It's a sure sign it's gearing up to the holidays when the games start pouring in thick and fast, and this week saw the high profile release of two just as highly-anticipated (and by all accounts excellent) sequels: the renaissance stealth of Assassin's Creed II to the dirty Delta zombie-slaughter of Left 4 Dead 2, but there's one return that's captured more of my time than all the above.
New Super Mario Bros. [Nintendo, Wii]
Classing the latest Super Mario Bros. as a sequel would be a bit of a misnomer: so unabashed is Nintendo about letting this latest game sit directly alongside its decades old brethren that they're using NES-era screenshots to advertise the game in Japan.
And that's precisely what it gives you (as it did with the DS NSMB), in modern dress, letting all of the true forward-looking innovation run off the evolutionary fork spawned by Mario 64 that led down to Galaxy and the upcoming Galaxy 2.
Which is by no means a slight, simply a forewarning that while it will trigger all the nostalgia you might expect, it can't — and doesn't bother to — feel like the classic reinvention (that each successive 8-, 16- and 64-bit entry did) that it now saves for its 3D kin.
Except for its four-player multiplayer, obviously. Because while the Bros. might at first seem to move a bit more mechanically this time around (a necessity for its now more technical wall-jumping play, compared to the classic free-wheeling right-ward sprint), it does allow expert players to perform the staggeringly complex ballet you see in the video at top. Even though the majority might never fully experience that dance themselves, that's what this New Super Mario is all about.
Nintendo's second best release this week is actually another refresh, this time the DSi downloadable release of DigiDrive, originally one of the keystones of the 'bit Generations' series — a cult franchise of import-only art/experimental Game Boy Advance games released alongside the GBA Micro, in an effort to give that device a lifestyle vibe that would take it off the playground and into the boutique.
The first release from developer Q-Games to give us a taste of what they'd eventually accomplish on the PlayStation 3 with their own art-styled PixelJunk series, DigiDrive was the most boldly abstract of all the bit Generations games, but still one of its most instantly compelling.
Per the video above (taken, obviously, from the GBA version [the only DSi video is hopelessly low-res]), its an action-puzzle game of crossroads color-sorting, where successful stacking earns you fuel reserves collected by the flashing ambulance-syringes (Trigger Cars) to propel the shuffle puck (Core) at right (or, in the DSi version, on bottom) forward and away from an approaching Spike.
It's never explained in which realm of existence the Core actually relates to the cars, or why the Spike can't touch the Core, nor does it have to be, really, because the woman says Danger! when the Spike gets close, and that's all the impetus anyone should need. Those are the rules.
While it may easily be the most baffling gameplay description I've ever tried to convey, in practice it's a fantastically meditative experience, punctuated with quick bursts of more frantic traffic-directing in its Overdrive mode, and, three years on from its original release, again ranks at the top of the now Art Style brand.
Full disclosure: even after decades of repeat exposure and furious concentration, I've still never managed to wrap my head around 3D dogfighting games, which in nearly ever case rapidly devolve into catching fast glimpses of my foes passing on either side to circle around behind and destroy me, or impotently spinning in tight loops hoping to spot an opening in someone else's defense, if not just to spot anyone at all.
Enter Mini Squadron, the first, best dogfighting game to let out the ace baron I knew I had in me all along, and all it took was stripping that z-axis nuisance and letting the aerial dance commence in 2D.
The indie debut of former Lionhead/Microsoft/Sony programmer Tak 'MrFungFung' Fung, Mini Squadron's pastel downsizing belies the arcade intensity of its battles (including local multiplayer fights), and the true tantalizing draw is the collecting and compulsive re-testing of new fighter planes unlocked in the course of each level.
The eagle-eyed will note that MinMe isn't exactly new, having first been released in late September as a rare App Store entry as part of the ongoing Experimental Gameplay Project, but this week saw an update that was a wish fulfilled.
Developer Chaim Gingold — best known as the design lead behind Spore's Creature Creator (and who you now may also recall from his previously covered more official App Store debut Earth Dragon) — took that month's EGP 'Bare Minimum' theme even more seriously than fellow EGP entrant Adam Saltman's Canabalt, devising a stripped-bare square-pushing puzzle game of nine tutorial levels and a single final proper puzzle, ending precisely when the going was getting good.
I joked at the time that the game duly deserved another 60 some odd puzzles, and lo, Gingold did deliver, reconfiguring the game to give players 15 levels in its free download, and an additional 45 unlocked via an in-app purchase of a dollar.
It's this week's dollar best spent, too: running off a simple mechanic of pushing consecutive colored tiles into adjacent grid cell receptacles, Gingold wastes no time in conjuring up level after level of deviously complex and awesomely rewarding puzzles that are precisely what I'd hoped for after quickly conquering the original demo.
And finally, a special bonus entry released just hours before publication, as indie dev Farbs announces the completion of Captain Successor — the follow-up to his original ship-constructing space-shooter Captain Forever — and sets that latter game free for all to play, giving everyone a chance to finally understand why it's most hardcore indies' game of the year.
I've previously talked a bit more at length about what makes Forever special, and while I still haven't had the chance to fully explore what Successor brings to its simulated low-tech display, the promise of new ship parts and weaponry, and the chroma-spanning wireframe landscape that now glitches and flows beneath your ship is more than enough to bring me back.
Donating to the Forever Project gives you access to play Successor — and, indeed, each further successor Farbs has planned down the road — before its public release, and there are few indie efforts this year more deserving of that support.