Marumasa: The Demon Blade (Ignition for Wii)
Those who followed cult Japanese
developers Vanillaware over the years were thrilled to find out that the
same people behind Princess Crown and Odin Sphere were going to release
another title on Wii. That was some of the best news of the year for
hardcore gamers. They delivered another title in this loosely connected
series with Marumasa, an excellent hack and slash action title with some
unique play mechanics and fun gameplay. It did become a bit redundant, but
with two playable characters, loads of secrets and classic 2D gameplay,
this was one of the year's biggest sleepers. A lush storyline is
complimented with excellent music, hand-drawn beautiful visuals with
gorgeous backgrounds and fluid sprites made this one of the best
classically themed games out this year on the Wii.
King of Fighters XII (SNK Playmore for Playstation 3)
There was a pronounced resurgence in
classic versus fighting games over the year. SNK's long-running King of
Fighters series received a fairly big update this year, though it was
overshadowed a bit by SF IV. The latest installment was an excellent
edition. KOF XII brings streamlined play mechanics and upgraded graphics
to the table and delivers what players have come to expect from the
franchise. It's 22 characters was a bit smaller than usual, but still
offered a mix of familiar and new characters, with many modes of play
included as well. The move list and fighting system has been simplified to
allow newer players to perform special attacks with much less effort. This
makes for a more accessible title that delivers traditional 2D fighting,
while not losing its essential hardcore appeal. While it wasn't the most
hyped 2D fighter, it was definitely a solid installment that brought the
series into the HD era successfully.
Blast Works (Majesco for Wii)
Easy to overlook in the bargain bins,
the surprisingly enjoyable Blast Works is a fairly interesting
side-scrolling shooter that has some interesting play mechanics and a
winning, cute design. It allows you to collect enemies and add to your
firepower, which gives it a completely unique feel. This makes for one of
the most enjoyable and innovative shooters we've played in some time.
Based on this alone, the title would be worth buying, but its extensive
level editing feature adds plenty of replay value by allowing players to
design, play and share their own levels. This title represents is an
impressive example of a smartly implemented approach to user-generated
content that makes this largely unheralded Wii release worth picking up
for gamers who want to do more than just play the game.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 (Tecmo for
While it probably got overlooked next to
bigger releases, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 is the definitive version of Team
Ninja's classic Ninja Gaiden II, refined for an excellent PS3 update.
While the basic parameters are fairly similar, the new revision is more
than a port - with new levels, bosses and additions. Several new gameplay
modes, including the viscerally thrilling team missions give the game much
more content than the original release. The gameplay has also been
tweaked, with new additions, such as impressive boss battles, giving Sigma
2 some unpredictable twists. Graphical enhancements include a steadier
frame rate and smoother animations. These changes makes Ninja Gaiden Sigma
2 a superior choice over the original and a definite must-buy and a great
addition to any gamers' library.
BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger (Arc
Systems for PS3/Xbox 360)
Arc Systems, the creators of Guilty
Gear, created a unique title offers gameplay that is both familiar and
different. It's another 2D fighter in a similar style, but has unique
elements such as distortion attacks and moves, that make it feel unique.
Its characters are somewhat less balanced and the gameplay moves at a
slower pace. BlazBlue's multiple modes including versus fighting, an
extensive story mode and extensive online support. Blaze Blu's beautifully
designed HD visuals explode from the screen with lush 2D anime-style
character animation, excellent 3D backgrounds and extensive voice-overs.
Its intricate fighting system makes BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger an
unapologetically hardcore fighter, but its excellent mechanics and
challenging gameplay make for a challenging 2D fighting title.
Qubed (Atari for Xbox 360)
Combining three of Q? Entertainment's seminal Xbox releases in a single,
low-priced package, Qubed offers a distinctly playable gaming experience
most players won't want to miss. The package includes Rez HD, Every Extend
Extra Extreme and Lumines Live. Each of the three games delivers an
intense, surreal cybernetic experience that mixes beautiful CGI graphics,
intense techno music and synchs them together to create memorable titles
that can't be easily classified or pigeonholed. Addictive shooting action
and challenging gameplay make these both modern and timeless. Those
players who were unfortunate enough to have missed these games in their
original release can now have access to all of them in a low-priced
package which might make a great holiday stocking stuffer for the hardcore
gamer in your life this year.
Punch-Out!! (Nintendo for Wii)
This reboot of Nintendo's long-dormant,
but much-loved Punch-Out!! franchise stays very true to its original
format and style. Players will face an array of classic boxers including
the famous Glass Joe and King Hippo along with a smattering of new
characters. The game plays and feels very much as it did in the classic
years, and many of the strategies and moves you remember work here as
well. There are a few new twists, such as a cool split-screen multiplayer
mode, but this version of Punch-Out!! stays very true to its inspiration.
While younger players should enjoy the series, it seems targeted mostly to
gamers who loved the original, making it a truly classic experience that
shouldn't be missed by players who grew up on this series. New Super Mario
Bros. Wii got a lot of attention, but gamers shouldn't overlook how much
fun this game was.
Raiden IV & Raiden Fighters Aces (UFO for Xbox 360)
The shooting revival was actually most
robust on the Xbox 360, which enjoyed many fine releases on Xbox Live this
year. For those disc-based gamers who wanted something more permanent,
this pair of releases definitely delivered the goods. Raiden IV
represented the latest in the long running series and had the brilliant
graphics and tight gameplay we've come to expect from the series, hardcore
elements intact. Playing in Tate mode made it even better. Raiden Fighter
Aces was another fine release, with 3 awesome titles on a single disc,
meaning it had endless replay value for the vertically-scrolling inclined.
Fans of these classic shooters couldn't have asked for better.
Ultimate Shooting Collection (Wii)
Combining three classic vertically
scrolling shooters in a single disc, Ultimate Shooting Collection from UFO
Games on the Wii offers gamers a solid dose of high-intensity bullet
shredding action. Included are Karous, Radirgy and Chaos Field - all
originally developed on the Dreamcast, and appearing here in the states in
much cheaper, non-import form. Each title delivers a unique spin on the
genre, with elaborate power-ups, multiple shooting planes and excellent
play mechanics that are challenging and highly entertaining. Visually, the
games run the gamut from high-tech sophistication to light-hearted humor.
The games share certain play mechanics and styles, making for a cohesive
collection that brings solidly entertaining arcade shooting to the Wii in
a diverse and affordable package.