XBL Community Games Roundup 0.51 – the rest of the first 6 months

Apologies for the delay between this and the previous entry – life’s a bit hectic at the I:D household. Still, the show must go on!

This is a follow up to my last entry on the highlights of Microsoft’s Xbox Live community games portal, this time looking at less-essential, but notable titles. Some of these are interesting ideas, which don’t quite live up to their promises. Others are entertaining, but limited. And some simply looked interesting for one reason or another, but turned out not to be worth the bother. Again, there are no mentions here of the week 1 releases, as they saw considerable coverage already; or any of the other, older high-profile titles. (I have included more recent ones, however: hence Halfbrick Echoes and Clover). As I’m not in the habit of kicking puppies, any titles that simply weren’t any good, and haven’t been heavily marketed, I’ve refrained from commenting on.

StreamLine

Looks like DotStream. Plays like DotStream. And yet, isn't quite as good.

Looks like dotstream. Plays like dotstream. And yet, isn't quite as good.

Heavily, heavily influenced by dotstream, StreamLine follows a very similar mechanic: you control a line, racing against another line (contrary to the screenshot above, there are never more than two lines in play). You avoid obstacles and hit boosters: like dotstream (and F-Zero before it), you’re also given an energy bar – this bar can be used to boost, but also depletes when you drive through obstacles (rather than stopping you, obstacles slow you down as you pass through them). Let it run out, and it’s game over. And that’s all there is to it. Simple, but not a bad setup, as dotstream fans will attest.

StreamLine doesn’t have the benefit of being developed by Skip Ltd for Nintendo, so it’s not surprising that it misses some of the nuances of dotstream – gone is the tight track and controls of the former, lost to the real-estate of a full sized monitor, and with it pseudo-slipstreaming so integral to that title: moving in short steps up or down, your stream could never travel the same path as another, causing you to get shunted into obstacles if you weren’t careful. To make up for this, travelling alongside another stream would cause you to accelerate, meaning that the best way to reach the front of the pack was to stick close to their paths wherever possible, even as you strove to keep away from costly collisions. Curiously, also gone is the punishment for unnecessary movement: where in dotstream trying to keep to a straight line as much as possible was important to avoid losing time, in StreamLine there is no such loss: this is a game which rewards reactions, rather than racing lines. And, perhaps as importantly as all the gameplay considerations, gone too are the 8-bit stylings – the minimalist graphics and the glorious chiptunes that marked dotstream and its Bit Generations brethren out from the crowd.

But all of this can be forgiven – this is an amateur release, and it’s still a fun enough game. Unfortunately, it’s hard to recommend paying for it. There are seven courses in the demo, completable in no time at all. The full-game features… the same seven courses. Nothing new is unlocked, making it a questionable purchase. Download the demo, and enjoy it. If you like it enough to want to reward the developers, give it a purchase – it’s only 200 MSP, after all. Just don’t expect anything other than the warm satisfaction of doing someone a good turn.

Curt / 20

Halfbrick Echoes

The footprints, oh God, the footprints!

The footprints, oh God, the footprints!

This one’s received a fair bit of coverage, mainly due to its interesting central conceit. One of the mechanics which has seen much use in indie games recently has been that of single-player-cooperative gameplay – which might sound odd, but works surprisingly well. The idea being that your interaction with the world – be it an avatar or a cursor – can be looped, and re-interacted with. So on one play through you might hold open a door – then on the next play through, you watch that previous incarnation of yourself hold the door open, and your current incarnation is able to walk through it.

Confused? Don’t worry, Echoes simplifies things. While it keeps the idea of past actions repeating indefinitely, it simplifies their interaction with your present self as that of an obstacle: in this game, you have to avoid the ‘echoes’ of yourself as you strive to collect gems; each gem picked up leading to another echo of you following your movements. Eventually, each level ends up filled with deadly clones of yourself that you must avoid.

The fact is, that the idea simply isn’t as interesting as the original idea it is altering – games like Cursor * 10, which also have the benefit of being free. Which isn’t to say it can’t be fun – it can present quite a challenge, and it’s satisfying to plan out a safe route, thinking ahead to what you’ll have to avoid on your next pick up. It’s just not as inspiring as it seems to want to be – and the same extends to the presentation. Despite being made by a professional developer, and billed as being filled with “surreal, artistic worlds”, the game is actually rather ugly, and more abstract than surreal. It’s not a bad game, by any means, and is well worth a try – just don’t expect too much. It’s 200 MSP.

Disappointing / 6

Clover

HE STARES INTO YOUR VERY SOUL

HE STARES INTO YOUR VERY SOUL

It all seemed so promising: a polished, idealistic return to the fondly-remembered platform-adventures of yore (as epitomised by the Dizzy series), put together by an enthusiastic developer. Not only featuring hand-painted watercolour backdrops, the game was going to be more than just a standard adventure: it had a message, using its fictional world as a mirror to the uglier side of our own Western/American culture. And technically, all of the above remain true, and this is a game with real heart.

Unfortunately, heart isn’t enough to save it. First up is its clumsy interface, combining an (initially) one-slot inventory with an irritating menu which crops up every time you want to pick up an item – something you do an awful lot. Mostly, it’s just far too dull to care about what you’re doing. The backdrops range from quite nice to ugly, and the character design is, without exception, entirely without charm. The gameplay is as glacial as the aforementioned Codemasters titles, but lacks the surreal worlds and stories that made those games a pleasure to explore. Clover‘s attempts to use its jingoistic monarchy as a commentary on the modern West are heavy-handed and overly verbose, delivered via long-winded newspaper articles and speeches. Wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve can be endearing, but overplayed it becomes little more than an annoyance, and so it is with this game: even if you agree with the politics, being repeatedly bashed over the head with the message is nothing but tiresome, detracting from the gameplay itself.

And all of this is a pity – because look beyond the presentation, and you have a solid enough Dizzy-alike, which while not quite up to those games’ standard, makes a good a stab at it. The removal of death from the game also makes it far less frustrating than those games – something which most fans would probably agree is a good thing. If only it had half the imagination of those titles, or indeed half the obsession with pushing out its message, then this would come heartily recommended.

Awkward %

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