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Nintendo's Super Mario Galaxy 2 could mark big turnaround for games

It’s a busy week for video game launches that may turn around the fortunes of the U.S. console game industry. Today, Super Mario Galaxy 2 debuts on Nintendo’s Wii.

April sales of U.S. console games were down 26 percent compared to a year ago, with March titles falling off in sales quickly and new titles such as Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Conviction failing to ignite gamers. That shortfall caused a great deal of angst in the game industry, which has been slowly climbing out of the recession. But May is expected to be a hot month, according to analysts such as Michael Pachter at Wedbush Morgan.

Early reviews of Super Mario Galaxy 2 are coming in extremely strong, with an average review score of 98 out of 100 on Metacritic, which aggregates review scores. I’ve played some of the game and enjoyed its typical Mario cuteness. The big draw of this one is the twist in the game play introduced by a drill, which allows a gravity-defying Mario to burrow through planets to solve puzzles and defeat monsters, as well as the ability to fly with a Yoshi mount.

This game could single-handedly turn things around, since it’s a Wii exclusive and Wii sales so far are as big as Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 sales combined. It’s just too bad that Nintendo delayed Metroid Other M, its other big upcoming title, until August. Last month, titles such as BioShock 2, a hit in March, failed to continue selling in April. Pachter said it may be possible that gamers are playing existing games for a longer time. That may explain Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2’s record sales of multiplayer map packs, and that would mean gamers don’t have time for the new titles. But there is also serious competition from free games on the web, such as Zynga’s FarmVille, and cheap 99 cent iPhone titles.

Last week, the big launches included Rockstar’s epic Western game Red Dead Redemption, Remedy’s psychological thriller Alan Wake, Ubisoft’s Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands and Disney’s racing game Split/Second.

Red Dead Redemption, which cost an estimated $100 million to create at Rockstar’s San Diego studio, took years to make (its predecessor game debuted in 2004). But the reviews turned out phenomenal at 95 out of 100 on average. I’m playing the game and share the view that this vast open world set in the Wild West is truly addictive and fresh (think Grand Theft Auto as a Western). The New York Times’ Seth Schiesel called it a “tour de force,” and so far I have to agree. You get to ride around on horses, complete missions as a ranch hand, and deal with the bad guys using a gun and Dead Eye, which slows down time and lets you draw a bead on multiple enemies at once.

Alan Wake may not be faring as well, since critics have given it a lower average review score of 83 (whereas I called it a work of art and gave it 95 out of 100). But it’s nice to have so many choices this month for new video games. It’s critical that a few of these games score big for the game industry. And based on what I’ve played so far this month, I have every reason to believe that the payoff will be big.


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