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.
I’m not gonna lie: this is a weird week. Blame Tokyo Game Show 2012. Blame the iPhone 5 launch. Blame the impending apocalypse, blame whatever you want, really– it’s been a light week for the sort of news that Digital Blend aims to bring you. Conversely, it’s been an extremely heavy week for new releases. In light of that, I’m going to flip things around a bit this week. We’re still going to look at the news and the big releases, but the format will change a bit. It’s my column and I’ll do what I want! ( …with Ryan’s permission, of course.)
First up, the iPhone 5 is here. Exciting, right? It’s the most radical evolution we’ve seen for Apple’s much-loved smartphone since the jump from 3GS to 4. Are you really surprised? There’s a bigger screen, sure, but under the hood there’s also a more powerful processor and a 4G LTE receiver. What does this mean for you, the Digital Blend gamer? Your games will run more smoothly than they ever have before. But it’s not an essential upgrade, as much as you might want it to be, unless you’ve got something less than an iPhone 4. And if that’s the case… why?
Keep up with our continuing iPhone 5 coverage right here. You can also check out our hands-on preview of iOS 6 to see if it’s worth upgrading to the newly updated operating system yet. SPOILER ALERT: No.
Also in the realm of mobile toys is the confirmation this week from PowerA that its Moga Mobile Gaming System will be released on October 21, 2012 with a $49.99 price tag. This wondrous little add-on tech is for Android devices only. The Android marketplace might be a bit lighter on quality game offerings than the exclusives-packed iOS is, but Moga present an enticing lure for mobile app developers. It’s essentially a smartphone mount that adds console-style gamepad controls to your mobile device. Support for Moga needs to be baked into your game of choice, but top developers like Gameloft and Remedy are already signed on, with launch day support for titles like The Dark Knight Rises HD and Death Rally.
That’s pretty much the extent of the big Digital Blend-y news for the week. I’ll leave you with one more link in case you missed it last weekend: Anthony chatted up the developers of No More Room In Hell, one of the first game’s to be approved for sale on Steam thanks to Valve’s Steam Greenlight service. And speaking of which, Valve actually confirmed earlier this week that the next crop of greenlit Greenlight games will be announced on October 15, 2012. Exciting stuff. Now, onto the week’s releases.
Top buys for the week…
Torchlight 2 :: PC :: $19.99
Diablo who? Runic Games is back with the long-awaited, long-delayed hack-and-slash lootfest RPG sequel, Torchlight 2. The $20 price tag is probably the best value of this week, since you’ve got all the depth in this new release that you would expect to find in a much bigger game. The first Torchlight exploded at a time when fans of Diablo were starving for that kind of experience. Diablo 3 was still years away and Torchlight easily stole those fans’ hearts, much like Titan Quest had some years earlier.
Torchlight 2 offers a significant expansion with multiplayer support, a streamlined interface, a wide open world to explore, an included editor for the modders to play with, and a general content-enhancing makeover. You’re going to see Steam pop-ups very frequently in the coming weeks alerting you that your friends are playing Torchlight 2. You should be too. Go get it.
RAW: Realms of Ancient War :: Xbox 360 :: 1,200 MS Points
Realms of Ancient War is essentially this week’s Torchlight for the console crowd. The Xbox Live Arcade-exclusive pretty much comes out of nowhere unless you’ve been paying careful attention to gaming news. It’s not one of the more superior releases on XBLA, but it does effectively offer a style of play that is all-too-often lacking in the console space. If you’re an Xbox 360-only gamer and Borderlands 2 is just a bit too heavy on the shooty-shooty for you this week, Realms of Ancient War might fit the bill.
The play is pure Diablo/Torchlight, with that same angled top-down perspective and the same focus on keeping you hooked with ever-improving loot drops. It isn’t lousy, but it’s also just not terribly original or memorable. If you’ve never played Torchlight on XBLA, you might want to go for that instead. RAW has its place though, and it’s worth a look if you’re looking to weekend warrior your way through a simple, straightforward RPG that is easy on the eyes.
FTL: Faster Than Light :: PC :: $9.99
The only shame about Torchlight 2 being released this week is that it might lead some to overlook FTL: Faster Than Light. Subset Games’ marvelous roguelike strategy/RPG is actually a Kickstarter success story from earlier this year. Its funding period ended on April 1, 2012 with more than $200,000 pledged by backers, shattering the originally set goal of $10,000 to make the game. Less than six months later, the game is finished and ready to be played.
And what a game it is. FTL puts you in command of a starship and its crew as it explores distant star systems and deals with dangers at every turn. The core of the game is essentially focused on crew management, with players working to keep the ship’s various parts working while various catastrophes and hostile forces threaten to tear it apart. As you jump to new locations, you’ll be presented with an always-random assortment of threats, boosts, and whathaveyou. You’ll make “Choose Your Own Adventure” style choices and then deal with the consequences. Success will grant you additional resources, allowing you to upgrade your ship and more effectively escape the mounting dangers that the universe throws your way. This is, hands-down, my top pick of the week. If you own a Windows or Mac PC that is capable of playing FTL, then you should absolutely do so.
Jet Set Radio :: PlayStation 3 / PC / Xbox 360 :: $9.99 / 800 MS Points
Jet Set Radio is back and it’s fair to say that the game has never looked as good as it does now. Thank Sega’s decision to deliver the re-release as an HD remake with enhanced controls, notable mostly for giving you 360-degree control over the camera. It’s a feat that was impossible back when JSR was a popular Dreamcast title, but the added feature significantly enhances the experience and overall playability of the new game. You can still tell that it’s bit dated, but not nearly as much as you could with, say, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD, which bafflingly didn’t offer any kind of camera controls.
There’s actually a bit of a Tony Hawk vibe embedded into Jet Set Radio‘s DNA. You’re cruising along on inline skates instead of a skateboard, but you’re grinding your way around an open city, building up huge combos and participating in a variety of races and trick-offs. The new HD look and improved control scheme merely serves to heighten what was already a gaming classic. Anthony has it right in his review, calling this HD remake of Jet Set Radio the definitive version of the game. Though in fairness, my plan is to wait a few extra weeks and grab the soon-to-launch PlayStation Vita version.
Fire-Pro Wrestling :: Xbox 360 :: 800 MS Points
This one left me a little bit speechless. I somehow managed to miss the news that one of gaming’s true classics was headed to Xbox Live Arcade, along with some cool, new features. The promise of an XBLA release first popped up in 2010, but we’ve heard very little since. I confess that I haven’t tried the new game yet, but it’s definitely looking promising. This is one of those Avatar FameStar releases, which in this case means you can use your XBLA avatar in the game as a wrestler. You can also use any avatar gear you’ve purchased to customize the look of your fighter. Which effectively makes this the only wrestling game on the planet that lets you pit Master Chief against Boba Fett.
Fett would totally win that match, by the way. He fights dirty, I hear.
The truly committed fans can also spend an additional 400 MS Points for Fire-Pro Wrestling‘s “Legends Series” DLC pack. I know, I know… launch day DLC is lame. This one sounds like fun though, with 20 new wrestlers, 12 new matches, and new moves/gear for you to outfit your fighter with. Probably best to try the demo before pulling the trigger.
Lili :: iOS :: $6.49
Next up on this week’s train of kickarse Digital Blend-y releases is the iOS exclusive Lili. This Unreal-powered adventure/RPG is the first effort from BitMonster Games, headed by longtime Gears of War developer Lee Perry. Not only is it one of the best-looking iOS games out there right now, it also sports some beautiful art design. You can tell that a lot of creativity juices flowed into building Lili‘s world. There’s also the fact that you’ve got a really well-developed game here with lots to do and collect in the free roaming world. There’s even a special kid-friendly difficulty setting, a nod to the broad community of gamers that’s formed around iOS and other mobile platforms.
It’s incredible to see games like Lili coming to mobile platforms. This is the sort of experience you’d expect to find on a console, It’s also one that you may well find on a console in the coming months, what with the Android-powered open-source Ouya still in the making for a March 2013 launch. Lili remains an iOS exclusive title for now, though I could see demand pulling it over to the Android platform further down the road, especially if there’s a timer on the platform exclusivity.
Rayman Jungle Run :: iOS :: $2.99
In a race very similar to what we’ve got on PC this week between Torchlight 2 and FTL, you’ve got the blockbuster release that is Lili competing with the scrappy, easily overlooked newcomer that is Rayman Jungle Run. Sure, the Ubisoft game takes a prettier screenshot than FTL does, but it’s easy to look at the game and dismiss it as a cheap cash-in that marries a popular console game character with a popular type of mobile platform gameplay, in this case the endless runner.
Oh how wrong you would be in jumping to that conclusion. Rayman Jungle Run is a very special game. It’s endless running done right, and also in a way that only Rayman can. You’ve got the same gorgeous environments and quirky characters as you saw in the 2011 release, Rayman Origins, only here the gameplay is formed around the concepts of an endless runner. The difference between Jungle Run and the Canabalt knockoffs of the world, however, boils down to how it’s designed. There are multiple paths through each level, twists on the “always running from left to right” gameplay, support for multiple save files(?!), and even unlockable wallpaper rewards that you can earn. It’s easily the best buy in the App Store for this week, and probably for this month as well. Definitely worth the $2.99 investment.