Outland (Xbox Live Arcade)
On the surface Outland looks like another back-lit, ephemeral-feeling platformer like Limbo or The UnderGarden, but in its three stage demo, this title reveals that it is something more. Putting aside its stock plot of a man trying to find himself while exploring the jungle (the ‘natural’ soundtrack will instantly make you think you’re in the lobby of a Rainforest Cafe) you are given three stages to try out its fluid platforming action. Your player character, depicted in black but featuring finely detailed glowing orange ‘Tron-lines,’ moves in a way reminiscent of a more responsive version of Flashback. As you progress new moves are added like a slide and a directional sword attack. The demo really shines when a twist occurs in the third stage, adding a color-switching mechanic that doubles the challenge. Instead of orange, you can switch on the fly between red and blue, each allowing you to interact only with objects of the same color. Platforms that are the same color as you will be solid, and matching enemy attacks won’t do damage, but the only way to defeat them is to expose yourself to their attacks by switching to the opposite color. Quickly you’ll be switching colors in mid-air during jumps, and the demo will make you consider buying the whole game to see how the first boss fight plays out with this mechanic in place.
Trouble Witches: NEO (Xbox Live Arcade)
Side-scrolling shooting meets Magical Girl anime in Trouble Witches: NEO, a bright confection of a game that hides a note of complexity under its super-cute exterior. The demo lets you take the role of two of the seven characters and their flight capable familiars through the game’s first stage, including the first boss fight. Everything in this game, even the deadly bullets, are colored in a bright, cartoon style, but never lack in detail. The typical side-scrolling action setup is thrown a couple of wrenches here with the introduction of a shopping system for power-ups and items to recharge a defensive field. Coins will burst forth from defeated foes, but are only drawn to you if you let go of the trigger for a moment. That cash can be spent in mid-level stores that you’ll need to dodge bullets to fly into. Cheesy voiceovers detract from the experience, but otherwise Trouble Witches: NEO is a deeper, more involved game than the litany (?) of ported, older shooters that make their way into the downloadable game marketplace.
Nin2-Jump (Xbox Live Arcade)
Another entry in the wave of platformers like N+ and The Fancy Pants Adventure, that focuses on challenge and quirk, though it’s the latter where Nin2-Jump trips itself up. The demo lets you play through the first ten very fast levels as it gradually teaches you to jump, collect scrolls that let you slay foes by touching them and how use the player character’s grappling hook to move about the 2D stages Bionic Commando style on your way to the exit. Nin2-Jump’s flair comes from its presentation, as all the action takes place on a theatrical stage and all the on-screen objects, including the player character, are moved about as if they were stick puppets made out of black construction paper. It’s a clever trick, but the game takes the setup too far, placing a cheering audience in the ‘foreground’ of the theater and lighting the action ‘on stage’ with a spotlight. The effect cloaks the edges of the screen in darkness, further reducing the playable area of the screen. Nin2-Jump is perfect for those looking for ninja-themed platforming, but it’s clear from the demo that there are better titles for you to scratch your twitch jumping itch.