Now that it’s baseball season in the outside world, it can be the same in your hermetically sealed man cave. MLB 14: The Show for PS3 is now the only baseball game left standing. Not because of any surly EA-NFL style exclusivity deal, but because its only competitor, the MLB 2K series, has sucked so hard that it’s just given up and gone home. It also happens to be hunting season, courtesy of Cabela’s Big Game Hunter: Pro Hunts, which lets you bust a cap in grizzly bears, caribou, wild boar and assorted other beasts of the wild. But back to bats: Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate — Deluxe Edition, which came out last year on handhelds, has gotten a visual upgrade so it could grapple swing over to consoles.
Reviews by Phil Villarreal. Phil is an author, blogger and Twitterer. Publishers provided review copies.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate — Deluxe Edition
(Wii U, PS3, 360, $40, Teen)
It’s tough enough for an amazing handheld game to make the move to consoles unscathed, and that much more difficult for something average to make the leap. The Caped Crusader descends into Blackgate Prison, which has been taken over by the Gotham rogue’s gallery, and tries to restore order. The side-scrolling 2.5-D, exploration-heavy Metroidvania adventure tasks you to unlock items that open up new areas, letting you make your way through the dark, foreboding corridors. You tangle with the likes of Joker, Scarecrow, Penguin and Deadshot, and the deluxe edition piles on more maps and enemies to chew on.
The graphical upgrades make the game look as though it were built from the ground up for contols, but the stiff combat and clunky story are as grating as they were in the handheld. Fan service overflows throughout, flooding the Blackgate halls with assorted Bat-nerdery, making the game a feast for completionists. If you’ve got the patience to make your way through the sometimes obtuse challenges, this is the best form of the game in which to sink your time.
Cabela’s Big Game Hunter: Pro Hunts
(Wii U, PS3, 360, $30, Teen)
More of a strategy-based sim than a guns-blazing, arcade-style slaughterfest, Pro Hunts has you travel the continent in search of elusive trophies. Stealth and trickery are the order of the day. You are forced to slink behind cover, minimize your noise and flank your targets before they scamper away. Once you are able to get a lock on your victim, you take aim and watch a slow-mo bullet cam trace your projectile’s path through its flesh and organs.
In these moments, Pro Hunts is good stuff. But the slightest screw-up can nullify minutes of tedious setup work, forcing you to skip back to a poorly concocted checkpoint to take another crack at your buffoonery. Real-life big-game hunters Wade Middleton, Jim Shockey and Vicki and Ralph Cianciarulo are there to shame your failures and offer grudging encouragement when you get it right. You can see most of what the game has to offer in a couple hours, with the remainder being repetitive grinds that force you to take down the same beasts again and again to unlock all the hunts. But if you really must shoot a pretend grizzly in the face, this is your game.
MLB 14: The Show
(PS3, $60, Everyone)
Now that The Show is the last baseball series standing, it can be excused for laying down a bunt to advance the runner to second rather than swinging for the fences. The smallball metaphor works as a metaphor for the mentality behind this entry, which refines an already solid core to smooth out the experience and tack on a couple intriguing but unnecessary features. The star, as always, is Road to the Show, which lets you guide a rookie through the farm system, into the Bigs and, ideally, to stardom.
A flashy new feature is Community Challenges, which lets you design brief minigames with their own sets of goals and set them free for others to try. The online franchise mode has been expanded and fleshed out, letting you focus on administrative actions and ignore the on-field stuff to live out your Moneyball fantasies. If slugging through a full game intimidates you, you can opt for a streamlined mode that lets you make it through games in half an hour. The onfield action and commentary, though as refined as always, seems stagnant. You get the sense that the developers are holding back the real heat for the PlayStation 4 version, due to bat cleanup next month.
Retro-Bit Super Retro Trio
Sega and Nintendo fanboys who bickered in the 80s and 90s would have gasped at a future in which a single console could take on NES, Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis games, yet here we are. The Super Retro Trio plays all the cartridge-based classics of yesteryear, with six controller points that you plug in the original controllers or use the two cheap, plasticky devices that come with the console to play your dusty heirlooms. The controller and TV-based play beats the pants off PC or smartphone emulators, and the fact that the Retro Trio is legal means you can play the old games without the guilt of illegal downloads.
The magic of the box falls short in a couple ways. While the S-video port is welcome, it would have been nice to have a component or HDMI option to make it easier to use with modern TVs. Also, the wired controllers are a buzzkille, forcing you to crouch close to your TV rather than lounge on the couch like you’ve probably become accustomed to. At least the Retro Trio is well-constructed enough to never, ever force you to blow the dust out of it like you did with the original NES.