Sep 7, 2011

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Top 5 Summer of Arcade Titles

Top 5 Summer of Arcade Titles

The end of August marks the end of summer, as well as Xbox LIVE’s annual Summer of Arcade.  Through the four years the promotion has run, there has been a couple of stinkers (TMNT: Turtles Re-Shelled) but overall the quality has been superb.  With 20 titles to choose from, it’s not gonna be easy narrowing it down to just five picks, so obviously some of your favorites may not be present.  That being said, here are my picks for top five Summer of Arcade titles of all-time.

5.  Bastion

Though Bastion released this year, there’s little reason not to include it among the Summer of Arcade elite.  From the moment you start the game up and see the world build around you, you know this is going to be an experience unlike any other on the marketplace.  Gorgeous visuals only scratch the surface as to why Bastion earns a spot in the all-time top five.  The narrative is intriguing and definitely one of the reasons you’ll continue to press forward, as is the Zelda-esque style gameplay; but overall, it’s the entire package that makes this game great.  The way Supergiant Games ties every element together creates an incredible world that feels vivid. Though you may be confused as to what exactly is going on, something will cause you to continue pressing forward. Perhaps it’s the narrators silky voice adding reasoning to your quest, maybe it’s the challenge of achieving both endings, or maybe it’s the fact that you’re constantly given new weapons to add to your arsenal along with different venues and enemies.  Whatever the reasoning, Bastion is a game that belongs in everyone’s library and is worthy of being part of the top five in the all-time Summer of Arcade titles. Don’t believe me? Check out my review if you haven’t already.

4. Shadow Complex

If you look at many all-time best games lists, there’s no doubt that Super Metroid is at least somewhere in the top five. As with many concepts today, Chair Entertainment almost completely aped a classic in Super Metroid from design, feel, and nearly all weapon mechanics (missiles for red doors?).  Thankfully, Chair did an amazing job with their “homage” and broke multiple records at the time, including sales for Xbox LIVE Arcade titles in 2010. Shadow Complex also received many game of the year nominations.  It’s easy to see why the game worked so well, with huge boss fights, beautiful visuals, a lengthy campaign, and an experience that hearkens back to the pinnacle of 2D gaming.  Though we may never see another game like Super Metroid, Shadow Complex did a fine job of creating a game in its vein.

3. Limbo

Limbo is arguably the most artistically stunning game ever released for the Summer of Arcade.  Coming from indie developer Playdead, Limbo boasts gorgeous minimalist graphics and easily some of the best black and white visuals on the marketplace.  It takes a minimalist approach to gameplay as well, with only two buttons for jumping or grabbing objects and the left stick used for movement.  It seamlessly blends puzzles and platforming and combines them with moments that will literally have you on the edge of your seat.  It’s amazing how Playdead was able to create this sense of dread with almost no narration.  Each encounter, from the first meeting with the giant spider boss to attempting to outrun it and barely getting away, creates a rush not often seen in XBLA titles.  The general consensus regarding the games length is that it’s too short for the asking price (3-6 hours for $15), but to be honest, with the frequent deaths (in gruesome fashion), achievement hunting, and necessary second playthrough to unlock everything you missed, you’re looking at twice that length.  Limbo is one of the few Summer of Arcade titles ported over to PSN, and in case you missed it, check out Juan’s review for more reasons as to why this game is great.

2.  Braid

Before Limbo released in the marketplace, there was Braid.  Though the two are often compared, Braid’s clever use of time manipulating mechanics create an experience unlike any other on XBLA.  On its surface, Braid stars Tim, a man whose maneuvers and world are reminiscent of Nintendo’s Mario.  After Tim dies, you notice that the game forces you to rewind the events that took place to undo his demise.  This is the key gameplay component, and though the time-rewinding ability doesn’t change, its effect on each world does.  One world will create a ghost version of the player, which will reenact moves undone on its own, while another has items unaffected by Tim’s powers.  The clever use of this mechanic produced puzzles impossible to achieve with other platformers, and left players scratching their heads for hours.  Unfortunately, it’s replay value is not high, though players will want to at least play through it two more times (one for achievements, the other for the special ending).  Jonathan Blow created an incredible game that is worthy of being in everyone’s library.  You may not truly understand the story, but the ending and puzzles are clever, and the gameplay is well put together.  As of this writing, it sits tied among the top of XBLA games in Metacritic with a critically acclaimed 93.

1. Castle Crashers

Was there really any doubt as to which game would be number one?  From the mind that brought you the enjoyable, albeit under-appreciated Alien Hominid, comes the ultimate co-op experience in XBLA.  Up to four players can explore the incredibly large world fighting waves of enemies on your quest to rescue four princesses.  Along the way you fight huge bosses, run from large terrors, and even square off against each other in an experience that can only be described as epic.  Gorgeous animations, hilarious visuals, and a soundtrack that perfectly fits each scenario tip the iceberg as to what makes Castle Crashers so great.  During the campaign, players have a ton of unlockables to look forward to, and each character has their own unique powers and special animal orb helpers.  Through every battle you’ll earn experience that can be distributed, much like the Gauntlet series or any other similar RPG.  You’ll begin to learn new moves upon reaching certain levels and see the differences in your character’s movements based on how you used your experience points.  This add hours upon hours of replay value that easily outlasts some retail games.  Castle Crashers has been downloaded over 2 million times on XBLA alone since 2008, and last year it released on PSN with similar success. Behemoth, developers of Castle Crashers, still make time to support the title with new character packs and consistent updates to fix bugs; thus, Behemoth is well loved and anticipation for their follow-up is high.  If you have yet to play this game, gather a couple friends and download it now to play the best Summer of Arcade game ever.