Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Assessing the Damage: 2014's Xbox Ultimate Game Sale

Well folks, it's finally over. That annual threat to your wallet, the Xbox Ultimate Game Sale, officially wrapped up yesterday, ending with a handful of games from the former T*HQ that mercifully, I have no interest in buying. Oh, but I did pick up a whole lot of stuff in the past week! Here's the rundown for those of you who may be interested:

price: $1.84

Similar to Microsoft's Game Room, Capcom Arcade Cabinet lets you buy your favorite arcade hits a'la carte. It's not preferable to getting them all on one reasonably priced disc, but welcome to our DLC-laden future! (groan) 

The game was called Black Dragon
in Japan, because, well, you get
the idea.
Anyway, Capcom was kind enough to give players a taste of the action by giving away its severely underrated medieval platformer Black Tiger. If you want more, you can buy games in packs of three for about six bucks a piece. Alternately, you can just grab the whole collection for twenty and get a couple of bonus games out of the deal. The games offered in the Ultimate Games Sale were the previously mentioned Black Tiger, another personal favorite, 1943: The Battle of Midway, and nobody's favorite Avengers, a kludgy overhead view brawler with absolutely no superheroes. 

Every game in the collection was emulated by M2, and the company has shown its usual love for the source material with detailed color manuals, art galleries, and a handy casual mode for less dedicated players. You can't get any achievements in this mode, but it's still pretty awesome to play Black Tiger and find treasure in every chest, instead of booby traps. 
price: $7.94

I already spent a lot of time talking about this one in a previous post, so I'll just say that the game was easily worth the eight bucks I paid for it. You may want to bring a joystick along for the ride, however, since Radiant Silvergun doesn't map well to the standard Xbox 360 controller and you'll lose a lot of that authentic arcade feel without one. 

price: $1.10

When you win, you get gems. When you lose,
you get killed. Now that's what I call a
high-stake game of poker!
(Image courtesy of Unlimited Lives)

Bejeweled is an odd fit for the powerful Xbox 360... this gem-matching puzzle game was originally intended for computers and smartphones, and playing it without the benefit of a mouse or a touchscreen feels more than a bit awkward. Having said that, you can tell Popcap Games gave this port their all. Gems glitter and explode as you slide them into place to make matches, and when you finish a stage, the jewels are sucked into a vortex leading to the next one. There are also plenty of game styles, including a unique game of poker where making lousy hands could spell your doom, and a Zen mode without rules... you just slide gems around until you're bored. You might be surprised by how long that'll take, though. Some players have lost hours to this game without even realizing it! 

price: $5.29

A car wreck, in a train wreck!
(image courtesy of Mirror.co.uk)

As I'd alluded to in the last entry, I didn't like this one very much. A Ridge Racer game that borrows heavily from the king of arcade-style racers, Burnout, sounds like an enticing idea, but don't take the bait! This has many of the same problems that plagued 2010's Split/Second, including overly rigid gameplay (want to run your opponents off the road? Unless you've shifted into turbo, it ain't happening) and slingshot A.I. that ensures you'll never win a race. My best ranking so far is fifth place, and that's in the first race. The game's small cadre of fans swear that the game improves if you're willing to master drifting, but Unbounded is so intent on spanking you raw that you'll quit in disgust long before you learn the ropes. Save yourself the red marks and stick with Burnout Revenge.

price: $5.24

Confession time... I'm not big on stealth action games, and made it a point to avoid the Metal Gear Solid series in particular. I think I played through the demo of the very first game on the Playstation, and that was about it. Friends have urged me to give the series an honest chance, which is why I picked up a copy of Peace Walker during the Ultimate Game Sale. They also told me that I should start with Metal Gear Solid 3, but since I missed that one when it was on sale last year, I'll have to settle for this high-definition port of the PSP game that snuck under the radar of most players. I've heard good things about Peace Walker from the handful of critics who caught it the first time around, so I'm hoping this will work just as well as an introduction to the series. Wish me luck! 

price: $10.48

"I'm comin' for you, Lizabeth!" (clutches chest
and stumbles around the room)
(image courtesy of Dualshockers)

I know next to nothing about Persona, and for that matter, the entire Shin Megami Tensai franchise. The only titles in the series I've played are Raidou Kuzunoha vs. the Soulless Army and, peculiarly, the Virtual Boy title Jack Bros. Since there's been a lot of buzz about these games but because I'm not a huge fan of RPGs, I figured Persona 4 Arena would be a good way to introduce myself to the series. P4A was designed by Arc System Works and is said to be similar to their last big fighting game BlazBlue, with the addition of alter egos that fight alongside you, a'la JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. I wasn't a big fan of BlazBlue, but I'm hoping the cast of characters and their, uh, personas will be compelling enough to keep me entertained in spite of those similarities. 

price: $4.99

Well, it's not the most appealing title for a video game, but the price was right, and I've heard nothing but effusive praise for this rally racing simulation, so why not take a chance on it? The best case scenario is that it measures up to Sega Rally Championship, the old Saturn release that ranks up there with Burnout and Wipeout as one of my all-time favorite racing games. The worst case scenario is... well, I don't like to think about that, but it couldn't possibly be as lousy as Ridge Racer Unbounded, right? (...right?) 

price: $4.28
He's a nice enough guy, but he really needs to
do something about those mushrooms growing
on his back.
(courtesy of Edge Online)

This is one of those art games that's low on action but delivers ambiance in spades. As a teenager and his impulsive (read: bratty) kid brother, you must travel the countryside to find healing herbs for your ailing father. Hearkening back to the forgotten Playstation 2 launch title The Adventures of Cookie and Cream, each thumbstick on the controller guides a brother through the beautifully rustic landscape, while the triggers on the top have them perform context-sensitive actions. Sometimes the brothers have to perform actions together to advance... for instance, the younger brother is afraid of water, so the older brother has to carry him across rivers and streams. It takes time to adjust to the gameplay- your multitasking skills will be pushed to their limits!- but stick with it and you'll quickly realize that it leads to a lot of brilliant moments. I haven't gotten far in this one, but I suspect it's going to be one of those experiences that's terrific the first time around, but won't offer much to lure you back after the credits roll.

price: $5.29
I can't get over how amazing this game looks.
(image courtesy of Pass Me the Popcorn)

MK isn't my fighting game of choice, but I've been curious about its resurrection at the hands of Warner Bros. Games, and it's worth five dollars to satisfy that curiosity. If Netherrealm Studios has brought Mortal Kombat's gameplay back to its roots and away from the kludgy, overcomplicated, and confused 3D fighter that it became in the 2000s, I'll be happy. Sure, the mini-games in Deadly Alliance, et al were cute, but I wish Midway had spent a lot more time working on the core gameplay and less on silly distractions. 

price: $1.04

It's funny how quickly a one dollar price tag will convince you to buy a game you'd otherwise never consider. I thought all my Xbox 360 pool needs were met with Backshot Billiards 2, but the members of Cheapassgamer were adamant that this was an absolute must have, and for just one dollar, who am I to argue with them? 

price: $2.64
Included in the game is Christmas NiGHTS,
a holiday classic and an instant collector's
item after the Saturn's demise.
(image courtesy of Videogamer.com)

Frankly, I'm a little stunned by the cold reception this game has gotten seventeen years after its debut on the Sega Saturn. Today's gamers seem utterly baffled by its androgynous hero and its airborne action... but that reaction probably wasn't much different from Saturn owners who crossed their fingers for a supercharged Sonic sequel and got this instead. Personally, I enjoyed NiGHTS... it was an acquired taste, sure, but it was creative, eccentric, and unexpected, making it a perfect reflection of the Saturn itself. It'll likely be out of place on the considerably more mainstream Xbox 360, but NiGHTS' colorful dream world should work nicely as a palate cleanser after an hour of sending stocky space marines to their doom. 

price: $5.29

Oh dear, what have I gotten myself into? I was in an abusive relationship with the previous game, Demon's Souls, for the brief time I owned a Playstation 3. After spending dozens of hours with that game and making precious little progress, I vowed that I would never put myself through that hell again. I resisted the last time Microsoft offered the sequel for five dollars, but the second time Dark Souls came up for that price, well... it broke my willpower. Just like how the game will break my spirit when I finally get around to playing it. I've heard Dark Souls offers some concessions to less skilled players, like a "Homeward Bone" that lets them return to the start of the game with everything they've collected, but I nevertheless suspect that there will be plenty of gruesome deaths and screamed expletives in my future. 

price: $7.00

A Quinn-Martin production.
(Image courtesy of games.softpedia.com)
I needed an arcade-style racing game to get the icky taste of Ridge Racer Unbounded out of my mouth, and the latest game in the Driver series was nominated as my aperitif. The normally implacable Ben Crenshaw gave this one a big thumbs up on Zero Punctuation, his weekly video review series, but his review left me a little bewildered, perhaps even terrified. So you're a cop in a coma, whose disembodied spirit possesses other motorists? Do I have this right? You go all Ghost Dad on people so you can catch criminals from your hospital bed? Apparently, when Reflections re-invents a game series, they don't let a little thing like sanity get in their way. 


  1. So, what was the final hit to your wallet? Just over $60 if my warp-speed brain math is correct? Anyway, some of those games indeed look like, especially given the price. That said, this particular sale did no damage to my wallet. Ha! Of course, eBay and other such sites have done far more damage to my wallet as of late than the Xbox estore ever could, so I guess I shouldn't laugh too loudly...

    1. Around $50, I think. I had sixty dollars in fun money to play with, and most of it went to the sale, with the remainder getting invested in games for Nintendo handhelds (Bangai-O Spirits and Legendary Starfy for DS, and Super Mario World for Game Boy Advance).

      It's probably silly for me to spend so much on digital games, but the prices were *really* good, approaching Android/iOS prices for fully realized (although admittedly old) software. On top of that, all the games can be played straight from the hard drive, which is a big time saver. I have to admit I'm starting to see the appeal in game downloads, although I would never want to abandon physical games completely!

      I'm positively giddy about the impending arrival of Super Mario World. I've played it a million times already on the Super NES and emulators, but it's going to be great having the game in a bite-sized format. It's only like, the greatest Mario game ever!