Xbox Live Arcade Weekend Roundup, June 5 2008

This weekend I tried my hand at 6 Xbox Live Arcade games, and here’s the lowdown on each one. Are any of them worth your time, or for that matter, your money? Read on to find out!

Assault Heroes 2 [Link]

I kicked off my game demo bonanza with Assault Heroes – a top-down shooter that throws waves and waves of enemies at you as you progress from one place to another. As the name implies, this is the second game in the series, and this time the assault heroes are given a new locale, a few new vehicles to drive around in, and new enemies to dispose of.

For anyone who’s played Geometry Wars (or the first Assault Heroes, for that matter), the controls will be easy to pick up. The left stick moves your character around while the right stick fires your weapon. You’re given a single button for switching weapons, and a single button for entering and exiting vehicles. Play is a simple matter – fill your enemies with bullets while avoiding being filled with bullets yourself.

Visually, Assault Heroes 2 is a treat. There’s oodles of bad guys, tanks, buggies, helicopters, explosions, and collapsing buildings, all on an exotic background of snow-covered mountains, rain forests, space, and more. Though it was, at times, slightly hard to follow all the action on my SDTV (and sitting about 10 feet away), I could usually follow my character and all the bullet tracers well enough. I don’t think I would have had any troubles with this if I had been playing the game on my computer monitor.

I always kind of wanted to buy Assault Heroes, but since the game is best enjoyed with multiple players, and none of my friends seem to own it, I never did. I’m afraid that the same fate will befall Assault Heroes 2, but if you’ve got interested friends, I’d definitely recommend it.

Buku Sudoku [Link]

Though I wouldn’t call myself a Sudoku master yet, I do enjoy the logical challenge presented by the typical Sudoku puzzle, both on paper and in games. For those of you who haven’t really gotten into the whole thing, here’s a brief explanation.

A typical Sudoku puzzle is a grid of 9 squares by 9 squares, broken into 3 rows and 3 columns of 3 by 3 grids. Each 3 by 3 group and each row and column in the the overall puzzle can contain the numbers 1 through 9 only once. The puzzle has a few numbers inside it when you start, and from those, you use logic to determine where all the other numbers should go. It might sound a bit confusing at first, but it’s easy to get into, and hard to quit!

Like most other games of the casual persuasion, Buku Sudoku is big on bling. The presentation, while not the greatest I’ve seen, is mostly strong. The game comes dressed in a variety of themes, and plays soft background music in the menus and while you play. In my first game, I found the song that the game defaulted to (a kind of Asian-ish thing) somewhat annoying, but the second wasn’t so bad. The few themes I saw looked good, though you’re probably going to be looking at Sudoku grid most of the time anyway.

Gameplay was just as you’d expect – you put numbers on the grid, and the game tells you if your input is correct. The controls in the game were passable, though I would have preferred a different way to change / enter numbers. I think I might just be spoiled by the touch-screen implementation in Brain Age (DS), though.

Overall, Buku Sudoku would be a good buy for someone looking for thousands of puzzles (and who really likes Sudoku). The demo didn’t seem to have any major flaws, except a few flubs in presentation and control. I might purchase this someday when I’ve got nothing else to do, but for now, I’ll continue working on the puzzles in Brain Age.

TiQal [Link]

The best way I can describe TiQal is by likening it to Lumines – the two are essentially the same game. Puzzle pieces of various colors rise from the floor, and your job is to counter this by dropping similarly colored pieces to make groups of 4 (2 by 2), which are then wiped from the play field after a certain amount of time. You can score combos by adding to the stack of squares that are already marked for demolition, and the game is over if you let the stack get too high. The few differences between this game and Lumines include a more forgiving failure system, puzzle pieces that don’t come in duo-colored squares, and a Mayan theme.

I liked TiQal’s graphics, mostly. Some of the transitions between story and play areas were a bit dull (I don’t really care for sliding large graphics on and off the screen), but the backdrops were vibrant and I liked the effects. My only squabbles were that block colors are sometimes a little too similar, resulting in a few accidental missed combos, and that the backgrounds are a little bright in some places, making it hard to discern what’s going on in the play area. These problems may have been related to my viewing arrangement, but for a puzzle game, it’s important to consider these things.

As a minor fan of Lumines, I felt TiQal was a decent enough game to borrow so heavily from the game. If I didn’t own Lumines already, I might have been more interested in purchasing TiQal, as I liked the gameplay and the presentation (despite how over-done the whole Mayan theme thing is with casual games).

Ikaruga [Link]

Probably the most stylish game I tried out on my Xbox Live Arcade trial weekend, Ikaruga is the anticipated shoot ’em up (SHMUP) direct from the Japanese arcade scene. This game is a great example of what you can get when you cross tried-and-true play mechanics with “next-gen” hardware, and like many current SHMUPS on the PC, you’ll find yourself (and probably others) mesmerized by the action as you blast your way through the waves.

Ikaruga is cinematic and stylish at once, and everything has a very sharp, clean look to it. The backgrounds you fly over as you battle are breathtaking, and enemy ships will weave in and out of elements below you before making their way to the foreground. Ships and bullets are fun to look at and easy to distinguish. Even in playing the trial game, you really get the sense that the developers of Ikargua truly cared about making sure every last bit of the game was as polished as possible.

One unique twist that Ikaruga carries over similar games is the polarity system Treasure Co., Ltd. have employed. Each enemy you face, and all the bullets they fire, are of either red or blue polarity. You can change your ship’s polarity at will, which allows you to absorb bullets of the same polarity and do extra damage to enemy ships of the opposite. This adds a very interesting depth to the game, whereas an impossibly navigable array of bullets can turn into a field of super-weapon in the blink of an eye. As would be expected, this also ads a bit to the learning curve, but once you get used to it, you’re good to go.

I enjoyed the feel of the game, and the simple controls made it easy to get into. Controlling the ship with an analog joystick is a little strange after using a keyboard on PC SHMUPS, but I think I will get used to it.

I’ve not yet bought Ikaruga, but once I give the trial game a few more plays, I might just throw the MS points down and take the plunge. Ikaruga is one of the best (and only) Japanese shooter experiences you can find on the 360, and for fans of SHMUPS, it simply shouldn’t be passed up.

Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode One [Link]

Out of all the games I tried out this weekend, Penny Arcade Adventures is probably the one I spent the most amount of time with. It’s also one of the larger games available on Xbox Live Arcade, as well as one of the most expensive (1600 MS Points, or $20). For those not deterred by the price, however, there’s plenty of good fun to be had.

PAA follows the hijinks of the Penny Arcade web comic protagonists, Tycho and Gabe, as they romp through a 1920’s era city named New Arcadia, kick robot butt, and attempt to solve the mystery behind the destruction of the town. The game employs a simple RPG style of play, where you move around the world via entering and exiting different panels (like a comic book), fights begin when you encounter monsters, and each character waits for action meters to fill up before he can attack, use items, or use a special ability. When you’re in the overworld, you can smash garbage cans and chest to pick up special items, and as you play you collected experience points, which level your character and make him (or her) stronger.

Fans of the comic and newcomers to the series alike will find a lot to enjoy in PAA. The graphics are done in a comic-outlined style very reminiscent of the Penny Arcade comic (and other web comics in general, I’d say), the audio is good, the RPG elements are light, but still interesting, and the humor is great. It’s really fun game to look at overall, and the production values that go into a more expensive Xbox live Arcade title are evident.

Right now I’ve got a few more games on deck than I like, so I’m holding off, but I’ll definitely buy Penny Arcade Adventures at some point in the future. I like the RPG play, as well as the presentation of the game itself, with the cartoon graphics, comic-panel level design, etc. Though I’m not a regular Penny Arcade reader, I usually find the comics funny, and the humor Hothead Games has injected into the game is similar, which is definitely a plus.

It’s slightly disappointing that, as harsh critics of the video game industry, the guys behind Penny Arcade couldn’t have come up with a better overall game, but what’s here seems solid enough to warrant a buy for me. If the episodic adventures get better as they progress, we should be in for some great times ahead with the PAA crew.

Wits & Wagers [Link]

In an attempt to round out the multiplayer trivia options found on Xbox Live Arcade, Hidden Path Entertainment has unleashed Wits & Wagers, a game-show type game where you and a group of other players take a stab at answering questions, and then vote on the answer which seems closest to the truth. Expectedly, it’s a test of both your wits and your wagering skills.

To be fair, I didn’t spend as much time with Wits & Wagers as I probably should have to give it a decent write-up, but what I did get the chance to see was fun, though slightly dull. In order to make answers to trivia questions all conform to one type of answer (to make them easier to compare for wagering), each answer is numeric. Once the question is posed, players are given a short time to dial in a number by pressing up or down on the left stick, to indicate all sorts of data, from years, miles, weight, and more, all depending on the nature of the question. Answers are ordered from high to low, players place their bets, and the real answer is revealed. Points are awarded to the player who came closest to the correct answer without going over, and to the players who wagered wisely.

I was distracted by my girlfriend at the time (she was trying to get me to get up off the couch and go outside, I believe), so I wasn’t able to concentrate much on the questions… I did have some fun with the avatar system though. Using one of the analog sticks, you can make your on-screen avatar throw it’s arms and body around to dance, wilt, cheer, etc. Simple, and stupid – but fun, even with a group of computer players moving spastic around with me. I imagine this, along with the rest of the game, is a lot more fun playing online, with a group of friends.

Like Assault Heroes 2, I don’t think I’d purchase Wits & Wagers unless I had a small throng of friends ready to buy and play along with me. It’s got some neat quirks, but it all seems just a little too simple for me, unfortunately.

Final Thoughts

History has taught me to expect less from the offerings on Xbox Live Arcade, so even though there were a few games in this stack that didn’t quite fit the bill, I’d say that overall I was pleasantly surprised. There’s definitely some good stuff up there (and they’ll be easier to find once Microsoft starts de-listing under performing games).

I’m not sure when I’ll be doing another Arcade roundup, but I enjoyed this one and hope the next few weeks of games raise the bar in quality like these games have. Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to try out some new games yourself!

Screenshots courtesy of TeamXBox.com

3 comments:

  1. xot - Over a year ago

    How do you feel about this delisting business? I was a little surprised and disappointed by the move. It seems almost pointless, even hostile, to remove titles from the infinite shelf-space of a digital distribution service, but maybe it is being weighed-down or tarnished by poorer quality titles. I’ve never seen XBLA in person, so I have no clue about how many titles are available, or their relative quality.

  2. Soleil - Over a year ago

    The same, I fear, will happen to WiiWare. Even worse than the general lack of good Wii games, WiiWare shows definite signs of being filled up with plenty of garbage, smothering the few works of art. Although I do look forward to … oh, wait … I’m not particularly looking forward to anything. Damn.

  3. FredFredrickson - Over a year ago

    @xot – I share your feelings about the de-listing of games – it really seems like more of a move to artificially raise the quality of the games available on the service than much else.

    Although I must say, with the growing number of games on both the Arcade, and in general, the game downloads areas of the marketplace have become cumbersome to navigate. I wanted to check for new content for Mass Effect some months ago, and it took me way too long to get there on the list (sorted alphabetically, and shows about 5-8 games per ‘page’).

    If I weren’t so used to using the internet to find things, I’d probably be okay with the way XBL is now – it’s not all that slow, but by comparison to how fast I can find things on a website like Google or Amazon, it seems like it is. Microsoft actually recently commented on this issue, which you can read about here:

    http://multiplayerblog.mtv.com/2008/06/04/microsoft-unhappy-with-xbl/

    Of course, cutting a few of the under-performing games off the list seems like a really bad way of going about making your system easier to navigate… but that’s upper management decisions for you. Personally, I think it’s more important to tout a broad expanse of games, varying in genre and quality, than just keeping the “good” ones around.

    @Soleil – Yeah, it’s possible… though Nintendo doesn’t seem quite as concerned about quality in WiiWare as Microsoft is with XBL as of late.

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