Castlevania: Lords of Shadow — Mirror of Fate
(3DS, $40, Mature)
Handheld Castlevanias came out pretty often on the original gangsta DS, but it’s taken nearly two years for one to pop up on the 3DS. The wait was mostly worth the effort. This hybrid, one of the better-looking games available on the 3DS, twists the explore and-level-up template of “Metroidvania” games and adds the looks and combat that echo 2010’s Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. You alternate among three characters, whipping your way through a grotesque and convoluted story of family curses and demonic vendettas. While hard-core Metroidvania fans may scoff at the game as a dumbed-down evolution of the series, there’s plenty of enjoyment here for anyone who adores whipping creatures of the night in their ugly faces.
God of War: Ascension
(PS3, $60, Mature)
Musclebound Greek god-slayer and anger management therapy-avoider Kratos is back to turn mythological beasts into bloody pulp. While his rage-fueled tale has grown as tired as Taylor Swift’s songwriting, it’s tough to find a better pure action series on any console. The visuals match and surpass the jaw-dropping beauty of God of War III, and even though the bosses are largely Olympus B-teamers, they still put up fascinating, multi-stage fights.
Some of the drawbacks from the series return, such as occasionally obtuse puzzles and annoying quick time events – dumbed-down button prompts that do the cinematic battling for you – but the game gives you as much of a rush as any of its predecessors.
A new multiplayer mode, which I was worried would seem forced and tacked-on, turns out to be the best part of the game, adding tons of replay value while providing tougher challenges than the campaign can offer. Matches are in close quarters and play something like Smash Bros., with quick, easy kills, ample power-ups and rapid respawns that keep the action flowing.
Lego City Undercover
(Wii U, $50, Everyone 10+)
After nearly a half-year dry spell, Nintendo’s newest console finally gets another top-shelf exclusive. This one takes the threadbare Lego formula and applies it to, if you can believe it, a family-friendly take on Grand Theft Auto-style mayhem.
Playing as a cop who makes up his own rules, you romp through the open world, taking down criminals in a series of breezy missions. The game makes clever use of the tablet-like GamePad controller, turning it into a communications device and map. Undercover is a giddy collect-a-thon, but its lack of multiplayer limits the appeal that most other Lego games bring to the table. I could have done without the interminable loading times and Dave Coulier-style humor that tries way too hard, but it’s nice to finally have something to play on the console other than Nintendo Land or New Super Mario Bros. U.
This piece of Oscar bait didn’t catch any nibbles, but still stood out as one of the better movies to drop during last year’s awards season. A convincing makeup job transforms Anthony Hopkins into the portly Master of Suspense, giving you a peek into the womanizing control freak who also happened to be one of history’s greatest filmmakers. Helen Mirren plays his wife, who helps keep Hitch’s head on as he risks his career by making Psycho, and Scarlett Johansson sizzles as Janet Leigh, who starred in that film’s famous shower scene. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo boasts a deleted scene, a look at Hopkins’ transformation, several other making-of featurettes and a retrospective on Hitchcock.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? 25th Anniversary Blu-ray
The Looney Tunes-Disney crossover still stands as the best blending of live action and animation. Bob Hoskins plays a gumshoe in the 1940s film noir detective yarn setup, aided by the zany Roger Rabbit as he searches out Toontown to solve a murder case. Slapping Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny on screen together would have been enough to turn heads, but director Robert Zemeckis’s movie goes far beyond gimmickry, telling a fun, entertaining story that connects with kids as well as adults. And there’s no forgetting the focus of the erotic attention of many a 1980s 8-year-old, Jessica Rabbit, who says she’s not bad, she’s just drawn that way. The Blu-ray/DVD combo includes a trio of Roger Rabbit shorts, filmmaker commentary, pop-up trivia, deleted scenes, and a ton of featurettes, including one in which you can see what regular scenes looked like before animation was added.
Screeners were provided by the publishers for review.