Six XBox Live Arcade Recommendations:
- Braid: this is a deceptively simple-looking 2D puzzle/platformer with hidden depth. The big deal with Braid is time rewind/manipulation. Almost every puzzle requires you to manipulate time in some fashion for the solution, and the levels are almost universally excellent. The final stage, though, is genius... and this is before you then go star-hunting to unlock the alternative ending. It's possibly a mite pretentious when you first encounter it (there's a story to go along with the puzzles, but the true story is much, much deeper, and actually sort of blows your mind when you discover it), but this is offset by the sheer visual beauty and fantastic soundtrack. On the negative side, it's expensive at 1,200 points, and once you've worked out how to solve a given puzzle, replay value (star-hunting aside) is kinda limited.
- Geometry Wars Retro Evolved 2: The fact that it's the sequel is important, the older version is still available, and half the price, but about a quarter as good. This is a twin-stick shooter - you pilot your spacecraft about a 2D arena, shooting at neon-coloured geometric shapes that have various properties, collecting score multipliers as you rack up the kills. The visuals to this game are intense, and the first time you see it, be prepared for full-on visual overload, because there's so much happening on screen it's almost impossible to divine what's going on. There are six different game modes, each with their own particular quirks and features, my favourite of which is Pacifism. Replay value is off the chart: you will constantly be having 'just one more game' to try and beat your previous high score...
- Defense Grid: The Awakening: I'm new to the Tower Defense/Defence genre, but this is a seriously addictive game where you place towers with various characteristics about the game map so as to impede incoming swarms of aliens' progress. The game has a story, which includes a kinda shell-shocked, discombobulated British-voiced AI that talks you through the various towers you've got and the aliens you're encountering as well as dwelling on the horrors of wars past and reminiscing about raspberries(!). Hugely compelling, and as the levels progress, the difficulty certainly ramps up - part of the challenge is in preserving all the power cores you're trying to protect whilst using the minimum of resource to do so. I'm not very good at that bit. Yet ;-P
- Every Extend Extra Extreme: or E4, for short :-) Completely abstract game, where the object is to explode yourself in such a way as to cause chain reaction explosions through the waves of incoming snowflake/geometric shaped, um, 'enemies', and thereby build scores. Some of the enemies have power-ups (additional time, score multipliers, shields), and as you play, the chain reactions you can set off get longer and longer, until you can press a single button and then watch the screen just explode in mesmerising pyrotechnics for 30 seconds or more. Best played late at night, with the music up, and is, I concede, an acquired taste
- Shadow Complex: Metroid Fusion was the best game I ever played on my GBA - a 2D platformer/side-scrolling shooter where you guided your protagonist through a maze of, in that case, an abandoned space station, collecting power-ups as you went, uncovering the map and solving the mystery of what had happened. Shadow Complex is basically exactly that, for the XBox - it's a 2.5D thing - your character can only move in 2D, but can shoot about a 3D space, which takes some getting used to, but is cleverly executed. The basic story is that you're hiking through the woods with your girlfriend when you discover an underground lair in a cave complex that's the base for a conspiracy to assassinate the Vice-President of the USA. Definitely fun :-)
- Alien Hominid HD: looking at my icon, it's no surprise to see this one here :-) Alien Hominid is a basic, 2D side-scrolling shooter, the twist being that you're controlling the alien against the human baddies (such as the FBI etc). The art-style is fantastic (icon refers), and if you find the gore too much, you can switch the blood effect off to be replaced with flowers and stuff. Nonetheless, despite the Alien Hominids various moves, weapons and ridiculous power-ups, this game is pretty tough. But awesome all the same.