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?

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Video Game Review: Torchlight [XBLA]

Torchlight [XBLA]

Torchlight
System: Xbox Live Arcade (also on PC and Mac OS X)
Genre: Action RPG
Publisher: Runic Games
Developer: Runic Games
Release Date: March 9, 2011

With the recent non-stop releases of major video game blockbusters, sometimes it’s nice to go to a mindless diversion — one that is fun to play, but doesn’t require any serious thought. Enter Torchlight, a 2011 XBLA dungeon crawler, to fill that void.

Essentially a spiritual sibling to the Diablo series (developer Runic Games is composed of ex-Diablo designers), Torchlight is a fantasy game that is all about hacking, slashing and looting. The plot is entirely irrelevant — that is to say, there is one, but it basically boils down to someone telling the main character to just keep working through a 35-floor dungeon in order to save a town from impending doom. Throw in some cheesy voice acting, and yeah, it’s ultimately rather laughable.

Torchlight [XBLA]

Regardless, Torchlight delivers the goods in terms of gameplay. After creating a main character (male or female), selecting their class (Destroyer, Alchemist or Vanquisher), and determining an animal companion (wolf, lynx or “Chakawary”), you are sent to a small village and given free reign to pick up new quests.

The main adventure sends you into a huge dungeon where you must work your way through floor-by-floor, battling countless enemies and the occasional bosses. The floor themes change at regular intervals, offering some new visuals to break up the monotony. Completing the main quest takes roughly ten hours, but additional sidequests and random exploration can easily stretch the game into a much higher number.

How much you will get out of Torchlight depends on how much you like looting dungeons and leveling up your character. The XP system is well-developed, as you can boost attributes in a number of areas, as well as learn new skills to help in combat. The battle system is particularly brilliant, as each button of the controller can be used for a different, monster-bashing spell. It’s all fluid and easy to learn.

Torchlight [XBLA]

Torchlight is great at what it sets out to accomplish, but it could be even better with a few adjustments. My biggest complaint is a lack of multiplayer. This dungeon crawler has the perfect setting for a co-op mode, but it is nowhere to be found. The upcoming Torchlight II rectifies this, but it should have been included in the original anyway. Also, the game has a bad habit of using small text in the menus. I have a good-sized TV but still had to squint to be able to read some of the items in the menu. Finally, some showdowns with multiple enemies on screen can lead to occasional slowdown. Nothing too terrible, but it can be a tad bothersome.

Still, if you’re in the market for a fun Diablo-esque adventure, Torchlight comes highly recommended. Ignore the weak story and just dig into the addictive hack ‘n slash gameplay. Keep an eye out for any future deals because the game does go on sale on XBLA from time to time (I bought mine half off for $7.50), but this isn’t a bad deal at full price either.

8/10

Video Game Review: Crysis [Xbox 360, 2011]

Crysis [Xbox 360, 2011]

Crysis
System: Xbox 360 (also on PS3, originally on PC)
Genre: First Person Shooter
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Crytek Frankfurt
Release Date: October 4, 2011 (PC release: November 13, 2007)

Released in 2007 strictly for PC, the original Crysis gained a bit of notoriety in the gaming world due to its demanding hardware requirements. A high-end gaming rig was necessary to be able to run the game, and not many could play it at max settings. It was famously stated by Cevat Yerli, the director of Crytek, that Crysis would never be able to be played on consoles.

Well, four years later, we finally have Crysis on XBLA/PSN, and it looks pretty damn good.

The new CryEngine 3 was created with the console in mind, and the developers took advantage of this new technology to bring the original Crysis experience to a brand new audience. Stripped down to its single player campaign, the game comes as a $20 downloadable title.

Set in the year 2020, Crysis places gamers in the role of soldier Jake Dunn (codename: Nomad). Nomad, along with the rest of the elite Raptor Team, has been sent to a remote island off the coast of the Eastern Philippines to investigate a distress signal sent from U.S. scientists. Upon arriving, it is discovered that North Korean forces have taken over the area and are well on their way to unleashing a powerful ancient alien artifact found in the middle of the island. It is the Raptor Team’s job to put an end to the entire threat, taking down North Korean and alien forces along the way.

Crysis [Xbox 360, 2011]

It’s a pretty daunting task, but Nomad is aided in the form of his high-tech Nanosuit, which provides enhanced strength, speed, armor and a cloaking ability. These features can only come in bursts, however, as the suit needs to be recharged after a certain amount of time. Being able to switch between cloaking (temporary invisibility) and beefed-up armor is a unique feature, and it allows the game to be played in multiple ways. Depending on your preferred style of play, you can run through guns-a-blazin’ or stealthily maneuever past most enemies. Since you are only able to use the functions in limited doses, it often takes different strategies to accomplish certain goals.

While Crysis plays as a linear shooter (at least in terms of providing mandatory objectives), it is presented in a wide open world that allows for deep exploration. There are multiple ways to get to the intended targets, and there are also secondary objectives that can be completed along the way. For those that revel in sandbox glory, this will be a very rewarding experience.

Weapons are mostly standard fare — assault rifles, shotguns, missile launchers, etc. — but they can be customized from the get-go to suit your needs. Flashlights, laser dot sight, scope sight, and upgraded ammo are just a handful of traits that can be changed with every acquired weapon. This impressive amount of features, everything from customizable weapons to the badass Nanosuit, helps make Crysis stand out from other like-minded shooters.

Crysis [Xbox 360, 2011]

Graphically, Crysis looks great (considering its age), but it does suffer from some small issues. Minor details, such as blades of grass, are rough in appearance, and there are occasional problems with graphics being drawn in on the fly. Still, it’s a major feat just to be able to play this on a console, and it can hold its own with some of the early generation Xbox 360/PS3 titles.

As a $20 downloadable game, Crysis is a pretty good deal. The single player campaign lasts 8-10 hours, and the achievements/trophies are set up in a way that rewards at least two separate playthroughs. Crysis is the type of shooter that we don’t see as often on consoles, as it presents a great open world that allows for some flexibility on the part of the gamer. It also helps to have some variety in the form of enemies, as the transition from enemy soldiers to badass aliens is a welcome one.

The bottom line is that Crysis is a mandatory pickup for those who have been curious about it over the years, and it is a great buy for fans of first person shooters in general.

8.5/10

(A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.)

Video Game Review: Rock of Ages [XBLA, 2011]

Rock of Ages [XBLA, 2011]

Rock of Ages
System: Xbox 360
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: ACE Team
Release Date: August 31, 2011

Take a little bit Marble Madness, throw in some tower defense gameplay and add a quirky sense of humor, and you have Rock of Ages, one of the more unique titles to come out this year.

In the game, you control a giant boulder with your goal being to race through a course and then smash through your enemy’s gateway at the end. Your opponent’s goal is the same. The catch here is that both you and your adversary also have the ability to build up defense mechanisms to slow each other down and/or destroy the boulder itself.

Rock of Ages [XBLA, 2011]

At the beginning of a match, you are given a decent amount of cash to spend on defensive units that range from catapults to towers to cattle/elephants. You can earn more money by obliterating your opponent’s buildings while you are racing through the course. It is important to do all of this as fast as possible since your enemy is doing the exact same thing on their end. The idea is to load up on defense in a way that will make it difficult for your opponent to get through. This is easier said than done.

In fact, most of the time these strategic placements do little more than create a small nuisance for each boulder. It takes some real maneuvering (or just plain luck) to trip up your opponent on most courses, so ultimately these contests become more like full-on races against the clock than anything. Still, it’s fun to throw a bunch of diversions at the enemy while hoping they slip up now and again.

Rock of Ages [XBLA, 2011]

The game’s single player campaign has a little over 20 missions with a few boss battles included to spice things up. There is enough variety in course themes and design to keep things fresh throughout. I loved nearly all of the courses, and there was a good blend of challenging platform areas and fun levels designed to allow the boulders to maneuver at a fast pace.

Just as much focus was placed in the game’s multiplayer features, which is where the replay value really lies. This can be played online or via local split-screen, and it includes a unique mode that is perhaps most enjoyable of all: SkeeBoulder. As the name would suggest, it plays out like everyone’s favorite arcade game, Skeeball, with the addition of point multipliers as well. It’s fun and quick, and perfect for multiplayer action.

Rock of Ages [XBLA, 2011]

Rock of Ages is light-hearted in tone, and all the better because of it. In the single player campaign, cutscenes are whimsical in nature and often parody various historical and fantasy figureheads. Two of my favorites happen early on, in the form of nods to Lord of the Rings and Castlevania. This is a game that doesn’t take itself seriously at all, frequently including random fart noises for the hell of it, but it somehow works for the game’s atmosphere.

This sense of humor translates into the game’s visuals as well. The paper cutouts of enemies and fellow soldiers are amusing, and each course’s time period is reflected in the scenery. The interpretation of such historical figures as Michelangelo’s David are something to behold. On the audio side, the game’s epic music selections and laugh-out-loud sound effects make for a gratifying hybrid.

Rock of Ages is a charming title with a lot going for it. There are some minor quibbles, such as loose defensive controls and surprisingly long load times (for an arcade title), but this is still a lot of fun rolled into a bargain $10 price tag. I can’t wait to see what developer ACE Team comes out with next.

7.5/10

Video Game Review: Bloodrayne: Betrayal [XBLA, 2011]

Bloodrayne: Betrayal [XBLA, 2011]

Bloodrayne: Betrayal
System: Xbox 360 (also available on PS3)
Publisher: Majesco
Developer: WayForward
Release Date: September 7, 2011

It’s been a while since I have both equally loved and hated a video game like I do with Bloodrayne: Betrayal. I haven’t played either of the series’ first two games (both on PS2/Xbox) or seen Uwe Boll’s critically-despised movie adaptations, but this is not important since Betrayal represents a ‘reboot’ of sorts for the titular character.

First and foremost, Bloodrayne: Betrayal is a 2D side-scrolling beat ’em up with platforming elements, and its gameplay harkens back to gaming classics such as the early Castlevania titles. I also noticed similarities to the Contra series, both of which are personal favorites of mine. I am a sucker for old school throwbacks, and Betrayal almost feels like a modernized remake of a long lost title from that era, right down to its extreme difficulty.

Seriously, this is one of the most punishing games I have played in a while. There are some downright brutal spots in the game that made me want to smash my controller, a feeling that I have not had in ages. The beat ’em up gameplay is not so bad once you get the hang of it, but there are some insanely tricky platforming sections that cause a significant amount grief. Two chapters in particular are especially difficult due to having to time Rayne’s jumps perfectly while dodging enemies and buzzsaws at the same time. Chapter 13 alone is the stuff of nightmares. Needless to say, this game isn’t for the faint of heart.

I felt pretty damn proud of myself to complete some of the more challenging levels, but when I was finished the game gave me an “F” rating every time, calling me “worm food” in the process. Talk about demoralizing. Yet like a good little gamer, I kept coming back for more, and continued to get better as I went along. Finding hidden skulls in each level can provide increases in health and weapon supplies, and this helps out a little bit. I also noticed a significant improvement in my performance while revisiting earlier levels, which was certainly a good feeling.

The game has fifteen chapters in all, and it rewards playing through them multiple times in order to find the aforementioned skulls and to obtain a higher score, just like the good ol’ days. There are a decent variety of enemies, some simple and others disgusting, and Rayne has access to a good amount of combat moves/tricks.

Even if you can tolerate the game’s harder-than-usual difficulty like myself, Betrayal is not without flaws. For one, the in-game tutorials are not helpful at all. In one of the early chapters, I got stuck at a part where I had to jump on the heads of enemy flies in order to reach a higher point. Well, the tutorial never popped up for me so I had no clue how to actually land on them without falling back down. After some trial and error, I found a helpful moves list in the menu, but it would have been nice to see this pop up like it was supposed to.

Another issue I had was with the sometimes spotty controls. This was most noticeable while going through some of the platforming areas since they require extreme precision to complete. I cannot count how many times I died just because Rayne’s animation pushed her over a little farther than anticipated. Thankfully checkpoints are common, as every little bit helps here. Also, there were moments where it seemed the game was more difficult than it needed to be simply because Rayne’s animations would take too long and allow enemies to get in some cheap hits while she was down. If you are quick enough, you can find a way around this, but it takes some time to get the hang of it.

Bloodrayne: Betrayal [XBLA, 2011]

Still, even though Rayne’s animations can sometimes take a little long to complete, it must be said that the game is absolutely gorgeous. The visuals are done in a style similar to anime, and they are a definite highlight of the game. Animations are fluid, and combat can get obscenely violent at times; this makes for some joyous eye candy on screen. Blood flies out of enemies (and Rayne herself, if you are not careful), and occasionally spurts out Kill Bill-style. It’s a blast to look at, and it helps that the game is backed by an incredible soundtrack that sounds a hell of a lot like what was used in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. It’s a good fit for this title, and aesthetically the game is hard to top.

How much you will like Bloodrayne: Betrayal comes down to how difficult you like your games. If you grew up on the Castlevania and Contra games of yore, you will feel right at home here. If you are instantly turned off to a game if you struggle to get through a level, then this likely isn’t for you. With some tweaks here and there, Bloodrayne: Betrayal could have been a more consistently great adventure, but it still worth looking into if you’re up for a good challenge.

7/10

Video Game Review: The Baconing [XBLA, 2011]

The Baconing [XBLA, 2011]

The Baconing
System: Xbox 360 (also available on PS3, PC and Mac)
Publisher: Valcon Games
Developer: Hothead Games
Release Date: August 31, 2011

Mmm… bacon.

Hothead Games have quietly released a trilogy of fantasy action/RPG spoofs that are humorously epic in nature. All three titles revolve around the loud and boisterous superhero DeathSpank, whose name is oddly lacking in the third game’s title, The Baconing. I played through the first DeathSpank last year and had a blast. I sadly missed out on the second adventure, DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue, but I am happy to pick the series back up.

This time around our macho-yet-frivolous hero, DeathSpank, is bored. After his efforts in the first two games, he has conquered all of his enemies and now sits inattentive on his throne. Somehow he gets the bright idea to wear all six of his recently attained Thongs of Virtue at once, and this sets off a catastrophic series of events that creates an evil version of himself: AntiSpank. In order to fix his latest problem, DeathSpank must destroy the thongs one by one in the Fires of Bacon. And so begins the journey of our Hero to the Downtrodden.

The DeathSpank trilogy’s claim to fame has always been its sense of humor, and The Baconing’s story certainly reflects that. This is the first entry in the series not to have input from Ron Gilbert, the famed Monkey Island creator, but the jokes don’t miss a beat without him. There were many times where I got a good laugh out of DeathSpank’s witty retorts, as well as some of the downright bizarre characters he meets along the way. This game takes pride in its jocular approach, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Baconing: Forest of Tomorrow

The Baconing offers the same tried and true hack ‘n slash gameplay DeathSpank is known for. Our hero has access to all sorts of weapons — clubs, swords, crossbows, grenades and the like — and can upgrade them as he levels up. The same goes for armor and magic potions. All of these can be obtained through frequent looting, and it is rare to have to actually purchase anything in the game because of this.

There is one noticeable difference in combat this time: it is a hell of a lot more difficult than before. It’s rare that I have to turn a game down to “Easy” to make real progress, but I had to with The Baconing. Even then, fighting foes could be brutal. My favorite method from before — running in and hacking away — does not work so well here, as that is a surefire way to get killed fast. Combat now requires a certain amount of strategy. There are more barrels scattered around that can be used to damage or temporarily stun enemies, and it is generally a good idea to take full advantage of them.

DeathSpank’s shield is also revitalized for this game, and he can now charge up and perform a bash move to hit the enemy and push them back out of melee range. It took me a little while to get the hang of this new function, but it certainly helped with combat after doing so.

DeathSpank’s adventure is fairly linear, there is still a lot to do. This game has more than 100 new quests in total, and there is a fun Arena feature where you can battle through waves of enemies in order to gain access to a massive treasure chest. Occasionally the quests provide puzzles, some of which can be challenging. Thankfully DeathSpank can collect fortune cookies which are used to obtain hints, if ever needed.

The Baconing [XBLA, 2011]

If there’s one general complaint that could be made about The Baconing, it’s that the game is almost identical to its past efforts. This is both a blessing and a curse. The style of gameplay works just fine for the most part, but I can see how some will be disappointed that The Baconing doesn’t really try anything new. It helps to come into this with the mindset that this is more of the same DeathSpank that was so well-executed before.

Visually, The Baconing doesn’t look any different, which is certainly a good thing. The art style is whimsical and full of color, and some of the locations are an absolute riot. I got a huge kick out of Z.I.M.O.N., a supercomputer from the 1980s, and his TRON-like area looks unlike any other found in the game. There’s even an amusing little mini-game that riffs on his name. Little things like that are what make The Baconing worth playing, and the impressive character voice acting helps as well. DeathSpank reminds me a little of The Tick, and he is played to perfection. Hothead Games really nailed the audio/visual aspects.

You will know right away if you are going to like The Baconing or not, as this type of game isn’t for everywhere. You don’t need to have played a previous DeathSpank title to play this one, although it certainly helps since a handful of past characters make amusing cameos. While the difficulty levels could have been evened out a little better, and it would have been nice to see more changes to the general gameplay, I still had a blast with The Baconing. The same hilarious sense of humor is present, and the action/RPG elements are fun as ever. Hopefully we haven’t seen the last of our testosterone-filled hero.

8/10

Video Game Review: Bastion [Xbox 360, 2011]

Bastion [Xbox 360, 2011]

Bastion
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.

9/10

Video Game Review: Unbound Saga [Xbox 360, 2010]

Unbound Saga [Xbox 360, 2010]

Unbound Saga
System: Xbox 360 [Xbox Live Arcade]
Publisher: Vogster Entertainment, LLC
Developer: Vogster
Release Date: December 1, 2010

Originally a downloadable PSP title, Unbound Saga was ported over to Xbox Live a year later with a few differences (most notably the addition of a co-op mode). The game is a simple, mindless side-scrolling beat ’em up that draws heavily from the classic 1995 Sega Genesis title, Comix Zone. You play as either Rick Ajax, a juiced-up musclehead, or Lori Machete, a mysterious woman, both of whom are aware that they are in a comic book (kind of like the great Duck Amuck cartoon). Your job is to brawl your way through ten stages in order to meet “The Maker” – the guy who is drawing the enemies on screen.

Unbound Saga bares more than a passing resemblance to the aforementioned Comix Zone. In fact, this almost feels like a full-on tribute. There are obstacles that need to be kicked and punched in order to move to the next panel (thankfully this doesn’t hurt your character this time), and there’s even a rat running around during loading screens. The game also has a lackadaisical sense of humor throughout, which is refreshing. This humor is most prevalent in the handful of enemies thrown at you, whether they are homeless people who think you stole someone’s liver or bears wearing aprons. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the game is genuinely funny, but its lighter tone is appreciated.

Unbound Saga [Xbox 360, 2010]

Although the basic gameplay is the same as most beat ’em up titles, Unbound Saga has a certain amount of depth that helps it stand out. Strong in-game performances will earn you skill points which in turn can be used to learn new combos and improve the overall attributes for both characters. This sort of leveling up system is a nice addition, and it adds to the replay value since it encourages multiple playthroughs.

Unfortunately, while the overall gameplay style is tried and true, there are some problems. For one, the controls are often sluggish. Rick, in particular, is difficult to move around, and he sometimes struggles to make contact with what is seemingly right in front of him. There were also times when I would have the analog stick pointed in one direction while spamming the attack buttons, yet Rick would remain facing the opposite way. This type of issue allows the enemies (and there are lots of ’em later on) to get in some cheap shots, and this gets very frustrating. The controls could have really been fine-tuned some more.

Repetition is also an issue, although that is somewhat expected with the genre. The game is pretty much the same from beginning to end, with little in the way of surprises. A bit disappointing, but not out of the ordinary.

Unbound Saga [Xbox 360, 2010]

In essence, Unbound Saga is what it is. This is a mindless brawler with a fun comic book setting that borrows heavily from an even better game, Comix Zone. Some control and repetition issues keep the game from realizing its potential, but it is still worth playing through on a lazy afternoon. If you are a fan of the genre and see the game on sale, it is worth a look. It is difficult to recommend it at its current price (800 MSP), however.

6/10

Video Game Review: Alien Breed: Evolution [Xbox 360, 2009]

Alien Breed: Evolution [2009]

Alien Breed: Evolution
System: Xbox 360 [Xbox Live Arcade]
Publisher: Team 17
Developer: Team 17
Release Date: December 16, 2009

Alien Breed: Evolution is the revival of an old Amiga video game series that spawned five games in the 90’s, the last one coming out in 1996. Set as a top-down isometric shooter, Evolution’s main gameplay consists of navigating around spaceships, finding key cards, restoring power and blowing away aliens. Despite this revival’s graphics overhaul, the methodical gameplay still feels dated. Repeated trial and error while attempting to open locked doors gets old after a while, even though the game’s map waypoint is helpful in directing you along the way. Enemy aliens break up the monotony, but they aren’t a very diverse group. In fact, the overall gameplay gets repetitive after a while. The game uses tried and true tactics, but even a fresh coat of paint can’t mask the 90’s feel.

The controls are hit and miss. The game’s usage of the analog sticks is great — the left stick is used to move around, the right stick is used to shoot. Using the analog sticks is smooth and fits the game very well. Unfortunately, the focus on analog translates to sloppy controls elsewhere. The left and right bumpers are used to rotate the camera, and sometimes it is difficult to swing it to the right view in the heat of battle. Also, weapons are switched using the d-pad which again can cause issues while trying to fight off hordes of aliens. These problems don’t break the game, but different button mapping would have been ideal.

I am perhaps being too hard on this game. Alien Breed Evolution is not bad at all, it just doesn’t try anything new. Fans of the original games may get the most enjoyment here, as the revamped graphics are certainly a welcome addition. The game’s inclusion of a co-op mode is a strong asset as well since it adds a new dynamic to the main campaign. With some tweaks here and there, Evolution could have been better. As it stands, it is a solid revival that rests on its laurels a bit too much.

6/10

Xbox Live Arcade Deal

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