Hot Games of the Week Reviewed: December 24

hottest games of the week

Although many of the games in this week’s roundup are either expansions or offbeat, indie downloads, one of gaming’s biggest icons — Sonic the Hedgehog — is turning back the clock with a pair of old-fashioned boxed releases. The Blue Blur may not be what he used to be, but for the true believers who have stuck with the character through the good times and the bad, the new Wii U and 3DS releases are a reason to celebrate.

Another blast from the past hits the 3DS in the form of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy, which rounds up three legendary DS games in a single download. Those looking to squeeze more out of Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham and Skylanders Trap Team are in luck, because strong new expansions have hit the market.

Reviews by Phil Villarreal. Phil is an authorblogger and Twitterer. Publishers provided review copies.

Jackbox
The Jackbox Party Pack

(PS4, Xbox One, PS3, $25, Teen)

Cleverly avoiding the need for extra controllers by allowing players to use smartphones, tablets or laptopos, The Jackbox Party Pack rounds up a slew of funny, inventive board game-style party games. You Don’t Know Jack, Fibbage XL, Drawful, Word Spud, and Lie Swatter are all included. Most are variations on the basic formula of You Don’t Know Jack with various twists. Drawful, for instance, is something like Pictionary and Draw Something, while Word Spud is a distant cousin of Boggle.

Games allow anywhere from two to 100 players to take part, and the focus is on the living room. Online play between distant friends just doesn’t work, and it’s too bad there’s not a mode that allows that. Still, the games work well for the purpose for which they were designed, and the $5-a-pop value you get for diversions that could conceivably give you months of entertainment is tough to beat. Although it’s easy to burn out on any one of the offerings, you’ll best appreciate them if you keep them in a steady and equal rotation.


Squad

Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham: The Squad DLC

(Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, $3, Everyone 10+)

Included in the $15 season pass — which also includes Man of Steel, Dark Knight, Batman 75th, Arrow and Bizarro World add-on packs, The Squad is also available alone for $3. Set in the Belle Reve Penitentiary, you bash your way through a prison by playing as the likes of Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Captain Boomerang and Deathstroke in order to ferret out an enemy that has infiltrated the supervillain collective.

In addition to the new playable characters, there is also a slate of vehicles to try out and achievements to go for. Lego Batman 3 isn’t exactly short on the content, but The Squad is a lively contribution to the sprawling, sometimes lackadaisical package.


Phoenix Wright

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy

(3DS, $30, Teen)

One of the franchises that helped the original Nintendo DS hit its stride was the Phoenix Wright series, which brought an oddball Japanese take on coutroom drama and applied it to a point-and-click adventure game format. Although the series has fallen off as of late, making it onto the 3DS only as occasional downloads, the original games hold up as well as any from the DS days. The formula puts your memory and logical skills to the test, giving your twitch reflexes and button-pounding skills a test.

Remastered versions of the 2001 original, as well as its sequels Justice for All and Trials and Tribulations, fill out the set. You can play the games in any order you like, hopping among save files from any, but they’re best enjoyed chronologically. The trilogy is filled with dozens of hours of often ridiculous but always entertaining court drama, but it’s too bad Capcom didn’t toss in the Apollo Justice and Miles Edgeworth spin-offs to further strengthen the set’s case.


Skylanders

Skylanders Trap Team: Light and Dark Expansions

($30 each)

Two new elements — Light and Dark — shake up the Skylanders Trap Team world with new quest packs, as well as characters and items to explore them. The two packs of action figures, sold separately, introduce the characters Knight Light and Knight Mare, angelic and demonic warriors you can toss into your rotation of characters, bumping up their levels as you plow through enemies.

While Skylanders games have always been liberal with maps and mini-expansions, those have always been confined to short bursts. The introduction of new elements, which give characters representing the element special advantages and powers in areas conducive to their skills, turns the game on its side and adds potential hours of new gameplay for any character in your repertoire. If you’ve blown through the main game and are looking for realms in which to flex your heroes’ muscles, you might find need to drop another $60 on these expansions.


Rise of Lyric

Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric

(Wii U, $50, Everyone 10+)

Decent Sonic games are few and far between these days, but you can’t knock Sega for failing to take chances with the character. In recent years, Sonic has transformed into a werewolf, reverted back to his side-scrolling ways, taken to the skies and teamed up with a neverending parade of supporting characters. Rise of Lyric doesn’t take as many chances as previous Sonic games, but it nor does it do anything to distinguish itself from others in the series. A drab and boring adventure, sloppy controls and a strange sense of slowness stifles what could have been an above-average entry, and another reason to pick up a Wii U.

A game about Sonic that so thoroughly fails to capture the hero’s sense of speed is a missed opportunity. Sonic plods rather than motors, and whenever he gets a sense of momentum it’s too easy to lose control of his spastic antics and find yourself a victim of a cheap death. There’s little of the sense of joy that the games from Sonic’s glory days thrived on, and whatever energy the game picks up flops when it comes to unimaginative boss battles.


Sonic Boom

Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal

(3DS, $40, Everyone)

While a better overall effort than its Wii U counterpart, Shattered Crystal also suffers plenty of the same drawbacks as its big brother. The portable Sonic Boom is too slow and slipshod for its own good, but its handheld-friendly, small-bite levels don’t wear as thin as some of Rise of Lyric‘s more agonizing moments. The puzzle-platforming is entertaining in small bites, but extended play yields the same sense of disappointment as Rise of Lyric.

Boss battles are lackluster and too easy but tolerable, and the flimsy level design at least lacks the frustrations of the Wii U version. While you can do a lot better, even with recent Sonic entries, this isn’t a total flop. If you must choose between the two new Sonic games, go with this one.

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