Slashing kicks off 2008 gaming releases

By Scott Hillis

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Video gamers, finally emerging from the pixilated haze brought on by last year's bumper crop of best-selling titles, are now turning their attention to upcoming releases.

Last year was one of the best in recent memory for the video game industry, featuring a string of A-list titles such as "Halo 3", "Call of Duty 4" and "Guitar Hero", causing some analysts to fret that 2007 will prove a tough act to follow.

"People tend to forget there was some explosive growth, driven not only by premium titles but ultra-premium titles like 'Guitar Hero', which cost $100, and 'Rock Band', which cost $170," said Jesse Divnich, an analyst with The simExchange, an online prediction market for game sales.

Still, quite a few games are poised to hit store shelves in the next couple months. Here is just a sample of anticipated titles coming out for Nintendo Co Ltd's Wii, Microsoft Corp's  Xbox 360 and Sony Corp's  PlayStation 3.


What it is: Play as a contract killer who acquires a light-saber-like "beam katana" and proceeds to hunt down rival assassins in a bid to become the undisputed top hitman.

Why you'll want it: It's made by Goichi Suda, a Japanese designer known for quirky fare such as "Killer 7". His games feel like interactive anime, and fans of martial arts films will revel in the stylishly bloody action.

Reality check: The gruesomeness may repulse Wii owners drawn to the console's family friendly image. Few developers outside of Nintendo have made the Wii's motion controls work for something that doesn't involve rolling bowling balls or tossing darts.


What it is: The latest iteration of the popular racing game whose whole point is to drive with utter, reckless disregard for fellow motorists, forcing them to crash and causing as much damage as possible to any vehicles in the vicinity.

Why you'll want it: Realistic graphics and the ability to challenge other players online in an open-ended world prove this edition was designed from the ground up with this generation of powerful gaming machines in mind.

Reality check: Some fans of the series are dismayed at the open-world idea, and worry that it will make it too difficult to retry failed events.


What it is: Play a demon hunter who brings the pain to Hell's minions with his mighty sword, Red Queen, and double-barreled pistol, Blue Rose. String attacks together into spectacular combos that rack up your score and acquire even more impressive powers.

Why you'll want it: This is the first appearance of this Japanese action franchise on new game consoles and marks the first time Xbox owners can get their hands on the well-regarded series.

Reality check: Apart from prettier graphics, previews say the game doesn't seem to deviate much from the series' tried and true formula.


What it is: The long-awaited third edition of Nintendo's hugely successful fighting series. It's been nearly seven years since the last "Smash" title, and expectations are high that this game will be a, well, knock-out.

Why you'll want it: Pick from more than two dozen classic characters such as Mario, Zelda or Pikachu. Combining simple controls with a broad variety of characters, abilities and items, the game should appeal to casual and hard-core players. Wireless online play may jump-start Nintendo's gaming network.

Reality check: First, you have to get your hands on a Wii, which are still in short supply. That's about the only thing expected to hold back this game.


What it is: A role-playing game featuring an epic story of immortals exploring a magical world. The game was crafted by an all-star team of renowned Japanese talent including Hironobu Sakaguchi, producer of one of the most popular RPG franchises of all time, "Final Fantasy".

Why you'll want it: Critics are raving about the incredibly evocative story and the detailed art design.

Reality check: The turn-based combat system may feel tired to fans of the genre. The game is also very long, coming packed on four DVDs (the 2006 RPG hit "Oblivion" used a single disc) and contains a novel's worth of text and dialogue.