinum will make a fathoms-deep game like Bayonetta, and put in a casual mode so everyone can see the best bits. It’s a creative philosophy that clearly works, and any egos here are extraordinarily well hidden.
Masterminding all of that is executive director and producer Inaba. Involved in games as diverse as Phoenix Wright and Steel Battalion, and a key figure in Clover’s titles, he’s a stirring mix of ambition, common sense and idealism. Inaba’s manner is usually aloof, but today he’s a genial host (we suspect industry events don’t suit his temperament) ready to enthuse at length about Vanquish, and its place in the context of a major issue for Japanese developers: Japanese players.
“It’s right to think we made this game for the west,” says Inaba, “but not like MadWorld.” An early testing ground for Platinum’s talents, MadWorld was a Wii-exclusive brawler with stunning looks but repetitive battling – and duly took home a 6 in E201. “With that we just forgot about the Japanese market altogether to focus on the west. With Vanquish we didn’t forget about Japan – it’s still somewhere in our mind, even if the game looks very much overseas-oriented.” But the seesaw is definitely lower on one side. “If you give too much importance to the Japanese market there is a strong chance then the game won’t appeal to the west. So the choice is clear. We focus on overseas for the obvious reason, while not necessarily forgetting about Japan.”
That’s practical: the shooting genre has simply never had the appeal in Japan that it holds in the west. “It’s due to what I see as a negative trend. Japanese gamers did not feel the need in the past to buy imports and play them. In sharp contrast, overseas users imported a lot. I think overseas users and developers have for a long time had a wider and more complete view of gaming. Shooters remained minor in Japan. Yoge [‘foreign game’] quickly came to equal shooting games. At the same time, Yoge equals difficult, which means shooters equals Yoge equals ‘too difficult for me’. And to be honest, very few people know about Gears Of War or Mass Effect or even Call Of Duty in Japan.”
Part of that is a lack of familiarity with, or appetite for, western settings (such as a ‘realistic’ modern war), and Inaba goes on to list reams of characteristics that qualify Vanquish’s scenario to address this problem: to paraphrase, it’s because he’s a lone hero with a cool robot suit. A more interesting quality, and one shared with Bayonetta, is an insistence that anyone be able to play the game without worrying about being good at it.
“The action side is very strong, it’s not just a pure shooter, and casual automatic mode makes the game experience very accessible if need be. If we can combine the right visuals and the right setting, we know we can achieve something in Japan. People look at the game and feel it is cool and fun, and want to try it. If they like what they play, they may want to try other shooters. I’d love Vanquish to be that trigger.”