Welcome to the first edition of our all-new column, Video Game DEMO-lition. Here, we'll take a look at every demo that comes available on XBLM and PSN each week, and let you know which is worth the download, and which should just be skipped. Lets jump right into it with some arcade action...
Plants vs. Zombies (Xbox Live Arcade)
I get the appeal of the Tower Defense genre of games, they have a rhythm to them that delivers a satisfaction that is somewhere between checking off an item on a to-do list and successfully performing a plate spinning act. In the Plants vs. Zombies variant, the latter slowly shuffles down one of only five paths from right to left as you manage your limited sunshine resource to sprout plants that will defend your house against the horde and deliver that job-well-done feeling. The game slowly eases the player into the action by gradually introducing new, thematically appropriate pieces like the offensive Peashooter plant, explosive Cherry Bombs and ‘Wall-Nuts.’ On the other side the game’s cute-macabre look is turned up all the way with shambling zombies that utter ‘braaains’ and look pathetic enough with their rotting clothes and faces that makes them more endearing than the heroic plants. The zombies attack with their own abilities based on their former lives, for instance an undead pole-vaulter will bypass your first line of defense by flinging himself over it. Plants vs. Zombies’ by-design repetitive action is broken up by mini-games, like Wall-Nut bowling, and a promise of a more plant and zombie types at the end. Plants vs. Zombies banks a lot on its visual humor and promise of multiple game modes, but with so many similar games available for less, or even for free, it’s hard to recommend.
NBA 2K11 (Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 Retail)
Experience counts for a lot in the demo for NBA 2K11 from 2K Sports, as it will drop you almost instantly into a game between the Boston Celtics and the LA Lakers. Those who’ve played the previous games in the franchise will be able to pick up where they left off, while newcomers will hunt for the control layout screen the first time they accidentally launch a shot from three-quarters of the court away. In addition, while you are admiring the view, whether it’s for the excellent player renders or refection of the arena lights in the hardwood court, the single five minute quarter the demo gives you before kicking you out is ticking away. Multiple play-throughs might give you a better feeling as to how NBA 2K11 will play, but the absence of any part of its biggest selling point, Jordan Mode, is bewildering.
FIFA 11 (Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 Retail)
The demo of EA’s football sim is out just in time for Club Season to begin, or in American-English, it’s that time in the soccer world when national/regional teams start playing for their own internal championships. FIFA 11 first and foremost wants to show off its new option to let players be the goalkeeper with a one on one mode that it pops you into between games. While it’s a challenge to score as the striker, as the goalkeeper, even with on-screen indicators of the attacking player’s immediate path and a recommendation of where you should stand, it takes a modicum of ESP to divine where and when exactly you have to make your move to block a shot. In this practice space and in the ten-minute full game it gives you the choice between two of six Premier League clubs. The game will hold the hand of soccer newbies by simplifying the controls down to three buttons (shoot/pass/sprint) while the AI will do all it can to assist you on the field. The matches are fully voiced with color and play by play commentary, feature an impressive range of character animations and have the array of camera and replay modes that EA has been implementing for years. The demo also has unlockable features like new teams and players if it is linked to the Facebook version of the game, or played a certain number of times.
Quantum Theory (Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 Retail)
If Gears of War was made by a Japanese developer, it would be Tecmo Koei’s Quantum Theory. As Syd, a chisel-faced solder wearing oversized body armor, you move from cover to cover in third person as you fight a pair of techno-organic alien races who are using your world as a battlefield (there is even a roadie-run). Instead of under the ground, battles take place in living towers with a distinct Japanese fantasy architectural flavor that grows cover and excretes foes. You can wield up to three weapons of various types, but there is also a two-button melee mechanic that can deliver brutal close range kills, if you can get the camera to behave. Quantum Theory mixes it up a little with your computer controlled sidekick, Fillena, with whom you can perform combination attacks, utilizing her (sorry Dominick) agility and swordsmanship by flinging her fastball-special-style into enemies. The demo takes you through the intro tutorial stages and up to the end of the first boss fight, but despite the backstory you get from the loading screens and the bicker-flirting between the two lead characters, nowhere does it explain why the game is called Quantum Theory.
Sonic Adventure (Xbox Live Arcade)
This demo is a port of the 1998 Dreamcast smash hit of the same name which launched Sonic into the age of 3D adventures with a large supporting cast and gameplay that moved away from the fast action that the franchise was launched on. In isolation, the erratic camera and clumsy control scheme date this game to its era. It should be noted that while the demo features just showcase the opening beach stage (basically world 1-1), the demo largely hides the fishing, dungeon crawling and Chao breeding stages that feature the other characters and make up a significant portion of the game.
KoF SkyStyle (Xbox Live Arcade)
That’s KoF as in the long running 2D fighting franchise King Of Fighters, though this game is instead an arcade style vertically scrolling shooter, with six of the most popular King Of Fighters characters taking to the skies (without any visible means of propulsion) to shoot down waves of enemy ships. The action is not exactly “bullet hell,” but is still frantic as you apply each of the flying fighter’s unique special attacks that are powered by a regenerating three level super meter. At the end of each of the stages, though there is just one in the demo, you will fight another King Of Fighters character in this same style after exchanging words that advance a plot about a hidden source of psychic energy. While popular franchise stalwarts like Mai Shiranui and Terry Bogard are included, for the demo only Kyo Kusanagi and Iori Yagami are available to play. Two people play in the verses mode, where they jockey for space at the top of the screen to score more points, but doing so leaves one open to attacks from AI foes from above and their human rival below.
Space Invaders Infinity Gene (Xbox Live Arcade / PSN)
This reimagining of the seminal shooter Space Invaders centers around the theme of evolution that takes the game’s simple concept in a new direction. While retaining the basic wire frame and black and white look of the original (for the foes anyway), Space Invaders Infinity Gene is constantly playing with the game’s perspective. It moves from top down to third person and every varying degree in-between as the classic simple invaders, and dozens of new ones in all shapes and sizes, come at you from every angle. The demo stops just before the first boss fight, but with the constant stream of new, large foes you face along the way, the idea that there are still boss fights to come shows that the game still has surprises in store. The menu of different attacks (like homing rays and shotgun like blasts) and other game modes, including one that purports the script an original level based on the music you have on your hard drive, make Space Invaders Infinity Gene very tempting.
Sengoku BASARA: Samurai Heroes (PlayStation 3 Retail)
You've already played the 15 Dynasty Warriors titles, even the Gundam spin-offs. You have purchased consoles just for these games, and logged 100 hours in each, trying desperately to reach that 100% completion rating. Now we go back to the original, and see it come to the West, with Sengoku BASARA. The franchise actually predates Dynasty Warriors but the gameplay will be familiar to fans of the others. Run around in the demo controlling one of two players (though there will be MANY more in the final game), hacking, slashing, and using super attacks to take down hundreds upon hundreds of foes. The Japanese setting and real-life names are used as a backdrop for an anime-inspired fight fest. This is mindless beat-em-up in all the right ways. The characters do have very unique moves that will change the way you play slightly depending on who you are controlling, and each of these demos takes you through one entire mission, lasting a solid 30 minutes. It's a hefty bit of gameplay, and definitely worth the download. It does the job perfectly as a demo: show what the game is like, and give people juuust enough of a taste to make you want more.