Nintendo slings one of its most powerful arrows to try to spark some life into the Wii U. Hyrule Warriors is the first original Zelda game for the system, and it breaks from the usual formula and substitutes the hacking and slashing of Dynasty Warriors instead. The 3DS also gets a new entry from a stalwart franchise, with Cooking Mama 5: Bon Appetit. There’s also a pair of old real-time strategy games with current-gen remakes on tap, with the medieval bombardment-fest, CastleStorm: Definitive Edition, lowering its drawbridge and the futuristic tower offense game Anomaly 2 blasting into orbit.
(PS4, $15, Teen)
Taking the tower defense genre spinning it around, Anomaly 2 hands yout he keys to walking, shooting towers, in the form of transformable tank robots. Set in a dystopian future, the world is a bullet-strewn wasteland ruled by mechanical overlords. You march your troops down preset paths, activating them along the way to protect them from assaults from stationary turrets. As in the best strategy games, it’s a constant affair of priorities and upgrades juggling, resource management and timing.
The game came out last year on iOS devices, rising to the top of the heap of crowded competition in the genre. It was geared for touch screen hyper-tapping, but works just as well with the PS4’s control stick and button inputs. The game is deep and rich, with mountains of replayable and varied levels. There’s not enough extra content to justify the extra expense for a game that’s $5 on iOS, but since the PS4 has so few RTS games, it’s worth a look for gamers who insist on staying loyal to their consoles.
CastleStorm: Definitive Edition
(PS4, Xbox One, $10, Teen)
A revamp of a side-scrolling RTS assault game for the Xbox 360 and Wii U, CastleStorm: Definitive Edition has so much new material that it seems like a sequel. Against the computer or online opponents, you protect your castle as you generate troops and send them to conquer your enemy’s abode. Special weapons, varied classes and an array of projectiles are at your disposal. There’s a touch of Angry Birds at play, with the need to estimate launch angles to most effectively catapult the enemy’s castle into pieces.
The game runs at 60 frames per second and in 1080p resolution, offers co-op and level editors that allow you to build your own castles. In addition to all previously-released DLC, there are also new battles, spells and items that make every level in the game seem fresh. You can use Kinect voice commands to bark orders at your troops. The best version of an already solid title, CastleStorm: Definitive Edition cane easily hook new and old fans alike for dozens of hours of projectile slinging and moat-storming.
(3DS, $30, Everyone)
The Cooking Mama games may be geared toward women and children, but dudes who ignore them are missing out on some of the tightest, most addictive handheld puzzlers. You’re assigned recipes and tasked to put together orders, preparing several ingredients at the same time, building up your resources before piecing meals together. There’s a dojo mode that has hints of Hell’s Kitchen and Iron Chef, placing a premium on timing and quick-acting precision. Local multiplayer lets you take on three other opponents with just one game cartridge or download.
The stomach-churning music and gag-inducingly cutesy presentation are tough to deal with in large doses, but overlook the trappings and you may find yourself surprised to fall under the game’s spell. The previous Cooking Mama games were all solid, and the sequel is the best of an impressive bunch. This is a game you might buy for your girlfriend or nephew and find that you’re “borrowing” it for embarrassingly long stretches.
Fairy Fencer F
(PS3, $50, Teen)
JRPG lovers have almost no reason to get rid of their PS3s in favor of PS4s. With solid new franchises continuing to bloom on the console, that staying power only grows stronger. Fairy Fencer F builds off the Hyperdimension Neptunia engine, the long, complex story involves warring celestial beings and mystical creatures battling over the end of the universe… or something. You play as an Arthurian figure who pulls a weapon from a stone and becomes a legendary Fairy Fencer, capable of extinguishing evil and bringing peace to the land.
Robust combat, entrancing animation and clever dialogue helps smooth over the rough, derivative story. Character customization is remarkably rich, rivaling the more complex Final Fantasy or Tales games. The characters are rich and layered, making it easy to care about their long, winding sagas. The action-focused battles are quick and exciting, with combo systems and launches available to pummel challenging foes. There are so many amazing RPGs available on the PS3 that this one isn’t close to a standout, but those who have plowed through their backlogs and are looking for some fresh meat to chew on will find plenty to relish here.
(Wii U, $60, Teen)
Nintendo’s two-year-old system finally has a new Zelda game of its own. For both better and worse, though, this isn’t the exploration and puzzle-solving dungeon crawlers that fans are used to. Instead, the focus is almost entirely on combat, with Link and several other players set free to roam open battlefields, slaughtering swarming armies of easily dispatchable foes. Even though hack-and-slashers in the Dynasty Warriors mold grow stale, the Zelda license does a remarkable job of freshening it up. The chance to play as an array of unlockable Zelda heroes and villains — many of which Nintendo has forbidden me to mention — is liberating fantasy fulfillment.
Turn your brain off, let your thumbs mash the buttons with gusto and you’ll have a great time hammering your way through familiar environments as memorable Zelda theme music hums in the background. A game far better than the sum of its parts, Hyrule Warriors is an absolute must-get for just about any Wii U owner. It’s refreshing to see Nintendo become willing to take chances with one of its sacred, unchanging franchises, without whoring it out into minigame collections in the Mario style. If there is ever a Zelda Party, please shoot me with a silver arrow, but the potential for a first-person Zelda shooter or a Hyrule-set RTS adventure now seems possible. Until then, Hyrule Warriors is refreshing enough to keep Zelda fans satisfied for the next mainline entry.