Feature: Xbox Live Arcade: Staff Favorites - Part One
Posted by Dave Letcavage
From mathematical space shooters to talking swords
With the Xbox One looming on the horizon, and a new marketplace set to launch with its arrival, the Pure Xbox staff has decided to take a look back at some of our personal favorite Xbox Live Arcade games ever to be released. We aren't necessarily saying these are the best of the best (though a few may be), but instead admitting that for one reason or another these are the experiences that left the biggest impact on us.
So without further ado, here's Part One of Two of our favorite XBLA releases.
For the asking price of Fruit Ninja Kinect, you get an awful lot of bang for your buck. The iOS versions of the game were addictive enough, but when you throw achievements, challenges, and superb motion tracking (it's as if the original Kinect was designed just for this game's sweeping movements, at times) into the equation and also consider what a great workout the game provides, you've got something that is a cut (sorry) above.
Being a massive fan of the first game, I wasn't going to pass this one up. Easily one of the most addictive XBLA titles available if you end up getting into a bit of a high-score battle with your friends, and far more varied than the original due to the selection of different game modes. The game's ability to keep you playing for hour after hour is driven by a great, sweat-inducing soundtrack. Superb.
The game makes it into my top three based on my absolute adoration of the film, mainly. That isn't to say that Scott Pilgrim vs. The World isn't a top-notch retro-influenced side-scrolling brawler, as it is. It's just that it probably wouldn't make it into many people's "best of" lists based on quality alone. The outstanding Anamanaguchi provide the soundtrack to a game that lives long in the memory, and which is great fun when there are a couple of you huddled around the screen.
A classic arcade puzzler featuring key characters from Street Fighter and Darkstalkers. The gameplay is simple - match falling coloured gems into rows or blocks, then destroy them using a Crash Gem of the same colour. The object of the game is to defeat your opponent by creating large chain reactions of destroyed gems which are then sent over to the enemy's playing field to disrupt their set-ups and fill their screen. The last person to fill their screen is the winner! Puzzle Fighter uses charming character design, catchy music and simple, yet addictive, gameplay to keep you coming back for more. Although there is a fun arcade mode, the real battle is in multiplayer, where you can delight in destroying your friends!
Easily one of my favourite XBLA games, An Elysian Tail is an action RPG with a heart. You play as Dust, who has awoken with no memory of his past and goes searching for answers accompanied by his guardian, Fidget, and a sentient, floating sword. The story unfolds gradually as you explore hours worth of gameplay, gaining new abilities, which allow you to reach areas which were previously beyond you. The best part of this game is the combat! As Dust gains new abilities, you'll find yourself gliding around the screen, sword whirling around you like crazy, annihilating enemies left and right. Combined with the glorious artwork the combat feels fluid and beautiful, once mastered, it is a delight to enter a large clear area filled with enemies as you spin, slice, fly and dive to defeat them and gather the spoils of war (required for crafting some of the more powerful artifacts in the game). Dust's only drawback is some annoying voice acting, which can spoil the mood a little, everything else is well crafted and tremendous fun.
Oh Terraria, why are you coming out on iOS so I have to buy you a third time? Essentially this is a 2D Minecraft, but in my opinion this game is far superior. The premise is the same - DIG! FIND STUFF! BUILD THINGS! But the guys at RE-LOGIC have added the thing that is missing from Minecraft - a point. Terraria has boss monsters and world events which provide reasons to keep exploring and upgrading your homestead, there are rare items to be found by exploring multiple worlds in single or multiplayer and, as items can be carried from world to world, there is still the simple motivation of wanting to gather enough materials for your underwater lava fortress. The controls have been ported onto console fairly well, making it possible to build precision structures or fight enemies long range without too many complaints about targetting. With lots of updates in the works, this is definitely one to check out.
This 2.5D action puzzle platformer is full of style and intrigue from the moment you load the game up. The story - nonsense. The acting - abysmal. The gameplay - phenomenal! Drawing inspiration from the likes of Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Shadow Complex excites with its fusion of retro titles with a more modern feel to exploration and combat. Throw into the mix a story that, while silly and overblown, is fun, brainless entertainment, the finished product ends up providing hours of gameplay and oodles of replayability. In an era when I thought the golden age of the side-scrolling platformer was pretty much done for, Shadow Complex just shows that there's still plenty that can be done with the genre. Here's hoping for Shadow Complex 2.
And to think there was a time I thought it was a stupid idea to mix the classic match-3 puzzle game dynamic with the intricacies of a full-blown RPG, but I was wrong. Puzzle Quest is a wonderfully simple premise which offers a lot of surprisingly in-depth content. The Bejeweled-esque gameplay basically replaces the combat system you'd find in any other RPG, and any weapons, armour, followers etc that you acquire along your adventures add skills and advantages during your puzzling combat. Being a lover of classic RPGs I just love the fact games like this exist, and Puzzle Quest offers a long, albeit basic story, with a sophisticated menu system other more dedicated RPGs could only dream for.
Stuck in development Hell for a good five years or so, I Am Alive's epic post-apocalyptic tale went from ambitious physical release to a more scaled-down XBLA title, and introduced some interesting new and original ideas to an overpopulated and diluted genre. I found it to be a brave decision to focus on problem solving and people management over all out action and gunplay, and it pays off. The bleak outlook of this hopeless, ruined world matches the grey, dank and dusty style of the game perfectly. Despite some slightly clunky controls, rarely a game appears on Live Arcade as stylish, emotional and essential as I Am Alive.
So what about you guys? Have any of our selections also had an impact on you? If not, what are your favorite XBLA experiences? Be sure to let us know in the comments below, and stay tuned for our second half of the article which will go live tomorrow afternoon.