The summer videogame doldrums die in fire this week as Nintendo finally releases one of its promised big Wii U titles. Meanwhile, the PS3 and PC offer their own intriguing, once-in-a-great-while gems. And just how often does a game encourage you to marry a skeleton? Answer: Not enough.
Pikmin 3 (Wii U)
Nintendo has done it again. And by “done it,” I mean made a ‘Pikmin’ game. This time around, you control three captains per map instead of just Olimar, and you collect fruit instead of ship parts, but the premise is basically the same as it was in 2001’s original ‘Pikmin’ or 2004’s ‘Pikmin 2’. You control your captains as they explore a lush and exaggerated green environment, and the captains, in turn, collect and direct the Pikmin, those tiny, expendable vegetable creatures who are the brain child of Nintendo’s legendary Shigeru Miyamoto.
If for some reason you own a Wii U and have never played a ‘Pikmin’ game in either its original GameCube form or Wii re-release, then ‘Pikmin 3‘ is basically a must-play. The Nintendo-ized strategy elements pop with a great color palette and adorable character designs. The little yells as Pikmin are directed to drag something, or screams as they die in combat (or water) flavor each of your successes and failures with fun.
Unfortunately, ‘Pikmin 3’ feels more like a remake of a GameCube title than something new. Because the game comes late in the middle of a Wii U first-year software drought, the inherent charm of ‘Pikmin 3’ may get lost in the shuffle.
Dragon’s Crown (PS3, Vita)
Welcome back, Beat ‘Em Up. In the past few years, we’ve been treated to games like ‘Castle Crashers’ and ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game’, which have proven that the beat ’em up genre can still enthrall players today like it did in arcades of yore. Even so, what we’ve been missing is a beat ’em up that allows players to feel immersed in the mythic trappings of a fantasy world, like ‘Golden Axe’ did once upon a time.
Thus, ‘Dragon’s Crown‘ enters the fray. From Vanillaware, developer of ‘Odin Sphere’ and ‘Muramasa: The Demon Blade’, and a modern day champion of 2D games with 2D artwork, ‘Dragon’s Crown’ is intriguing with its feature set. What may at first seem like just a button-masher, the title offers enough player classes and stat customizations to allow for a nice depth of gameplay. While the game starts off as single player, the multiplayer online co-op mode can be unlocked to add several nice bits of competition on each level and even in between levels. To help encourage play on and offline, the game offers cross-save compatibility between the PS3 and PS Vita versions.
That said, the game also arrives with some controversy. ‘Dragons’ Crown’ is, comparatively speaking, a low-key release in a genre that has never dreamed of selling like a new ‘Madden’ or ‘Call of Duty’. Nevertheless, the art style – specifically, some of its female character designs – has been decried in a manner usually reserved for Spinal Tap album covers. My recommendation is to play the game or at least watch some gameplay footage before making judgments about its art style.
Tales of Xillia (PS3)
Two years after its initial release, ‘Tales of Xillia‘ makes its way West. The ‘Tales’ series has a huge fan base that should be pleased whenever any of its titles gets localized for any system. ‘Tales of Xillia’, while lacking the sheer visual prowess of recent ‘Final Fantasy’ titles, still manages to be a better choice for many JRPG fans. The game’s combat system, which allows for controlling each of the four in-battle party members on-the-fly in fast-paced battle, is one of the title’s core assets.
Likewise, the random event/side quest system is a practical alternative to a traditional world map, and helps to rid the game of static or dull areas. When starting out, players get to choose between controlling either Jude Mathias and Milla Maxwell. With such a story-driven game, the choice between two leads, while not drastically altering the experience, adds some flavoring and makes the game more likely to get a repeat playthrough. That sets up this ‘Tales’ title as a 40-80 hour experience perfect for those looking to scratch a Japanese RPG itch.
Divinity: Dragon Commander (PC)
Now this is a PC game! Take command as this multi-faceted PC strategy game mixes elements of real-time gameplay, RTS, 4X, and even conversational diplomacy. As a Dragon Knight with an airship command center, your job is to bring all the factions in the shattered empire back under one rule. To do so, you’ll need the help of advisors as well as a politically savvy wife (who’s possibly a skeleton) to plan the construction and advancement of your army.
Commanding your forces is the greatest gameplay element, but you also have the option to directly enter battles and confront your enemies on a jet-packed powered dragon. So, basically, every part of the game sounds awesome. With so few titles willing to mix up genres in a similar manner, I expect ‘Divinity: Dragon Commander’ to garner an instant cult following.