Tag Archives: xbla

Gaming Masterclass

Hey folks, welcome to what I hope is a new ongoing series of articles (I may come up with a better name down the line), where we go through some of the best levels, segments and great ideas that the Xbox has to offer and praise them for all they’re worth. Whether it’s a memorable boss battle or some fourth wall breaking shenanigans, the purpose of these articles is to provide great examples of game design and give credit where credit is due. So without further adieu, let us start with….

The Cave (2013) is a Double Fine game from the mind of Ron Gilbert. While I found it to be a very enjoyable though slightly cumbersome puzzle/platformer, there was one moment that stood out to me above the rest of the game; the introduction. The beginning of this game is devoid of unnecessary tutorials and flow stopping pop-up menus that take you out of the experience, instead it allows you to take your time and figure the game out for yourself, something I wish more gamrs did. Within five minutes, that game’s tone, gameplay conventions and mindset are perfectly conveyed in ways that many AAA games fail to do in hours.

After a lovely little introduction from a talking cave, we finally get to meet the eight main characters of the game. A D-pad icon pops up on the lower left hand side of the screen, which is the closest thing we get to a tutorial, allowing us to change character. There is even an option to hide this popup should you wish.

 

As we switch from character to character, the cave gives us some inside info on their back-story and desires. On the surface, this is a simple exposition section, but we’re also learning how to change characters, something that becomes second nature once you proceed with the game and is vital knowledge to know.

After a couple of minutes fiddling about with characters, the next logical step is to move. You haven’t been told to do anything and you haven’t even been set an objective, so for now you’re simply exploring and experimenting. Quite quickly, you find a crowbar. The Cave Crowbar

In any other game, a tutorial or button prompt would come up that carefully explains how you pick this item up and how to use it, but here, the game trusts that after the smallest amount of experimentation and time, you can easily figure it out for yourself. Once you take the crowbar to the entrance of the cave which has been boarded up, it’s also easy to put 2 + 2 together and realise what  to do next.

The majority of the puzzles in The Cave are solved this way. Your path is blocked, so you must find an item that will unblock it. There may be variations and different methods found throughout the playthrough, but this simple opening puzzle has essentially taught you everything you need to know. Well almost.

Now that you’re in the cave, you explore as far as you can until you come to a rather rickety bridge. You are told that taking any more than 2 people over the bridge may cause it to break. There are signs scattered about that strictly tell you NOT to go this way. However, with no other objects to interact with, there simply isn’t much else to do, so you change characters, which we already know how to do, and drag two other hapless souls into the cave and drop them on the bridge, which of course makes it collapse, causing all three characters to plummet deeper into the cave, starting the game proper.the cave bridge

Now, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to quickly realise what you were supposed to do, but I love how this almost feels like a commentary on how other games chose to teach you the game’s mechanics. It would be easy for a menu to pop up and say “which three characters do you want to take” and choose your characters with all the passion of choosing your lunch from a menu. Instead, The Cave specifically tells you NOT to do something, and the only way to advance is to break the “rules”, helping to set the tone of this dark and twisted game.

This short level may sound rather simple and not particularly mind-blowing, but modern games have a rather bad habit of assuming that all gamers have little to no attention spans or desire to learn and need to be handheld through every level for fear that they’ll get bored and quit. In the Batman Arkham series for example, you are being reminded of how things work for the entire game, even the little icon that tells you how to grapple has a little LB on it from beginning to end. While I personally find this unfortunate, I can still understand and appreciate that many modern games are perhaps slightly more complicated than 2-D platformers and may require more direct tutorials to let the player know how to play the game. That being said, finding more creative and inventive ways of teaching the player how to play your game will always be more rewarding and memorable than any tutorial can ever be, which is what the opening five minutes of The Cave is all about.

By the time you find yourself plummeting into the titular cave, you know how the controls work thanks to a couple simple puzzles and you understand what the tone of the game is thanks to the very creative character selection process as well as some dark humor scattered about. I heartily recommend downloading the demo at the very least, which contains the opening level in question, if you are interested in the fundamentals of game design, also if you want to play a pretty cool game.

After Burner Climax to be pulled from XBLA

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That’s right, the iconic jet shooter is to lose it’s XBLA status from December the 24th on Xbox 360.  The arcade-port, which has been available since 2010, is thought to be suffering the same fate as Sega’s Outrun Online, where a licensing agreement expired. In Outrun’s case it was the agreement with Ferrari, in After Burner’s case, it looks to be the agreement with one or all of the aircraft manufacturers appearing in the game.

What does this mean for you if you’ve already bought the game? Nothing at all at the minute. You can still play it once it’s delisted and you can still re-download an already purchased copy, you just won’t be able to buy a new copy after Christmas Eve.

Bad news for those of us who remember the original, and want to pretend to be flying the Decepticon, Starscream around on the cheap.

Blood of the Werewolf – XBLA Game Review

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Developed by ‘Scientifically Proven’ and released during E3 week, it would be easy to not notice the release of ‘Blood of the Werewolf’ to XBLA on Xbox 360. This throwback to the very olden days of the 2D Platformer is looking to howl at the full moon to get the attention of gamers hankering for that touch of old school gaming. But does it succeed in bringing such nostalgia to 2014?

‘Blood of The Werewolf’ tells the story of Selena, a werewolf who narrates the story during the voice-over scenes in-between the ten levels that make up the game. Selena was enjoying a peaceful life with her husband and baby until they were attacked resulting in the death of the husband and kidnapping of the child. The game will see Selena go on a quest of vengeance against the attackers whilst trying to win back her child.

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Visually the game uses a cell shaded cartoon style which does work well but also looks very generic after only a short time. Gameplay consists of Selena switching between human and Werewolf forms whenever the action moves from inside to outside during a level. In human form, Selena is able to fire a crossbow to take out enemies and can jump longish gaps by holding A and can climb ladders to reach higher and lower platforms. In Wolf form, Selena can double jump to reach higher platforms, can dash attack using RB and has powerful claw slash attack. Both forms can obtain new abilities and upgrades as the game proceeds, most of which are automatically awarded as you progress through the levels as the challenge in enemy increases.

The main issue with trying to bring a little nostalgia from gaming styles of yester year to modern gaming is that not everything should be brought back. The style of platforming action just reminded me of all those poorly rushed out SNES titles which all follow the same patience testing formula of just adding more and more enemies on screen with environmental hazards to obstruct your progress.  It was a lazy way of reproducing the same game by just changing the look of the environment and player models. ‘Blood of The Werewolf’ suffers the same problem in that as you progress, all that really acts as a challenge is the increasing numbers of enemies on screen who shoot projectiles which you have to either navigate pass or like me, get bored and just take the hits and move forward. The environmental hazards become nothing more than an exercise in “learn timing, die, repeat” as some of the nods to the old school platforming days quickly make the player understand why such gameplay was left in the past.

Between the levels you have the voice of Selena narrating her own story of why she is doing what she is doing. The voice acting is rather hit and miss as you encounter the main characters in the story. Whilst Selena is portrayed very well, the character Dr Frankenstein for example is hammed up to the level that it undoes the good voice work for Selena. It serves as a reflection of the aspects to the game that do work against those that bring the enjoyment levels down.

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Where the game really falls down for me is in the gameplay. As the game starts, the early levels are very well balanced as you get to grips with the two styles of play, as Selena in human form and Selena in Wolf form. In human form, using the crossbow to take out enemies at distance works well as you navigate the ladders to progress through the levels whilst allowing you time to get to grips with how the Werewolf controls work. But as the levels flow, the game just uses the cheap mechanic of simply increasing the number of enemies on screen all firing at you which can knock you off a ladder in human form or grinding down your health as the werewolf, or using environmental challenges such as blocks that have to have the right timing or results in an instant death and sending back to the last checkpoint. The frustration can be put down to user error at times, but I found the majority of cheap deaths are a result of the clunky controls not responded quick enough for the challenge presented. Whilst this styles does work for a game like ‘Super Meat Boy’ where the whole premise of the game is to beat the more increasingly difficult level, in ‘Blood of the Werewolf’ it just feels as though the developers failed to come up with a better level design concept and decided to just throw in ridiculous obstacles to make the player feel as though they need to do better where at times you will simply just die because it is the only way you discover the obstacle itself.

‘Blood of the Werewolf’ is a game that markets itself on being a nod to an old generation of platform games but sadly picked all the annoying and worse elements to bring to their modern day title. Which is a shame as you can see the intent of the developer ‘Scientifically Proven’ to pay homage to a genre of gaming they clearly enjoyed and wanted to emulate and honour with this title, but sadly it has more negatives for the player than positive ones which ultimately make it a poor trip down an unwanted nostalgia road.

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The Wolf Among Us: Episode 4 ‘In Sheep’s Clothing’ Trailer, Out May 28th

Releasing next Wednesday for Xbox 360, Episode 4 ‘In Sheep’s Clothing’ will take the story even further after the climatic moments of Episode 3.

Has the Wolf met his match? Beaten and bloody, Bigby is confronted by the realization that a society built on secrets is ripe for exploitation. And that the disenfranchised of Fabletown may see his prey not as the cause of their problems, but as their solution. Constantly caught between ‘the rules’ and doing the right thing, Bigby must tread a path fraught with danger in this penultimate episode of The Wolf Among Us.

The Walking Dead Season 2: Episode 3 ‘In Harm’s Way’ Out Now

The Walking Dead: Season Two – A Telltale Games Series continues the story of Clementine, a young girl orphaned at the outset of the undead apocalypse, left to survive in a world gone mad.  Players will struggle to outwit both the dead and the living in situations that will test their morals and control the flow of the story through the choices that they make.

The episode is available now on Xbox Games Store for Xbox 360.

 

Child of Light Review

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Just every now and then, a game comes out that truly stands out against the usual game releases across all platforms. It is not often that such a game is capable to distract from the generic shooting, fighting, sports filled release schedule but Ubisoft have managed to almost sneak one game out there that does just that. Child Of Light is one of the most refreshingly breathtaking games I have played in many years.

Child of Light was developed by Ubisoft Montreal and is an example of their UbiArt framework. Using gameplay mechanics from traditional JRPG’s such as the early Final Fantasy titles and a visual style of a water colour painting, Child of Light uses verse and poetry to tell the story of main character Aurora, who finds herself in the magical kingdom of Lemuria. On her quest to return home to her father the King, Aurora must defeat the Queen of the Night who has stolen the Sun, Moon and Stars.

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Two things immediately hit you as soon as you hit the main menu. The music and its visual style. The music is one of the most outstanding soundtracks and musical scores I have heard for an XBLA level game. The ethereal music almost works as a calming lullaby as you prepare to enter this fairy tale world. Throughout the story, the music blends in with the flow of the game and really helps to bring the world of Lemuria  to life and working in such a great partnership with the visual style of the world. The water coloured style gives the world such life, as though it has been taken off the very pages of a fairy tale book. The look of each character and the locations within the game are vibrant and striking. Even the subtle animation style of Aurora’s hair as she moves has been delicately done to add some movement to the 2D drawings. The use of poetry and rhyme to tell the story is novel and keeps the sense of playing through a fair tale really well. Each character dialogue and the narration for cut-scenes is done in rhyme, giving the conversations a natural flow from beginning to end. To represent the characters, conversations take on a talking heads format as each character appears on screen and facial expressions used to show the emotion behind the words spoken.

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Aurora is quickly joined on her adventure by a second character, the blue firefly Igniculus. He is player controlled using the right analogue stick and can be used to activate switches to help move past obstacles or to help solve puzzles needed to progress. It is a very quirky gameplay addition to have control of two characters at the same time but it is also an ingenious way of adding something special to the basic control system used. Igniculus also has a role to play in the combat system of the game but will come to that later on. Igniculus can also be controlled by a second player for local co-op play.

As the story unfolds, you meet other characters who will join you to form a party of characters. Each party member can then me selected during combat by hot switching them in and out depending on how you need to use them. Each character had a different skill set. Rubella, the circus performer, is great in combat and has the ability to cast healing spells. Finn the Capilli uses more elemental based magic attacks. You can keep the party the same but only two can be used in combat, so trying out different pairings will help as the level of enemy increases further into the game. Every member of the party will earn experience points via combat whether you use them or not. Experience points can be used to increase health and magic levels as well as enhancing magic spells, attack moves and defensive options and each character has their own skill tree which are easy to follow for the player to pick the right upgrades for the character and their playing style.

With their own version of Materia from Final Fantasy, Child of Light uses Oculi. Oculi are gemstones that can enhance characters further then their natural leveling up with experience points. Each type of Oculi has a different effect. The Blue Sapphire for example, can give extra water elemental damage to attacks, give water attack damage resistance or can give a higher chance of avoiding an attack during their casting time. The Red Ruby will give extra fire elemental damage to attacks, added resistance to Fire damage or increase health points. Oculi can also be used to create more powerful types, three Blue Sapphire created a Faceted Sapphire which add greater Water damage or protection depending on how you use it. Combining a Sapphire with a ruby will create a Amthyst stone which can increase physical attacks or reduce physical damage. The creation system is simple to use, Oculi are obtained from exploring the world and opening chests or rewards for successful combat encounters.

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The combat for Child of Light is an amazing take on the JRPG style of turn based combat. When in battle, your party will be on the left side of the screen, and the enemy on the right. Whilst you can only use two party members in combat, Igniculus actually acts as a third member is a very useful way. Combat uses a timebar at the bottom of the screen. About 90% of the bar represents waiting time before a character has a move. The final 10% is the Casting time, the time it takes for the command you chose, either potion use, an attack, a defensive move or use of magic to be executed. An edge to this method is that attacks can interrupt both move or casting time, pushing the character back along the time bar and even cancelling out the casting time. Igniculus comes into play very much in battle. You can guide him over to an enemy, using his ability to shine light and distract that enemy causing their progression on the time bar to reduce allowing your move cycle to overtake.

The combat is much deeper then it appears on the surface and some challenging battles later on will require using the right pairing, Oculi enhancement and skill tree use. It is one of the cleverest combat systems I have seen in an RPG, and it is one that bigger budget AAA title RPG’s could learn from Child of Light. It is how such a deceptively rewarding combat system underneath the beauty of the musical score and visuals that all give Child of Light such a big impact as a game.

Child of Light is as rewarding to play as it is to just experience. Some games are capable of being used as example to show how Video Game truly has become  an art form, and Child of Light is now one of the finest examples of it. Through the narrative style of using verse and rhyme to tell the story to the musical score and art style of drawing, Child of Light blends all these elements into a game that is refreshing to play on just about every level. Its XBLA level should not take away just how impressive a job Ubisoft Montreal have done here. It is the kind of digital content that Xbox should encourage more developers to follow with going forward. Child of Light is going to be collecting awards at the end of the year, and it will place among the big AAA hitters of 2014 and rightly so. This has to go on everyone playlist for this year, it is just that amazing an experience it needs to be showcased for just how good a game Ubisoft have worked on. As a publisher and developer, Ubisoft has once again shown its ability to deliver high quality games of different genres and not just high profile big name full release titles. Child of Light is a glowing example of the beauty in story telling and experience video gaming can provide.

Thanks to Ubisoft UK for providing the code for this review.

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Deals With Gold: XBLA Games and Transformers Titles Discounted

Deal of The Week

This week’s sale has gone live in the Xbox Store and has big discounts on a selection of XBLA titles and Transformers Games on Demand games.

Discounts are valid now through 12 May 2014.

Xbox One

Content Title Content Type Discount %
Killer Instinct Combo Breaker Pack Add-On 25%

 

Xbox 360

          

Content Title Content Type Discount %
Fable Anniversary Games on Demand 25%
Pool Nation Arcade 80%
Scourge: Outbreak Arcade 75%
Fez Arcade 60%
Sacred Citadel Arcade 75%
Sacred Citadel – Jungle Hunt Add-On 75%
Transformers War for Cybertron Games on Demand 75%
Transformers Fall of Cybertron Games on Demand 75%

Please note: prices and availability are subject to change and may vary by region. Deals with Gold are valid for Xbox Live Gold members.

The Wolf Among Us: Episode 3 ‘A Crooked Mile’ Review

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The third and middle chapter to the five episode series ‘The Wolf Among Us’ by Telltale Games, is now out on Xbox 360. As we are now three episodes in, it is almost impossible to now proceed without giving away spoilers to the first two episodes so please bear that in mind before reading on.

A Crooked Mile begins following the dramatic reveal at the conclusion of Episode 2, Smoke and Mirrors. The strong theme of player choice is once again thrust upon the player as you must make decisions straight away with the game using adding pressure by forcing you to make those decisions quickly. Time is very much a theme for ‘A Crooked Mile’ as both decision making and story telling become far quicker then both previous episodes, the heightened pressure to make the right choice will have you second guessing almost immediately what the decisions you make. I did find that by now in the third episode, my choices were made more by reflex when the time to pick one was short.

The end of Episode 2 saw the character Ichabob Crane become the chief suspect in Fabletown’s Sheriff Bigby Wolf’s investigation of the serial killing of female fables. The dark sinister obsession Crane has developed for Snow White has led to him hiring prostitutes and forcing them to use a Glamour, to have them take on the image of Snow White just before their untimely and very gruesome death. With the need to find Crane wading against the desire to protect Snow White, Bigby sets off to find Snow to both protect her and to get her help to continue the investigation.

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One of the brilliant things that ‘The Wolf Among Us’ does is force you the player to face the consequences of your choices all through the game. Episode 3 has you facing decisions you made at the end of Episode 1, as to talk to Snow you must find her at the funeral of Lilly, second victim of the serial killer where Snow is giving a eulogy. Being the hated figure of justice, Bigby is soon confronted by Holly, Lilly’s sister who is far from pleased at Bigby’s arrival at the funeral. Conversation choices here will again shape Bigby relationship with these characters. You can take a soft approach and handle the situation with care or you can be harsh and cold. The story all along as allowed you as the player to shape the kind of man Bigby is in such conversation encounters. Your responses are often remembered by the characters, so it is important to try and work out how your relationships with the characters in the story could be either useful to you to gain information at that moment or in the future. In this case you are put in the situation or handling the members of a funeral for a character they believed you, Bigby, failed to protect. You also have to decide how you inform Snow of the developments in the case by choosing to either delicately protect Snow from the truth of Ichabob’s obsession with her or risk your relationship by just being honest and sharing all the gruesome details.

These subtle decisions you have to make keep you right at the heart of the story, every conversation and course of action you decide shapes so much in the narrative of how the story will unfold. Such a style in gameplay inspires you to go back and see what a different choice or conversation reply would make to the game. Bigby’s place in the Fabletown community is constantly under the spotlight. His history and reputation alienate you from the other characters and at moments where the ‘Wolf’ is forced to come out, your choices to either embrace the violence of the Wolf when in combat or to try and control it by taking a less violent path do shape how you are able to interact with the other characters. Episode 3 deliciously tempts you into giving in the darkside of Bigby’s personality as the story unfolds further with the investigation into Crane and the murders opens up far wider then it has before with the introduction of new characters that have an immediate impact on the world and story.

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Episode 3, A Crooked Mile, does the job of keeping the story and gameplay interesting. The change in pace for your first playthrough has you at times making snap decisions but also gives you enough hints to help you make choices you want to make. It does still however suffer from the loading screens which for me slow down the times between scenes just too much but had less buggy moments then Episode 2 suffered. By not only reminding you of the choices you have made in the earlier episodes but also showing you the consequences of those choices, Episode 3 keeps everything moving at a nice pace and always makes you feel like you are driving the story forward, a story that is becoming more dark with its twists and turns that leave you wanting the next episode just to find out what happens next. This is something The Wolf Among Us has been so successful in doing with each Episode.

If  you have enjoyed The Wolf Among Us so far then ‘A Crooked Mile’ delivers the same amazing story telling experience and just like ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ does a great job of keeping you engaged with the world and characters with enough to do in the episode with its gameplay that you get a solid experience from playing it. It is a game that is well deserving of your time and energy and will not let you down with gameplay or story.

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Xbox 360 Deal of the Week With Capcom and Microsoft Studio Sale Now On

Deal of The Week

The latest Deal of the Week for Xbox 360 has gone live with great deals on Capcom Titles. Microsoft Studio is also holding a sale on its XBLA games, prices and offers shown below:

Here are this week’s games and add-on deals on the Xbox Games Store. Discounts are valid now through 14 April 2014.

          

 

Content Title Content Type Discount %
Resident Evil 5 Games on Demand 67%
Dragon’s Dogma Dark Arisen Games on Demand 63%
Devil May Cry HD Collection Games on Demand 67%
Remember Me Games on Demand 67%
Sleeping Dogs Games on Demand 38%
RIO Games on Demand 50%

The following Microsoft Studios discounts are valid for everyone on Xbox Live now through 14 April 2014.

          

 

Content Title Content Type Discount %
Castle Crashers  Arcade 67%
BattleBlock Theater  Arcade 67%
Charlie Murder  Arcade 70%
CastleStorm  Arcade 70%
Full House Poker  Arcade 70%
Perfect Dark  Arcade 70%
Fire Pro Wrestling  Arcade 70%
Iron Brigade  Arcade 70%
Wreckateer  Arcade 90%
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet  Arcade 70%
Home Run Stars  Arcade 90%
Magic 2014 – Duels of the Planeswalkers  Arcade 50%
Gears of War 3 Games on Demand 67%
Gears of War 2 Games on Demand 67%
Gears of War Games on Demand 67%
Gears of War 3 Season Pass Add-On 67%
Alan Wake Games on Demand 75%
The Gunstringer Games on Demand 75%
Crackdown Games on Demand 67%
Halo Wars Games on Demand 67%
Halo Reach Games on Demand 67%