5 XBLA Games To Hold You Over Until The Summer of Arcade
Microsoft’s annual Summer of Arcade promotion is launching next month on August 7 with what looks to be four nice additions to the marketplace. Through its five year run, the Summer of Arcade has given Xbox 360 gamers some of the best downloadable titles for the current generation of consoles, including hits like Limbo, Castle Crashers, Braid, and Trials HD. Although it’s just under a month away from launching, there’s no need to save up your Microsoft points until then because 2013 already has a plethora of great downloadable content available right now!
I’ve compiled a short list of five great downloads worth every penny that were released this year and that are, in my opinion, some of the best XBLA games throughout the entire platform. Although there are some honorable mentions worth recognizing, like Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon or Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine, they didn’t crack my Top 5 for the first half of 2013. Of course, there are a ton of great XBLA games you should have already played, but if you’re itching for some new downloads, read on for 5 XBLA Games to Hold You Over Until The Summer of Arcade.
5. Runner2: Future Legend of Alien Rhythm
Gaijin Games’ Bit.Trip series has been entertaining gamers since 2010 with retro-style gameplay paired with infectious beats across various genres. The latest installment in the franchise (and the first on the Xbox 360) is a sequel to their WiiWare hit Bit.Trip.Runner. In Runner2 you guide our hero CommanderVideo as he jumps, ducks, and dodges his way through various hazards on his path to recovering his unfused reality. Through five exciting worlds each with their own end-boss and 125 different levels, CommanderVideo gains new abilities to help him deal with the ever-increasing swarms of enemies in his way.
What sets Runner2 apart from other platformers is the auto-running mechanic behind the gameplay. Similar to endless runners that have become a staple of smart phone gaming, players control CommanderVideo’s movements while the game continues on a forward path. While endless runners are a dime-a-dozen, Runner2 pairs actions with the beat of the music giving players a more personal feel to their actions in Runner2. Each enemy avoided adds a beep which perfectly compliments the chiptune soundtrack and paired with the charming visuals,creates a treat for players or onlookers. Add to that the tight controls, constantly evolving gameplay and tons of secrets and unlockables and you’ve got one of the best rhythm-based games throughout the entire XBLA library.
4. Skulls of the Shogun
After what seemed like an eternity, 17-Bit’s Skulls of the Shogun has finally been released across all Microsoft platforms. Blending classic turn-based strategy with fast-paced arcade action, Skulls of the Shogun was definitely worth the wait. Players must guide the fallen samurai General Akamoto who is attempting to regain his lost honor after being stabbed in the back. Throughout his journey in the afterlife he gains allies in animal monks with various powers, different warriors armed with weapons of destruction and must deal with different generals looking to stop Akamoto from uncovering the truth behind his murderer.
Skulls of the Shogun takes many of the elements that make turn-based strategy games so fun and simplifies the the formula for newcomers. This isn’t to say that there isn’t a degree of difficulty for veterans, but the learning curve is far easier in Skulls. Each unit controlled has a set distance they can travel along with parameters either limiting their attack range or their various abilities. Each fallen warrior leaves behind a skull which after being ingested by the opposite team, can grant a variety of boosts. Although the interface is simpler, strategic planning is the key to each victory and the great balance of risk and reward for each battle is easily apparent throughout the enjoyable campaign. Whether players want to sit back and try to build their forces for a team-based assault, or risk an all out blitz for a quick victory, each battle is fun and each move is rewarding.
The single-player campaign isn’t the lengthiest, but the dialogue and plot makes up for it with some genuinely hilarious moments throughout it’s run. Each new unit introduced has it’s benefits and shortcomings which are further magnified in the addictive multiplayer mode. Whether players are teaming up in two-on-two battles or going all out in a free-for-all, Skulls of the Shogun’s multiplayer didn’t disappoint and it’s cross-platform saves ensure players can continue the fun no matter where they go. To top it off, 17-Bit dropped the price of their game to only 800 MSP so there’s no excuse why you can’t try Skulls of the Shogun out today!
3. State of Decay
It’d be understandable to scoff at the thought of another zombie game. Zombies have apparently become too “mainstream” for many gamers and have lost their appeal a few years ago due to an oversaturation of the medium. Although there have been a few missteps in zombie games (ahem The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct) for the most part zombie games have been enjoyable and well-received. The latest zombie-survival game is the excellent download State of Decay. Along with breaking XBLA records, State of Decay takes many of the elements that make zombie games enjoyable and condenses them into a download while still being large enough to create an open-world environment.
State of Decay drops players off in the middle of a zombie outbreak. Along with a few other survivors, you must band together and survive the apocalypse while attempting to rebuild in this 3rd-person action game. Make your stand while fortifying your home base, go out stealthily on supply runs, and rescue other survivors while narrowly avoiding the pending horrors around every corner. While the game may seem like it’s run of the mill, State of Decay is much more then the sum of its parts. The atmosphere the game creates makes up for it’s lackluster visuals and though the engine itself isn’t above-average, each choice and risk tugs at your heart-strings in a way not seen since (oddly enough) The Walking Dead. Through it’s ugly exterior lies an open-world survival game unlike any other in it’s genre and it’s refreshing to see so many ideas implemented in smart and creative ways. For lack of a better comparison, everything that a fan of The Walking Dead series as a whole would want in a game is represented here in State of Decay and it is an amazing experience that fans or non-fans of the zombie genre should check out. If zombies have fallen off of your radar already, do yourself a favor and give it one more go with State of Decay. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised.
2. Terraria – Xbox 360 Edition
Like Minecraft – Xbox 360 Edition before it, Terraria has made it’s way from PC to the XBLA. Before I continue let me clear a few things up right away: No, Terraria will not replace Minecraft on XBLA and yes, that is actually a good thing. Although upon it’s conception, Terraria was practically a 2D Minecraft clone, Terraria has grown and gone down it’s own path for the better. Whereas Minecraft is more about building and exploring, Terraria is about adventuring and battling. Realistically, it’s unfair to compare the two games because while similar in some ways, what makes them unique also makes them enjoyable and Terraria’s differences from Minecraft are actually what makes it more fun in my opinion.
Combat comprises a major percentage of what Terraria is all about. Though you can craft weapons using wood or ores, digging deep underground will uncover other elements that can be used for various weapons and armors. Crafting these upgrades is integral because enemies will grow in strength, numbers and size and if unprepared can easily destroy players. Luckily there’s a massive amount of tools players can use to assist them with different effects including wings to fly, boots to hover, and items to teleport with. Oftentimes a rare item may only be available upon defeating a large boss which requires some preparation for but thankfully the game can be played cooperatively with up to four players easing much of the difficulty. In fact, multiplayer makes up a large portion of what makes Terraria so good. Though there’s fun in a single-player quest, traversing a dungeon with a party of friends easily makes the game that much more enjoyable and in a way hearkens back to what made classic games so fun. Uncovering different secrets, besting large bosses with your buddies, and spending hours looking for items to level up your characters just scratch the surface of what makes Terraria fun and worth investing your time and money in. If you’re tired of Minecraft but are looking for a fun co-op adventure game, give Terraria – Xbox 360 Edition a look.
1. Battleblock Theatre
The Behemoth is responsible for creating one of the best downloadable games of this generation in the addictive beat-em-up Castle Crashers. Prior to that they released a nice homage to classic shooters in the criminally overlooked Alien Hominid and have now set their sights on doing the same to platformers in Battleblock Theater. Everything that made The Behemoth’s other releases enjoyable is present in their latest game and the amount of polish and love put into every bit of it shows from the gorgeous visuals to the tight gameplay. Although I haven’t even gone in depth as to what makes Battleblock Theater so good, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that this is the best XBLA game released this year and I wouldn’t be surprised if my statement rings true come December.
For starters, Battleblock Theater’s campaign is lengthy, challenging, enjoyable and downright hilarious. I can’t recall the last time a game made me chuckle this hard and the clever and silly writing had me rolling throughout the adventure. In general, the polish is apparent and the developers took their time to release a product they have every right to be proud of. Along with releasing a beta version to bug-test their game prior to release, months later they are still supporting it with constant updates and new unlockables. Paired with another excellent soundtrack that The Behemoth is known for and you’ve got a wonderful presentation for Battleblock Theater.
Aesthetics aside, Battleblock Theater has so many different mechanics at it’s disposal furthering it from many of it’s platforming counterparts. Though the game can be played in single-player, they’ve actually reworked the design for every single level to include a two-player co-op version requiring crafty teamwork to succeed. The single-player is addictive but the multiplayer is truly where the game shines. Careful planning and timing is integral for your team to succeed and nothing beats the feeling of finishing a difficult level with your partner. Of course, if you prefer competitive gameplay then Battleblock Theater has you covered as well with nearly a dozen different game modes to enjoy. Whether you fancy a game of basketball or just prefer a take of capture the flag, there’s enough game types available to ensure that you’ll find something you like. What’s great as well is that if you somehow finish every level and grow tired of the MP, there are tons of user-created content to enjoy as well as a level-editor for all you creative types out there. At a mere $15, you get all of this great content and by far one of the best values available for the XBLA. If you haven’t played it yet, there’s no reason at all while you shouldn’t go and download this gem right now.
The Xbox LIVE Arcade is home to a ton of great games some even rivaling their retail counterparts. If you’ve already played the above five and are still craving some more arcade goodness, check out my 15 Must-Play XBLA Games article I wrote last year. Thanks for reading and feel free to tell me your favorite XBLA game of 2013 or which Summer of Arcade game you’re most looking forward to.