Free Game (Limited Time Offer)

If you like free games, even games based on cartoons that you are 15 years too old to even care about, Ben 10: Rise of Hex is free right now on XBOX 360. This is almost certainly a mistake, but go log into your console, go the the arcade games, and download, download, DOWNLOAD!

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This. Is. JEOPARDY!: A Brief Review of the Most Exciting Fall Release This Year (Maybe)

I am a nerd.

Now, this confession is probably unnecessary since I am writing a blog post about video games, but it’s true! I am a huge nerd. In high school, I was captain of the quiz bowl team, which is like being king of the nerds, and because of that, I have always loved trivia games like Trivial Pursuit and Jeopardy!. After all, I kick ass at those sort of games to the point where most people won’t sit down and play them with me (thankfully, my wife doesn’t get much choice). When I heard that they were finally putting a Jeopardy! game out on the XBOX, I was overjoyed! Finally, I can stomp people into mudholes using my brain. Unfortunately, the game is a little underwhelming.

What is an OKish game to play, Alex?

Let’s get the least important aspect out of the way: the graphics. They are serviceable. You can use your avatar, but barring that, you can choose between 10 slightly customizable characters. The biggest gripe I have with the graphics is that the names of categories look a bit pixelated when they are introduced; shouldn’t the image be sharper since it is just white text on a blue background?

The sound is probably the best part about the game. Alex Trebek reads all the questions and answers, the music is pulled directly from the show, it even has the announcer from the game show. I can’t think of anything lacking from the sound department other than the capability of using names other than Player 1 or Player 2 (some basic first names would be nice).

The gameplay is where things falter a bit. You can choose three difficulty levels, and on the easiest, the game is just multiple choice. Fine for a party game, but that is not Jeopardy! On the higher difficulties, you have to type in your questions. Granted, this is made easier by having an autocorrect feature that will pull up responses for you. This helps quite a bit, but unfortunately, the list of words and phrases is not very in depth, so if you start typing in the question you thought was correct and nothing is suggested to you, you can rest assured you will be wrong. I haven’t played on Hard, and perhaps that is something that changes on the highest difficulty, but there needs to be a greater number of words in the question bank. In addition, Final Jeopardy always appears to be multiple choice, no matter the difficulty. That is just so wrong on so many levels; I’m pretty sure it is done this way so that you can have three people playing on the same console without cheating, but that basically ruins my favorite part of Jeopardy! Finally, I don’t think there is a penalty for ringing in too early. This is a very minor detail, but for someone who wants to play a fairly realistic game of Jeopardy!, that is a very important thing to leave out.

Multiple choice responses are annoying, but can be eliminated for the most part so long as you play on Medium or higher.

One last gripe: only the first player earns achievements. This is unacceptable in this day and age! I can understand games with tacked on co-op not being able to award achievements to all players, but Jeopardy! is primarily a multiplayer experience, so it should be expected that more than one person will want to earn achievements while playing. This is especially annoying because the game also keeps track of your winnings and prizes earned but will also only do so with whoever is the first player.

All in all, I would give Jeopardy! a 7 out of 10. It sets very few goals for itself, and for the most part, it achieves those goals. It is possible that it will get patched (the manual mentions that only the classic Jeopardy! stage is available for now, so presumably that will be something to download) and that might fix some of the issues I have with the game.

Confessions of an XBLA Junkie: Bastion, Toy Soldiers, Braid, and Minecraft

I’ve been on something of an XBOX Live Arcade game binge lately, and so I’ve managed to finish off a few of the games in my backlog. Without further ado, let’s review!

First up, there’s Bastion.

Bastion is an action RPG in which you play as the Kid, one of the few survivors of the Calamity, an event that has nearly wiped out his native city of Caelondia. Retreating to the safety of the Bastion along with a couple of other survivors, the Kid hopes to recover civilization by searching for the Cores that once powered Caelondia.

The design of the game is pretty unique; as you go exploring, pieces of the world rise up to meet you, and you find that most of the remnants of civilization have been turned to ash. It’s all rather depressing, especially when you bring some of the artifacts back to the Bastion and are told all about their previous owners.

Sound plays a major part in the appeal of this game. The music is outstanding for an XBLA game (and the fact that there’s a record player in the Bastion that will play any of the songs on the soundtrack is awesome). Probably the most unique aspect of the game is the narration: one of your fellow survivors, Rucks, describes your actions as you complete them. It may get a little much when he makes a comment every time you go and change your loadout, but it does make the game seem rather epic.

The gameplay is pretty standard for the genre: you have two attack buttons (with separate weapons equipped to each), a defend button, and buttons for your health and special ability potions. It plays something like the old Sega Genesis game Landstalker combined with the likes of Torchlight and Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance. The biggest distinction between those games and Bastion is Bastion’s focus on ranged combat. Of the weapons you obtain in the game, the majority of them are guns and cannons, and even two of the three melee weapons you obtain can be thrown at enemies. These weapons can be upgraded by finding or buying the appropriate materials and buying the upgrades with fragments, and for every level of upgrade, there are two options, so you can customize the weapons to fit your play style.

The Kid can be upgraded as well. Tonics can be equipped that will garner additional abilities such as increasing potion capacity, increasing the chance for a critical attack, or giving you extra lives. There is experience to be earned, and while you do level up, all it really seems to do is increase the amount of health you have and allow you to equip more tonics. If you want an additional challenge, you can invoke various idols that will add extra conditions to the game, usually with a boost in experience and fragments earned.

Bastion has excellent replay value, as it does offer a New Game Plus mode, though that is probably its one downfall: a lot of the challenges are seemingly impossible unless you play through a second time, as you won’t be able to earn enough upgrades to your weapons or to yourself to pass them. Nevertheless, I highly recommend Bastion, and give it a 9 out of 10.

Next is Toy Soldiers.

Toy Soldiers is a tower defense game somewhat set in World War I. I say somewhat set because, as you might suspect, you are actually playing as toy soldiers, so all the battles take place on a tabletop in some room, and the base you are defending is actually your toy box.

The sound is very evocative of the Great War. Horns blare before infantry come charging across a field, warning sirens go off when enemy aircraft are spotted, gears grind as tanks approach your toy box. The graphics are very good for an arcade game, replicating the look of little army men perfectly.

In the game, you have to split time between strategically placing turrets and manually operating them. There’s a wide array of turrets to build: you have machines guns, howitzers, anti-aircraft guns, and more to build, and each one has its own specific use. For example, mortars are excellent against armored vehicles like tanks, and chemical weapons are useful for slowing down and taking out infantry that are forced into choke points. Taking command of a machine gun and mowing down wave after wave of soldier has never been so fun!

There are also tanks and airplanes that you can drive. I preferred the tanks, though they are very slow, but they do serve as portable cannon turrets. The airplanes are a little less useful, as their bombs are not unlimited, but they can be useful in dogfights.

Unfortunately, there are some downsides to the game. For one, you are pretty much forced to operate a turret or vehicle if you want to be successful, as the AI won’t operate vehicles and is typically too dumb to wipe out some of the tougher enemies by themselves. Armchair generals will probably find that quite disappointing. The airplanes are also very difficult to use for bombing; given that the enemy aircraft are also terrible at bombing, this might be done on purpose, but I swear, I could not attempt dropping bombs without crashing into something. The bosses are also just a bit too strong. I don’t mind difficult bosses, but given that it might take five minutes to take down a boss with completely upgrade turrets and a tank that is constantly firing at the boss, it’s all a bit much, and the lack of checkpoints mean that you might have spent 30 minutes all for naught.

The game is fun, and there is a lot of replay value since you can use the German side after beating the main campaign. I’d give the game an 8 out of 10, and if you do enjoy the game, I would suggest trying out the sequel game, as I know it fixes a few of the issues I have with the original.

The last XBLA game that I have finished is Braid.

Braid is a platform game that tells the story of Tim and his attempt to rescue a princess. Time travel features heavily in the game, as Tim is capable of reversing and fast forwarding time at will, and different worlds will introduce different time manipulation abilities. For example, one world gives you a ring that you can place that slows down time within its vicinity, and another world has time go forward when Tim moves to the right and go backward when he moves to the left. In addition, you can play the worlds out of order, and you will always play the first world last, so the narrative also manipulates time. To be honest, while I was compelled to finish the game, I wasn’t enamored with it, and the imprecision of the jumps combined with the need to rewind time over and over again really got to my nerves. In addition, some of the time manipulation puzzles you have to solve to get the pieces needed to finish paintings (which you have to do if you want to complete the game) are rather unfair. I don’t mind a challenge, but I also don’t want to spend two hours trying to get one damn painting piece. Still, it is a rather unique platformer, so I give it 7 out of 10.

Finally, I bought the Skin Pack 1 for Minecraft. Yes, I technically haven’t completed this game, but at this point, is there really an end game?

For only 160 MSP ($2), I couldn’t pass it up, but it really isn’t all that exciting. I like some of the skins added, but unfortunately, the placement of some features like eyes means that you look really ridiculous if you are wearing armor. I’d give it a 5 out of 10, but that’s mainly because it doesn’t add anything other than extra appearances to the game, and if you want that, the free trial gives you a few of the skins for free, and there’s a Summer of Arcade skin pack that you can download for free as well.

Coming soon (maybe): Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Outland, Toy Soldiers: Cold War, and possibly more…