Video Game Review: Limbo [Xbox 360, 2010]

Limbo [2010]

Limbo
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.

8/10

3 On 3 NHL Arcade [Xbox 360, 2009]

3 On 3 NHL Arcade

3 On 3 NHL Arcade
System: Xbox 360
Developer: EA Canada
Release Date: February 11, 2009

I am always interested in sports arcade games. As much as I love simulations and realistic sports games, it’s nice once in a while to kick back with a game that doesn’t take itself seriously. That’s why I was curious about 3 On 3 NHL Arcade, which was recently on sale for $2.50 (half off its regular $5 price). Unfortunately, I’m not sure it’s even worth that ridiculously low price.

3 On 3 is hockey in its most exaggerated, yet basic form. There are no teams, just blue versus red. There is no depth, just a quick match either by yourself or against a friend. Upon selecting a team color, you choose three players out of 40 total (no difference between them, except they are labeled as either “fast” “strong” or “all around”), and a goalie (again, no difference). Set a goal total and a difficulty level, and you are off to the races. The actual gameplay is decent. You are given the ability to use old-school controls or the new analog stick system from recent NHL games. To maintain its “arcadey” feel, occasionally the game throws in a handful of Mario Kart-esque powerups onto the ice. There are powerups to make either goalies or players big and small, speed boosts, 2x goal multipliers, and even the ol’ banana peel. Needless to say, games can get pretty hectic with all of the crazyness happening on screen.

3 On 3’s big problem is that there just isn’t enough to do. Playing quick matches over and over again gets old, especially if you are playing solo. By the time you hit 20-30 minutes of action, you will probably be sick of the game. Some more game modes or mini-games would have boosted the replay value. I also had a serious issue with the sound effects used in the menus. There is an obnoxious sound effect every time you hit a button. I don’t know who’s bright idea it was to do that, but it is freakin’ annoying!

In short, 3 On 3 is decidely average. It has sound gameplay, but it is sorely lacking in replayability. I can’t complain too much since I got this game for less than the price of a pint, but I can’t help but feel it could have been so much better.

5/10

The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai [Xbox 360, 2009]

The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai

The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai
System: Xbox 360
Developer: Ska Studios
Release Date: April 1, 2009

The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai is a side-scrolling beat ’em up with a distinct art style that heavily emphasizes blood and violence. You play as a dishwasher (go figure) who was captured by cyborgs; now it is your duty to murder countless enemies in order to take out the head of the Cyborg army. A handful of comic-style scenes help flesh out the story, but it is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. The Dishwasher is all about destroying your enemies in the most brutal ways possible (typically with a convenient fatality button after you wear them down).

At the beginning of the game, the dishwasher character is fairly weak and has nothing but meat cleavers to use as weapons. By continuing to kill enemies and progress through the game, you can unlock the abilities to obtain new weapons (swords, guns and even chainsaws) and you can use experience points to increase your health and skill levels. Most game stages provide multiple ways to get to the end as well, and the freedom to do so is certainly welcome. An odd little addition to the campaign is the presence of guitar rhythm mini-games, even giving you the option to play them with Rock Band peripherals. This guitar feature also provides one of the most hilarious Xbox achievements I have ever seen (the “Peter Moore” award). I love that this game doesn’t take itself seriously, it makes it even more rewarding.

On top of the fairly lengthy story campaign, there is a large arcade mode in which you go through a number of brief stages just slaughtering enemies in order to get the high score. It’s a nice way to add replay value.

There are a couple of potential problems that need to be brought up. One, The Dishwasher is very, very difficult. I am ashamed to say it, but I even struggled a little bit at times on Easy mode. Considering that is the lowest of four difficulties, that’s saying something. I embraced this level of challenge, but other gamers may not. Two, as is the case with many beat ’em ups, the game does occasionally get repetitive. However, every time I felt myself getting tired of the gameplay, I came across something else (i.e. the aforementioned guitar mini-game or a badass boss battle) to reinvigorate my interest.

The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai has the distinction of winning the Xbox Dream-Build-Play contest and for becoming the first community “indie” game to be promoted to a full-fledged XBLA title. This promotion is undoubtedly deserved, as I greatly enjoyed playing through the game. The Dishwasher provides a surprisingly large amount of replay value, and it is one that I can see myself revisiting many times in the future. Although some may let the difficulty and occasional monotony dampen their experience, I found the game to be more than satisfying. For $10, The Dishwasher is a bargain. At half price, it is an outright steal.

8/10

Doritos Crash Course [Xbox 360, 2010]

Doritos Crash Course [Xbox 360]

Doritos Crash Course
System: Xbox 360
Developer: Wanako Studios
Release Date: December 8, 2010

Doritos Crash Course is the second free XBLA game (the other being Harms Way) that was released last month as part of the Doritos “Unlock Xbox” challenge. The game plays out like the summertime game show Wipeout. You control your character (which is actually your Xbox Avatar) and play through a relatively short side-scrolling obstacle course, with the goal being to complete the stage as quick as possible. This is fairly easy to do at first, but some of the later levels can get rather tricky. Swinging hammers can knock you into the water, paintballs can slow your progress and push you off, and conveyor belts can send you moving the wrong way, just to name a few examples. There are a fair amount of levels to work through, and this experience is enhanced by playing with a friend. I ran through the game with a buddy online and we had a good time racing each other to the finish line. I did find it kind of funny that you are essentially racing a cardboard cutout of your friend instead of the actual avatar though.

In comparison to Harms Way, I have to give Crash Course the slight advantage since it appeals more to a wider audience. Who doesn’t like the idea of an easy to pick up and play type game where you are basically playing a wacky game show? As mentioned earlier, some of the later levels get frustrating but as long as you play with a friend it helps keep the game enjoyable. Crash Course ended up winning the Doritos challenge, and I believe the game’s immediate appeal is what pushed it to the winner’s circle. For a quick, fun party fix, Crash Course is a good option.

7/10
Doritos Crash Course screenshot

Harms Way [Xbox 360, 2010]

Harms Way [Xbox 360, 2010]

Harms Way
System: Xbox 360
Developer: Bongfish
Release Date: December 8, 2010

Harms Way is a free Xbox Live Arcade game that was released last month as part of the Doritos “Unlock Xbox” challenge. As one of the two finalists of this contest (the other being Crash Course), Harms Way tackles the genre of action racing. The core racing is basically a budget version of Motorstorm, but there is also the added dynamic of being able to control a turret, and that sets it apart from similar titles.

Basically, you have the option to either drive or shoot. If you elect to drive, you choose one of four off-road vehicles and participate in a simple race with the options to obtain basic power-ups (nitro boosts, shields, etc). If you decide to shoot, you control the handful of turrets scattered around the course, and your job is to blow up the racers. Both concepts are simple enough, and it’s an easy pick-up-and-play type game. Single player mode gets old quick, but thankfully there is the ability to play with others (both splitscreen and online). The online community is pretty dead, so it is best to go to the local multiplayer route.

In a bit of a pleasant surprise, Harms Way is a good-looking game. The graphics could easily pass for a PS2/Xbox title, which is more than what can be said about other like-minded XBLA titles. Developer Bongfish really put a lot of effort into making this look better than it really should.

As a free game, Harms Way is more than adequate. Although light on content, its multiplayer options provide enough depth to bring gamers back for the casual game now and then. That’s all you can really ask for out of a free game. Hopefully Bongfish continues to create new games; it would be nice to see them develop a more fleshed-out title in the future.

6.5/10

– It should be noted that this game offers a ridiculously easy 200 gamerscore if you’re into that sort of thing.
Harms Way [Xbox 360, 2010]

Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords [Xbox 360]

Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords
System: Xbox 360
Publisher: D3
Release Date: October 10, 2007

Imagine the popular puzzle game Bejeweled as if it were an epic fantasy RPG. That’s Puzzle Quest, in a nutshell. Instead of normal RPG battles, you take on the CPU in puzzle games. The goal is to match jewels on the board, with each color of jewel providing a different type of mana. These manas allow the casting of spells to do benefit your board while doing damage to your opponent’s HP. Also on the board are skulls, which are used to attack your opponent, and stars and coins that provide XP and money, respectively. This is a genuinely cool concept, and is an excellent mashup of two genres.

The storyline used to propel the game is standard fantasy fare, and I had little to no interest in it. Basically, the kingdom is in danger and it is your job to run around, complete quests and slay orcs/zombies/demons/etc. Hardly anything original, but it’s there if you want it. Personally, I was more interested in completing puzzles and leveling up my character. It was refreshing to be able to build up strength and unlock new character abilities in a puzzle game.

Puzzle Quest can get ridiculously addictive, and that is a large reason why it is available on everything from the Nintendo DS to the iPhone to the Wii. If the game has one fault, however, it is the ever-knowing CPU. Sometimes the CPU gets some ridiculously lucky breaks, which can make it seem as if it knows what jewels are going to fall down ahead of time. This can get downright maddening when you are in the midst of a tense battle, and it also tends to happen when you have a sizeable lead yet the CPU keeps finding ways to get back into the game. Even still, this helps make every battle important and presents an omnipresent level of challenge. Puzzle game lovers will definitely enjoy this, but it certainly helps if you are into RPGs as well (and appreciate a good challenge).

8/10