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Sean Willett/the Gauntlet

Northern Sprites: Five amazing Canadian video games

From Vancouver to Montreal, Canadian studios are a force to be reckoned with

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With the heat of summer bearing down on us, finding an excuse to stay inside and away from the sun, the mosquitos and the seasonal allergies can be a welcome blessing. Of course, there is no better way to waste away the limited days of Canadian summer than video games, and what better games to do so with than Canadian ones? Some people may be surprised to hear that Canada has the third largest video game industry in the world, and that we have created dozens of games that have entered the definitive canon of the medium. I’ve picked out five games from across the country that showcase the best of Canada’s video game industry, all of which would be fitting ways to spend a lazy summer afternoon.

Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon

(Next Level Games, 2013)

Nintendo is notoriously picky about which developers it allows to work with their characters, and for the sequel to 2002’s Luigi’s Mansion they chose the small Vancouver company Next Level Games. Their choice paid off, resulting in one of the most fun and charming Nintendo games in years. The game pits Luigi, Mario’s cowardly younger brother, against a series of ghost-infested mansions. Players help Luigi explore dark rooms, solve puzzles and suck up poltergeists Ghostbusters-style, all while working to solve the mystery of an eerily familiar portrait. The game is available for Nintendo’s 3DS, and can also be played with friends in a variety of multiplayer modes.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

(BioWare, 2003)

BioWare, the Edmonton game studio that was started by three doctors in 1995, has become one of the largest and most well-respected game developers in the world. One of the games that helped to launch them to this point was Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, a roleplaying game set in the Star Wars universe that helped to shape the RPG genre into what we know it as today. It also boasted what is arguably the best writing of any Star Wars related media since the original films, telling a sprawling story filled with memorable characters and shocking twists. Even though KOTOR is now a decade old, the game still plays well by today’s standards, and can now be played on the iPad as well as Windows and Mac computers.

The Real Texas

(Kitty Lambda Games, 2012)

Unlike the other games on this list, The Real Texas was developed by just one person — a Calgarian programmer named Calvin French. An action-adventure game about a wannabe cowboy sucked into an alternate dimension, The Real Texas succeeds by combining a bizarre sense of humour with a meaningful, grounded narrative. For every giant monkey you have to wrestle there is a broken marriage you need to mend, and for every swarm of mummies you gun down there is a child who needs to be comforted. The game can be played on either Windows, Mac and Linux computers, and can be bought directly from the developer at Kitty Lambda's website.

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP

(Capybara Games and Superbrothers, 2011)

The result of a collaboration between the Toronto developer Capybara Games and the Quebec design studio Superbrothers, S:S&S EP is one of the most critically acclaimed games to ever be released on Apple’s iOS. Featuring a distinctive pixelated art style and an exceptional soundtrack by Canadian singer-songwriter Jim Guthrie, the game is a beautiful deconstruction of the ‘monomyth’ — taking apart the idea of a lone hero on a quest to conquer evil and save the world. The game is structured in distinct chapters and is meant to be experienced in short bursts, making it a perfect game for iPhones, iPads and Android devices. However, it can also be played on Windows, Mac and Linux computers, for those who prefer a keyboard and mouse to a touchscreen.

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

(Ubisoft Montreal, 2013)

Ubisoft is one of the most prolific game developers in the world, and none of its studios are more successful than Ubisoft Montreal. Known mainly for the best selling Assassin’s Creed, Prince of Persia and Far Cry franchises, Ubisoft Montreal is also responsible for some smaller, riskier games. One of these is Blood Dragon, which uses the gameplay and graphics engine of the critically acclaimed Far Cry 3 to create a neon-laced homage to ’80s action movies. The game also serves as a tongue-in-cheek parody of many other modern games, mocking the testosterone-fueled shooters that have taken over the video game industry. Blood Dragon is available on the Xbox 360, PS3 and Windows computers, and is perfect for anyone who is looking for a shooter that takes itself a little less seriously.

Northern Sprites is a bi-monthly column looking at video games and technology in Canada.

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