Digital Blend: Microsoft’s Surface takes aim at the iPad as Nintendo goes super-size with the 3DS XL

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…

* Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness – Episode Three is in the capable hands of Cthulhu Saves the World developer Zeboyd Games now and it’ll be coming our way soon — next week, in fact, on a variety of platforms — sporting a new low-fi-yet-still-charming look. The final pre-launch trailer hit the webs this week, and you can take a look at it right here on Digital Trends. Definitely do so, especially if you’re a fan of NES-era RPGs like Final Fantasy.

* Nintendo’s latest Nintendo Direct streaming press conference unfurled a number of major announcements, but none were bigger than the revelation of a super-sized take on the 3DS, the 3DS XL, which is set for a U.S. release in August. Like the DS XL before it, the 3DS XL, offers a bulkier form factor for the handheld, giving players a larger pair of screens to stare at as well as a beefier battery for improved battery life. The bundle will also include an AC power adapter and a 4GB SD card, with the whole package selling for $199. Read Anthony’s report on the news right here.

* Portal creator Kim Swift’s latest game, Quantum Conundrum, was released for PC platforms this week (as you’ll read below). Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network releases have always been part of the plan as well, but now we have specific release dates to look forward to. Quantum Conundrum comes to PSN on July 10 and XBLA on July 11, for $14.99 and 1,200 MS Points, respectively.

the rise and fall hopeful rebirth of thq saints row  third* In a reasonably shocking twist, THQ confirmed this week that Enter the Dominatrix, the fall 2012-releasing expandalone release connected to 2011’s Saints Row: The Third, has been canceled. The work that Volition, Inc. has already done on that front will continue, however, with the ideas from Dominatrix being incorporated into a full-blown sequel to The Third set for a 2013 release. That officially takes it out of the realm of Digital Blend’s consideration, but you’ll be hearing plenty more from the Digital Trends gaming team on the next Saints Row as more news emerges. For more details on THQ’s change in plans, check out Anthony’s report.

* The biggest news of this week coming out of the tech world is the reveal of Microsoft’s Surface tablet, which is targeting the sector of the market that has embraced Apple’s iPad. Bearing a name born out of the company’s touchscreen-enabled tabletop computer, the Surface will attempt to trump Apple’s successful offering with an included magnet-attached keyboard, a sensible design that includes a kickstand, and — the trump card, by far — full integration as a Windows 8 OS device. There’s no price or release date or anything else revealed, nor is there much in the way of talk from Microsoft about how this move to hardware production will impact its relationships with other hardware manufacturing partners. Read more about the Surface right here.

Top buys for the week…

digital blend microsofts surface takes aim at the ipad as nintendo goes super size with 3ds xl quantum conundrumQuantum Conundrum :: PC :: $14.99
I’ll make this really simple. Quantum Conundrum is the latest game from Kim Swift, the incredibly talented creator of Portal. It’s a physics-based first-person puzzle game that, like Portal, plays with your perception of what a first-person game can offer. It’s also nothing like Portal beyond that basic fact. What’s important is that all of this should be enough to sell you. I’ll have a full review for you next week; until then, tide yourself over with our Quantum Conundrum GDC 2012 hands-on preview.

digital blend microsofts surface takes aim at the ipad as nintendo goes super size with 3ds xl battlefield 3 close quartersBattlefield 3: Close Quarters Map Pack :: PSN :: $14.99
The Close Quarters map pack was released this week, first on PlayStation 3 per Sony’s arrangement with EA Games and DICE. The four new maps scale down the epic modern warfare struggle into more tightly packed spaces than Battlefield fans are used to. There are new modes to go along with these locations as well as an assortment of new weapons to unlock. It’s hard to escape the notion that this is a Call of Duty-fied take on BF3, but this is still a solid set of maps if you like the infantry side of Battlefield‘s action.

digital blend microsofts surface takes aim at the ipad as nintendo goes super size with 3ds xl magic gathering duels of planeMagic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 :: XBLA / PSN / Steam :: 800 MS Points / $9.99
Magic: The Gathering isn’t for everyone, but those who are fans of the card-based RPG had a lot of praise for the previous Duels of the Planeswalkers game. The 2013 release is the same story; more great Magic action in a digital format. If you loved the last one then you’ll love this one. And if you’ve always been curious about Magic, these video game releases offer an excellent entry point. There’s also a free version available for mobile platforms, but it’s obviously a little bit different.

digital blend microsofts surface takes aim at the ipad as nintendo goes super size with 3ds xl tiny and big grandpas leftoverTiny & Big: Grandpa’s Leftovers :: PC :: $9.99
Tiny & Big is a title that should be well-known to fans of the indie games scene, having charmed everyone who’s seen it at various indie showcases. There’s a pretty straightforward reason to love this physics-based puzzle game: in it, you play as a dude armed with a death laser capable of cutting the surrounding environment into tiny bits. There are rockets and a grappling hook too, but we all agree it’s all about the laser, right?

digital blend microsofts surface takes aim at the ipad as nintendo goes super size with 3ds xl actThe Act :: iOS :: $2.99
Chillingo made a wise investment in snatching up The Act, originally designed a few years back to live as a coin-op arcade game in the style of classics like Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace. Described as an “interactive comedy,” The Act is essentially a playable cartoon that takes a much more straightforward approach than the games that inspired it. It’s a little on the short side, but it’s also undeniably charming and fun to play through, especially since you’re not expected to drop quarters into a slot each time you fail.

digital blend microsofts surface takes aim at the ipad as nintendo goes super size with 3ds xl astronotAstronot :: iOS :: $1.99
Astronot looks like an Atari 2600 game and plays like a “Metroidvania,” a genre that wasn’t born until after the death of Atari’s early-generation gaming console. It might look simple, but there’s a lot of depth hidden away in this low-fi game, and it’s a good fit for a portable platform like the iPhone.

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