What is it about the summer months that drags everything down to a crawl? This post alone has taken me a good month to cobble together. Chalk it up to summer doldrums, I guess.
Anyway, last month, the video game industry held their annual E3 (Electronics Entertainment Expo). This is the big conference where all of the big game developers and hardware manufacturers come together to show off their wares. In year’s past, the event was held in May. After complaints from developers that the event had become too big (it used to be open to the public and had become the videogame equivalent of a car show) the event planners decided to change things – to strip the event back to its fundamentals and employ a more intimate setting with a select guest list so that the focus could migrate away from the booth babes and back to the games they’re supposed to be shilling.
Anyway, enough with the history lesson. The point of this post is to give you my impressions on the Top 5 Games that will pry my peepers and collect my cash when they hit sometime this year. As I own two systems, a Wii and a 360, I’ve decided to focus on those two systems. PS3 has some nice looking titles coming but since I won’t be playing them, I won’t be covering them. The only rule here was I focused on games that are definitely releasing in 2007. There are plenty of great titles that loom in 2008 but I’ll save those for next year’s post. Anyway, without further adieu, let’s kick this off.
5. Battalion Wars II (Release – Oct 30th)
In both lists, my number fives are my ‘bubble teams.’ If I don’t get to them this year (which I probably won’t given the amount of spare time I have) than no big deal. I’ll get to them at some point.
Anyway, BWII is a sequel to a Gamecube title. It’s essentially ‘Pikmin at War’ or a cutesy version of Command & Conquer. That said, it’s right up my alley as I have always been intrigued by the real-time strategy genre but I always get so overwhelmed by everything the player needs to keep up with. As I’m building this resource, my frontline is being decimated so as I go off to fortify them my village starts burning so as I begin to build a fire department I get a message that my highway has collapsed (damned Bechtel) and on and on until I just quit in frustration.
Pikmin was right up my alley. You had to use your noggin but you were giving the time to plan everything without the hand of NOD coming down on you. Anyway, BWII looks to follow a similar model, except instead of battling plant life, you get genuine military vehicles blasting away at each other. Never has an E3-AWACS looked this cute.
4. Super Smash Brothers Brawl (Release – December 3rd)
I played the game that preceded this (Super Smash Brothers Melee) for the Gamecube and while I found it to be fun, I also found it to be a little lacking playing by yourself. Not having a cadre of cronies around to pit my Luigi against someone’s Kirby, the luster faded quickly. So why is this on my list now?
Simply put – online play.
Nintendo has finally embraced the 20th century (only took until the 21st) and will allow us to bring the brawl online. The fact that the fighter line-up boasts almost any character that has ever appeared in a Nintendo-branded game just adds to the allure of the title. In addition to that, there are surprises. As the pic above shows, Solid Snake ain’t above snapping poor Link’s neck. SN-AAAAAAAAAAAAA-KKKKKKKKEEEEEEEE!!!!!!
3. Zak & Wiki – The Search for Barbaro’s Treasure (Release – Oct 16th)
I’m one of those steadfast defenders of The Legend of Zelda – the Wind Waker. While that title was slapped with the moniker Celda, I happened to love the style. I thought the art style really brought the adventures of Link to life – and if anything – insured that the animated aesthetic would remain timeless.
Zak & Wiki marries Wind Waker’s good looks with a return to one of my favorite game styles – the point and click adventure. That’s right, the province of those great LucasArts games of the past is making a resurgence on the Wii – thanks to the point and click gameplay afforded by the Wii-mote.
IGN has extensively covered Z & W and their editors have begun a grass roots campaign to implore people to buy this game as it is supposedly so creative in it’s puzzle and game design. Their fear is that it will be lost in the shuffle as gamers turn their noses at the cartoon aesthetics. I’m buying this Day 1. I love a good puzzle. I love a good platformer. And the art style has won me over. We need more of this type of game. Also, if this does well, then the likelihood of seeing Sam & Max rise again is pretty much a lock.
2. Metroid Prime 3 – Corruption (Release – August 27th)
I’ve said it so often before. My holy trinity are Mario, Metroid and Zelda. I’ve played them all and love them equally. These three series – more than any other – give me that great gamer euphoria where you get lost in the experience as all time and space melts around you.
I found the two Metroid Prime games to be excellent – although truthfully – the second one was a little too difficult for its own good (the last boss took me months to beat and I almost gave up before seeing it through to the end).
From what I’ve seen of MP3, the developers have really embraced the Wii-mote for some clever applications. See that image above. That’s Samus in her spaceship. This takes place during an interactive cut scene where you can move her hand around the ship interior to interact with the various computer terminals and other sci-fi gadgetry. It’s things like that that really add to the immersion. I’ve also seen gameplay footage where to open an air lock, you reach forward, grasp, pull back and twist your wrist – essentially mimicking Samus’ movements on screen. The reports on this are MP3 is more of a First Person Shooter (with adventure elements) than the prior MP games with true run and gun action. Also, the Nunchuck/Wiimote combo is apparently producing a control scheme on par with the vaunted mouse/keyboard config so beloved by PC enthusiasts so this could be the blueprint for future FPS games on the system.
This will spell the gap before Halo 3 drops.
1. Super Mario Galaxy (Release – November 6th)
It’s been 5 years since we’ve had a true Mario game (not counting New Super Mario Brothers on the DS). That last game, Super Mario Sunshine, debuted on the Gamecube and was a pretty decent 3D platformer.
This latest one is being called the spiritual successor to Super Mario 64 – which has been called one of the greatest games of all time. I think the accolades are apt. I recently replayed Super Mario 64 on the Wii’s Virtual Console and for an eleven year old game, it has held up. When you think about it – that game was a real trailblazer. Before Super Mario 64, when platformers were done in 3D they were done awkwardly at best. SM64 perfected the camera control which has always been the bane of developers. Most importantly – it was just a fun game.
What really strikes me about Super Mario Galaxy is here is a game that shows off the Wii’s graphical prowess. Too many developers have been lazy, simply porting old PS2 games to the Wii and hoping to cash in on the casual gaming crowd. The Wii is described as double the power of the Gamecube – a system which pumped out some damn fine visuals (look at Resident Evil 4 or Wind Waker for example.) Yet, the third parties seem to take the lazy approach. Fortunately, the heroic plumber appears ready to stop ‘em all and show everyone what that little white box can pump out. While the graphics aren’t the high fidelity realistic vistas offered up by games like Gears of War, there is a genuine artistic aesthetic at work here. The new worlds Mario gets to stomp around in look fantastic – big, bright and colorful.
One other note. Ever since I played Zelda II – The Adventure of Link during the 1988 holidays, I have has a special place in my heart for the “Thanksgiving game”. As tradition holds, Nintendo usually releases their AAA title in the week or two leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday. Thanksgiving has seen me play through the aforementioned Zelda II, Super Mario Brothers 2, Super Mario 64, Legend of Zelda – The Ocarina of Time as well as some non-Nintendo products like the Tomb Raider series. It just seems like Thanksgiving always sees a release of that special type of game that truly transports me.
This year, Super Mario Galaxy lands on November 6th. Hopefully someone saves me some leftovers, ‘cause I’m skipping the stuffing in favor of some Gobble Gobble Day with the Goombas.