"Tiger Woods PGA Tour '13" almost justifies the $60 price tag that is all too common with EA Sports' yearly installments. Featuring new swing mechanics that take into account the tempo and rhythm of your stroke, and great, new graphical polishes, it almost feels like a new game. Add into that extra options for addressing the ball and you've got a pretty substantial update this year. The all new "Tiger Legacy" mode feels a bit gimmicky, allowing you to even play as Baby Tiger, and thankfully this year you can turn off the caddie assist system entirely. It always felt like cheating to me.
The overall package is promising, and the Augusta National course returns, but EA has decided to lock out certain courses as DLC, which is altogether annoying, another sign of the times and an unneeded blemish on an otherwise stellar release. But, with the new swing method that feels like the final coming after dozens of iterations with minor tweaks, it's worth at least renting for the weekend.
"Botanicula," the newest point-and-click PC adventure from Amanita Designs, is a beautifully animated and engaging experience that, well, everyone should play. The characters and setting continue the charming tradition set by their previous game "Machinarium" and the puzzles are smart, intuitive and fluid. It released April 19 on Steam and is currently available in the latest Humble Bundle, or www.humblebundle.com in a pay-what-you-want format, so there's no reason not to own this one.
"Final Fantasy XIII-2," the direct sequel to Square Enix's "Final Fantasy XIII," continues the story of Lightning after the fall of Cocoon with her sister Serah desperately holding onto hope that her sister is still alive. Aided by a stranger named Noel, together they travel through time in an attempt to reach Valhalla, where Lightning supposedly resides.
Let me start by saying that "Final Fantasy XIII-2" addresses, or attempts to address, every issue gamers had with the original: the linearity, namely, as well as the lack of towns, and more.
The new release is much more open and it's a nice change of pace to be able to explore, talk to vendors and generally resume the usual RPG tropes of the past. Some say it's time to evolve from that, but the nostalgia makes me feel at home. Also new are the addition of "pets" that allow you to customize your party even farther and provide supporting roles in battle. The game also continues the Paradigm battle system from the original, which is a good or bad thing depending on your taste. It's a great idea, but the addition of an auto-battle command will likely tempt most into complacency and won't even bother to learn the best skills and combinations.
The pacing is good enough, but animations can be jerky and while the graphics are as beautifully rendered as ever, the engine suffers from consistent framerate drops. I think it goes without saying that the voice acting is hammy, but well intentioned and will grate or delight depending your stomach. Rent it, give it a try, and then decide whether or not to purchase.
"Yakuza 4" continues the "Shenmue" like tradition set by the previous three titles. Or maybe that's just how I think because it's the closest thing I'm likely to see during my lifetime to another "Shenmue." Again set in Kamurocho, the game follows the story of four protagonists, including previous main character Kazuma Kiryu, and features a more robust fighting and upgrade system, as well as improved voicework and graphics.
While I'm not sure the open-world action Japanese gangster flavor will suit everyone, those that are willing to put the time into it are sure to find it one of last year's best titles. Not to mention it features some of the best mini-games seen in an open-world title, including a Hostess Bar simulator. Buy it.
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(Kins can be contacted at email@example.com and followed on Twitter at @jkinsHS.)