Beyond Good and Evil HD (Xbox Live Arcade)
Of all the video games ever released, few qualify as more ‘cultish’ than Beyond Good and Evil, the 2003 sci-fi action-adventure title with a strong female protagonist and a distinctive art style. While a true sequel has remained in development purgatory for years, an ‘HD Remix’ version of the original game is now available on Xbox Live Arcade. The demo quickly takes players through the game’s talky prologue: establishing: the main characters, taking you though a tutorial battle ending in a boss fight and finally introducing the game’s wildlife photography mechanic. Sadly, it stops short of the first real ‘dungeon’ area that would let players experience the game rather than let the title’s reputation sell it. Visually and audibly, the game is ‘smoother’ than its PS1 progenitor, though the transition between spoken dialog and text is jarring and random. Both the demo and the full game are for people who’ve have been heard about it for years and never got the chance to play it, and for the die-hards who will purchase what is likely their second or third copy in the hope to spur the developers into getting to work on the sequel.
Days of Thunder: Arcade (Xbox Live Arcade)
Twenty-one years after the release of the movie and its original NES tie-in, Days of Thunder returns to consoles in the form of an arcade-style stock car racer. In the demo, you can run a single race in the one unlocked track (of 10 total) in a pre-selected car festooned with the Paramount logo, though you are free to set the lap count as high as sixty trips around the tri-oval course. Emphasizing the game’s arcade style, performing certain moves while racing can build up one of two special meters. The first, for drifting and passing is a standard nitro boost, while the second, filled by aggressive driving, earns you ‘focus,’ a bullet-time mode that slows down the race giving your more time to react during tight passes or for avoiding crashes, an unusual but welcome application of this well worn gaming mechanic. Also notable is the ‘drive through’ pit stop system that lets you to repair your car quickly and to your satisfaction by hammering on different buttons until you are ready to rejoin the race. The game falls down a little with its blocky, sub-Daytona USA visuals, unremarkable audio, a barking pit boss and its ridiculously outdated license.
Top Spin 4 (Xbox Retail)
Some of the game’s top names lent their names and eerily realistic likenesses to Top Spin 4, one of the very few ‘true’ tennis simulator franchises in gaming. This visually sharp demo lets you embody one of the four top names in the sport (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and Ana Ivanovic) in a co-ed, to seven point rally scoring 1-on-1 ‘tie break’ match on either the grass of Arthur Ashe stadium in New York or the clay of France’s Philippe Chatrier stadium. A nice touch is the regional-language specific chair judges, meaning that a match in France will be refereed in French. As in the real sport, most of the challenge in the demo is from trying to predict where the ball is heading far enough in advance to return it, a feat that almost requires ESP. Lower difficulties will callout where the ball is gong to bounce, and if you make it there, you can return it with different kinds of shots mapped to the face buttons that can be tweaked by power and angle with the triggers. A little practice will generate good rallies, and the enjoyment of many a tennis pro's recorded grunts will be forthcoming.
MLB 2K11 (Xbox Retail)
Prepare to strike out and get taken to the yard often in the demo for MLB 2K11, which will throw you almost immediately into a 3-inning exhibition between the Texas Rangers and the San Francisco Giants with only the barest instruction as to how the game is controlled. Pitching is the major source of challenge as once you select a certain type of pitch, you must complete a tilt and swirl motion with the right stick quickly with precision if you hope to have a pitch stay in the strike zone and out of the field of play. Players should be able to get the hang of it eventually, but not without falling behind a few runs. Hitters on the other hand face the classic 2D depth perception dilemma, but are aided by a comparatively simpler swing mechanic and a notice if you are swinging too early or too late. Fielding is another challenge, as the bases are mapped to the face buttons, but each throw is metered, hold down too long and your throw could sail wide. As with most modern sports titles, the game looks all but like a broadcast of the real thing, and there are plenty of stats to fill the screen and a capable play-by-play announcer.