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: Trials Evolution [XBLA]

Trials Evolution [XBLA]

Trials Evolution
System: Xbox Live Arcade
Genre: Platform, Racing
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: RedLynx
Release Date: April 18, 2012

Now THIS is how you make a sequel.

Trials Evolution takes everything that made its predecessor, Trials HD, so great but increases it tenfold. The same physics-based motorcycle platforming gameplay returns, but now it is sharper than ever with more refined controls and a larger variety in environments.

While Trials HD put you squarely in abandoned warehouses with little differences visually, Evolution gives you the great outdoors. The vast majority of the game’s levels take place outside, showing bright blue skies, vivid scenery and huge dirt hills (among other obstacles). The tracks are also much more spacious than before, as no longer do you feel contained to a single, tiny line. It’s quite the contrast from before, and the new environments really help give the game a brand new look. There are even levels where the camera rotates as you approach a twist in the track, something once unheard of. This doesn’t feel like a rehashed Trials HD; this feels like a brand new game.

Trials Evolution [XBLA]

A different campaign progression system is in place. This time around, tracks are unlocked after earning a certain amount of medals. Gold medals are worth three points, silver two, and bronze one. It takes 135 points to unlock the notoriously brutal ‘Extreme’ tracks, so perfecting some of the easier levels is a must. Technically, unlocking ‘Extreme’ is considered beating the game, but any Trials veteran knows this is hardly the case. This is a game that is infinitely replayable since there is always the ability to improve upon your race times, and also to attempt to beat your friends (or those on the leaderboard).

Brand new to Trials Evolution is the addition of a multiplayer mode. This adds even more replay value, as now you can race against others online, either visibly on the same track or against their “ghost” forms. Matchmaking is still a little rough at spots, but it is a blast when you get a good group of people playing. Just a heads up, though: there are A LOT of great players online, enough to potentially make you feel bad about your skills (even if you are really good as well).

Trials Evolution [XBLA]

Another killer improvement is the revamped user creation system. The level editor is loaded with features, and the sky is pretty much the limit when it comes to what you can do. Perhaps most welcome is the addition of a more useful sharing system. Now you don’t have to send created tracks from peer-to-peer — they can be downloaded via a main portal instead. It’s easier than ever to find/share new content.

The bottom line is that Trials Evolution is an improvement in every sense of the word, and it is one of the best sequels I have ever played. Fans of the original absolutely must play this, and anyone interested in racing, platforming and/or physics puzzlers should give this a shot. Don’t let the dirtbikes and godawful rap metal music throw you off — this is a very well-made game that is more than worth its $15 price tag.

9/10

 
 
For those curious about just how awesome the user community is for Trials Evolution, check out this amazing fanmade track with a kickass music theme: