If things felt lethargic to you in August, you must not have been too keen on the downloadable games finding their way to the PlayStation Store – or the ones getting horribly lost and asking for directions to some nested nightmare in the current Xbox 360 dashboard.
Sony's efforts this year have been especially strong, with several standout games forming a loose alliance around music. The PlayStation Network hosted the debut of Dyad, a tumultuous, trippy shooter that puts your brain in a slingshot and fires it straight down a LED-lined tunnel. It's a product of Toronto's indie game scene and designer Shawn McGrath, who says it was relatively easy to gain Sony's stamp of approval.
Sony has also made somewhat of a Vita showpiece out of Sound Shapes, a vibrant musical platformer from another Toronto talent, Jonathan Mak. The game, which can be downloaded for Vita and PS3 after a single purchase, has been a hit with industry pundits ever since it was first shown off, and has only grown in profile with the addition of musical celebrities like Beck and Deadmau5.
This thematic lineup of PSN games has further distinguished Sony's store from Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade, and cemented it as a playground for unique, experimental and creative games. That isn't to say PSN has become the exclusive domain for such gems (both platforms just got Rock Band Blitz), but it's a reassuring occurrence that's easy to take for granted and not often seen outside of the more indie-friendly PC. Only on the PlayStation Store will you find Papo & Yo, a surreal adventure derived from the designer's troubled relationship with his father, and Journey, one of the year's best and most elegant, expressive games.
The summer doldrums – rather, the period formerly known as the summer doldrums – are an ideal time to showcase all the work Sony has done to curate its store, which feels more and more like an eye-catching boutique next to Xbox Live Arcade's reliable but cluttered mega-mart. It also doesn't help that the latest Summer of Arcade, Microsoft's annual show of promotional favoritism to a month's worth of games, fizzled more often than it inspired.
Crowning the PSN as the victor in this instance is not as important as highlighting the ongoing battle for your time during retail's pre-holiday break. Downloadable console games are increasing in scale, scope and weirdness, and the two biggest digital stores are formulating distinct personalities and predilections. There's a welcome to-and-fro, even if it means the end of our annual summer respite.
Ludwig Kietzmann is the Editor-in-Chief of Joystiq.com. He's been writing about video games for over 10 years, and has been working on this self-referential blurb for about twice as long. He thinks it turned out pretty well. Follow him on Twitter @LudwigK.