Thursday, September 04, 2008

Tech: The Best of XBLA (Summer of Arcade Edition)

I've done several features covering the best titles available for the Xbox Live Arcade download service for the Xbox 360, but this past summer Microsoft has been bending over backwards to roll out blockbuster title after blockbuster title. Here are a few you might want to check out:

Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2

The original "Geometry Wars" is an all-time XBLA classic, but its sequel really ups the ante. Although the asking price is now $10, you get a barrelfull of new gameplay modes, multiplayer options, and updated HD graphics that look great without sacrificing the original's neon space-age aesthetic.

As before, your task is to survive by destroying the hostile geometric shapes that constantly swarm all around you. Some of the modes probably aren't as polished as they could be ("Waves" mode in particular feels like an answer in need of a question), and there's no online play. On the plus side, the old blasting gameplay is as good as ever, and the game loads remarkably fast. All in all, this is the new king of XBLA shoot-'em-ups.

Bionic Commando Rearmed

If you're an oldschool gamer, you might have fond memories of "Bionic Commando" for the NES. That action-platformer stuck out because there was no way to jump - you had to swing and grapple using your character's bionic arm. With skill, you could string together effortless swings while bombarding enemies with firepower, and the whole thing was great fun. As a bonus, the end boss was a thinly-veiled Hitler clone whose head exploded upon defeat.

Capcom has really gone all out for this next-gen remake, adding in great HD graphics, a remixed soundtrack, and even extra content in the form of a new hacking minigame that is actually pretty fun. Well worth the 800 points, especially when you consider how awful most remakes of classic NES games are.

Galaga Legions

"Galaga Legions" isn't as good as the other games in this post, but it's still way more polished than most of the generic shovelware XBLA shooters. Brought to you by the team responsible for the excellent "Pac-Man Championship Edition," it's a reimagining of the classic arcade game with a lot of new wrinkles thrown into the standard dodge enemies/return fire gameplay.

The biggest addition are two deployable, indestructible satellites that augment your main ship's firepower. This injects some positioning strategy into the proceedings - a design tactic that has worked well for shooters like "R-Type" and "Gradius V." The paths of enemy waves are predefined and even displayed onscreen, so you'll always have a chance to plan ahead. Unfortunately, there isn't nearly as much content here as there should be, and the base gameplay isn't as fun as Pac-Man CE.


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