Tokyo Game Show (TGS) 2006

New excitement, new sensations, a new generation… Officially, that was theme of this year’s Tokyo Game Show (TGS) 2006, held Friday, September 22 through Sunday, September 24 at the city’s massive Makuhari Messe convention center.

Oddly enough though, general consensus at the event if you asked consumers was as follows. Despite the impending November 17th and 19th launches, respectively, of Sony’s PlayStation 3 and Nintendo’s Wii, the time to toss your current console in favor of a mandatory system upgrade isn’t necessarily at hand. Even if, of course, everyone does agree that some truly bad-ass titles are coming for all platforms, with a whopping 569-plus eye-opening digital diversions showcased at the event.

Still, although the convention drew a record attendance of 192, 411 enthusiasts and industry insiders eager to lay hands on the machines (May’s Electronic Entertainment Expo hosted 60,000 by comparison), most were strangely nonplussed. Of over half a dozen individuals we personally polled, few showed much enthusiasm for the new systems, instead vowing to take a wait-and-see approach to the impending console wars. Only experts such as Yahoo! Video Games contributor Russ Fischer and IDC analyst Billy Pidgeon exhibited true enthusiasm for upcoming set-top debuts, and even then cautioned against rushing to make a purchase.

Outside
Entry

Not that we blame them. Any event (even the kind which played host to a veritable sweat-drenched sea of humanity) kicked off by a bizarre, meandering keynote such as the one offered by Sony Computer Entertainment Japan head Ken Kutaragi is bound to be something of a non-starter.

Among featured revelations: The $499 20GB PlayStation 3 model will now feature an HDMI port – previously exclusive to the 60GB edition – and retail for 49, 980 yen (around $426), a drastic drop from its previous 62,790 ($536 or so) price point. (Sorry – no cost savings announced for the North American market yet.) What’s more, the machine’s online networking capabilities offer the potential to support vast databases of externally-compiled digital content (e.g. satellite-mapped terrain data and 3D car models provided by other industries), thereby freeing game makers to focus on creative, not technical, aspects of product engineering and design.

Via the magic of shared computing, which lets users link their systems’ CPUs during downtime to accomplish complex processing tasks, the company also hopes to do its part towards eradicating incurable disease. (See, Mom – we told you playing Resistance: Fall of Man could help stamp out cancer.)

In short, what can we say?

It’s not like Microsoft, who announced at a September 19 press conference that its optional, external Xbox 360 HD-DVD drive would debut November 22 in Japan for around 19,800 yen ($170 US), was exactly bringing the heat either. Still, some major news for home theater enthusiasts was forthcoming: A software update that introduces 1080p game, video and HD-DVD playback – available out of the box with PlayStation 3 – is additionally planned for fall. Several high-profile game launches are in the making as well, including the classic Yie Ar Kung Fu, coming exclusively to Japan’s version of Xbox Live, as well as multiple role-playing outings like Blue Dragon, Lost Odyssey, Trusty Bell and Infinite Undiscovery. Start brushing up on your kanji and getting those credit cards ready now…

Xbox 360 Booth
Xbox 360 Booth

In an amusing turn, Nintendo proved a veritable no-show, as did Wii, with less than a dozen titles displayed on the show floor. You know something’s fishy when the hottest interactive outing being highlighted is Elebits, a kid-friendly game of hide-and-seek in which you use the console’s motion-sensitive controller to find the eponymous, cute little antennae-touting creatures by lifting, tugging and pulling on everyday household objects.

Elebits
Elebits for Nintendo Wii

Strangely, for a device whose biggest centerpieces temporarily included so-so looking arcade-style romp Sonic and the Secret Rings and quirky puzzler cum party game Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz, it was the one unit that really seemed to resonate with fans. While highly unscientific – we simply grabbed anyone who looked like they spoke English and asked away – our random survey of attendees indicated that more than a few enthusiasts are psyched for the console’s launch.

Apart from Libe Goad, senior editor at AOL Games, who remains dubious that people will buy into the whole motion-tracking gimmick – and yes, that’s precisely what she expects it’ll be viewed as – most folks’ anticipation surrounding the system’s unveiling appears to be at an all-time high.

Make no bones about it, however: PlayStation 3 was the belle of the ball. With a bigger booth, more mindshare and greater physical presence than any competitor, Sony’s hyper-powered console – even if its ultra high-end hardware specs were charmingly described as "overkill" by Kutaragi – made quite an impression.

Pink Playstation 2 and PSP
Ahhh…how cute!

End-users dig the graphics. Editors love the selection of upcoming titles, including Devil May Cry 4, Metal Gear Solid 4, Genji: Days of the Blade, MotorStorm and Ridge Racer 7. Even we were stoked by a private presentation at the PlayStation Lounge – a combination bar, restaurant and product showroom located high within an otherwise innocuous Tokyo office building – of the machine’s PSP-style cross media bar interface.

MotorStorm
MotorStorm

Resistance
Resistance

Truth be told, the system had a better showing than ever – games finally looked an order of magnitude, albeit not necessarily one of revolutionary scope, beyond what’s available for existing platforms. So the problem here isn’t with performance; it’s that enthusiasts just can’t get over that whopping $500-$600 price tag. Not to mention, in their own words, the apparent fact that there’s no killer app, or major functional enhancement, which has yet been announced that would demand an immediate upgrade.

Many titles such as Gran Turismo HD, arriving in Japan this winter and the U.S./Europe in 2007 as a game of two online-enabled halves (Premium, introducing 60 new cars including Ferraris and three new tracks, and Classic, which revamps 770 previously utilized autos and 51 courses for high-definition output) – drew raised eyebrows. But whether it’s enough to sell out the system’s recently scaled-back, 400,000 unit-strong initial manufacturing run in America, only time will tell…

Kazunori Yamauchi
Kazunori Yamauchi

Gran Turismo Demonstration
Gran Turismo HD Demonstration

Gran Turismo Simulator
You would love to ride in this baby eh?

Enough Playstation 3's?
I will take 3 please!

Otherwise, a few key titles touted at the event you need to know about:

Lair
From:
Sony
For: PlayStation 3

A gorgeous game of high-stakes ground-based and aerial combat that places you atop the back of a fire-breathing dragon and lets would-be heroes claw, bite and belch away. Using the PlayStation 3’s motion-sensitive controller, it’s possible to fly through the sky and rain death down upon fellow sulfur-spitting lizards or armies of opposing knights and minotaurs just by tilting your wrists.

Lair
Lair for Playstation 3

 

Virtua Fighter 5
From: Sega
For: PlayStation 3

Wham, bam, thank you ma’am – the world’s most acclaimed series of one-on-one tactical brawlers strikes back, letting you go toe-to-toe with friends or computer-controller foes using mixed martial arts maneuvers. A stunning conversion of the popular arcade game, it’s also a guaranteed showpiece for HDTV-owning videogame fans.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma
From:
Tecmo
For: PlayStation 3

Asian assassin Ryu Hayabusa strikes back, leaping into action once again in the latest in the long-running series of popular – and gratuitously visceral – sword-swinging and karate-kicking action-adventures. Audiences were treated to a gripping trailer which showed the blade-wielding badass making short work of burly thugs and evil beasties alike. We can’t wait to see this slick puppy in motion…

Lost Planet
From: Capcom
For: Xbox 360

Lock and load, soldier… Here, it’s man vs. giant insect atop a stunning sci-fi backdrop of cold, futuristic wastelands in a game of furious battles waged on-foot or from within the confines of a high-tech robotic suit. The tale’s notable primarily for its intense melees and enemy design that borrows more than a little heavily from Starship Troopers.

Dead or Alive Xtreme 2
From: Tecmo
For: Xbox 360

Strictly for the closet pervert in us all. Watch scantily-clad 3D renderings of nubile young women participate in a variety of mini-games from volleyball to jet-ski racing and tug-of-war contests. It’s pretty much just an excuse (albeit darn good one) to watch bikini-clad babes jiggle.

Dead or Alive Xtreme 2
Dead or Alive Xtreme 2

And that, as they say, dear readers, is a wrap (especially for those of us still recovering from the monster jetlag and sensory overload which accompanied a 13-hour transcontinental flight and impromptu visit to world-famous electronics district Akihabara.)

Stay tuned for more next year: Tokyo Game Show 2007 has already been announced for next year, starting on Friday, September 21. Shoot us now. Or should we say: We can hardly wait!

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