9 Video Games For February Cabin Fever

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- February's a cold, cabin-fever month for much of the country, which can only help the video game industry heat up.

Hopes dimmed last year when the industry brought in between $15.4 billion and $15.6 billion, which was on par with or 1% less than 2009's totals, according to NPD Group. Games themselves were a big part of the problem, as software sales slid 5%, to $10.1 billion from $10.6 billion. Last month, overall sales slid 5% from January 2009. If not for Microsoft's ( MSFT) Kinect motion-capture device and Sony's ( SNE) PlayStation Move motion controllers contributing to a 6% increase in video game accessory sales in January, it may have been a complete loss.

Part of the problem, however, was that anticipated titles announced at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles last summer -- Activision's ( ATVI) Call of Duty: Black Ops notwithstanding -- didn't reach gamers before year's end. Through planning and delays, the Nintendo ( NTDOY.PK) 3DS portable game system and various games weren't slated for release until the first quarter of this year. While that's not necessarily a bad thing for gamers, it's created a crowded field this month and didn't do developers any favors last February when software sales tanked 15% and releases such as Take Two's ( TTWO) Bioshock 2, Electronic Arts' ( ERTS) Dante's Inferno and Sony's Heavy Rain all underperformed.

Unlike last February, however, this month's given gamers a few reasons to brave the elements and buy a game that will melt away a few of those winter hours. These nine titles in particular helped thaw gamers' hearts and hands:

Bionic Commando Rearmed 2
Publisher: Capcom
Platforms: Sony PlayStation 3, Microsoft Xbox 360
Releases: Already available
It's been a big month for Capcom, but not necessarily because of this platform sequel. Capcom took a niche market that loved the original Bionic Commando when it was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System back in 1988, gave it a 2.5-dimension enhanced graphic makeover of that favorite a little more than two years ago with Bionic Commando Rearmed, made a direct sequel to those games with the confusingly titled Bionic Commando in 2009 and now has released this sequel.

The key element of all the bionic commando games -- the ability to swing from platform to platform via your robotic arm -- remains intact, but our hero Nathan Spencer can now jump and use his arm to hack into computers and fire grenades. The response has been lukewarm at best, with critics such as those at GameTrailers loving the better swing controls, but IGN feeling that the novelty has worn thin after a few sequels and that making a guy with a bionic arm jump defeats the purpose of having a bionic commando to begin with. Petty as they may seem, these are the arguments that make or break a game franchise.

Mario Sports Mix
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Releases: Already available
Mario's known as a plumber, but is no stranger to the sporting world. He's played golf, baseball, tennis, three-on-three basketball and soccer; driven the go-kart circuit; and even refereed boxing matches between a small green man and giant competitors including Mike Tyson. This time, Mario and his buddies Luigi, Bowser, Diddy Kong, Wario and Princess Peach compete in one- to four-player games of volleyball, street basketball, ice and field hockey and dodgeball.

Reviewers' reception of this title was lukewarm -- as it tends to be with casual games -- but this type of game tends to elicit two types of reactions from Wii players: Groans from die-hards who are easily bored with Wii Sports, Wii Fit, Mario Party and Wii Party titles and wish Nintendo would just release a new Zelda game already; and the casual gamers who love the variety-pack format and will pick one up whenever offered. The latter helped put group-play titles such as Just Dance 2, Wii Fit Plus and New Super Mario Bros atop the Wii's software sales list last year and among NPD Group's 10 best-selling games of 2010, so it's hard to blame Nintendo for ignoring the former when it releases Mario Sports Mix.

You Don't Know Jack
Publisher: THQ ( THQI)
Platforms: Nintendo Wii, Sony PlayStation 3, Microsoft Xbox 360, Nintendo DS
Releases: Already available
Much of computer-owning America in the mid-to-late 1990s spent at least a few hours with this goofy game-show-inspired series that, before the release of this version, had been out of circulation since 1998. Much has changed in those 13 years, and the developers wisely used that time to adapt the game for online play. All of the fake commercials, question categories like "Dis or Dat" (is orecchiette a type of pasta or parasite?) remain, you still lose money for buzzing in too early and you can still "screw" other players by using a screw to force an opponent to answer a question in a shorter time and take their money if they answer incorrectly.

Critical response has been overwhelmingly positive, but this was a tough one to mess up. A family-friendly game that hasn't resurfaced in over a decade, kept much of its trademark comedy intact and doesn't need motion controls should have a huge built-in audience.

Test Drive Unlimited 2
Publisher: Atari
Platforms: Sony PlayStation 3, Microsoft Xbox 360
Releases: Already available
Bored easily by driving games? Try one that allows you to drive anywhere on the satellite-rendered island of Ibiza, buy apartments and houses there, decorate them, gamble at casinos and and stockpile sweet rides such as an Audi Q7 concept car or a carbon-fiber Aston Martin. That's the basic premise behind this super sequel, which tries to give gamers a look at the extravagant lifestyle of a race car driver while maintaining the online competition that's become the core of any great racing franchise. You can challenge online players just by flashing the brights at them and put your virtual scratch on the line when you do so.

What's the problem? A car list of more than 100 vehicles that somehow doesn't include a Lamborghini, characters that look like they were stolen from early Grand Theft Auto games, voice acting that would make 1930s radio performers blanch and -- despite fully mapped versions of Ibiza and Oahu -- worlds that end well before your SUV or supercar has explored them. Some gamers may be able to look past that, but driving game enthusiasts spoiled by Gran Turismo 5's $60 million development budget, full complement of cars and HD visuals may find it difficult to downshift into this game.

EverQuest II: Destiny of Velious
Publisher: Sony
Platform: PC
Releases: Already available
World of Warcraft? Starcraft? DC Universe Online? For toddlers. Those who've been playing massively multiplayer online role-playing games since the Clinton administration got their start with a little series called Everquest that's not only still around, but is issuing the sequel's seventh expansion pack and 10th overall add-on.

What's different this time around? Two words: Flying mounts. If you don't think that's enough to get devoted Everquest players to plunk down another $40 (or $60 for the collector's edition), consider how you'd feel if you could rain hellfire down upon your enemies from a flying dragon. Yeah, it's just a little bit worth it.

Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo DS
Releases: Already available
Japanese role-playing games tend to draw a niche audience slightly nerdier than, say, your average Legend of Zelda player. That wasn't always the case, though, as the original Dragon Quest -- released here as Dragon Warrior for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1989 -- came to many American gamers free with their subscription to Nintendo Power. That same audience will find a lot to like in this DS release, which was first released for the Japanese version of the Super Nintendo system more than 15 years ago. It's a lot of crawling through dungeons, collecting equipment, fetching items to complete levels and battling creatures by taking turns and trading hit points.

Sadly, though, that Nintendo Power audience is now more likely swinging a motion controller and playing Wii Sports Resort for the 60th time this week. This one's strictly for the niche audiences who, despite the release of Dragon Quest IX on the DS just last year, have been waiting for this import to come ashore for a long time.

Marvel Vs. Capcom 3
Publisher: Capcom
Platforms: Sony PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Releases: Already available
When gamers first made Street Fighter's Ryu and Ken launch hadoken fireballs at Spider-Man's webs and Iron Man's unibeam and made the Hulk crush tiny Mega Man in Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 nearly 11 years ago, it was the best of all geek worlds. When the game was re-released online with a graphic upgrade two years ago, it had the fanboys salivating. Now that Marvel Vs. Capcom 3's been released, the two-dimensional fighter has loyal followers slugging it out.

On one side are those who love the new combos and aimable weapons for favorites such as Ryu and Iron Man, are glad to see new Marvel characters such as Dark Phoenix, Thor and Deadpool and are super-psyched to battle the game's final boss: Galactus, whose sole job in the Marvel Comics universe is to eat planets. On the other side are those who find the motion control features for the PlayStation Move and Xbox Kinect just slightly annoying and unresponsive for a 2-D game and lament the loss of several characters from the Street Fighter game series and the affable Mega Man (whose obscure sword-wielding counterpart Zero made the cut instead).

Critics aren't hearing the latter's complaints so far, with Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 taking home the critics' award for best fighting game at E3 and earning fighting game of the year honors from IGN, 1UP and G4.

Bulletstorm
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platforms: Sony PlayStation 3, Microsoft Xbox 360
Releases: Feb. 22
A big favorite at E3 after EA announced it along with its online shooting-game-based Gun Club rewards site, Bulletstorm gets a kick out of being a first-person shooter that openly mocks other first-person shooters. For one, just shooting people isn't good enough in this game: You have to kill them in the most efficient or creative way possible. If that means working on your accuracy and getting one-shot kills, that's fine. If that means using a grenade launcher to hurl two grenades tethered by a string at a bad guy's neck, letting them wrap around a few times and kicking that bad guy into a crowd of his buddies just before he explodes, all the better.

If you expect EA to feel even remotely remorseful about this, keep in mind that this is a company that formed an online Gun Club, promoted its shooter Dead Space 2 with a commercial campaign titled "Your Mom Hates This" and already dismissed Fox News' criticism of the game by comparing it to Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill film series and Robert Rodriguez's Sin City. All of this is aimed at one specific, shooter-rabid demographic and should result in this game making a killing for EA.

Killzone 3
Publisher: Sony
Platform: Sony PlayStation 3
Releases: Feb. 22
Forget about the shooting, the new jet packs, the melee fighting, the multiplayer gaming or the gameplay in general. This title is already an industry unto itself. Sony's putting a huge push behind Killzone 3, primarily because it's one of the first shooters to make full use of its PlayStation Move motion controller. Secondly, it's one of the first games Sony's produced with its Bravia 3-D HDTVs in mind, building a 3-D mode. Thus, Sony's partnered with 7-Eleven to produce Killzone Slurpee cups with codes for downloadable content and an orange flavor called Battle Fuel. It's also given just about every major retailer a stake in the game for bringing in pre-orders.

Wal-Mart ( WMT) is hosting a midnight launch and giving away posters and map downloads; GameStop ( GME) is offering a pack with maps and downloads unlocking all abilities and weapons in the multiplayer mode for 24 hours; Best Buy ( BBY) is offering maps and the ability to gain experience points twice as fast in multiplayer mode; and Amazon ( AMZN) is giving away maps, instant access to three game weapons and a starter jet pack with their package. Sony will also be bundling Killzone 3 with a 160 GB PlayStation 3 for $300. The game hasn't been released yet and is already scoring 85 out of 100 on Metacritic, with most big gaming sites already weighing in. Killzone 3 is a beast, but with that kind of marketing money behind it, it needs to be.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet.com. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.

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