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March Madness 2.0: video game edition

By Gordy Stillman

Section: Arts

March 5, 2010

For many of you, March Madness evokes thoughts of the NCAA basketball tournament—the brackets and the betting pools, after all, are a thoroughly engrained part of our mainstream culture. When I think of this March, however, I think of something else—the upcoming major releases for successful game franchises.

Between March ninth and 16th (that’s in just a little more than a week for the mathematically disinclined), Nintendo, Square Enix and Sony America are set to release their latest games to the applause of gamers around the country (I would say “around the world,” but Japan gets most of these before the United States).

The first to hit stores is “Final Fantasy 13” (a.k.a. FFXIII), and, if you know the franchise’s history, you know that it has come a long way from the first game released back in 1987 which saved Square from bankruptcy. FFXIII is followed closely by the latest releases in the Pokemon franchise, “Heart Gold” and “Soul Silver,” which are enhanced remakes of the second generation games—meaning they are the same as the originals but with additional gameplay and graphical improvements.

Days later, “God of War 3” hits shelves as Kratos’ war against Zeus finally concludes and unveils just what happened to the Greek gods (at least according to the game writers). I’m most excited for this one.

Not to be limited to March alone, let us not forget some of the earlier releases of the year which served as great appetizers for March’s entrees. In late January, “Mass Effect 2” came out to widespread critical praise. “Mass Effect 2” was followed a mere two weeks later by “Bioshock 2,” which also came out to high sales. I didn’t have much time to play either—after all, school is supposed to come first—but so far they have both been quite fun and continued to bring interest and depth to their respective universes.

2010 seems to be the year of sequels. This could be a double edged sword. Sequels have the potential to take a great game and make it a great series and possess potential to be innovative, but they also have the potential to take a great game and make a bad follow-up. In this sense, games can be like major motion pictures: a sequel can be awesome, like “Spiderman 2” was, or it can be a disappointment, like “X-Men: The Last Stand.” Still, I have high hopes for the upcoming releases this month.

After all, “Final Fantasy” has yet to release a disappointing game, and “God of War” has left its story in desperate need of a conclusion, leading me to believe that these upcoming games will be well worth the wait.

While 2010 seems like the year of sequels and re-releases (I haven’t even mentioned the announced “Star Wars: The Force Unleashed” sequel or “Super Mario Galaxy 2”), there is a noteworthy game not part of any established franchise. That game is “Dante’s Inferno.” A very loose adaptation of the famous Inferno portion of Dante’s “The Divine Comedy,” the game takes the player through the nine Circles of Hell, allowing you to fight your way through a game that is basically “God of War” with a Renaissance theme. While it isn’t the most original in story or gameplay, most will find it fun to play provided they are not turned away by the differences in story from Dante’s original. I certainly enjoyed it when I had the time to play.

With all these games coming out in the first quarter of 2010, half of them in March alone, 2010 promises to be a very expensive year for gamers, especially for the gamers who like collector’s editions.

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