June is nearly behind us. It's been a great six months for games (an absolutely remarkable six months, actually), but the time has come to look at the next half of the year.
Unlike last year - when many notable titles had unfixed release dates, or were later pushed to 2010 (Bayonetta, Darksiders, Alpha Protocol), the industry seems to have gotten more comfortable with launching games after the colossally important holiday sales rush. Huge titles that could duke it out quite comfortably with this year's big guns are already resting comfortably in the first few months of 2011 (Dead Space 2, Bulletstorm), and - for the most part - we have a pretty good idea of when, precisely we can expect 2010's important titles.
Now, I should note, these release dates mostly firm dates announced by official sources - but not all. I should also note that these are "important titles" as I see 'em - though not necessarily important to me - as denoted by the Hype-O-Meter.
Let's take a look.
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 Portable
July 6th (PSP)
Hype-O-Meter: Day one purchase.
I give full credit to Persona 3 for being the game that convinced me I could love a JRPG - I would never have even tried Resonance of Fate or Eternal Sonata if not for that gem of a game. Now, if I had to choose, I'd probably take Persona 4 as the superior title - but an enhanced version of P3 for the PSP that includes many of Persona 4's improvements? Thank you, Sir, may I have another?
July 13th (PSN, XBLA)
Hype-O-Meter: A few good reviews and I'm sold.
DeathSpank is "Diablo meets Monkey Island." I can offer no guarantees of its Diablo-ness (though it is an ARPG), but its Monkey Island-ness is assured thanks simply to being the product of Ron Gilbert - the writer and director of that legendary adventure title.
With an infectious, zany sense of humor and the assured voice work of Jim Ward as the titular DeathSpank, DeathSpank should feature prominently on your July radar.
BlazBlue: Continuum Shift
Hype-O-Meter: In the red.
If I have one great shame for The Year In Games 2009, it's that I didn't pick up BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger. It got rock-solid reviews, but it's the promise of big, beautiful high-def 2D sprites as the entry point to a terribly deep combat system that whet my whistle.
Now... I haven't invested myself in a 2D fighter since the heyday of the genre with Super Street Fighter II or Mortal Kombat. As far as I'm concerned the greatest fighter ever made is Virtua Fighter 5, so I must admit BlazBlue intimidates the shit out of me. I am, simply, out of touch with all the advances made in the genre since the late 90s. That said, in 2010 I will not repeat the mistake I made in 2009.
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
August 10th (PSN, XBLA)
Scott Pilgrim is one of those titles that seems to be designed with the express purpose of pleasing me, personally. Big, pretty 2D sprites, snappy music, creative overload and gameplay that harkens back to the good ol' days.
My only concern is that often, if you go back and play those good ol' games, they're too simple, too mashy, too boring to stand up to modern expectations. Let's hope Scott Pilgrim is the best of both worlds.
Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days
August 24th (PS3, 360, PC)
Hype-O-Meter: Worthy of hope, but not hype.
Third time may be the charm for Hitman developer IO Interactive on the HD consoles. The original Kane & Lynch was largely panned by critics (and sparked the Gerstmanngate fiasco). I'll be honest - I wanted to give it a try, but that demo was just terrible.
IO followed K&L up with the just-okay Mini Ninjas, but they've yet to find real success on the current gen. Early reaction from the media suggest that Dog Days plays infinitely better than its predecessor, and with the visual hook of its presentation (and largely positive reaction to the original's narrative), Kane & Lynch: Dog Days deserves to be watched. Cautiously. From across the room.
August 24th (PS3, 360, PC)
2K Czech have been working on Mafia II for five years, and it looks remarkably solid. The presentation is great and the recreation of 1940s-50s America is an inviting setting, but I'll be honest: these days, if an open-world game isn't developed by Rockstar or Sucker Punch, I just can't bring myself to have any faith in it.
I'll wait for reviews.
Metroid: Other M
August 31st? We think? (Wii)
Now, some folks are willing to assume that playing Metroid: Other M will be like sucking sweet sustenance from the iridescent nipple of a winged unicorn - and they may very well be right. Team Ninja have no credit with me, and Metroid was never really high on the list of reasons to love my old NES or SNES, so it's not plugging in to my Nostalgia Unit.
That said, I'll certainly be watching to see if Metroid: Other M proves worthy of its skyrocketing general hype.
Valkyria Chronicles 2
August 31st (PSP)
Hype-O-Meter: Day one purchase.
Falling in neatly behind last year's phenomenal Demon's Souls, 2008's Valkyria Chronicles is in second place for the most critically acclaimed Japanese-developed RPG on the HD consoles. Don't believe me? Think FFXIII fits in there somewhere? Go ahead, check it out - I'll wait.
Now that you're aware that Valkyria Chronicles is absolutely bloody awesome - a gorgeous, clever, moving and mature beast of a game - please look into Valkyria Chronicles 2 on the PSP. I don't want to have to wait six months again before the gamer masses realize how special this thing is and actually start buying it.
If it's half as good as the original, it will be one of the best games on the PSP. Fortunately, if import reviews are anything to go on, it's better.
September 4th (PSP)
Strategy RPG rhythm game.
Patapon 3 is unlikely to see a purchase from me any time soon, but this is simply because I haven't played Patapon 2 or even finished the original. Don't get me wrong, I love the original - I just got sidetracked and never finished it.
I like what I'm seeing with Patapon 3, though. The trademark gigantic bosses and lovingly animated 2D sprites are back, but I've seen screenshots of only three or four massive Hero-Pons battling it out with said behemoths - a huge change from the massive Pata-armies of olde. Patapon 3 is definitely one to keep your eye on.
Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep
September 7th (PSP)
Kingdom Hearts is a recent juggernaut of the RPG world. They boast the sky-high production values of Square Enix and solid action-RPG mechanics, but I've got to admit, I lost interest when I spent four hours "enjoying" the tutorial for Kingdom Hearts II.
Still, Birth By Sleep is one of the two biggest PSP titles of the year (the other being Peace Walker). I would very likely give it a try if it were coming to the PSP Go, but word is Disney won't allow any form of digital distribution.
Poor me. Lucky you.
September 14th (360)
Hype-O-Meter (for me): Meh
Hype-O-Meter (for the masses): Day one purchase.
Sure there's no Master Chief and Reach doesn't continue the Halo story - it's a prequel - but it's also the graphical leap everyone wanted Halo 3 to provide back in 2007.
Reach will, no doubt, be another great Halo game. The mechanics are rock-solid, the online is the best in the biz, and - engine aside - I expect very little will change with what is reported to be Bungie's last turn at bat with Microsoft's legendary franchise. Reach will sell millions upon millions of copies by December 2010, and is easily the most important game in Microsoft's arsenal this year.
September 16th (Wii)
Epic Mickey gameplay was finally revealed at E3 2010, and the high levels of general expectation among the media were tempered to a tepid warmth and hope that the game may deliver more than what was shown.
Warren Spector, the legendary creator of Deus Ex, Wing Commander and Thief, has a huge amount of credit with me (and the gaming media as a whole) - so we're all crossing our fingers that the Epic Mickey experience will prove to be more than the sum of its parts. I mean, let's face it - a simple platforming, puzzle-solving game can be one of the best games of the year - if it's done well enough.
September 22nd? We think? (PSN, XBLA, PC)
Shank is a smaller indie game that, like DeathSpank, was picked up by publishing giant Electronic Arts for digital distribution. The developers' goal, it's said, is to constantly blow the player away with what they were willing to put in the game - which is no idle threat, as Shank was written by God of War co-creator Marianne Krawczyk.
Everything about Shank looks great. The game itself is a gorgeous, sprite-based visual feast, animated by Jeff Agala (Atomic Betty), and hands-on impressions from the media only ever suggest the title is a liquid-smooth blast to play. Look, just watch the videos.
Dead Rising 2
September 28th (PS3, 360, PC)
Zombie humiliation/genocide simulator.
Capcom's flawed action-adventure survival horror gets a facelift with a multiplatform sequel and (they promise) a better save system. More than Halo and even Gears, the original Dead Rising was a huge reason to be jealous of your friend's Xbox 360.
Capcom's commitment to making all their games multiplatform means I too, finally, will be able to inflict ridiculous violence on an infinite number of undead; it will take some very bad reviews to make me pass on Dead Rising 2.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
October 8th in the UK (PS3, 360)
Enslaved is this year's Wet or Darksiders. Or... it would be, if Darksiders hadn't released this year. It's one of those titles that could be really, really awesome, but we'll never know until we lay hands on it and find out for ourselves.
Reasons to hope: Ninja Theory also made Heavenly Sword, which had spectacular presentation and art direction, and boasted facial animation and cutscene quality that is still unequaled to this day. That is not hyperbole. Directed (and sometimes starring) The Lord of The Rings' Andy Serkis, the presentation of story in Heavenly Sword was staggering - and that is what I expect from Enslaved.
Reason to fear: Ninja Theory also made Heavenly Sword, which suffered from rather tedious combat and action. They've said it's their objective to make a game that isn't "button mashy" with Enslaved - which is good - because that's the term that best describes their last game.
Medal of Honor
October 12th (PS3, 360, PC)
Built on the Frostbite engine (Battlefield: Bad Company 2), Electronic Arts returns to its flagship military shooter franchise with this Medal of Honor reboot. Will it be any good? Who knows? The last Medal of Honor game I played was Allied Assault - an incredible title - which was mostly built by folks who left Electronic Arts and founded Infinity Ward (Modern Warfare).
What's important is that Medal of Honor's multiplayer is being developed by DICE, who cranked things up to 11 with Bad Company 2. As for the single player campaign, who knows? Medal of Honor is, simply put, Electronic Arts' attempt at a Call of Duty-killer.
October 12th (PS3, 360)
Third-person cover-based shooter.
Quantum Theory is a Japanese take on Gears of War. That's it. It features a bit of co-op with a scantily-clad AI partner and a fantasy/sci-fi world, but... it's not actually looking very good.
It's looking just shy of okay. Like a game you're not sure you'd want to rent. But heck - once upon a time Darksiders looked the same way - Quantum Theory may turn out to be a hidden gem. ...or just a game that should be hidden.
Fallout: New Vegas
October 19th (PS3, 360, PC)
Open-world FPS RPG.
Hype-O-Meter: A few good reviews and I'm sold.
In a unique reversal of precedent, the more the public sees of New Vegas, the less interest we seem to have in it. I am not immune to this trend. Its greatest flaw is that, graphically, it is identical to the celebrated Fallout 3.
All the interesting stuff is happening under the hood - the RPG side of the equation that Black Isle Studios (Alpha Protocol) have pimped out Fallout 3's standard gameplay with - the most popular community mods (hardcore mode), a total revamp of the karma system, and the addition of much more classic Fallout flavor.
I'll likely day-one Fallout: New Vegas, but I'd like to see some reviews first. For me, it shares a problem with Dead Rising 2: the extraordinary setting of Las Vegas may not provide a good contrast to the extraordinary events of the game. It's much more impactful when crazy stuff like the apocalypse tears apart Everytown, USA.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II
October 25th (PS3, 360, PC, iOS, NDS, Wii)
The Force Unleashed was a crappy game - a very poor God of War/Devil May Cry clone - and no incredible $4,500,000 trailer is going to make me forget that. A torrential downpour of 9/10 reviews are unlikely to move me, when it comes to Force Unleashed II - but may convince me to toss it a rental. We'll see.
October 26th (360, PC)
Hype-O-Meter: High (for most).
Peter Molyneux's flagship RPG franchise on the 360 returns, and it'll surely come as no surprise that I can tell you relatively little about it. The Fable games get great receptions from critics, but I've heard mixed things from gamers. It's one of those 360 franchises that I'd be happy to try out, but I can personally offer no assurances of its quality.
Rest assured, however, that Fable III will sell like gangbusters, and likely receive high praise from the media at large.
Kirby's Epic Yarn
Fall 2010 (Wii)
Sorry, Zelda, you've been overshadowed by soft fabrics and animated stitching.
With a both a new vibe and a classic feel, Kirby's Epic Yarn stole Nintendo's show at E3 2010 with its clever mechanics and stunning art direction. It seems a bit strange, for me, to be so interested in what is "merely" a 2D platformer - I'm more comfortable buying such fare cheaply, from an indie developer off the PSN these days - but Epic Yarn seems both familiar and unique enough to warrant close attention in the coming months.
Little Big Planet 2
October - November. We think. (PS3)
Little Big Planet 2 isn't prominently featured on my radar. In fact, it's so far removed I completely forgot to include it on this list - that said, I might end up buying it just to experience the Media Molecule-created levels, and to goof around with my older brother once in a while. I sure hope they've improved the online code.
LBP2 is, perhaps more than anything, a platform for games creation. The amount of variety and tools available to those gamers who wish to immerse themselves in the ultimate LEGO-style building experience is truly staggering - you can design anything from a bullet-hell shooter to a puzzle game to a top-down racer with LBP2.
The kids will love it.
The Sly Collection
November? We think? (PS3)
Hype-O-Meter: Day one purchase.
Put simply, the Sly Cooper trilogy are fantastic platformers with cartoony presentation and a kiddie-stealth bent. Like Sucker Punch's PS3 debut inFamous, the they are just remarkably fun to play.
That's it. They're wonderful, and I will definitely but them again.
Gran Turismo 5
November 2nd (PS3)
Hype-O-Meter (for me): Nil.
Hype-O-Meter (for the masses): In the red.
Polyphony Digital's Gran Turismo 5 has been a long, long (long) time coming. It will be yet another technological showpiece for a Sony console, running at a phenomenal resolution of 1080p.
Gran Turismo is a bit like those Twilight movies (bear with me on this). Some folks are absolutely fanatical in their loyalty and love of the series, and some folks just couldn't care less. I fall into the latter camp, but Gran Turismo 5 is coming, and it wants to prove that after years of letting Forza take all the glory, it's Sony's franchise that's the "real driving simulator."
Whether or not Gran Turismo can still be the worldwide powerhouse it once was while other racers are bowing to the new, well-moneyed God of Accessibility remains to be seen.
November 4th (360 with Kinect)
From Harmonix (Rock Band, Guitar Hero) comes the dance game. You're not stepping on a dance pad, you're not waving your arms with a Wiimote in hand - with Kinect tracking your entire body, Dance Central is the single most promising dance game of all time.
Will it be a great game? Well, all I can say is Harmonix isn't known for bad titles. That, and the (seriously) impressive demo of Dance Central at the Microsoft E3 presser - when an incredibly geeky looking and sounding fellow got up on stage, explained that the tutorials in Dance Central taught him everything the audience was about to see, and then danced his ass of - make Dance Central the single best reason to own a Kinect, and force one to admit the merits of motion control.
Call of Duty: Black Ops
November 9th (PS3, 360, PC, Wii)
Black Ops is the next Call of Duty from CoD: World At War developer Treyarch. Treyarch's titles have always been okay. They've been decent, but let's face it: they have lived entirely in the shadow of CoD: Modern Warfare developer Infinity Ward.
Well, Infinity Ward is no more, and the Call of Duty mantle now rests squarely on Treyarch's shoulders. Early peeks at the title have been promising, showcasing all the big, explosive game-design-by-Jerry-Bruckheimer action the franchise is known for. Black Ops may be the game that finally allows Treyarch to step out of Infinity Ward's shadow.
...or it may be another by-the-numbers military-themed first person shooter. Either way, the Call of Duty name will shift a few million boxes.
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood
November 16th (PS3, 360, PC)
Ubisoft Montreal fires another Assassin's Creed at us just one year after their last (excellent) title. Continuing the story of ACII, Brotherhood charts Ezio Auditore's rise as the head of the Assassin's order, and his group's attempt to take back Rome from the Templars.
At first blush Brotherhood may seem like a quick cash-in on II's critical and commercial success, but a (welcome) revamp to the combat system and the addition of what seems to be really good multiplayer may make it a worthy addition to the franchise. Like the last one, Brotherhood may end up being one of this year's must-play titles.
Donkey Kong Country Returns
Holiday 2010 (Wii)
No matter what the haters say, Donkey Kong Country on the Super Nintendo was an incredible game - but I can't say DKC Returns is very high up on my to-do list. Why? Two reasons.
First off, I simply don't feel the 3D polygonal Donkey Kong looks as good as his old 16-bit pre-rendered sprite counterpart. Second, Donkey Kong Country was an incredible game four console generations ago - these days we pay ten dollars for games like this off PSN or XBLA and still feel a bit ripped off. Why does Kirby's Epic Yarn get a pass while DKC get a fail? I don't know. Personal taste, I guess.
That said, DKC Returns is being made by Retro Games - the American-based Nintendo-owned developer who brought us the Metroid Prime series. I should extend 'em a little credit.
* * *
...and that's it. Every notable title between now and 2011. The list seems a little short - perhaps I missed one or two? Perhaps some release dates for major titles this fall haven't come yet.
Can I just say I find it rather strange that I have two must-play day-one purchases on the PSP, of all systems? That's just weird. Also, where is Sony's big gun for the holiday rush? It can't just be Gran Turismo - what about the rest of us? Oh, right. LBP2. Meh.