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?

Video Game Review: Limbo [Xbox 360, 2010]

Limbo [2010]

System: Xbox 360 [Xbox Live Arcade]
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: PLAYDEAD
Release Date: July 21, 2010

It’s not often that a video game comes around that can blow someone away with both minimalistic gameplay and a mostly non-existent plotline. Limbo is one of these rare games, one that sucks you into its atmosphere and doesn’t let go until you have reached the end.

You control a young boy who awakens in the middle of the forest. You have no idea how you got there, and the game does not provide any sort of narration as to what is happening. You have no choice but to advance forward, and so the journey begins.

Limbo is sort of a platforming/puzzle hybrid. It is a side scroller, but only two buttons are used: one for jumping and one for performing actions (such as grabbing a swinging rope). On your first playthrough, you will die. A LOT. Trial and error is a huge part of the game, as you will often accidentally stumble into a bear trap or other hazards that are often difficult to see. Thankfully the game lets you continue right where you left off before dying, so frustration is kept to a minimum. The game is definitely still challenging, however, as the puzzles become increasingly more intellectual as you progress through the world.

Limbo [screenshot]

What sets Limbo apart from other games is its absolutely stunning atmosphere. From the moment you awaken in the woods all the way to the end of the game, it is difficult not to get caught up in the environment provided. With completely black-and-white graphics, Limbo presents an aesthetic value not found in many games. This is a dark and brooding experience, also equal parts disturbing and magical. Seriously, not enough can be said about the game’s atmosphere.

If I were to have one complaint about Limbo, it would be its short game length. You will be able to complete the campaign in one afternoon, as it only takes 3-5 hours to finish. This is a cause of concern namely because of this arcade title’s steep $15 price. It seems $10 is a more reasonable figure for such a short experience. Still, I don’t feel ripped off at all. Limbo is a game that is unlike any other I have played, and it is a noble achievement in the Xbox Live marketplace.