Crispy Gamer

Live Ware: Rocketmen: Axis of Evil, Brain Challenge, Bliss Island

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We've got a couple of great new games on Live Arcade these past couple of weeks -- though one of them is hard to recommend to all but die-hard fans of the genre. Check out our reviews below to get the full scoop.

If it's downloadable content that you're after, a couple bands have made some of their tunes available in the two big music game rivals. Now you can play along with Nine Inch Nails in Rock Band or jam to some No Doubt in Guitar Hero III. Ace Combat 6 flyboys will want to check out the new battle modes and planes that are available -- although what's up with Namco charging twice as much for the planes feature artwork from the Japan-only release, The Idolmaster (400 Microsoft Points as opposed to 200)? Way to milk the anime fans there, Namco.

N+

GAME INFO

Developer: Slick Entertainment Inc.

Publisher: Metanet Software Inc.

Price: 800 Microsoft Points

Originally appeared on: N/A

RECOMMENDATION: Buy It

How's this for coming a long way? N+ began its life as a free Flash game known simply as N, a deceptively simple-looking platform game where you maneuvered a stick-figure-like ninja around a variety of stages, collecting gold, flipping switches, dodging enemies, and ultimately making your way to the exit. Now, nearly three years after N's initial release, this giveaway game has gotten a "grown-up" sequel.

But what makes N+ worth that $10 price increase? Well, for starters, it's more N. The gameplay here strips platforming down to its core mechanics, forcing you to really learn how your ninja and his robotic enemies move in order to make your way through the deviously designed stages. There are over 300 new stages here, and you'll die hundreds (if not thousands) of times mastering them all. Thanks to the solid game design, though, none of those deaths ever feel cheap -- if you die, it's your fault.

A few multiplayer modes have also been added to the package. If you're in a competitive mood, the race and survival modes test the ninja skills that you've honed in the single-player mode, but the real fun is in co-op play. Here, up to four people can work together to make their way through specially designed multiplayer stages. Often, three players have to work together to help out the remaining player who is trapped in a separate part of the stage. There are some ingeniously designed levels here.

There is also a robust level editor included, but unfortunately the only way to share levels is to load them up while you're actually playing with people. If only you could freely download anyone's custom stages, this package would be perfect. Even so, this is a relatively minor quibble. Don't let the minimalist graphics fool you -- there's a lot of substance to this game.

Triggerheart Exelica

GAME INFO

Developer: Warashi Inc.

Publisher: Warashi Inc.

Price: 800 Microsoft Points

Originally appeared on: Arcade, Dreamcast

RECOMMENDATION: Try It

There's something inherently weird about seeing cute anime chicks on the Xbox 360. Sure, you see that sort of thing all the time on most other game systems, but Microsoft systems just don't seem conducive to things kawaii -- and yet here we are with a new Xbox Live Arcade game that stars the outlandishly named Exelica and Crueltear, a couple of gals with those trademark giant anime eyes and unnaturally colored anime hair.

Oh, and mech suits that allow them to fly around and shoot crap. That's pretty anime, too.

Triggerheart Exelica is a new entry is the rapidly disappearing shooter genre. Specifically, this vertical-scrolling shooter belongs to a subcategory that is affectionately known as "bullet hell." American gamers might be familiar with bullet hell from the GameCube release Ikaruga, a game that, like Triggerheart, originated on Sega's Dreamcast. In these games, the playing field is often completely covered in bullets, allowing your ship (or anime chick) an extremely narrow safe zone through which to fly without taking damage. These types of games require fast reflexes, memorization, and a strong understanding of your craft's abilities.

The gals' main technique aside from their standard weapon is known as the anchor shot. With it, you can latch onto and capture just about any enemy in the game. The anchored foe will be swung around your character, absorbing bullets until it explodes or until you toss it back at the oncoming enemies. Mastering this skill is the key to surviving and earning a high score.

Given the game's incredibly short length (thanks to unlimited continues, you can plow through the five stages in about 20 minutes), you'll certainly want to aim for that high score instead of merely "beating" the game. Of course, shooter fans live for just that: achieving a perfect run-through of a tough game. From that point of view, Triggerheart is a challenge. Sadly, this is a single-player only experience. Shooters are always fun to play with a friend, too.

While hardcore shooter fans should get a kick out of this game, casual gamers will most likely grow bored with the game's length. They should at least check out the demo for a taste of the action.