Resident Evil: Revelations
For: Nintendo 3DS
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, language)
After Capcom insulted 3DS owners last year with the laughably shallow and overpriced “Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D,” you’d be forgiven for dismissing “Resident Evil: Revelations” as yet another thoughtless cash-in.
You’d be wrong, but you’d be forgiven.
To the contrary, and staggeringly so, “Revelations” is the real deal — a console-quality “Resident Evil” game that arguably surpasses the series’ excellent recent console efforts, and a showcase piece for a system that may be more powerful than you’d figured.
“Revelations” illuminates the murky timeline leading into the events of 2009’s “Resident Evil 5,” and the approach it takes — pieced into episodes like a television show, and fronted by multiple playable protagonists at different points in the timeline — is a novel venture for the series.
The obvious benefits apply, with the episodic approach (and complementary save/checkpoint system) giving “Revelations” some welcome portable-friendly breaks in the action. The structure also keeps the story on point: Every episode, even when ending on a cliffhanger, contains its own satisfying story arc, and the multiple characters and timelines keep developments cropping up at an engrossing pace.
In a more surprising benefit, the episodic structure also lets “Revelations” be all things “Resident Evil” at once.
Jill Valentine returns to carry the bulk of “Revelations'” playable character weight, and her scenes — set almost exclusively aboard a gargantuan cruise liner crawling with secrets — are a callback to the original “Resident Evil’s” sprawling mansion. The enemy count is sparse, but so is Jill’s ammo, and the threat of significant peril around any given corner — even when tracing old steps to access previously inaccessible corridors — provides the best blend yet of the franchise’s contemporary gameplay and original ethos.
By contrast — and without spoiling the who or where — the segments starring other characters unfold in a variety of environments that favor heavier action and a more linear progression.
Impressively, “Revelations” can handle both styles even if you pass on the $20 Circle Pad Pro attachment, which gives the 3DS a second analog pad. The attachment wasn’t available for testing with “Revelations,” but it wasn’t needed.
Hypothetically, “Revelations” — which adopts “RE5’s” third-person perspective but offers an optional first-person view when guns are drawn — is better without it. With only one pad, combat becomes a tense compromise between positioning and firing instead of mindless running and gunning, and during those moments where big trouble breaks loose in small spaces and death can come quick, being just a little purposefully hamstrung by the controls adds to the excitement. The controls are responsive, the touchscreen adds a second layer of intuitive access, and it’s almost fun to fight the game when it’s by design and the design is this sharp.
“Revelations” adds a weird new wrinkle with a scanning device that lets Jill and others analyze the environment for hidden items and enemy data. Initially, its implementation feels clumsy, because you have to stash your weapon to use the scanner. But that, of course, is the point: If you want the rewards, you have holster your gun and assume the risks of doing so. Yet again, “Revelations” mixes intuitive design with deliberate inconvenience to turn a quirky mechanic into a tense gamble.
Presentationally, “Revelations” is a testament to the 3DS’ surprising power, with console-quality graphics that pop beautifully with the 3D maxed out. The sound design is stellar, and you’d do very well to play this one with headphones on.
Amusingly, “Revelations” also includes a mode — playable solo or wirelessly/online with another player — that basically mimics the sole mode that comprised “Mercenaries.” It might be the first time a $40 game has included a $50 game as a bonus feature, but regardless, it’s a welcome (and fitting) concession from a studio that got it all the way right this time.
Final Fantasy XIII-2
For: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: Teen (drug reference, mild language, mild suggestive themes, simulated gambling, violence)
Did you play “Final Fantasy XIII?” Because if you didn’t, this welcome mat is not for you.
“Final Fantasy XIII-2” easily is the most direct sequel Square-Enix has ever made for a “Final Fantasy” game. Neither a spinoff nor a quirky offshoot (like “Final Fantasy X-2” famously was), “XIII-2” directly follows the events of its predecessor’s story and keeps that game’s battle system — a cool mix of turn-based gameplay set to real-time rules in which you devise multiple roles for your characters and set them in furious motion — pretty much intact. The primary cast has changed, with story-mandated events putting “XIII’s” Serah at the forefront of a search for her sister (and “XIII” protagonist) Lightning, but skeletally, “XIII-2” has far more in common than not with “XIII.”
More than anything, “XIII-2” feels like a second draft that might not even exist if “XIII” didn’t attract the harsh criticism it got.
For that crowd, the changes are welcome. Where “XIII” was shockingly linear for a role-playing game, “XIII” offers towns, dungeons with branching paths and side quests to complement the main storyline. Even that main storyline fractures, hinging on an incorporation of time travel that (while narratively uninspired) often lets you jump tracks when you’re ready instead of when the story dictates. (As a welcome — albeit almost certainly unintentional — result, many of “XIII-2’s” most tedious fetch quests and mini-games can be skipped entirely if you wish to ignore them.)
“XIII-2’s” most inspired new twist comes from its unusual party arrangement, which gives you two human characters and “Pokemon”-esque monster to complement them in battle. The game is crawling with monsters to capture, customize and upgrade, and while the exercise is mostly optional, it’s where most of “XIII-2’s” most enjoyable character customization lies.
But “XIII-2’s” inarguable blessing is its willingness to let you commandeer its battle system quickly. “XIII” held players’ hands for nearly 20 hours — that’s 20, not a typo — before completely relinquishing control. “XIII-2” offers a comprehensive tutorial for new and rusty players, but you can skip it if you wish, and without spoiling the narrative hows or whens, you’re off and running in pretty short order.
Along with the battle tutorial, “XIII-2” also offers a chapter-by-chapter story primer for those who wish to understand the events of “XIII” but skip straight to playing “XIII-2.”
But as many who played it will attest, “XIII’s” story was a needless and often incomprehensibly dense climb up a shallow hill, and there’s only so much the primer can do to clean it up. Even if you read the whole thing, jumping straight into “XIII-2” is like skipping the first three seasons of “Lost” and expecting to enjoy the remaining three as much as those who have been watching all along.
Storytelling, sadly, remains the one place where “XIII-2” stumbles as much as (if not more than) “XIII.” It’s opaque almost from the start. The main characters are bland, the supporting characters often obnoxious. And once again, a simple story gets weighed down by its mythology and character dialogue instead of enriched by them. (Given what a kick to the face the primary ending is, though, that may be blessing in disguise.)
For: Xbox 360 (via Xbox Live Arcade)
From: Indiagames Limited/Denki/UTV Ignition
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (fantasy violence)
The conceptually brilliant and rambunctiously cheerful “Quarrel” is what happens when Boggle and RISK join forces. Up to four armies share adjacent territories with one another, and dominating a “Quarrel” match comes down to wiping out opposing armies before they decimate yours. This time, though, a battle comes down to eight random letters and one chance to build a better word than your enemy. The more troops you have occupying the conflicted square, the more letters you can use to build your word, and the winning army can (depending on circumstance) take the square completely, whittle it down to one opposing troop, or turn enemies into turncoats. “Quarrel’s” cheerful presentation is dangerously caffeinated, but the actual game takes a great idea and gets it absolutely right. All of this was already the case with “Quarrel’s” iOS iteration, which included lots of well-tuned single-player content (campaign, customizable match play, daily challenges) but no multiplayer of any kind. With the move to Xbox Live, “Quarrel” finally fixes that: There’s no local multiplayer (which makes sense given the game’s setup), but you can play online with up to three others. This, along with all the iOS version’s single-player content and some new scenario wrinkles for those playing alone, makes this the best version available (and makes the exclusion of multiplayer on iOS even more annoying than it already was). The only downside: Playing “Quarrel” with a controller isn’t as graceful as it is on a touch screen. Fortunately, it’s a slight rather than significant inconvenience, and if you have a Chat Pad, you’ll be happy to know it’s supported.