News from the virtual world:
The E3 Media & Business Summit, the video-game industry's biggest North American event, is two months away. While a few companies " Vivendi and Activision " have bailed out of this year's show, most game publishers are planning their parties and getting their booths ready. And some of the biggest companies have taken the time to give reporters previews of what they have in store.
- DUELING BANJO: Microsoft seems to be emphasizing the number 2: The major Xbox 360 titles for the 2008 holiday season are "Fable 2," "Gears of War 2" and "Ninja Gaiden II." There's also "Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise," the sequel to the colorful sim about a ranch inhabited by candy-filled critters.
- The highlight of Microsoft's Gamer's Day 2008 was the long-awaited third installment of a series that began 10 years ago on the Nintendo 64. Rare's "Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts" marks the return of one of gaming's more amusing animal combos: Banjo is a big, dopey bear that can fly (or at least glide) with help from Kazooie, a high-strung bird. The 360 has been starved for more lighthearted fun, and Microsoft is counting on Rare, which it acquired in 2002, to recapture the charm of its earlier "B-K" games.
- PS3 PRIZES: Sony also seems focused on the deuce, with "Resistance 2," "Killzone 2" and a second "MotorStorm" racer coming to the PlayStation (um) 3. Also due this fall are the first PS3 editions of "SOCOM: U.S. Navy Seals" and "Buzz! Quiz TV."
The lineup of downloadable games from Sony's PlayStation Network looks more innovative. There's "Elefunk," a "Lemmings"-like puzzle game in which you have to build structures that are strong enough to survive marching pachyderms. "PixelJunk Eden" is an adventure through an oversized, psychedelic garden. And the horror tale "Siren: Blood Curse" is PSN's first attempt at an episodic adventure, scheduled to be delivered in 12 installments.
- BEYOND SONIC: Sega has been trying to freshen up its timeworn mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog, for years now, and we're all hoping that one of this year's attempts will do the trick. "Sonic Unleashed" takes the spiny speedster back to his roots, emphasizing pure velocity, while BioWare's intriguing "Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood" puts him at the center of a role-playing game.
- The house of Sonic has made a bigger splash by forming a partnership with one of Japan's hottest studios. The developers at Platinum Games have some pretty impressive credits, including "Okami," "Resident Evil," "Devil May Cry" and "Viewtiful Joe," and Sega has signed them to a four-game deal. The first three, all due in 2009, are the stylish, black-white-and-red (the red is for blood) "Madworld"; a witches-versus-angels actionfest called "Bayonetta"; and the outer space RPG "Infinite Line."
- LIVIN' ON THE EDGE: Electronic Arts has a bunch of gun games in its arsenal, including "Battlefield: Bad Company," "Battlefield Heroes" and "Left 4 Dead." But the most intriguing title in its future has to be "Mirror's Edge," from "Battlefield" creators DICE. Sort of a first-person shooter without the shooting, it's inspired by parkour, the urban running-and-climbing sport popularized in France. (Think the opening scene of the 2006 movie "Casino Royale.")
EA is also bringing skateboarding to the Wii with "Skate It," which can be controlled with the Wii remote or with Nintendo's new Balance Board. And it's hoping to capitalize on the social gaming trend with "Hasbro Family Game Night," which features classic and enhanced versions of "Battleship," "Yahtzee," "Connect Four," "Sorry!" and "Boggle."
- MORE ROCK: Konami has one of the year's biggest games, "Metal Gear Solid 4," coming in June, so its E3 lineup will focus on new chapters of its other big franchises, "Dance Dance Revolution," "Silent Hill" and "Castlevania." And since Konami specialized in music long before "Guitar Hero," it can't really be accused of bandwagon-jumping with its newest rhythm game, "Rock Revolution." This one is built around "the most realistic drum peripheral available," according to the company, although guitar and bass can play along, too.
- NEW IN STORES: This week, Nintendo wants to pump you up with "Wii Fit." ... The PlayStation 3 gets a couple of exclusives, Ubisoft's futuristic shooter "Haze" and Sony's karaoke game "Singstar." ... EA Sports brings the Union of European Football Associations " that's soccer to you, Yank " stateside in "UEFA Euro 2008" (for the Xbox 360, PS3, PS2, PSP).