If you're a student or teacher, you've got a month left of extended gaming time before summer ends and it's back to school.
This month, the Super Mario and True Crime series roar back to life, Death rears his ugly head, and an eclectic music-based platformer waits to join your Vita collection.
- Sleeping Dogs — Originally to be the third True Crime game, what Activision shelved was picked up by Square Enix and renamed. This Hong Kong-set game will be a great tiding over until GTA V's release, with the main difference being playing on the side of justice. You'll play as officer Wei Shen, infiltrating the Triad. All you'd expect to be there will be available: gunplay, fisticuffs/martial arts, car chases, and sidequests galore. Tired of the story? You can sing karaoke, bet on cockfights, race cars, and more in the open world environment. You will also earn experience and skill in the areas of Face, Triad, and Police, and with skill benefits as they increase. The characters in the game should sound very familiar, as they're voiced by a who's who of Asian actors, including Will Yun Lee, Lindsay Price, Kelly Hu, Lucy Liu, and the prolific James Hong—"Cartwright?!" (available August 14 for 360 and PS3; rated M)
- Darksiders II — While the first title saw you play as War of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, now you'll play as Death, and Strife and Fury will also appear. It'll take place in the same time as its predecessor, and sees you setting out to prove the innocence of your brother War, having been accused of starting the Apocalypse early. Similar to most RPGs, there'll be dungeons to explore and cities to be given quests at, with one city rumored to have more dungeons available from it than the whole first game combined. Treasure from encounters will include armors that can augment Death's special Wrath Powers. For those of you who just have to pre-order, Best Buy, Amazon, and GameStop have their own different bonuses on offer; meanwhile, a Collector's Edition is also being sold that includes an art book, DLC, a Death mask, and a soundtrack disc for an extra $40. (available August 14 from THQ for 360 and PS3 [later this year for WiiU]; rated M)
- Mama's 2-Pack — Fans of the Cooking Mama series get some discounted attention this month. For just $30, this bundle includes the two Wii titles in the series. Cooking Mama: Cook Off features 55 recipes to master while using your Wiimote to replicate kitchen activities like using a meat grinder or stirring a pan's contents. In Cooking Mama: World Kitchen, you'll enjoy snazzier graphics—3D even!—and little mini-games that pop up when you've failed a dish. Whether you're making chocolate chip cookies, fudge, roast beef, or pierogie, you'll need to become really good at your craft to beat the in-game friends in the versus modes, as they usually do their work perfectly. (available this month from Majesco for Wii; rated E)
- New Super Mario Bros. 2 — If you suspect the game may revolve around Princess Peach being kidnapped, you know your Super Mario Bros. You'll have to go through over 80 stages, battling Koopalings and collecting coins to get to the end—with a goal to get to a million. A great returning feature is the rarely used Super Leaf (it debuted in 1990's SMB3 and was only used in one other SMB title) that turns you into raccoon Mario, with ears and a tail to allow you to fly. Other power ups will turn enemies gold, and they'll be worth a ton of coins to allow you to reach that one million coin target a little easier. However, despite any newness to the game, the levels will be the comfortable blocks and mushroom motif we're all familiar with. The game's rated quite highly, as Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu gave it a 36/40 score. (available August 19 from Nintendo, exclusively for 3DS; rated E)
- Sound Shapes — There are few side-scrollers that place an emphasis on music, but this is one. Your gameplay composes new music in this title that Sony calls "equal parts instrument and game." The gameplay itself is very simple: moving, jumping, sticking to objects. All you need to do is avoid red things like certain parts of monsters or lava. There's also little real background music, as hitting notes on screen makes music for you. Additionally, a robust level editor allows you to make your own songs/levels. You place notes and objects on your screen, using the back touchscreen of the Vita in clever fashion. Then when you "play" the level, you also play the song, with notes being able to be from any number of instruments and pitches. Soon you'll be making and sharing levels where moving through at just the right pace will play a song you wrote. You can likely count on people making levels that play real songs as well, like in Little Big Planet. (available August 7 from Sony for PS3 and Vita)
Jeff is currently playing Dragon Quest IX: Sentinel of the Starry Skies; follow him on Twitter at JKLugar.