MLB 13: The Show
(PS3, $60, Everyone)
MLB: The Show developers have either the easiest or most monotonous jobs in the world. Having nailed the basic mechanics of this generation’s finest baseball game years ago, recent releases have amounted to a shell game of tweaked features, refined mechanics and change-ups just for the sake of keeping you on your heels. Loads of new pitching, batting and fielding animations are the most noticeable additions, but let’s be honest – it’s really the updated rosters and the knowledge that your friends will all be playing the new game online that will get you to re-up.
A Bases Loaded-like dumbed-down beginner mode makes it easier to make contact at the plate, throw strikes and nail runners from the depths of the outfield, gradually nudging you to pick up the intricacies as you plug along and learn how to operate.
The game is sold separately on the Vita handheld for $40. Most first-party Sony games that are out on both the PS3 and Vita these days net you a download copy of the Vita version if you buy a PS3 copy, but that’s not the case here. Sony is putting the squeeze play on its most obsessed baseball fanatics but this is still the best baseball video game on the market.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus
(Vita, $40, Mature)
Ninja Gaiden 2, from way back in 2008, is still one of the best hack-and-slashers around, but “Minus” would have been a more accurate subtitle for this portable update. Nullifying the meager additions to the game are the absence of online multiplayer and the propensity for the game to chug and lag like the engine of an ’85 Chevy Nova. The PR folks promoting the game say you can mitigate the problem by screwing with the settings.
Gripes aside, there are few games that are better at letting you flip out as a ninja and turn anyone who dares to stand in your way into gushing blood fountains. I’m grateful for the embarrassing easy mode to select, making the game’s stiff challenges easier to slash your way through. The basic mechanics have held up well over the past half decade, and I found myself just as entranced by the silly story and delirious combat as I was the first time.
(360, PS3, $60, Mature)
I’d gotten tired of breathless preview writers hailing new Tomb Raider games as amazing new reinventions that make you care as much about the new games as you did when you were a 12-year-old contorting the PSOne camera to give you a good look at Lara Croft’s polygonic booty.
This time, though, the soothsayers were actually on to something. The new Tomb Raider is a stunner because it shies away from raiding tombs, instead spending time raiding ideas from the series it wants to be: Uncharted. Lara is no longer an unflappable, improbably proportioned female James Bond, but a spunky underdog who forges herself into a cold-blooded survivor through breathless action set pieces and quiet characterization.
Side quests allow you to get into some old-fashioned puzzle-solving and treasure hunting, but the main campaign is more story-driven, speckled with open-ended missions that give you multiple tactics to consider, bringing last year’s excellent Far Cry 3 to mind.
The new Lara may not have the charm or smarminess of Uncharted’s Nathan Drake, but at least — at long last — she’s got a game of nearly the same caliber.
Lay the Favorite
($19 Blu-ray, $13 DVD)
An electric Rebecca Hall plays an unlikely sports gambling maven who rises up the Vegas and New York underworlds with sass and savvy. A surprisingly energetic Bruce Willis plays her mentor and sometimes lover, Catherine Zeta-Jones is his bitter trophy wife, and Joshua Jackson is the Hall character’s beau. Part invigorating gambling flick, part dull romantic comedy, the movie has trouble establishing a tone, but usually manages to entertain. The Blu-ray/digital copy combo includes deleted scenes.
Nightmare on Elm Street Blu-ray Collection
The first seven movies of the dreamy 1980s slasher series squeeze on to five discs, looking far better in HD than they did when you first saw them, peeking through a crack in your parents’ bedroom door as they watched it on VHS. What more could a fan of the franchise ask for? Well, they could ask for Freddy vs. Jason and the 2010 A Nightmare on Elm Street reboot, but those were so mediocre that you can forgive the people who put this set together from forgetting about them. Featurettes, making-of documentaries deleted scenes and alternate endings are included
Playing for Keeps
($20 Blu-ray, $17 DVD)
Gerard Butler once again submits his man card to a brutal ritual sacrifice in pandering, mediocre romantic comedy. In this one he plays a divorced former soccer star who’s fallen onto hard times. His demanding ex (Jessica Biel), who is on the verge of re-marrying, guilts him into coaching their son’s soccer team. The position makes him the object of lust for an array of sex-starved soccer moms (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Judy Greer and Uma Thurman), but he only has eyes for his former wife. The Blu-ray/digital copy combo includes seven deleted scenes and two making-of featurettes.
($23 Blu-ray, $18 DVD)
Chris Hemsworth continues his quest to try to become this generation’s Patrick Swayze with this bizarre and unnecessary remake of the 1984 slice of Cold War paranoia. Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson play scrappy Spokane, Wash. residents who fight off invading North Koreans – guess the Panamanians were busy – using guerrilla tactics. If this were a Scary Movie-style parody comedy it just might have worked, but ends up being funny for all the wrong reasons. Maybe Hemsworth would do better with a Road House or Dirty Dancing reboot. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo is a bare-bones, extras-free affair.
Schindler’s List 20th Anniversary Blu-ray
Steven Spielberg’s devastating 1993 drama reveals the efforts of Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) to rescue Jewish people marked for death by Hitler’s regime. Ralph Fiennes leaves an impression in an early role as a cruel Nazi commander, and Ben Kingsley is incredible as a Jewish accountant. The moving film may be arduous to watch, but brilliantly acting and painstaking accuracy make it a must-see. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo includes a documentary about Holocaust survivors and a look at the USC Shoah foundation, which Spielberg established because of the film.
($28 Blu-ray 3D, $23 Blu-ray, $18 DVD)
I’m bitter that this funny, exciting tribute to old-school gaming was robbed of a best animated Oscar by Pixar’s forgettable Brave. John C. Reilly voices an oafish classic arcade game villain who decides he wants more from life and ventures into other games. A deft touch for gaming nostalgia, an uncanny sense of humor and rapid pacing make the movie a winner. The 3D/2D Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo is loaded with extras, such as the Oscar-nominated short Paperman, alternate and deleted scenes, pause-screen pop-up commentary and a making-of featurette.
Screeners were provided by the publishers for review.