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Summer video game guide: What gamers should be playing, and what parents should know

Published: Thursday, May 10 2012 3:37 p.m. MDT

Rayman Origins (Ubisoft) Rayman Origins (Ubisoft)

Summer is a great time to catch up on house projects, run outside or throw a barbecue. But for some, it’s as good a time as any to dive into a new video game.

Though the summer season isn’t nearly as packed with game releases as the holiday shopping season, there are still a number of new titles that gamers — from casual to hardcore — are anticipating. Some are kid-friendly and, other than a little cartoon violence, have no objectionable content for parents to be concerned about. Many, however, are intended for mature audiences.

What can gamers — and parents — expect from this lineup of new games? In order of release date, here is a rundown of the summer's major new game releases.

For more on the Entertainment Software Ratings Board radings, see esrb.org.

NCAA Football 13 (EA Sports) NCAA Football 13 (EA Sports)

May 9: "Minecraft" — Xbox 360 (Rating Pending)

Swedish game maker Markus Alexej "Notch" Persson rocked the gaming world in 2009 with the announcement of his upcoming indie title "Minecraft." The game is simple — move around a blocky landscape building any Lego-like creations you can imagine until your body withers away. At least that was my experience. A lone developer, Notch created a game that even in its beta (an early build of the game in which gamers are invited to play and test) captured the minds of millions and reshaped the industry. Released on the PC late last year, Minecraft has made close to $40 million already. Now a build of the game is headed for the Xbox 360 with Kinect capabilities, which means you can now build in your living room on your TV. If that’s not progress, I don’t know what is.

May 15: "Diablo III" — PC, iOS (rated M, mature, for blood and violence)

"Diablo III" is likely the most anticipated game of the summer. Game developer Blizzard (the same team behind juggernaut "World of Warcraft") has been teasing fans with this follow-up to the wildly popular "Diablo II" for more than a decade. Taking place in the mystical lands of Sanctuary, your character battles all sorts of evil across dungeons and islands in an ever-expanding landscape. "Diablo III" will be a third-person role playing game. The previous version kept fans playing for 12 years. Parents can expect some fantasy violence, akin to "The Lord of the Rings."

May 15: "Max Payne 3" — PS3, Xbox 360 (listed as "Rating Pending to Mature")

Rockstar Games, the publisher responsible for games like "Red Dead Redemption" and "Grand Theft Auto," has dug out one of its older series in "Max Payne." The series tells the story of Max Payne, a disgraced DEA agent and NYPD officer who, after the murder of his wife and child, took to the streets to avenge their deaths. What results is his violent version of retribution and an ultimately dissatisfying avengement. "Max Payne 3" picks up Payne’s story in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where he’s working private security. For anyone familiar with Rockstar’s recent titles, "Max Payne 3" will be very familiar. For newcomers, the game is a third-person shooter that promises all the bloodshed and bad language of the "Grand Theft Auto" series, all in the colorful and beautiful Sao Paulo.

May 22: "Men in Black: Alien Crisis" — Xbox 360, PS3 (Rated T, teen, for mild language, mild suggestive themes, violence)

I’m having trouble containing my excitement for the upcoming movie "Men in Black III," so when publisher Activision announced an accompanying game, I was giddy with anticipation. And then I remembered the cardinal rule of video games: If a game is an adaptation of a movie, it will not be good. In fact, the last good film-tie-in game was "Goldeneye 007" released in 1997. "Alien Crisis" lets you take the role of a non-main MIB agent battling an alien invasion. As it’s an adaptation of the film, it will likely not feature any content worse than PG-13 violence and language. It may be awesome, but my personal bet is that it will be in bargain bins in a week. So if you’re looking to buy a title to go along with a promising film, you might want to wait for the reviews on "Men in Black: Alien Crisis."

June 26: "The Amazing Spider-Man" — Xbox 360, PS3 (Rated T, teen, for mild language, mild suggestive themes, violence)

Spider-Man games have been supremely lacking since 2004’s "Spider-Man 2." The last few Spidey installments have just plain stunk. But the newest game, based on the upcoming film, promises a return to the open-world, city building-swinging action of past titles. Although it’s being developed by Beenox, the developer responsible for the last two Spider-Man titles, I’m hopeful that this game could be the first passable Spidey video game amid a long drought of good games.

June 26: "Darksiders II" — Xbox 360, PS3 (listed as "Rating Pending to Mature")

The first "Darksiders" game told the tale of the War, a horseman of the apocalypse, being wrongly accused of starting the apocalypse. From there, he battles heaven and hell in an effort to clear his name, eventually succeeding. "Darksiders II" picks up where the first game left off, with the arrival of the other three horsemen on earth, all determined to get revenge for their brother. The game is a simple third-person hack-and-slash, meaning you’ll be smashing most (if not all) enemies with your sword. Thus, parents can expect some fairly hardcore fantasy violence.

July 10: "NCAA Fooball 13" — Xbox 360, PS3 (rated E, everyone)

A mainstay in the sports games arena, NCAA Football makes consistently awesome games for the college sports fanatic. Featuring the spectacular Road to Glory mode (in which you take a high school player and follow his entire collegiate career both on the field and off) and Dynasty Mode (which can last for decades’ worth of seasons), the game promises depth and variety for any college football fan. One of the best football simulators available, it’s fairly easy to pick up for even the most game-illiterate.

Summer: "Rayman Origins" — 3DS (rated E 10+)

Universally praised for its installments on the Wii, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, "Rayman Origins" has been called the best-looking platformer (think Mario and Sonic jumping on platforms) of this generation of games. Battling “Darktoons” across his cheeky cartoon world, Rayman runs left to right trying to save his world by freeing “Electoons.” "Rayman Origins" feels like a trip to the past in which colorful side-scrollers were all it took to keep folks occupied for hours upon end — no bullets necessary.

Summer: "Luigi’s Mansion 2" — 3DS (Rating Pending)

Following on the heels of its successful predecessor for the Nintendo Game Cube, "Luigi’s Mansion 2" (now on the Nintendo 3DS) features similar gameplay and plot. Mario’s faithful companion Luigi is sent by Professor E. Gadd to examine haunted mansions for signs of ghosts. When he finds ghosts, he sucks them into his special ghost vacuum (sound familiar?). The game is cheeky fun and promises a solid title for the often lackluster 3DS. The date is TBA, but expect it toward the end of the summer.

Summer: "New Super Mario Bros. 2" — 3DS (Rating Pending)

Bringing all of the fun from New Super Mario Bros. Wii to your pocket, "New Super Mario Bros. 2" for the Nintendo 3DS promises some good software for the struggling handheld. Any fans of the previous game should feel right at home with the side-scrolling gameplay, but expect a few new challenges as Nintendo looks to utilize switches from 2D to 3D to keep players guessing. A few more power-ups may come up, but don't expect too many radical changes, just good old fashioned Mario. This should be a great buy for anyone looking to dust of their 3DS and stomp some goombas.

Aug. 14: “Madden NFL 13” — Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, PlayStation Vita (Rating Pending)

A mainstay in the sports games arena, you can count on “Madden NFL 13” to be just as good as its previous installments with a number of improvements. This time around, EA Sports has added even more commentator dialogue (always appreciated after you’ve heard the same commentary a thousand times), new cutscenes and uniform options. For the more obsessed, EA has also tweaked the gameplay to accommodate the most picky of players. More quarterback dropbacks have been added, the passing mechanic has been tightened to the point that you can choose which shoulder of your receiver you want the ball on, and more than 400 receiver animations have been added. For anyone who’s still playing “Madden NFL 12” and wondering if they need the newest game, the answer is likely a resounding “yes.”

Sept. 4: "Far Cry 3" — Xbox 360, PS3 (Rating Pending)

Rounding out the summer of sequels, "Far Cry 3" looks to expand upon the gameplay of "Far Cry 2" with an open-world sandbox type of gameplay (go anywhere, do anything; think "Infamous" or "Grand Theft Auto"). In this installment, you assume the identity of a tourist who has been separated from his girlfriend on a string of warring islands. You’ll have to work with myriad depraved and violent individuals in order to find your lady and get off the island. "Far Cry 3" will be a first-person shooter, so it should be familiar to fans of "Halo" or "Call of Duty." Also, like previous games in the series, you can expect ubiquitous violence, sex and foul language.

Video game ratings: What they are and what they mean

E (Everyone) — Little to no objectionable content. May include some cartoon/fantasy violence or mischief. May include some mild language, but it would be rare.

E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) — Similar to E-rated titles but with more frequency of cartoon/fantasy violence and mild language.

T (Teen) — Aimed at gamers 13 years or older, T-rated games will have some violence, some mature language, possible drug and alcohol use or references, possible sexual references and portrayal of common vices (gambling, tobacco, etc.).

M (Mature) — Mature-rated games are meant for gamers 17 years or older. These games may contain graphic violence, heavy use of mature language, nudity, sexual content or other objectionable content.

— Jeff Rivera, for the Deseret News

Nationally unacclaimed freelance writer Jonathan Deesing has been writing for dozens of weeks. His professional knowledge ranges from skiing to Peruvian history and, of course, anything with buttons.

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