We have a twofer for you this week, with demos from the last two weeks reviewed. Check out what we played and what you should bother downloading.
You Don’t Know Jack (Xbox Retail)
The demo for the recently released ‘irrelevant trivia party game’ You Don’t Know Jack almost instantly puts to rest the persistent problem with trivia/game show video games, that of questions repeating. Though this was even an issue during the original PC heyday of You Don’t Know Jack, this new version separates questions out into individual episodes. In the demo you can play two custom games consisting of 10 questions (plus a bonus round) each, and it’s in the clever questions and humorous game show experience where this title really shines. Though played for laughs, the questions, often mixing reality with pop culture references, present a good challenge. The bulk of the questions allow for all players (up to 4 locally in the demo) to ring in with their answer individually, keeping everyone involved. Finally the sharp, sarcastic host is scripted with almost completely unique and funny dialog for each answer (right or wrong) that really keeps the game’s energy up.
Dance Central (Xbox Kinect Retail)
The breakout hit of not only the dance game genre, but for the Kinect hardware itself shows its stuff in this three-song sample. "Evacuate the Dancefloor," "I Know You Want Me," and the 1989 Bell Biv DeVoe smash "Poison" are available to dance along to, on three difficulty levels each. Although unlike instrument-based music games that once took the world by storm, each song at each difficulty level consists of at least six complicated dance moves for which the full body tracking from the Kinect works amazingly well. Helpfully each song has a tutorial mode that will teach you the moves, so during the full song you can keep up with the onscreen characters and the cycle of flashcards that show what you need to do and in what order. Again the sharp tracking (if you are not bending your knee even while you are twisting your body and extending your arms in different directions, it will notice) along with the licensed music and even the fastest, most efficient system of navigating menus for a Kinect game, Dance Central will get/keep you in shape.
Battle: Los Angeles (Xbox Live Arcade)
Being the demo for a game based on (and most importantly: for sale on time for the release of) a movie, Battle: Los Angeles on Xbox Live Arcade is not standing on steady ground to begin with. This FPS title puts you among the Marine Corps squad featured in the film as they fight along the movie’s alien invasion plot line. It’s impossible to expect a top-shelf FPS experience from a downloadable title, let alone a movie game, but even with its ‘stiff’ feeling controls, identical enemies and limited weapons (an assault rifle, a sniper rifle and grenades in the demo) Battle: Los Angeles’ at least manages to feel like a title from the lesser ranks of the PS1 FPS era. Before ending abruptly in the middle of the fifth or sixth firefight, the Battle: Los Angeles demo sets the stage with some ludicrously poor comic book style frames, complete with word balloons and bad voice acting. A real detriment to enjoyment is the adherence to the film’s storyline that hides any kind of real explanation for the game’s events (or the ability to use the alien weapons), reducing this title to a series of shooting galleries packed with ready-to-explode cars.
Full House Poker (Xbox Live Arcade)
Largely recognized as the spiritual successor to the ground breaking 1 vs. 100, Full House Poker is Xbox Live Arcade’s online Texas Hold ‘em poker game. You, in the guise of your XBL Avatar (here more animated than you have probably ever seen him/her), can play poker online for purely virtual currency and experience points that will unlock achievements, Avatar items and in-game objects to decorate your own poker room. The demo will teach you all you need to know about the basics of both the card game and the interface, but it’s not too different from the myriad of online poker games that have ridden the recent poker boom to release. The demo allows you to play ten hands, with the tenth repeating endlessly until you buy the game, and that is more than enough to get a feel for the game’s ‘action.’ It’s hard not to argue that Full House Poker’s visual trappings, mostly Avatar animations, largely get in the way of the opportunity to keep the game’s pace up, as key appeal of the online version of the game is the optional interpersonal interaction and the speed of the deal. How this will affect the ‘live’ poker game shows that are limited to 30-minutes in unknown.
Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime (Xbox Live Arcade)
Some franchises, like Star Wars have passed the test of time, but there are others that have never been able to recapture that initial magic. The modest renaissance that Ghostbusters has enjoyed recently will not be buoyed with the release of Sanctum of Slime. The demo consists of up to, but not including, the boss fight of the game’s second stage, which is introduced by a long but well drawn comic panel cut-scene. In it you play the role of one of four new Ghostbusters (the originals are not present) who cooperatively battle waves of ghosts in a series of square rooms. You are allowed access to two of the three available weapons, and while one is the classic beam and the other a wave gun, the only significant difference between the two is their color (red/yellow), which you need to match to the approaching ghosts (red/yellow) to quickly ‘disperse’ them in a tweak to franchise cannon. The room-to-room set up, and the two-analog stick move/fire controls strongly recalls the action seen in the arcade classic Smash TV, but without the path-choosing option. Though the setting and ghosts are appropriately eerie, the three quarters overhead camera is zoomed too far out to pick up any details. Sanctum of Slime suffers from some very repetitive action and both a lack of “real” ghostbusting or the Real Ghostbusters.
Swarm (Xbox Live Arcade)
Sacrifice for the greater good is the lesson learned in the demo for Swarm. This ‘collective’ action platformer has players guiding fifty Swarmites simultaneously through a lethal series of platforming challenges. As the game’s true gold is to collect scraps of loose genetic material for your plant-like space parasite ‘mother.’ Individually Swarmites are expected (and occasionally encouraged) to die as you make your way across the trap-filled levels. For the demo, you can play through the tutorial first level and into the second, though you will be entreated repeatedly to buy the whole game. The swarmintes move in a loose herd that can be contracted or spread-out as situation dictates, but either way your mob will slowly be whittled down by the environment, or even by your choice, as a timely sacrifice can keep your score multiplier going for a little longer. The swarm controls much better than one would think, looking just at the concept of the action, although the bunching of swarm actions (expand, contract, speed boost and stack up) are clustered into the two trigger buttons; an unnecessary complication. The game’s largely death-based gameplay, calling to mind what an arcade version of Lemmings might be like, is wisely played for laughs. The goofy character design and occasional replenishment of your numbers keeps the tone light. Unfortunately, having to keep so many player characters on screen at once keeps the action at a visual distance which can make it hard to time jumps or get a feel for the ‘depth’ of the activities on screen. However, if just for the opportunity to torment individual examples of the title creatures on the ‘buy now’ screen in over a dozen different and hilarious ways, everyone should download this demo.
WWE All-Stars (Xbox Retail)
Though the conceit for this title is to pit current and classic WWF/WWE wrestlers against each other in the their primes to see who was the greatest, in the demo anyway, this simulation of the simulated sport lacks the technical refinement that other sports titles would use to make such a decision. The demo limits players to one-on-one exhibition matches between Rey Mystero and The Ultimate Warrior, and while they are roughly the correct ‘size’ in relation to each other based on their class (high-flyer vs. brawler, two of the four ‘models’), both are blown up to cartoonish proportions in their musculature. The action is also inflated, with flips and signature moves going just one note past reality, but not so far as to be over the top. The controls are basic, with brawler-style light/heavy attack/grapple buttons dominating the action, lacking the technical maneuvering that dominated wrestling games in the previous console generation. The matches are loosely commented on by the real-world announcing talent, though sadly it is light on comments on the action itself and heavy on canned banter between the hosts. WWE All-Stars is a good entry point to wrestling games at best.