Throughout the last few years, I have concocted a list of the best games for popular handheld systems such as the GBA and the DS. This year, trying to a go a somewhat new and unique route, I have decided to write about the best games to grace the Xbox 360’s Live Arcade.
Just about every Wednesday, a new game (or two) gets launched into the Arcade’s library. What makes this medium user friendly is the fact that every game can be “tried before you buy” through a demo of the full version. Ranging in price to $5-$15 (or 400, 800, or 1200 Microsoft Points), many of this year’s arcade releases are well worth the full price of admission while others…well, not so much.
If there is one thing that Xbox Live has taught the world, it’s that micro-transactions are here to stay and smaller, casual games have a place in today’s world of multimillion dollar budgeted titles. Microsoft’s way to get gamers to cough up more money for games they have already purchased is a great marketing ploy that not only increases gaming revenue, it also extends the life of games.
Best Action Game: Undertow
Like an underwater Star Wars: Battle Front, Undertow keeps the action fast paced whether you play online or with the difficulty jacked up. Not stopping until your opponent has been completely wiped out, Undertow is a great place to look if you need some action.
Best Adventure Game: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Ask and you shall receive. Fans have been bugging Konami for years to help satisfy their Castlevania cravings. Ported from the PSOne, playing the XBLA version is an easy and cheap way to play this classic title. For 800MS points, this is an absolute steal and should be downloaded by every Xbox Live user.[p]
Best Racing Game: Mad Tracks
There were only a few racing titles to hit the XBLA this year, but Mad Tracks stands out. Taking one part Micro Machines and one part Mario Party, this driving game will have you completing specific tasks like knocking pool balls into pockets or playing one giant game of foosball. Because this game is an original IP and even offers some extra downloadable content, it stands above the other racing titles this year.
Best Puzzle Game: Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo HD Remix
Many puzzle games were released to the Arcade in 2007, but props must be given to Puzzle Fighter. A cult classic, fans have been asking for an online version of this killer puzzle game for years. Even though Puzzle Quest is an outstanding game, the competitive edge is a lot stronger in Puzzle Fighter. This is one game that is worth every MS point.
Best RPG: Arkadian Warriors
Released just before the end of year, this game almost wins by default since game is really one and only RPG on XBLA. But fans of Diablo and Untold Legends will immediately recognize the similarities in this overhead view dungeon crawling RPG. Let’s hope we see more RPGs in 2008.
Best Sports Game: Sensible World of Soccer
When this game was originally released, it contained some fatal bugs that actually caused the developers to pull the game off of Xbox Live. But after a couple days, the title found its way back into the download queues of Live users, bug free. While Cyberball 2072 and 3D Ultra Mini Golf Adventures are not exactly bad games, they don’t keep the same pace as SWoS. Whether you play online or offline, gamers will be struck by sense of retro gaming as the 2D small pixel based sprites will remind players of the NES days.
Best Board Game:Carcarssone
Nerds have been playing this board game for years so it is only fitting that the XBLA receives an Arcade version. Normally 800MS points, this game was offered free during a 48 hour span when Microsoft released the latest firmware update. Mixing elements from games like Civilization and even Tetris, the goal of collecting more land than your opponent has never been so much fun. Also, I have to give a runner-up honorable mention to an XBLA creation of one of the most popular board games in the world, Catan.
Best Multiplayer Game: Bomberman Live
Many Arcade games allow players to pummel their buddies over Xbox Live. But in terms of Bomberman Live, gamers will literally have a blast blowing off the faces of all competition. Online titles such as Bomberman Live are perfectly fit for the Xbox Live Arcade as they provide quick, but highly entertaining gameplay at a low cost. Additional downloadable content is also available.
Best Updated Remake: Prince of Persia Classic
The Xbox Live Arcade is full of classic titles, but Prince of Persia truly stands out. Although it mirrors the original PC game, this title has been completely remade from the ground up, supporting an all new cosmetic look and feel stemming from the popular next gen versions. This is one game that is a remake but feels like an entirely new IP.
On a side note, Pac-Man Championship Edition also needs mentioning.
Best Free Game: Aegis Wing
Created specifically for the Xbox Live Arcade by a group of students, this free download offers a great way to boost your gamer score and have some fun in the process. Building off classic shooters like R-Type, the four player co-op features allows each player to combine ships to essentially form a larger, but more powerful ship. It is an interesting concept that has never really been utilized until now. If you have not done so already, you need to download this game immediately.
Best Beat’em Up: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Many Beat’em Ups found their way onto the Arcade this year, but TMNT is a must have. For a measly 400 MS points, you can experience what it is like to get your virtual ass kicked into submission. Although the difficultly is pretty high, you will still find entertainment in this title when you play online with three of your buddies. In fact, that is really the only way you will stand a chance at survival.
Sleeper Hit of the Year: Jetpac Refueled
Before Rare created the popular Donkey Kong Country series, N64’s GoldenEye, and Perfect Dark series, they created Jetpac. Playing as a guy with a Jetpac, the goal was to shoot and collect objects on a static screen, vying for a high score. Jetpac Refueled revisiting this oldie but goodie and gives it a modern day upgrade. Like the remake of Prince of Persia, this is one trip down memory lane you are going to want to take.
Most Innovated Design: Boom Boom Rocket
Ever since the Guitar Hero phenomenon, rhythm and music games have increased in popularity. Although Boom Boom Rocket isn’t actually the best game in the world, you have to give it props for it’s originally. Games that concentrate on making fireworks explode isn’t exactly the most commonly used gameplay mechanic.
Biggest Surprise: Marathon Durandal
Released during the summer months, this title acted as a way to start increasing the hype for the upcoming Halo 3. The Marathon series was a cult favorite on Mac computers and was made by members of the current Halo development team. Using the FPS style of gameplay, Marathon was one of the first games to introduce gamers to the dual wielding concept, a staple in the Halo games. Although the frame rate moves very smooth–the funky pace and will probably make the average gamer sick after 10 minutes of play (I am not joking)–it is still worth checking out. If you can withstand the entire demo of this game without throwing up, you should definitely purchase this game and witness the precursor to Halo firsthand.
Biggest Disappointment: Lack of RPGs
There are several games on the Arcade that possess RPG elements, but are not true RPGs. My questions is, where is the menu driven combat, built in vein of the Final Fantasy series? Perhaps if an original IP RPG was created for the Arcade, not only would Microsoft Point sales have the potential to increase, so would the sales numbers of 360 consoles in Japan.
Biggest Waste of Hard Drive Space: Yaris
How can a free game be one of the worst games to grace the XBLA? Easy. It is terrible. In fact, this game is so bad, it is not even worth suffering through to gain free Achievement points. I would not be surprised if players of this game purposely avoid buying a Yaris simply from this game alone, having a reverse marketing effect. This game is not worth your precious hard drive space…even if it is free.
What I Would Most Like To See in 2008: Lower Priced Games
I have no beef with releasing games at the 400-800MS Point price point. However, why not reduce the price of games that have been posted for a long time? Games drop in price at the retail level, so why not virtually? Microsoft tried this for just a few days in 2007, cutting the price of certain Live Arcade games in half. Like a swarm of flies, I was all over that s*** and purchased Gauntlet and Dig Dug for the low price of 200MS Points. If many 400MS and 800MS point games were lower in price, I would find myself running to the local gaming store to purchase MS Point cards much more often. This could be an easy way to get a few extra dollars through micro transactions. Plus, if your buddy has an Arcade game, you are more likely to purchase that same title as well.
Coolest New Edition: Downloading Classic Xbox Games
While technically not part of the Arcade, the ability to download classic Xbox games is a great addition to the 360 library. Although you can probably find most of the available games at your local GameStop in the bin for less money, it is still cool that Microsoft decided to take the time and effort in adding this functionally through the Live service.