Halo: Reach / Legendary Edition – Xbox 360: $59.99/$149.99
Professor Layton and the Unwound Future – Nintendo DS: $29.99
As a gamer of many years, I am in possession of merchandise that has produced mixed emotions, specifically from my mother. She never understood why I needed a map of the island in Myst, and her disapproving eyes still haunt me from the day I installed the glass display case and stocked it with female fighting figurines. Now, nearly a decade later, the “dolls” (they’re action figures, Mom) are in boxes, and the maps filed away, to be used in the event of a fantastic emergency. Until only a few days ago, when I spotted the limited edition Halo: Reach bundle, I believed my days of collecting were behind me. I also believed that I could never enjoy a Halo game, but we live, we learn.

Halo: Reach, an Xbox 360 exclusive, fell into greedy hands last week and quickly rose to become the best-received of the series. This episode acts as a prequel and stands alone on its own merits, so newcomers need not worry about being left behind, though there are many, many surprises and revelations for those who have been loyal Halo-ites. My biggest complaint with the Halo series has been that it’s more a multiplayer, communal game than one with any single-player depth. Developer Bungie streamlined this installment and transformed it into a beautifully presented and challenging single -player experience as well as an excuse for bros to come together.

This being the final installment in the Halo series produced by Bungie, it’s easy to see the love overflow from the programmers’ fingertips. After all, this is their baby, their child in impossible armor. Newly added weapons and challenges produce a freshness into this decade-old series out of what could have been, and by all rights should have been, stale material; but miracles, like magnets, do happen. We battle again with the Covenant, the alien enemy, and it sounds rehashed, but it all feels so new when the action is as crisp and the story is as moving. Halo: Reach is the best in the series, as if Bungie knew all along that this was the plan, to leave us wanting.

Personally, I prefer a good puzzle over a shoot-’em-up, which is why I also picked up Professor Layton and the Unwound Future for the Nintendo DS. Professor Layton, an archeologist by trade and puzzle master, is an entirely loveable character adorned in his tall top hat and coat.

Layton and his boy sidekick Luke receive a letter from the future warning them of a catastrophe soon to strike London. Within the first few minutes, a mad scientist has managed to blow up the town’s councilman, and the mystery begins. It is, of course, up to you and Layton to make things right once again.

The fully animated scenes, while few and far between in the previous, have doubled for this edition. The scenery and locations are meticulously crafted to offer up a romantic world of classic-England-meets-steampunk-clockwork. Most achievements are only rewarded after solving a puzzle, with even the easiest sometimes making it difficult to proceed. I could feel my brain struggling to spit out answers after years of instant gratification that have produced a grimy sludge somewhere in the problem-solving lobe.

As a lapsed collector, I’ve found myself gazing longingly at expensive models or fondling collector’s editions in Gamestop stores until I’m asked to leave. It’s not an easy habit to break, this expensive compulsion to own anything and everything related, even by a hair, to my latest favorite exercise in thumb wrestling. But when a Halo: Reach “Legendary Edition” comes with a statue, book and album? Come on, how can a hoarder resist? In this case, there is no excuse; the subjects are worthy, and I’m 1,100 miles away — Mom, stop nagging me.

Chris O’Neal is a writer living in and around the vicinity of a couch in Ventura, thumbing through pre-owned games daily at the local Gamestop until asked to leave.