High-tech and retro split the difference in this season’s HOTTEST GAMES.
1. RAYMAN LEGENTS: The next hand-drawn, animated epic probably won’t originate from a 3-D movie. Instead, French video game maker Michel Ancel uses detailed, lifelike animation to deliver the jaw-dropping, beautiful game Rayman Legends. This Super Mario Bros.-styled run-and-jumper swims in bright paint strokes, and goofy-faced creatures come to life in exhilarating musical sequences to the beat of classical and pop songs. Pick this up on Nintendo’s Wii U system for the best version full of cooperative play moments on the Wii U’s touch screen. (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Wii U, PC)
2. FORZA MOTORSPORT 5: The new generation of living-room games is here with PlayStation 4 and Xbox One arriving within a week of each other last month. First impression: Xbox One wins the checkered flag, thanks to the stunning racing game Forza Motorsport 5. The racing series already won the course wars in prior years with a focus on realistic car handling. With everything under the hood in place, Microsoft has turned its attention to spit-shining the cars and tracks, which show off reflection and particle effects that blur the lines between virtual and real racing. (Xbox One)
3. THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD revisits the storied series’ most underlooked entry of old. Nintendo fans turned up their noses at this adventure game in 2003, complaining about its cartoony style at a time when “realistic” games like Halo had begun to explode. But while other decade-old games look like ancient digital history, Wind Waker has aged incredibly well. Its charismatic, emotional characters explode on the screen in Looney Tunes fashion, particularly the swashbuckling hero, Link. Wind Waker sees him traveling by sea across an island-marked ocean of danger and excitement, and the game now looks and plays even better on modern HDTVs. (Wii U)
4. TOWERFALL: Retailers like Amazon.com, Best Buy and GameStop stock a modest game system known as Ouya, priced to move at $100. What it lacks in heavy hitters like the Halo or Madden franchises the Android-powered system makes up for with quirky, cheap fare, and TowerFall tops its indie-heavy roster. The game’s resemblance to the arcade classic Gauntlet is no accident, as it offers simple, accessible medieval battles for up to four friends. No game this year offers more party-gaming fun, and its endearing retro style, long options list and simplicity should make everyone take a second glance at the Ouya. (Ouya)
5. BATTLEFIELD 4: If any game is going to strike at Call of Duty’s claim to the shooting-game throne, it might happen this year. Battlefield games long have offered bigger, crazier and more explosive warfare than the competition, complete with the vehicles — like tanks, helicopters and jets — that Call of Duty lacks. Usually, that action has been smoothest on high-end computers, but this year’s new game systems have caught up, meaning Battlefield 4’s 64-player battles finally will run at full steam in living rooms. Its cinematic solo missions will impress, but you’ll stay for the team-based online combat. (PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)