March Madness is generally associated with college basketball, but this year the term can also be used to describe the flurry of new video games arriving on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
The first months of the year are usually a slow period for game releases, but 2012 has seen publishers push out a number of high-profile titles in a short period of time. We've already covered blockbusters like "Mass Effect 3" and "Final Fantasy XIII-2," but that's only the tip of the iceberg. From downloadable gems like "Sine Mora" and "I Am Alive" to highly anticipated sequels like "Ninja Gaiden 3," recent weeks have been chock full of gaming goodness.
Here's a look at 10 recent releases you might have missed:
"Syndicate" (Electronic Arts, $59.99, M for mature) - Developed by Starbreeze Studios, the folks behind the wholly underrated "Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay," this sci-fi shooter features an interesting hook with its DART system, which lets the player take control of enemies and turn them against their comrades. The single-player campaign is entertaining (though rather linear), but "Syndicate" shines as a co-op experience. This solid shooter may not go down as an instant classic, but it still manages to stand out in a crowded genre. Score: 7.8/10
"Asura's Wrath" (Capcom, $59.99, M for mature) - This quirky, stylish action game is unlike anything I've played before. Asura's pursuit of vengeance against his fellow gods plays like a Japanese anime film, but there's still plenty of game to be found in this interactive experience. From on-rails shooting sections and straight-up third-person combat sequences reminiscent of "God of War" to a healthy dose of quick-time events, variety is one of the strengths of "Asura's Wrath." Anyone tired of cookie cutter action games should give this one a look. Score: 7.5/10
"I Am Alive" (Ubisoft, $15, M for mature) - What would you be willing to do in order to return to your wife and child? That's the question you'll be asking yourself as you play through this downloadable tale of a man desperately searching for his loved ones in a world forever altered by a cataclysmic event. "I Am Alive" stresses realism at every turn, from the encounters you have with other survivors (who may or may not be violent) to managing your stamina while navigating the dilapidated city, parkour-style. But while it begins strong and shows plenty of promise, "I Am Alive" quickly becomes repetitive - especially the combat scenarios that often play out the same way every time. Despite this, "I Am Alive" remains a worthwhile play for anyone looking for a realistic action survival game. Score: 8.4/10
"SSX" (Electronic Arts, $59.99, E for everyone) - Snowboarding games were all the rage a decade or so ago, but the genre has been quiet for quite some time. This entertaining reboot from EA Canada shows there's still plenty of life left in series. Featuring some of the world's most iconic mountains (including Kilimanjaro and Everest to name a few) to race and trick down, as well as special Deadly Descent challenges, "SSX" is a fast-paced thrill ride that feels like "Burnout" on a board. Competing against your friends' times quickly becomes an addictive pursuit, and seeing their ghosts race down the slopes alongside you makes the lack of true online multiplayer a little easier to swallow. Hopefully we won't have to wait another decade for a sequel. Score: 8.6/10
"Grand Slam Tennis 2" (Electronic Arts, $59.99, E for everyone) - EA has cornered the market on football and hockey and nearly perfected the game of soccer, but the tennis genre remains competitive - and crowded. In a world filled with "Top Spin" and "Virtua Tennis," "Grand Slam Tennis 2" stands apart by offering all four of the sport's Grand Slam events - Wimbledon, the French Open, the Australian Open and the U.S. Open. But the inclusion of those tournaments can only carry the title so far, so thankfully the core gameplay delivers. Like most of EA's sports lineup, "Grand Slam Tennis 2" makes use of the right analog stick in creative ways - here, the right stick is used to execute different shot types and works surprisingly well. I was also pleasantly surprised by how well the game played with the PlayStation Move. Score: 8.0/10
"Shoot Many Robots" (Ubisoft, $10, M for mature) - This aptly titled downloadable shooter combines classic side-scrolling with an RPG-like leveling system and plenty of loot. The controls take some getting used to - aiming and moving are both mapped to the left analog stick -- but soon I was mowing down hordes of mechanical menaces with redneck protagonist P. Walter Tugnut with ease. That's a good thing, too, because "Shoot Many Robots" can be downright tough. Thankfully you can connect with up to three friends and tackle the game's 60 stages together. Regardless of whether you play solo or with others, the game quickly becomes repetitive, however. Still, fans of old-school shooters like "Contra" may want to give this one a look. Score: 6.8/10
"Ninja Gaiden 3" (Tecmo Koei, $59.99, M for mature) - I've found that gamers typically fall into one of two camps when it comes to Team Ninja's brutal franchise - those who love the series' unforgiving difficulty and those who quickly become frustrated and give up. Count me among those who have found the challenge of "Ninja Gaiden" to be too much to handle. For "Ninja Gaiden 3," the new core development team has tried to make a more accessible ninja game and I, for one, appreciate the fresh direction. While the use of quick-time events is a bit overdone, not even that can diminish the fun I got from slicing through enemies as series hero Ryu Hyabusa (though I was saddened by the inability to chop off limbs as in previous games.) The challenge was still there, though, especially once I cranked up the difficulty level. "Ninja Gaiden 3" also introduces multiplayer to the series, offering both cooperative and competitive action. Longtime fans may be turned off by the changes in "Ninja Gaiden 3", but those willing to give this new experience a chance may find themselves pleasantly surprised by what they find. Score: 8.5/10
"Sine Mora" (Digital Reality, $15, M for mature) - This outstanding side-scrolling flight shooter raises the bar for XBLA titles. Visually it is simply stunning, a steampunk-themed world featuring richly detailed backgrounds and huge bosses. The gritty world stands in stark contrast to the bright, colorful weapon fire that often fills the screen. But "Sine Mora" is more than eye candy. Unlike most side-scrollers, there's an actual story here and I was surprised by how well-developed it wound up being. But it was the unique twist to gameplay that had me hooked. Instead of a health bar, you're competing against an ever-ticking clock. Shooting enemies adds time back to the clock, and the constant threat of running out of time adds a whole new level of tension. While the heart of "Sine Mora" is its Story Mode, those looking to focus solely on the action can jump into Arcade Mode, which eliminates the abundant cutscenes and narrative elements. There's a reason side-scrolling shooters remain as popular as ever, and "Sine Mora" is a shining example of how to innovate within the genre without corrupting what makes it fun in the first place. Score: 9.2/10
"Armored Core V" (Namco Bandai, $59.99, M for mature) - Customizing and piloting giant mechs has long been a favorite gaming pastime of mine, going all the way back to "MechWarrior" on the PC. And while the genre has been quiet in recent years, From Software has brought it back in a big way with this latest entry in its long-running franchise. Like previous games in the series, "Armored Core V" features a rather sharp learning curve and requires a certain level of dedication on the part of the player in order to fully appreciate all it has to offer. Hardcore players will revel in customizing their robotic death machines, but casual gamers may be turned off by all the menus and statistics. Once you get your mech out of the garage, though, the action is addictive. While there is a basic single-player campaign, "Armored Core V" is best enjoyed with a group of friends in the robust online mode. Here, you can choose to join a squad and complete missions against other players in order to claim territory in a persistent online world. The setup is very reminiscent of "Chromehounds," the last great mech combat game on current consoles. "Armored Core V" is most definitely a niche title, but fans of the genre should be entertained for months to come. Score: 8.1/10
"FIFA Street" (Electronic Arts, $59.99, E for everyone) - EA's arcade soccer series returns with a more realistic approach, but that doesn't make this reboot any less enjoyable. Built on the "FIFA 12" engine, "FIFA Street" is still all about showcasing individual skills. Pulling off a wide array of stepovers, juggles and dekes is easy thanks to a surprisingly simple control scheme that utilizes both triggers and analog sticks. Building your own team and competing against in the World Tour mode will keep gamers busy for months, but taking your custom crew online and testing your skills against other human players is when "FIFA Street" becomes a real blast. Footie fans looking for an alternative to the complexity of the "FIFA Soccer" series should find plenty to like here. Score: 8.3/10