Hardcore gamers and early adopters alike have chosen sides in the console wars.Unfortunately for the otherwise fortunate Bill Gates, Microsoft’s Xbox One is losing to Sony’s PlayStation 4 by a substantial margin. According to www.forbes.com, “Early 2014 results show that Xbox One is selling at only half the rate of Sony’s PlayStation 4, with cumulative Xbox One sales at under 70 percent of PS4.”Despite the substantial lead over its formidable rival, Sony as a whole is struggling (the company barely made a profit in 2013), as is Nintendo, whose underperforming (in terms of unit sales) Wii U system has yet to generate anywhere near the excitement of the company’s previous console, the Wii. Insiders blame industry woes on the increasing ubiquity of tablet and smartphone gaming.Regardless, fans of traditional video game systems — you know, the kind that accept physical media — have plenty to get excited about over the next few months, thanks to some interesting original titles, a slew of noteworthy sequels and an always reliable icon known as Mario.Here are nine such games to look forward to, and, as always, release dates are subject to change. Titanfall Platform: Xbox One, Xbox 360 Publisher: Electronic Arts Rating: Mature 17+ Release date: March 11 for Xbox One, March 25 for Xbox 360 Price: $59.99Created in part by some developers of the “Call of Duty” franchise, Titanfall eschews the historical, relatively realistic confines of Call of Duty in favor of giant, armored, mechanized robots called Titans. These battle-hardened behemoths were originally created for mundane tasks like cargo transport and mining, but they’ve been equipped for war with such weapons as XO-16 chainguns, 40mm cannons, quad rockets and plasma railguns. Players also control pilots, who brandish pistols, rifles, shotguns and the like.According to Game Informer, the Titans “move with speed and grace normally reserved for general infantry” and handle like an “extension of the pilot himself, holding a weapon in a first-person view.” Up to 12 gamers can compete simultaneously online in this eagerly anticipated release.Yoshi’s New Island Platform: Nintendo 3DS Publisher: Nintendo Rating: Everyone Release date: March 14 Price: $39.99The follow-up to Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (1995, Super Nintendo) and Yoshi’s Island DS (2006, Nintendo DS), Yoshi’s New Island once again has players in control of the lovable title character, a cartoon dinosaur (ridden by Baby Mario) who runs, jumps, ground-pounds and collects coins. He can also extend his tongue to grab enemies and spit them out as projectiles, or swallow them and lay eggs.New to the side-scrolling series is the ability for Yoshi to swallow gigantic enemies to create Mega Eggdozers, which destroy items in their path and uncover secret areas and items. In addition, Yoshi can transform into a jackhammer, a submarine and, of course, a Super Yoshi.Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes Platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One Publisher: Konami Rating: Mature 17+ Release date: March 18 Price: $29.99 for PS3 and Xbox 360, $39.99 for PS4 and Xbox OneIn the months leading up to Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, which takes place after Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (2010), creator Hideo Kojima has tweeted numerous times about the newest entry in the popular stealth series, touting its replay value, its open-endedness and the fact that the “story goes by mission to mission but you have total freedom in [selecting the order you play each] mission.”Gamers guide the eye patch-wearing Naked Snake (aka Big Boss) as he infiltrates a secretive U.S. military operation in Cuba, captures a female cipher and rescues a Sandinista child soldier. As usual, stealth is the name of the game, but Snake also engages in battle and commandeers vehicles. A real-world smartphone or tablet can be employed as a second screen.Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 Publisher: Tecmo Koei Rating: Mature 17+ Release date: March 18 Price: $59.99Many longtime gamers have a fondness for the “Ninja Gaiden” series, which dates to the arcades in 1988 and the Nintendo NES in 1989 and includes releases as recent as last year’s multiplatform Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge. The latest iteration, Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, incorporates several popular themes and casts gamers in the role of a cyborg ninja equipped with a weaponized mechanical arm — the better to battle zombies, including some that are electric, flaming or toxic. Especially creepy are the two-headed baby zombies.As Yaiba slices, dices, runs, jumps, hacks and slashes his way through the comic-booklike world, a gorgeous scientist named Miss Monday provides technical support. Creator Keiji Inafune, in an interview published on www.siliconera.com, said the game’s stylized art was inspired by the “Walking Dead” graphic novels.The Witch and the Hundred Knight Platform: PlayStation 3 Publisher: NIS America Rating: Teen Release date: March 25 Price: $49.99Viewed from overhead, this action-oriented JRPG (Japanese role-playing game) features an undead knight, gathering treasure, and hacking and slashing (with swords, fireball-firing wands and the like) monsters while working through castles, deserts, forests, hills, swamps and villages. Players can equip up to five weapons at once (combining weapons creates custom combo attacks), and there’s a boss battle at the end of each level.The setting is the dark fantasy world of Medea, where the repulsive and evil Forest Witch and the beautiful and brilliant Swamp Witch are locked in a 100-year battle. Although our trusty knight serves the presumably good Swamp Witch, he is also allowed to loot and pillage (as opposed to being a pure and noble hero).MLB 14: The Show Platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PS Vita Publisher: Sony Rating: E Release date: April 1 for PS3, PS Vita; May for PS4 Price: $59.99 for PS3 and PS4, $39.99 for PS VitaThe ninth entry in the popular hardball series, which debuted in 2006 with MLB 06: The Show for the PS2, MLB 14: The Show lets gamers play America’s favorite pastime on the go or on the family television set. MLB 14 introduces year-to-year saves, allowing players to carry over time invested in the game to next year’s release and beyond. Other fresh features include Quick Counts mode (for a speedier game), a new advancement system in the Road to the Show career mode and a more sophisticated player creation system.The PlayStation 4 version’s share feature enables players to “share big moments with others through the push of a button, whether it’s a game-winning grand slam in the bottom of the ninth, or a crucial grab at the fence.”Kinect Sports Rivals Platform: Xbox One Publisher: Microsoft Rating: Everyone 10+ Release date: April 8 Price: $59.99If you’ve had more than your fill of the once-ubiquitous Wii Sports for the Nintendo Wii, you might want to take a crack at Kinect Sports Rivals, which Microsoft claims has better motion detection than the original Kinect Sports for the Xbox 360. After the Kinect “scans you and captures your likeness as a champion,” you can compete in bowling, tennis, soccer, wake racing, target shooting and climbing.Gamers play as a member of one of three teams: Wolf Clan, Viper Network or Eagle Legion, each of which has a different personality. Environments include Stone Forest and Abandoned Harbor, and the goal is to level-up, gain fame, unlock rewards and challenge gamers from around the world.Mario Golf: World Tour Platform: Nintendo 3DS Publisher: Nintendo Rating: Everyone Release date: May 2 Price: $39.99After a decade-long hiatus — Mario Golf: Advance Tour for the Game Boy Advance hit stores in 2004 — the arcade-style golfing franchise starring a certain Italian plumber returns. World Tour features a number of playable Nintendo franchise icons, including Mario, Luigi, Peach, Daisy and Donkey Kong, but gamers can also golf using customizable Mii characters.Settings range from forest to seaside to desert to canyon or castle to flower garden, in addition to a much-hyped Cheep Cheep Lagoon — an underwater course that alters the physics of the action. Mario Golf: World Tour also features online play and a clubhouse called Castle Club, which offers access to courses, shops, locker rooms, a cafe, training areas and tournaments.Mario Kart 8 Platform: Nintendo Wii U Publisher: Nintendo Rating: Everyone Release date: May 30 Price: $59.99Nintendo fans haven’t had a new console release in this series since 2008’s Mario Kart Wii, which was followed in 2011 by the handheld Mario Kart 7 for the 3DS. Enter the eagerly awaited Mario Kart 8, a bright spot on the Wii U landscape. Hang gliding and underwater racing return from Mario Kart 7, as do the motorcycles and online 12-player action of Mario Kart Wii.The basic go-kart action remains intact (a good thing), but there are some welcome additions to the formula, including HD visuals and anti-gravity areas where racers can drive on ceilings and walls. Rumors are swirling around the gaming community that MK8 will feature a track editor (meaning users can create their own courses), but Nintendo has yet to verify (or deny) this.
Brett Weiss is the author of the “Classic Home Video Games” book series (McFarland Publishers) and “Retro Pop Culture A to Z: From Atari 2600 to Zombie Films” (Dark Dreamers).