It's a double feature this week, as we make up for last week's lack of a DEMO-lition, and cover a couple of full free games on Xbox Live as well!
Bomberman Battlefest Live (Xbox Live Arcade)
The classic game Bomberman is reborn as pure multiplier action. Although the demo only allows for three 16-minute sessions, you can play either locally (and if you want as your Xbox Live Avatar) with up to four players in the same room, or online in a chaotic eight player match in one of the first two arenas. The array of classic power-ups has also been augmented with new rocket bombs that travel before exploding, cluster bombs that explode into more bombs and laser-triggered bombs. All magnify the franchise’s signature rapid-fire strategic action gameplay, but it’s hardly enough to justify a release of an entirely new title for a game that’s not noticeably different from the existing Bomberman downloadable game that itself features gameplay that was perfected over a decade ago. Though no one would play this game for the sound or the visuals, the 2/3’s overhead view unfortunately serves to block objects immediately “above/up” from you, a critical oversight.
Doritos™ Crash Course (Xbox Live Arcade)
This free and complete Xbox Live Arcade game is sponsored by a popular brand of snack chip, but its name in the title is, thankfully, about the extent of its presence. Doritos™ Crash Course is a side scrolling platformer divided up into fifteen timed obstacle courses like a super-simplified version of Trails HD, or the TV show Wipeout. As you progress, with your Avatar as the player character, through the three ‘worlds’ of five stages they get progressively more complicated with new obstacles like swinging ropes and high powered fans. A nice, gradual difficulty curve (and a button that lets you skip a tricky segment) keeps the game’s pace light and fast, giving plenty of opportunity to run and re-run courses to shave time off your personal best. Online play lets you time-trial against friends or strangers, although they only appear as ‘ghosts’ in the background. A light snack of a game, but a great diversion that will keep players on their toes.
Harm’s Way (Xbox Live Arcade)
Another free, full Xbox Live Arcade game, Harm’s Way is a novel title that adds a dash of tower defense to off road racing combat. Though the game only has four cars, each with slightly different stats, and just three tracks, each course is arrayed with turrets that can rain death upon passing racers, damaging their cars or kicking them out of the race temporarily. Power-ups on the track can be picked up by driving over them or by shooting them from a turret repair cars and provide a reflective shield or fill a nitro meter that provides the mildest version of that kind of boost ever seen in a racer. Turret power-ups (and power-downs) give/take the ranged attacker’s chain gun, the ability to lay mines on the course, or homing missiles. The tracks also feature alternate routs and environmental destruction that can be triggered by turret attack. Used strategically you can end a driver’s chance to win permanently. Visually this game is unremarkable, and though the turret controls are sharp, the racing controls could use some tightening up. Harm’s Way can be played single player as the driver in a straight up race, or as a turret operator in what amounts to a turkey shoot. This game really shines in, and was fundamentally built for, multi-player where up to four teams of two can work together and against their competitors.
Saw II: Flesh & Blood (Xbox Retail)
The demo for this sequel to the game that served as a canon side story to the now defunct Saw film franchise almost right away shows what kind of game it is with a gruesomely rendered emergency self-conducted eye surgery sequence. Once through that ordeal you are free, in a rather linear-style of freedom, to start exploring a creepy abandoned building full of blood and death in third person survival-horror fashion. Visually, the game is wincingly realistic for it’s renditions of mutilated bodies, though the copious darkness helps. Tobin Bell returns as the voice of Jigsaw, otherwise the audio is horror movie music stabs broken up with assorted swears and shrieks from the protagonist and the host of people being butchered around you. Apart from the occasional combat, which the demo doesn’t explore at much length, you must navigate a series of quick-time event powered traps and puzzles in the sliding and riddle varieties. As with most titles in the genre, everything in the game is good for either one jolt or one ‘eureka’ moment, otherwise there’s just collectables to find.
Unbound Saga (Xbox Live Arcade)
This 3D brawler finally makes its way to the Xbox Live Arcade after a lengthy PlayStation exclusivity, bringing with it its satirical take on a hard-nosed comic book noir hero (think Marv from Sin City) and a host of features. Immediately the game draws comparisons to the semi-classic title Comix Zone, for its panel/screen layout and its core conflict of creation verses creator, and the more recently developed and released title Comic Jumper’s tongue-in-cheek take on comic book story telling conventions. While it’s a vast improvement on the latter’s borderline obnoxiousness, Unbound Saga offers more dimensions than just the third in its combat. The game is designed for co-op, offering a choice between bruiser hero Rick, who can pickup and throw objects, and agile Lori, who can jump. The pair is on screen at all times, letting a single player swap between PCs and letting the game’s passable AI control their partner. Skill trees allow you to develop each character a different way, though the single demo level didn’t allow for much exploration. While the level designs are bog standard, the cel-shaded character animations are sharp, though a Comix Zone-esque hand that pops up and draws foes in gets old fast, especially since it tends to get in the way of the action.