Top Five XBLA Summer of Arcade Games

XBLA Summer of Arcade

With this year’s Xbox Live “Summer of Arcade” now complete, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at the best games the series has brought us over its five year span. This year’s batch was admittedly pretty weak, but the series has provided plenty of classics. Here are my top five:

Braid [2008]
5) Braid [2008]
Jonathan Blow’s indie hit had nearly unanimous positive reviews upon its release, and it still holds up well four years later. A puzzle/platforming hybrid with gorgeous art design, Braid is frequently mentioned in the endless “video games can be art” debate.

Trials HD [2009]
4) Trials HD [2009]
While now overshadowed by the superior Trials Evolution, Trials HD burst onto the scene with insanely addictive racing/puzzle action. I can’t even tell you how much time I put into this game — I didn’t even finish an “Extreme” level until just this year! Even though its sequel is better, this is still a blast to play (albeit often frustrating).

Limbo [2010]
3) Limbo [2010]
With stunning black & white visuals and an incredibly simplistic but engaging premise, Limbo is an unforgettable experience. The side-scrolling gameplay is basic and the campaign is rather brief, but I can’t think of another game like this. Creepy yet utterly beautiful.

Bastion [Xbox 360, 2011]
2) Bastion [2011]
One of my favorite games from last year, Bastion is an action RPG with eye-popping visuals, and it just oozes all sorts of charm. Who can forget the omnipresent narrator and incredibly fine-tuned hack ‘n’ slash gameplay?

Shadow Complex [2009]
1) Shadow Complex [2009]
Not only is this the best Summer of Arcade title, this is the best XBLA game, period. This “2.5D” side-scrolling shooter has elements from the Metroidvania style of gameplay and encourages exploration. The single player campaign is comparable to full-fledged $60 games, and there is even a bonus “Proving Grounds” mode. Replay value is high as there are all sorts of secrets and areas that cannot be accessed until certain power-ups are acquired. One of my favorite games from this generation, arcade and otherwise.

For reference, here’s the full lineup by year:

2008: Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2, Braid, Bionic Commando: Rearmed, Galaga Legions, Castle Crashers
2009: Marvel vs Capcom 2, Trials HD, Splosion Man, Shadow Complex, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time Re-Shelled
2010: Castlevania: Harmony of Light, Hydro Thunder Hurricane, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, Limbo, Monday Night Combat
2011: Bastion, From Dust, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, Fruit Ninja Kinect, Toy Soldiers Cold War
2012: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD, Wreckateer, Deadlight, Hybrid, Dust: An Elysian Tail

How about you guys? Do you agree with my list? What’s your favorite XBLA Summer of Arcade title?

The Top 12 Video Games I Played In 2011

By all accounts, 2011 has been lauded as a great year for gaming. I am still playing catch-up myself, as I missed out on several of the big holiday season titles (Skyrim, Uncharted 3, Batman, etc.). Since I am not really in a position to provide a proper top 10 list of my favorite 2011 titles, I have opted to select the best games I played for the first time last year. There are a lot of 2011 titles, but there are a handful of older releases that really impressed me one way or another. I plan on doing a proper list in the future, but here are my top 12 video games that I played in 2011:

12) The Saboteur [Xbox 360, 2009]

Criminally overlooked sandbox adventure title that expertly uses a mixture of color and black & white environments.

Singularity [Xbox 360, 2010]
11) Singularity [Xbox 360, 2010]

Another underrated game, this one takes the best elements from Bioshock, F.E.A.R. and Half-Life to make a memorable FPS experience.

Crysis [Xbox 360, 2011]
10) Crysis [Xbox 360, 2011]

Yes, it can run on consoles, and yes, it is still a pretty damn good shooter today.

L.A. Noire
9) L.A. Noire [PS3, 2011]

A handful of flaws do not ruin one of this year’s more unique adventure titles; a must play for fans of Film Noir and detective stories.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves [Playstation 3, 2009]
8) Uncharted 2: Among Thieves [PS3, 2009]

A sequel that ups the ante with even more insane action sequences; about as close to a movie as a video game can get.

Fallout: New Vegas [Xbox 360]
7) Fallout: New Vegas [Xbox 360, 2010]

Bugs and glitches be damned; this is another great entry into the Fallout series.

Wipeout HD [Playstation 3, 2008]
6) Wipeout HD [PS3, 2008]

White-knuckled racer with a pulsing techno soundtrack and one of the most fun racing modes I have played (Zone).

Deus Ex: Human Revolution [Playstation 3, 2011]
5) Deus Ex: Human Revolution [PS3, 2011]

Cerebral adventure with breathtaking Blade Runner-esque environments.

Gears of War 3 [Xbox 360, 2011]
4) Gears of War 3 [Xbox 360, 2011]

The most refined Gears experience yet; an amalgamation of the best features from the first two games.

Bastion [Xbox 360, 2011]
3) Bastion [Xbox 360, 2011]

Undeniably stylish and full of charm, this indie gem holds its own against the AAA heavyweights.

Dead Space 2 [Xbox 360, 2011]
2) Dead Space 2 [Xbox 360, 2011]

More action-oriented than its predecessor, yet it delivers an even more tense and creepy atmosphere.

Heavy Rain
1) Heavy Rain [PS3, 2010]

This “interactive drama” remains one of the most unforgettable gaming experiences I have ever had, and it is a must play for any serious gamer.

That’s my list. What’s yours? What were the best games you played in 2011?

Video Game Review: Bastion [Xbox 360, 2011]

Bastion [Xbox 360, 2011]

System: Xbox 360
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Supergiant Games
Release Date: July 20, 2011

First it was Braid, then it was Limbo, now it is Bastion.

It seems every year or so a new artsy indie title arrives on the Xbox Live marketplace that gets a huge amount of critical acclaim. This year’s title, the action RPG Bastion, is the first entry in Microsoft’s annual Summer of Arcade promotion, and it is one hell of a way to start the event.

There are two things you will notice right away upon starting Bastion. One, the game is stylish as fuck. This is a beautiful game with gorgeous, vibrant designs that cover all areas of the color spectrum. The game’s isometric camera helps to show off the stunning visuals used in the many in-game environments. Seriously, just take a look at these screenshots. This is a great-looking title, and the visuals certainly add to the overall experience.

Bastion [Xbox 360, 2011]

The second thing that is immediately noticeable is the game’s narrator. Everything you do in the game is narrated by a gravelly-voiced man known as Rucks. He will comment about your actions on screen and provide bits of back-story as you progress throughout the adventure. It appears the old man has a sense of humor, too, as some of his remarks are actually quite funny. Early on in the campaign, I picked up a weapon for the first time and started bashing everything in sight. Rucks simply stated “Kid just rages for a while” then waited until I was done with my destruction before continuing his narration. This feature really is brilliant because you will never feel alone despite the lack of a party system.

In Bastion, you play as a silent protagonist named The Kid. You awaken in a mostly destroyed world, one that is feeling the aftereffects of a catastrophic event known only as the Calamity. Your goal is to build up the Bastion, a safe haven that can potentially be used to bring back the world The Kid once knew. As you progress through the game’s world, pieces of the environment will fall into place. Frequently, the ground will form right under your feet and lead the way to the next area. This makes it feel as if you are really making some progress in getting things back to normal, and it is a great sense of accomplishment.

Bastion’s core gameplay is comprised of traditional hack ‘n slash methods. You are given a button for different weapons, and you run around on the screen killing enemies and gaining XP. New weapons are unlocked throughout the game, and all of them can be built up by acquiring new materials. Progressing through the game also builds up the Bastion, the homebase that provides the means to level up weapons and items. This is all standard action RPG fare, but it is very well executed overall and is simply a lot of fun to play.

Bastion [Xbox 360, 2011]

Bastion’s campaign will take roughly 5-8 hours to complete which may seem short for a $15 game, but there is a surprising amount of replay value here. The main campaign has a number of “Proving Grounds” side quests that are essentially combat mini-games, and they offer a good amount of challenge. Also, after completing the game a “New Game+” option is unlocked in which you can play through again with all of your current abilities already available. I rarely play through single player games more than once these days, but I am already going through Bastion for a second time. Yeah, it’s that good.

There really isn’t much to speak of in the way of game flaws. My biggest problem, which is little more than a minor nuisance, is that it can be too easy to roll off the game’s playing field, but it will pick you right back up with only a dent in health damage. There are occasional quibbles with the direction of shooting arrows and such, but these rarely hinder gameplay.

Quite frankly, Bastion is one of the best games to be released this year and is one of the better titles available in the Xbox Live Arcade library. This is an amazing debut from Supergiant Games, and I can’t wait to see what the future brings with this company. If you have any doubts about giving Bastion a shot, definitely download the trial. Chances are you will be sold as soon as the game starts. I know I was.