You know, demos are the new video game rentals.  I don’t like paying the high prices of video game rentals, and places like Gamefly seem to always be out of stock of the games I want to rent until they’ve been out for a while.  It seems to me that many video game companies are getting smarter about releasing demos to whet the appetites of gamers for their upcoming releases (though some, oddly, don’t release the demo until the game has already been released).

I’ve been playing a ton of game demos (not just for big releases, but trial versions of downloadable games as well) this week, and some have really blown me away with how good they are! 

SHANK: Holy crap this game is awesome.  Written by God of War co-creator Marianne Krawczyk, Shank tells the story of a man on the quest for vengeance.  His girlfriend has been kidnapped by a particular nasty luchadore, and he’s been left for dead.  He is now on the hunt for the luchadore, and to find his girlfriend, and will kill anybody who gets in his way.  The story (at least in the trial version) won’t win any awards for originality, but the look of the game is stellar.  Done in a highly “animated” style, almost reminiscent of a “Samurai Jack” cartoon, Shank has great stylized visuals.  The cinematics are fun to watch, and the game is absolutely gorgeous, considering it’s, essentially, nothing more than an old-school 2D side-scroller.

The protagonist is a ton of fun to control, with three main attacks – his knives, his chainsaw, and his guns.  He shoots like Antonio Banderas in Desperado, moving his arms all over, shooting behind his head…it’s just a joy to watch and play.  Download Shank as soon as humanly possible.  More than worth the time, and you’ll definitely want to go through with the full purchase.

LARA CROFT AND THE GUARDIAN OF LIGHT: Honesty time here…I’ve never been the biggest Tomb Raider fan.  I mean, I appreciate the concept, but I’ve never been able to get around the, in my opinion, shoddy gameplay mechanics and poor camera angles.  Still, I do appreciate the core ideas of the franchise, and I am curious about the most recent entry in the series, Tomb Raider Underworld, which seems to have taken some cues from Uncharted, one of my favorite video game series.  Available now for download on XBox Live and PsN is Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, a wholly new concept in the series that trades up almost everything that came before in favor of an entirely new mechanic.

Rather than the typical “behind the player” camera angle, we instead get a top down view, similar to Diablo.  Not only that, the entire emphasis on the game is on arcade shoot-em-up.  It’s almost like Smash TV with puzzles thrown in.  And ya know what?  It works!  It works really damn well.  Now I have to admit, it’s a damn good game…but I still have qualms about it being a damn good Tomb Raider game.  The emphasis on giant monsters and spiders and the sort seems…I don’t know…kind of dumb.  Maybe Tomb Raider has always been that way, but I imagined that Tomb Raider was kind of more like Indiana Jones – realistic with sprinklings of supernatural.  That aside, I did enjoy the game a great deal and recommend checking it out.