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Poor Lara Croft. We moan and whine about her games’ dwindling quality for years… then when she finally cleans up her act on this generation of consoles, we respond with a semi-interested shrug. Underworld and Legend sold pretty well, especially in Europe, but nothing compared to the glory days of I, II and III.
Ironically, the most ignored was Anniversary, an almost perfect update of the original – and still purest – Tomb Raider game. No skyscrapers, stealth missions, snowmobiles or skimpy bikini outfits here; the temples, puzzles and acrobatic stunts are the stars. Isn’t that what we claimed we always wanted?
Current availability? Anywhere from $16 to $31 new, depending on platform.
Amazing visuals, a unique combination of strategy and action, an excellent soundtrack, a gripping plot and loads of replay value. Valkyria Chronicles was one of the best reasons to own a PS3 last year, but chances are high that many of you haven’t played it yet. The game was largely ignored in America and, even in Japan, was outsold by older, dumber fare like Nintendogs Chihuahua.
The story follows Welkin Gunther, a lover of nature and science who dreams of sharing his knowledge with the children of his homeland. When Imperial forces invade his country, however, Welkin is forced to take up arms – and the role of unlikely hero – to defend his people. With plenty of candy for your eyes, tactics for your brains and action for your thumbs, Valkyria Chronicles joins the company of Okami and Psychonauts, true masterpieces that should’ve sold more copies than they did.
Current availability? $45 new.
Did giant mech games go out of style or something? Back in the day, we spent countless hours unlocking new bits of explosive-techno-electric stuff, balancing our heat-sinks with our weapon choices and dissecting our strategies. If you still have the itch to command customizable walking tanks, dig through the bargain bin until you find Chromehounds.
Chromehounds is for serious mech fans. None of that silly Armored Core jump-jet stuff here - this is painstakingly careful and considered combat. Unfortunately, the single player mode is pretty meaningless and we have no idea if folks are still playing on Xbox Live.
Current availability? $30 new. As low as $12 used.
Just released and poor Henry Hatsworth is already sucking on life support. Granted, two months may not be long enough to judge… but with only 20,000 copies sold so far, the foppish Englishman probably shouldn’t hold his breath.
Maybe we can be of assistance. If you love DS puzzlers, you should buy Henry Hatsworth. If you love DS platformers, you should buy Henry Hatsworth. The game cleverly combines the best from both genres, with the top screen devoted to Mario-like action and the bottom screen saved for Tetris-like brain teasers. When you discover how well and how unexpectedly the two worlds merge, you’ll be glad you gave the old adventurer a shot.
Current availability? $30 new.
Another victim of Nintendo’s casual audience. Here is a Wii title with danger, menace and brutality. Here is a Wii title with intrigue, innovation and imagination. Here is a Wii title with original uses for the motion controls. And here is a Wii title that’s sold about 2% the number of copies as goddamn Carnival Games.
In Deadly Creatures, you play as both a scorpion and a tarantula. You use the remote and Nunchuk to battle rattlesnakes, beetles and giant lizards. You explore a gorgeously miniaturized world in which doll heads provide shelter, cell phones light up entire rooms and humans voiced by Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Hopper can squish you with a single footstep.
Nah, sounds pointless. Let’s play another friggin’ round of Wii bowling instead…
Current availability? $47 new. $37 used.
Critics were rather unkind to the non-MMO Conan, often citing the game’s brutal brand of stupidity. Um, what did you expect from a barbarian? Enlightenment? This is an action-adventure about a muscle-bound chunkhead who rips the heads off enemies and the hearts out of ladies. In a way, Conan sort of delivered on everything promised, featuring an avalanche of gore and bare-chested women who begged you to crush them “with your love.”
Don’t write off the combat as mindless, either. The formula doesn’t stray far from superior titles like God of War and Devil May Cry, but Conan does sport incredibly tight controls and a ginormous amount of unlockable combos.
Current availability? $12 new.
With Pokemoning and Monster Hunting all the rage nowadays, we wonder why Folklore didn’t kick up a little more dust. It may not have been the PS3-justifyinig RPG originally billed, but the design is gorgeously lavish and the gameplay is one-of-a-kind.
Essentially, your only weapons are your enemies. You must murder over a hundred beasties, or “Folks,” and siphon their souls to harness their unique abilities. Coolest of all, the hyper-gimmicky SIXAXIS enabled you to jerk back on the controller to rip the monsters’ spirits from their still-beating carcasses in a way that was deliciously Ghostbusters, long before we knew that property was getting its own game.
Current availability? $30 new.
If you don’t buy Weapon of Choice, you just don’t like old-school games. It’s a 2D side-scrolling blastathon in the vein of Contra or Gunstar Heroes (although single-player only), but reinvented for the modern world. It’s both retro and fresh. It’s weird. And it’s covered in awesomesauce.
The art style is half way between black velvet black light painting and LSD trip. There are branching paths that actually affect the story. The weapons are incredibly over-the-top – one of the default characters carries a jet engine. Every character has a backpack with mechanical arms that enable you to walk up walls and hang from ceilings. You can fight the SUN. The list goes on and on.
Plus, being an Xbox community game, Weapon of Choice can be yours for the ridiculously low sum of $5. That’s right. The sale price of a footlong sandwich at Subway. Screw eating fresh – game fresh and just eat Doritos and Mountain Dew for dinner again.
Current availability? $5 download.
The beauty of EA’s Street franchises was that you didn’t need to actually know anything about the sports you were playing. Rules were gleefully bended. Regulations were unapologetically broken. You could bounce balls off opponents’ heads, defy gravity by running up a wall or score multiple baskets within a single jumpshot. Because the emphasis was on fun and not fouls, the games sold millions and millions of copies.
NBA Street Homecourt, though, didn’t. The latest and last entry in the basketball series opted for a slightly less show-off style, painting the sport with warm ‘70s-‘80s nostalgia and casting the celebrity players as younger, not-yet-famous versions of themselves. The moves and dunks are still ridiculously over-the-top, the multiplayer is still endlessly entertaining and the graphics have never looked better, but the lack of in-your-face “xtremeness” must have turned away a large part of the audience. Shame.
Current availability? $15 new.
What’s a stronger testament to Retro Game Challenge? The fact that its presentation kicks unholy amounts of ass despite being based on a Japanese TV show we’ve never heard of? Or that each of its NES inspired “minigames” are more addictive and playable than 70% of the casual full-length crap lining the DS section’s store shelves right now?
Listen. You’re a kid trapped in the ‘80s and forced to overcome 8-bit challenges divvied out by the tyrannical head of an Asian man sitting atop a D-pad. Your only tools are painstakingly authentic game manuals and a fictitious magazine written by longstanding journalistic heavyweights containing previews, strategies and cheat codes. Doesn’t that sound frigging amazing?
Current availability? $30 new.
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