Blockbuster video games rarely released during the summer. But scale is no measure of quality; and while not all are of AAA-proportions, we'll demonstrate that this summer's schedule could include some of the strangest and boldest titles of the year.
We've highlighted the titles that look most promising and organized them by month. So get your calendars out, 'cause it's time to plan out your summer of gaming.
Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D (3DS, June 19th)
What It Is: C'mon. You know what this game is. It's a remake of what some refer to as the greatest game of all time. Nintendo is hoping that Ocarina will get some of the Nintendo fanboys who've been holding out on buying a 3DS to break down and the buy the new console. Ocarina 3D sports more detailed graphics and some gameplay tweaks; it fixes one of the title's long-maligned flaws thanks to an always-accessible inventory on the 3DS' lower screen.
Should You Buy It:If you have a 3DS, absolutely. It's a reboot of a cherished classic, and one of the finest games available for the young console. If you've never played Ocarina of Time, then it's not even a question. It is your duty as a gamer. That said, if you have played the game and aren't already enthusiastic about replaying it, I can't promise that it'll grab you this time around.
Trenched (XBLA, June 22nd)
What It Is: The third game in Stacking developer Double Fine's downloadable game parade, Trenched is an action/tower-defense hybrid set in a distinctive World War I-style setting. Your goal is too defend your position from waves of enemies using turrets and a good old-fashioned giant robot. Double Fine has also put an emphasis on character customization, giving you the freedom to tweak the appearance and abilities of your mech. The game supports co-op for up to four players.
Should You Buy It: Do you like tower defense? If so, then yes. It's a lot of fun. Trenched is a good example of the growing trend of hybrid tower defense games, which maintain the strategy element, while filling in the times you'd normally spend waiting with fast-paced action.
Also coming out in late June...
Prepping us all for an all new Transformers movie, Transformers: Dark of the Moon (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, DS, 3DS, June 14th) is actually already in stores. The game has been panned by the press, which is definitely a bummer. Still, its developer High Moon Studios did make last year's superb (non-film-tie-in) Transformers game War for Cybertron. Hopefully they'll take their time with War for Cybertron 2
Or you can try to sate that unending thirst for loot with Dungeon Siege III (PS3 Xbox PC, June 21st). Dungeon crawlers like DSIII are a great opportunity to click your way through the summer months.
Lastly, rounding out the month's downloadable selection is Lucha Fury (XBLA, June 22nd), a luchador-themed beat-em up. Think Streets of Rage, with mild cel-shading and a lot more color.
(Note: for other June releases, check our Spring gaming preview.)
Ms. Splosion Man (XBLA, July 13th)
What It Is: As you'll see throughout this preview, the downloadable scene has really done a lot to prop up summertime gaming. A sequel to a 2009 XBLA hit, Ms. Splosion Man promises more diversity, adding new puzzle elements and offering better boss battles. There's also a clear commitment to maintaining the game's distinctive gameplay which mostly consists of making your lead character explode. Also, there's a mode called "Two girls, one controller", which pretty much speaks for itself... Ok, maybe it doesn't. It allows players to control both Splosion Man and Ms. Splosion Man simultaneously.
Should You Play It: Ms. Splosion Man is clearly meant to be an improvement on the original, but it's not necessarily a completely new game. If you want more Splosion Man, then it's a no-brainer. Otherwise, it's more a question of whether or not you like puzzle-based platformers.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (XBLA, July 27th)
What It Is: Aside from having a mouthful of a name, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is an adventurous side-scrolling shooter that has been on Kotaku's radar for a long time. From animator Michael Gagne, Shadow Planet mixes shooting mechanics with Metroidvania-style exploration. It's also one of the prettiest looking games of the season, using a silhouetted style evocative of Limbo, without being so stingy on the color.
Should You Play It: You like video games, right? So yes.
Catherine (PS3, XBox, July 28th)
What It Is: When you break it down, Catherine is a story-driven puzzle game. In the game you control a man named Vincent who has begun to have a simultaneous relationship with two women: one named Catherine, and one named... Katherine. The gameplay is separated into two parts. There are dialogue-heavy social scenes, during which you interact with your ladies and presumably do your best to juggle their affections. And when the sun sets, you'll experience "nightmare" puzzle levels in which Vincent must move blocks to form staircases to the top of a collapsing tower, while grabbing items and avoiding traps. With Persona series creators Atlus at the helm, expect the story to be unabashedly weird, as only Japanese games can be.
Should You Play It: This is a toughy. Atlus, as a studio, has cultivated a very loyal fanbase of JRPG enthusiasts. But Catherine has been branded as "Erotic Horror", and as such is way out of the comfort zone of Atlus' US fanbase. If you like Atlus games and/or anime, and love story-intensive games like Heavy Rain, Catherine could be right up your alley. The game has garnered buzz for its mature themes. If not, then you might either be bored by long stretches of dialogue or simply not be able to get behind the story.
Also Coming Out in July...
Well, you could get your fill of giant bugs with Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon(PS3, Xbox 360, July 5th). Avoid it if you're afraid of spiders.
College football fans can relive the glory days of their alma maters with NCAA Football 2012 (PS3 Xbox, July 12th).
You might see Captain America: Super Solider (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, DS, 3DS, July 19th) on this list and immediately roll your eyes about yet another super-hero game of doubtful quality, , but we have high hopes for the game after seeing a demo earlier in the year. Developer Next Level Games talked about a lot of neat concepts involving complex brawling and graceful platforming, so there's a lot of potential there. Hopefully, they've been able to follow through. Then again, if you're still skeptical, you could pick up Call of Juarez: The Cartel (PS3 and Xbox 360, July 19th), which launches on the same day. The Cartel drops the Call of Juarez's classic western setting for modern Mexico and its current drug war.
Rounding out the month, El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron (PS3 Xbox, July 26th) brings you biblical action-platforming. It's kind of confusing, but also gorgeous.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution (PC, Xbox 360, PS3, August 23rd)
What It Is: The third game in the Deus Ex series, Human Revolution is a prequel that shows how genetic augmentation changed the present into the world
fans were introduced to in the original Deus Ex. The game maintains the series' emphasis on character customization and giving players the freedom to approach missions in a variety of ways based on what abilities you choose.
Should You Play It: Yep. In addition to the fact that the summer is surprisingly devoid of first-person games of the shooting or non-shooting variety, one that gives you a lot of gameplay freedom—you could and probably should consider this a role-playing game—don't exactly make up a huge portion of the marketplace. Also it is one of the biggest games of the summer, if that means anything to you.
Driver: San Francisco (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, August 23rd)
What It Is: Driver: San Francisco is, ideally, a revival for the Driver series. Returning to San Fran, which was the setting for the original Driver, Driver: SF adds a crazy new mechanic that allows players to jump from the car they're driving to other vehicles they can see on a zoomed-out map. In other words, if a target you're supposed to be chasing is speeding by in the opposite direction, you can jump into a car going in the right direction, rather than try a messy u-turn. In multiplayer, that mechanic turns a simple game of tag into a hyper-intense experience where every approaching car could suddenly start coming after you.
Should You Buy It: Yes. If you like racing, this seems like one of the most innovative AAA racing games in a long time. Even a non-racing fan should be intrigued by the game's strong story, clean visuals and interesting new gameplay.
Madden NFL 12 (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, PSP, PS2, August 30th)
What Is It: Another year, another Madden game, right? Nope. With 2012 NFL season in limbo, the appeal of Madden 12 is unclear. It might be the only football on your TV this fall. Expect an improved franchise mode and more dynamic player ratings, among a host of other fan-requested changes big and small to the periphery of the game.
Should You Buy It: Same answer as every year. Some players buy Madden annually, some players don't. If there's no season, than there's certainly some novelty to added to the game. If that doesn't mean anything for you, than you've already made your decision. (Wii players might be more inclined to buy Madden this year, because the game will finally support the classic controller.)
Also Coming Out in August...
A couple more XBLA games, for starters. Microsoft is bringing an iOS classic to the Xbox with Fruit Ninja Kinect (XBLA, August 3rd). Why slice a grapefruit in mid-air with your finger when you can do it with your whole freakin' arm!? If that seems a little too simple, then you might go for From Dust, (XBLA, August 17th) which tasks you with playing god to a primitive civilization a la Black and White. (Check the full Summer of Arcade roster, with more screens, trailers and summaries here.)
August is also a decent month for 3DS owners. First, Cave Story 3D (3DS, August 11th), a 3D remake of the popular retro shooter. Second, Devil Survivor Overclocked (3DS, August 23rd) will finally bring a hard dose of JRPG action to the new console. Driver: Renegade 3D (3DS, August 30th), which has nothing to do with Driver: San Francisco, closes out the month.
There are also a couple of appealing PS3 exclusives making their way to the US from Japan. It was unclear for a long time whether the HD version of Wii cult classic No More Heroes would be making its way stateside. Thankfully, No More Heroes: Paradise (PS3, August 16th) is in fact coming over. Many of us had been under the impression that Japanese role-playing game White Knight Chronicles hadn't been so successful in the U.S. But hey, enough people must have liked it, because White Knight Chronicles 2 (PS3, August 31st) is on the way, packaged with an improved version of the first game.
Resistance 3: (PS3, September 6th)
What It Is:The Resistance first-person shooter series from Insomniac Games has been one of Sony's marquee franchises for the PS3 generation. The franchise focuses on humanity's efforts to stop an alien invasion ravaging Earth. To keep the series fresh, Insomniac has changed this sequel's tone. Unlike the past two games, which followed the story of soldiers squaring off against the invading Chimera, Resistance 3 puts you in the shoes of a survivor, living in a world that already been dominated. Returning, of course, is Insomniac's signature inventive weapon-set, including new guns like the Mutator, which sprays a mist that damages enemies until they explode.
Should You Buy It: Though the story sounds intriguing and the graphics are very nice, it's hard to tell how well Resistance 3 will stack up compared to some of the other top shooters coming out in 2011. This is a PS3-exclusive, one of several that will round out the year.
Dead Island (PS3, Xbox 360, September 6th)
What It Is: Do you remember that trailer for a game from earlier this year that got everyone all excited? You know, the one with the zombies? That's Dead Island. Of course we've now seen the actual game, we know that Dead Island is much more. Dead Island differentiates itself from other first-person zombie games with its survivalist tone: All weapons need to be maintained or else they'll break, and there's much more of an emphasis on using whatever you can find in the environment. Technically, it is a shooter, but putting that title on it betrays the experience.
Should You Buy It: Yes. It looks like a very intense thrill ride. As with Left 4 Dead, playing with others seems like the ideal experience, so if you're a co-op fan it looks like a must-have.
Gears of War 3 (Xbox 360, September 20th)
What It Is:It's that game that Ice-T rapped about at E3, remember? The long-awaited finale of the Gears of War trilogy (whatever that means; this surely ain't the last Gears) features revamped versions of every mode, adds four player co-op, and, of course, a new campaign where Marcus Fenix and company will somehow protect some of the few remaining humans from extinction. Also, there are ladies fighting in this one!
Should You Buy It: Not if don't have an Xbox. Gears of War and Gears of War 2 stand as two of the best shooters of this generation, and Gears of War 3 looks like it could top both of them.
Also Coming Out in September...
Again, the 3DS (and DS) crowd should be getting their own little spread in September. First and foremost, Star Fox 64 3D (3DS, September 11th) comes out, bringing with it
online wireless multiplayer and "idealized controls", supposedly. The Bit.Trip series gets a 3D reboot in Bit.Trip Saga (3DS, September 15th). Kirby Mass Attack (DS, September 21st), which we sometimes like to call Kirby Massive Attack here at Kotaku, has a Pikmin-esque vibe. You control a bunch of Kirbys at once. This might be one of the last big DS games, given the rise of the 3DS.
The Gunstringer (Xbox 360, September 13th), a clever Kinect on-rails shooter, was once destined for XBLA, but was recently upgraded to a full retail release. The game gets extra points because it brings puppets and bullets together, which is something we hadn't thought of before.
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine (PS3, Xbox 360, PC September 6th) takes a different approach to the Warhammer universe. Instead of an RTS, Space Marine is a third-person shooter. Unfortunately for THQ, they may run into some stiff competition releasing their game just two weeks before Gears of War 3.
Strategy RPG fans will be happy when Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten (PS3, September 6th) hits stores. There aren't many strategy RPGs for consoles anymore, so when one comes out we get very excited. Save some excitement for NHL 12 (PS3, Xbox 360, September 13th), too. After over a decade of dreaming, virtual goalies will finally be able to fight just like everyone else.
Those are most of the big games coming out this summer. You can also expect a large number of iOS and Android games, but we don't hear about those very far in advance. Keep up with Kotaku and we''ll keep you posted.
Which games are you getting this summer?
(Top photo by monkeyatlarge | Flickr)