Release date: February 21 (Europe), February 18 (North America) Platforms: PS4, Xbox One
Rayman Legends will make its next-gen debut with improved visuals and shorter loading times.
The Xbox One version will launch with ten exclusive challenges, while the PS4 edition will utilise the controller's touch pad for scratching lottery tickets, as well as remote play with PlayStation Vita.
February 15 2014, 08:00 GMT | By Ben Lee, Entertainment Reporter
First released: PlayStation 2 (2008) Now available on: PlayStation Network (Persona 3 FES and Persona 3 Portable)
Persona 5 is a long time away, but Wednesday (February 12) saw Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 hit PlayStation Network as a PS2 Classic title. Now available on PS3, it gives anyone who missed out the first (and second, and third) time to experience Atlus's masterpiece.
Right from the beginning, Persona 3 drew me in because of its bleak and demoralising tone. Within the first couple of minutes in the opening cutscene, a girl holds a gun to her head. Civilians transmogrify into coffins.
Japanese role-playing games are often too cheery. Sure, the world needs saving in the vast majority of them, but you always expect the heroes to prevail and everyone to get a happy ending. Not so with Persona 3.
Your orphaned silent protagonist is a transfer student, who joins a group named SEES to rid the world of demons known as Shadows. These Shadows come out during the Dark Hour, a 25th hour after midnight only experienced by Persona users.
Characters call their Personas to help fight Shadows by shooting themselves in the head with a gun-like Evoker. It's badass but also representative of the overall mood. The story revolves around death, and topics such as loss, consequences, sacrifice and finding reasons to keep living are all touched upon during your time with the game.
While this may seem suffocating, Persona 3 counterbalances this with a carefree setting, steering away from fantasy clichés and basing it on modern-day school life in Japan. The contemporary backdrop is not only refreshing but also considerably more relatable than what you'd find in your usual JRPG.
When your character isn't fighting monsters in the Dark Hour, he's an ordinary student, mingling with fellow students, participating in clubs and attending lessons. You're even quizzed by teachers and sit exams. It's educational!
After school, maybe you want to hang out with a buddy, do karaoke or go home early to study before bed. Most things you do benefit your character in one way or another, from stat boosts to forging friendships. Balancing your school and social life with your (secret) extra-curricular activities is strangely very fulfilling. I wish my own teenage years were this absorbing.
The turn-based battle system admittedly doesn't do much special, though the idea of knocking enemies down via weaknesses or critical hits for an extra turn does lend some tactical nuance.
More engaging is fusing Personas, where by combining two or more together, a new and often more powerful Persona with new skills can be created.
An important aspect of the combat is ensuring that the Personas you fuse and hold cover all bases, from elemental damage to healing and buffs. You do have three other party members with you, but they are AI-controlled and thus can't be completely relied on.
Not all of the characters you encounter are a hit. Strega are underwhelming as secondary antagonists (despite an excellent payoff with Chidori), while a dog becoming a potential party member feels out of place. That said, most of the key players in the narrative are warm, well-written and have real personalities.
The standout is perhaps Mitsuru, the president of the student council who is determined to correct her family's past mistakes related to experiments on Shadows ten years ago. She's intelligent, tough-minded and she knows what she wants.
Akihiko carries guilt for the loss of his younger sister, and never stops training in order to be the strongest he can, while Yukari is friendly and approachable, but finds it difficult to open up due to her father's involvement with the Shadow experiments a decade ago.
They all have involved backgrounds and reasons for fighting, but at the same time, they're written like students, with plenty of fun banter and everyone having each other's backs. You become really good friends with them by the end.
It's not just your fellow party members that you grow close to. Newly introduced to the series were Social Links, which boosts your Personas' levels when you fuse them. These are ranked up by spending time with ordinary citizens in the city.
While there is a good incentive to max out your bonds from a combat perspective, the biggest draw is experiencing the individual arcs related to these characters. They vary wildly in subject and tone from serious family matters to a student's crush on a teacher, but they're all engaging. You even make an online friend playing an MMORPG.
Some of my personal favourites tend to touch on depressing or dark topics. There's a young girl named Maiko, who's taking the prospect of her parents divorcing extremely hard. A dying young man is struggling to come to terms with his impending death.
Each side story has their own resolution, but the most memorable part about the Social Links - and arguably the entire game - is the way they tie into the finale and SEES's suicide mission against the final boss.
In the near-100 hours it took me to finish Persona 3, I made many friends, not because I was focused on the tangible rewards. Instead, I wanted to get to know people and their interesting stories. So it was a powerful, authentic scene when everyone I bonded with was there for me right at the end, at the lowest possible moment.
Then there's the poignant, heartbreaking ending, which some players have voiced their dislike of - but the emotional twist makes complete sense.
The Shadows, the Dark Hour, the events ten years ago and the protagonist himself are all linked to death. The last month centres on the futility of escaping the inevitability of death. So, having a bubbly ending would have been jarring.
Persona 3 would later see a lengthy epilogue named 'The Answer' in Persona 3 FES - an updated version of the game - which delves into the aftermath of what happened in the ending, as well as a remake on the PSP in the form of Persona 3 Portable.
Mitsuru, Akihiko and Aigis also showed up in 2013's Persona 4 Arena, joining forces with the Persona 4 cast to investigate mysterious happenings in the TV world. The events of Persona 3's conclusion are heavily referenced, hinting that this particular storyline hasn't wrapped up quite yet.
Persona 3 stands as one of my most-loved RPGs of all time. Granted, it's not flawless and it arguably suffers from slight pacing issues, but what Atlus achieved narratively and with the Social Links was highly impressive and emotionally affecting.
In 2008, a year where the Xbox 360 and PS3 generation started to fulfil much of its potential and promise, Persona 3 still shone brightly on the ageing PlayStation 2.
Do you have any fond memories of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3? Post a comment below.
Released on January 1 1970 | By Scott Nichols, Gaming Contributor
Each week, Digital Spy rounds up the biggest mobile gaming releases with reviews and trailers. This week's games include addictive number puzzles, a stylistic planetary puzzle sequel and an homage to an infamous arcade game.
It starts by sliding tiles marked with a 1 and 2 together to make a 3 tile, and from there tiles with the same number can be combined to make 6, 12, 24, and so on.
For a game about matching numbered tiles, it is ridiculously charming. Each number is a character with its own voice, and offers happy encouragement as you continue to slide the puzzle and combine pairs.
Each time you slide the puzzle a new tile also enters the board, making it a race to create as many high matches as you can before the board fills entirely.
And while you can simply slide tiles to make quick pairs, to reach higher matches takes more patience and careful planning that feels incredibly rewarding when you finally pull it off.
Don't let the appearance of maths fool you, Threes is a deceptively addictive game of sliding, matching and growing the puzzle with every move.
February 8 2014, 14:28 GMT | By Mark Langshaw, Gaming/Tech Reporter
First released: Mega Drive (1994) Now available on: Virtual Console, Xbox Live Arcade
Sonic the Hedgehog shook the platforming genre to its foundations when he made his debut in the eponymous Mega Drive classic in 1991, but his finest hour wouldn't come until three years later.
It's hard to believe that 20 years have elapsed since Sonic the Hedgehog 3 spun onto the 16-bit Sega console, introducing gamers to the definitive Sonic experience, as well as a red "Echidna" called Knuckles.
Sonic 3 had lofty standards to maintain, arriving hot on the heels of the critically-acclaimed Sonic 2 and picking up where its predecessor left off, with the evil Doctor Robotnik crash landing on the floating landmass known as Angel Island following a climactic battle with the spiky one.
The mad scientist sought to harness the power of the island's Master Emerald - the source of its mysterious levitation - to repair his damaged ship, and duped the gem's guardian, Knuckles, into thinking that Sonic and Tails were the ones out to steal it.
Sega originally planned to shake up the Sonic formula for his third outing, envisioning a top-down isometric adventure, rather than the 2D platformer we ended up with.
Blueprints drawn up for the concept would eventually serve as the basis for the poorly-received Sonic Blast, but the idea was shelved in favour of remaining true to the series' roots.
This worked in Sonic 3's favour, as there was no reason to reinvent the wheel at that point. Sega created platforming gold with Sonic's first two Mega Drive offerings and tweaked the formula to near perfection with instalment number three.
While Sonic 3 retained many of its predecessors' core mechanics, a number of gameplay-enhancing features and graphical improvements helped set it apart from the other games.
Sonic and Tails were given unique special abilities, with the former employing a shielded spin attack that extended his strike range and offered a burst of protection, and the latter able to fly and reach areas the hedgehog could not.
Elemental shields were also introduced. There was a fire-based power-up to protect Sonic and Tails against flames and lava, a bubble barrier enabling them to breathe underwater, and a lightning shield for repelling electricity and drawing in rings magnetically.
Levels were much more interactive this time around, with zip lines, fireman's poles and giant tree trunks that could be scaled by running upwards inside of them.
Backgrounds were more elaborate, featuring swaying plants and heat distortion, while the foregrounds and sprites were more colourful and defined.
The end result wasn't radically different to the first two Sonic titles, yet it was more polished and shrewdly tweaked in the gameplay department, giving it the edge over its forbears.
Sonic 3 is a game steeped in trivia. For instance, Sega enlisted the talents of late pop star Michael Jackson for the title's soundtrack, but reports suggest that the King of Pop exited the project due to the limitations of the Mega Drive's musical output.
The game gave players the option to save their progress for the first time in the series, but its greatest contribution to the franchise was the introduction of Knuckles.
Under the influence of Doctor Robotnik, Knuckles served as an antagonist of sorts, cropping up to hinder Sonic's progress every few levels. It wasn't until game's follow-up - Sonic & Knuckles - that he realised the true nature of his unsavoury ally and joined forces with Sonic and Tales.
Released in October of 1994, Sonic & Knuckles was a companion title to Sonic 3 developed in tandem with the game. The two titles were originally envisioned as one unified offering, but time constraints and spiralling development costs forced Sega to split it into two.
Sonic & Knuckles was a groundbreaking release for Sega due to the inclusion of lock-on technology, which allowed players to mount their Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 cartridges atop of game to gain access to additional content.
The option to play through their single-player campaigns as Knuckles was the headline feature, and the character's popularity skyrocketed soon after.
The Echidna had access to various skills that Sonic did not, such as the ability to glide and climb up walls, powers which quickly caught on with fans and had many of them pondering the unthinkable - was Knuckles actually superior to Sonic?
It's a debate that raged for many years. Sonic is an iconic character, but everyone loves a good anti-hero, and the ill-tempered, hard-hitting Knuckles was essentially the Han Solo to his Luke Skywalker.
Sonic has hit several bum notes since his crowning moment in Sonic 3, but has recaptured at least some of his former glory of late, with the Nintendo-exclusive Sonic: Lost World feeling like an acceptable apology for some of his past 3D outings.
The future is looking brighter for Sega's mascot than it has for some time. Hopefully we'll see more of Knuckles too.
Do you have any fond memories of Sonic the Hedgehog 3? Post a comment below!
However, the game is far more structured to be a strict game of tower defence rather than the evolving ecosystem of its predecessors.
This means that invading a rival dungeon or defending your own is triggered manually instead of happening dynamically, allowing you to prepare your dungeon or army exactly as you want it for the next mission.
This shift in structure accommodates the game's new free-to-play underpinnings, which is to say that building anything in Dungeon Keeper takes forever.
Excavating just one square of ground can take up to four hours, with most rooms either requiring 9 or 16 squares. Resources are also gathered at a snail's pace, all the while with the game encouraging you to spend actual money on gems to speed up the process.
Dungeon Keeper is structured in such a way that you can go several days without making significant progress, and at that point the enjoyable invasions just aren't enough to make the game worthwhile.
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII launches on February 14
Following an extremely quiet January, the gaming world is starting to pick up the slack by providing a February release roster stacked with remakes, reboots, sequels and downloadable titles.
Release date: February 7 (Europe), February 4 (North America) Platforms: Xbox 360
A HD remake of Fable: The Lost Chapters - which itself was an expanded version of the original game - Fable Anniversary will feature a new user interface and introduce Achievements, leaderboards and an updated save system to the game.
It also promises Smartglass support, fully-reworked cutscenes and improved lighting courtesy of Unreal Engine 3 technology.
Far Cry Classic
Release date: February 12 (worldwide) Platforms: Xbox Live, PSN
As boat captain Jack Carver, players must survive against a group of highly trained mercenaries in a tropical island setting. The game has been given a full HD revamp and features "stunning foliage", real-time day and night cycles, underwater sections and flying vehicles.
Watch a trailer of the PC version of Far Cry:
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII
Release date: February 14 (Europe), February 11 (North America) Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3
The role-playing franchise returns for a third thirteenth outing, concluding Lightning's story and continuing to evolve its mechanics.
It features more action-oriented combat, more open-ended exploration and a clock counting down to the end of the world.
Release date: February 14 (worldwide) Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Vita, Wii U, 3DS
This tie-in features more than a whopping 90 characters inspired by the movie, including Emmet, who, having been mistakenly identified as the extraordinary "MasterBuilder", attempts to stop an evil LEGO tyrant from gluing the universe together.
The game tasks players with collecting LEGO instruction pages in order to build construction sets and virtual buildings across 15 levels.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Release date: February 21 (worldwide) Platforms: Wii U
The latest instalment in the side-scrolling platform series pits Donkey Kong against the Snomads, a group of Viking creatures who invade Donkey Kong Island.
Players primarily control Donkey Kong and a companion, who either provides new abilities to Donkey Kong, or can be controlled individually by a second player.
Earth Defence Force 2025
Release date: February 21 (Europe), February 18 (North America) Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3
Players are called once again to defend from giant alien insects and robots in this light-hearted arcade shooter. It supports up to four players, and will feature more missions than ever before, as well as improved vehicles and soldier classes.
Rambo: The Video Game
Release date: February 21 (Europe) Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3
This gritty reimagining of the classic film promises "full-on" action, with players able to wield Rambo's iconic weapon-set.
Game modes include Shoot-Out, which will offer fixed-perspective, cover-based shoot-outs; Destruction, which involves heavy weaponry and resilient targets; and Stealth-Hunt, which sees players infiltrate camps with a bow and knife.
Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare
Release date: February 28 (Europe), February 25 (North America) Platforms: Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC
Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare translates the characters - and humour - of the acclaimed tower defence series into a third-person, class-based shooter.
Launching at a discounted price point, the multiplayer shooter will ship with ten maps, three modes and eight character classes at launch - four each for plants and zombies - with more to be added free post-launch.
Release date: February 28 (Europe), February 25 (North America) Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
With a voice cast including Patrick Stewart and Robert Carlyle, no expense has been spared in the latest instalment of the Castlevania franchise.
The game promises a more open, non-linear experience than its predecessor, with a revamped magic system and the introduction of two new weapons - the Void Sword and Chaos Claws.
Release date: February 28 (Europe), February 25 (North America) Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, PC
A reboot of the acclaimed PC stealth series, Thief casts the player as master thief Garrett, as he intends to steal from the rich. Similar to previous games in the series, players must use stealth in order to overcome obstacles, with violence left as a last resort with limited effectiveness.
Outlast (PS4, TBA) DanganRonpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (Vita, February 14) Far Cry The Wild Expedition (Xbox 360, PS3, February 14) Inazuma Eleven 3: Team Ogre Attacks (3DS, February 14) Rayman Legends (Xbox One, PS4, February 21) Tales Of Symphonia Chronicles (PS3, February 28)
What releases will you purchase in February? Add a comment to the space below!
Released on January 1 1970 | By Scott Nichols, Gaming Contributor
Each week, Digital Spy rounds up the biggest mobile gaming releases with reviews and trailers. This week's games include the first of Namco Bandai's long-running Tales of series, a game of atmospheric horror and a fantasy card game.
Movement in towns is performed either by tapping a location to move or with a virtual joystick, the latter of which is extremely sensitive and will send your character running at a difficult-to-control speed at just the slightest nudge.
Combat also feels clumsy, with taps and swipes in different regions of the screen determining which attack you pull off. The combat works most of the time, but the regions are poorly defined so that you often accidentally perform the wrong attack, especially when playing on the iPhone's smaller screen.
Tales of Phantasia has also been adapted to the free-to-play model, which mostly amounts to a new real-money item that revives your whole party with significant stat boosts if they fall in battle.
The catch is that despite frequent and automatic quick-saves, those only save your progress for when you close the app. If you fall in battle and get a game over, the game resets to your last manual save.
Unfortunately, many of the original game's save points have been deactivated in the iOS port, forcing players to either constantly pay for revival orbs or lose a significant amount of progress with every death.
It's a shame, because Tales of Phantasia is still a wonderful RPG, with a lighthearted story. The iOS port just isn't the remake that the game deserves.