In a sense, the very title of the Tokyo Game Show might be construed as a misnomer.
The conference actually takes place in the cavernous halls of Chiba's Makuhari Messe convention centre, more than an hour's travelling time from the neon and skyscrapers of Japan's capital. But this year, with Sony and Microsoft going head to head, it seems apt that the city that attracted no less than Godzilla's attention should, in name at least, host two gaming behemoths before their new consoles launch in November.
Sony, at its home fixture, chose to make the most of the event and the record number of more than a quarter of a million people who attended. An intriguing opening was the demonstration of the new PlayStation app, which will go live in November. Designed to operate on Android or iOS devices, it will allow players to connect by sharing invitations and content but also act as a second screen, similar to the Wii U tablet or Xbox SmartGlass, not only to enhance the play on the console but also to access different forms of gameplay. It looked like fun, but, as always, how it is developed will be crucial.
Hardware rumours about the PlayStation 4 were also cleared up, with confirmation that the PS4 camera, which will not ship with the device (keeping the price down), will allow voice and gesture controls to be used. How it will work in gaming terms seems yet to be determined. Sharing game footage through HDMI will also be made available in the future, which will be popular with gamers who post action online, but for the throngs of otaku (geeks) and costumed players it was the new software that proved irresistible.
The decision to allow an inexpensive upgrade to purchasers of the PS3 versions of Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, Battlefield 4, Call of Duty: Ghosts and Watch Dogs (all drawing crowds at the show stand) for the next-gen iterations will doubtless be popular and contribute to the 5m PS4s the company expects to sell by the end of the financial year. More intriguing was the company's reiteration of its dedication to indie developers, visualised in the press conference by a large pixelated heart. It was ably demonstrated in a hands-on with Hohokum (out 2014), a non-linear visual feast, at once relaxing and playful, that draws the player in with its explorative gameplay. Sony is convinced that indie titles can sell consoles and certainly it should be admired for trying. Hohokum is unlikely to attract headlines but is as pleasing an alternative to staring down the sights of an assault rifle as might be imagined.
Elsewhere of interest to UK gamers was the unveiling of the new slimline PS Vita, a lighter upgrade (release in Britain to be confirmed) and the PS Vita TV (currently to be released in Japan only). This phone-size device runs Vita, PSP and PS1 games via a DualShock controller on a TV, but will also stream PS4 or Vita games to a different TV on a home network.
Microsoft's show was more low key, although its display offering Japanese fans hands-on experience of many next-gen titles for the first time did good business. With the Xbox One suffering from changes in philosophy earlier in the year, the focus here was firmly on software, and outside the already announced big-hitters such as Fifa 14 and Call of Duty there was new gameplay on show for Crimson Dragon, which appears to be ticking all the right boxes for fans of on-rails dragon shooters, and also for Dead Rising 3, the latter looking particularly riotous and enjoyable in co-op mode.
While both were impressive, what caught many attendees' attention was Dark Dreams Don't Die (or D4), an episodic adventure game exclusive to the Xbox One from Hidetaka Suehiro, (popularly known as Swery65) who made Deadly Premonition. Here was the innovation and experimentation the new generation deserves. Controlled by Kinect (although also playable via a controller) using a point-and-click and voice-activation method, this is a stylistically unique, bizarre game and although unlikely to crack the mainstream, it suggested a willingness to take these consoles somewhere new. Proving that, pummelled by the noise of dozens of franchises all competing to offer variations on themes well-trodden that could, no doubt, be heard back in Tokyo itself, sometimes there really is something to be said for staying on the margins.
Best in show
Deep Down (PS4) Hugely atmospheric dungeon-based action adventure. There's hacking and slashing and some poking too if the demo level was anything to go by, but most importantly it looks fabulous, genuinely next-gen and will be free to play on release.
Hohokum (PS4) Why guide a curious snake creature to release a little character who then rides its tail while endeavouring to collect a pine cone-like item? So the character can be deposited and turn the pine cone into a kite, of course. All of which with no instruction or purpose. Glorious.
Space Qube (App) This simple space shooter allows you to design your own vehicle through manipulation of a simple pixel grid, so anything at all can be the spacecraft – and they can then be 3D-printed into a hard copy, too.
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII (PS3, Xbox 360) An open and explorable world coupled to a more action-based battle system and some outstanding new costumes for protagonist Lightning look like a winning combination in this third and final entry in the Final Fantasy XIII canon.
Dead Rising 3 (Xbox One) Much bludgeoning but little wit resulted in a less than enthusiastic response for the zombie-basher earlier in the year, but closer inspection reveals the inventive humour and consequently the game's playability has risen from the dead before launch.
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image: © Hideyuki Kamon