Spring video games range from Journey to Xenoblade Chronicles
This week, explore the desert and the remains of a pair of massive titans. Become a monster hunter, a ninja, and a Jedi. And see if your team of cartoon hockey players has what it takes.
(Sony; PS3; rated everyone)
Unlike anything you’ve played, this enrapturing experience comes from Los Angeles indie developer thatgamecompany. Journey is really just that—and it’s one of profound discovery. Moving through a desert landscape, you are guided only by what you see on the horizon. The vast and beautiful environment is variously melancholy, haunting, and intriguing. Your only actions are to move, jump, and issue a call, which you’ll discover can activate objects and can be heard by other players. There’s only ever one other player, some anonymous person who is also playing Journey, and there’s no other way for the two of you to communicate. Somehow you do, though, creating your own language out of gesture and intent. Immensely personal and intimate, Journey is daring in design, exquisite in execution.
Big Win Hockey
(Hothead; iOS; rated 12+)
This is the second game in the Big Win series from Vancouver’s Hothead Games; Big Win Soccer debuted in early March. The games are a blend of collector-card games and sports-management sim, and are deceptively engrossing. As your team wins games and tournaments, you collect coins and Big Bucks, which you can then use to purchase packs of virtual cards. These include players so you can build out your bench, contracts so you can keep those players on your team, and special Big Win cards, which can turn the game in your favour. You can choose to skip the games if you’re more interested in the result. Opt to watch the expedited action, though, and you’ll find yourself cheering for your goofy little players even though you have no control over the outcome.
Kinect Star Wars
(LucasArts; Xbox 360; rated teen)
Since the Kinect interface was launched, gamers around the world have been waiting for an opportunity to actually wield a light sabre while playing a game. Now they can, although we advise you to leave the props to the side. The Galactic Dance Off mode is a bit incongruous, but this game still provides ample opportunity to step into the world of Star Wars. You will engage in light-sabre duels, use the Force to fling droids around, and race pods and speeders. It may not provide a full, iconic Star Wars experience for those who grew up with the original trilogy, but when you see the graphics that invoke The Clone Wars animated television show, you’ll realize it wasn’t meant for us anyway.
Ninja Gaiden 3
(Tecmo; PS3, Xbox 360; rated mature)
The Ninja Gaiden games have a reputation for being challenging. Being able to manipulate the moves of ninja Ryu Hayabusa required players know what button combinations were possible and what specific tactics were necessary to defeat certain enemies; button mashers had little success. Ninja Gaiden 3, which does provide the same sense of brutal, bloody chaos that is a hallmark of the series, is easier to play. But even casual players will be disappointed if they’re looking for anything more than a haze of quick-cut camera movements and blood splatter. There’s precious little story and too much repetition. In trying to make Ninja Gaiden appeal to a broader audience, the developers at Team Ninja only managed to alienate the hard-core fans.
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, Enhanced Edition
(Warner Bros.; Xbox 360; rated mature)
This sequel to the 2007 role-playing adventure game The Witcher is steeped in a fully realized world brimming with detail. Based on the novels by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, this is a hybrid fantasy world with magic and alchemy and mutagens, a place where witchers—monster hunters—roam the countryside. It’s more complicated than other recent RPGs. Geralt, your hero, wields all manner of blades as well as spells. There are many methods of enhancing equipment and talents. You have an astounding level of control, which will be appreciated by RPG lovers but makes the game a bit out of reach for the mildly curious. Originally released for Windows in May 2011, this version includes all the extra content released since then.
(Nintendo; Wii; rated teen)
Released in Japan back in the spring of 2010, Xenoblade Chronicles didn’t become available in North America until April of this year. It was worth the wait. While the plot turns on a theme that has become somewhat clichéd for Japanese role-playing games, that of the natural world versus the technological, Xenoblade is elevated by its massive, nonlinear story and unique setting. Constructed to incline players to explore and quest, the environments, on the fossilized remains of two ancient titans forever locked in battle, are astounding. With a combat system that cleverly blends turn-based and real-time modes, Xenoblade is as familiar as it needs to be, and as fresh as it must.