Best of Niche Gaming: Top Picks for July 2012

It’s not every month we get such a wide variety of titles in terms of genre, gameplay and system. This July we’ve got something for everyone: a Japanese RPG on the Wii, a rhythm game for the 3DS, and even a whacky platformer available on XBLA. While it’s true the summer months tend to be somewhat of a lull for game releases, giving many the needed respite they need to chip away at that ever-growing backlog, we strongly feel that this month’s niche picks are just as strong contenders for a place in your personal game library as any other. So, time to answer that pressing question: What will you be picking up this month?

Spelunky | Derek Yu, Andy Hill | July 4

 Best of Niche Gaming: Top Picks for July 2012Spelunky started out as a free-to-play action platformer that debuted on PCs back in 2009, but now it’s finally making its way on to home consoles with its much-anticipated Xbox Live Arcade release. Why is everyone excited for a near four-year old title, you ask? Well, Spelunky is unique in that it combines elements of rougelikes and dungeon crawlers by not only having randomly-generated levels, but permanent deaths, as well. Yup, that’s right –– once that inevitable death comes, it’s straight back to the beginning. The game manages to create a compelling sense of “just one more go” by offering tight platforming mechanics and requiring players to strategize with limited items and permadeath constantly looming overhead. This reiteration not only includes updated graphics and sound, but new levels, items, and local multiplayer, making it well worth the while of fans of the PC version and newcomers alike.

Rainbow Moon | SideQuest Studios | July 1o

 Best of Niche Gaming: Top Picks for July 2012We like to cover a lot of Japanese releases that fall under the cracks, but how about a Japanese-inspired game made by a European developer? Rainbow Moon takes cues from hardcore RPGs of the past to serve up a piping hot plate of old-fashioned grinding. Players assume the role of Baldren, a warrior who unwittingly stumbles into a portal that transports him to a world known as Rainbow Moon. The environments are surprisingly detailed and expansive, and the grid-based combat reminiscent of strategy RPGs looks to be an interesting twist to the usual RPG formula. Fans of traditional RPGs will undoubtedly be tickled pink by the wide variety of customization options and loot to be had in this 40+ hour PSN exclusive.

Rhythm Thief and the Emperor’s Treasure | SEGA, Xeen | July 10

 Best of Niche Gaming: Top Picks for July 2012Any title that parodies old SEGA rhythm games Space Channel 5 and Samba de Amigo in its mini-games automatically deserves a mention in our monthly niche list. We kid, but Rhythm Thief and the Emperor’s Treasure, SEGA’s latest title for the 3DS that combines classic rhythm gameplay with puzzles, looks like a worthy title in its own right, even given the fact that it’s launching in the same month as another highly-anticipated rhythm game for the 3DS. Rhythm Thief follows the adventures of Raphael, who masquerades as the art thief Phantom R in order to seek out his missing father. The story mode promises to be very well fleshed-out for a rhythm title, and the game features sleek animated cutscenes reminiscent of Professor Layton titles, as well as puzzles to solve and more traditional toe-tapping rhythm games. What more could you want?

Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time | Career Soft | July 31

 Best of Niche Gaming: Top Picks for July 2012We’ve long been denying claims alluding to the fact that the PSP is a dead system by pointing out all the great niche Japanese titles that have been making it to our shores in the past year. Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time, as the fourth installment in a Japanese RPG series that has been around since the PlayStation one, may not be as obscure as titles such as Corpse Party, but that doesn’t make it any less exciting. In fact, this release particularly is exciting due to the fact that it’s the first time Growlanser IV has been localized into English, even though it originally debuted on the PlayStation 2 nearly ten years ago in Japan. The story is not connected to any of the other Growlanser titles, so anyone with a penchant for Japanese tactical RPGs with a sprinkling of dating sim elements and anime-style character designs should definitely check Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time out. It pains us to say this, but it may actually be the last notable release on the PSP.

The Last Story | Mistwalker, AQ Interactive | July 31 (note: XSEED has not announced an official date as of this post)

thelaststory box Best of Niche Gaming: Top Picks for July 2012The Last Story‘s road to a North American release has been fraught with tension, but thanks to the folks at XSEED, the title is finally available in English outside of PAL territories. Well, it’s finally here, and fans to traditional Japanese RPGs should find plenty to like in this title. An engrossing story, fun action-RPG gameplay mechanics, and music by Nobuo Uematsu make it an essential purchase for anyone invested in the genre, especially considering how difficult it was to secure for a North American release. Not to mention it was directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi of Final Fantasy fame! The Last Story may very well be the last Wii game we’ll be featuring in our niche picks, as nothing striking will be coming to the system before the Wii U launch later this year. It may be the sad truth, but we can’t imagine the system leaving on a better note.

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