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Digital Blend: Ouya and OnLive, portable Assassin’s Creed, and the fertile creative ground of PSN

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…

* Ouya and OnLive sittin’ in a tree. The record-breaking Kickstarter project for the upcoming Android-powered gaming console got yet another boost this morning when a newly posted update confirmed that the Ouya will launch with built-in support for OnLive’s game streaming service. (Full disclosure: I pre-ordered an Ouya via Kickstarter once the funding goal was reached.) This is a major development for the unreleased console, since it addresses the biggest shortcoming the Ouya faced in competing with the Big Three: delivering AAA console-quality gaming experiences. The Tegra 3 packed into every Ouya is an impressive piece of tech, no question, but it can’t handle what’s cutting edge on the likes of Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 platforms. OnLive can offer that sort of play, and the new partnership promises to be a big win for both parties if the Ouya finds success.

* Earlier this week, we took a look at two of the more inventive upcoming games that are headed to Sony’s PlayStation Network in the months ahead. First up is Papo & Yo from Minority, a puzzle-platformer fueled by its creator’s extremely personal story. That one is part of the PSN Play program, and it’ll be out in mid-August. We also checked out The Unfinished Swan, from Ian Dallas and Giant Sparrow. There’s no release date confirmed yet for the inventive first-person puzzle game, but our hands-on consisted of spewing buckets of paint across a stark-white world, slowing filling in the details in the search for the titular swan’s trail. PSN has proven time and again to be a haven for intensely creative ideas, and these two titles really showcase that.

* But wait! There’s more for PSN! We also got a chance to check out the first public demonstration of Insomniac’s Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault. The fall 2012 PSN title retains the look and feel of Ratchet’s past adventures, only the familiar gameplay unfolds in the context of action-based tower defense. As Ratchet, Clank, or Captain Qwark (or two of them, in two-player co-op games), you’ll run around 3D environments as you shore up your defenses, bulk up your arsenal by finding weapon pods, and stumble into the occasional secret area. Also, you’ll collect bolts. So many bolts. This is a Ratchet & Clank game, after all.

* Zynga’s treading a rocky road right now, with internal changes at Facebook and the ill-advised acquisition of Draw Something creator Omgpop earlier this year leaving the newly public company’s stock prices at around $3 per share, and resulting in hefty losses for the April-June quarter. Analysts have been saying all along that the Farmville dev would need to lessen its dependency on Facebook in order to thrive in its new, post-IPO world, and now the company is making moves to do just that. Starting in early 2013, Zynga will launch an online poker service with real-money gambling. It’s only going to launch in international markets to start with, due to the regulations governing gambling in the United States, but it’s possible that the Zynga offering could end up in Nevada, provided the state allows online poker licenses to be granted.

* Assassin’s Creed 3 is easily one of the biggest games that will be hitting stores this fall, but PlayStation Vita owners will get an additional perspective on the series’ Revolutionary War-era presence in Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation. The upcoming PS Vita game, releasing day and date with the console title on October 30, tells the story of Aveline, a female assassin, in 18th century New Orleans. What makes this particular tale unique is the fictional narrative device that frames it: in the fiction of the Assassin’s Creed universe, Liberation is an “entertainment product” created by Abstergo Industries, the modern-day face of the assassin-hating Templars. Earlier this week, we spoke with Liberation lead writer Richard Farrese about what exactly that means and how it impacts the game.

* The original Puzzle Quest was revelatory, fusing match-three puzzle-solving with basic RPG mechanics and carrot-dangling. Puzzle Quest 2 leaned a bit heavier in the RPG direction, but something was lost in the translation. Both games were the work of Infinite Interactive, an indie studio that was acquired in early 2011 by Firemint, the developer of the mobile hit Flight Control. Earlier this week, EA merged Firemint and Dead Space HD dev IronMonkey Studios into a single entity, a move which once again set Infinite free as an indie. It seems that there are some IP issues to be worked out, but company founder Steve Fawkner hinted very strongly at the possibility of a third Puzzle Quest game being next up for the newly indie studio.

Top buys for the week…

Wreckateer :: XBLA :: 800 MS Points

Let me sell you on Wreckateer with a one-sentence elevator pitch: it’s Angry Birds in 3D with surprisingly well-implemented Kinect controls. That might not sound terribly exciting if your gaming life is consumed entirely by Madden and Call of Duty, but it really is. Iron Galaxy Studios did a tremendous job of harnessing the Kinect in a fun way, and the controls are simple enough that the motion-sensing camera only rarely gets confused. It’s a straightforward game and it doesn’t have a ton of depth, but it’s adorable and fun to play all the same, with that same addictive “just one more turn” mentality that Angry Birds fosters.

Resonance :: PC :: $9.99 ($8.99 on Steam until 8/1)

Resonance is a throwback to the adventure games of the ’90s, and that’s really all you should need to hear to convince you that it’s worth your turn. Wadjet Eye Games’ latest release is a loving re-creation of a game that didn’t actually exist in the late 20th century. It totally could have though. The story follows four playable characters as they unravel the mysteries surrounding the death of a noted physicist. Before he died, that physicist made a breakthrough that could either help sustain the human race for many, many moons to come or destroy it, should the research fall into the wrong hands. Prepare for much pointing and clicking, as Resonance fully embraces a more old-school approach to the gameplay.

Puddle :: PS Vita :: $7.99

Puddle is an inventive platformer from Neko Entertainment that was released for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 platforms via their respective digital storefronts in January, 2012. This week, the game comes to the new release-starved PlayStation Vita. The Vita launched earlier this year with a strong-ish lineup behind it, but recent months have seen subsequent game releases tail off considerably. Puddle is a lone bright spot in an otherwise quiet summer for the Vita. The game sees players guiding a puddle of water through a series of rooms by manipulating the environment. In the PS3 release, this was done by tilting the SIXAXIS controller. The PS Vita version offers multiple control schemes: you can tilt your device or use the shoulder buttons, the left analog stick, or the rear touchpad to play.

Foosball 2012 :: PSN :: $7.99

Here’s yet another unconventional release for PlayStation Network: Foosball 2012. The classic bar and frat house table game is now available on PSN, with one $7.99 purchase unlocking the game for both your PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita. As for the gameplay… it’s foosball. You know… table soccer. You’ve got multiple rows of attackers and defenders, with each row joined together by a rod that you can push left/right and spin around. The object is to put the ball in the goal while preventing the opposing team from doing the same. Like I said, it’s foosball. The PS Vita version of the game supports both dual-analog and touch screen controls, and it allows for both cross-platform play and cross-platform saving.

The Walking Dead: Episode One :: iOS :: $4.99

There’s not much to be said here that wasn’t already said in our review of the console/PC version of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead: Episode One. It’s an exceptional adventure game. Telltale really managed to nail the spirit and key themes of Robert Kirkman’s popular comic book series. Episode Two is even better, but iOS users this week get their first crack at the game with the release of the debut episode in the App Store. The controls have been optimized for a touch screen interface, but the content is otherwise the same, right down to the decisions you make in one episode carrying over into subsequent episodes as the five-part series unfolds.

Manos: Hands of Fate :: iOS :: $1.99

This game made the cut this week more because it’s a thing that actually exists than for any mark of quality it may or may not have. In truth, I have not played Manos: The Hands of Fate. But it’s an NES-style platformer based on a movie that is widely regarded as one of the worst of all time. Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space has nothing on Manos. Now there’a a game adaptation in the App Store for reasons that no one can really quite fathom. It’s there though, and I feel compelled to draw your attention to it. Much like Nex did earlier this week.

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