Yoshi’s Island DS (DS) – It’s really more of the same of the original Yoshi’s Island, which is just fine as the original was a great game to begin with. This sequel primarily adds dual-screen support so you can see more vertically, some new minigames, and the ability to change between different characters as Yoshi’s rider (from between Mario, Peach, Bowser, Donkey Kong, and Wario), each of whom has different abilities that are necessary to get through certain spots or to find secret areas. It’s still a fairly easy game though, and I’ve already collected over 100 lives so far.
Viva Pinata (X360) – Beneath the cutesy exterior, this is fundamentally a resource management game. You have to figure out how to lay out your garden in the right way to attract new pinata types, try to breed them and keep them happy, fight off the bad ‘sour’ pinatas or convert them to good ones, prevent fighting among your own pinatas (some types don’t get along with each other) and take care of sick ones, and so on. Taking care of all this once your garden gets larger can get fairly hectic. There’s no real end goal, but it’s a fun enough way to kill some spare time.
Phantasy Star Universe (X360) – This is a rather unusual single-player/MMORPG hybrid similar to the previous Phantasy Star Online games, though I haven’t played those. There’s a single-player campaign that unfolds in chapters, much like many other RPGs, but the engine mechanics and world layout, with towns and instanced mission areas, are clearly designed to support the MMOG-ish multiplayer mode.
I’ve already got too many online game subscriptions as it is though, so I’m sticking to the single-player game. The story is pretty standard, and some of the crafting and collecting mechanisms look neat, but the combat and environments have been a bit repetitive so far. Hopefully it opens up and becomes a bit less linear later on.
Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana (PS2) – It’s very much an ‘old-school’ Japanese RPG, with an isometric view and turn-based attack/magic/item-choosing battles. Its main distinguishing feature is that instead of casting spells, you collect elemental resources by whacking things with a staff, and then use alchemy to combine them into magic items with various abilities. You can also combine items you find lying around to produce new items at certain shops, and you can often vary the ingredients you combine a bit to produce a different item.
The system’s interesting enough to appeal to the collector in me, at least. The story’s fairly light-hearted, but the voice acting isn’t all that great. If the catgirl in my party says ‘meow’ out loud one more time, I’m going to toss her in a sack and throw her in the nearest river…
Lost Planet (X360) – A fairly traditional third-person shooter, though fairly well-executed, as it looks great and controls well. It keeps you on your toes, as you have to keep moving and defeating bugs in order to gather recharges for your ever-decreasing thermal energy meter, and you occasionally get to hop into mechs for some additional firepower and protection. The boss battles are pretty good too, with a decent variety of different tactics necessary. Its main problem is that it’s really short, taking less than 10 hours to go through the single-player campaign, but the multiplayer is supposed to be fairly fun too (I haven’t tried it yet).