Video games have gone through a big shift in popularity since the years of Pong and Mario Bros., but their appeal has always remained the same. Ricochet a ball back at your opponent. Defeat the Third Reich. Save your teammate from a long-tongued zombie attack. Beat down your noob of a friend (completing your Killimanjaro) and bring the flag back to your base. Do exciting things, realistic or otherwise.

But entertainment worthy of a purchase is never assured. Walk into any GameStop amazon.com these days and you’ll be shocked and awed by the incredible quantity of game options; a new field of consoles (see sidebar below) just adds to the melee. How do you sort the Grand Theft Autos from the Extreme Paintbrawls*? We took a look at the crop of upcoming games for both current-gen and next-gen consoles and found the games you should be looking forward to.

*Your humble author actually bought this game as a 12-year-old with his own money. He will never forgive any parties involved in its production, distribution or sale for wasting his $19.99.

Watch Dogs

Grand Theft Auto meets the NSA: Welcome to the world of Aiden Pierce, a techno-savvy vigilante with a penchant for parkour. The upcoming franchise from Ubisoft (the makers of Splinter Cell and Assassins Creed) promises an “open-world adventure stealth” game that will involve hacking, spying, sneaking and eavesdropping, along with the requisite amount of general mayhem to protect the public at large. The game features the new Disrupt game engine, made specifically for Watch Dogs to create realistic environments and physics. The game won multiple “Best of E3” awards when it was debuted in 2012, and its November 19th release date is hotly anticipated for all three current-gen platforms. Add to that the fact it’ll be released later in the year for Xbox One and PS4 and we’re getting our Anonymous masks ready.

Agent

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007 meets Joe McCarthy: Even in reality, Agent has been mysterious. Since it was first announced in 2007, few details have been spilled about the PS3-exclusive from Grand Theft Auto developers Rockstar North. We don’t know much (it might have become a PS4 release, or not), but we do know that it’s a dive into the world of 1970s cold-war espionage complete with political assassinations, counter-intelligence, and denim jackets (we hope). Though many are beginning to consider it vaporware, we’re still optimistic that some day soon we’ll be able to land a virtual roundhouse kick on Brezhnev’s mug.

Super Mario 3D World

The 3rd Dimension meets our 3rd Grade Pastime: The newest Super Mario game for the Wii U brings 3D multiplayer to one of our favorite franchises. For the first time since Super Mario 2’s debut in 1988, players will be able to play as Mario, Luigi, Peach, or Toad and use each character’s specific abilities to get through intricate 3D environments. Add support for four simultaneous players and integration of the Wii U’s touch screen controller and you’ve got a game that makes us want to call in sick for a few days and relive our childhood.

Welcome to the Next Gen

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The next generation of gaming consoles has arrived with Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft all putting their cards on the table. So which one is worth your short stack of Benjamins? Let’s take a look at your options:

Nintendo The first to step into the next generation, Nintendo launched their Wii U and accompanying touchscreen controller in November 2012. The U is a complete re-imagining of the Nintendo with updated processing power and graphics that bring it closer to Microsoft and Sony’s offerings in performance. Though the release was considered a minor flop, sales should pick up once there are some compelling games released for the system.

Microsoft The recently announced Xbox One is a powerful all-in-one media machine set to launch in November 2013 and looking to use deep integration with its Kinect 3D camera and gamers’ existing home entertainment setups to win the console wars. Though there are some that are upset with its always-on camera and required internet connection, its graphical fortitude and strong game lineup should compensate.

Sony The third contender is the PS4, an entirely new console boasting impressive hardware and a strong social side set to release in Q4 2013. With a redesigned processor architecture that balances power with ease of game development, the PS4 should see a higher quality and quantity of games than its predecessor. It also has the highest number in its name, so factor that into your decision.

Whichever you choose, the next generation is looking awfully good.

Madden NFL 25

Old School meets Next-Gen: The latest (and 25th) edition of the storied pro football franchise from EA moves sports squarely into the next generation. Featuring updated graphics and running on EA’s brand new Ignite physics engine, Madden 25 promises even more realistic gameplay with better AI, enhanced running physics and an environment that reacts to the player’s actions, among other things. Also new for the game is the reintroduction and expansion of franchise mode — pairing the traditional management role with stronger ownership duties including the ability to move teams to new cities (including international markets). For all those looking to see Big Ben throw a pass in the shadow of Big Ben: we’ve found your game. Look for it in late August for current-gen consoles and November for PS4 and Xbox One.

Grand Theft Auto Five

Boyz n the Hood meets Point Break: Set in the fictional city of Los Santos, Grand Theft Auto V is the latest evolution of the infamous franchise and promises an even bigger sandbox for players to explore and conquer. The newest from Rockstar lets gamers control three protagonists as they drive, rob and shoot their way through the massive, LA-modeled city in pursuit of fame and fortune. If past iterations are anything to go by, GTA V will be controversial, gorgeous and a hell of a lot of fun. The game is slated to be one of the last major releases for current gen consoles when it releases on September 17th for PS3 and Xbox 360.

Bonus: Titanfall (early 2014)

Call of Duty meets Transformers: Though it’s not slated for release until 2014, we thought it best to include Titanfall on our list lest we be smushed by an irate robowarrior. After the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 in March 2010, Activision promptly fired Infinity Ward co-founders Jason West and Vince Zampella for “subordination”; the subsequent staff exodus moved straight to Respawn Entertainment. The multiplayer-only Titanfall is the developer’s first game, and if initial reports are anything to go by, it will be incredible. Players will work to complete a variety of team and individual objectives using either human “pilots” or big, badass robots called Titans. The game swept the awards at E3 2013 and will be available for Xbox One, Xbox 360, and Microsoft Windows sometime in Q1 2014.