Firstly, apologies for failing to pick a Game of the Week last week. A dangerous cocktail of jetlag and trade show comedown after last week's Game Developers Conference put paid to it. Fortunately we rewarded two games in one week last month, so if I pick one game from the last two weeks, balance will be restored to the universe (my spreadsheet).
The hot topic at GDC – aside from Ellie's maternity fashions and John's hockey ties on the ridiculously urbane GDC After Dusk – was the parlous state of the traditional games industry. Devs were to be heard weeping into their hotel-bar cocktails about ballooning budgets, risk-averse publishers and sweeping redundancies, with many swearing to leave the boxed product factory line behind to find fame and fortune on Facebook or the App Store.
But publishers continue to push game boxes into shops like Lemmings over a cliff. "Release a PSP game every fortnight" was clearly number one on Square Enix's to do list for 2011, while March is steadily building towards a messy climax of the 3DS launch and nervously overhyped shooters Crysis 2 and Homefront. The likes of Okamiden or Yakuza 4 don't stand a chance.
Nintendo boss Satoru Iwata tutted and shook his head over this state of affairs in his GDC keynote address – presumably he only likes disruptive thinking if he can sell it at Ł40 a pop. Not that he'll be having trouble sleeping, having gone on to sell a million Pokémans in a day that same week. A richly deserved success, said Keza: "With a great many small and well-placed innovations, a vivacious, inventive new cast and the biggest cosmetic makeover the series has ever seen, Pokémon Black and White makes it all feel new again."
EA isn't breaking its stride either. The publishing giant never lets a month go buy without unloading several heavy hitters, and the last two weeks saw the release of the solidly entertaining Fight Night Champion and the rather more controversial Dragon Age II. Had BioWare dumbed down or wised up? Not quite either, reckoned Dan: "It's never quite as great as it could be... Nevertheless, Dragon Age II presents an absorbing, sprawling story encased in blood-stained action RPG armour... An enduring classic? Not quite. A satisfying epic? Absolutely."
If Iwata's right, I suppose we should be thankful that Ubisoft is thinning the herd by sparing us a UK release for We Dare, but I find it hard to view bowing to pressure from the Daily Mail as a good thing. Not to be deterred, we're importing a copy from France, where the cheeky party game bears the excellent title Petits Flirts Entre Amis and somehow seems less inappropriate generally. We will bring you a review as soon as we can, but only after Ellie's back from holiday – because who else would you want to review it?
We Dare's withdrawal means it takes the inexplicably-unavailable-in-Britain mantle from Two Worlds II which – whisper it – actually seems to be in stock at Amazon. If Dragon Age II offends you, then buying this rough-and-ready but very charming RPG would be the perfect gesture of protest.
Iwata does have a point; you have to wonder why you would drop two big purple notes on the counter for any of the above when you can enjoy wonderful and pretty substantial games like Beyond Good & Evil HD or Torchlight on the download services for a fraction of the cost. Either of these could easily have taken the title of Game of the Week(s) if I didn't have a rule about always favouring brand new games over ports, re-releases and remakes. There's an extent to which that goes for Pokémon, too.
Besides, last week saw the quiet release of a game which has quietly amazed us.
We haven't reviewed Rift yet; MMO reviews take that bit longer to do, and it's usually important to check impressions from the beta test and early access against the games' performance on full, live servers. But we already know that Rift is something special.
It doesn't necessarily look like it. It looks rather generic, in fact. But what's special about Rift is that a company you've never heard of, called Trion Worlds, has had the audacity to release an MMO that a) isn't broken, and b) is really rather good. By my reckoning, the last such launch was The Lord of the Rings Online's – and that was four years ago.
"You'd be forgiven for writing off Rift as yet another World of Warcraft clone in a long and often undistinguished line of contenders," writes John Bedford, who's working on our review. "But Rift is so much more than this. It's a greatest hits, tour-de-force playlist of the last decade in MMOs, free of all the fluff and filler, and laid on top of a truly dynamic world."
Strong stuff. Check back early next week for the full review, but I'm going to set that patcher downloading right now. Who needs boxes, anyway?