New Super Mario Bros. U (Wii U)
Let's start off with what is probably my most desired game for the holiday season, New Super Mario Bros. U. I love 2D platformers, and while New Super Mario Bros. 2 (the 3DS game) feels derivative, by-the-numbers (including its lame million coin reward), and an appetizer, New Super Mario Bros. U feels like the main course with a more inspired art style, cleverer level design than most games of its genre, and an awesome new power-up in the form of a flying squirrel suit. The series's renowned coin-collecting, 'shroom-grabbing, Goomba-stomping action is present and accounted for as well. New Super Mario Bros. Wii was my favorite multiplayer game this past generation, online or off, and with the addition of another player using the Wii U GamePad to help or hinder others by spawning blocks in midair (admittedly not the most novel use of the new controller we've seen), the Wii U iteration looks all the more promising. Some call the NSMB series a rehashed one because the art style is too sterile or bland for their liking, but the most important thing about a platformer is the level design, and the NSMB series constantly changes things up with new mechanics and ideas on a level-by-level basis. Hardly stale or a rehash.
Halo 4 (360)
I am going to be brutally honest here. I don't really care for most parts of the Halo series. I find the games possess utterly boring single-player campaigns and they feel rather like uninspired sci-fi shooters. Then you throw in the fact that I am absolutely bored of first-person shooters with even the lightest of militaristic themes, and my problems with the series should be clear. However, with Halo 4, I have wound up caught up in the hype. I don't even own a working Xbox 360 system anymore, and I am still in the camp that anticipates every piece of new news for the game. I am without a doubt a passenger of the hype train for the game. It seems more open-ended, and after growing tired of Bungie's efforts, it is nice to have some fresh blood (343 Industries) on the franchise for an entirely new entry. I am quite excited to see how their vision for the Halo universe turns out. Plus, multiplayer for the franchise has always been a load of fun -- even without my necessity for an FPS to have AI bots.
Resident Evil 6 (PS3, 360)
I was one of the countless people whose first Resident Evil was the action-packed fourth installment. I liked the game so much that I bought three versions of the game: the GameCube original, the content-rich PlayStation 2 port, and the superior version of the game, the Wii edition. Soon after, I played the previous survival-horror based Resident Evil titles, and I found them fun, if not a little clunky due to the slightly archaic controls. Then Resident Evil 5 came out, and while I really enjoyed it, it certainly could not hold a candle to its predecessors. Now with Resident Evil 6 on the zombie-filled horizon, Capcom has a chance to get back some of their lost fanbase who were disappointed with previous installments of the franchise. Of course, most of these downtrodden souls wouldn't be so disappointed with the direction the series has taken if they had played the Nintendo 3DS game, Resident Evil Revelations. Then again, not even Capcom cared enough about it to even market the game. Regardless, RE6 escalates the story of the mainline series, bringing Leon S. Kennedy, Chris Redfield, and other Resident Evil all-stars into the fold for one intense story. Will it appease those fans who want the survival-horror back in the Resident Evil series? We won't know until this fall.
Rayman Legends (Wii U)
Many gamers heralded the art style of Rayman Origins, and now with Rayman Legends (currently only announced for Wii U), somehow the world of Rayman looks even more detailed, saturated, lush, bright, vibrant, and colorful. I mentioned how New Super Mario Bros. U was my most anticipated game because it is the sequel to my favorite multiplayer game of this gen. Rayman Origins had multiplayer, but you couldn't really help your friends in the same way and to the same extent as you could in New Super Mario Bros. Wii (e.g. bouncing off the head of your partner to reach an out-of-the-way star coin, or carrying your partner through a hazard-filled room). Regardless of this, Rayman Legends is probably my second most wanted game as, unlike NSMBU, Rayman's latest uses the Wii U GamePad in some ingenious ways. The player with the GamePad controls Murfy, who can alter the environment and assist Rayman. One example is a giant spiked wheel where the GamePad holder spins the perilous wheel so Rayman and company can pass through without taking damage. The only caveat to having Rayman Legends on this list is that the release date for the game is nebulous. It could actually not make it to the Wii U's launch and skip 2012 entirely. I'm hoping it'll be side by side the Wii U when the console releases this holiday season.
Darksiders II (Wii U, PS3, 360)
We don't get many games cut from a similar cloth as the masterful Legend of Zelda franchise. It is just a genre that takes a lot of expertise to do, so when Vigil Games announced that their new Darksiders IP would be similar to Zelda, I was highly skeptical on how the finished product would turn out. Few have tried to outdo Zelda, and even fewer have actually come close. Darksiders was one of those games that honestly came close. The gameplay was a bit of a combination between The Legend of Zelda's puzzle solving and God of War's combat. The marriage of the two turned out to be a splendid pairing. The content of the game was obviously much more mature (and I mean that in the more-for-adults meaning and not the blood-and-boobs misnomer meaning) than The Legend of Zelda with a plot revolving around the apocalypse, demons, and the Four Horsemen. Darksiders II takes us from the role of War to the role of Death, and he's one vengeful dude. Darksiders II has the luxury of releasing in a month where not a lot of other competition is around, so I'm hoping it sells well for Vigil Studios to stay around as we all know how serious their publisher, THQ, is in financial trouble.
007 Legends (PS3, 360)
007 Legends is a celebration of all things Bond, just in time for the spy series's 50th anniversary. The game is set to take place across several classic Bond films such as On Her Majesty's Secret Service and Moonraker. Already there is a great mix of locales to be had from those two movies alone. There will even be a special Skyfall chapter to represent the upcoming 23rd movie in the long-running franchise. All of the six movies will be tied together with an overarching narrative, and Legends will have an all-star cast, including Daniel Craig as 007, Dame Judi Dench as M, and many classic actors from their respective films will be reprising their roles exclusively for this game. Ever since first watching Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in GoldenEye I have been a huge fan of Bond, and this love letter to those enamored by the series will no doubt find something to adore with 007 Legends.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (Multi)
Sonic and many of his fellow Sega acquaintances (plus some bonus characters like the odd choice of racing star Danica Patrick) once again take to the tracks with the sequel to, in my opinion, the best kart racer of this past generation. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed takes Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Dr. Eggman, Aiai (Super Monkey Ball), Samba (Samba de Amigo), Ulala (Space Channel 5), Vyse (Skies of Arcadia), and more through multiple transforming tracks on their way to capture first place. Of course, the tracks aren't the only things that are transforming in this sequel to Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. No, so are the various vehicles the participants race in which also shape-shift to fit the given challenge. Vehicles can turn into planes and watercraft for when the necessity calls for it. Depending on the console the game is purchased on, the roster will have a varying size of characters. Can we expect platform-exclusive racers? With a desperate-for-money Sega, you bet we can!
LittleBigPlanet Karting (PS3)
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed isn't the only kart racer gunning for first place in your heart this holiday season. LittleBigPlanet Karting is also revving its engine for your hard-earned dough. The beta is currently in full swing, and I can see some potential in this game. Sure, the rubber-band AI, a problem from ModNation Racers, rears its ugly head into the fun, but the community is already strong. LittleBigPlanet Karting is unlike any other kart racer on consoles as players can create their own custom tracks with the incredibly detailed and exhaustive track creator. I couldn't manage to make anything in the beta as the game would freeze a ton, forcing me to hard reset my PlayStation 3. Regardless, I am assuming the final version will not have this as a problem. Outside of regular circuit races, creators can make battle arenas and special mini-games. The extent to what can be crafted is limited only to your imagination. If the final product fixes some of the problems I have with the beta, LittleBigPlanet Karting could be one of the PS3's top titles for me this holiday season.
PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale (PS3, PSV)
I am a person who has grown to no longer be able to tolerate console wars. Every matter and every subject on gaming forums (which are awful and impossible to have serious discourse on anyway because most gamers are insecure man-children) turns into such nonsense. When PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale was officially announced, forums were impossible to read without viewing constant assaults by Nintendo fans claiming Sony "stole" Super Smash Bros., and PlayStation fans vehemently defending like either side's corporation they were championing cared. Regardless, I am excited for anything similar to Super Smash Bros., and I adore a lot of the PlayStation's mascots, though they are decidedly not as memorable or marketable as Nintendo's. But with characters like Ratchet, Jak, Sly Cooper, Nathan Drake, and Parappa the Rapper, I can't complain. By building up meters through attacking others, players can unleash killer moves on their opponents to score points. The recent leaks revealed stages based in the Resistance, Uncharted, Sly Cooper, inFamous, LocoRoco, and Twisted Metal universes. If you're a fan of PlayStation or even a lover of party fighters, All-Stars Battle Royale seems to be a must-have.
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time (PS3, PSV)
After a bit of an extended hiatus, Sly Cooper and the gang are back in an all-new adventure! With worlds described as being three times the size of past games, secret masks, clue bottles, and other collectibles to acquire, a multitude of Sly Cooper's returning and brand-new abilities, and the option of assuming the roles of many of Sly's ancestors, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is setting itself up to be an excellent 3D platformer. Despite the game not being developed by the original studio behind the original trilogy, Sucker Punch, from the gameplay footage I've seen, Sanzaru Games (they created The Sly Collection) is without a doubt going to continue the outstanding legacy the Sly Cooper series is known for. Like PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time will be available not only on the PlayStation 3, but it will also be released on Sony's Vita handheld.
New Super Mario Bros. 2 (3DS)
Like I said previously, I consider New Super Mario Bros. 2 to be an appetizer compared to New Super Mario Bros. U which is the main course. While the Wii U game is being made by series veterans, the 3DS game was created by newcomers to the franchise. They even had to take a crash course on Mario to understand the philosophies behind the level design for the series. The notion that is supposed to separate the 3DS iteration from the Wii U one is the object of collecting coins. Coins are everywhere: in blocks, in pipes, dropped by enemies, and strewn all about the many lands of the game. If only money came this easily in the real world! Regardless, the actual reward for gathering the much hyped one million coins is in all honesty a joke compared to the publicity Nintendo was giving it. Very disappointing, but at the same token, I play Mario games not for little carrots at the end of a string that coax me into playing more like the reward, I play them for the creative levels. Knowing that, I'm excited to get my hands on New Super Mario Bros. 2.
Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon (3DS)
Luigi hasn't had many chances to have a starring role. I don't really know if Mario is Missing is a game he's happy to have starring credit in. However, the GameCube launch title, Luigi's Mansion, is definitely one the cowardly plumber can take solace in having on his resume, however brief the haunting adventure was. Now, many years later Luigi is getting another chance to shine with his own handheld trek through not just one, but many haunted houses with Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon. From clock towers to frozen abodes, Luigi will (not so) bravely trek through ghost-filled mansions and perform all the coin-finding, ghost-vacuuming action he can. Nintendo currently has Dark Moon scheduled for a holiday release, but an October launch would be perfect. I mean, the marketing writes itself!
Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion (3DS)
While Junction Point is away making the sequel to the Wii's Disney Epic Mickey with Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, I am more interested in this 2D platformer, exclusive to the Nintendo 3DS. It stars Mickey Mouse as he moves through various Disney-themed worlds in search of friends to rescue. By using the touch screen to trace objects, Mickey can summon them onto the top screen, such as a pirate ship's cannon. He has to be careful, though. Tracing an object poorly will cause the object to be a danger to Mickey! Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion is a spiritual sequel to the Sega Genesis classic, Castle of Illusion. It is also being developed by Dreamrift, the team behind the Nintendo DS games Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure and Monster Tale. Even without being able to view the screens of the game in 3D, I can tell the effect is going to be breathtaking. I loves me some parallax scrolling. Oh, kill me now for using the phrase "I loves me."
With only thirteen games being listed, I'm sure there are plenty that I missed or purposefully left out (most likely the latter) that you would have liked to have seen. Which games coming out in the second half of 2012 intrigue you the most? Let me know in the comments or send a tweet to SP_Central.