Live Ware: Rocketmen: Axis of Evil, Brain Challenge, Bliss Island
Yawn. This has been kind of a bland couple of weeks for Xbox Live Arcade. When the most exciting game to be released is a Brain Age clone, you know things aren't going too well.
Still, we did see some pretty nice downloadable content. Deadheads can quit their jobs and follow Rock Band around the country now that Grateful Dead tunes have been added to the game's song library. There are also dozens of new songs available for Karaoke Revolution Presents American Idol Encore, so go make Simon proud. For those of you who aren't musically inclined, the "Bring Down the Sky" content pack for Mass Effect introduces a new mission, a new planet and a new (and nasty) alien race.
Rocketmen: Axis of Evil
Developer: A.C.R.O.N.Y.M. Games Inc.
Price: 800 Microsoft Points
Originally appeared on: N/A
RECOMMENDATION: Fry It
If there is one thing of which Xbox Live Arcade has an abundance, it's dual-joystick shooters. You know, games based around the old Robotron/Smash TV control scheme where you move your character with the left analog stick and use the right stick to shoot in all directions. Capcom apparently thought that there weren't enough of these types of games, however, so here comes Rocketmen.
Actually, Rocketmen is a bit more story-driven than most of its ilk. It's based on a "constructible strategy game" by a company called WizKids, and you control a member of the Alliance of Free Planets in a fight against the evil Legion of Terra. The story is told through a series of comic book-style cut scenes (complete with word balloons in addition to the voice-over work). However, due to the fact that these "comics" use in-game models instead of drawings and there is minimal movement between "panels," these scenes look less like a comic book and more like a poorly animated cinema. Toss in some truly awful attempts at humor, and you'll be skipping these scenes as soon as they pop up.
Despite the lame story bits, the game itself is decent enough. You run around a level, shoot some dudes, and earn weapons that boost your firepower for a limited time. Unfortunately, it isn't long before the game's insufferable camera starts to get the better of you. For some reason, the camera doesn't always follow your character. It scrolls on its own at odd intervals, often cutting off vital power-ups or items needed to complete secondary objectives. There's no backtracking allowed, making it especially infuriating when you can see a switch that you want to activate but can't because it's right on the edge of the screen.
The game also sports a light RPG system that allows you to boost your character's stats and weapons with experience points you earn while playing. It's a nice addition that adds a little depth, but it doesn't make up for the merely average gameplay and busted camera. Rocketmen also supports four-player simultaneous play, either online or off, which works well, but in the end, you're still playing Rocketmen. There are better uses for your 800 points.
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Price: 800 Microsoft Points
Originally appeared on: Nintendo DS
RECOMMENDATION: Try It
Oh, Nintendo, what have you started? When the big N released Brain Age for the DS, it took the world by storm. Apparently gamers have been looking for an excuse to stretch their mental muscles in between sessions of thumb workouts. Brain Age is spawning countless imitators for the DS, and now they're moving on to console systems. Brain Challenge began its life as a cell phone game, and it was eventually ported over to, yes, the DS. Now, it's making its Xbox Live Arcade debut.
Like many other games of its ilk, Brain Challenge presents you with a series of mini-games (there are 20 in all), each one focused on five different categories -- Memory, Visual, Logic, Math and Focus. The puzzles range from basic math problems to guessing the relative weight of different objects to observing which ball is bouncing the highest in a group. Some of the games are better than others, but on the whole, they're all pretty good.
The game tracks your progress daily, so you can get constant updates as to how much your brain power has improved. There are other modes as well, including a kid-friendly mode and the aptly-named Stress mode, which forces you to solve puzzles while enduring all sorts of visual distractions. There's even a decent multiplayer mode in which up to four people can compete.
Obviously, something like Brain Challenge isn't going to appeal to your typical Halo-obsessed teenager, but it's nice to see games like this on Live Arcade. If you've been wondering what all the hubbub was about with those "brain training" games but don't have access to a DS, this is a good opportunity to give one a try.
Publisher: Codemasters Online
Price: 400 Microsoft Points
Originally Appeared On: PSP, PC (Europe)
RECOMMENDATION: Fry It
Don't let that 400 Microsoft Points price tag fool you -- Bliss Island is no bargain. This collection of mini-games feels like someone gathered a handful of mediocre-to-lame free Internet Flash games and decided to charge for them. Each of the mini-games star a fuzzy critter known as a "Hoshi the Zwooph," who creates clouds by blowing air out of his tube-like nose.
Each of the mini-games take that air-blowing mechanic and apply it to such challenges as a simple race, a billiards knock-off, a contest to shoot balls into a monster's mouth, and an airborne race through a scrolling cave. Some of the games would be mildly fun (kinda) in short bursts, but they tend to drag out for what seems like an eternity. There's a point where a game becomes a chore, and Bliss Island passes that point and keeps going straight on till morning.
In a bizarre move that shows that this game wasn't really designed for the Xbox 360, the entire game is played in a window with an ugly border around the entire playfield. One can only assume that developer PomPom realized that the low-resolution textures would look terrible if they were blown up on an HD television. Now we're left with a game that brings back bad memories of the Sega CD era, when games in tiny windows were an all-too-common sight.
Bliss Island sports a multiplayer mode as well, but when the game is as unimpressive as this, why bother subjecting others to it?