E3 06: Sega's booth goes Super Sonic

Sega's prickly mascot appears in two new games, and the hyper-real martial artists of Virtual Fighter 5 pack in the fans.

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LOS ANGELES--Sega's booth this year boasts a bevy of gorgeous titles for all three next-gen systems, and almost all are playable. Fittingly, the first thing you see when approaching the booth is three larger-than-life hedgehog statues in blue, black, and white: Sonic, Shadow, and their new comrade from the next-gen Sonic the Hedgehog game, which is playable here on both the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3.

Sega devoted quite a few demo kiosks to Sonic, which drew large lines. Sonic Rivals for PSP is next to its next-gen big brother, and anyone that plays either of the Sonic games on offer receives a T-shirt emblazoned with "Sonic the Hedgehog: 15th Anniversary," a nice tribute to this classic franchise, which first launched for the Genesis in 1991.

One of the other big draws here is Virtua Fighter 5. Though the game is coming to the PS3, it was only present in its arcade incarnation. Two units are set up back-to-back, linked up for head-to-head fighting, and there's a line of people waiting to try out the slick moves on the latest installment in Sega's iconic fighter series. There are some fiercely lopsided matches--Sega's E3 booth is definitely not the place to learn to play this game.

There is a lot of eye candy in Sega's booth. The Chromehounds demo for the 360 is set up for four-on-four team play, and as mech after mech dies a fiery death onscreen, lots of furrowed brows and fierce concentration on the new, unfamiliar game can be seen. Full Auto 2 for the PS3 is also available, and it's drawing a healthy group of gamers with its head-to-head auto combat.

Sega is displaying just one PC game, but it's one of the more anticipated titles for the platform. A life-size statue of a mounted knight draws attention to the Medieval II: Total War section of the booth, where there are playable demos of the latest installment in the award-winning RTS series.

Though its history isn't as long as Sonic's, Super Monkey Ball is almost as recognizable, and the latest additions to the series are on display here. Super Monkey Ball Adventure is playable for the PS2, PSP, and the GameCube, and a gameplay video of Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz for the Wii is playing on a large, prominently displayed flat panel. It would be nice to have a playable demo as well, but Nintendo has kept a tight leash on its new console. The only way for showgoers to get their hands on a Wii is to wait in the gargantuan line at the Nintendo booth.

Sega has a long history of sports titles, and that heritage continues here, with soccer, tennis, and pool titles all on display. Virtua Tennis 3 is playable for the PS3, while World Pool Championships, a pool sim for the Xbox 360, and Let's Make a Soccer Team, a soccer club management sim, are close by.

Sega's games for current-generation consoles are receiving markedly less attention than its next-gen offerings. Though the already-released Japanese version received positive reviews, Yakuza for the PS2 is drawing few showgoers to its gritty action gameplay. Also, despite its hallowed ancestry, Phantasy Star Universe is also going relatively unnoticed.

For a gamer, one of the best parts of this booth is actually not a game: it's the glass case of merchandise and memorabilia by the side of the booth's reception desk. After all, what gamer wouldn't want a stuffed Sonic to call their own?

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