by Ken Gagne

Though it is often first parties such as Nintendo and Sony who host press conferences, when you're a powerhouse like Konami, sometimes your lineup necessitates your own event. Such was the case with Konami's conference at the Los Angeles Public Library in downtown L.A. this afternoon. The amount of food was inversely proportionate to the length of the conference, which went into detail on many games, with three in particular.

First up was Botkai: The Sun is In Your Hands, a Game Boy Advance game and the first game to be sunlight-sensitive. A sensor in the cartridge makes the game aware of the amount of light in which it is being played, so whether you are indoors or outdoors, in a shadow or the open, facing east or west will affect the game, in which you play a vampire hunter. Django, the hero, uses a solar-powered gun which needs constant recharging to face the undead hordes that are weak against both this weapon and natural light. When playing in the dark, vampires are unlikely to be caught asleep in their coffins, and windows will shed no light by which Django may recharge his weapon, though "sun banks" can store energy for nighttime play (or, if you live in Sweden, for those six months of dreary weather). Some trappings of Metal Gear made their way into Botkai, allowing Django to sneak along walls and tap them to draw undead lords from their prescribed patrols. This demonstration was a bit excessive, featuring not only a trailer but also a play-through of the entire first level. I'm unsure if this game's exclusive feature will enhance its fun factor, or prompt gamers into getting a tan, but it is definitely unique.

The second game was Metal Gear Solid: Twin Snakes, the GameCube remake of the original MGS. This update is a collaboration between Hideo Kojima and Silicon Knights, the development team behind Eternal Darkness. Konami's Twin Snakes trailer was the same as the one shown at Nintendo's conference, only with better contrast. Little to no gameplay was shown, only cinematic sequences. The story will remain largely untouched, suggesting only the graphics and some gameplay elements will be updated to the MGS2 engine.

Of course, the third and final game for which we'd all waited outshone Twin Snakes by far. A 12-minute trailer of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater showed us a good deal of gameplay, and very little story. Since Kojima is a master of crafting twisting tales, it is unlikely more will be revealed regarding the plot or its connection with other Metal Gears, prior to the game's 2004 release. This installment returns Snake to the jungle, a setting he's not experienced since the original 8-bit Metal Gear. Though he will occasionally enter buildings, Snake's primary setting is organic, where he can climb trees, swing from branches, hide in and behind logs, and snipe soldiers. A new game engine is being developed to adapt to this new setting — an engine which will be shared by a possible, separate Metal Gear Online game. (online elements in MGS3 as as of yet undetermined) This time around, Snake must hunt and eat to survive, developing tastes for certain beasts the more he eats them — including kinds of fish and, yes, snakes. Harry Gregson-Williams, composer of the soundtrack for the movie "The Rock", returns to provide music for this title.

After a brief intermission, the conference continued with more titles. A stream of brief videos showcased Yu-Gi-Oh; Silent Hill 3; MacFarlane's Evil Prophecy (PS2) which pits players against classic monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein's monster; Cy Girls, based on the action figures; Firefighter F.D. 18 (PS2); Bloody Roar Extreme (Xbox) and Bloody Roar 4 (PS2); Air Force Delta Strike (PS2); K-1 World Grand Prix; Silent Scope Complete (Xbox), a light gun-compatible bundle of the entire trilogy; Gradius V (PS2), which boasts 3D graphics, 2D gameplay, and a new control scheme; and Dance Dance Revolution Ultra Mix (Xbox), which will be Live-compatible, and DDR Max 2 (PS2), which has songs' accompanying music videos.

A deeper examination of the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game was then unveiled. This 3D brawler will be released for all systems in Fall 2003 with one- and two-player modes, both cooperative and versus. It closely resembles the arcade games of yesteryear in which players can choose to be Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, or Raphael, each with unique strengths and abilities.  The voice actors from the new cartoon will be present in the game's cast, while the art style of the cartoon will be preserved and accentuated with Batman-style visual sound effects ("Bam! Pow!"). The control scheme will consist simply of small and large attack and jump buttons, but will allow the turtles to damage enemies with 20- and 30-hit combos. I love the license, but 3D games are all starting to look alike. Will Konami use more than the license to distinguish this title from other beat-em-ups?

Koji Igarashi, producer of Castlevania: Lament of Innocence, then presented us with footage of the PlayStation 2's first entry in Konami's classic series.  This 3D title is set in the 11th century, in the time of the Crusades, and stars Baron Leon Belmont, a knight of the church and the first to take up arms against the dread Count Dracula. This game appears to be story-driven but with much freedom for exploration. Leon will have sub-weapons which can be powered up in a manner similar to Harmony of Dissonance, but will not gain experience points as in Symphony of the Night. When I asked Igarashi-san what will distinguish Lament from Castlevania 64, he gave the right answer: "Everything."

A celebrity guest was then introduced to unveil a surprise title from Konami.  Jennifer Love Hewitt took the stage to sing along with Karaoke Revolution, a PS2 game being released in November. Using the SOCOM headset, Karaoke Revolution detects a player's pitch and timing to give scores, and offers a four-player alternating mode for sing-offs. Thirty-five licensed songs from top artists are included, though hard drive support may make available more.  Several of my compatriots could not imagine why anyone would want to play this game, which surprised me; I have a singing background and imagine this title will be a hit among many of my friends. Time will tell. Jennifer then went on to perform singles from her latest album, "Bare Naked". (Does this mean I can tell her, "I know what you did last E3"?)

An impressive lineup, to be sure, but how did Konami close without a thorough dissection of Silent Hill 3? This unnatural series is extremely good at what it does, and of all the titles Konami has at this year's show, will be coming out sooner than most others, which makes me more eager for it than some far-off 2004 game.

Konami's portfolio this year speaks well of innovation. Castlevania 3D, Metal Gear Solid 3, and Karaoke Revolution will all be trying new formats for established franchises. These experiments will soon bear fruit which I predict will be a bumper crop.

This article is copyright (c) 2003, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Gamebits, 13-May-03