The spring season has historically been a ho-hum time in gaming, since publishers dump all their blockbusters-or at least hopeful moneymakers-onto the market in the weeks leading up to the holidays. This makes sense neither creatively nor economically, since developers must crunch the same panicked deadline annually, and often have to abandon unmarketable ideas. Releases are then crammed in before the holidays like sardines, and many deserving titles go unnoticed. We may not see a reversal of tradition anytime soon, but certainly a bucking of the trend is taking hold. Game executives have discovered the boon of hitting the market during a time of few major releases, when consumers are still hungry for new titles but have a choice. Below are five examples.
ibMadworld/i (March TBA, Wii, PlatinumGames, $50)/b
Not at all your typical family-friendly Wii title. A journalist with GameSpot recently described iMadworld/i very accurately as a "chiaroscurist bloodbath," denoting its highly stylized visuals reminiscent of iSin City/i. The character is a contestant in a game show and the premise is to kill as many guys in as many bloody ways possible as you can come up with. And, of course, the game doesn't shy away from showing you such acts in gruesome detail, all covered in layers of black-and-white. So, to review: Wreck lots of dudes, see tons of gore, and do it draped in a noir-like, blood-soaked sheen. Oh, and most of the folks who made iOkami/i and iViewtiful Joe/i developed it. I'm in.
biFlower/i (Now available, PS3 (PlayStation Network), thatgamecompany, $10)/b
OK, so I cheated on this one since its actually already out, but it deserves mention here. iFlower/i is one of those titles that further muddies the water in the debt between games as artwork vs. entertainment (Sony lately seems mighty keen on the former, to its credit). As the name suggests, the "game" tasks you with guiding at first one, but eventually thousands of flower petals through a series of awe-inspiringly beautiful environments. Throughout each, you'll undertake a variety of puzzles, all of which are elegantly simple, yet engaging thanks to the controls (you use only one button and the gamepad's motion). Though it features no dialogue or story to speak of, it is fable-like in its often mesmerizing look at our world and how man alters it and majestic in its understated and innovative presentation. And wait until the twist at the end, which will catch you totally off guard.
biGrand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars/i (March 17, DS, Rockstar Leeds, $35)/b
When I first heard iGTA/i was coming to a handheld system not known for vast 3D worlds (a.k.a. the DS), I was very skeptical. It isn't the series first portable entry, but iLiberty City Stories/i and iVice City Stories/i were essentially mini-PS2 games. However, I was wrong to doubt the possibility of a fully realized iLiberty City/i on DS. The game looks to represent the franchise's hallmark gritty, grimy and seedy depiction of the urban underbelly, albeit with simpler "2.5D" graphics. Gameplay is fairly familiar in the best sense, with a few new mission types thrown in (Let's see how politicians do with the drug-dealing minigame). That's not to mention the storyline, which looks to make few concessions even under smaller boundaries. Rockstar may yet again push the technical limits here.
biCommand Conquer: Red Alert 3 Uprising/i (March TBA, PC, EA Los Angeles, $20)/b
I sort of cheated on this one too since this is really just a continuation (or spin-off, if you will) of iCC: Red Alert 3/i and doesn't mess with the core gameplay, but it's something any strategy game fan will want to play regardless. iRed Alert 3/i, a game about Soviets fighting Allied forces in an altered future, put this strategy series back at the forefront of the genre with frenetic, brilliantly quirky and well-balanced gameplay. It also outdid itself in terms of a series hallmark: hilariously over-the-top, campy live-action video sequences. Uprising just ups the ante, with three new mini campaigns, more than a dozen new units, and a mode called Commander's Challenge, which is sort of like a strategy game Thunderdome. There will also be missions dedicated to controlling a fan favorite super-killer Japanese schoolgirl who can telekinetically levitate tanks until they implode. No joke. It also features former pro wrestler Ric Flair. Also not a joke.
biThe Godfather II/i (April 7, PS3/Xbox 360/PC, EA Redwood Shores, $50-60)/b
Make all the fuss you want about EA desecrating the name of Coppolla's masterpiece with a game franchise (I philosophically share your objections, trust me), iGodfather: The Game/i was stand-up title some years back, with blunt-and-to-the-point action and an interesting depiction of mob influence through its mission structure. This follow-up looks to be anything but a rehash, and indeed EA seems to be innovating on the open-world genre with the addition of a top-down strategy component (think iCivilization/i or iSimCity/i). The game perhaps smartly does not attempt to tightly follow iPart II/i's complex storyline involving Michael Corleone, instead having your character start his own crime syndicate. The great twist here is that while you are deep in low-level street thuggery, you also must manage your organization's resources, influences and diplomatic relations. If you can swallow the fact it gets its inspiration from a revered, decades-old film, iThe Godfather II/i is in many ways something that's yet to be seen, and appears to be coming together well.,John Richardson, iBeacon/i columnist