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.
* The Android-powered Ouya gaming console, announced only just last week, was in the news again twice this week for making some big moves. The first was its launch as a Kickstarter project, with a funding goal set at $950,000 for the $99 console. The second came the next day, when the project — which hit its sky-high goal within just eight hours — crushed all previous records. The Kickstarter currently stands at almost $4.5 million, with more than 50,000 units “sold” for the projected March 2013 launch.
* Valve continues to work hard at maintaining its edge over Steam’s competitors in the digital distribution space for PC gaming. The latest from the company is the Steam Greenlight initiative, a program which allows users the opportunity to voice their opinions about which new indie titles will be released through the service. It’s not quite on the level of Kickstarter’s crowd-sourced funding opportunities since there’s no money being spent here to voice an opinion. It’s more crowd-sourced opinion-gathering. In essence, it’s a formalized Internet petition. Valve is bringing legitimacy to the e-petition. It’s just the sort of mad genius move you’d expect from Gabe Newell’s company.
* Pitfall is coming back! Activision confirmed this week that one of its oldest and most enduring franchises will be revived for modern mobile devices, with development of the reboot being handled by the newly established Activision Leeds studio. The studio had originally been pointed to as the maker of all future mobile/portable Call of Duty titles — which may still be the case — but first, the Leeds group will tackle Pitfall. There’s no word yet on how the Atari 2600 classic will be changed or updated, but more should be revealed soon.
* It isn’t just Pitfall. This has been a big week for fan-favorite revivals, and Electronic Arts now has no less a well-respected franchise than Ultima pegged for a comeback. The free-to-play, cross-platform RPG is now in the capable hands of Mass Effect and Dragon Age developer BioWare. Little has been revealed so far, though you can keep up with what’s happening and put your name on the list for the beta at the newly launched official website. Players will choice between Fighter and Mage classes in the action RPG, fighting to save Britannia from forces unknown, as ordered by Lady British.
* Amazon fired its first serious shot into the tablet market with the release of the Kindle Fire, but the company has additional plans in the works that are aimed at taking on Apple and its competitors in the mobile gaming space. First up is Amazon GameCircle, a seeming response to the popularity of social gaming networks like Xbox Live and Game Center. While the nuts and bolts of it exist more on the development side of things, the takeaway is that you’ll have things like achievements and leaderboards for Amazon AppStore-purchased games. In related news, Amazon will also be launching Game Connect, which offers users an entry point into free-to-play gaming experiences (via Joystiq).
* This week, Activision confirmed its release plans for July 2012’s Call of Duty Elite content drops. Next week on Tuesday, July 17, Elite subscribers on Xbox 360 will be able to snatch three new multiplayer maps and a new Spec Ops mission. Two of the maps are new: “Decommission” sends players into “a graveyard of rotting ocean liners” and “Offshore” moves the action to an off-shore oil rig. The most exciting of the three is “Terminal,” a Modern Warfare 2 fan-favorite map, newly updated for use in MW3. The Spec Ops mission is called Vertigo; in it, players are tasked with taking out choppers and infantry soldiers from the roof of a hotel. All of the completely new content will be bundled together later with other content drops into a proper Call of Duty DLC pack. The “Terminal” map, however, will be a free download for all Xbox 360 users starting on July 18.
Top buys of the week…
Endless Space is a full $10 more than the price ceiling that I typically set for Digital Blend-recommended games, but I’m going to make an exception in this case. Why? First, because this is my column and I get to break my own rules. Second, because 4X games are awesome and they don’t always get the love that they deserve. For the uninitiated: 4X stands for Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate. It’s a very specific type of play, embodied in games like the Civilization series and Sins of a Solar Empire. Endless Space is cut from the same cloth as those and other titles, with players selecting a space-faring faction and then managing their growth as they spread across and dominate the galaxy in one way or another. It’s a deep game with a lot to offer, and it’s well-tuned 4X experience overall.
Quantum Conundrum technically isn’t a new release anymore, since it came to PCs last month. You can read all about how sweet it is in our review. The news this week is that Quantum is now available for purchase on your Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles. For those who want a quick refresher: Quantum Conundrum is the latest game to be spawned from the brain of Kim Swift, the creator of Portal. It’s a physics-based puzzle game played from a first-person perspective. That’s really all you need to know. Now go get it.
The arcade classic Frogger is following in the footsteps of Pac-Man: Championship Edition with a neon-drenched, techno-infused sort-of sequel. The premise is still the same in the core mode of the game, with you guiding your frog across a busy street and then a flowing river to a series of lilypads. There are some cool visual filters that allow you to apply things like HD-ified visuals or assets from popular Konami games like Contra and Castlevania. There is also a handful of multiplayer modes to sort through, allowing up to four players to get in on the fun. Hyper Arcade Edition is simple, but it’s fun and it offers a bit more than just a nostalgia trip.
Like Quantum Conundrum, Tiny Wings HD isn’t exactly a NEW release this week. It’s actually an enhanced iPad port of the popular iPhone game that adds a few new features, all of which are added in a free update for anyone who owns the iPhone version of the game. HD is the separate iPad release, but it’s fundamentally the same game, just on a larger screen. You’re trying to keep a tiny winged bird aloft by using gravity to your advantage as you slide down hills and up adjacent ones, launching your little flapper into the sky. The new bit is called Flight School, a racing mode in which you compete against an AI bird. The iPad edition also gets an exclusive multiplayer version of Flight School, with two humans competing using the same screen.
Rovio made Angry Birds and the mobile game-playing world went crazy. Now Rovio has its first game without “Angry” or “Birds” in the title, and the mobile gaming world could end up going crazy again. It’s called Amazing Alex and it’s actually an updated version of an older iOS game called Casey’s Contraptions, in which players design elaborate, Rube Goldberg-esque contraptions to solve a variety of physics-based puzzles. It lacks the adorable pig-killing mayhem of Angry Birds, but it makes up for the loss with more elaborate and involved gameplay.