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Digital Blend: The Android-powered Ouya console throws a gauntlet down for the Big Three

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…

* The latest PlayStation Vita update, which brings the Sony handheld up to v1.8, includes one particularly exciting feature that fans have been waiting for since the device launched in February 2012: support for PSOne Classics. The update is currently only available to download in Japan, but Sony expects v1.8 to come to the U.S. sometime before the summer ends. Note that the new firmware only paves the road for PSOne Classics support; the actual games will be released more gradually, a few at a time. A handful of soon-to-be-supported titles were revealed at E3 2012, and this v1.8 update is the first step toward their being made available. For more details, read Anthony’s full report.

* In a long-rumored but no less stunning move, Sony officially acquired the online video game-streaming service and chief OnLive competitor, Gaikai. Rumors of a Sony acquisition first popped up prior to E3, but they were put to rest by Gaikai boss David Perry and quickly forgotten when the show came and went with no announcements made. Then, just this past weekend, SCE CEO Andrew House issued a press release confirming the news. Sony intends to establish a cloud-based streaming service of its own using Gaikai’s technology and infrastructure. Zero details have been revealed, but Anthony raises lots of speculative questions in his report on the news.

* In perhaps the most shocking twist of this week, we learn that a fourth gaming console will soon be entering the market: the Android-powered Ouya. There are other gaming-oriented devices in addition to the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii, but the $99 Ouya has more in common with the big three than with any of the other would-be competitors due to the support that’s behind it. Former Vivendi Universal publishing manager Julie Uhlman sits at the head of a team that is highlighted by such influential figures as Yves Behar, the Jawbone COO who is credited for the design of the Ouya, and former Microsoft Xbox chief Ed Fries, who is filling the role of an advisor on the project. The console stands apart not just for its low price but also for its goal of delivering a catalog of entirely free-to-play games. It is also, according to its creators, “built to be hacked,” an attitude that contrasts sharply with the closed platforms that the big three consoles represent.

* Sony revealed the existence of the PlayStation Vita game Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified during its E3 press conference this year, but zero time was spent talking about it, leaving plenty of questions about what sort of content it will offer and who is responsible for actually making it. We still don’t have an answer to that latter question, though reports emerging this week reveal that Activision’s newly established Leeds studio is handling development duties on on all future portable and mobile renditions of the Call of Duty series. It’s unclear if Declassified is included, largely because the Leeds studio continues to staff up even now.

* This news doesn’t strictly affect indies, but it’s a landmark moment for video games in general. An EU court issued a decision which basically states that video game license-holders using digital retail services like Steam or Origin are entitled to sell what they own as used products in the same way that physical disc owners can sell their library off at a GameStop or a Best Buy (or any number of other brick-and-mortar retailers). This is an unprecedented decision, and it countermands any stipulations in End-User License Agreements that disallows the selling of the product as a used item. Check out Anthony’s report to get a better sense of the far-reaching effects that a decision like this might have.

* While Activision Leeds is busy gearing up to carve out the future of Call of Duty on handheld and mobile devices, Chinese publisher Tencent is preparing to deliver the Activision series to Asian audiences by way of the free-to-play game, Call of Duty Online. Gaming consoles are banned under law in China, but PC gaming is a big business and free-to-play initiatives are exceedingly popular there. From the look of the debut trailer, Call of Duty Online treads the same sort of ground that the disc-based console games do on the multiplayer side. Activision further confirms that Call of Duty Onlinewill feature some sort of Spec Ops-driven campaign in addition to the competitive multiplayer mode.

Top buys for the week…

Spelunky :: XBLA :: 1,200 MS Points The abbreviated holiday week is pretty light on new releases, but the long-awaited Xbox Live Arcade release of Spelunky is one of the highlights. The 2D action/puzzle game was released as freeware for Windows PCs in 2008, but the Xbox 360 version beefs things up a bit with improved visuals and more content. The game’s basic premise of sending you through a series of completely randomized caves (and other environments) with the goal of collecting as much treasure and saving as many distressed damsels as you can breeds an easy “one more round” mentality, especially since each level is designed for quick-hit play. It’s to the point that if you spend too long in one place, the game will send a marauding ghost after you.

The Walking Dead: Episode Two – Starved for Help :: XBLA / PSN / PC :: 400 MS Points / $4.99 Everything that Nex said in his review of The Walking Dead: Episode Two I am in complete agreement with. Telltale did fantastic work of setting the world up in its first episode of the video game adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s comic book series, but the second episode exceeds it in every possible way. If you haven’t started playing The Walking Dead yet, you need to correct that immediately.

The Legend of Zelda :: 3DS eShop :: $4.99 The title really speaks for itself here. The original NES game The Legend of Zelda can now be purchased and downloaded to your 3DS. The only reason not to buy it is if you got it for free already from Nintendo’s 3DS-focused Ambassador Program.

Swift Stitch :: iOS :: FREE Swift Stitch is an unusual vector-based game from Nicalis that really defies classification into any one genre. There’s some racing and some puzzle-solving going on, all pushed along by simple-to-grasp/difficult-to-master one-button controls. For the low price of FREE you can’t really go wrong in trying this sucker out; you get the first 10 levels for no charge, but anything more needs to be purchased in-game.

Outwitters :: iOS :: FREE The week’s top Digital Blend-recommended games are rounded out by Outwitters, a turn-based multiplayer strategy game from Tilt To Live developer One Man Left Studios. If you’re familiar with Hero Academy then you’ve already got a sense of the sort of experience that Outwitters offers. The game features three playable races, but the free download only gives you the ability to play as one of them, with the other two requiring an in-game purchase.

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