- Buy the Games
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
uch like the App Store for Apple’s iPhone, Xbox Live Arcade has been one of the defining features in helping establish the Xbox 360 as the best all-around gaming console. Nintendo’s WiiWare and Sony’s PlayStation Network certainly have their share of good titles, but they’ve never released a collection of games quite like Xbox LIVE’s Summer of Arcade. Debuting last year with instant hits like “Castle Crashers” and “Braid,” the seasonal event was such a success that Microsoft decided to do it all over again. This year’s offering is pretty similar to the 2008 collection in that it includes both original games and revamped classics, and as expected, they are some of the best XBLA titles on the market.
1) Shadow Complex
Hands down my favorite of the bunch, Epic Games’ “Shadow Complex” offers such a rich experience that it could very well walk away with Game of the Year. Based on the Orson Scott Card novel, “Empire,” you play as Jason Fleming, an ordinary guy caught up in a very unordinary situation when your girlfriend is kidnapped by a secret military organization that you happen upon while hiking in the woods. A 3D run-and-gun side-scroller designed in the same vein as “Super Metroid,” “Shadow Complex” takes the fun of 16-bit gaming and modernizes it for today’s audiences. Power-ups and upgrades keep the gameplay fresh and exciting, while the graphics (powered by the Unreal Engine) look absolutely amazing for an XBLA title. Some may look at the steep price tag and scoff, but when you consider that you’re getting a guaranteed five to six hours of play time (something that not even most full-priced games can offer these days), it’s a deal that’s simply too good to pass up.
2) ‘Splosion Man
The only other title that rivals the sheer enjoyment of “Shadow Complex” is Twisted Pixel’s “'Splosion Man,” another old-school platformer with some truly awesome level design. There’s not a whole lot to the game other than making your way from point A to point B with the help of your explosive superpowers, but just like “Portal,” “'Splosion Man” turns a remarkably simplistic concept into hours of fun. Still, it’s not as easy as it sounds. For starters, you can only explode three times before having to recharge, so you really have to strategize when it comes to bouncing yourself off walls or using various kinds of exploding barrels to get to hard-to-reach places. The difficulty of the puzzles also increases with each new level, and with 100 levels in all (50 single-player and 50 multiplayer), you can be sure that “'Splosion Man” is a title with some serious replay value. Those who like their games with a sense of humor will no doubt fall in love the minute it begins. Don’t believe me? Just wait until you hear “The Donut Song.”
3) TMNT: Turtles in Time: Re-Shelled
After the massive success of the original “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” arcade game, it wasn’t a question of when “Turtles in Time” would make its XBLA debut so much as how long we’d have to wait. Unlike the 1989 edition, however, “Turtles in Time” has undergone a complete 3D graphical overhaul that adds a nice polish to the visuals. Some might argue that the update only ruins the nostalgia of the game, but it doesn’t really affect the experience of playing the game itself. In fact, there’s nothing quite like joining three other friends (locally or online) and beating up on some of the Turtles’ biggest foes, and as far as gameplay goes, it’s just as fun as you remember it. Sure, four-player co-op can still feel a bit crowded, and the game is surprisingly short, but there’s a reason for its extreme notoriety, and that’s because despite its obvious flaws, “Turtles in Time” has remained one of the most enjoyable arcade games around.
4) Trials HD
Best described as “Excitebike” for stuntmen, “Trials HD” may not have been very high on my list of must-play titles, but it quickly exceeded expectations with some mildly addictive gameplay. Based on the popular series of online flash games, “Trials HD” is a physics-based motorcycle game where players race through a series of tracks, each one more difficult, complex and dangerous than the last, without crashing or falling on your ass. Though it’s fairly easy to finish each track with the help of generously placed checkpoints (which automatically results in a bronze medal), completists will likely become obsessed with scoring silver and gold medals by replaying each level for as long as it takes. And if you ever do get bored with the 50 tracks included in "Trials HD," you can always create your own using the level editor. Better yet, if they’re actually any good, you can even share them with the rest of the Xbox 360 community to play as well.
5) Marvel vs. Capcom 2
By far the most talked-about title in the Summer of Arcade collection, “Marvel vs. Capcom 2” is so popular with fans of arcade fighters that you’d think it rivaled the granddaddy of all them, “Street Fighter II,” as the absolute best. Personally, I don’t understand the appeal, because where Capcom’s flagship fighter is both addictive and well-balanced, “Marvel vs. Capcom 2” is simply mediocre. The basic concept is solid enough, but the execution just isn’t as promising, with many fighters proving to be far more superior to others. It’s certainly a lot of fun playing as your favorite Marvel superheroes (or supervillains), but just like Midway’s “Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe,” the pairing feels weird. Those that do enjoy the game will find plenty of replay value in the new Training and Score Attack modes, but “Marvel vs. Capcom 2” isn’t the headliner it’s supposed to be. It’s not a bad addition to an already amazing collection, but for $15, I’d much rather buy a copy of “Shadow Complex” of “‘Splosion Man” for a friend instead.