Xbox Live Thumbs Down: Out of Control

Any game released today has some redeeming value.  Even the worst franchise cash-in titles can pass the time, even though there might be twenty other games more fun than it.  What, then, makes a game a thumbs down?  Generally, the difference-maker is the controls.  If the controls don’t feel right, they distract from every other part of the game.

Halo Wars (Retail)

I’m a big fan of the recent attempts at bringing RTS games to consoles.  The gameplay isn’t quite there, but each release brings one or two innovations towards the goal.  Halo Wars’ trick is the Y button, which quickly uses that unit’s special abilities such as throwing grenades or using special weapons.  Quick and definitely console-like.  Not fully thought out, though, as the game gets very confused once you’ve selected a whole army.  The Y button ends up using everyone’s special at once!  This oversight makes it hard to break out of the “round up the army and throw them all at the enemy” mold of other mediocre RTS games.

Exit 2 (Arcade)

Classic games like Lemmings, Lost Vikings, old Prince of Persia, are generally too creaky and unplayable to be fun these days.  This is what xbox arcade is for: bringing back old, simple gameplay except revamped and modernized.  Punishing, time-limit-based gameplay can be thrilling and fun, but when it turns into frustration just in the span of a demo, something is wrong.  The wonderful art style and tricky levels of this puzzle game are, like the first Exit, once again completely wasted on terrible controls.  Simply jumping, moving up and down, ordering around the people you need to rescue are all sluggish and slow.  It doesn’t make me feel like the crafty, agile Mr. ESC.

Ninja Blade (Retail)

Ninjas are rabid creatures with incredible powers.  Make me feel like a powerful ninja!  The setup cutscene involves jumping out of a helicopter and you must quicktime hit buttons or repeat the scene!  After killing 6 enemies mid-fall with one slash in the cutscene, the demo begins with loads of grunt mutants that take 12 katana slashes to kill.  How does a katana travel through a body without maiming it?  The controls might not be so bad, but it feels so tedious to fight helpless enemies that never die.

Bionic Commando Multiplayer Demo (Retail)

Gone are the tough but simple controls that made the Bionic Commando Rearmed remake so fun.  Instead, aim your cursor all around the screen and hope there’s something to lock on to!  Without good controls, BC is useless.  A terrible misstep.

Skate 2 (Retail)

What do Skate players want in their open-world, free-flowing skate game?  Cutscenes with jackasses talking about your time in prison.  The demo for Skate 1 was perfect: pure gameplay, lots of time to try things out, easy but deep controls, and more.  Skate 2 adds really janky walking and pushing-stuff-around controls and the aforementioned cutscene.  Even a few playthroughs haven’t made the new gameplay familiar enough to be fun.

Virtual-On Oratoria Tangram (Arcade)

One of the games from old Sega assumed to be a classic, modern players probably won’t be able to enjoy this game at all.  Without the arcade sticks, this game is a terrible third person arena shooter.  Turning is so sluggish, and thus suicidal,  that it’s easier to try to move around and face the opponent without turning.

Star Trek DAC (Arcade)

Take or leave the Star Trek license on this game, my focus is the top-down deathmatch gameplay.  The camera is so tight that ships appear on-screen less than a second before it’s “ramming speed”, leading to terrible close range combat.  Hard to aim or do anything intentionally.  One of those games that fizzle out after about two minutes of demo play.