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Editorial Spotlight: April 2007

by Andrew Hayward on April 1, 2007 @ 3:02 a.m. PDT

To shine a light on the better releases of each month, we have come up with the monthly Spotlight feature. Having scoured the release lists for the upcoming month, we picked the titles that we believe have the most potential to satisfy your gaming needs across all platforms and genres. Without any further ado, here are our recommendations for April 2007.

Nintendo DS – April 22nd
Nintendo/Game Freak

In the dozen years since the Pocket Monsters began their reign of terror and quest for world domination, it feels like hundreds of Pokémon titles have been forced upon us. It's actually closer to 50, yet the impending release of Pokémon Diamond and Pearl represents just the fourth generation of "standard" miniature-monster sims. There have been four other Pokémon games for the Nintendo DS, but these are the ones that matter.

So, what's new? Uh... well....

Okay, so Diamond and Pearl aren't staggeringly different from their numerous portable predecessors, but there certainly are refinements. Though still mostly sprite-based, the visuals are brighter and more colorful than in past iterations, and 3D structures now dot the landscape. Pokémon games have always emphasized trading and battling with other users, and thanks to the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, you won't have to make new friends to get the most out of the game — just a wireless router. Those of you who have been catching 'em all for years are not out of luck, though — both Diamond and Pearl will allow you to upload captured beasts from the Game Boy Advance versions to help fill out your roster.

Though Pokémon doesn't seem to be the monstrous presence that it once was in North America, the franchise is still the Harry Potter of video games. Children go bananas over the new games, young adults begrudgingly fuel their repressed addictions, and fundamentalists label us all heretics for playing with the monsters in our pockets. Diamond and Pearl sold a combined five million units in just three months of release in Japan, and though I don't expect American sales to top that, I highly recommend reserving a copy (or two) if you want to be among the first online in three weeks.

Nintendo Wii – April 9th
Nintendo/Intelligent Systems

Initially intended as the final send-off for the GameCube, Super Paper Mario now serves as potentially the first must-have release for the Wii in nearly three months. Super Paper Mario eschews the RPG focus of its predecessors to create a truly unique platform experience. Though the story remains the same (kidnapped princess — shocking!), Super Paper Mario shakes up the traditional 2D platforming genre by allowing you to switch to a 3D perspective on a whim.

Remember those perfectly aligned groups of blocks from the previous Mario side-scrollers? From Mario's perspective, they're all over the place. Though switching viewpoints will drain power from a meter, the ability will be necessary to traverse segments that baffle from the traditional 2D arrangement. New Super Mario Bros. proved that Nintendo still has what it takes to produce a fantastic old-school Mario experience, and there's no reason to believe that the addition of a little new-school flavor will dilute the extreme potential of Super Paper Mario.

Nintendo DS – April 3rd
Square Enix/Hand

"A Choco-centric Final Fantasy spin-off? Boy, it must be a slow month."

True, it may be a down month for new releases, but hold off on the criticism for a moment. As a Square devotee for most of my teenage years, I've seen and played most of the awful Final Fantasy spin-offs that have flooded store shelves over the last decade. And it's not like recent history has given us much reason to think that Fables will be particularly great. After all, it's been hardly half a year since Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII underwhelmed on all fronts. But keep this in mind: Square Enix also recently gave us the much-beloved Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime for the DS, which can now be (oddly) found in bargain bins, not to mention the hearts of thousands.

It's hard to say if Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales will be more Slime than Cerberus, but it's certain to be damn near the cutest game you've ever seen. Even the flash-heavy official web site had me grinning like a fool. With the card-based main adventure and several adorable mini-games, Fables may have enough quirk and familiar creatures to pull even the most jaded ex-fanboy out of retirement. Like the above Pokémon titles, Fables also receives a huge boost from the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, which allows for multiplayer card battles and mini-game competitions.

And the rest? Ports!

I typically choose five titles to profile in this monthly feature, but April looks to be an incredibly quiet month for new releases. This may be a great time to check out some of the better releases from previous months, but those of you who don't have every system on the market may consider some of the bigger ports hitting stores in April.

First and foremost has to be Guitar Hero II for Xbox 360. As the first title in the franchise to escape the last-gen grasp of the PlayStation 2, this upgraded port features 10 additional songs, including excellent master tracks from My Chemical Romance and Toadies. RedOctane has also promised an immense amount of downloadable content, which may help to justify a repeat purchase for those of you who jumped the gun with the PS2 release. Then again, the lack of actual online play hurts this port a bit, considering the online-friendly atmosphere provided by the Xbox 360.

Many of the other April ports are largely unchanged, but if you missed them the first time around, it might be worth picking a couple up for the system(s) of your choice. Prince of Persia: Rival Swords for PSP and Wii reworks the winning Two Thrones formula from 2005, with motion controls added for the Wii. F.E.A.R, which already shined on the PC and Xbox 360, is set to hit PlayStation 3 later this month, though an industry source told me that a recent build still needed quite a bit of work. Like Rainbow Six: Vegas and MLB 07: The Show, the PS3 version of F.E.A.R. may slip into May or beyond. Though unlikely to appeal to a wide audience, SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters DS reworks the Neo Geo Pocket Color classic for the dual-screened portable with updated visuals and all-new cards.

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