March is surprisingly Nintendo-centric with all but one of our niche gaming picks landing on Nintendo platforms. The 3DS continues to roll out spectacular titles, including a whopping three new titles in massively-popular Japanese franchises. Most importantly, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is, without a doubt, the biggest Wii U release since the system’s launch late last year, and I’ve got my fingers crossed that this will be the game that finally gets Monster Hunter the popularity it deserves in the west. Who knows, it might just catch on with those game-less Wii U early adopters.
Of course, the game-saturated PS3 and Nintendo 3DS will be getting a number of great niche titles that shouldn’t be overlooked. Read on to see my top niche game picks for the month, and don’t be shy to sound off on your most-wanted March titles in the comments!
Atelier Ayesha: Alchemist of Dusk | Gust | March 5th
Now that the Arland trilogy has officially come to a close with the release of Atelier Meruru: Apprentice of Arland last year, Gust has now moved on to an all-new Atelier series. Atelier Ayesha features a more natural color palette and slightly older characters in theme with the more mature approach the game is going for. Protagonist Ayesha lives alone after her grandfather died and her sister disappeared, the world around her starkly different from the alchemy-centric land of Arland. If you’ve never played an Atelier game before but always wanted to give it a shot, Atelier Ayesha looks to be the perfect place to start with its refined gameplay systems and story that requires no previous knowledge of the series.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate | Capcom | March 19th
Monster Hunter has always had a somewhat lackluster reputation outside of Japan. While the franchise continues to bring home the bacon for Capcom over in the land of the rising sun, we’re lucky to even see the games get translated into English. It may have something to do with the steep learning curve, horribly inaccessible demos, or the fact that just as much, if not more time is spent harvesting items and crafting weapons than it is actually fighting the epic beasts shown in the promotional videos, but with a little luck Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate‘s simultaneous release on the Wii U and 3DS will be able to bring the game out of its “cult among cult” status in the west. The save sharing feature means that game progress can be transferred from one version of the game to the other, making it easier than ever to sink 500+ hours into this hunting game brimming with content.
Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon | Next Level Games | March 24th
Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is the sequel to the charming GameCube launch title Luigi’s Mansion, a game that lives on in many hearts as the first full game dedicated to Mario’s tall, green younger brother. Instead of taking place in a single haunted mansion like its predecessor, Dark Moon has Luigi exploring five different mansions with his Poltergust 5000 in order to recollect pieces of the shattered Dark Moon. In addition to its 3D graphics, the game will also feature improved gameplay, including more puzzle-based tasks and online and local multiplayer modes. With the game originally slated to release sometime last year but later being pushed into 2013, there will undoubtedly be many eager to get their hands on this unique new Nintendo title.
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity | Spike Chunsoft | March 24th
It’s rather difficult to call any Pokémon game niche, but if any got close, it would have to be the spinoff Mystery Dungeon series. While Pokémon spinoffs are generally dismissed as being inferior to the mainline games, with randomly-generated dungeons, turn-based gameplay, and the ability to explore the world as a number of different Pokémon, the Mystery Dungeon series of roguelikes is as solid as they come. Gates to Infinity marks the first entry in the series to land on the 3DS, and it features a major graphical upgrade, with all environments and characters now fully rendered in 3D. For those interested in getting into the traditionally tough-as-nails rougelike genre, Gates to Infinity would be a great place to start. And remember, you can scan any round object with the 3DS’s camera to act as a portal to new dungeons in the game. Toilet portal, anyone?
HarmoKnight | Game Freak | March 28th
The folks behind the Pokémon series rarely get a chance to develop something that isn’t Pokémon-related, so when they do, it’s best to take notice. This time around, Game Freak has brought us HarmoKnight, a rhythm platformer, to the 3DS eShop. Gameplay is entirely rhythm-based, and players are required to listen to the beat and press certain buttons to attack enemies or jump to avoid obstacles and collect music notes throughout the game’s auto-scrolling levels. Each stage then culminates in Space Channel Five-like boss fights where the player must repeat commands issued by the bosses. Of course, there are even some Pokémon songs throughout the game, but most of the music is original to HarmoKnight. If you’re on the fence about this adorable rhythm title, be sure to check out the eShop demo: it’ll have you hooked immediately.