Thanks to a flu, a vacation and a general lack of free time, it’s been a while since I recapped which new releases I thought looked good. I’ll start with this week’s big game and work my way backward to mid-August, the last time I did one of these. Because I’m covering a five-week period, my chances of overlooking your favorite new game will be greater than usual. Holler in the comments if I left something out you think is worthy of praise.
“Halo: Reach” (rated M, $60, $80 or $150 on Xbox 360, prices depend on edition) [review]: Half the people on your Xbox Live friends list are probably playing the latest first-person shooter from Bungie. The “Halo” games are one of those things some people just can’t get into. If you’re not one of those people, you’ll find “Reach” to be the strongest outing in the series to date.
“Tales of Monkey Island” (rated E10+, on sale for $5 on PC this weekend only): In honor of Talk Like a Pirate Day (Sunday), San Rafael-based Telltale Games has put its episodic follow-up to LucasArts’ classic adventure games on sale for $5 through the end of the day. PC only, though.
PlayStation Move: Sony’s attempt at out-Wii-ing Nintendo hit stores Friday. Based on my limited hands-on time with Move, it’s a more sophisticated technology with what Nintendo has on the Wii, even factoring the Wii MotionPlus add-on into the mix. The problem with Move, which uses a camera and ball-topped controller to achieve what Nintendo accomplishes with accelerometers, is that it doesn’t yet have a game that’s been embraced as a killer app. Families who own both a Wii and a PlayStation 3 may want to hold off until there are games they want to buy. But PS3 owners who haven’t played a ton of “Wii Sports” and “Wii Sports Resort” should have a good time with games like “Sports Champions.” IGN says the latest “EyePet,” an augmented reality game that uses the camera to let you play with a virtual pet, is the best iteration of the game yet.
“Professor Layton and the Unwound Future” (rated E10+, $30 on DS): As with past “Professor Layton” games, you’ll solve dozens of puzzles en route to cracking a greater mystery. Great for on-the-go gaming.
“Guilty Party” (rated E, $50 on Wii): If it’s family mystery-solving you crave, this party game from Disney has four investigators working together (or against each other, if that’s your preference) to solve mysteries. Once you’ve finished the game’s core story mode, Clue-like, variable whodunits keep things fresh. The mysteries are also scaleable in size, for long or quick games, and able to be tailored both to Wii remote savants and nongamers who haven’t quite gotten the hang of waggle-based minigames. I had quite a bit of fun with this game at the Game Developers Conference in February and should be reviewing it in the coming weeks.
“Metroid: Other M” (rated T, $50 on Wii): The latest adventure featuring Nintendo’s iconic lady bounty hunter, Samus Aran, blends first- and third-person action in a way that I didn’t find wholly satisfying back when I previewed the game in February. That said, I’m still excited to tear the plastic off of my review copy and give it a go this week. Early reviews of the collaboration between Nintendo’s regular “Metroid” team and the Team Ninja folks behind the recent “Ninja Gaiden” games have been mixed, but overall somewhat kind. As a fan of games that take creative risks, even ones that don’t work perfectly, I’ll happily play this game with forgiving eyes.
“NHL 11” (rated E, $60 on Xbox 360 or PS3): Electronic Arts’ annual hockey title has earned rave reviews as the best sports title on the market for three years running. This time out, “NHL 11” sports a new physics engine. If you’re looking to play hockey on the Wii, the only game in town is “NHL 2K11,” a game whose motion-capture sessions took place on Snoopy’s Home Ice in Santa Rosa.
“Dead Rising 2: Case Zero” (rated M, $5 download for Xbox 360) [review]: This “demo” for “Dead Rising 2” is a standalone prequel that takes a couple of hours to finish. It introduces protagonist Chuck Greene and sets the stage for the retail title, due out Sept. 28.
“Plants vs. Zombies” (rated E10+, $15 download for Xbox 360): PopCap’s whimsical ower-defense game, already a hit on PC and iPhone/iPad, hit the Xbox 360 last week. While the the gamepad controls won’t work as smoothly as the touch-based ones for the iPad, PopCap softens the blow a bit by throwing in some new game modes.
“Valkyria Chronicles II” (rated T, $40 on PlayStation Portable): This game’s a bit of an oddity because it’s a portable sequel to a game that was a sleeper hit on consoles back in 2008. Because of the downgrade in hardware, the strategic battles reminiscent of tabletop games are a bit simpler, but I’ve found this role-playing game to be satisfying and engrossing in my hands-on time with it. If you, like me, are longing for the series to return to the PS3 or even the Xbox 360, don’t get your hopes up. Sega announced “Valkyria Chronicles III” at last week’s Tokyo Games Show, and it, like II, is on the PSP.
“Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep” (rated E10+, $40 on PSP): I’m not a big Disney movie guy, so I’ve never really gotten the appeal behind Square Enix’s role-playing games mixing the worlds of “Final Fantasy” with those from Disney movies. A review copy of “Birth By Sleep” showed up last week, though, and I’m thinking I’ll try to give it a whirl. At any rate, the “Kingdom Hearts” games always seem to garner decent reviews. I’m curious to see what I’ve been missing.
“Ivy the Kiwi?” (rated E, $20 on DS, $30 on Wii): A mail mix-up meant I had some trouble getting my review copy of this puzzle-style platform-jumping game from the designer of the original “Sonic: The Hedgehog,” but I’m still intrigued. Players use the DS stylus or Wii remote to draw vines on screen to help a baby bird as she tries to find her mom. Folks I know who’ve played both versions swear by the one on the DS. With my copy finally in hand, I’m hoping I’ll get to give it a go soon.
“Mass Effect 2” (rated M, $30 on PC or Xbox 360) [review]: A lot of players finished “Mass Effect 2” disappointed in Commander Shepard’s interactions with Liara T’Soni, a potential love interest from the first game who was hardened, distant and cool upon seeing Shepard in the sequel. The new “Lair of the Shadow Broker” downloadable add-on should give us a greater sense of resolution. “Mass Effect” developers BioWare disclosed in the “Mass Effect Redemption” comic that Liara played a pivotal role in recovering Shepard’s body after he’s killed in the first scene of the sequel, but that she’d done so at a great personal and emotional cost. The new DLC helps resolve that plotline and bridges the narrative heading into “Mass Effect 3.” The download will set you back $10.
“BioShock 2” (rated M, $20 on PC, $40 on Xbox 360 or PS3): The “Minerva’s Den” add-on gives solo players several hours of content for $10. Though you’ll play in “BioShock 2’s” familiar setting of Rapture, you’ll do so as an entirely new character, Subject Sigma. The add-on, which requires the “BioShock 2” disc to play, is set in Rapture’s technology hub, so expect a few new wrinkles.
“Castle Crashers” (rated T, $15 download for PS3): One of the best games on Xbox Live makes it to the PS3 a year later. If it’s four-player hack-and-slash action you crave, it’s hard to do much better than this game from the Behemoth, makers of the “Alien Hominid.”
“Shank” (rated M, $15 for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3): This co-operative beat-’em-up owes a huge debt to classics such as “Double Dragon,” but I really dug the graphic-novel-inspired look when I previewed the game at EA’s media showcase of upcoming games.