9 XBox Live Arcade Games to Watch For This Year
There’s no denying that the videogame industry is becoming a powerhouse, and with that we are seeing more high-budget, blockbuster games coming from massive developers than ever before.
But what about the smaller games, from smaller developers? The games with charm and style and character? The games that take risks and experiment with gameplay styles that big developers might be unwilling to try?
Luckily, with the seemingly unstoppable growth of the industry is coming something of a renaissance for indie-style gaming; online gaming portals like XBLA are not only giving us a way to get the little guys’ games easily, but they’re also giving those smaller developers a way to make a living of their games, by harnessing the profit-making potential of the throngs of console gamers out there.
The result is that some of the smartest, most exciting, most experimental, and most interesting games are making their way to the mainstream. So without further ado, here are nine of those games!
BOUNCE (Tentative title) (Strawdog Studios)
Not a lot is known about the tentatively titled Bounce, other then that it may have cute little cartoon animals in it and may also involve bouncing.
What we do know for sure is that it’s from the same developers as Geon, which is described on its XBox Arcade profile page as a “fast-paced abstract sports game that lets you explore your emotions as you compete against opponents.”
Sound weird? Well, it is. But it’s also a lot of fun. With Geon, Strawdog Studios made a game with the simple gameplay and charm of old-school classics like Pacman or Marble Madness while managing to keep it relevant to today’s gamers. It’s safe to say we can expect some of the same entertaining, frenetic, off-the-wall interpretations of classic arcade-style play in Bounce, which is definitely a good thing.
According to Dan Marchant of Strawdog Studios we can look forward to some updates about this game in the near future, including a name change, so stay tuned for more info!
In the meantime a video of Geon’s gameplay ought to tide us over!
Wallace & Gromit, Aardman Animation’s popular dog and inventor cartoon duo, are pretty much the perfect characters for an old-school point and click adventure game in the same vein as King’s Quest and the Lucasarts series of games; Wallace & Gromit’s charming style, whimsical humour, and wacky adventures in invention mean the game is pretty much half done already.
All that’s left is for someone to develop it, and that’s just what Telltale Games is doing. Telltale Games are the same people who brought us the Sam & Max and Strongbad episodic adventure games, so you can rest assured that Wallace & Gromit are going to get a great videogame treatment.
Classic adventure-style games have almost become extinct in this day and age, so it’s good to see this game bringing back the fun, puzzles, and story-telling of this style of gameplay. Plus XBLA is pretty much the perfect forum to distribute episodic games with, letting people buy the game in discrete chunks at a reasonable price.
And on top of all that, this will probably be the first instance of the term ‘cracking toast’ being used in a videogame, which in itself is noteworthy.
Cletus Clay is essentially a platformer like any other, with sidescrolling, shoot ‘em up action through a series of different worlds, except that the main character is an inbred, alcoholic redneck who regularly kills aliens with a shotgun.
Oh, also, every character, monster, and environment in the game is rendered completely with real clay and stop-motion animation.
This very uncommon approach to game art gives Cletus Clay an unmistakable style, and was enough to win Cletus an award for Excellence in Art at the Independent Games Festival. It’s great to see smaller developers taking novel approaches to graphics like this, and even better that we get to see them professionally distributed on XBLA; so few big-name developers would be willing to take the risk of taking such a radical approach to game art.
But Cletus Clay is not just pretty, it also looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun too. If you’re a fan of enemy-filled side-scrolling action in the same vein as Super Mario, then keep your eye on this game. If you’re also a fan of XXX hooch, then this game will be a must play!
Darwinia was originally released on PC a few years ago to critical acclaim, but is still difficult to describe. Essentially it is a blend of the real-time strategy, action, arcade, and god-game genres. But this description probably doesn’t do it justice, as the game manages to blend all those different genres seamlessly to make something that doesn’t quite resemble any of its individual influences. To put it simply, it has to be played to be understood.
The goal of Darwinia is to save the Darwinians — little digital life-forms who live in a virtual world — from attacking viri. What makes the game unique is how you go about doing this; controlling the little Darwinians involves more than just clicking on them and telling them to attack, because you have to manually choose where they shoot, making the game more than standard RTS fare.
The entire game is full of this sort of genre-twisting gameplay, but it doesn’t stop there. Darwinia’s award-winning graphics and art are also striking and original. Its portrayal of a virtual, wireframe world with 2-dimensional inhabitants is both sparse and lively, and somehow manages to give the world’s simple-looking inhabitants more character than the most painstakingly rendered models.
Darwinia has all that, and for the XBox release will even include Multiwnia, the multiplayer version of the game!
From Jeff Minter, sheep enthusiast and developer of the insane, trippy, sensory-overloading, musical sort-of-shooter Space Giraffe, comes Gridrunner+++.
The original Gridrunner++ was a vertical space shooter for the PC that was released long long ago. Since then, Jeff has developed a very unique, psychedelic style for his games that is one of a kind, and the new Gridrunner+++ looks like it is going to embody that development, both in visual style and gameplay.
So what can you expect in Gridrunner+++? Well, “sheepies” that you use as powerups, non-stop streams of abstract bullets all over the screen, and a vertical shooter experience that is far from conventional. According to Jeff, “rather than dodging through bullet hell you become bullet hell.”
By using gravity points, players can make their bullet streams arc, which will combine with the beautiful, colourful and kinetic graphics to give a classic arcade shooter-on-3-hits-of-acid look, making Gridrunner+++ a game that is not only a fun reflex space shooter, but also a graceful and beautiful experience.
But my mere words probably can’t do it justice. For an idea of Jeff’s style, check out the video of Space Giraffe below!
This game just looks like it’s going to be downright enjoyable. Looking kind of like Worms put through an old-school, real-time, 2D console blender, Rocket Riot may just be the game that will remind you of what it was like to play videogames when you were a kid.
The game will include, among other things, some very neat, pixelated 2D-in-a-3D-world graphics that look like a love letter to 8-bit gaming, hilarious sound effects, and destructible levels with tons of different missions to accomplish.
It basically looks like a charming throwback to days when games were a straightforward affair of firing rockets at enemies and collecting powerups, but it also looks like it is going to be a genuinely strong game that can compete with any modern blockbuster in entertainment value.
As usual it’s hard to describe just how fun this game looks, so check out the video!
Zombies!!!, the cult hit tabletop game that has spawned loads of expansions throughout the years, is set to make its debut on XBLA in 2009, bringing with lots lots of zombies (and exclamation points.)
What is Zombies!!! about, you ask? There’s not a lot of info on the videogame version just yet, but if it’s anything like its tabletop predecessor it’s going to involve an ever-growing horde of zombies for a group of players to escape from, and plenty of opportunities to mess those zombies up. And who doesn’t love messing up zombies?
Nobody, that’s who.
It’s always great to see an underground classic tabletop game make its way to a big-time forum, and it’s good to see that XBLA is making it happen. A lot of these tabletop games are well-crafted examples of get-together party games, but don’t get as much exposure as they deserve because of their unusual (and nerdy) medium.
But with a release on XBLA, more players get exposed to a great game they might never have known about before, the developers get some serious support, and alternative styles of gameplay get just a bit more mainstream love.
Plus, I mean, there’s zombies in it.
Continuing with the tabletop gaming theme, we have Quarrel. Quarrel is a game about words and strategy, like a mix of Scrabble and Risk. This probably sounds insane, but the combination of the two is actually quite ingenious.
Denki is a developer focused almost totally on making games that are fun. They go about this by fashioning games to be digital toys that are entirely designed to entertain and engage, and Quarrel is no exception to this strategy.
The goal of the game is to take over as many territories on the map as possible, like in Risk. The difference between this game and its tabletop influences is that instead of rolling dice to see whether you succeed in taking a territory, you play a word game and try to out-vocabulary your opponent in order to claim your stake on a piece of the map.
Clever game mechanics like these — that re-imagine the way classic games work by finding the crappy parts of good games and replacing them with fun parts — are what creative game development is all about. By removing the random element of dice-rolling from table-top style gaming, Genki are making Quarrel a game that is all fun and is accessible to everyone. The results look like they’re going to be a truly entertaining party game that will get everyone fully involved, by making the outcomes of the game depend on simple and familiar mechanics.
Plus it looks downright charming!
Finally on our list we have Blobbies Wars. Originally a DS title, Blobbies is ostensibly a cute little game about little blob things that eat each other to death. But there is much more to it than that.
As Blobbies makes its way to XBLA it will become what its developers are calling the first ever turn-based tactical party game.
Like Quarrel, Blobbies Wars is a blend of two seemingly disparate game mechanics, and just like Quarrel it looks like it’s going to combine them to draw the maximum amount of fun and minimum amount of suck out of each.
Blobbies Wars is made up of two parts. The first part is a tactical strategy game: Teams battle on a hex-based map by getting their blobbies to attack one another each turn, with the goal being to eat the other team’s blobbies. By using magic, special abilities can be performed to give your blobbies an advantage.
The second part, which sets Blobbies apart from other strategy games, is the mini-games. During the downtime of your opponent’s turn you get to play rhythm and reflex-based mini-games in order to get yourself more magic.
This is a brilliant twist on the genre that gets people involved with engaging mechanics, kills boring downtime, making everyone have fun all the time, brings an exciting and visceral aspect to the normally very dry turn-based genre, and finally, forces players to take their turns quickly, so that other players only have a short amount of time to accumulate magic.
I’m a big fan of turn-based games, but even the most die hard fans have to admit that turn-based tactical games aren’t exactly accessible to the average gamer. Blobbies looks like it’s going to bring turn-based to the masses, and I’m proud of the guys at Fishing Cactus for having the ingenuity, understanding and foresight to do it.
And with that concludes the list of games to look out for on XBox Live Arcade! Keep an eye out on our site for updates on these games and their release dates. And if you have any suggestions for games we missed, let us know in the comments, because we always want to hear about games we’ve missed!