The Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, just ended--and, as usual, the forecast for the year in gaming is a mixed bag. Sure, gaming still has a gender problem, but we also believed, hard, in upcoming offerings from companies like Xbox and Ubisoft.
Fantasia: Music Evolved (Xbox One, Xbox 360; October 21, 2014)
Harmonix’s "Fantasia" is a motion-controlled music game that lets you become the newest sorcerer's apprentice and shape the world through the power of interpretive conducting. The different realms you explore have their own secrets, and The Neighborhood may be my favorite, as one of the elements has you conducting a band of anthropomorphic dancing meats and veggies and creating your own tune.
Insert your best fresh beet joke here.
My favorite part of playing through a song is the ability to select from inventive remixes of songs as you perform, breathing new life into even the most played-out tune. I was actually jamming out to now-ubiquitous arena anthem “Seven Nation Army” with a smile on my face--and that's magic.
Yoshi’s Wooly World (Nintendo Wii U, 2015)
In a sea of brown-washed worlds and gore, it's refreshing to play something that is colorful and downright adorable, and platformer "Yoshi's Wooly World" certainly delivers. The lovable, hungry dinosaur and the world he lives in are entirely made up of yarn and cloth. When traveling down warp pipes, he unravels into string. The trees, folks, are big wads of yarn with crochet needles for trunks. The fuzz is beautifully rendered, and the two-player cooperative play is going to keep you “awwwwing” with a friend for hours on end. It’s a game you’ll want to cuddle.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel (PS3, Xbox 360, PC/Mac; October 14, 2014)
This latest entry in the franchise puts you right in between the events of the first "Borderlands" and last year’s "Borderlands 2." It’s a sequel. It’s a prequel. It’s a pre-sequel. And it’s on Pandora’s moon, which opens up the opportunity to explore things in low gravity. Your O2 kit is powerful, allowing you to use it as a jetpack to launch yourself in the air and perform very useful and satisfying ground pounds and aerial attacks.
The O2 use comes at a price, and you have to find ways of replenishing your supply, adding a little taste of danger in a world where you would otherwise feel like a Pandoran moon god. The new weapons, low gravity mechanic, and chance to explore the story from villain Handsome Jack’s point of view breathe welcome new life into a franchise I’m not ready to let go of yet.
Night in the Woods (PC, Mac, Linux, PS4; 2015)
Infinite Fall’s Kickstarter-funded adventure game predominantly focused on narrative with some platforming elements. You play as Mae, a cat who dropped out of college and returned to her town of Possum Springs to find that things have changed, and not necessarily for the better. I was so engrossed in the demo, I was sad when it ended. The conversations between Mae and her friends are familiar, funny, and tinged with sadness. Also, you get to visit a donut shop, control Mae’s paws in order to eat said donuts, and damn near achieve transcendence eating the donuts. You’re a black cat that likes donuts. Sold.
Mario Maker (Wii U, 2015)
Mario Maker gives you the chance to be a game designer and create your own custom levels. Drag and drop elements such as bricks, enemies, warp pipes, goombas, coins and power-up blocks with your stylus and create your dream level—or someone else’s nightmare. You can even switch the style between old school 8-bit and the New Super Mario style.
I tried my hand at creating a level, and I was impressed by the potential to inspire a new generation of game designers, much like Mario Paint created a generation of composers. Nintendo has plenty more about "Mario Maker" to reveal in the coming year, but what I played was very promising. I’m excited to see what else you can do with "Mario Maker", and how you may be able to share your creations and tweak those of others.
I’m also crossing my fingers for more than just allusions to "Mario Paint." If you can compose music, "Mario Paint"-style, to go along with your custom levels, Nintendo can go ahead and have the entirety of my wallet’s contents.