Archive for the ‘Xbox’ Category

AVOIDTony Hawks Pro Skater HD

Tony Hawk Pro Skate HD Case

Developer: Robomodo

Publisher: Activision

Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3PC

 

Tony who? Tony Stark? T Hawk? Oh, you mean the aging, 900 degree-spinning, lanky-legged, commercial face of skateboarding Mr Tony Hawk? The birdman himself – he really did grow into his beak…

Tony Hawk Child

Talk about a Nose Slide….

Ok, so maybe I won’t be asked to perform a eulogy at his funeral.

Forgive the rather harsh introduction, I actually have a lot of love for the skate veteran. Undoubtedly the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater titles helped to shape what has become a real interest in skateboarding. A combination of simple, frantic skating, and quirky somewhat ridiculous tasks, the original titles were immediately accessible and importantly, had real replayability. Moreover, the reward of short FMV clips displaying real skate footage of the in game characters is a brilliant bonus; it felt like an actual achievement, something worth working towards. Unfortunately, the franchise has made significant transitions throughout the many iterations over the years, including the infamous Underground series which made a slight stab at enhanced realism.

But now we go backwards, delving into the past, with the new Xbox Arcade release of Tony Hawks Pro Skater HD. It brings with it nostalgia, excited memories and… disappointment.

In age of ever increasing media entertainment realism, Tony Hawks Pro Skater HD simply doesn’t work. That isn’t to say that there isn’t room for arcade fun – this just isn’t it. It looks pretty, the controls are as smooth as ever and gameplay is simple. The problem is that it just isn’t as enjoyable as the original versions. Playing the demo repeatedly for an hour, I tried to put my finger on the central issue and I think it’s probably the speed of your skater.  There is patently too much pace, far more than was present in older games, which entirely damages the gameplay. Furthermore, the Warehouse level you are given to play is too compact to effectively manage this increased speed, causing you to overshoot and destroying your lines. It doesn’t help that the demo play time is a measly one minute thirty, despite the in game timer displaying two minutes – the typical objectives (like collecting ‘S-K-A-T-E’) are memorable but provide no gratification whatsoever when there is so little time to complete any more than one task. Perhaps this was intended as offering a tempting teaser, or possibly an exciting challenge. I just see it as a restrictive removal of freedom inducing a sense of linearity.

The one saving grace is the incredible soundtrack, comprising tons of songs from the original games, including ‘Superman’ by Goldfinger and Millencolin’s ‘No Cigar’. Yet, even the great audio accompaniment is not enough to save the game from inevitable obscurity. Jump back on Skate instead, or why not dust off the original Tony Hawks titles?

DOWNLOAD: The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead XBox Case

Developer: Terminal Reality

Publisher: Activision

Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3PC

 

Zombies, zombies everywhere and not a brain to… use.

While the gaming industry is known for regularly jumping on the bandwagon of a successful genre/theme, only to rattle out tired, ill-thought titles while it’s the ‘in’ thing (I swear I’ve sneezed longer than AVP had dev time), games featuring zombies are refreshingly sparse.

Ok, perhaps sparse isn’t the right word but they’re certainly kept to the realm of sporadic, good quality titles – Resident Evil, Left For Dead, Dead Rising, Dead Island and now, The Walking Dead.

I’m always troubled when games are being adapted from cult television, cinema or literary hits. Inevitably there is going to be something lacking when the original source is already held with such high esteem. Few adaptations have ever produced something that mirrors the original, or more importantly, something that is fresh and reinvigorates it.

The Walking Dead manages this with aplomb. Now on it’s third instalment, the series is well into it’s cycle, receiving top reviews and celebration despite the slightly hefty price tag (400 ms points per instalment).

Though I haven’t read the books, I have dabbled in the graphic novels and I love the television series. The Walking Dead game has managed to capture the same sense of desperation, the same empathy and emotional connection to protagonists seen in the original source.

Though the series initially appears fairly pricey, the cost is entirely justified. Each instalment is extremely replayable, supported by a game mechanic that ensures you are the driving force behind progression. The primary feature of The Walking Dead is a decision system whereby you must choose a particular action or verbal response, often in a limited time frame (choices are set up as QTEs, much like Scene It, without the annoying fucking announcer). These immediate choices force you to really consider the outcome of your actions, making your own thought process and planning essential, elements often overlooked in zombie titles. Most zombie-themed action games are pretty brainless, beyond the need to conserve ammo and health. Violence and head-exploding action seem to always come to the forefront, with relationships and the contextual impact upon them treated very superficially, or even entirely overlooked. Furthermore, having various ultimatums thrust unexpectedly in your face engenders a fervent desire to replay the game, deliberately choosing alternating options in order to examine the impact they will have. The Walking Dead is hugely replayable because of this, boosted by statistical comparisons at the end of each installment – once a chapter is completed you are presented with a screen detailing what decisions you made throughout and how this compares to other gamers.

In the interests of balance, the negatives. The game perhaps feels a little linear at times, though this is in the very nature of what it’s trying to achieve. It’s not a sandbox or an rpg, it’s a simple action title that wants you to feel trapped and claustrophobic. Puzzles aren’t the most difficult that you’re going to find in a game, but they don’t need to be. The story is so engrossing and you are so engaged by the decision making process that you genuinely feel your choices have an impact on the outcome of each instalment. This feeling imbeds you right in the centre of the story, a rare occurrence these days.

The Walking Dead, download it now. Because a skateboard would be useless in a zombie apocalypse, Dead Rising taught me so.

Advertisements

image

AVOID: Binary Domain

Binary Domain Box Xbox 360Developer: SEGA

Publisher: SEGA

Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC

 

With some impressive titles under their extensive belts, games developers SEGA bring you a new third person shooter in the form of
Binary Domain. The trouble is, it’s just not worth playing.

As shooters go, the concept is interesting. You play a team of future soldiers attempting to rescue Tokyo from a 2080 robotic invasion. That’s where the intrigue ends.

Why? Because it’s Gears of War 4. Everything about this game reeks of Epic’s renowned sci fi shooter series. Binary Domain has exploited various features directly from the franchise, including the cover system, roady run, weapon inventory menu, blindfiring, bleed outs, grenade animation and the hilarious quota filling found in the core team (White American? Check. Huge Black guy? Check. Woman? Check). Now although these features are staples of most third person shooters (ok, perhaps ignore the last one), the way they look and function in Binary Domain is unequivocally Gears-esque. This is entirely unforgivable considering how acclaimed Gears of War is, and undoubtedly SEGA is aware of this.

The robotic enemies are interesting, though I found myself becoming tired of them just in the demo, and the ‘Trust’ system which affects your team mates’ obeying of orders has the potential for being a unique addition. It’s just not enough though.

I applaud SEGA for giving you two playable levels, it’s generous of them. Ironically, it’s worked completely against them however. The first level plays well, it’s engaging and almost, ALMOST, exciting. This is as a result of the pace and variety of action that awaits you. Then you play the second level and this all goes out the window. Binary Domain suddenly becomes tedious and unadventurous, just another mediocre shooter.

Binary Domain. It’s tired, it’s been done before. It’s Gears of War. Save yourself the time and just play the original.

DOWNLOAD: Minecraft 360 Edition

Minecraft 360 Box Xbox 360Developer: Mojang, 4J Studios

Publisher: Mojang

Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PC

 

Minecraft is a creative triumph, offering glorious respite from a gaming market saturated with guns, blood and an ever-increasing sense of linear realism.

After the cult success of Minecraft for PC in 2011 (as well as for iOS and Android), developer Mojang has caved in to consumer demand and released a version for Xbox Live Arcade. The Swedish developer, fronted by creative genius Markus ‘Notch’ Perrson, worked in conjunction with Scottish devs 4J Studios (also responsible for XBLA ports of Banjo Kazooie and Perfect Dark) to make the transition to the Microsoft console. Importantly, Notch has stated publicly that the game will only be available for Xbox 360 as a console platform.

Though I’m sure you have some idea about what the game entails from the massive publicity or the interesting merchandise, I’ll give a brief description. Essentially it’s a sandbox creation game, allowing the player to forge his own world out of pixel-like 3D cubes. You must investigate your surroundings, mine resources, create buildings, tools, weapons and all manner of luxury items in order to sustain yourself. Along the way you’ll also need to protect your character and your constructions from monsters of the night who threaten to attack you and everything you’ve built. The game really is what you make of it.

Though Minecraft 360 Edition is currently based on an earlier Beta version of the PC release, there are some interesting additions including 4 player split screen, 8 person online multiplayer, Kinect functionality, and a comprehensive in game tutorial, notably lacking from the original.

The inclusion of this tutorial is vital for your first jaunt into the world of Minecraft. It explains the basics of mining resources, your inventory, and combining materials to generate new ones. After completing it you feel sufficiently prepared to release those creative juices, especially in the completion of your house – you’ll see stolen beds and fences all over the shop! The tutorial is enjoyable, slowly learning the game mechanics in a manner of structured guidance that also affords you some creative freedom; you can mine as much wood as you like, and explore the small opening area for the entire demo if you so choose.

However, the real wonder of Minecraft is revealed when the tutorial is completed, as you exit the miner’s house into a beautiful open landscape. The tutorial felt somewhat like looking out into the world through a keyhole, but suddenly the player gets a significant glimpse into the actual scope of the game. No spoilers, but what you see really captures your imagination about what can be created and across what sort of expanse (that miner’s house you developed and were pretty proud of? Well yeah, now it looks like a bungalow in Hackney). From this point on you are aware of Minecraft‘s true majesty, and you cannot help but be completely enthralled by it. Until the short demo runs out that is…

… but then you play it again! I myself played the trial three times straight off the bat, my appetite whet for exploring this foreign land. The combination of limited demo time and the gradual exposure of the picturesque landscape successfully engages your curiosity, demanding that you play again to discover what you may have missed the first time round. It’s been a long time since I’ve replayed a demo so excitedly, forming an ideal mindset for future purchase.

Games like Minecraft 360 Edition are few and far between. Make sure you at least try this one out!

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 Banner

With trepidation I hesitate to admit that I’ve racked up an unhealthy 13 days on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2‘s multiplayer. Though this is likely to figure me as a target of ridicule (from Battlefield fanboy’s and the general populace alike), I still play it now. MW2’s multiplayer is wonderfully addictive; the varied maps are pleasantly spread across long and short range maps, they’re well designed and perfectly suited for facst-paced shooting action. It was flawless…. well, Commando aside.

With this is mind, I pre-ordered the Elite edition of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, eager to get my hands on what I entirely expected to be the next big waste of my life. It sold for a pricey £90, but knowing that it included access to all three DLC drops (all of which I purchased for Modern Warfare 2) and a yearly subscription to the Call of Duty Elite service, my fears were suitably assuaged.

How wrong I was.

So far I’ve racked up a measly 20 hours, my FPS addiction preferably satiated by the superior Battlefield 3. So where did it all go wrong?

Experimentation is the key. Rarely do I chastise a franchise for experimenting with a system that, let’s be honest, is a little stale. However, when reinventing a series that is so well-established, and loved, it’s vital to ensure that developers inject some new life whilst maintaining the key features that initiated success in the first place. This is where Activision let the ball, rather the grenade, drop.

For me it comes down to two key failings:

– General game design, and

– A misguided attempt to mimic the market opponent Battlefield.

Essentially, maps are poorly designed. The selection is far too limited, tailored singularly for close combat. Yet conversely, Activision have implemented new features that are more suited to the team-based range warfare of titles like Battlefield 3. The addition of a three tier Strike Package – formerly known as Killstreak Rewards – only serves to confuse a game that was celebrated for its simplicity. Whilst Modern Warfare 2 plainly offered offensive rewards for an achieved killstreak (including the likes of Predator Missiles, Sentry Guns and Pave Lows, now found in the Assault Strike Package), players now have the option of instead selecting from the Support or Specialist Strike Packages. Though this innovation is fresh and affords the player further specialisation of classes, what’s included is disappointingly redundant.

As you’ve guessed, the Support Strike Package is more defensive, targeted towards the benefit of your team including the likes of Ballistic Vests, EMPs and Recon Drones. The issue is that Call of Duty is NOT a team game. While inevitably the prospect of success is entirely subject to the joint efforts of each player in your team, there is no tangible team unity. You don’t cover comrades with suppressing fire, you don’t strategise plays, and you don’t work together –  beyond the vague direction that you are all shooting the same people. This makes these types of killstreak rewards entirely useless. I mean, who is going to choose an EMP instead of an Osprey Gunner?

And no, that’s not some kind of bourgeois hawk hunt.

At its core, Modern Warfare is a solo game. Yes, you are working towards team success in the long run, but when you earn a killstreak you are undoubtedly going to use it for your own benefit, that is to say, to extend your killstreak. This will take the form of Assault Package rewards like the AC130, rather than supporting your team with armour. What matters in COD is coming top, performing the best (KDR), regardless of whether your team wins or not. Tragically, this has been witnessed throughout Modern Warfare‘s online experience, with many players choosing to play strategy game types (like Domination or Sabotage) simply to achieve high kill ratios rather than working together to effectively execute the mission. It’s a one man army, this forming a primary reason why my loyalties have shifted towards EA’s uber shooter.

I will admit that the Specialist Strike Package, offering additional perks as you obtain uninterrupted kills, is a nice touch especially for those with a dedicated understanding of Modern Warfare‘s Perk system and how it impacts the game. However, unlocking a perk that slightly improves your aim or speed (until you die – unlike the other killstreak tiers) hardly compares to the immediate gratification of an enhanced kill ratio at the click of a button. It’s certainly interesting, but weighing up the potential benefit, the Assault Strike Package will always win.

There’s more though….

Some of the more quirky game types like Gun Game and One in the Chamber have been directly ripped from Black Ops, placed into a mixed server called FFA Gunplay which also includes the new All or Nothing. This manoeuvre in itself can be infuriating; after all, the three game types are so different and you may only be interested in playing one of them. I myself have a particular penchant for One in the Chamber, highly reminiscent of Golden Gun matches from Goldeneye 64. Black Ops managed to provide them all as single game lobbies so why is there the need to create a mixed lot Activision?

The biggest issue I have with these game types though is a product of the game’s general flaws. They’re unbalanced, infuriating and simply not fun. The maps are often too small and enclosed to provide suitable combat grounds for these particular game types, especially noticeable in Gun Game. Worse still, the idiotic lack of varied spawn points results in ridiculous respawn traffic, whereby you often find yourself appearing round a corner from an opponent or even directly in front of them. Clearly this is hazardous during one hit kill games. Whenever you respawn it becomes entirely necessary for the player to immediately check behind them which only leaves them vulnerable to attack from the front.

As a result of these significant failings, Modern Warfare 3 promotes a single strategy: Turtle Beach camping. With spawn points being haphazard and illogical, it makes little sense to sprint around the map awaiting inevitable death from behind. Instead you will find many people camping in a corner to ensure their posterior is free from spawn kills whilst keeping a wary eye in front of them. The additional use of a Turtle Beach headset enables the player to hear exactly what direction enemies are arriving from.

As you can imagine, this makes for a tedious online experience.

So twenty hours and £90 down. The verdict? Stick with Modern Warfare 2, you won’t be disappointed.

Games are becoming easier and easier to access right from the comfort of your home. Whether it’s digital downloads or simply your friendly neighbourhood delivery service, you no longer need to leave the house in order to access the world of games at your disposal.

The trouble is though, games are now too accessible, and there is swiftly becoming too many of them! You’ve got full titles, DLC, arcade and indie games, the list in endless. There simply isn’t enough time to try everything out, even just brief demos… what we need is some guidance.

Step in Hammy, with the new feature ‘Trial or Error’.

I will play the multitude of trial games, meaning you don’t have to, offering guidance on which titles are worth your time and which ones should be avoided like the daily reruns of Rules of Engagement. Bloody elvish David Spade.

AVOID: Ninja Gaiden 3

Developer: Team Ninja

Publisher: Tecmo

Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, Wii U

 

Well, you know what they say, ‘the best things come in pairs’. Perhaps Team Ninja should have listened to this old adage before they embarked upon the third installment of their hack n’ slash series Ninja Gaiden. The demo is indefensibly poor, hampered by generic narrative, an over reliance on QTE, and a combat system that no longer rewards you for proficient knowledge of its intricacies.

Perhaps the biggest crime is that it’s simply not fun. When a game revolves around the merciless killing of enemies, with a multitude of death-bringers in your arsenal (swords, claws, scythes), then it’s completely unforgivable for it to be anything less than exciting and gratifying. Unfortunately for Ninja Gaiden 3, it’s well below par, feeling tedious and dishearteningly unoriginal. Worse still you are completely unable to appreciate any of the combat animation as a result of its speed and the needlessly close camera focus.

And why is it that when developers struggle with new iterations of their franchise they seek an ostensible solution in the use of jolly ol’ blighty as a setting. (Grand Theft Auto, Modern Warfare 3). It may well curry favour with UK fans, but it doesn’t make up for failings in other areas.

They did make the start menu read horizontally though; innovation at its finest!

Avoid Rating: 9/10 (the equivalent of avoiding ITV2 if you have no desire to watch tantastic entertainment degenerates Katie Price, Peter Andre or Kerry Katona).

DOWNLOAD: Fez

Developer: Polytron

Publisher: Polytron

Platforms: Xbox 360 Arcade

 

Finally, a game that does everything right.

With Fez, independent developers Polytron have managed to deliver exactly what Ninja Gaiden 3 failed to: originality of concept and execution. You take the role of Gomez, a pixelated miniature version of Stay Puft (with a similar reliance on snazzy headwear) as he embarks upon a mystical 2D journey.

The narrative is pleasingly simple: collect golden cubes in order to access areas previously locked. The real conceptual majesty surfaces in how you manage to do this. Fez affords you  the ability to rotate levels at 90 degree intervals, providing perspective changes that reveal new areas and alternative paths of progression. This creative innovation is the primary reason that the game is so engaging; it’s a puzzler unseen before, playing with your perception, prompting curiosity and thorough examination.

For me, Fez is immediately reminiscent of Super Meat Boy – the charming pixelated 2D visuals, the magical combination of puzzler and platformer, all tied up with some wonderful bleepy chiptune. It’s another indie dev success, following in the footsteps of Braid.

It’s wonderfully simple, but immersive and thoroughly engaging. Give it a go now!

Download Rating: 10/10

In the last few days rumours have been spread suggesting that tech tycoon Microsoft are planning to abandon their gaming virtual currency – Microsoft Points – by the end of 2012.

Though an official Microsoft spokesperson refused to comment demanding that they “do not comment on rumours or speculation”, it has been reported that the change is to standardise a payment system for both their console gaming and mobile apps. If these rumours are to be believed, then all payment will now be taken in ‘real’ money, with transactions carried out in the primary currency of the country that a user’s account was registered with.

The implications of such a measure are yet to be seen, especially in this globally volatile economic climate, but we certainly hope that it does not lead to a swell in pricing.

Moreover, what is the destiny for the newly-instated Xbox Rewards Service?  Previously, Live customers were finally being rewarded for their loyalty with free Microsoft Points whenever you registered a new subscription through the site, or participated in promotions or surveys. How will this now function, will we be paid actual currency for this? Or is this being completely disbanded….?

Only time will tell…

Apparently it does? Wipe that smile off your face.

Developer: City Interactive

Publisher: City Interactive

Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC

Price: £17.99 on Play.com

I have been waiting to pick up this title for a while now, excited about the prospect of a game devoted to sniping, something which is disappointingly underrepresented in gaming. Games like Modern Warfare (‘One Shot, One Kill’) and World at War (‘Vendetta’) have successfully demonstrated how heart-racingly exciting sniping can be, especially the latter. Finally, a game supposedly based on the long range shooting strategy. How could it go wrong? Find out below:

Sniper Ghost Warrior is perhaps best described as mediocre; enjoyable but certainly instantly forgettable.

The plot is practically non-existent, jetting you to location after location with little plot continuity or development. Narrative becomes a sacrificial lamb, rushed, unplanned instead promoting the games greatest (perhaps only) feature – the bullet time sniping accompanied by a vicious kill cam. Undoubtedly, this feature provides endless fun:


There is nothing quite as satisfying as popping an enemy in the head, rewarded with more that just some additional score points. A kill cam is the greatest reward a gamer could receive, providing them with a glorious view of their accurate, deadly shot.

Unfortunately, everything goes downhill from there. Sniping is heavily affected by an inventive realistic ballistics system. This ensures that environmental factors affect the trajectory of your bullet, exacerbated when you are standing instead of crouching or proning. It is refreshing that City Interactive have attempted to inject some gaming realism beyond the modern taste for photo realistic graphics. However, disappointingly this system is not without its flaws. On the default difficulty setting the user is provided with an additional red dot on the reticule which directly shows where the bullet will make contact. As a result, the environmental factors are entirely redundant. However, on higher difficulty settings the user is faced with the other extreme; wind conditions are so variable that perfect headshots are nigh on impossible. Moreover, undermining all of this is the bullet time feature which allows the user to slow time temporarily, also highlighting enemies in red, to provide an unmissable shot. I appreciate that the developers have tried to introduce something new, it’s just a shame that it is ill thought and riddled with flaws.

One of the most damaging things from my personal perspective is that there is little effective use of sniping within the game. When I heard that there was a game called ‘Sniper’ my mind automatically raced, thinking of all the potential sniping missions that I will be on; assassinating terrorist leaders, taking out the tyres of an escaping vehicle, destroying lights or alarm systems to provide stealth cover, eliminating enemy guards, the possibilities were endless. This game doesn’t scratch the surface though. I expected Silent Scope as an FPS and what I got was a bad COD rip off.

All together now: 'Boom, headshot!'

Importantly the game is subtitled ‘Ghost Warrior’. Clearly this phrase is completely apt for the traditional strategy of a sniper: covert, anonymous killing. You’ve seen Leon right? This sort of strategy is certainly present here, highlighted by the inclusion of a silenced pistol and throwing knife, but it is often ridiculously juxtaposed with perhaps the worst assault rifle physics that I have ever seen. There are certain sections which force the user to use an assault rifle instead of a sniper. These entirely ruin the fluidity of the game, making stealth impossible and completely undermining the whole premise of the title. It is another example of ill planned development. More damaging are the actual physics of the assault rifles which have the worst recoil I have ever seen in a game (that’s not to say that I have ever felt the recoil of a gun in real life). It’s like Michael J. Fox has suddenly entered the campaign.

The sniping element to the game is further weakened by severely limiting linearity, created by poor map design and plot progression. Sniper Ghost Warrior ensures that the player must follow a very strict path throughout. This is enforced by the use trigger points interspersed throughout each level which must be crossed in order to initiate the next map marker, and an almost Totalitarian reliance on invisible walls. The idea of sniping, of covertly locating the most advantageous sniping spots to obtain the perfect hit, would be much better suited to a sand box title. As it stands, Ghost Warrior completely restricts the user in their attempt to strategise, a hugely disappointing limitation when the landscapes are beautifully rendered, visually vast but with no substance.

Looks exciting right? Well sadly it's not.

Enemy AI is pretty dire in Sniper also. The biggest problem is that there is a shambolic level of inconsistency. At times enemy forces have a perpetual lock on to your position whilst at others you are able to selectively pick off a group of four or five without them batting an eyelid. It’s this inconsistency which makes the game infuriating, particularly when someone kills you with an assault rifle from a range that would require the player to use a sniper to accurately hit them.

I’ll end with a note about the 12 man online multiplayer. Essentially, it’s a bit, well, meh. It’s ok, nothing more, nothing less. It suffers from awful connection problems, worsened by the fact that it backs you out to the main lobby after every single match. There is quite a harsh learning curve when you first play, making it vital to learn the functionality of varying rifles and map designs. It does feel rewarding when you do this though. Unfortunately, the few maps become very repetitive, very quickly and inevitably have more campers than Glastonbury. The fatal flaw of Ghost Warrior’s online multiplayer is that it actually feels quite exciting, highlighting how lackluster the solo campaign is. Although the more exciting features of bullet time and kill cams have been removed from online play – a necessary manoeuvre – you are constantly prisoner to the feelings of both excitement and fear. Adrenaline pumps as you dash from spot to spot, manically scanning the landscape’s foliage in the hope of spotting opposing snipers, before they spot you. This unnerving excitement, experienced in WAW’s ‘Vendetta’ (above), is sadly missing in Ghost Warrior’s campaign. This, accompanied by a discouraging range of other problems renders it, at best, a mediocre FPS.

Sniper Ghost Warrior 2 is due for release on 16th March 2012. Am I excited? Errrrrrr…..

Originally written November 24th 2010

Meaty frustration.

Not an innuendo. Not a description of summer barbecue mishaps. However, it is an apt description of XBLA’s newest super hero title: Super MeatBoy!

With a significant precedent set by Alien Hominid, XBLA (as well as WiiWare, PC and Mac) now sees another successful Newgrounds flash title being released. Developed by Team Meat – which always makes me think of Shaun of the Dead; come on all you Pegg fans – the game promises some of the most excruciatingly frustrating levels that gamers will ever attempt. For those of you who have played Hominid, be prepared for just as difficult a title, especially when trying to 100% it.

Mr Meat Boy. First name Super.

Right, to the premise. Despite having a name reminiscent of a porn actor pseudonym, Super Meat Boy does a Ronseal – exactly what it says on the tin! He is meat. Super meat. Apparently. He looks meat-like, if all you can afford is Lidl spam, and you squint slightly. Essentially he is block of meat, who goes out with another lovely block, although she is made of bandages for some odd reason. If this all seems a little too weird for you, it only gets worse, because you see, in the game’s opening cut-scene she is kidnapped (Oh no), by a foetus, with a doctorate. In a jar. Wearing a tuxedo. Although this appears a little ridiculous, the characters have a surprising charm, especially the foetus in the suit – he’s quite dapper I can tell you. The game then sees you play through level after level, boss after boss, in a Mario-esque endeavour to rescue your Mrs, another typical helpless damsel in distress moment. In the same vein as old-skool Mario titles (this reference it joyfully promotes – “Sorry Meat Boy, but Bandage Girl is in another castle”), it’s a 2D platformer, where the aim is to survive gaps, lava and enemies until you reach an end target; but it’s much, much more violent. Throw in some saws, spikes, lasers, missile launchers, and bucket loads of blood and you get somewhere nearer to what Meat Boy actually is. Perhaps the most relevant title to reference when examining Super Meat Boy is N+, released on XBLA in ’08. If you’ve ever played or even witnessed this title, you’ll understand the sort of threatening 2D level design and split second escapes that you can expect in Meat Boy, with a delightful nod to this game in the unlockable character list.

Be careful buddy!

Super Meat Boy is arguably one of the most irritating games you will play in a long time, but also one of the most enjoyable. The game is inherently addictive – as the level difficulty gradually increases,  you cannot help but retry after each failed attempt, edging closer to the end goal. With personal pride, friends leaderboards and achievements at stake, desperation consumes you, blindly refusing to quit, despite the red mist taking over and many a swear word being screamed. On that note, this game will cause some of the most violent outbursts that you have ever uttered – make sure there are no children, or nuns, present when playing because the filth you blurt out is sure to offend. A particularly nasty spasm saw me calling our meaty hero a “shitting bloody tampon’. I won’t be forgiven for that one I call tell you. Sorry mum.

But which one will survive?

Making the game slightly easier is a quirky little addition in that Meat Boy leaves behind him a bloody trail, like somehellish snail. This means that whenever you fail and re-enter a level, you’ll have a visual guide of paths to retrace in the areas you passed and where to avoid in the areas you were defeated. Also, whenever you complete a level you are treated to an instant replay, which includes a ghost of every attempt you had before you passed. Not only is this functional, providing valuable information of how to complete the level again if you want to retry for a speedier time, it’s entertaining, depicting a race of epic proportions as you witness various Meatboys competing for victory, trying to spot the one who will escape the wave of death.

With charming graphic design and gameplay that is both fun and challenging, the only thing required for Super Meat Boy to become a classic arcade title is replayability, and this it has in droves. The game encompasses 5 worlds, spanning 340 levels of increasing difficulty. Each world has four warp zones to be discovered (each providing a loveable reference to simple arcade gaming, interestingly similar to the Super Gameboy visually and accompanied by perfectly matched 8 bit soundtracks) and 20 bandages to collect. Amassing these bandages allows you to unlock 10 secret characters, each with differing abilities and Achilles’ heels, including the famous yellow martian Hominid and Tim, Braid’s ginger, time-moulding munchkin. Many games offer varying characters that bear no real significance for completing the game. Not so on this occasion, as certain bandages are only obtainable by using the very specific abilities of particular characters. Even if you’re not out to finish the game in its entirety, having more characters makes completing the standard campaign much easier. Unlocking them is a challenge, but the rewards are there….

Gotta catch em all

Now, down to the nitty gritty. How much is this bad boy going to cost me? Only 800 points… Come again? Yes, that’s right, just 800 points, about £7.50. Considering how much you get for that price, it’s a bloody bargain! This is especially true when DLC is going to be free, that’s right free. Team Meat have incorporated an unlockable section called Teh Internets, which enables users to download free levels directly, without having to shell-out more MS points. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Team Meat certainly know how to treat their patrons. Its frantically fun, tough, engaging and refreshingly difficult in an age where games developers often pander to those who won’t commit to a game for more than a few attempts. If you do anything before this year is out, spend the cash and let the little meaty superstar into your life. Your nostalgia for arcade gaming will thank you for it.