Friday, July 8, 2011

New Adventures in XBLA

Journey isn't on XBLA, but it represents how I feel when I sit at the Marketplace menu.

A recent change in both location and situation has left me with substantially more free time to spend playing video games. Laden with such time, my first port of call was my list of older games I wanted to catch up on, and after some deliberation I chose to start with the serially-delayed Remedy joint, Alan Wake, of which many good things were heard. Having then placed the order with my good friends at Amazon, I opted to pass the waiting time by delving into the cavernous realm of Xbox’s Game Marketplace to try out a few mostly-recent demos. Here are my impressions on them:

Journey - Before we foray into XBLA titles, just a quick mention of the title image. Thatgamecompany’s upcoming release has you wandering alone through a  barren desert that is littered with ancient ruins. The game is wrapped in Legend of Zelda: Windwaker-style visuals, and makes use of a clean and cute art design that echoes the needs of the game’s simplistic execution. You hop and float through the landscape, activating the aforementioned ruins in order to learn more about the story; an action which rewards you with an extensions to your character’s scarf, and I think also adds embroidery to your cloak. The upshot of this, it seems to me, will be that players who have explored more of the world will demonstrate their mastery and efforts through their appearance. Perhaps players will even start to resemble the ancient wise-ones that are encountered throughout their travels. It still hasn’t received a confirmed release date, but it is currently in beta, and there is an intention for it to arrive later this Autumn. You can catch a quicklook of it over at Giant Bomb here.

Auto-combat is still quite strangely tense.
Half-Minute Hero – this bizarre little RPG-come-Puzzler originally came out back on PSP, and was released last week for XBLA. The game apes the style of classic RPG games of yore, except everything is automated and you are only given thirty seconds to complete each stage. It is super self-aware and seriously good fun, with plenty of laughs during the trial. Someone somewhere referred to it as ‘the JRPG equivalent of speed-dating’, which perfectly sums it up. It showed signs of maybe becoming a little repetitive, but it’s definitely worth a look. If anything, it’s one of the more unique titles I have played recently. If you’re the sort of person who feels they are drowning in a sea of military first-person shooters, give Half-Minute Hero a fair go, and you might just be surprised.

It's so Tron that you just have to love it.
Rez – With all the fuss recently about Child of Eden, I felt compelled to finally try out its precursor. For an on-rails shooter, Rez is a pretty mesmerising experience: the entire game pulses trance music at you, and the controller vibrates in time to the beat, and your shots all fall in time in time with the music. The game holds up surprisingly well, and this is emphasised by the Tron-esque visuals that excellently complement the Hackers feel of the whole thing. I wholeheartedly recommend that you try it out, it is well worth your time.

A screenshot cannot do this game justice.
Download it toute suite.
Outland – I first caught Ubisoft’s Outland at PAX East, if only fleetingly. My travel partner was hypnotised by the game’s appearance: a colour-switching, Ikaruga-influenced platformer. The past two weeks has been filled with visually stunning games, but Outland takes the cake as having the most beautiful art-style of them all. Aside from the red/blue colour shift as you progress, the level backgrounds resemble something like Japanese watercolour paintings, and there is liberal use of bloom effect throughout. The result is a beautiful, glowing orb of an arcade game, with eerily-perfect character animation, too.

More of a light puzzler than a shooter.
Galaga Legions: DX – The same formula applied for Pacman: Championship Edition DX returns with a reboot of Galaga, with the similar result of super-charging the player and giving them a tense playtime with gorgeous shining neon graphics. Just as with the Pacman reboot, it is not so much an attempt to re-do a classic, but rather a total re-imagining of what Galaga would be if it were released today. If you didn’t have the name attached to it, it would be unlikely that you would think of it as Galaga, but just another spaceship arcade game. Regardless, it is very good fun, in the same way as Pacman DX is, too.

Alan Wake should arrive sometime this weekend, and so I expect to offer some extremely late news about that in the week to come. That is, provided I’m not cursed by too many sleepless nights and an urge to carry a torch everywhere. Fun fact: I do not own a torch. Will this be Remedied?

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