E3 2011: The Best of PSN and XBLA
There are probably quite a few of you out there who, like me, find yourself strapped for time and often unable to find a solid 3 or 4 hours of free time to commit to the new hotness that’s burning up the world’s consoles. Even now, I could be getting caught up on some Zelda titles or LA Noir, long begging for my attention, but I’ve got work to do. Padinga work.
For those of us who are forced to get our games in quick-fixes, or are looking to get something creative from an indy developer at a more reasonable price-point, we’ve got the Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network online games, which have been fundamental in letting rookie game studios stretch their creative legs the last few years. In a time where blockbuster games cost millions to craft, and can only be birthed of established franchises, this is where the weird, wonderful, eccentric games come to thrive.
Swarm (UTV Ignition and Hothead Studios, XBLA/PSN)
As a fan of games like Pikmin, Lemmings, and Worms, Swarm comes as a game that was naturally a joy for me. You control a group of 50 Swarmites, all on a quest to get a new hat for their mom… or something like that. As you maneuver across the harsh landscape, your swarmites will all die horrible, bloody, and downright chunky deaths. Luckily, they replicate like crazy, and touching the eggpiles that follow the traps will replenish your swarm.
The game’s controls are pretty quick and fluid allowing you to instantly crowd up or disperse the Swarmites, and the humor is excellent, watching these cute little blue guys get cut up in this gruesome factory as you puzzle out all the obstacles. Like the games of the Oddworld series, though many will enjoy the earlier levels of the game, I see a lot of people crapping out midway through. Some of those puzzles are damn hard.
I had to include the trailer in this post. I get a chuckle watching all the horrid traps these guys get stuck in. Though, who doesn’t get a rise out of watching cute creatures get maimed, really?
Pixeljunk Sidescroller (Q-Games, PSN)
The most recent edition of the Pixeljunk series, Sidescroller offers fans of cave-shooters some new fun and excitement, in the vein of Lifeforce and Gradius. Visually, the game stands out with its unique, minimalistic framework, constructed from nothing but a solid mass of lighting effects. The real highlight of the game was the sound, however, from a very quirky and cool onboard ship-computer, to a rockin’, pounding soundtrack, I could have happily stayed put in those headphones all day.
Okabu (Handcircus, PSN)
Comin’ at you from the ‘bat-shit crazy’ department comes Okabu, a game where your anthropomorphic animal avatars ride the back of sky-whales and attempt to combat the industrial forces that threaten to overwhelm your land with their robots and factories. Your band of eco-terrorists are armed only with plunger-harpoons and the tears of the whales as you use the objects of your surroundings to blow through enemies, traps, and puzzles.
The demo saw the various Okabu riders grabbing bombs with suction cups and dragging them over to sealed-off walls, then dousing their skywhales in oil, and flying over flame pits, so that the fire would follow the trail of oil over to the bomb, and destroy the wall. It was a nice quick puzzle, just a few seconds long, and part of a succession of brain-teasers that made up the level. Fun, unusual stuff.
Machinarium (Amanita Design, PSN)
A port over from the 2009 PC game, Machinarium follows the adventures of a junkyard-survivor robot, as he attempts to re-establish himself in the regular world of robo-society. The game’s levels are composed of a series of beautifully made color pencil sketches, and look like something from a Monty Python animated sketch. The colors are all dim and dingy, the gameplay slow and the puzzles often difficult; a player will have to stop and scratch his head more than once playing through this challenge (because, you know, that helps you think).
This game really isn’t a happy affair, between the lack of color and the long pauses during the challenging puzzles, but gamers wanting a cerebral workout will certainly find one.
Eufloria (Alex May, Rudolf Kremers and Brian Grainger, PSN)
Eufloria had to be the art-house game of the show, for the lovely soundtrack, simplistic graphics, and unusual play concept. If the Criterion Collection put Games on DVD, this would make the cut. And Hipsters would probably flock to it.
The game, originally called Dyson, is about a collective of trees that live on comets, floating in negative space. The trees bud off, and their seed pods look more than a little like birds… or fighter jets. The pods are used to traverse the space between comets, and fire at the seedpods of trees of other colors, ultimately trying to destroy the other tree, and take over the planetoid. What results is a game of RTS-like combat and resource management… and harsh lesson about survival of the fittest.
Papo & Yo (Minority Games, PSN)
I’m not sure my words really do this game justice… heck the trailer I’m going to post for it dont’ really do this game justice. Its unusual, sometimes abstract, and a heck of a fun puzzle adventure.
The level I demoed had the main character chasing down a little boy, presumably his son or a younger friend, who was creating doorways, cogs, and other strange traps with drawings. In order to catch him, you had to figure out the purpose behind each of these chalky devices, and use them to maneuver around the environment.
I’m not sure what this had to do with a frog-eating rhino, but it was pretty dang fun.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (Fuelcell Games, XBLA)
I really liked the look of this game and, like Bastion, its inclusion as an XBLA exclusive was a great disappointment for this PSN regular.
The game is about an alien who seeks to conquer a new world, but gets in over his head when he finds it to be… insanely twisted. The titular shadow planet is a twisting maze of black terrain, which comes alive with a flood of tentacles and eyeballs as soon as the little ship approaches. The player has to guide the ship through 8 environments, gathering the 9 tools of the ship, each with a different function (grapple hooks, magnets, lasers, shields) which can open up new areas in old areas, if you feel like back-tracking.
The game supports 4-player co-op and was a very fun demo, fighting against the harsh, bizarre terrain. Its like Invader Zim vs HP Lovecraft.
Toy Soldiers: Cold War (Signal, XBLA)
A follow-up to the very popular Toy Soldiers of 2010, this installment brings the tower-defense series up to the 1980′s. Personally I prefer this entry over the World War I era atmosphere of the first title, as it just has more flavor. Toy Soldiers had a pretty simple, original play mechanic, adding a new degree of control to the otherwise prevalent defense strategy genre, but the soldiers didn’t feel like anything new, their use of environment feeling very reminiscent of Army Men.
Cold War takes the same cool play mechanics, and ads some excellent 80′s humor. The toys in question are much more familiar to the fans of current video games, resembling GI-Joe and Rambo as much as anything else. Its an update that’s just enough different from the predecessor to make the difference. Presentation goes a long way.
From Dust (Eric Chahi and Ubisoft, PSN/XBLA)
This game looks a lot different than the epic promo art thats been shopped to us for the last few months. Its actually very plain looking when you play it. From Dust ends up as an interesting take on strategy games, as you manipulate balls of dust to build up or break down hills and valleys in order to keep the nomads of blossoming humanity alive. Your tasks will include clearing paths for people to follow, building up walls to avert floods and natural disasters, and rerouting water supplies to encourage settlements. Think Sim City on a different scale. Failure could mean humanity’s extinction.
Warhammer Kill Team (THQ, PSN/XBLA)
This twin-stick shooter may have been overshadowed by THQ’s other Warhammer 40k release. Too bad, really, the game is much simpler in its design, but the extremely zoomed-out camera style actually fits the feel of the tabletop game better. Now your small soldiers can take on floods of orcs and they charge onto the screen in seemingly endless hordes.
Warhammer KT offers players the choice of several different classes from the Space Marine faction, each with a different emphasis. The characters find power-ups, gear, and will level up as they unleash bloody destruction through all of their green-skinned enemies. (There may be more enemy factions, but the demo only showed Orcs) Nothing too new, but it was a solid game.
Crimson Alliance (Certain Affinity, XBLA)
This Dark Alliance successor hit the scene with an emphasis on fast, furious gameplay. The game promises reduced dialog, and an expansive inventory system. In fact, players don’t level up during the course of the game, pretty unusual for a hack-and-slash RPG. Rather, all stat boosts are acquired through the piles of loot that your party will pick up.
Other nice additions are things like class-specific secret rooms and chests, assuring that your character doesn’t ever get drops he can’t use, and also that your dickhead friend playing a warrior can’t steal and pawn your much-deserved Wizard’s robes.
The maps are also very terrain heavy, with the designers hoping to encourage exciting, well-thought out tactics and combat, offering their players a bit more than simply running into the middle of the screen and hitting the attack button over and over.
Those are the ones that caught my eye, but there are many others out there slated for the 2011-2012. As you can see, fewer and fewer of the games are getting overlap, mostly due to Sony and Microsoft having dramatically different publisher/licensing agreements. In the end, some of these download games may end up as a deciding factor in a system purchase, as much as any major release!