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Digital Blend: PS Vita firmware update brings PSOne games and consumer headaches

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…

* You know how annoyed you get when you’re sitting on an airplane, either waiting to take off or preparing to land, and you have to turn off your MP3 player or your portable gaming device or your tablet or whatever piece of handheld tech you’re counting on to keep you occupied? Well the FAA is officially forming a committee that will put its heads together to determine if the “discontinue the use of electronic devices during takeoffs and landings” rule is stupid and outdated or if it actually helps keep you alive. If (or, more likely, when) it turns out to be the former, you’ll be able to thumb your nose at flight attendants as you keep reading your ebook while you listen to the latest Neil Young album. Good times.

tomb raider free* Square Enix is officially in the cloud. This week, the publisher launched its new CoreOnline game-streaming service, allowing fans to play previously released titles right in their browsers. Only Hitman: Blood Money and Mini Ninjas are available at launch, though Tomb Raider: UnderworldLara Croft and the Guardian of Light, and more should be arriving in the coming months. The service is free, embracing an ad-supported business model that offers users a choice: microtransactions for individual levels and full games vs. the time investment of watching video ads. When you jump into a game, a menu pops up from which you can choose to watch various ads in exchange for minutes of game time. Watching a 1-minute ad could net you 20 minutes or more while a little 7-second ad would only give you 5 minutes. 

* Earlier this week, Sony released the latest firmware update for its PlayStation Vita handheld, paving the way for the long-asked-for PSOne Classics support on the device. Those games arrived shortly after in the PS Store. While Japan’s store got more than 200 titles and Europe’s got more than 100, the PSOne Classics section of the U.S.-based PlayStation Store received just nine. That number has risen now to more than 30 at the time of this writing; according to Sony, the delay is due to the need to obtain region-specific approvals from third-party publishers before certain titles can be released. That said, a game’s absence from the store doesn’t mean that it isn’t compatible; NeoGAF is maintaining a running list of titles that will work on the Vita, along with instructions on how to get them there. In related news, the new Vita firmware update also locked all memory cards to a single account. Not only does the decidedly consumer-unfriendly move force users to buy even more of the company’s overpriced memory cards, it also invalidates any saved data belonging to other accounts on newly account-locked cards.

Skyrim DLC* Bethesda Softworks announced the second DLC release for Skyrim earlier this week, called Hearthfire. The content pack will arrive on Xbox Live next Tuesday, September 4, 2012, with a price of 400 MS Points ($5). Unlike the previous Dawnguard DLC, Hearthfire is focused on customizing the user experience. With the content pack installed, you’ll be able to buy a plot of land and design/build a house of your own. You can then outfit your new pad with a variety of cool extras, like a steward to handle the buying of furniture, an alchemy lab, and a marital bed. Yes: you can move your wife in to live there. You won’t be able to have kids of your own — the life of the Dragonborn is apparently too filled with beast slayings for late-night naughty time — but you will be able to adopt. In short, it’s House Armor. Yay?

Metal Gear is going mobile! Along with the news earlier this week that a Fox Engine-powered open-world game and a film adaptation are both coming was the revelation that GREE is working on Metal Gear Solid: Social Ops (via G4). The developer is currently looking at a late-2012/early-2013 release for the game, which sees players putting together a battalion out of cards they’ve collected (and presumably purchased through microtransactions). There’s also going to be some kind of base-building component in the game, much like there was in the awesome PSP title, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker.

Top buys for the week…

Mass Effect 3 Leviathan DLCMass Effect 3: Leviathan DLC :: PSN / XBLA :: $9.99 / 800 MS Points

BioWare’s latest DLC release for Mass Effect 3 amounts to that game’s first official campaign expansion, not including the free endgame-changing Extended Cut DLC that was released earlier this summer. This one is definitely for the fans who play these games for the story. It’s light on action but heavy on lore exposition, especially in the final minutes. Sure, you could probably find most of what’s revealed on forums and YouTube videos right now, but if the story really matters to you, then you’ll probably want to experience this one for yourself. It doesn’t change the ending, but it does reveal new truths about the game’s primary antagonist, the Reapers. Check out my review.

They Bleed Pixels :: PC :: $9.99

If combining H.P. Lovecraft, platforming gameplay, retro-styled graphics, and gallons of pixellated blood sounds appealing to you, then They Bleed Pixels is your number on buy for this week. The PC platformer delivers awesomely gory fun and ridiculously challenging gameplay, all for less than $10. Also, there are ponies.

bastionBastion :: iPad :: $4.99

Have you played Bastion yet in its console or PC incarnation? No? Do you own an iPad? Then go get this and thank me later. If you’ve already played Bastion… hey, you can play it on the go now, on your iPad. What’s that? You can’t hear me because you’re too busy playing Bastion for a second time on your iPad? Well done. You’ve made a superior life choice.

The Walking Dead: Episode Three – Long Road Ahead :: PSN / XBLA / PC :: $4.99 / 400 MS Points

Telltale Games has reached a career high with its adventure game adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead comic book series. Episode one was superb and episode two turned out to be even better. Right now, Nex is working his way through episode three for his review. You shouldn’t need the review to know what you need to do right now though. Go get episode three, then play it. Unless you haven’t played the previous two episodes; in that case, just go ahead and get yourself the full collection so you can have eps four and five the day that they’re released. Check out the trailer for episode three right here.

Gotham City ImpostorsGotham City Impostors: Free-to-Play :: Steam :: FREE

This one took us all by surprise. Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment flipped the switch on its comedy-flavored competitive shooter, Gotham City Impostors, with the Steam version now officially a free-to-play title. You can spend $1-5 on packs containing various items– weapons, gadgets, support tools, and costumes. The core game is free, however. For those who are unfamiliar: Gotham City Impostors pits teams of wanna-be Batmen against teams of wanna-be Jokers in an epic FPS showdown that rages across the cartoony streets of Gotham City. It feels like it could be a DC Comics-infused mod for Team Fortress 2, and that’s hardly a bad thing.