Beating the Winter Gaming Blues

Happy New Year, gaming enthusiasts!

As a special treat, I come bearing good news for fellow interactive entertainment fans suddenly feeling a strange bulge in their jeans: It’s not entirely because of all the hot cocoa and fruitcake we’ve spent the last 8-12 weeks stuffing our sunlight-deprived faces with.

Nay… Presuming you didn’t blow all that holiday cash on a PlayStation 3 – surely, faithful readers weren’t amongst the crowds who ponied up $2500+ for the system – it may actually be (gasp) what we so-called professional types love to dub “disposable income.”

While it might seem like a shocking development to actually have a little extra scratch on-hand, there’s a simple explanation. And no, I don’t mean your inability to get to Best Buy early enough on Black Friday to grab massive markdowns on the Nintendo DS, or that last copy of Gears of War. As inevitably happens every year after glutting ourselves on the flood of new Q4 releases, given that the vast majority of titles debut about this time, the dog days of winter have suddenly arrived.

Just as Hollywood prefers churning everything saleable out for Christmas, then abandons certain films to rot in early January, so too do software publishers use the period as a universal dumping ground for various D- to Z-grade outings. That said, as certain savvier manufacturers now recognize, it can also be an ideal time to launch the occasional blockbuster with little to no competition out their vying for audiences’ attention. For example, see Capcom, who dropped 2005 Game of the Year Resident Evil 4 right as most were returning to school or work.

Therefore here to the rescue comes your fearless captain (OK, favorite self-righteous freelance chatterbox) once again to guide you through the annual sea of post-yuletide mediocrity. Skip the following current/upcoming releases and set a course for virtual shores unknown at your own risk. After all, those boxes of Fuzion Frenzy 2 aren’t exactly flying off the shelf…

Lost Planet

From: Capcom
For: Xbox 360
www.capcom.com

The reviews are in, and – while mixed – by and large, you won’t find a better futuristic bug-blasting, interstellar, stuck on a world full of #@$! frigid temperatures shooter out there. Alright, I kid… The truth is, apart from having to play a hero named “Wayne,” there’s plenty of excitement to be had annihilating overgrown insects and donning the odd mechanical suit. If the visuals don’t wow you, those memorable boss battles will. And hey, at the very least, it’s the first title – well, besides The Guy Game – I’ve seen that can actually prompt play-induced shrinkage.

Lost Planet screenshot 1 Lost Planet screenshot 2
Click to enlarge

Winning Eleven: Pro Soccer 2007
From: Konami
For: PlayStation 2, PSP, Nintendo DS, Xbox 360
www.konami.com

FIFA, who? For years, the world’s “other” most popular cleat-loving franchise has quietly been gaining ground with purists, slowly winning fans over and knocking erstwhile critics out of their Adidas. New for 2007, the best-selling series brings us an updated spate of licensed international squads; online play four up to four on PlayStation 2 or two on PSP and Xbox 360; and, naturally, better controls and team customization features. Use it to prepare for Beckham’s imminent stateside arrival.

Bullet Witch
From: Atari
For: Xbox 360
www.atari.com

The future has arrived, and you’re here to greet it (plus those demonic invaders who’ve tagged along for the ride, natch) as a hot lead- and spell-slinging seductress. No brainpower required to master Japan’s freshest import since the fatty tuna roll – just a knack for summoning shields, flinging lighting about on-command and torching anything that moves. Note to parents: M-rating aside, it’s probably not a good idea to let little Timmy have at the disc before trying to put him to sleep.

Bullet Witch screenshot 1 Bullet Witch screenshot 2
Click to enlarge
WarioWare: Smooth Moves
From: Nintendo
For: Wii
www.nintendo.com

Exciting as life with Nintendo’s Wii is – and, truthfully, how many other consoles can honestly say they’ve been responsible for the odd fatality recently – it’s just become even breathier. Effectively translating the signature style of so-called micro-game action this multiplayer-favorite franchise is known for (read: a series of frantic arcade challenges that literally finish in seconds) onto the motion-sensing console, the current contender is a surefire recipe for living room-wrecking fun. Punch, dance, hop, tilt, turn or waggle the unit’s gesture-tracking remote to saw wood, balance brooms and otherwise happily make a fool of yourself.

Virtua Fighter 5
From: Sega
For: PlayStation 3
www.sega.com

True story: My housekeeper recently noticed the PlayStation 3 and referred to it as “pretty” – only after removing the inch-thick layer of dust it had spent the last two months collecting. Thankfully, I’ll be able to keep it clean through regular usage from this point onward my own darn self – this superb port of the one-on-one arcade martial arts masterpiece will be getting constant play. Not only do featured colors and backgrounds pop, but so do actual fighting moves: Nothing beats foot sweeping and spin-kicking the snot out of friends in geek lust-inducing widescreen HD. It’s a surefire home theater centerpiece.

Virtua Fighter 5 screenshot 1 Virtua Fighter 5 screenshot 2
Click to enlarge
Vanguard: Saga of Heroes
From: Sony Online Entertainment
For: PC
www.station.com

Raise your hand if you’ve ever spent time with a little life-consuming massively multiplayer online game known as EverQuest (back before World of WarCraft immediately put a stop-hold order on the relationship and made you its b*tch, that is). Those who have will know to expect equally big things from this, the latest epic fantasy romp from series co-creator Brad McQuaid. Those who haven’t can just rest easy knowing its catchy combat system, slick visuals and ultra-deep action will provide even more excuses to cash in those extra sick days you’ve been sitting on.

Sid Meier’s Pirates!
From: Take 2 Interactive
For: PSP
www.take2games.com

Yo ho, yo ho… Forget it; you know where this discussion is headed. Long story short: One of the best games of all time – seriously, its basic swashbuckling design framework, fusing naval combat with swordfights, exploration, trading and turn-based strategy, is now 20 years old – is finally getting a glossy handheld conversion. In case you missed the kick-ass PC port a few years back, the present is as good a time to take up the parrot and peg-leg as any.

Dream Day Wedding
From: Oberon Games
For: PC
www.oberongames.com

Sure – a twenty-something guy like me who proudly sports tribal tattoos, stubble and earrings might not be the true target audience for this interactive scavenger hunt. Nonetheless, even I can appreciate the genius behind said title, a Valentine’s Day download-only original designed for starry-eyed women of all ages. In a nod to the best-selling Mystery Case Files series, help best friend Jenny plan her big day by hunting for items atop object-strewn backgrounds. Mini-games even let you decide how the romance unfolds. (Sorry, no sneaking off and making out with the best man…)

Hotel Dusk: Room 215
From: Nintendo
For: Nintendo DS
www.nintendo.com

If you’re a fan of classic crime noir cinema and literature, you’ll surely get a kick out of Nintendo’s newest inventive portable outing, best experienced when your system’s held sideways like a proper novel. Adventuring through the mysterious Hotel Dusk as disgraced New York detective Kyle Hyde, hunt for clues and attempt to solve the mystery of Room 215 as the catchy story plays out. Yipes – so much for that book-of-the-month-club subscription.

Hotel Dusk screenshot
Click to enlarge City Life: World Edition
From: CDV
For: PC
www.cdvus.com

OK, in fairness, the upgrades found here aren’t all that massive over the last version of this well-received urban planning simulator, essentially SimCity for the Core 2 Duo and high-end graphics card-packing generation. Still, the first expansion pack (sold in a standalone, value-priced package) does add new scenarios; international landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty; as well in-game MP3 support. Given that it remains a blast to build neighborhoods and watch inhabitants’ virtual lives unfold, the package proves plenty compelling however you slice it.

City Life screenshot 1 City Life screenshot 2
Click to enlarge
– Scott Steinberg

Scott Steinberg is managing director of Embassy Multimedia Consultants (www.embassymulti.com).

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

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