Weekly video game releases: 'Mafia II', 'Valkyria Chronicles II'

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The Independent Tech

Both Mafia II and Valkyria Chronicles II revisit World War II history but in very different ways: Mafia II's stylings reminiscent of Grand Theft Auto see a young soldier persuaded to join his local crime fraternity on return home from the European front; the Valkyria sequel is loosely based on war-era Europe, except with watercolor artwork and whimsical high school dilemmas set in amongst the squad-based strategy. Both merit further investigation thanks to strong first entries in their respective series.

Mafia II (360 PC PS3)
Release: North America, August 24. Europe, August 27.
Rating: Mature / 18+

Set in a creative mashup of mid-20th century New York and San Francisco, Mafia II plots the rise of a determined young man on the make, returning from World War II to find his family rocked by bad news and mob connections offering an escape from poverty. Grand Theft Auto III & IV are decent comparisons but this is no knock-off - 2002's original Mafia scored highly, and can be found for next to nothing these days. Mafia II's Collectors Edition comes in a metal case containing a fold-out map, a couple of extra vehicles and costumes, an art book, and a CD soundtrack. Judging by the available demos, the PC version appears to be the best choice for those whose machines are up to the task.
Price: $49.99 / €49.99 (PC), $59.99 / €49.99 (360, PS3)
Collectors Edition: $79.99 / €74.99 (360 PS3), $69.99 / €59.99 (PC)

Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game (360)
Release: August 25. Already released on PS3.
Age Rating: Teen / 12+

Capitalizing on the popularity of the Scott Pilgrim comic book and movie franchise, this is a retro-styled side-scrolling video game for up to four players. Four players in the same room, that is, as in a further nod to old-school gameplay conventions, there is no online multiplayer. That's not stopped favorable comparisons to Double Dragon, River City Ransom, and Castle Crashers. Most review scores for the previously released PS3 version have been split between 7/10 (Eurogamer, GameKult) and 8/10 (IGN, DarkZero).
Price: 800 MS Points (~$10/€9.50)

Shank (360 PS3)
Release: August 24 (Xbox 360 Marketplace). August 25 (PlayStation Network).
Age Rating: Mature / 18+

Shank's just one of many finalists from March's Independent Games Festival finals that have been made commercially available since nomination: Shatter, Cogs, Limbo and Joe Danger have all made the leap in one way or another. Shank is all about the knives - well, all about the knives, chainsaws, and pistols - and the 2D platformer has also had input from one of God of War's writers.
Price: $14.99 (PS3), 1200 MS Points = ~$15/€14 (360)

Metroid: Other M (Wii)
Release: North America, August 31. Japan & Australia, September 2. Europe, September 3.
Age rating: Teen (North America) / 16+ (Europe) / B 12+ (Japan) / Mature (Australia)

Mixing first and third-person perspectives, and solitary exploration with intense action, the Metroid Prime series brought one of Nintendo's oldest and most beloved characters to the Wii, featuring smart female bounty hunter Samus Aran in an armor-clad Power Suit. Metroid: Other M promises more of the same - but then, why change a winning formula? The game is being made by Nintendo's internal development teams behind Japan's super-accessible Tomodachi Collection (' Friend Collection') and WarioWare series, and Team Ninja of the rock-hard Ninja Gaiden titles, so expect something that's easy to get into but deep and challenging where needed.
Price: $49.99 / €49.99

Valkyria Chronicles II (PSP)
Release date: North America, August 31. Europe, September 3.
Age rating: Teen / 16+

It's not often that a home console game gets its sequel on a handheld - but that's what's happening with Valkyria Chronicles II. Despite great reviews from American and European outlets, sales never really replicated VC's Japanese success - perhaps players didn't know what to do with that rarest of things, a strategy game with lush graphics and an enchanting story that actually works on consoles rather than PCs. Nonetheless, this PSP counterpart was accepted just as well in Japan as its PlayStation 3 predecessor, import reviews bode well, and the presence of a demo on the US PlayStation Store gives it a chance to soar elsewhere.
Price: $39.95

Ace Combat: Joint Assault (PSP)
Release: North America, August 31. Europe, released July 30.
Age Rating: Teen / 12+

This will be the 11th entry to the larger-than-life Ace Combat dogfighting series, first released as 1995's Air Combat on the PlayStation One. Since then it has been on PlayStation 2, Xbox 360, and even Apple's devices. Joint Assault's release was held back just long enough for Namco to stir up excitement with the announcement of 2011's Assault Horizon on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Joint Assault is the second PSP title but, like Assault Horizon, diverges from the series formula in that it uses real-world locations - London, Egypt, San Francisco and Tokyo among them. Hopefully there will be just as many ridiculously oversized enemy planes to shoot down as ever before.
Price: €39.99 / $39.99

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