With the release of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, we’ve seen the first of the bar-none game of the year contenders. The incredible RPG, based on Polish fantasy novels, is one of those games that makes you feel lucky to have found the hobby and could transfer any cynic into a flustered fanboy. If you’re looking for something quicker and lighter, the 3DS puzzler Boxboy will suit your needs. And if you find yourself spending every free moment slugging it out in Mortal Kombat X, you’ll want to check out the pricey hunk of DLC known as the Kombat Pack.
(3DS, $5, Everyone)
Getting the most out of a deceptively simple concept in the manner of 1980s arcade games, developer HAL Labs sets up a series of monochrome puzzles, using it as a torture device on the analytical part of your brain. You form boxes to help your hero squeeze his way out of each level, crafting bridges, platforms and barriers that help you hop, flip and slide into the exit. Just as in all the best puzzle games, the challenge level starts off insultingly easy, gradually ramping up to formidable difficulty, and finally to maddening frustration.
Boxboy is the sort of game that saps hours away when it seems like you’ve only spent minutes on it, and when you put it down it stays inside your head, taunting your brain to solve its mysteries. Much like Pushmo and the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series, the game is perfectly tuned for the 3DS’s blend of tight analog, button and touch controls. Packing in countless hours of gameplay at a $5 price tag, it’s as close to a must-download as you’ll see on Nintendo’s portable.
Mortal Kombat X: Kombat Pack
(Xbox One, PS4, $30, Mature)
Depending on your point of view, the boatload of DLC that comes with the Kombat Pack is either a priceless godsend for an incredible fighter, or a nefarious money-grubbing ruse in which developers held out tons of good stuff at a $30 ransom. In either case, Mortal Kombat X obsessives who spring for the Kombat pack will be glad they have it. Boasting four characters, and several skins, which stretch out the permutations for battle possibilities online and off, the donwload makes a Kombat Pack-less Mortal Kombat X seem like half the game.
Buy in and you’ll get Jason Voorhees and the Predator, as well as classic characters Tanya and Tremor. The download grants access to the Horror and Samurai Packs, which deliver skins inspired by slasher and martial arts movies. You end up with a dizzying amount of brawlers and alt-version scrappers to juggle as you scrap together experience points to vie for unlocks. Even with all the pack provides, $15 would have been a more fitting price. But if you’re as obsessed with the game as most Mortal Kombat X freaks are, good luck forcing yourself to wait for a sale.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
(Xbox One, PS4, $60, Mature)
Deep, elegant and intellectual, The Witcher 3 is a landscape-changing RPG that doesn’t wallow in its own sense of self-importance. A thrilling conclusion to a trilogy that started on PC and migrated to last-gen consoles before slamming home a coup de grace on new-gen, gathers all the breakthroughs in characterization and design in the previous Witchers and pushes things to fevered levels. Antihero Geralt, a dashing rogue who slays enemies and tail with unfettered vengeance. Scampering away from his twisted, troubled past as he scrambles to make things right by exerting his will on the ever-changing landscape, he gives you a sense of control and significance in a brutal power fantasy.
Forced with decisions based on actions and dialogue choices, you get the Choose Your Own Adventure-style feel of Mass Effect. With several different endings as possibilities, your fate hangs in the balance depend on the alliances and enemies you forge. This open-ended treatment of moral choices gives you the burden and elation of agency, adding to the replay value and adding gravitas to your decisions. The writing and storytelling would be strong enough to let the game stand on its own even if it were ugly, but it’s also among the most drop-dead pretty games on the Xbox One and PS4. A triumph on just about every possible level, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt casts its spell with a vengeance.