Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Tech: The Best of Xbox Live Arcade, Part III

Here's a few more of my favorite titles from the Xbox 360's downloadable games service:


This one requires no introduction - I loved "Doom" back when it was state-of-the-art in the '90s, and since then, it's been ported to pretty much every platform imaginable. There's a certain joylessness accompanying most ports of Doom, though. It's a shame, because the underlying kill-or-be-killed gameplay is still entertaining after all these years. I'm not sure where this malaise comes from. Maybe it's because most ports cripple the deathmatch multiplayer. Maybe it's because most ports don't handle the rudimentary controls very well (like dogs in "Shaun of the Dead," you can't look up in Doom).

Thankfully, the XBLA port of Doom is mostly free of these ills. At 400 points ($5), you get all four episodes (Knee Deep in the Dead, The Shores of Hell, Inferno, and Thy Flesh Consumed), as well as (laggy) online multiplayer over Xbox Live. The gamepad controls worked surprisingly well, with my only complaint being a slightly slower-than-ideal turning speed (this is almost impossible to get right in a console FPS, though).

Like a lot of people, I never actually played Doom past the introductory shareware mission (didn't have discretionary income at the time)...the later missions have tons of new design features and are often devilishly constructed mazes that require careful shooting and tactics in order to get through without running out of ammo (for example, did you know you can get monsters to fight each other?). Taken as a whole, Doom is a lot of classic gaming for very little money.


N+ is a juiced-up port of a game that you can actually play for free on your computer - N, a classic Flash game by Metanet Software. So why would anyone fork over 800 points ($10) for this port? Well, like Doom, N+ has been enhanced in its jump from the PC to the XBLA. Not only does everything look more crisp courtesy of HDTV, but the 360 gamepad is actually a pretty good input choice for this type of game - one that involves multiple, often incessant pressing of the "jump" button at various pressures.

You play as a ninja trapped in a series of rooms that happen to be filled with deadly hazards, like mines and missile launching turrets. You have no offensive weaponry to speak of, just your wits and acrobatic ability. You make your way to the end of the level, and the whole thing starts all over again. Where the 360 version triumphs is its pick-up-and-play nature; N+ is a great in-betweener for those long sessions of more complicated 360 games.

Hexic HD

This game is free (it comes preloaded onto your Xbox 360 hard drive), but it's not just some throwaway title. Designed by no less than Mr. Tetris himself, Alexey Pajitnov, Hexic HD has you rotating groups of colored hexagon tiles in several different gameplay modes. The gameplay appears simple - almost too simple - at first, but once you realize the game is about forming complex configurations and setting off massive combos, it becomes quite enjoyable. The awesome ambient electronic soundtrack also helps you get into the zone:


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