A trio of old franchises make their first current-gen leaps today. The oddest, and least likely among them is Chibi Robo, Nintendo’s long-forgotten robotic butler. Now more aggressive than in his 2006 GameCube incarnation, he’s using his power cord to whip enemies into shape.
Also back are the ragtag, smart-alecky Disgaea crew, who are out to rid the universe of evil in the PS4 incarnation, DIsgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance. Also, one of the most ancient of RPGs, Dragon Quest, is back as an open-world brawler in the form of DragonQuest Heroes. We also take a look at Samsung‘s latest attempt at an iPad killer, the Galaxy Tab S2.
Chibi Robo! Zip Lash
(3DS, $30, Everyone)
Last seen in 2006 on the GameCube, house-cleaning robot Chibi Robo is back in a DS platformer. You guide the stiff, tank-like robot through puzzle-laden platforming levels, whipping enemies with your power cord and exploring remote corners to unlock hidden items. The environments subtly mock the trappings of consumer culture, with a charming Japanese bent. The peppier setting of the sequel — especially the satisfying attacks — makes up for the slower-paced, chore-oriented mission structure of the nearly-forgotten original, jolting some new life into a franchise long thought dead.
As Nintendo mascots go, Chibi is a bit on the stale side, lacking the cartoon-style appeal of Mario or Yoshi, or even the distant mystery of Link or Samus. The level design makes up for the dud character with rewarding progression, clever, brain-bending dynamics and speedy pacing. In addition to the regular $30 version, there’s also a $40 version of the game that comes bundled with a Chibi Robo Amiibo character that powers up your character and allows you to unlock in-game collectibles. The interactivity is exciting at first, but seems superfluous after you get your bearings. Feel free to stick with the regular version unless you really want the action figure.
Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance
(PS4, $60, Teen)
The smarmy, satiricalJRPG saga makes its PlayStation 4 debut, upping the sophistication of its visuals and depth while staying true to its rough-hewn anime roots. You help its band of roguish demon-heroes take on the Dark Void overlord, who seeks to enslave the cosmos. You lead the patched-together, Star Wars-style band of rebels to overthrow the evil hegemony and restore hope to the populace. Battles unfurl in dramatic fashion, intercut with dialogue that helps keep the story flowing into the action.
The writing, which is peppered with pop culture references, bizarre non sequiturs and rapidfire banter, stands out just as much as the action does. The customization system is rich and fluid, letting you infuse your personality and playstyle into the fabric of your party. You can fuse characters of various classes together, unlocking special abilities that help you take down powerful enemoies. Expect to sink dozens of hours into the game, which has you hop across the Nethworlds and take part in massive battles, which can include 100 characters.
DragonQuest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below
(PS4, $60, Teen)
The most traditional of RPGs takes a hard right turn into the free-for-all, screen-drowning melees in the vein of Dynasty Warriors and Hyrule Warriors. You choose your character and take to a sprawling battlefield filled with dozens of minions and the occasional lumbering boss. It’s a refreshing break from the routine of deliberate, turn-based battles that the series is known for. Getting to plunge your sword into an obnoxious Slime character is more rewarding than button-tapping your way through a humdrum attack menu. It’s liberating to run around the landscape at will, cutting enemies down with your sword swipes and burning them alive with magical attacks.
There are plenty of ways to customize your characters’ items, attacks and defenses, tinkering with the setup and upgrades until you have the ideal build. The Square Enix touch is tangible in character design and diversity. Usually in games of this ilk, you mow down hordes of clone-style enemies that blend into one another, looking and acting the same. In this game, you face varied teams of beasts that provide unique challenges depending on what groupings you face and where you take them on. Instead of mindlessly mashing your way through the crowds, you need to think on your feet, changing up your plan of attack as you go. For better and for worse, the game is stocked with microtransactions. There is a ridiculous amount of pay-to-play add-ons that make it seem like much was held back from the official release in order to score extra money.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 9.7
Samsung seems to be done trying to distinguish its tablet from the iPad, and obsessed with matching it feature for feature. In order to seem more like Apple‘s tablet, the screen aspect ratio has switched to 4×3. The more box-like screen makes it slightly more awkward to use to watch movies and TV, and slightly more adaptable to touch gaming, as well as reading e-books and browsing social media. The screen is also in a slightly lower resolution than the previous Galaxy Tab, which is hardly noticeable — because it’s offset by a richer Super AMOLED color palette — and has a smaller battery, which runs out of juice after about eight hours of heavy use. Its guts are more powerful than ever. It packs 3GB of ram, which helps it run some of the most demanding apps. It’s got a leg up on the iPad as far as storage, thanks to an SD card slot that lets you expand the memory from the starting 32GB all the way to 128GB.
As a gaming tablet, it matches its Apple rival step for step, failing short only due to Google Play’s failure to draw ports of some of the best games on iTunes. Of course, Android tablets are quite a bit more hackable than iPads, making it easier to open the device up to emulators and drastically expanding the amount of software that you can play on them. The impressively thin, light form factor makes marathon gaming sessions easy on your forearms, and the touchscreen is as responsive as it is pretty. A fingerprint reader gives you the same amount of security you have on your phone, and the tablet is durable enough to survive a few ill-time faceplants onto hard sufaces. The Tab S2 isn’t a wholesale improvement over its predecessor, but has enough tweaks to make it a more viable alternative to iPad obsessives looking for a lower-priced alternative. The S2 may well be the best Android mimicry of the market leader.