Summer can be a lean time for new games, and the release schedule this July certainly isn't as loaded with big AAA releases as some of the months we've had so far this year. It's the calm before the pre-holiday season storm, but that doesn't mean the weeks ahead are barren. Quite the contrary – in fact, there are several noteworthy releases listed below, especially when it comes to anticipated downloadable console games and Nintendo 3DS releases. And if nothing on this list sends your heart aflutter, perhaps it's worth looking over the games of June 2012 once again?
Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
EU: July 6
Continuing Square Enix's trend of unsettlingly awkward titles for series spin-offs, Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy pays homage to decades of tremendous tunes from the role-playing series via a Nintendo 3DS rhythm game. With tracks from the original NES entry all the way through Final Fantasy XIII, Theatrhythm mimics the course of a traditional RPG using battle, exploration, and cutscene sequences – except instead of actually fighting monsters and wandering the overworld, you're using the stylus to tap along with some of the greatest gaming music ever composed. Theatrhythm looks to be a prime piece of fan service for 3DS owners, and with luck, it'll also prove to be a sharp rhythm game in its own right.
The Secret World
EU: July 3
Announced more than five years ago, The Secret World is finally set for release; and the new MMORPG from Funcom (Age of Conan) and EA certainly stands out from the rest of its ample competition. First off, it's not set in some fantasy or sci-fi world, instead opting to employ a modern-day setting – albeit one in which paranormal activities are occurring. Moreover, the game features some serious atmosphere, with creepy locations and intensely disturbing enemies populating them. Perhaps most startling is the complete lack of set classes and player levels, making it not only aesthetically different, but functionally distinct as well. Find out much more with our recent 7 Things That Set It Apart from Other MMOs piece.
Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3
We've been listing Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends pretty regularly in this space in recent months, with delays keeping the upcoming simulation from launching as expected, though it finally seems set to debut in the coming days. Following the unspectacular retail launch of Test Drive Unlimited 2, Ferrari Racing Legends takes the series in a much different direction: with closed-circuit races focused entirely on the car catalog of the iconic manufacturer, not to mention a career mode that shapes its challenges on the company's history. Shift 2: Unleashed developer Slightly Mad Studios is onboard for Test Drive's latest reboot.
Platform: Xbox Live Arcade
EU: July 4
We highlighted Spelunky as one of the 10 upcoming (and excitingly original) indie games you need to know about following PAX Prime last fall, and while the title wasn't picked as part of the Summer of Arcade, it's one of our most anticipated Xbox Live Arcade releases. Building upon the much-loved freeware original, Spelunky seems to pull together elements from Castlevania, Bomberman, Indiana Jones, and Cave Story to deliver a slick side-scroller that also includes local four-player support. Several indie game-makers have been talking this game up of late on Twitter, and based on what we've seen and played, we're very much inclined to believe the hype.
EU: July 4
Endless Space has been available in beta form in recent weeks for Steam pre-orders, but the 4X (that's "explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate") space sim will see a formal release come Independence Day. Putting players in charge of their own galactic empire, controlling everything from diplomacy and war to science and economy, Endless Space looks to be an incredible time sink for 4X fans, and considering the ample praise flowing from the beta, we'd guess one that's quite a bit more stable than last fall's botched Sword of the Stars II. Based on the trailers, it also looks quite slick, with stylish menus and some gorgeous ship design.
Bellator MMA Onslaught
Platform: Xbox Live Arcade, PSN
EU: July 4
EA recently shook up the retail side of the mixed-martial arts market by acquiring the Ultimate Fighting Championship license, following a trio of THQ-published entries and EA's own EA Sports MMA. But Bellator MMA Onslaught aims for a different kind of market than those earlier releases, and not simply in price point. The 345 Games-published Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network release sheds the sim approach for a more traditional fighting game aesthetic, with accessible, button mashing-friendly matches that don't spend minutes stuck in ground maneuvers. It may lack big-name fighters, but at $15, it's a very different option for MMA fans.