2012 brings a new dawn for handhelds and the continued development of the eighth generation of video games. With the Wii U scheduled for the second half of the year, the PlayStation Vita hitting shelves in February, and the Nintendo 3DS yet to reach its full stride, gamers can expect plenty of options and new sights from the industry. Hopefully this means fewer hacks and unfulfilled promises. We can only cross our fingers for better PlayStation Network service, smarter social media and user content integration, and more games fixed and patched by launch. Here's a toast to the new year—and ten hotly anticipated handheld games that should be on your radar.
Resident Evil: Revelations (February 7)
Few series have lasted as long as Resident Evil has without burning out. When RE4 achieved the kind of mid-life success games rarely get a taste of, it changed the franchise from survival horror to action horror. Now beginner players are discovering a new Resident Evil right alongside fans who followed the series from game one, and the resulting popularity has been explosive. RE5 might have lagged behind the enviable innovation that made RE4 a top pick for Game of the Year, but let's hope Capcom makes as much of its dynamic, award-winning formula as Wesker would a batch of T-Virus.
Revelations, which will support the much talked about Circle Pad peripheral for the 3DS, will sate the appetites of classic fans with a return to survival horror form while maintaining the streamlined action and controls expected of modern Resident Evil.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss (February 22)
Now that Naughty Dog is working on The Last of Us for Sony, Golden Abyss may be the last we see of Uncharted—especially considering that the developer has a record for cutting each of its series off at four games. One of the Vita's launch titles and undoubtedly a future system-seller, Golden Abyss (which marks the first departure for the series, since it's developed this time by SCE Bend Studio and only overseen by Naughty Dog) shows off the handheld's motion and touchscreen controls while keeping more traditional button controls as an open option.
On this adventure, hero Nathan Drake investigates the 400-year-old massacre of a Spanish expedition as he's dragged in the middle of a rivalry between Jason Dante, an old friend, and Marisa Chase, the granddaughter of a vanished archeologist.
Escape Plan (February 22)
Another Vita launch title, newcomer Escape Plan brings a little style to the handheld's starter library. Players explore the black-and-white world as Lil and Laarg, two captured characters who must employ their physical skills and brainpower to bypass myriad puzzles and traps and break free. Escape Plan's controls will heavily rely on the front and rear touchscreens. The game comes from Fun Bits Interactive, which grew from Titan Studios, the makers of the successful Fat Princess PSN exclusive.
Monster Hunter 4 (TBA)
Aside from Resident Evil: Revelations, Capcom also has their hands busy with Monster Hunter 4, the sequel to Monster Hunter Tri. The latest in the action-RPG series, Monster Hunter 4 will support the Circle Pad expansion for the 3DS. Prospective players in Japan and Europe got to check out the expanded Monster Hunter Tri-G (known there as 3 G) for the 3DS, but so far no North American release date has been set for either game. Let's hope the favorable reviews of the original Monster Hunter Tri and the massive popularity of the series in Japan convinces Capcom to test the game with Americans this year.
A rumor is floating around the web that Monster Hunter 4 may make it to the Vita later this year because of Monster Hunter Portable 3rd's fast success on Japanese PSPs.
Army Corps of Hell (February 22)
Sony has more than one new IP to reward Vita buyers with. Army Corps of Hell from Square Enix is a cutely (more so in the actual graphics than the cinematics) grotesque game that combines hellish warfare with Pikmin-style gameplay. The King of Hell needs help regaining his throne, so he gathers an army of minions to fight for him—taking on anything that stands in his way, from minor enemies to colossal beasts. Sounds like fun to me.
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy (TBA)
Merging the music and battles systems of the famous series, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy for the 3DS is a cutesy take on the Final Fantasy franchise. Theatrhythm will feature chibi versions of returning characters, including Lightning (FFXIII), the Onion Knight (FFIII), Cloud Strife (FFVII), and the Light Warriors from the first game. Developer Indieszero draws inspiration the series' many installments throughout the years, packing the best into one unified rhythm game. It's a refreshing way to celebrate some of the most highly regarded RPGs in history.
The game is planned for February in Japan, so there's a good chance we could see a release here by late 2012.
Gravity Rush (February 22)
Like Escape Plan and Army Corps of Hell, the launch title Gravity Rush (originally dubbed Gravity Daze) is a new property that has players manipulating gravity as a young woman named Kat. With this extraordinary power, she can fly through air, walk on walls, and explore the city of Hekseville in all directions. If that isn't enough to interest you, then maybe the anime and comic book–styled visuals will do the trick.
Luigi's Mansion 2
One of the more promising titles for the 3DS is the sequel to 2001's Luigi's Mansion, under development by Next Level Games. Not only did the decade-old Nintendo game surprise the public with its unlikely protagonist—the second most popular Mario brother, Luigi—but it wound up as the best-selling GameCube launch title. Its success was thanks in part to its clever design and in part to its odd premise: Luigi must brave a haunted mansion, sealing away ghosts with a vacuum cleaner on his way to rescuing Mario.
The sequel, projected for early this year, should prove an ultimate test in bridging old and new game design. If successful, it could help Nintendo sell more copies of their presently unappreciated handheld.
Little King's Story 2 (TBA)
Little King's Story 2 marks another unexpected return in video games. Co-developed by Cing and Town Factory, the first Little King's Story for the Wii stars a boy who finds a magical crown that makes people follow his orders. The goal of the game is build and fortify your kingdom while appeasing your many subjects. Citizens can be given different commands and be put to work doing various jobs, and like in Pikmin or Army Corps of Hell, King Corobo must rely on his people to do most of the fighting for him.
While the original game flopped in sales charts, the early attention of the Vita might help market this one to gamers. So far the game (now developed by Marvelous Entertainment) has only been announced for Europe, not North America, but it's releasing there sometime this year.
Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney (TBA)
Level-5 and Capcom are combining their efforts for what is probably one of the most highly anticipated puzzle-adventure games yet: Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney, set for Japan this year. The 3DS crossover brings the popular characters Professor Hershel Layton and Phoenix Wright together to solve the mystery of Labyrinth City. As Phoenix defends an accused witch, Layton investigates the strange occurrences happening in the vicinity, and the two don't always agree.
Puzzles are to Layton as contradictions are to Ace Attorney, so gamers can expect a unique blend of both. I expect this one will have as many stumping scenarios as it will hilarity from watching Layton and Phoenix face off.