CAPTIVATE 08: Bionic Games reveals original Wii exclusive, Spyborgs

You may not recognize the name Bionic Games, but sure you’ll know the titles members of the studio have worked on — Resistance: Fall of Man, World of Warcraft, Ratchet and Clank, just to name a few. The recently formed team based out of North Hollywood, California sure has a lot of experience behind them, and they hope to bring it all together in their first title, the Wii exclusive, Spyborgs.

Noting that the Wii is a machine good at being a social gaming machine, Capcom’s Daryl Allison explains that the Spyborgs experience is all about cooperation and teamplay. As a team of five bionic superspies, players will team up to take on a nasty group of evil supervillians. Taking cues from television programming like that found on “Adult Swim” and popular Pixar films like Shrek, Bionic Games hopes to make a title that’s fit for a wide age-range. 

“Most of the stuff on the Wii has been ports or mini-games,” Allison told us. “It was important for us to make an ‘actual game,’ [and] something that gamers would want to play.”

Still early in development, Capcom and Bionic Games showed us a sneak peak at Spyborgs at CAPTIVATE last week. More details after the jump.  

Spyborgs is a third-person action-adventure, broken up into team-based levels (or episodes) where players will control one of the five members of a team: Kinetic, Stinger, Voxel, Clandestine, and Bouncer. Each hero will have his or her own special abilities, with areas tailored for to compliment each player individually.

In the live press demonstration, we were shown Kinetic and Bouncer in action. Kinetic is your almost-too-typical extreme sports stereotype, riding a hoverboard and tossing discs as he quickly zaps around around the screen. Bouncer, on the other hand, is a big, ape-like robot; slow but powerful, creative director Mike Stout calls him “a rampaging death machine with a heart of gold.” (In other words: strong, but stupid.)

The first level we’re shown is a sewer level, complete with bionic piranha fish, a teddy bear covered in raw sewage, a sentient goldfish in a robot body, and — wait for it — flying alligators with rocket packs. The look and feel of the game definitely has an Insomniac Games Ratchet and Clank vibe, and it’s not just a coincidence; many members of the team worked directly on that series for many years. (Early concept art was done by artist Sean Galloway, who dictated the overall look and feel of the final product.)

The action looks fun and frantic, with Bouncer smashing down walls that Kinetic can’t pass, and Kinetic using his speed and agility to hop on switches to open gates. The keyword here is team work, and Stout and Allison (with Wii remote and nunchuck in hand) are trading off abilities to get the job done. Gameplay wise, it looked a bit typical for the Wii; Stout demonstrates Bouncers punching by alternately shaking the Wii remote and nunchuck to unleash punishing combos.

Because Bionic Games have their eye on making Spyborgs feel like an authentic Saturday morning cartoon experience, they’ll be sprinkling interactive commercials throughout the game. These mini-games will often be competitive, and the first one we were shown is a commercial for “Nuke ‘Em Now Robots,” a competitive robot boxing game. While I appreciated what they were trying to do (maintain the pacing and authenticity of a television show), what I saw was troubling — Stout and Allison were just wiggling their controllers frantically.

When the commercial ended, we were introduced to a new area, a rail shooter where you rode a giant monster truck through a river of sewage. One player (in this case, the one controlling Bouncer) was responsible for the movement of the truck and threw tires, while the other simply aimed and fired at enemies.

When this area was cleared, we were treated to another commercial, one where one fish lamented about his “poo troubles” to another. The two fish, of course, were sitting in a pile of raw sewage … carrying banjos. The mini-game here is rhythm-based and once again competitive, with the objective to shake the Wii remote in time with the song to score more points than your opponent.

Finally, Stout and Allison demonstrated a boss battle, a maniacal toy maker with an evil teddy bear on a floating shark-shaped pirate ship. Again, this looked to be on rails, with Bouncer and Kinetic circling around the ship and tossing projectiles at its generators and cannons.

It’s a way too early to pass final judgment on Spyborgs, so I won’t. But I have to be honest that some of what I saw had me a bit worried. For one, while I appreciate the variety in the types of gameplay Bionic Games is striving for, I’m concerned that they’ll all boil down to repetitive and stale Wii remote waggling. I’m all for new and original ideas, it’s hard not to get the impression that we’re looking at a slick IP wrapped around a “typical” Wii title.  

Secondly, while the “commercial interruptions” is an interesting idea (and could work if integrated properly), it’s hard to understand how they’ll work in the context of the game. We were told that the commercials would help flesh out the game’s world, tie directly into the story line, or even explore specific characters. But why jump from cooperative gameplay to seemingly mindless head-to-head mini-games? Bionic Games gave no indication that there would be a pay off (for instance, would the winning player receive a power up for the next stage?), so I’m not sure what the player’s motivation to participate would be.

The humor seems to be a bit all over the place, too, and it’s kind of hard to tell exactly who the Spyborg’s audience is. On one hand you have an aesthetic that’s pleasing to all ages, but skews towards a younger demographic. On the other, what we saw was riddled with poo humor and jokes that I’d hesitate to let my own child hear.

The team are clearly very early in the development process, so it’s entirely possible Bionic Games are still feeling their way around the IP. What’s already there has potential to be an interesting, impressive original title if it’s fleshed out properly. With all of the experience the Bionic Games team has, there’s no doubt we’ll see tons of improvement before Spyborgs ships in 2009.

Nick Chester