Throughout the week, The Badger Herald will be looking into the digital gaming stores of various consoles, including an overview of their functions, key features and a selection of exclusive downloadable games to check out on each system (with an exception for games also available on PC). Yesterday, we took a look at the PlayStation’s online store. Today, we’re setting our eyes on the competition with the Xbox Games Store.
When it came to online features, the Xbox 360 dominated the past gen, partly because it got the financial support of players paying to access online multiplayer and streaming services like Netflix. Unlike PSN, where the store is its own application and takes a bit of time to load, Xbox 360’s store is built right into the 360’s user interface. Also unlike PSN, the Xbox Games Store splits games, movies and other entertainment into their own subsections. It’s quick and simple and means a lot of the searching happens before actually getting into the store.
The Xbox One’s store is much faster than the 360’s, although it suffers from some of the same problems the PSN store does, namely the organizational aspect. The addition of voice commands and the ability to scan QR codes with Kinect for things like add-on DLC make this much easier to deal with, thankfully.
Key Feature: Games With Gold
With the raving success of PlayStation Plus, eventually Microsoft was bound to try their hand at giving their users free games for subscribing to Xbox Live Gold. At first, the games were nothing special. Although popular, the first few games, such as “Assassin’s Creed 2” and “Halo 3,” were a few of the games people bought the console for in the first place and likely already owned. That has become a lot better in recent months, with “Dead Island,” “Sleeping Dogs” and “Hitman Absolution” now free.
Games are available one at a time, usually for half a month. If you miss downloading the game in that timespan, you’re out of luck. But if you do download it, the game is yours forever, even if you stop subscribing to Xbox Live: a significant difference from PS+. New Games for Gold games aren’t announced well in advance, so it’s important to see what the new game will be. As of yet they aren’t available for Xbox One. The current Games for Gold game, available until May 1 (don’t blink), is Tequila Work’s 2012 2-D zombie game “Deadlight.”
15 Xbox Store games to check out
“Ikaruga” (XBLA, PC, Android, NGC, SD)
Originally played in an actual arcade and then ported to the quickly discontinued Sega Dreamcast, “Ikaruga” is a bullet-hell shooter with a twist. Enemies and bullets come in two colors: white and black. You can switch your spaceship between the two colors, absorbing those that are of the same color and getting damaged by those that are not. The inverse is true for enemies, which are only damaged by bullets of the same color. It’s definitely one of the best in the bullet-hell genre.
“Banjo-Kazooie”/”Banjo-Tooie” (XBLA, N64)
Possibly one of the biggest developer acquisitions in recent memory is the purchase of formerly Nintendo-partnered Rareware by Microsoft in 2002. Due to this, many Nintendo classics made by the developer ended up as Xbox Live Arcade exclusives, including the “Banjo-Kazooie” series. At the series high point during the Nintendo 64 era, these games were thought of as the only 3-D platformers that could manage to come close to the greatness of “Super Mario 64.”
“Perfect Dark” (XBLA, N64)
Speaking of Nintendo 64 classics developed by Rare, XBLA features a remake of the first person shooter that essentially served as the sequel to “GoldenEye 007.” With updated visuals and a multiplayer mode with new online support, it’s a good way to experience what many consider to be the best FPS on the N64.
“Rez HD” (XBLA, PS2, SD)
Originally created for the Sega Dreamcast and then brought over to the PS2 once the former console was discontinued, “Rez HD” is an HD remake of one of the best on-rail shooters ever made. Switching in electronic music sounds for its normal sound effects, the game is a big, enjoyable mix of colors, lights and music.
“Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2” (XBLA)
The first original game on this particular list, “Geometry Wars” takes quite a lot from the classic video game “Asteroids,” with a single fighter flying around a 2-D plane while dodging and shooting at the geometric shapes flying around. If you run into these, destruction will ensue. Thankfully, it controls a whole lot better than “Asteroids,” and with such simple and intuitive gameplay, anyone can pick it up and enjoy themselves.
“State of Decay” (XBLA, PC)
If you’ve ever watched “The Walking Dead” and wondered to yourself if you could manage the resources, the defenses and the civilians you are protecting in order to survive a zombie apocalypse, “State of Decay” may be for you. As much a tactical survival game as it is a stealth and zombie horror game, you’ll be required to put in a lot of thought and careful management of resources to survive.
“Shadow Complex” (XBLA)
Really the first game to give the XBLA a leg up on its competition, “Shadow Complex” is a 2.5-D Metroidvania-style game. The player can only move in two dimensions, but enemies can move outside that plane, with a targeting system in place for the user to shoot them down. Defeating enemies adds another boost, with the game also implementing an RPG-like system that increases basic abilities and functions of your character. Arguably one of the best games on XBLA and quite possibly the best 360 game released in 2009, it’s definitely worth looking into.
“Super Meat Boy” (XBLA, PC, Mac, Linux)
One of the games featured in the documentary “Indie Game: The Movie,” “Super Meat Boy” is one of the best 2-D platformers ever made. Tight controls, at times punishing levels, adorable animated sequences and a sometimes infinite-feeling amount of gameplay are all hallmarks of this amazing game. Oh, and each level ends with a replay of all the times you died on it before completion, shown at the same time.
“Ms. Splosion Man” (XBLA, PC, iOS, Windows Phone)
“Ms. Splosion Man” is a charming little platformer with the twist of … well, ‘sploding. ‘Sploding is, simply put, a jump, which is put to different effects depending on when it’s done and what else is in the area. ‘Sploding in front of certain energy tanks will send you soaring much further. ‘Sploding around or on enemies will turn the ‘splosion into an attack. It’s one of the more comical and ‘splodin games on XBLA.
“Iron Brigade” (XBLA, PC)
Formerly known as “Trenched,” “Iron Brigade” is a mix between a Tower Defense game and a third person shooter. You can tell that it’s a modern shooter because it has giant mechanical suits. Taking the best of the two genres and adding in the Double Fine personality and a whole lot of polish, “Iron Brigade” offers hours upon hours of replayability. Don’t forget to try out co-op, as well.
“Bastion” (XBLA, PC, Chrome, Mac, iOS)
Besides just being pretty to look at and fun to play, “Bastion” also touts the sexiest narration you will find anywhere. Ever. This top-down action RPG takes you to a world ravaged by a catastrophe known only as the ‘Calamity’ where you, as ‘The Kid,’ must go out and find the Cores that you can use to rebuild the land. While a great game no matter where you play it, its debut and only console release was on the XBLA, so I’ll just leave it right here and let you get enveloped in the goodness.
“Dust: An Elysian Tale” (XBLA, PC, Mac, Linux)
“Dust” is a side-scrolling action game with RPG elements thrown in for good measure. With silky smooth animation, it certainly looks good, and at times the game takes on a Metroidvania feel. The game lasts somewhere between eight and 20 hours depending on how much you’re willing to do in the world. This is a lot more than most AAA games can say, so it’s well worth the much cheaper asking price.
“Mark of the Ninja” (XBLA, PC, Mac, Linux)
Jumping off from the merely colorful and fun-to-look-at types of games is “Mark of the Ninja,” a side-scrolling game with a heavy emphasis on stealth. The high difficulty of the game is well-balanced with a liberal array of checkpoints scattered throughout the levels, making for a challenging but fun experience. Also, if you still want great animation, this game features cutscenes that could warrant its own show on Cartoon Network.
“Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet” (XBLA, PC)
In “Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet,” you play as a small spaceship that must explore an insanely twisted shadow planet, reach its core and destroy it to save your solar system. The gameplay is a mix of the Metroidvania style and a 2-d space shooter like “Asteroids.” It’s short and tough but very much enjoyable. Oh, and keeping in theme, it looks absolutely gorgeous.
“Killer Instinct” (XBO)
Microsoft’s new console doesn’t feature many downloadable-only titles just yet, but what it does have is the freemium game from the classic series, “Killer Instinct.” A fighting game quite possibly known for its announcer and “COMBOBREAKER” above all else, it’s one of the better fighting games to be released recently. It’s also free to play, although only one character is available to use if you do so. All the other characters can be bought individually or all together, so if you try it out, you can decide whether to put the money in to get the full experience.