A new challenger has sneaked onto the scene in the console wars. That would be the Amazon Fire TV, a streaming box on steroids that jockeys games as well as old episodes of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer. These are also heady days for 3DS owners, who have a pair of Nintendo’s most respected franchises — Mario Golf and Kirby — to feast on at the same time. And Star Wars nerds can celebrate the coming of May 4 with a quartet of downloadable tables for Zen Pinball 2.
Amazon’s little black box tries to evict the likes of the Chromecast, Apple TV and Roku from your HDTV’s HDMI hookups, serving as a stream-everything device that also plays games. While it’s an exciting debut, it doesn’t quite set your living room on fire. What little it does, it does well. Load times are almost non-existent and images are crisp and stutter-free. Astoundingly accurate voice searching also impresses.
The array of apps available is slim at the moment, with HBO Go, Fox Now, Vudu and others missing. It does have Showtime Anytime, which no other console or streaming box I know of has nabbed, but it’s hamstrung for a large part of the population because Comcast doesn’t allow subscribers to use the app on the device. As a gaming machine, the Fire TV is little more than a curiosity, thanks to a lack of software and the requirement that you buy a $40 controller to check out many of the offerings. At least it offers yet another way to play Minecraft.
Cel Damage HD
(PS4, PS3, Vita, $10, Everyone 10+)
The remake of a litte-remembered cartoony, 2001 car combat game seems just as destined to sink into obscurity as the original. You select one of a few zany drivers, equipped with oversized weapons such as mallets and buzz saws, then chase each other around silly, Looney Tunes-style arenas.
The race-chase-and-hack combat grows repetitive, with victory conditions that force players to land a preset number of attacks. When you’re bashed, you quickly respawn as though nothing much happened, sometimes remaining pinned in the corner to suffer more and more cheap blows. While this could be fun with a breezy group of pals, there’s not much to offer for solo players.
Kirby: Triple Deluxe
(3DS, $30, Everyone)
Nintendo’s puffy pink mascot maintains his solid track record of offering accessible adventures that manage to pack enough challenge to keep the hardcore interested. Triple Deluxe continues the franchise’s tendency to cram considerable amounts of stuff to do in each entry, with this one complementing the standard campaign with a Smash Bros.-style fighter and a rhythm game.
While the latter two amount to side modes you can easily get your fill of in a single night, the main adventure is an engrossing and difficult platformer. It’s business as usual for the character, who inhales enemies to take on their special abilities, then uses those to off enemies and conquer puzzles. The lengthy adventure packs a lot of replay value in its collectibles, which have you retreading ground for the sweet feeling of completion. If you dig Kirby at all, Triple Deluxe will be your jam.
Mario Golf: World Tour
(3DS, $30, Everyone)
Mario has killed it on the portable golf course since the Game Boy days, but has had trouble topping his earliers, rudimentary efforts. Mario Golf: World Tour is a the best hack yet at acing the formula with updated feature sets and graphics. It functions well as an accurate and nuanced golf sim as well as a silly, overpowered spectacle worthy of Mario and his violence-prone allies and enemies.
There’s an easy mode that lets you set your power and accuracy with just two taps, as well as a more refined advanced system that gives you more control of your shot while adding considerable difficulty. There is online play, as well as tons of courses available, but it’s disappointing that downloadable courses are available at launch, leading to the impression that content was held back to make some extra money.
Star Wars Pinball: Heroes Within
(PS4, PS3, Vita, Xbox 360, $10, Everyone)
Zen Studios continues to craft exquisite, homage-paying Star Wars tables for Zen Pinball 2 that might have saved the defunct gaming medium had they been around a couple decades ago. Previous download packs have included three tables, but this one boasts four: Masters of the Force, which rounds up all-star Jedi and Sith; Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope; Star Wars Pinball: Droids and a table dedicated to Han Solo.
All of the tables pack convincingly old-school animations and digitized voices, each functioning as believable mock-ups of real-life tables that never were, and drip with fan service. Star Wars nerds will feast on the piles of obscure, smile-inducing references, making the collection probably the most impressive set yet in the ever-expanding pinball collection.
The Walking Dead: Season 2
(Vita, $20, Mature)
Following the consensus 2012 game of the year debut, Telltale Games’ dilaogue heavy, point-and-click/quick time event adventure series continues to evolve. Protagonist Clementine is growing up all too quickly among the zombie-ravaged wreckage that passes for society, and the Vita — with its big, bright, responsive touch screen — is my favorite way of experiencing the saga yet.
Individual episodes are available for $5 each — for now, only the first two are on the market — or you can snag the entire season for $20. Since it would be an insane move to experience a few episodes without seeing the results of your own branching path, which is decided by your in-game choices, you’d have to be dumber than a zombie to not go the season pass route.