(360, PS3, $15, Teen)
Two crappy, severely dated fighting games from the mid-90s buddy up as a relatively low-priced download.
Capcom has had some success resurrecting its ancient, 1990s 2D fighters with infinite re-releases of the many incarnations of Street Fighter, as well as the Marvel vs. Capcom franchise, but the previously Japan-only releases Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge and Darkstalkers 3 should have been left in the closet.
The high point is the oddball cast of fighters inspired by monsters, such as Frankenstein, vampires, werewolfs and the like. Attacks range from stiff and ineffective to obnoxiously silly and unblockable. I appreciated the way a running counter on the side of the screen keeps track of your stats, and online play is available, complete with saved replays. But I feel bad for those who can’t find anything better to do with their time than re-watch their exploits in subpar fighting games.
Monster Hunter 3: Ultimate
(Wii U, $60, Teen; 3DS, $40, Teen)
At some point the Japanese craze that is the Monster Hunter series is bound to catch on in the U.S., and that inevitability may as well happen with this latest push, which looks gorgeous on both the Wii U and 3DS.
If you splurge for both versions of the game, you can transfer saves, items and stats back and forth between the two, carrying on your game at home or on the go. Sony’s had some success with the console-handheld connection on many of its first-party games, and although Nintendo has yet to follow suit it’s nice to see Capcom kick-starting the trend here.
As with past Monster Hunters, this one will be an acquired taste for most. You help your scantily-clad hero track down and murder an assortment of beasts who roam the countryside, plundering corpses for materials you can use to finish quests and generally make yourself stronger. Crafting and exploration geeks will be all over this open-world epic, which also boasts extensive multiplayer, but anyone without a high tolerance for backtracking and reading long scrolls of tiny-lettered text bubbles won’t give it much of a chance.
Gears of War: Judgment
(360, $60, Mature)
I’ve always thought Gears of War blew Halo away with turret fire to claim its spot as the Xbox 360’s most badass shooter series. The series showed its age in the last outing, though, and continues to chug along the Locust Horde-blasting treadmill in the fourth entry. The prequel uses the corny narration device of a trial, with members of your squad recounting their actions via a tribunal via laughable narration.
Just about everything you’d expect in a Gears game is here. The campaign split-screen and online co-op are seamless, the set pieces blow your hair back, and the stop-pop-and-move-up-to-next-cover shooting routine is as satisfying as ever. Competitive multiplayer makes a few adjustments, but basically maintains the status quo.
This is a full-blooded, chainsaw-bayonetted follow-up that’s as solid as any other Geras game, but anyone looking for a game changer will be disappointed.
($24 Blu-ray, $20 DVD)
Due out Friday, the bloated musical is best used as fodder for a drinking game that lets you down a shot every time Russell Crowe sings off-key. Crowe plays an obsessive French lawman who tracks down a reformed criminal (Hugh Jackman). Best supporting actress Oscar winner Anne Hathaway is a sad, pathetic bright spot in the slow-moving drudgery of sung dialogue, playing a woman driven to debase herself to care for her child. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo includes a featurette witht he cast discussing all the singing they did, a look at the stage producer whose material the movie ripped off, as well as a rundown of locations used in the movie.
Life of Pi
($23 Blu-ray, $17 DVD)
Best director Oscar-winner Ang Lee unleashes some serious CGI black magic to create a ridiculously lifelike gang of animals stuck aboard the wackiest life raft trip you’re ever likely to see. Irfan Khan plays a guy recounting his coming-of-age tale about a sea voyage with the beasts, which include a tiger who becomes best pals with him even as he tries to maim him several thousand times. Trust me, the story isn’t as stupid as it sounds, and the result is one of 2012’s best films. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo packs its own life raft of extras with ample provisions, including deleted scenes, a spotlight on that amazing CGI and a look at Lee’s filmmaking process.
Rise of the Guardians
($19 Blu-ray, $16 DVD)
This weirdly dark but not-bad-for-a-kiddie-flick action romp teams up Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Jack Frost and the Sandman as they tour the globe battling the Boogie Man in a war to maintain power by keeping kids believing in the heroes. The gothic art design and cut-throat battles are more reminiscent of indie comics than network cartoons, and the movie is worth watching for its strange, refreshing takes on each character, especially Santa, who talks and acts like one of the bad guys in the Hostel series. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo has character profiles, filmmaker commentary and a look at the art style.
This Is 40
($25 Blu-ray, $20 DVD)
Due out Friday, Judd Apatow’s opus finds laughs and sentiment in middle age suburban ennui. Paul Rudd plays a struggling music producer who is married to a clothing store owner (Leslie Mann). Both are turning 40 and suffering mid-life crises. Jason Segel, John Lithgow, Albert Brooks and Megan Fox all score with memorable supporting roles. Apatow pours much of himself into the no-doubt somewhat autobiographical film, and it’s telling that he casts his own wife, Mann, and two daughters in the movie. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo is loaded with deleted scenes, a gag reel, Apatow’s commentary and a slew of background featurettes.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
($26 Blu-ray, $15 DVD)
The start of Peter Jackson’s second Tolkien universe trilogy seemed to elicit more shrugs than awe, which was odd because the movie stands on par with his monumental The Lord of the Rings films. Much of the cast from those movies returns for this prequel saga, in which Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freedman) reluctantly leaves the safety of the Shire to help dwarves reclaim some old territory. The fast-paced, gorgeously rendered story obliterates any worries that Jackson was stretching things out too far by turning a smallish book into a trilogy. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo includes loads of production videos, footage from the world premiere and featurettes on location scouting and shooting in 3D. If the studio follows the same track it took with The Lord of the Rings, though, you’re probably best waiting this release out for an inevitable extended edition with tons of more extras.
Zero Dark Thirty
($23 Blu-ray, $18 DVD)
Despite what those silly Oscars would have you believe, it was this movie, not Argo, that was the finest of 2012. Director Kathryn Bigelow makes her best picture-winning The Hurt Locker look like basic training compared to this balls-to-the-wall thriller, which shows how American intelligence willed its way to tracking down and killing Osama bin Laden. In what seems like her 400th role in the past few years, Jessica Chastain plays the heroine, an obsessive CIA agent who sacrifices her personal life and sanity to help will the mission to completion over a decade. Part Homeland, part G.I. Jane, the searing epic leads to the thunderous conclusion, in which SEAL Team Six heads in for the takedown. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo is loaded with featurettes on Chastain’s performance, the setting for the climax and the making of the movie.
Screeners were provided by the publishers for review.