If youre in the mood for rowdy Vikings, overweight princesses, abstract sound puzzles and brutal Darwinism have I got a game for you.
The single-disc Best of PlayStation Network (PS3; $39.99; rated T) bundles four exclusive titles from Sonys online marketplace, which has become an increasingly smart place to shop in recent years. As distribution models change, more quality console games especially independent games are finding success by way of direct download. (The Nintendo and Microsoft consoles have their own equivalent systems WiiWare and Xbox Live Marketplace, respectively.)
All the games packaged here are fast, fun and relatively easy to learn. Each is too slight or too weird to be a standalone retail title. Taken together, though, they represent a diverting stroll through the realm of indie games.
The collections best game is the experimental hybrid title Sound Shapes, which combines elements of the side-scrolling platformer with a set of funky music editing tools. It starts out very abstract and minimalist: You control a sticky ball that rolls up and over the various obstacles on each level.
Instead of coins, though, you collect musical notes that drop into the games ambient techno score, on the fly. The hazards are random and psychedelic lava blasts, ballistic missiles, wrecking balls and each has its own rhythmic part in the game.
As you navigate the levels in campaign mode, you unlock the musical and design elements that you can later use to build your own levels. This is where the real fun is. Youre essentially constructing a 2-D spatial puzzle and a song at the same time.
This is highly sophisticated game design, but the actual experience of playing and building is entirely intuitive. My dedicated junior play-testing partner she starts kindergarten in the fall grasped the game immediately. Shes been building puzzles and making songs on her own all week. Pretty neat. (Her name for her custom level? World of Awesome. Just FYI.)
When Vikings Attack
When Vikings Attack is the collections other highlight, a goofy brawler that pits mild-mannered British townsfolk against marauding Viking invaders. The game begins with a very clever civil defense style film reel, in the manner of those old Cold War safety videos.
The idea is that those pesky Vikings, whove been menacing the British Isles for centuries, are back again. You must defend your charming English village by joining other townsfolk to repel the invasion. You do this by heaving nearby objects (park benches, hay bales) and knocking over Vikings like Nordic bowling pins. The zany cartoon violence is safe for kids, and adults will enjoy the prim mutterings of the villagers as they defeat the marauders (Jolly good! Tally ho!)
Similar in tone is the cartoony Fat Princess, a variation on the tower defense game thats far too hectic for my taste. Your mission in this game is to sprint around the screen dispatching enemy medieval soldiers (rather bloodily) and delivering slices of cake to your plump princess.
Where Vikings is well-paced and witty, Princess is frantic and more than a little crass. That said, its probably the game with the best replay value. Beneath the sophomoric surface is a game that rewards tactical thinking and concentration.
Finally, the profoundly weird Tokyo Jungle is genuinely unlike anything Ive ever played before. The premise: Mankind is gone, Nature has reclaimed the city of Tokyo, and you must survive the Darwinian urban jungle as a tiny Pomeranian lap dog.
The graphics are primitive in this Japanese import, but the game design is solid. An onscreen hunger meter tracks your calorie intake and expenditure. You must avoid predators, find food and eventually attract a mate.
Youre given other animals to play later in the game, such as a hyena, lion, panda and even a robotic puppy. Stick around long enough, and you may even discover the mysterious fate of humankind.
All of the bundled games have online multiplayer options and, inevitably, pay-to-play additional content that can be purchased over the PlayStation Network.
New This Week: Baseball season isnt even half over, and NCAA Football 14 (PS3, X360) is already on shelves. Blasphemy. Also look for the expansion set Civilization 5: Brave New World (PC) and the 8-gamebox set Metal Gear Solid: The Legacy Collection. (PS3).