Tag Archives: Xbox Live Arcade


Limbo is one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played. You could pick any number of arty independent games to compare it to – Braid is the lazy, obvious one that I bet will turn up in countless reviews, but I think And Yet It Moves and Rorschach are closer to the mark – but take a moment to just look at it…

It’s gorgeous. Dark, bleak and atmospheric, feeding the sense of foreboding with the visuals as you’re never quite sure whether that movement at the edge of the screen is just smoke or the limb of a giant spider.

It’s a hard, almost impossible game to finish without dying, but that’s like a learning experience. It’s even more intrinsic to the gameplay than, say, Demon’s Souls; whereas that was an arse about it, it’s a joke in this game, which will gleefully trip you up and put you back a few steps with no penalty and the knowledge of how to bypass the next trap. The perfect example comes about a third of the way in, when what looks like a suspiciously obvious plunger beneath a large press – obviously that’s going to trigger it to drop and crush you, you’d think – turns out to be the safe spot as the innocuous-looking ground turns out to be what will kill you.

That’s funny to me, but what made me laugh out loud was that this mini-puzzle was immediately followed by an almost identical one, except on this one the plunger was the trigger, crushing you if you made the obvious assumption that both were set up the same. It’s emblematic of the dark humour that permeates every aspect of the game, from its visuals to its gameplay.

Limbo isn’t a long game, but it’s only a bit over a tenner, and I don’t have a problem paying that much for such a great, unique little experience. I highly recommend it because, like Braid, this sort of thing deserves support. A lot of love – and a bit of hate, quite possibly – went into this game.

Best of 2009 #6: Battlefield 1943

Look at how far downloadable games have come. From Geometry Wars and 16-bit arcade ports to what basically amounts to a fairly significant chunk of the classic that is Battlefield 1942, all completely remade for DICE’s latest engine and with all the next-gen goodness that it entails.

OK, so it wasn’t as feature-filled as other, similar stuff like Warhawk, and it did only have three recycled maps, but Battlefield is Battlefield, and I’ve loved this series through 1942 and Battlefield 2 – I pretend that Battlefield Vietnam didn’t happen, as does DICE from the interviews I’ve read. 1943 was a blast to play online, as I did for many, many hours – it’s only the second 360 game that has moved me to relieve it of all its achievements – and even now, with Bad Company 2 on the horizon, I’d gladly drop points on some new maps for it.

For all the cynicism surrounding World War II as a setting for a new(ish) video game, there’s something to be said for driving a unwieldy great big hunk of metal through some destructible trees in pursuit of some little bugger who’s after your flag. Modern combat may be where the big bucks are these days, but sitting in an AC-130 is just far too clinical by half. Let me run someone through with a bayonet any day…

Shadow Complex

I may have come to Shadow Complex late, being that my 360 was apparently on some kind of world tour on its way back from a German repair centre on its release, but this perspective has allowed me to come to it (mostly) free of the hyperbole that greeted it on its release. But you know what? Is it still hyperbole if it’s correct?

I mean, when was the last time we had a traditional ‘Metroidvania’ game that really pushed that sub-genre forward? The DS Castlevania games are great, but aside from some touch-screen features they don’t do anything different to Symphony of the Night.

Shadow Complex

And while Konami’s been struggling since the N64 days to update Castlevania into 3D as everyone else has realised that doing Symphony with polygonal graphics would have been enough, Chair Entertainment has pretty much done just that. Live Arcade has been good to revising classics with current-gen graphics, and this is to the Metroidvania formula what Street Fighter II HD Remix was to 2D fighters. More so, in fact, since this brings to the table things that just weren’t possible with sprites and a firmly fixed side-on perspective.

Admittedly, it works best when it’s firmly a 2D game, with the aiming occasionally getting a bit sticky when you’re forced to aim away from the screen onto other planes, but it’s more like Super Metroid – my favourite game ever, incidentally – in that the combat, bosses aside, doesn’t really matter that much. Most enemies can be taken down with a few bullets and your later weapons can make mincemeat out of anyone. Even early on, pretty much any enemy can be taken down instantly and silently with a melee attack, aided by AI that ranges in quality from adequate to barely existent.

Shadow Complex

It doesn’t take long to get through Shadow Complex and find everything when compared to its inspirations – I finished with 91% of items in about seven hours, and polishing it off is a matter of spending an hour mining the final section – but for a £10 download game I’d really have to be picky to criticise it for that. It uses the technology to further itself, with some cool seamless storytelling ideas and clever sequences – raising the water level to defeat a particular boss results in a large section being completely flooded, drowning all the enemies for you – and some tropes inherited from Epic, like the in-game leaderboards for each Achievement criteria that shows you which friends you have to beat as you play.

I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have been disappointed with this as a full release. Maybe that’s my own bit of hyperbole and I’m blinded by my love for this kind of game, but if getting one more person to buy it brings us a step closer to a new Super Metroid of Symphony of the Night then I’m going to do whatever it takes. In any case, Shadow Complex is a certain contender for downloadable game of the year.

Monkey Island: Not-so Special Edition

Seriously, I feel like some kind of traitor by posting an opinion like this, as someone who owns every SCUMM game and would give the world for legitimate DS and/or iPhone versions, but The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition has left me quite disappointed. It’s not entirely the fault of the new version but rather the fact that the flaws of the original seem magnified with the shiny new presentation and without the full benefit of nostalgia.

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition

It’s not bad, though. The voice acting is excellent, bringing great delivery to the old jokes and with some great touches, like the way selecting the wrong riposte during an insult swordfight will result in a different delivery to if it was correct; the new background art is superb, with some nice enhancements to familiar environments – I particularly liked the ships docked behind the previously uninhabited Scumm Bar, for example (see above); and it even controls acceptably with the analogue stick, only becoming mildly annoying during certain sequences that involve time-sensitive manipulation of certain corrosive materials between receptacles.

I also love how you can switch between the old and new versions completely seamlessly, which is a feature that should be in more retro remakes. In fairness, I suppose having to keep the versions in sync was limiting in what could be done to update things, and it is quite technically impressive – I assume that the Special Edition is some kind of new ‘skin’ running on top of the emulated classic version. It shows when you occasionally get overlapping dialogue, presumably when a line runs out of time to run without bringing the two versions out of sync. On a similar note, it’s also a shame that you can’t play the old game with voice acting, but it seems like that’s more of a technical limitation than anything else.

But as nice as it is to see the original Monkey Island looking fresh, I’m not the biggest fan of the new art style. I thought that just flicking between the two versions on the close-up character portraits – compare this and this – shows the new style as really soulless, particularly when there are existing sources of inspiration to use when taking the Monkey Island series in a more cartoony direction.

All this makes me wonder if it really justifies the ‘Special Edition’ tag. The voice acting is the only absolute improvement, there’s no new content whatsoever, and the flaws of the original – my main beef is the to-ing and fro-ing when you’re going from place to place, in particular the arduous walk from the town on Melee Island to the overworld map, which you’ll have to do several times – are still there. If this was a DVD special edition, it would be from the days when ‘interactive menus’ counted as a bonus feature.

Even so, it’s still Monkey Island and I’ve already finished it twice in the five days it’s been out. It’s still very funny, only helped by the voicework, and I’ll be first in line for Monkey Island 2: Special Edition, if only because it’ll be a nice experience to play one that I haven’t finished several times before with the new look.

And, while we’re on the subject, how about those DS and iPhone versions?

Battlefield 1943

Remember when I said that Killzone 2 was the new Battlefield? I was wrong. Battlefield is still the new Battlefield.

This series is an old favourite of mine, going back to when I first got a gaming PC and played hundreds of hours of Battlefield 1942 and its expansions. It’s had its ups and downs, but few gaming franchises have reached the heights of the sublime Battlefield 2. That was the end of my affair with it, though, because after that the likes of Modern Combat, Battlefield 2142 and Bad Company just seemed like a step down.

Battlefield 1943

This, though, taking three of the maps from 1942 and porting it all to the Bad Company engine – complete with the real-time destruction that it entails – for only a tenner, is genius.

I see a lot of criticism doing the rounds, calling it some variance of Battlefield for babies, often with a dig at the console audience in there for good measure, but I don’t get it. Maybe it’s just that I’m a whore for this kind of games, putting countless hours into the good Battlefields as well as the decent pretenders like Warhawk – still the best game on the PS3, by the way – but I can tell that this will be a favourite for a long time. I still play Warhawk because it’s perfect for dipping in and out of, and having it there all the time, launchable from the hard drive, is extremely conducive to dipping in and out occasionally. Keep it fresh with new maps and you’ll keep me coming back for a long time.

Yeah, this only has three – soon to be four – maps and three character classes. Does this damage the game? Not really. This has been planned as a trim and accessible version of Battlefield, designed for new players and veterans, and everything from the consolidated classes to the infinite ammo – it recharges in the same vein as health now does in every FPS ever created – reflects that. I suppose you could argue that it’s ‘dumbed down’ if that’s your thing, but it hasn’t really affected my enjoyment. There’s something to be said for keeping things simple when your base product is already so good.

The first few days were pretty rough going, with a delightful combination of the expected DICE bugs – BF1942 still had launch bugs after gigs of patches – and EA’s always-wonderful server infrastructure, but the teething problems seem to have been ironed out and it’s smooth sailing now. It’s quite stable and things should continue to improve fairly rapidly, so this one gets a definite thumbs up.

2008’s Honourable Mentions

Not every game can be as good as Fallout, and indeed there are many excellent games from last year that I didn’t like as much as Mirror’s Edge at number ten but still deserve a mention, so here are a few more games from 2008, in no particular order, that fell short of making the main list but still deserve a mention.

  • Lost Odyssey – It was going to be between this and the game below for tenth spot on the list until Mirror’s Edge stormed in on Christmas Day and pipped them both. As one of the few JRPGs not to have disappointed this gen – I won’t play the well-received Tales of Vesperia until its PAL release – I found this to have likeable characters, an interesting story, and yes: some nice towns too.
  • Professor Layton and the Curious Village – When this became the surprise hit of the end of the year, it was well-deserved. It’s teasingly close to being a point-and-click adventure, it has a charming art style that looks like French animation, and Level-5 even managed to cram FMV cut-scenes in there to further the story. It helps, of course, that the puzzles and brainteasers are uniformly excellent and just the kind of thing to play on a handheld. Wait until the price has normalised and then give it a look.
  • Dead Space – It may be hard to describe this game in any terms other than its plainly obvious inspirations – Alien’s Nostromo with a dash of Doom 3 and a liberal sprinkling of Event Horizon, all topped with Resident Evil 4’s controls – but it’s still a highly satisfying and actually quite scary horror game. The companion animated movie is worth a rental as well.
  • Rock Band 2 – As I hadn’t bought a music game since Guitar Hero II, Rock Band 2 was my attempt to see how far things had come in the intervening generation of plastic instrument-based room-clutterers. Not all that far from the perspective of someone who only plays the guitar, but the boom in à la carte downloadable songs and the sheer amount of music that’s now on my hard drive to choose from makes it pretty irresistible. It makes you feel like a rock star and fulfils all similar clichéd review quotes, and I’d imagine it’s even better with the room for a set of drums.
  • Geometry Wars 2 – Pretenders be damned, this is the only twin-stick shooter to play. Take the successful gameplay of the first one and give it six more modes and some brilliant music and you won’t find many deals that are as obviously worth getting as that. Played on a big 1080p TV with surround sound, it may well give you a seizure, but you’ll have to agree that it’s worth it.
  • Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix – The degree to which I still love Street Fighter II has already inspired its own post, and this has made the other versions irrelevant. Looks great, plays well online, the balance tweaks are enough to actually improve things while not being sweeping enough to rile the hardcore, and if you disagree with any of those comments you can turn off whatever it might be that’s offending you. I don’t have a bad word to say about it, and it only didn’t make the final list because… well… no matter how good the game is, it’s still Street Fighter II again. Roll on February.
  • Persona 3 FES – This would have been in with a shout if I hadn’t played and preferred its sequel in the same year, but it’s still worth a look for its sufficiently different setting and tone. It’s also available for a pretty good price by now, so it could be one to bear in mind for when you’ve finished all your Christmas goodies.
  • Rolando – ‘An iPhone game!?’ you say? Yep. I liked LocoRoco a lot when that came out, and this is pretty blatantly ‘inspired by’ that game but with the benefit of what the PSP game lacked: tilt controls. It’s unfair to call it a clone, though, as it has a lot more gameplay variety and more creative level design, all designed from the ground up to take advantage of the iPhone’s particular gifts, and I might well end up making a case for it with its own post before too long. In the meantime, if you have an iPhone or iPod touch and are looking for a game with some meat to it, it’s only £5.99 and bodes well for the future of dedicated iPhone development.

I think that’s enough looking back for another year. See you in 12 months for more complaining about the state of [insert genre here].