Hey folks! Due to an overwhelming number of time sensitive articles last week, we had to delay the demo reviews. Luckily, that just means this week's column is twice as big! So sit back and relax, and check out the demos that are available now.
Costume Quest (Xbox Live Arcade)
Double Fine’s downloadable RPG expertly captures the ‘everything is life or death’ feeling of being a little kid, especially on big nights like Halloween. Naturally, this being a video game, it really is life or death (or is it?) as an innocent night of trick or treating with your fraternal twin turns into an epic adventure as you uncover monsters planning to *gasp* steal all the candy! Initiating battle, by knocking on the wrong doors, turns you into exaggerated version of your simple costume ( i.e. your cardboard robot costume is transformed into a towering Mecha) for some turn-based RPG battles. The combat also involves some QTE button presses to enhance attacks or improve defense in the Super Mario RPG style. Outside of battles, you can still trick or treat for candy (which is used as currency) or search around for parts of other costumes, each of which provides a secondary ‘overworld’ power, like rocket-skates or a shield. Complementing the game’s light feel are the hand drawn-looking character designs and the witty (non-spoken) dialog that will hook you throughout the lengthy demo in a portion of the game’s first area.
Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage (Xbox Retail)
The seminal post-apocalyptic magna and anime franchise Fist of the North Star comes to consoles with this hybrid 3D fighter/brawler. For the demo, you get one multi-phase battle as either Kenshiro or Rei against a missile and firebomb flinging opponent, a challenging fight, not because of the enemy’s skill but because of the clunky control scheme and poor hit detection. The two-button weak/strong attacks system has been around gaming for years, but never implemented quite this poorly as the number of combo attacks available to you can be counted on one hand. Visually the game is last-gen at best, and no matter how cool it is to hear Ken’s battle-ending catch phrase: “You are already dead,” seeing your foe explode into a brief red spray and three pink fragments that are supposed represent intestines is laughable in the worst way.
Super Meat Boy (Xbox Live Arcade)
Calling Super Meat Boy a polished up version of the kind of Adobe Flash-style game that is pervasive on the internet is doing it a bit of disservice, but its apt shorthand for the deceptively simple platforming found in this demo. Quirky humor and super-cute animations aside, this 13 stage (though ‘screen’ is a more fitting description for the short levels) demo takes the player through the basics of the game’s mechanics and simple save-your-girlfriend story. Aside from standing/jumping/avoiding danger style action, your hero’s meaty consistency allows him to stick andslide on walls to ascend sheer surfaces in wall-kick fashion or for slowing falls. Precision when moving about is absolutely necessary, but when death comes, and it will visit often, the game will quickly reset the level, allowing you to butcher yourself as often as needed. When necessary, there is an option in the menu to skip to the next one. The demo also teases hidden levels, world warps and a feature to record and review your progress though a stage to help you plan a faster attack.
Dream Chronicles (Xbox Live Arcade)
A rare sight on consoles, Dream Chronicles is a point and click adventure game in the simplified Myst vein. As the only one not affected by a sleeping curse in a ‘faerie’ world, you must endeavor to pixel-hunt to find items hidden in the background that will open the door to the next room. The areas are pre-rendered but not completely static, you are allowed to ‘step-into’ any area to get a closer view of the part of the screen the game determines for you as being important. Although still satisfying to complete, none of the puzzles in the three demo rooms are terribly challenging, and the inevitable slow scanning of your pointer is aided by key objects sparking briefly to attract your attention. Either way, the soft ren-faire style music is complementary to the effort. The screens are also littered with collectable gems to extend the gameplay and an intriguing multi-player option is teased.
Majin & the Forsaken Kingdom (Xbox Retail)
In this action-adventure fairy tale, a good heated thief awakens a powerful ancient beast called the Majin to help him free his home from a dark force. Unfortunately, the beast isn’t as strong as the stories told, and you and he have to work together to get stronger if you are to survive. As the demo takes you though the basics of the gameplay it becomes clear that it feels like a combination of a Zelda title and something akin to The Maw as you dodge and slash foes while simultaneously (and thankfully with the help of intuitive controls) order around the Majin. Initially, he can only use his bulk to swat around foes, but quickly he will learn to heal you, breathe fire and join with you to deliver combination attacks. The demo ends before you can discover if you can develop the Majin Pokemon-style or if he’ll ever lose his childlike-lummox personality, but it, like this game, has a certain charm.
Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit (Xbox Retail)
Once you are through EA’s logon system, this competitive racer’s demo shows off its online features in a lengthy video. Features include the ability to play as the cops or the racers, online multiplayer, a Facebook-style “Wall” where you can post your times for friends to see and regular news updates from the fictional game world and from EA. In one race available, you play as a police officer tasked with apprehending all the drivers in a race in progress. After choosing between a black and white Nissan 320Z or a classic Crown Victoria, you will need to blow at least one of four racers off the road by ramming them, deploying roadblocks ahead of you or deploying spike strips that drop of the back of your car like a kart racer’s bananas. The licensed cars handle the way you would expect a semi-arcade style racer game would and are all carefully rendered and come with a page of stats and a little PR from the manufactures. Although the placement of the ‘weapons’ on the d-pad means you have to take your thumb off the wheel, as hazardous a move as it would be in real life.
Ultra 3D Mini Golf 2 (Xbox Live Arcade)
In this sequel to the popular XBL Avatar game, 54 new impossible to do in reality holes across three new courses, Artic, Museum or Haunted House themed, are up for play solo or in local multiplayer. Though the demo only lets you play three holes, one in each course, you can get a taste of the challenging and sometime very long holes that have not only the usual variety of mini-gold obstacles, but offer power-ups like the ability to ignore physics or mess with a competitor’s lie. The full game has a course editor to create and share custom holes, and there are three different control schemes available to make play adaptable to whatever larger golf franchise’s putting mechanic you are used to. Unfortunately, the absence of a clear way to judge the gradient or slope of a hole is a big misstep.
Bloody Good Time (Xbox Live Arcade)
This FPS takes a lot of inspiration from Team Fortress 2, but while TF2 is known for the kind of depth it has in spite of its simplicity, Bloody Good Time is trying to do everything and it’s a mess. The nominal plot is of a group of B-movie stock characters trying to ‘ax’ each other out of a role in a psychotic director’s next movie. In each of the game’s three large movie-set arenas (only one in the demo) you can setup a series of different types of multiplayer games including deathmatch, an assassins/hunters game, Infection and Revenge, that can be swapped around every few minutes mid-game. To further complicate matters there is an NPC security force that patrols the maps that will kill you if they see you trying to kill anyone else. Pickups include an array of bizarre weapons and power-ups that just feel ineffective. Finally. There is a jarringly pointless The Sims-style hunger/fatigue/bathroom meters that have to be satisfied to keep your player character effective. Put simply, you need to have your character lay down and take a nap occasionally while other players are running around with crossbows and baseball bats looking to kill you.
Pinball FX 2 (Xbox Live Arcade)
Less of a demo than the launch platform for the various Pinball FX 2 tables, this download will register as a game on your achievement list, like Halo Waypoint or the Rock Band Music Store. Aside from that, you are granted five minutes to play one of the four stunning default tables that put their painted wood ancestors to shame. The gameplay is as sharp as you’d guess a high quality physics engine can deliver on a current-gen platform and you’d think that the left and right bumpers on the Xbox 360 controllers were designed for pinball. Options teased include the ability to adjust the pitch of the virtual table, the strength of individual bumpers and local split-screen multiplayer with online tournaments and challenges. There are also a number of additional tables for free, after the purchase of the core game, and Pinball FX 2 is backward compatible with the original’s tables.
Haunted House (Xbox Live Arcade)
A remake of the 1981 Atari 2600 survival horror classic, this new Haunted House goes for ‘homage’ but ends up taking away more than it adds. Keeping the same outline of a plot, the search for items of value in a dark, haunted house, the remake adds more story but only as an excuse to pad out the search for key items, a task already made difficult as you must stand sill to examine objects, leaving you open to attack. On the 2600 the black screen representing dark rooms was almost tangibly eerie, especially if played in an actual darkened room. In the remake, that darkness is instead just the absence of brightness, all but forcing you to squint to see where you are going which gets old, and a bit painful, fast.What demos did you try out this week?