Next week, E3 will be showing off triple-A titles in the hopes that gamers take the leap with next gen consoles this holiday season. I've had some hands-on time with The Order and The Evil Within, both of which are making 2015 seem too far away. For now, though, here are this year's recommended titles that I'm losing many hours to, and a few I survived so you don't have to.
1. If You Wanna Learn About Driving (and Dating)...
BUY THIS: Mario Kart 8
The "8" in the title is shaped like a race track; one that if tilted ever so slightly points to infinity and beyond, fittingly since I feel like I've been a fan of this racer forever. (In reality, it's been 22 years!) Getting away from the overly busy style of Nintendo's less charming Double Dash, Kart 8 puts the focus back on learning the numerous racetracks. There are still plenty of turtle shells for Bowser to knock opponents out with, still tons of mushrooms to make Princess Peach faster, as well as some new additions. My favorite new ability that pops up with that ever-familiar slot machine style allows the player access to all eight (get it?) powers at the same time. I also loved doling out my boomerang flower - on the rare occasion that I got one.
Vehicle customization has plenty to offer although this is (mostly) just cosmetic. Then again, I do love my tricked-out, gold-rimmed red motorcycle I made for Yoshi.
The layout of the game hasn't changed much, which is a good thing: you can choose single player, multiplayer, single online, multi-online. There's the grand prix, single race, and battles. You also have the now standard three speed CC options: 50 is slowest, 100 medium, 150 fastest. As you make your way through the campaign you'll unlock customizations, new levels and characters. There are 32 characters in all, although "Golden Daisy" is pushing it, creatively.
From a pure gameplay perspective, online works great with little to no lag. The lack of chat functions (except in lobbies) as well as a few other limitations are minor annoyances. Honestly, I didn't play online that much. I like finishing the Grand Prix mode most of all. Second to that is playing with three other friends in my living room a la old school split-screen. What's kinda strange is that you have numerous controller options (Wiimote, Pro Controller, Gamepad), but you can't change the button layout. Really? Pulling the trigger would have been much preferred to hitting A.
When playing single player, Kart 8 looks gorgeous. The colors pop in HD (the Wii U's greatest asset has been seeing all my favorite Nintendo characters finally in HiDef) and runs at a super-smooth 60 frames per second. Multiplayer drops the frames to 30, but it's fine.
The biggest changes are with the anti-gravity sections. I'm not talking about flying through the air as Mario uses a hang-glider to land safely. I'm talking about the wheels of your kart glowing blue and turning sideways so that the vehicle levitates for a brief period of time. Here your strategy for taking out fellow racers changes, since a bump, if timed right, can now give them a boost. Wario Stadium has the best use of anti-gravity, while other race tracks use it minimally.
Speaking of tracks they all look stunning, but even better they're the kind eye candy one can't wait to dive into. Also, I'm not sure when Kart 8 was in development, but one track in particular looks a lot like Vanellope von Schweetz's Sugar Rush from Disney's Wreck-It Ralph, which is awesome since that scene was an obvious homage to Mario Kart.
Mostly, though, Mario Kart 8 is the same fun, same profiling-based game I've loved my entire gaming life. I just wish my skills maneuvering each character translated into my real dating life. Oh, unlockable Rosalina - ever the hipster chic - why are you so hard to figure out? Don't mind me, I'll just be in the corner hanging with my loser mates Luigi and Toad ordering more IPAs.
NOT THIS: Forza Motorsports 5
I know, this seems unfair since the Forza series is more akin to a sim racer like the Grand Turismo series, but I'm saying avoid this because a) Kart is just the tops and b) the next - and most assuredly even better Forza is coming later this year, Forza Horizon 2.
2. If You Dig Strange Atmospheric Tales...
BUY THIS: Child of Light
The indie side-scroller movement has delivered plenty of unforgettable titles, and my favorite is Play Dead's Limbo. (Ubisoft is hardly a small kickstarter company, but never mind that.) Child of Light follows in the well-trodden footstep of Metroid, though in the 2D world of games, is there any title that doesn't somewhat owe a debt to Samus Aran's adventures? With a beautiful watercolor look that's accompanied by rhyming poetic dialogue, CoL is a wonderful twist on the save the princess trope. Like in Metroid (spoiler alert from the '90s!), the lead character is female. Here, little girl Aurora is out to save her father.
It takes place in 1895 Austria, after Aurora falls into a deep sleep and she finds herself in the mythical world of Lemuria which is ruled by the Dark Queen.
In a clever addition to an already memorable platformer, the game's action is turn-based timed RPG. Like Okami, Aurora's strength comes from her ability to bring light to the world as she restores the balance of nature. This allows Aurora (and the companions she meets along her journey) to level up with easy to understand skill trees.
It's a memorable title that doesn't overstay its length, and the co-op feature is also a nice bonus.