Anyone who has kids and a video game console or gaming PC in the house can tell you summer vacation is prime video game time. Yeah, bemoan their unwillingness to spend more time outdoors or save the world building homes for impoverished third-world citizens. But there’s no denying that children have more time to watch TV or play video games during the summer months.
When, then, don’t more publishers release games in the summer? While it’s true that the average game player is closer to my age (33) than the age of the average high school student, most minors don’t have expenses like mortgages, rent, car payments, insurance or student loans. And many of them work summer jobs to put a little extra disposable income in their pockets. In other words, the light competition of the summer release schedule might make for a great time to debut a new, buzzworthy franchise. And while there are a few games, such as “Wii Sports Resort,” “Batman: Arkham Asylum” and “Madden NFL” due out before September, the summer release schedule still looks pretty sparse.
Luckily, makers of downloadable games seem to be recognizing that the summer months are their chance to break through the clutter. Microsoft is starting its Summer of Arcade arcade promotion, in which high-profile downloadable games are released at the rate of one a week. And Sony just discounted a bunch of older games on the PlayStation Network. Not surprisingly, downloadable games make up the majority of this week’s What to Play list.
“The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition” (rated E10+, $10 Xbox Live Arcade download): Yeah, Summer of Arcade doesn’t officially start until next week, but this reworking of one of the all-time great LucasArts point-and-click adventure games qualifies as a downloadable must-have in my book. (In fact, this game’s glaring omission from Summer of Arcade almost makes me wonder if publishers have to pay to join the promotion or something.) Anyway, you play as pirate Guybrush Threepwood and go on a quest to confront the legendary ghost pirate LeChuck. Hilarity ensues. Because this is a point-and-click game, complete with a hint system, it makes a great title for more casual gamers or nongamers. I goaded my wife into playing this a bit the other night, although she was a little dismayed at the lack of monkeys in the game’s first few minutes.
“NCAA Football 10” (rated E, $60 on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, $40 on PS2 and PlayStation Portable): Not much to say about this one. It’s this year’s college football game. I’m not much of a football fan, but if I were, I’d be one of those folks that alternates each year, buying “Madden” one year, then “NCAA” the next. Interestingly, there have been a couple of lawsuits filed over the “NCAA” series of late, with athletes contending their likenesses are being used in the games without permission. See, you won’t find Florida’s Tim Tebow in “NCAA Football 10,” but you will find a guy who plays quarterback for the Gators, was born in the same state as Tebow and has identical statistics. Given the hundreds of athletes who suit up for Division I schools each year, it’s not unsurprising that a few of them might not want other folks profiting off of their likeness while they get zilch.
PlayStation Network summer sale: There are too many games listed here for my lazy self to describe separately, but a number of PlayStation 3 downloadable games are $5 off until Thursday. Among them are “WipEout HD” (rated E10+, $15), “Savage Moon” (rated T, $5), “Crash Commando” (rated T, $5), “PixelJunk Eden” (rated E, $5), “Brain Challenge” (rated E, $5), and “3 on 3 NHL Arcade” (rated E, $5). Additionally, “Flock!”(rated E) normally $15, is $7.50. If I had to pick one of these, I’d go with racer “WipEout HD” or platform-jumping puzzler “PixelJunk Eden.”
“Sins of a Solar Empire: Game of the Year” edition (rated T, $20 on PC): Shortly after I finish this blog post, I’m buying a PC laptop. For the past few years, I’ve missed out on a ton of PC games, thanks to my computer being a Mac G4 Powerbook that was made right before Apple switched to Intel processors. One of the first games I probably will pick up for the PC is this independent strategy title that received rave reviews when it debuted back in early 2008.
Play It Loud (no rating, $25 Nintendo DS accessory): This isn’t really a game, but Amazon.com has it listed as a new release, and it’s an idea I find kind of intriguing. Basically, Play It Loud is an accessory shaped like the shell of an Xbox or PlayStation controller, with two handgrips. You snap your DS into it, and the D-Pad lines up with about where the D-Pad is on the PlayStation controllers. The face buttons end up right about where face buttons should be. I have to admit, I’m intrigued. One of the biggest obstacles to my enjoyment of DS games is that Nintendo’s handheld just feels too tiny in my hands, which I’d describe as larger than average but not gargantuan. If Play It Loud works as it should, it might be worth checking out for DS games that don’t use the stylus. Of course, $25 seems kind of steep for a piece of molded plastic.
“1 Vs. 100” (rated T, free for Xbox Live Gold members on the Xbox 360): While this excellent quiz show is still in beta, Microsoft started awarding prizes last weekend. I’ve been playing Friday night’s installment as I write this post, while Saturday’s kicks off at 5 p.m. Pacific time. Sunday’s just an extended play session (no live host, no prizes, everyone’s in the Mob), but extended play success reportedly translates into getting picked for the Mob in the live matches. The theme is musicals. In other words, I’d bomb out of I played. Musicals are by far my weakest category. But if you’re a Broadway fiend, things get started at 5 p.m. PDT on Sunday.
What I’ll be playing this weekend: Working again, but I’ll be dipping into “The Bigs 2,” “Arkanoid Live,” “Space Invaders Extreme” and “The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition” in the off hours. Maybe a little bit of “Fallout 3’s” “Point Lookout” expansion, “Culdcept Saga” or “Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers” as well. As I said, I’m playing the “1 vs. 100” beta as I write this. Of course, I can’t keep any prizes I might win for reasons of journalistic integrity, but given that only a couple hundred of the 30,000-plus players tonight will win anything, the chances of that are remote at best.