The Average Gamer

Friday Feature: Xbox LIVE’s Summer of Arcade 2011

SummerOfArcade2011_LogoFor all those Xbox LIVE inclined, July is easily one of the anticipated months of the year. As retail shelves dry up with publishers already directing their attention to the rammed Christmas season, it is the digital realms where many of us pass the summer months with the curtains closed, pizza ordered and telephone lines rerouted. That’s right, Microsoft’s annual ‘Summer Of Arcade’ kicks off on July 20th and I couldn’t be more excited with the prospect of burning my retinas into my monitor for five consecutive weeks. Think of it as training for getting through the October/November stacked release schedule.

Summer of Arcade, which first began back in 2008, has evolved into a showcase of some of the very best the digital service has to offer. In past years the promotion has brought such classics as team-based fun frolic Castle Crashers, patience testing Trials HD, indie-darling Braid and the silently potent Limbo, among many others. Lets face it, what could be better then using my inaugural post on The Average Gamer as one that highlights the games that will have me (and hopefully you guys) running to the store to play lots of new games? Sorry new Call of Duty map-pack, you are going to have to wait a few weeks.

This year’s Summer of Arcade offerings are as follows: Toy Soldiers: Cold War, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, Fruit Ninja Kinect, Bastion and From Dust.

July 20th – Toy Soldiers: Cold War
Developer: Signal Studios
Price: 1200 MS Points

Nothing says ‘welcome to summer’ more than a bit of good old-fashioned war. A tower defense game for those who grew up with toy soldiers strewn across the floor (yes of course I will pick them up before bed time) and the Toy Story 1 VHS playing on a loop throughout the weekend. How anyone could not fall in love with its wonderfully nostalgic style and playful cold war setting is beyond me.

This is the latest installment in Signal Studio’s well-loved Toy Soldiers series, this time pitting you against the red menace. ToySoldiersColdWar_SummerOfArcade2011The game promises to bring intense and challenging gameplay to the mix – with the studio promising rebalanced weapons, more placement locations and an even bigger arsenal to take down the Red’s. Certainly won’t hear me complaining. You won’t be facing the pesky soviets alone mind, Cold War gives you the option of bringing a pal into the fray in either local or online co-op. Survival mode also options in a handful of mini-games that will have your friends competing for the number one spot on the leaderboards and really, the only question left unanswered at this stage is whether Signal Studios plan on dedicating a whole button on your controller to the war cry of “WOLVERINES!” I hope that they do, although this is of course why headsets were invented.

Toy Soldiers: Cold War looks like it’s kicking off the Summer of Arcade in style, see you on the frontline recruits – I’ll be the guy pretending to be Patrick Swayze, you can be Charlie Sheen (Go watch Red Dawn if you don’t know what I’m talking about)!

July 27th – Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet
Developer: Fuelcell
Price: 1200 MS Points

I had my eyes on this one for a long time, and who can blame me. This gorgeous 2D side scrolling adventure game gives you the chance to pilot a curiously quiet UFO through (as the name might suggest) an insanely twisted world. Expansive landscapes await as writhing enemies quickly bring an epic scale to the infectious visuals. World hazards and unique environments are, like last years Limbo, going to have people talking in a state of awe – but it’s the gameplay that will keep us playing Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet for months to come. InsanelyTwistedShadowPlanet_SummerOfArcade2011

Part-exploration, in the same vein as classic-‘find the item to progress’-Metroid, and other part skill-testing duck & weave combat. Boss’s tout glowing weak points, enemies are committed to your destruction and the way forward will never be without a carefully placed pipe or rock. Complex puzzles and controller gripping battles are promised, as is a robust 10-hour single player campaign, if that’s not enough for you there is also an option for four-player online co-op. Spoiled much? Seeing Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet in motion is a thing of corrupted grace and this debut game from Fuelcell (fronted by the mind of Michel Gagne) is easily my most anticipated of the lot. I have a strange desperation for side scrolling madness; I have a feeling this will bring it in ways I never thought possible.

August 3rd – Fruit Ninja Kinect
Developer: Halfbrick
Price: 800 MS Points

The hugely popular iPhone game Fruit Ninja is finally making its way over to Xbox Live in the form of Fruit Ninja Kinect. Supposedly utilising the immense power of Kinect to deliver an unprecedented level of fruit slicing precision, lets hope this is a little less Eye Toy and a little more Cooking Mama, ’cause we don’t want another Totemball on our hands now do we Microsoft? Fruit Ninja had you attempting to slice fruit in half as it flew across a chopping board, racking up points for your dexterity, accuracy and level of chopability (it’s totally a word).

The game ended if you missed three pieces of fruit, a difficulty that plagued even those of us with ninja fingers trained by the League of Shadows. Halfbrick have hopefully brought a bit of a rebalance into the mix, especially as your arms will now be the tools of choice instead of your index finger.

Kinect is in desperate need of cheaper pick up & play games, and hopefully Fruit Ninja Kinect is a sign of things to come. If developers can find a way to port more iPhone/iPad games over to the platform, then seeing games like Canabalt, Angry Birds and even some point and click adventures shouldn’t be too much of a long shot. Every year there is a ‘casual’ audience game within the line-up and this is 2011’s. It won’t be for everyone, but if you have a Kinect this should be on your list… besides, who doesn’t love flailing there arms around with the curtains open every so often?

August 10th – Bastion
Developer: Super Giant Games
Price: 1200 MS Points

A promising new title, Bastion has been sitting on the outskirts of my radar for well over a year now and if it delivers on it’s promises then it could be a very impressive debut game from Super Giant Games. This innovative action RPG looks like it could be the blend of narration, visuals and gameplay we’ve been waiting XBLA titles to deliver. Not only does Bastion boast a massive RPG scale story, but it also manages to give you the player your own personalized narration through the journey. Bastion_SummerOfArcade2011It’s refreshing to feel like you are having your own legendary tale carved into stone, it needs to be seen and heard in action to be fully understood (and appreciated) but suffice to say it helps build a rather unique trip through an otherwise linear path.

The gameplay looks fluid and engaging enough, the things developers are managing to achieve with the XBLA becomes more impressive every year – I just didn’t expect it from bedroom developers like Super Giant. One look at a trailer and the visuals should have you laying down your MS points, 40 hand-painted environments that form and crumble around your feet, again, look incredibly impressive in motion. Saying that though, the trailers don’t give Bastion the justice it deserves. Set yourself up with some gameplay footage, be astounded and get ready to hire someone with a radio voice to follow you ‘round town narrating your weekly shop. Bastion may not only kick-ass, but it could be lifestyle changer as well.

August 17th – From Dust
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier/Ubisoft
Price: 1200 MS Points

What started as an original concept from Eric Chahi, the mind behind Amiga classics Another World and Flashback, has evolved into this – a modern, yet minimalistic, god game for the downloadable era. Looking to pick up the pieces of the many failed attempts at god games on XBLA over the years, From Dust shifts the emphasis away from simple resource and/or people management and instead heaps focus onto nature – the face of the landscapes itself. The AI looks to be incredibly intuitive, with the villagers taking to building settlements and going on about their daily lives as they see fit… well, when they aren’t being terrorised by all manor of natural disasters and encounters. FromDust_SummerOfArcade2011It’s your job to furiously shift, destroy and alter the earth, sands, waters and natural curiosities of the environment to protect your citizens from certain death as everything crumbles around them.

Ubisoft Montpellier is seemingly injecting a sharp difficulty curve into From Dust, so those of you sick of being hand held through your god games like I am, get ready for some serious sessions of concentration. It’s about time we got some innovation in this genre and Eric Chahi looks to be bringing his minimalistic-platforming experience to a whole new field and I can’t wait to see how this turns out. No word on whether or not you can trap your villagers in the middle of a sea of burning water until they offer up sacrifices of Microsoft points to release them from their fiery hell… you can always hope though.

As an added bonus we also been told that if you purchase all five Summer of Arcade titles Microsoft will give you a free copy of Crimson Alliance come September 7th. Apparently a fast-paced action RPG with a heavy emphasis on co-op, the last title Microsoft ‘gifted’ us was Undertow a few Christmas back, so I think I’ll reserve judgment on that one till then.

Right then, that’s it for Summer of Arcade 2011. Let us know what you will be buying from the bunch and what has you excited. Check back in with Average Gamer over the coming weeks for interviews with developers and reviews of the coming games.

Josh West is a gamer and comic-book fan. You can find him on Twitter as OrigamiKid and read his comic-book culture articles over at The Negative Zone

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