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Digital Blend: 3DS XL arrives, no Vita price cut in 2012, EA has more free-to-play incoming

Welcome back to Digital Blend, our weekly look at the world of downloadable video gaming that exists at the fringes of the mainstream. That means we look at the hottest new mobile game releases, downloadable content drops on consoles and PCs, indie darlings that deserve your love and attention, and the best gaming values under $20.

Keep your comments and feedback coming. We want to hear from you! Did you try something you read about here and enjoy it? Is there a particular game you think we’ve overlooked or news you want to share? Any questions you are dying to ask? Let us know! Your thoughts, feedback, suggestions and (constructive!) criticism are welcome, either in the comments section below or directed at yours truly on Twitter, @geminibros.

Making headlines…

* Sega is stepping further into the mobile business. This week, the publisher announced the launch of Sega Alliance, a new partner program designed to help indie developers find the marketing and production support that they need to get their games noticed on mobile platforms. Sega already has a presence in the smartphone and tablet space with its wholly owned IP, but Sega Alliance aims in different direction with its focus on bringing in new talents. The first release under the new initiative is Jack Lumber from Owlchemy Labs, the same studio behind Snuggle Truck.

Mega Man Xover* Capcom is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the NES classic Mega Man (or Rockman, as it is known in Japan) this year with an iOS-exclusive release called Rockman Xover. It’s only confirmed for a fall 2012 launch in Japan right now, but don’t be surprised if that grows into a broader release. The game ditches the platforming action that the series is known for, instead delivering a social-driven RPG in which players build their own Mega Man robot as they work to rescue all of the other various Mega Men from a plot hatched by a gang of the series’ most notable villains.

* EA is hoping to build a bright future for the Command & Conquer series by embracing the free-to-play philosophy that has made Command & Conquer: Tiberium Alliances such a hit. The BioWare-developed Command & Conquer: Generals 2 is now officially confirmed to be following a F2P model when it comes to PC in 2013. This is indicative of a larger trend that the publisher is moving toward, with the C&C news coming only days after EA confirmed plans to make the Star Wars: The Old Republic MMORPG a F2P offering this fall. 

* Those who have been patiently waiting for Sony to knock a few dollars off the price of its new PlayStation Vita handhelds are going to have to keep waiting. The portable was released in the U.S. in February 2012, less than a year after Nintendo dropped the price of its 3DS down from $250 — the Vita’s launch price — to a more competitive $180. That, coupled with the relatively light — though largely solid — library of launch and post-launch titles has left the Vita in a tough spot. It’s a great piece of hardware that too few people are adopting. A price cut might change that, but Sony boss Shuhei Yoshida put the kibosh on any hopes for such a thing happening in 2012. “No,” he said. “It’s too early.”

playstation-vita-white* Nintendo releases its super-sized 3DS XL in North America this Sunday, August 19, 2012. By all accounts it’s a solid piece of hardware that offers a notable improvement over the 3DS, particularly in the realm of its 3D display features. Our own Ryan Fleming has been tooling around with the new hardware for the past couple weeks, and he definitely liked what he saw. He questions the wisdom of not including a second analog control, something that can be added to the 3DS via a Circle Pad Pro, but the overall reaction is a positive one. For more, check out Ryan’s full Nintendo 3DS XL review.

* The PlayStation Vita might have been largely absent from the E3 2012 festivities this year, but that could be because Sony was saving the big stuff for Gamescom 2012. The publisher revealed many details of its future plans for the handheld during the Germany-based consumer show this week. For starters, LittleBigPlanet developer Media Molecule is currently toiling away on a Vita-exclusive platformer called Tearaway that trades in the Sack People for papercraft. Also confirmed is a new Killzone FPS game from Guerilla for the Vita, called Killzone: Mercenary. Perhaps the most exciting news, however, is confirmation that PlayStation Plus subscriber benefits will soon be extended to the Vita as well. That means discounted software, free software, and more.

Top buys for the week…

Papo & Yo :: PSN :: $14.99

It’s a light week for 100-percent new digital releases, but it’s definitely a quality over quantity sort of vibe to what’s out there. The best of the totally new bunch is Minority Media’s Papo & Yo, a beautiful puzzle-platformer with some very powerful thematic elements. I’m not going to try to synopsize it for you here. Either get the game and find out for yourself, or dig a little deeper with my Papo & Yo review.

The Expendables 2 :: XBLA / PC :: 1,200 MS Points / $14.99

The Expendables 2 was already released for PlayStation 3 via PSN, but this week the Xbox Live Arcade and PC versions arrive alongside the release of the movie. I’m not gonna lie: this isn’t any kind of amazing game. It’s just dumb, straightforward fun, with players taking control of one of the movie’s four major characters in a twin-stick shooter built around body counts. It’s not for everyone, but it’s mindless fun for the right kind of action fan. Check out my Expendables 2 game review for more. While you’re in the reading mood, you should also take a peek at Anthony’s Expendables 2 movie review.

Dust: An Elysian TailDust: An Elysian Tail :: XBLA :: 1,200 MS Points

PS3 gamers might get beautiful puzzle-platforming in Papo & Yo, but Xbox 360 users get beautiful action-RPG adventuring in Dust: An Elysian Tail. In this final salvo for Microsoft’s 2012 edition of Summer of Arcade, Dust marries absolutely gorgeous hand-drawn 2D graphics with exceedingly sharp writing, simple-yet-fun gameplay, and a surprisingly deep set of RPG systems. There’s a lot of game here for your $15, and it’s mostly pretty damn good. Check out my Dust: An Elysian Tail review for more.

Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack :: PC :: $7.99

The best PlayStation Vita launch title is now a thing you can enjoy on your PC as well. Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack follows a formless alien blob as it breaks out of confinement in a research facility and proceeds to absorb everything in the vicinity in order to grow larger, Katamari Damacy style. The game is a 2D platformer with an adorably evil alien protagonist and one of my all-time favorite last levels in all of video games. Check it out if you haven’t before, or take a peek at my Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack review for more.

Jack Lumber :: iOS :: $0.99

Jack Lumber is the first of Sega’s new releases under the Sega Alliance label, a new partner program designed to lend support to indie devs on mobile platforms. The game is the work of Snuggle Truck dev Owlchemy Labs, putting players in the enormous work boots of the titular “supernatural lumberjack.” It’s a bit like Fruit Ninja, only you’ve got time dilation powers that allow you to perform some seriously impressive feats of mid-air chopping.

Random Heroes :: iOS :: $0.99

Ravenous Games, the same team behind the killer iOS platformer League of Evil, is back with Random Heroes. The new game is built around a more involved set of mechanics, with the story complemented by video game trappings like character progression and exploration.