A new era of video game systems is upon us.The eagerly anticipated Xbox One and vaunted PlayStation 4 will arrive in November, kick-starting a Christmastime console war. If you’ve been especially good this year, Santa Claus might even put one under your tree.However, there’s plenty of gaming to be done before then. Instead of twiddling your thumbs waiting for the X1 and PS4 (as they’re already being called), you can keep busy the next couple of months with the following titles for current consoles, including Nintendo’s Wii U, which is less than a year old.As always, release dates are subject to change.Rayman Legends PlayStation 3, Wii U, Xbox 360 Publisher: Ubisoft Entertainment ESRB rating: Everyone 10+ Release date: Sept. 3$59.99The “Rayman” series, which began in 1995 on the PlayStation and Saturn, continues with Rayman Legends, a multiplatform game that was originally announced as a Wii U exclusive. As with 2011’s Rayman Origins, the game lets up to four players (a la New Super Mario Bros. Wii) run, jump, puzzle-solve and climb their way through more than 80 levels, gathering Lums, freeing Teensies and battling such enemies as dragons, giant toads and sea monsters.Murfy the fairy from Rayman 2: The Great Escape lends a helping hand, activating mechanisms, grabbing enemies, cutting ropes and more. In the Wii U version of the game, a fifth player can take over for the computer and control Murfy. New to the series is Barbara, a playable female character.NHL 14 PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 Publisher: EA Sports ESRB rating: Everyone 10+ Release date: Sept. 10$59.99Developer EA Canada promises that NHL 14 will offer “bigger, more thrilling hits and truer-to-life collisions” than previous games in the popular hockey series, which dates to the early 1990s. Further, fighting, a favorite feature among couch-bound puck-pushers, now uses the Enforcer Engine, brought over from EA’s “Fight Night” boxing franchise, making for more realistic, more intense fights.Other upgrades include 1,000 new skating animations, improved acceleration, a more responsive deking system, better collision physics and an NHL 94 Anniversary Mode celebrating the classic Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo cartridge. The Be a Pro Career Mode has been replaced by a Live the Life Mode, which lets players engage in such off-ice activities as media interviews. Each decision you make will affect your relationship with fans, management and teammates.Puppeteer PlayStation 3 Publisher: Sony ESRB rating: Everyone 10+ Release date: Sept. 10$39.99Want to lose your head and live to tell about it? Get ready for Puppeteer, a side-scrolling platformer described by GameSpot.com as “a cross between LittleBigPlanet, Super Mario Bros. and Monty Python.” Players guide Kutaro, a boy-turned-puppet who, throughout the theatrical adventure, can replace his missing melon with a variety of heads. There are more than 100 heads in all, each with its own special power, such as bombs or a grappling hook.In addition, Kutaro wields a magic pair of scissors that acts as his primary weapon (against ghosts, witches and the like) and can cut through anything made of fabric or paper. Assisting Kutaro is crazy cat Ying Yang, who examines items and helps locate heads.Grand Theft Auto V PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 Publisher: Rockstar Games ESRB rating: Mature Release date: Sept. 17$59.99Rockstar’s controversial series continues with Grand Theft Auto V. This time around, gamers control a trio of scummy protagonists (a retired bank robber, a former street gangster and a psychotic druggie) as they embark upon a series of heists in the city of Los Santos (a skewed version of Los Angeles), from stealing cars to robbing liquor stores to knocking over banks.The sprawling, open-ended action also has players golfing, hunting, scuba diving, conducting real estate and stock market deals, parachuting over the city, and cycling around the countryside. As with previous “GTA” games, GTA V uses such titillating trappings as blood, gore, nudity and drugs to help tell a decidedly violent tale.Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure Wii U Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment ESRB rating: Everyone 10+ Release date: Sept. 24$59.99The various games in the Scribblenauts franchise, including 2012’s Scribblenauts Unlimited, let players create virtually any items they want to use in helping the cartoonish protagonist, Maxwell, solve a series of puzzles.Enter Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure, which sticks to the winning formula while adding more than 2,000 characters (including 130 Green Lanterns), environments (Metropolis, Gotham City and the like) and objects (such as the Batmobile and Wonder Woman’s magic lasso) from the DC Universe. An in-game Batcomputer acts as an invaluable reference guide to the DCU, and a special character edit mode lets gamers fashion their own shareable hero or villain.Beyond: Two Souls PlayStation 3 Publisher: Sony ESRB rating: Mature Release date: Oct. 8$59.99A psychological action thriller with existential overtones, Beyond: Two Souls puts players in control of Jodie Holmes, who is connected to a supernatural being named Aiden. Gifted with special powers, Aiden is invisible and only communicates with Jodie. According to us.playstation.com, “Your actions will determine Jodie’s fate as she faces extraordinary challenges, danger, and heartwrenching loss on a journey to discover the truth of who she is.”This sprawling adventure comprises 15 years of Jodie’s life, from ages 8 to 23. Ellen Page ( Juno) plays Jodie, while Willem Dafoe ( Spider-Man) is cast in the role of Nathan Dawkins, a government scientist who analyzes Jodie’s powers. Developer Quantic Dream brings the characters to life via “performance capture animation,” a sophisticated technique derived from motion-capture animation.Sonic Lost World Wii U Publisher: Sega ESRB rating: Everyone 10+ Release date: Oct. 22$49.95Sega’s days as a console manufacturer are long past, but the company continues producing games — including “Sonic the Hedgehog” titles — for modern systems. The latest is Sonic Lost World, an action/adventure platformer with enough 2-D side-scrolling to please old-school Sega Genesis fans. Plus, the game offers plenty of 3-D action, including spherical worlds similar to those found in Super Mario Galaxy.A new control system has Sonic walking at a precise, leisurely pace, speeding up only when the player holds down a trigger button. Returning from Sonic Colors (2010) are Wisp powers, such as drill, laser and rocket. New abilities include eagle (flight), asteroid (atomize objects) and rhythm (bounce along pathways of notes).Batman: Arkham Origins PlayStation 3, Wii U, Xbox 360 Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment ESRB rating: Teen Release date: Oct. 25$59.99Set approximately five years before Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009), Arkham Origins continues the popular franchise, but stars a novice Dark Knight Detective who is viewed suspiciously by the police. Black Mask has placed a $50 million bounty on Batman’s head, and gamers must control the Caped Crusader as he battles professional assassins and such supervillains as the Joker, the Penguin, Bane and the Mad Hatter.The main game takes place prior to the introduction of Robin, but the Boy Wonder is a playable character in a special multiplayer mode, which makes its series debut. Also new is faster world navigation via the Batwing, a remote claw weapon that tethers enemies together, and reviewable crime scenes where Batman can go back and analyze clues. Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures PlayStation 3, Wii U, Xbox 360 Publisher: Namco Bandai ESRB rating: Everyone Release date: Oct. 29$39.99Based on the Disney XD animated series of the same name, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures takes Pac-Man out of the simple mazes of yore and places him in a fully 3-D world, Mario-style. Gamers guide the famous yella fella as he runs around futuristic Pac-World, jumping on platforms, gobbling ghosts (and numerous other items), traveling through clear tubes (a la Futurama) and much more.Donning super suits gives Pac-Man special abilities, such as a chameleon power-up that lengthens his tongue for attacking enemies and swinging from pole to pole. Arcade-style mini games with drivable vehicles and a four-player simultaneous mode supplement the platforming action.WWE 2K14 PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 Publisher: 2K Sports ESRB rating: Teen Release date: Oct. 29$59.99Long a staple of NBA, NFL and NHL gaming, the “2K” series finally gets in on the WWE act, letting players grab, grapple, hit and hurl one another on the TV screen, all in the name of good fun. WWE 2K14 is the sequel to WWE ’13, and the publisher promises a number of upgrades, including a new navigation system, quicker strikes and strike combos, an improved reversal system, and new “OMG Moments.”A special 30 Years of WrestleMania mode lets gamers take the mat as such legendary wrestlers as Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan and “Macho Man” Randy Savage. If you pre-order the game, you’ll get a DLC code allowing you to play as the Ultimate Warrior.
Brett Weiss is the author of the “Classic Home Video Games” book series (McFarland Publishers).