Today was SEGA's Editor's Day at their office in San Francisco, CA. We were lucky enough to have been invited, and spent a few hours with some other great bloggers and journalists in the conference room at the SEGA HQ. We got to see the latest build of Sonic 4 for iPhone, the new port of Chu Chu Rocket for the iOS platform, two ports from the Genesis days (Altered Beast and Gunstar Heroes) and a fascinating RTS MMO Freemium game called Kingdom Conquest.
The demos started with Sonic 4 for the iPhone, which, according to the other folks in the room, has improved vastly from the preview shown at E3. Sonic 4 for the iPhone will have all the content similar to the console versions of the game, but will also include two different exclusive iPhone levels, built to take advantage of the special features of the iPhone platform, like the accelerometer. It's fast and 2D and thoroughly Sonic, through and through. The project manager said that the story, while episodic in nature, was a fully formed storyline - with beginning middle and end - with a finite length and breadth. No milking the franchise, here, but a return to the series' roots and a focus on what fans have asked for across the many years. The story takes place right after Sonic and Knuckles, representing a mid- franchise continuity that hasn't been explored yet.
Next up was Chu Chu Rocket, a fan favorite from the SEGA Dreamcast, originally released in 1999. This is a puzzler game, with single puzzle and multiplayer versus battle modes, wherein players must guide the Chu Chus (mice) to the escape rockets, avoiding traps and Kapu Kapus (cats) along the way. The single player has 150 puzzle levels, 25 challenge levels (special task-oriented levels) and 25 battle levels, which can be played with up to four players over WiFi, bluetooth and 3G.
The hands on time with this game saw this editor lose furiously to Andrew P (from Slide To Play) over bluetooth, all due to some poorly placed arrows and those darn cats! The game overall seems fun, retro, and includes cute graphics and voice overs. The graphics have been spruced up from the dreamcast days, and the screen layout has changed to reflect the new device platform. This will be SEGA's first Game Center game, and there will be an iPad version with 4 player on the same screen gameplay.
The two Genesis ports, Altered Beast and Gunstar Heroes, were what we expected -- solid ports of games from SEGA's extensive back catalog. Using the same emulator system s many of their other recent ports, playing these during the hands on time was both nostalgic and frustrating. These games are really tough! Punishing in difficulty, in fact. Altered Beast has players taking the role of a recently revived hero from antiquity, brought back to fight the hordes of the undead at Zeus' command. All the original sounds and graphics are here; if you played this game in the arcade, you'll definitely enjoy this version. Gunstar Heroes reminds me of similar games (MegaMan, anyone?) -- all shooty and frantic, enemies on multiple levels of the screen, firing and focused on your annihilation. Players with good twitch reflexes definitely need apply.
Kingdom Conquest, a real time strategy, MMO hybrid game currently in beta testing in Asia, peaked my interest right away. This is SEGA's first attempt at a freemium model game, with a free to play entry price point and micro-transaction DLC to come. The game seems to have two or three different modes of gameplay, all coming together in a fascinating whole. First off, RTS gamers will recognize the build a city, harvest resources gameplay. This takes place within a World Map that is populated by other real players across the internet. Alliances and collaboration will be required to advance in the game. Think Sim City meets Civilization over the internet.
Raise an army of monsters by conquering towers in the world map, which throws players into a third person dungeon crawler mode, with three different character players to choose from -- barbarian, sword master, and cleric. Upon conquering the five level tower dungeons, players earn monsters to fight for them in larger world map battles.
It's all rather deep and complex, and this editor, at least, is looking forward to Kingdom Conquest in a big way. It's due out this fall, according to the team, and will be free to play, with various items and resources being available via micro-transaction.
Overall, the games look good. SEGA has a solid bunch of iPhone gaming apps for players of all stripe, across classic and new characters and IP. Stay tuned right here for details as they emerge.