Over the past year, the PlayStation Vita has found an identity. It's a system that can't rely on a stable of classic franchises like the Nintendo 3DS. It doesn't have overwhelming support from major publishers, but the handheld has carved itself a niche with indie developers.
Smaller studios have released acclaimed titles such as "Hotline Miami," "Rymdkapsel" and "Guacamelee!" on the system, and the Vita capped off a strong year for indies with the addition of "Terraria" to its library. Originally released on the PC, the sprite-based title looks like a traditional 2D adventure game, but if players dig deeper, they'll discover it shares much in common with another indie darling.
Players create a character, and they must survive in the wilderness by chopping down trees and digging underground for materials. They have to erect a shelter before nightfall, because in the darkness, monsters such as zombies attack. While they wait for the morning, they can craft other items such as armor, swords, potions and furniture.
It's basically a 2D version of "Minecraft," but where it differs is in the AI characters that wander its world. Players will meet merchants, wizards and nurses to sell treasure and purchase supplies. There's more of a quirky fantasy element as players discover weapons and battle bosses. The only problems are the slow pacing, awkward controls and the difficulty, which can be punishing for newcomers. Despite those issues, "Terraria" captures that sense of discovery and adventure like few titles can.
On the Xbox One side, Microsoft launched its first "Halo" game on the system. Unfortunately, it's not the one that fans are anticipating. "Halo: Spartan Assault" is a port of a top-down shooter originally released on Windows 8 and Windows Phone. The game is framed as teaching tool for soldiers, and the program follows the exploits of Spartans Davis and Palmer during an invasion of a rogue Covenant fleet.
The narrative is fairly interesting for fans of the series as they uncover how the two super soldiers battled the alien coalition around Draetheus-V. As far as gameplay goes, it's a decent adaptation of the first-person shooter. Players use the analog sticks to move and aim while firing and tossing grenades with the trigger buttons. At certain levels, it almost feels like "Halo," especially when Spartans trample over foes in tanks or engage in tense firefights.
It's a good foundation, but unfortunately, "Halo: Spartan Assault" is plagued with bugs. Some are annoying, such as when guns keep firing after entering a turret or vehicle. Others, such as a complete crash, can be frustrating. At least the levels are short enough that playing them over again isn't too much of a hassle, but still, it's a disappointing defect in a shooter that has potential.
* * *
Platform: PlayStation Vita, PC, multiple systems
. . .
'Halo: Spartan Assault'
Platform: Xbox One, PC, multiple systems