I'm watching a man steer a well-groomed but starving Pomeranian through post-apocalyptic Shibuya, chasing pigeons and small deer. It's mesmerising. He's just savaged a free roaming pig. This is the first game to really make me wish I had a PlayStation 3. Ellie Gibson's description - "basically Grand Theft Auto with lions" - is apt. The game is as simple as it is surreal. Future Japan has transformed into a wasteland overrun by wild animals, and yours must eat, mate and survive. As you progress, you unlock more powerful creatures, ranging from the beagle to the black bear and the housecat to the velociraptor. On my run-through I died quite quickly having wasted too much time pissing on trees subsequently forgetting to eat. Story of my life.
Prison Architect (Alpha currently available)
Why yes, Prison Architect is a great concept for a game! Maxis, where was Sim Jail? You dropped the ball guys. Introversion, the British indie developer behind the excellent Darwinia, has picked up the slack however with their penitentiary management simulator. There was a fantastic response to their crowdsourcing campaign last week, which raised over $100K in three days by selling alpha copies priced from $30 to $1000, and it's easy to see why they inspired such a response. Following in the silly-but-serious mold of sims like Theme Hospital and Rollercoaster Tycoon, you'll be tasked with ensuring you can keep prisoners from launching dirty protests, and making sure there's enough juice for the electric chair.
It's a statement of intent that one of the mostly hotly anticipated launch titles of the WiiU is squarely aimed at adults. And, it turns out, one that does a remarkable job of demonstrating my likely competence in the face of an undead horde. The oversized and cumbersome WiiU controller with its built-in screen (reminiscent of the bowling ball design of the original Xbox controller) doesn't help, and nor does a slightly buggy demo build. But at the crux, this is a game where reanimated corpses are supposed to be terrifying harbingers of death, rather than machine gun fodder.
You're no superhero or mercenary. The 'tunnel vision' torch light leaves me spinning and vulnerable as I fight to get outside, glancing down at the controller's screen occasionally to check the contents of a backpack. But what's that on the main screen? Oh god, he's seen me! Hit the right shoulder button? Which right shoulder? Oh god, the humanity - I'm dragged under the filthy water of London's Docklands, and eaten brains-first. ZombiU certainly has potential for terror, and being terribly underequipped and never more than a few steps from death only amplifies this. I think I'd need to play it a little more to find out if the WiiU pad is really as unwieldy as it first seemed though.
Ni no Kuni (Jan 2013)
There's nothing more comforting than Studio Ghibli's films. All the lush, hand-drawn animation, whimsical characters and ballsack parachutes. Well, now they've made their first proper foray into video games, with Ni no Kuni (or Second Country). And it's gorgeous, perfectly aping Studio Ghibli's silver screen outings. In my brief time with it, gameplay seemed a little repetitive, with rather a severe helping of that most divisive of Japanese RPG tropes - the 'random encounter' battle. The snippets I saw of the storyline seemed excellent, the dialogue was charming, and the music is all performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. It might be the first game where a 'hit X to skip' cue might be more appreciated in the interactive sections than the cut scenes. And no, you don't need to listen to hideously localised English dubbing - you can keep the Japanese dialogue.
The Cave (Early 2013)
The latest adventure from Tim Schafer's Double Fine (who made headlines earlier in 2012 after raising $3.4 mil for Double Fine Adventure through Kickstarter) is a slight departure for the man behind The Secret of Monkey Island and Grim Fandango. It casts the player (or players - up to three) as characters looking to investigate a magical talking cave. Even in single player, you are required to choose three characters, which you then switch between while exploring.
It seemed a little confusing at first, especially when I managed to run off the screen and was unable to get the camera to follow me, resulting in a reset (but this is an early build after all). The puzzles are fairly tricky, and require your three hot-swappable characters to be dotted about the level. I can see how this would pan out well for co-op, with two characters able to divide duties simultaneously (and I'm always a fan of local multiplayer, since it's nice having your friends round), but for the lone reviewer it seemed like a bit of a chore. Still, they gave me a cute collectable toy, which was way nicer than the Assassin's Creed posters going round, so that's a plus.