Photo courtesy of Activision


(360, PS3, $60, Mature)

For the past several years, "Call of Duty" campaigns became forgettable as its online multiplayer dominated consoles.

It's pleasing to see a reversal of fortunes with this outing. The silk-smooth multiplayer has gone largely untinkered with, while the campaign received intensive attention. With a narrative that spans several decades, uncovering conspiracies and building up to emotional climaxes while letting players choose paths with subtle branching storylines.

For once, the single-player campaign feels like far more than an extended tutorial for holding your own in multiplayer.

That's not to say the competitive side of things has gone untouched. The integration of the new Pick 10 system allows for substantial tinkering and pre-match strategy.

"Call of Duty Elite" functionality previously kept behind a paywall has now been unlocked, and leagues allow for more balanced, organized competition for regulars.

There's also a new edition of the ever-popular zombie mode to chew on. As a package, "Black Ops II" provides a staggering amount of shooter action to take on and replay.

The $80 hardened edition comes with two player card backgrounds and vouchers that let you download the game's soundtrack, Xbox 360 avatar props and costumes, as well as a pair of multiplayer maps.


(360 Kinect, Wii, $40, Teen)

A spectacular track list lends most of the appeal to this Kinect exclusive, which takes the "Just Dance" formula and subs out the pop for rap, R&B and hip hop, ranging from old school standbys to recent hits.

If you've played one Ubisoft Kinect dance game, you know what to expect: Efficient menus, varied multiplayer modes and dorky line-dancing moves that make you and your partners collide into one another, giving you something to chuckle about.

It should go without saying that you need to be a major fan of the music to be able to appreciate the game, but at least the appeal is broader than previous games of its ilk that focused on Michael Jackson and the Black Eyed Peas.


(360, PS3, $50, Everyone 10+)

Developer Traveller's Tales cranks out so many blockbuster Lego adaptations it could probably just stick to the same formula, but instead it continues to surpass expectations.

Rather than taking a cheeky, mocking tone, the adaptation of "The Lord of the Rings" saga is reverent and solemn. Excellent voicework, impressive blocklike recreation of the movie moments and an intense dedication to detail from the source material pulse throughout the game.

A forgiving checkpoint and mid-mission save system - something sorely missing in past Lego adaptations - makes the game more accessible. No longer do you have to commit to a significant block of time to ensure you can work your way through a tough level or risk losing your progress and stud total.

Surely setting the table for follow-ups that include the upcoming "The Hobbit" films, "Lego The Lord of the Rings sets an enticing new standard.

Also available on Wii, Vita, 3DS and DS.


(Vita, $40, Mature)

A remake of the 2008 PlayStation 2 game, the portable update works as something of a director's cut, adding a significant new character, as well as several new locations - one reachable by a new mode of transportation - that help flesh out the massive story.

There's also an odd online component that allows players to compare choices and come to one another's aid.

Those are just the main adjustments. Nearly every aspect of the game has been re-thought and improved, from the graphics and menus to the way the story is delivered, with a heavy array of supplemental material to peruse.

You still play as a new student at a Japanese high school who helps his classmates uncover a murder mystery, taking part in a branching, dialogue-heavy social aspect, as well as turn-based battles that let you call upon mystical personas to turn the tide in fights.

Arresting and intellectually challenging, "Persona 4 Golden" proves to be the perfection of an already mesmerizing game.


(PS3, $60, Teen)

Sony's answer to Nintendo's "Super Smash Bros." free-for-all fighting series matches the bar of its inspiration and surpasses it in many ways.

Choosing from among a plethora of PlayStation stars - think Nathan Drake, Sackboy and Kratos, as well as several comically nonviolent characters - you slug it out in four-player matches, setting up special moves that kill opponents and rack up your point total.

Characters are remarkably balanced, despite their wild diversity. You feel as though you have a fighting chance with any character, given its tailored positives and negatives. Remarkably, few characters have the same feel.

Online play is fluid and robust, unlike the clunky, chronically busted "Super Smash Bros. Brawl" system. The onscreen action can get chaotic to the point of nonsense, but the fan service and accessibility carries the day.

The game is also available on Vita, and buying the PS3 version gets you a free download on the handheld.


(3DS, $30, Everyone 10+)

The "Transformers" has never translated all that well to handhelds, possibly because developers tried too hard to shrink a console-type game down to screens and processors that weren't up to handling the task.

The new portable game, based on the stunning series reboot, doesn't quite solve the problem, but it does manage to do enough right to become bar none the best pocket "Transformers" I've seen.

Through and through, the game seems meant for the 3DS. Onscreen prompts are well placed and helpful; the action rarely lets up and the bite-sized mission design is well-suited for the device. Although the game can't compare with the recent run of high-end "Transformers" shooter adaptations to hit consoles, this is the best you can do on a tiny screen.


(PS3 Move, $40 for standalone version; $80 for Move bundle, Everyone 10+)

A bizarre yet enchanting interactive storybook based on J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" literary world, the Move-exclusive game transforms the Move controller into a wand, then teaches you spells and has you participate in adventures that spawn from a storybook that comes to life on screen.

Some dodgy motion detection and unforgivingly demanding prompts tend to stifle the sense of immersion, but when "Wonderbook" is working it's breathtaking. The concept brims with potential, much of which is left unrealized. But those looking for a jaw-dropping application to show off a dusty Move controller should look no further.

Phil Villarreal