We're having an unapologetic love affair with Platinum Games at the moment. We've lapped up everything they've ever released, from Viewtiful Joe (back when the company were known as Clover Studio under Capcom's remit) to MadWorld, Infinite Space, Bayonetta and Vanquish, each game providing a sensational masterclass in how to do its genre justice. I.e. featuring incredibly slick controls, insanely brilliant action, outrageous set pieces and more wailing guitars than you can shake a Satriani at. They're even willing to share their expertise in creating unbelievably rad games with others, taking the reins from Kojima and co to transform the once-shaky Metal Gear Rising into the gloriously OTT and phenomenally impressive Revengeance.
And yet, their most important game of E3 received short shrift. Nintendo didn't mention it in their overlong press conference. It was practically invisible on the show floor. But running on a sole console behind Nintendo's VIP booth lay one of the most exciting titles of the entire show: a totally unique Wii U exclusive boasting exciting new mechanics, viewtiful artwork, anarchic humour and a totally new take on cooperative gaming. That's primed and ready for launch.
Project P-100 may be a working title, but my goodness, it's working.
Standing between the Earth and an alien invasion, players need to rally an unlikely team of B-List superheroes to beat them back and save the day in an isometric free-roaming beat 'em up. In stark contrast to the usual square-jawed paragons of goodness we usually see from the genre, you'll have access to such goofy failures as Bonzai Man, Train Set Man (who wears a working train set as a hat), Vending Machine Man and an overweight goon in a Santa outfit. Our personal favourite had to be Toilet Bowl Man, whose epic superpower is to, erm, wear a toilet like a suit of armour. This breezy and anarchic humour was the perfect antidote to the overly serious ultraviolence other developers filled their booths with, and is likely to make players giggle uncontrollably. I certainly did.
As you freely roam through the city, you'll swell your roster by subsuming idle heroes or panicking civilians by circling them with the Gamepad, creating a clamouring horde of wannabe saviours. This may sound slightly reminiscent of Pikmin, but instead of controlling a single hero, players control the entire group as a cohesive whole, who move, attack, block and dodge as a single character. Platinum's experience with Bayonetta is plain to see after engaging some of the enormous aliens in combat, with the group kicking and punching in perfectly-timed unison, attacking in the responsive, tactical rhythm we'd expect from a hardcore Japanese brawler. Seeing each hero's unique animations contribute to a single attack is a sight to behold, and shows off an impressive level of detail and unbridled personality.
Dodging and blocking taps into one of P-100's most important new features: the Morph Powers. When blocking, the gaggle of heroes instantly link together to form a durable jelly-like mass, which can be directly steered while deflecting enemy attacks. Just as impressively, dodging instantly converts your superhero cluster into a giant spring, which requires a very different, floaty set of mechanics to control, but allowing players to quickly cancel back into an aggressive offence. This responsive and dynamic balance between attack and defence typifies truly great brawlers, and P-100 certainly channels the greats.
Morph Powers provide more than just your traditional combat options, however. By dragging some simple patterns on the Gamepad touchscreen, players can form their team into an enormous ray-gun to deliver powerful ranged destruction, a massive fist to slam and stun enemies or a titanic vorpal sword. Again, it's a thrill to watch your team stumble and scurry to take their positions, and even more satisfying to see the end result. Though it wasn't available in the demo, heroes can even form into hang-gliders, taking to the air and flying around the enormous explorable environs. This mix of millisecond-perfect brawling with hilariously silly and unique attacks is set to make P-100 distinct from practically any game out there, similar yet entirely different to Pikmin, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, Bayonetta and Earth Defence Force.
Puzzles are set to feature alongside the action, and will challenge players to use the touchscreen and Morph Powers to advantage. Enormous cranks can be operated with the Fist formation, for example, its motion guided by judicious use of the Gamepad. And up to four players will be able to control their own teams, potentially making for some of the most riotous co-op we've ever seen on consoles.
The art style will doubtlessly win over any potential holdouts, being as Platinum are paying homage to Viewtiful Joe with a vibrant colour palette and adorable, super-deformed characters. Your colourful heroes are matched by some shiny aliens and titanic bosses, some of which take up an entire screen and dwarf entire city blocks. In raw graphical terms, P-100 is also looking mighty fine indeed, bolstering its simplified style with a pleasing level of detail and smooth animations for the dozens of on-screen combatants.
In short, then, Platinum Games are giving the Wii U what it needs: a colourful, accessible yet perfectly-formed exclusive stuffed with originality and depth. Though P-100's name will almost certainly change before launch, we hope that its gameplay stays true to the exceptional preview build. With Platinum at the reins, we don't doubt it for a second.