Monday, September 1, 2008

Best of Xbox Live Arcade

Lately I've been doing the majority of my gaming with my XBLA games. It's a combination of not having enough money to buy expensive new games for the Xbox and there being some great downloadable titles out there. So I figured it's time for a top 5 list! Sure, they're pointless exercises in conceit but hey, no one's looking anyway. So I'll go ahead and indulge myself. I love writing these damn things as much as I love reading them. Here are the top 5 Xbox Live Arcade games in no particular order.

Pacifism in Geometry Wars 2.

Geometry Wars 2: The original Geometry Wars felt more like a throwback to my younger years in the arcades than any other game the service offers. Nothing to explain, easy to pick up and play, hard to put down. GW2 took an already great classic game and improved upon it. In addition to the orignal "kill everything and aim for the High Score" gameplay mode, the sequel adds some fun new modes to the mix. The best of these is Pacifism, where your ship cannot fire and must destroy the ever-growing mob of enemies by flying through gates that appear randomly. There is also a timed mode, a mode that involves flying from safe zone to safe zone (King) and a fast-paced, chaotic mode called Waves that becomes hopelessly hectic in a short time. Geometry Wars 2 captures your attention, keeping your focus glued to the game until the end. It has provided several of those "holy crap I haven't blinked in a hell of a long time" moments.

The thoroughly awesome and impossibly expensive super-ultra-comes-in-a-wooden-treasure-chest edition of Settlers of Catan.

Catan: Settlers of Catan made the transition from board game to Xbox Live with everything in tact. It's a great blend of strategy and chance that involves setting up territories near resources, building roads and new settlements and robbing your opponents. Each resource node in the game is given a number, and when that number is rolled everyone with an adjacent settlement gets that resource. It's a relatively simple to learn board game, and it's a gateway drug for more complexe strategy board games. It's the main reason we've spent the last couple of years at Gen Con playing and buying board games.

Puzzle + RPG = fun.

Puzzle Quest: Puzzle Quest took the addictive old "match 3 colored gems" gameplay of Bejeweled, added RPG elements and somehow the results were pure gold. Assuming you find gold impressive, that is. Your character can equip weapons and armor, gain experience levels and learn skills, so there is always a sense of progression in the game. Matching gems gives you mana which is used to fuel spells and skills, and there's that blend of skill and randomness that many of the best games have. There are 4 different classes to choose from, giving the game lots of replay value. Puzzle Quest isn't limited to Xbox Live - odds are, if you have any sort of electronic device, you can play Puzzle Quest on it. And you should. Now.

The evolution of Pac-Man.

Pac-Man Championship Edition: Namco Bandai took the classic Pac-Man game's weakness (an ever-unchaging stage) and made it a strength. The stages now morph as you play, and you can also chain together power pellets to rack up a huge score. These 2 simple changes make a world of difference, and this 30 year old game feels fresh and new again. My only beef with the game is that all the different game modes are timed, it could have benefitted from a classic "play until you run out of lives" mode. And a multiplayer mode of some sort. These shortcomings don't make it a bad game, there were just opportunities to make it better.

Goth Metroid with whips? Sounds good to me.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night: As a horse's ass who missed out on this game back in the PS1 days, I will thrilled to see this available on XBL for 10 bucks. Thrilled as hell, let's say. Internet nerds everywhere refer to this as "Metroidvania," a Castlevania game using the mechanics of a Metroid game. It's an open game world where you are free to decide where you'd like to go, and you'll find several dead ends which remain closed to you until you find a skill or upgrade that lets you bypass it. There are also plenty of hidden areas and items you find for us "collecting stuff" junkies. This game is a classic for good reason.

These are my picks for the best Xbox Live Arcade has to offer, with apologies to Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride and Castle Crashers.

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