Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Download These Gems: hidden treasures on your Xbox 360/PlayStation 3

By Tyler Barber



With several huge titles like Grand Theft Auto IV, Fall Out 3 and Burnout Paradise coming to consoles in '08, I made it my New Year's resolution to pay more attention to the smaller guys. Both the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 offer smaller, downloadable games created by smaller development teams, and in some cases, by a single person. These are the games your girlfriend will actually play with you. Xbox Live Arcade, and the PlayStation Network house these little titles, and if you're not too accustomed to surfing your console's dashboard, you may have yet to notice the wealth of inexpensive gaming gems offered. Below I've compiled a list of stand-out titles out now, and ones on the horizon.

Multiplatform (Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network)



Bionic Commando Rearmed - Spring 08
The second-most exciting arcade game to come out this year, (see below for the first) is the remake of the NES classic, Bionic Commando. If you don't remember, Bionic Commando was an excellent adventure game that gave you a bionic arm to swing from ledges, cross gaps, and nab out of reach ammo. For Rearmed we get a superb graphical overhaul with fluid animation and dynamic lighting. A few new abilities -- like grabbing and throwing barrels and baddies, and tossing grenades -- bring some minty-freshness to the game. For the first time two-player co-op will give you some the much needed reinforcements for this excellent remake.


Puzzle Quest - out now
My latest RPG addiction is this puzzle game. In it, you basically play Bejeweled -- matching three alike items to destroy rows and columns -- but the twist is you have a persistent character that you level up through battles against various enemies with their own spells and tricks. You can even siege small villages on the overworld map to gain more loot. Puzzle Quest is available on several other platforms: PC, Nintendo DS, PlayStation Portable, but none of those can top the fact that the XLA version offers achievements. This was easily one of the surprise hits of '07. A must for RPG, and puzzle fans alike.

Xbox Live Arcade Exclusives



Castle Crashers - 2008, tba
From the creators of the excellent, and unnervingly hard, Alien Homminoid, (also downloadable on Xbox Live Arcade) comes a four-player beat-em-up in the vein of the old Ninja Turtles, and X-men arcade games. Behemoth's tiny development team pour personality and style into all their games, and this one's not short on either. Super-cute, graffiti-esque knights take on hordes of evil-but-cute looking dudes, and their larger-than-life bosses. This is without a doubt, the most exciting arcade title in '08. Simple, but beautifully executed.


Rez HD - out now
Originally a cult hit for the Dreamcast, and PlayStation 2, Rez HD is a great game to put on during an acid trip. With simple vector graphics and trippy visual effects that are synced with the music, this remakes sports widescreen and HD output. A bit hard to describe, Rez is one of those games you've just got to experience. Swiping your cursor over the enemy sends out an attack to the tune of varying instruments that go along with the drum and bass soundtrack. When things heat up, and you've got several enemies on the screen, the music pumps right along with the franticness, adding to the sense of urgency.


Exit - out now
This excellent action-puzzler was first released on the PlayStation Portable, but didn't receive the sales that it's originality deserved. Exit casts you as this everyday man, saving people from burning buildings. Sounds a bit oversimplified? Well, don't think about it too much, the basis of the gameplay relies on traveling up and down elevators to reach stranded civilians, where you then lead them to safety. Not only fun, this game offers a very unique Dick Tracy style that helps punctuate the action.


PlayStation Network Exclusives



Echochrome - 2008, tba
Part M.C. Escher, part puzzler, this game takes super simple graphics, and has you turning the world to make it's illusions work for you. For example, say a path has a gap that you're dude needs to pass. In Echochrome, all you have to do is swing the stage around so that a column blocks your view of the gap, and voi-la, you can walk right past it. The basis of the gameplay is all about subjective perception, and how you can use it to navigate each stage to it's end. The best part? Infinite replayability because you'll be able to create, and share your own stages on PSN.


flOw, and flOwer - out now, and 2008, tba (respectively)
Jenova Chen and Nicholas Clark first created flOw as their thesis project for the University of Southern California, which later got picked up by Sony, and distributed through PSN. Their follow up, flOwer, remains a mystery, but if flOw is any indication of what they're planning for flOwer, expect it to have gorgeously rich visuals, probably some pollen-type migration, and definitely another game that can be enhanced by the use of narcotic drugs. Check out flOw now, and wait for flOwer later this year.


Everyday Shooter - out now
One man, Jonathan Mak, created this fantastic top-down shooter. To hear Jonathan describe it, Everyday Shooter is, "...an album of games exploring the expressive power of abstract shooters. Dissolute sounds of destruction are replaced with guitar riffs harmonizing over an all-guitar soundtrack, while modulating shapes celebrate the flowing beauty of geometry." In it, you're basically an abstract dot, flying around an abstract world, shooting down shapes, while procedurally generating the music that coats the experience. Simply the richest visual and audio of all the arcade titles.