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
“We’re sorry Aurora, but your father is in another castle!”
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.
NOT THIS: Murdered: Soul Suspect
Square-Enix’s latest lacks the ambition that made LA Noir memorable yet is just as tedious as a point and click crime story.
In Salem, Massachusetts, Detective Ronan O’Connor plays his own rules, but so does the Bell Killer, who tosses him out an apartment window. Ronan awakes beside his body bleeding out. Before he can do much as a spirit, the hooded Bell Killer finds him and pumps him full of lead.
No coming back from that.
And neither can this potentially fun tale with its the horrible antiquated controls. When the gameplay is working, you’re mostly listening in on the dull lives of the living. I get that not everyone is fascinating, but man, these are some boring citizens of Salem, MA. Each person that you can eavesdrop, influence, or peek at what they’re doing has exactly two thoughts. The process is made even more frustrating in that you have to wait for the proverbial thought bubble to finish. Then and only then will the “dispossess” option come up. It’s maddening, I say.
There are some fun diversions peppered through the game’s 8-10 hours length. I like Joy, the gal who sees you and other dead people. Also fun is sneaking up behind a soul-sucking demon to make them explode. Still, Joy is used too little and the demon stuff, while fun at first, gets overplayed.
Eventually some game designer is going to crack the problem of making a videogame a successfully engaging procedural. For now, we’re stuck with games like Soul Suspect that gives the player a list of options and wants you to match them up like a game of concentration. Worse, even if you fail, the story still keeps going (LA Noir had this problem too), the idea being that if you did miss an important clue then how could you advance? You can’t. So the game will have you “discover” things even if you missed them. I totally understand why this an issue for a medium that is interactive. I just don’t need to keep playing them until they’ve solved it.
The irony is if this was a $15 PSN game (like Child of Light) I probably would be more forgiving. I do like playing mystery games to their conclusion. A sixty dollar price point is way too high for a game that has effective atmosphere, but clunky controls and worse antiquated design.
3. If You Want Next Generation Shooters… Um…
BUY THIS: Titanfall
A first-person shooter that offers more than meets the COD eye, Titanfall delivers online matches with a fresh take on the well-worn shooter genre. The biggest asset isn’t controlling the huge mechs, but the wall-running that players do as a mere soldier – or as a mech. There’s something inexplicably freeing happening every time I run up a wall, parkour style. It’s not at all like any FPS before it. Yes, fans of Mirror’s Edge might say that that game did it first, but the scale to which you’re given freedom is beyond that game’s tunnel-like structure.
Each part of the campaign is basically, a new multiplayer map. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since essentially, destruction and chaos is what most players are looking for. Still, I do wish there was some sort of story presented beyond the tedious voice-overs at the end of each mission. (OMG, the enemy just got away, on to the next map!) Bottom line: if you’re looking for a compelling story you’ll be disappointed. Truth be told, I was hoping this would have a narrative like the Gears of Wars trilogy with a built-in online party. Sadly, that is not the case. Still, I didn’t mind it as much as long as I was concentrated on the destruction at hand.
NOT THIS: Wolfenstein: The New Order
Bethesda’s reboot of the long-running Wolfenstein series has a terrific single player campaign as William “B.J.” Blazkowicz fights to uncover just how the Nazis won WWII in an alternative universe. The supporting cast shines. The levels have variety. Yet… the gameplay is horribly dated: health packs… really? And why does B.J. still talk like a ’90s muscle-bound clich?? It’s not game-breaking like the Duke Nukem reboot, but still.
Plus, Wolfenstein has no online option. At all.
Will that discourage gamers from plopping down 60 bucks? I dunno, but I can see the same demo being annoyed that Titanfall is an online game only, as I have lost the connection plenty of times.
This is a choice you need to make for yourselves, dear gamers…but seriously, Titanfall.
Previously by Peter Paras:
7 Ways Watch Dogs Expands the Open-World Gaming Landscape
Seven Ways the Veronica Mars Movie Doesn’t Suck for Noobs
TR’s 12 Best Video Game Moments of 2013