Live Ware: Ikaruga, Battlezone, Rocky and Bullwinkle
This has been a good couple of weeks for Xbox Live Arcade. Not only do we have some solid arcade titles, but some fantastic downloadable content, too. Now that everyone has gotten the free Heroic Map Pack for Halo 3, there are three more maps in the Legendary Map Pack. Of course, these will cost you 800 Microsoft Points. There are also two new add-ons for Poker Smash. One provides two new environments for the action mode, and the other includes 15 new puzzles (along with their solutions). Each of these new packs runs for 100 MS Points.
One of the largest releases is Koei's Samurai Warriors 2 Xtreme Legends, the expansion pack for (you guessed it) Samurai Warriors 2. This add-on was released on disc for the PlayStation 2, but this Xbox 360 version is exclusive to the Xbox Live Marketplace. The pack costs 2400 MS Points (about $30, the same price as the PS2 version) and it takes up a whopping 2.5 GB on your hard drive. So what do you get for all that money/storage space? Well, you get six new characters with their own storylines and weapons, higher level caps, new unlockable weapons for all the characters (including the original Samurai Warriors), two new difficulty levels, redesigned battlefields, and a new mode, dubbed Mercenary mode. If you're addicted to Koei's hack-and-slash series, this expansion will breathe some new life into an older title.
Developer: Treasure Co. Ltd.
Publisher: Treasure Co. Ltd.
Price: 800 Microsoft Points
Originally appeared on: Dreamcast, GameCube
RECOMMENDATION: Buy It
Import junkies are probably all too familiar with the name Radiant Silvergun . This vertical-scrolling shooter by beloved developer Treasure is one of the finest games available for the Sega Saturn. Unfortunately, it was never released in the United States and today it fetches a pretty penny on the secondary market. Treasure later created Ikaruga for the Dreamcast, and although it's not a direct sequel to Silvergun, it is sort of a spiritual successor.
Unfortunately (again), that game also remained in Japan. It seemed as though average American gamers were out of luck when it came to playing Treasure's shooter masterpieces. Until, that is, a port of Ikaruga was released for GameCube. A frothing demand for the game increased until Atari brought the port to the United States.
If you missed the game the first time around, you now have a chance to redeem yourself on Xbox Live Arcade. Ikaruga belongs to that special subgroup of shooters known as "bullet hell." Seemingly endless steams of bullets fly at your ship, forcing you to memorize patterns and pull off some extremely artful dodging to get through them. The game's main gimmick lies in your ship's ability to switch its color between black and white. All of the enemies and their projectiles are also black and white. When you're the same color as the enemy bullets, you'll absorb the shots, keeping you free from harm. If your ship is the opposite color of the enemy, however, you'll deal more damage to them.
Constantly switching back and forth between your two polarities adds a vast amount of depth and challenge to the game. It's a bit tricky to get the hang of at first, but once you've got it down, the game feels like some sort of intergalactic ballet.
The game is relatively short (only five levels), but it's tough. Even after you've beaten the game, Ikaruga begs to be played multiple times in order to get a higher score. There's an online multiplayer option, but the games we played had too much lag to be enjoyable. Precision is extremely important in a game like this, so even the slightest bit of delay can be deadly. Hardcore shooter fans will be pleased to hear that the game can be played in "TATE" (i.e. vertical) mode if you have a monitor that can be turned on its side.
At only 800 MS Points, this version of Ikaruga is significantly cheaper than tracking down a GameCube version, and the game retains all of its important features. You have no more excuses -- pick it up.
Developer: Stainless Games
Price: 400 Microsoft Points
Originally appeared on: Arcade
RECOMMENDATION: Try It
Back in 1980, Atari released Battlezone. This tank simulator stood out from many other arcade games of the day thanks to its slick-looking vector graphics. The simple green lines on a black background provided a surprisingly immersive 3-D experience (and the periscope viewfinder through which you had to look to play the game didn't hurt, either). The goal of the game was simply to maneuver your tank around a mostly barren terrain (empty, save for a few random geometric shapes) and blast enemy tanks before they blasted you. Occasionally, other targets such as UFOs and speeding missiles would show up, as well.
Over the years, there have been various remakes and sequels to Battlezone. Some have been better than others, but it's a fine testament to the quality of the original that in pretty much every case, you'd be better off plunking a quarter into the arcade original. Although simplistic, the gameplay remains just as addictive today. This Xbox Live Arcade remake delivers the classic version of the game in all its vector glory, as well as an enhanced version of the game. Like the XBLA version of Centipede/Millipede and Asteroids/Asteroids Deluxe, the developers seem to have gotten the instructions to "Geometry Wars this old game up." The new version of Battlezone retains the same basic gameplay (albeit with a few twists), while adding a glossy shine of neon colors and particle effects. There's even a great four-player online deathmatch that is a natural fit with the game.
Battlezone is still just as fun as it's always been, and the 400 MS Point price tag is nice. Gamers who weren't around when the title was new in arcades may not see the point of playing it for extended periods, though, thanks to its relatively shallow gameplay. Give it a try, but be sure to change the controls so that you're controlling your tank with dual analog sticks. That's how people play.
Rocky and Bullwinkle
Developer: ZEN Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Price: 800 Microsoft Points
Originally appeared on: N/A
RECOMMENDATION: Fry It
In the "Bullwinkle" cartoon, Rocky (full name, Rocket J. Squirrel) would segue past one of Bullwinkle J. Moose's failed attempts to pull a rabbit out of a hat with an encouraging, "And now, here's something we hope you'll really like!" With optimism like that, Rocky must not have played the new game based on his old show.
The format of Rocky and Bullwinkle is similar to Nintendo's WarioWare titles, where you compete in a number of different "micro-games," each lasting about three to 10 seconds. As there is very little time for in-depth gameplay, these games are purely tests of your reflexes and your ability to figure out exactly what you're supposed to do before the time limit runs out. Micro-game collections like this rely on the addictive (and sometimes goofy) appeal of the games, and Rocky features more than 100 of them. There are a few fun games mixed in, but the majority of them are quite disappointing.
Not helping matters any is the fact that the game looks remarkably amateurish. Granted, the "Bullwinkle" cartoon's limited animation isn't exactly high art, but it looks positively stunning when compared to the third-rate Flash animation that comprises this game. The characters all look slightly off-model and the "South Park"-esque cutout animation style they have contrasts greatly with the clips from the actual show that play in between each micro-game.
Some of the micro-games take advantage of the Xbox Live Vision camera, but the camera controls never seem to respond as well as you'd like. It's great to see moose and squirrel getting another chance to shine, but by putting the duo in games like this, today's kids will never learn why Wossamotta U.'s most famous alumnus was popular in the first place. Stick with Pinball FX's new Rocky and Bullwinkle table. It's much more entertaining than this game.