The eagerly anticipated Portal 2 was released last week, and is the game many have likely been playing since. Other recent releases include a new Lego Battles title developed in Vancouver and an ambitious massively multiplayer online role-playing title that looks to carve out a space among fans of World of Warcraft.
Portal 2 (Valve; Mac, PC, PS3, Xbox 360; rated everyone 10+)
While the first Portal was something of a sleeper hit, the same cannot be said of the sequel. Thankfully, Portal 2 proves to be superlative and every bit as satisfying. The game is much the same, with players solving environmental puzzles by creating linked portals. If you need to get to a ledge up high, for example, you create one portal in the wall alongside the ledge, and a second on the wall beside you. Then you simply walk through. What makes the Portal games special, though, is careful, clever, and consistent level design. You are slowly trained in how to solve the puzzles, and while you find yourself challenged quickly, you never feel as though you’re being manipulated. The storytelling is also ingenious, relying on cues in the environment and hilarious one-way dialogue to communicate a complex state of affairs. There’s also a co-op mode—with a unique story line starring a pair of Laurel and Hardy–like robots—that can be played in either split screen or online. Bold and original, Portal 2 is an essential game for every library.
Lego Battles: Ninjago (Warner Bros.; DS; rated everyone)
Developed by Vancouver’s Hellbent Games, Lego Battles: Ninjago is a strategy game. As with the equally excellent first Lego Battles title, also developed by Hellbent, this is a strategy game for kids, so managing resources and planning actions is not complicated at all, and is as simple as tapping the Nintendo DS touchscreen. In this game, groups of heroes fight the enemy, while builders construct things like barracks, mines, and towers. The Lego bricks and studs that are collected by all characters in the environment unlock new characters and weapons. While you can only have one of each hero at any time, you can collect more heroes as you progress, and they can be upgraded to make them more powerful. The story here has a very Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles feel to it—Sensei Wu is training young warriors in Spinjitzu—but the tone and humour are very much consistent with what we’ve come to expect from the Lego video games. The multiplayer mode, which allows for local competition against a friend, may seem limited, but is more than enough for most young gamers.
Rift (Trion Worlds; PC; rated teen)
A massively multiplayer online role-playing game, Rift is a fantasy title featuring dragons and undead, warriors and magic. The world of Telara exists at the intersection of a number of dimensions, and creatures from these elemental planes stream in through rifts. The Ascended, resurrected soldiers, stand in their way. When creating your character you’ll choose a gender, a race, and the usual class (warrior, rogue, mage, or cleric), but more important in Rift is your choice of whether to become a Guardian or a Defiant. The more spiritual Guardians are at odds with the Defiants, who are technologically minded and have been sent back in time to change the course of history. And while both factions battle the enemies that threaten Telara, they also fight each other. So players will be engaging with computer-controlled demons one minute and other players—in opposite factions—the next. Rich with possibility, Rift is an excellent option for players who are looking for an alternative to Warcraft, or for Warcraft players who may be looking for a change.