Xbox Live Thumbs Down: Ketchup Edition

Many games aim for that epic quality and movie-like storytelling.  I don’t think any game has ever achieved it.  There are some epic games with little real story (Gears of War, Halo) as well as games with top-tier cinematics completely segmented from bouts of quirky, complex gameplay (Metal Gear, Final Fantasy).  Some games, like adventure or horror games, have simple gameplay and try to weave story into every facet of the game.  Maintaining interactivity often means Simon-style button repetition or obscure puzzles.  There’s games in each of these categories in this batch.

Alone in the Dark (Retail)

Why must “cinematic adventure” gameplay always mean terrible, slow controls and tedious, contrived puzzles?  Does one of the face buttons really need to be “switch between 1st and 3rd person camera”?  All the villains randomly die to a mysterious magical monster and all the bystanders are whiny and say the same lines over and over.  Does it really have to take a minute of extinguisher spray to clear a fire?  Ten gun shots and several hits with a stick to take down a zombie?  Immersion is impossible here.   I can appreciate the desire to provide a variety of gameplay experiences, but when all of them are slow, tedious, and fumbling, the storytelling suffers and the high production values fail to save things.

Fracture (Retail)

The gimmick in this basic shooter is a special gun can elevate or drop the ground to create new ramps, walls, or passages.  This could have been fun and wild, unfortunately it’s quarantined to specific little sandboxes so it can only happen exactly where level designers says it can.  Well, damn.  There’s nothing else here!  Maybe they should have focused the game more purely on the world manipulation, I don’t think anyone will miss yet another opportunity to shoot another thousand generic scifi troopers.

Galaga Legions (Arcade)

Stylish and very pretty!  I just don’t think anyone still wants to play Galaga/Space Invader games anymore.  Another old shooter, like the 1942 remake, that is too much about predictable waves of enemies and too little about high tension and difficulty.

Pirates v Ninjas Dodgeball (Arcade)

The most tragic squandering of a totally sweet game title ever.  Terrible camera and no gameplay, what else do you need to know?  There’s so little here that it is hard to critique!

Shotest Shogi (Arcade)

I’ll try anything on XBLA and I was excited to try this “Japanese Chess”.  Catan and Carcasonne have fun graphics and good sound and have fast paced gameplay.  Shotest Shogi’s tutorials move slowly and could be made a lot simpler.  The UI could easily show helpful summaries of each piece’s move instead of hitting me with a long tutorial.  I also didn’t feel like there was much meta-game to the package… not much to shoot for, no interesting opponents, not as many cool challenges as a Chessmaster sort of game.

Shred Nebula (Arcade)

Another arcade-style ship shooter game which suffers from the usual problems of the genre.  Powerups are too small and impossible to tell apart, enemies shoot from off-screen, graphics and music are generic.  Everything is explained in way too many pages of detail and lingo.  I don’t need to know the name of the pinwheel enemy in Geometry Wars.  Controls, such as a trigger to move foward and a bumper to move backward, are neither tight nor particularly inclusive.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (Retail)

Fits well as a secret niche of Star Wars lore but Jedis make awkward games.  Lightsaber behaves as a glowing stick, unable to actually slice through anything.  Force Grab always seems to target something different from what I want.  The big boss battle against an AT-ST should be an epic fight throwing everything in the area at it or slicing up its legs with a lightsaber (Skywalker vs AT-AT-style).  Instead, it’s a mash-the-buttons God of War finisher.  The story and setting are perfect-pitch Star Wars, but the gameplay never felt authentic.

Too Human (Retail)

Tries to be the ultimate RPG but botches every part of the equation.  The story is laughably uncomfortable, slow, cliche, and bad.  Combat involves killing many of the exact same robogoblins all the time and although looks cool at first, it feels ultimately skill-less and bland.  Equipment is comprised of insignificant bonuses such as “1% faster ranged attack”, level-up skills are similarly watered down.  Ambition and scope can sustain an RPG for a pretty long time, even with pretty rough gameplay, but nothing works here.

War World (Arcade)

Worst-made demo I’ve seen on XBLA.  Seems to have decent Quake 3-with-mechs gameplay but the demo is limited to sixty seconds.  Sixty seconds!  That’s not even enough to figure out all the controls!