Ninjas, Legos a good summer start for gamers

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The start of summer is often bittersweet for gamers: there is lots of free time to play, but typically few new releases to fill the long days.

A screenshot from "Ninja Gaiden 2". The game is not for gaming novices since it retains the punishing difficulty of its predecessor. It is also not for the faint of heart, as players hack through hordes of enemies. REUTERS/Xbox 360/Microsoft/Handout

Things are different this year, though, with a strong slate of highly anticipated games over the next few weeks pointing to a possible shift in the industry’s dynamics.

“The industry is maturing and it’s just becoming less seasonal because of that,” said Todd Greenwald, an analyst with Signal Hill Capital. “The games are what drive sales, not so much the economy or seasonality.”

June is kicking off with a pair of big titles that couldn’t be more different: “Lego Indiana Jones” and “Ninja Gaiden 2”.

The toy brick version of everyone’s favorite whip-cracking archaeologist is patterned after the hit “Lego Star Wars” games from LucasArts. Players guide Indy and other characters through key scenes from the first three movies playfully recreated out of virtual Lego pieces.

“The game is very much a nostalgia-fest, people can relive the glory of the past Indy movies,” said Garnett Lee, executive previews editor at 1UP Network.

The game’s slapstick humor, clever puzzles and ability for two people to work through the game together should make it appealing for families.

That’s not the case for “Ninja Gaiden 2”, a sequel to Tecmo Ltd’s blood-spurting action game.

“Ninja Gaiden 2” is not for gaming novices since it retains the punishing difficulty of its predecessor. It is also not for the faint of heart, as players hack through hordes of enemies.

Review site GameSpy called it “a beautiful game, a violent canvas awash in streaming gouts of bloody red and slimy greens.” The game is only for Microsoft’s Xbox 360.

Next week sees another sequel to a beloved franchise as “Metal Gear Solid 4” hits store shelves in one of the most highly anticipated releases for Sony’s PlayStation 3.

Sony is counting on the game, from Japan’s Konami, to boost sales of the PS3, which has lagged the Xbox 360 and Nintendo’s Wii.

“Metal Gear Solid 4” wraps up the adventures of the series’ hero, Solid Snake, and sports its famous “stealth-action” gameplay that has players act covertly to achieve objectives rather than just gun down waves of enemies.

“It’s a war zone, so there is shooting as side A fights side B, but there’s a lot of freedom so you can take advantage of being in a war zone and find various ways to play,” creator Hideo Kojima told Reuters in a recent interview.

Electronic Arts is rolling out two titles in June. “Battlefield: Bad Company” is the latest attempt to bring its popular PC military shooting series to consoles. “Spore Creature Creator” gives gamers a taste of the upcoming game from “Sims” creator Will Wright that lets players turn microbes into a galaxy-spanning civilization.

Music fans can look forward to not one but two “Guitar Hero” games.

“Guitar Hero: On Tour”, for the Nintendo DS, is Activision’s first crack at bringing its wildly popular series to a hand-held game device.

Would-be rockers can play 25 songs from Nirvana, ZZ Top and other groups by hitting buttons on an accessory that plugs into the DS while brushing a pick across the touch screen.

For home consoles, “Guitar Hero: Aerosmith” features dozens of the band’s hits, including “Sweet Emotion” and “Walk This Way”, and will be sort of an interactive retrospective for the best-selling U.S. rock act.

“Having seen the song selection on there, it’s going to be a popular game. It hits in the wheelhouse of the whole ‘air-guitar-I’m-going-to-be-a-rock star’ phenomenon,” Lee said.