A Lombax, a raccoon, and an elf stumble into a nefarious plot the plunges them and their sidekicks into a tournament of champions in Heroes on the Move for the PlayStation 3. Stop me if you heard this one.
Heroes on the Move isn't quite like any other adventure you've been on featuring Jax and Daxter, Ratchet and Clank, or Sly Cooper and Bentley. Each dynamic duo has been plucked out of their time by a mysterious evil pair, forced to battle through 40 different stages in order to win Bronze, Silver, or Gold medals, all the while unlocking the mystery of their strange circumstances.
The first question that comes up, of course, is where is Sly's hippo friend, Murray?
"That is a damn good question," says Sony Computer Entertainment America senior producer Frank Simon, after I ask that very question during our session at GamesCom Yesterday.
"We'll come back to that later," he offers, as Nihilistic Software's assistant game director Simon "Barlos" Barlow says that Murray's fate will be addressed in the game's story. "You're the first person to ask us that," continues Frank, proving once and for all that I care too much about Sly Cooper.
I first got my hands on Heroes on the Move (working title) on Tuesday night, during Sony's large GamesCom press event. I played as Sly Cooper in a game where I had to collect orbs scattered about a stage styled like a city from his trilogy, returning them to a base as robots from Ratchet and Clank and Jak and Daxter tried to take me out. The trick is to gather all the orbs you can at once for a bigger score payout in the end.
It didn't play like any of the three pairs' games. You move with the Move's companion controller, using the Move itself like a melee weapon – in this case, Sly's cane – swinging it back and forth to slash at your foes. Special combination attacks were slowly revealed, making the task easier. At one point I found a computer monitor hidden amongst some barrels. Activating it detonated explosions near enemies on an out-of-reach floating platform, killing them and increasing my score in the process.
Control was a bit jittery, but then this was the second time I played a Move controlled game, the first being Singstar Dance, which hardly counts.
I figured I would see the same gameplay at yesterday's meeting with Sony, but came away pleasantly surprised. While the orb gathering game was shown, so were several others.
Missions are split between those for large characters and those for short characters. In the shooting game we were shown next, players could only pick Daxter, Bentley, or Clank.
Set in a run-down section of the central city from the Jak series, this game sees players using the Move as a gun, pointing and shooting at enemies in an attempt to activate three towers and win the mission. Again the thumb stick provided movement, and the Move controller handled aiming. As you fired your weapon, it slowly overheats. As it overheats the color of the Move ball changes.
It's a small effect, but one that helps bring the game outside of the game, if just a little bit.
The shooting is fast and furious, and I only manage to activate one of three towers before I die. This might have been because of my John Woo-style of holding the Move controller forward and the thumb stick controller back by my face, moving the character with my index finger. It makes you feel cool, while being incredibly ineffective.
The final two levels we were shown involved bowling and Frisbee, of all things.
Both types involved players attempting to kill Lunkheads using various implements of destruction. Pulling back your hand and releasing launched a razor-edge Frisbee that the player can steer, attempting to take out as many floating-heads as possible per throw.
The bowing works similarly, though the levels are designed with rolling in mind instead of flying, with appropriate obstacles in your ball's way. It looked amazingly fun, even if the guy demonstrating it wasn't very good at it.
The gameplay seems like a good time, giving players a chance to revisit their favorite characters without having to invest in a whole new adventure. Insomniac, Naughty Dog, and Sucker are on hand to make sure each character puts his best face forward.
The only problem with the game lies in player's expectations. Nihilistic Software has a lot to live up to, borrowing characters from not one but three different franchises known for their excellence. Appealing gameplay is only the beginning. Heroes on the Move needs laugh-out-loud humor woven into a compelling narrative in order to deliver the total package.
The gameplay is in place, and the characters' original voice actors are having a great time working together. Maybe Nihilistic Software and Sony will pull it off.