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Published on August 7th, 2011 | by Ken Yarbrough, Editor

Xbox LIVE Summer of Arcade SUPER REVIEW Part One

Xbox LIVE’s annual “Summer of Arcade” promotion has officially kicked off, but are the games worth your money this year?

First up, is the action-RPG, Bastion.

The first game that comes to mind when talking about Bastion, is the excellent classic, Secret of Mana. While Bastion is not nearly as long, or as deep as Secret of Mana, the gameplay is similar.

You take the role of “the kid”, and over the course of the game are tasked with solving a terrible event known only as the “Calamity”. The titular “Bastion” serves as the hub world for the kid, where you can do a variety of different things, from progressing the story, upgrading the games many weapons, or even turning on the game’s “idols” which serve the same way as the Halo franchise’s “skulls”.

The game is narrated by a character known as Rucks, and this is one of the truly unique elements of the game. Not only does Rucks provide scripted storyline narration, but he will also narrate on certain actions of the kid. It’s pretty neat to roll off the map and hear the narrator comment on it. Further, there is even some changed dialogue when playing “new game plus”.

Graphically, the game is beautiful. The hand-painted levels and characters really jump off the screen. Unfortunately, a few depth perception issues will lead to the kid taking some unnecessary damage.

While I’ve already mentioned the narration, the other remark I’d like to make in regards to sound is the excellent soundtrack. It made me feel as if I were in some sort of fantasy-steampunk Western. Yep, that’s what I said. Beyond the standard soundtrack being awesome, an end-game song (with lyrics) is so emotionally immersing, I can’t rave enough about it. To tell you more would spoil it, but I can tell you that you’ll know it when you hear it.

The game does run a little on the short side, clocking in at about 5 to 6 hours, though that can be pushed a few more with new game plus (which also ties into the story fairly well) and the many side missions in the form of weapon challenges.

All in all, this was a great game, and a perfect way to kick off Xbox LIVE’s Summer of Arcade.

[xrr label=”Rating: 9/10″ rating=9/10]

The second game released for Summer of Arcade is From Dust.

From Dust – now this is one very divisive game. You’ll either love it, or hate it. The biggest reason for this, I think, is because the marketing has been extremely misleading. The game has largely been promoted as a “god game” in the vein of games like Black and White, when in reality, it has far more in common with great puzzle games like Chu Chu Rocket.

Before you lose your mind with my comparison, Chu Chu Rocket is a puzzle game which tasks you with finding the perfect path for your mice to escape the cat. From Dust is a puzzle game which tasks you with finding the perfect order of completing your objectives to succeed.

While the game does have some “god game” elements, you are not given nearly enough freedom of choice for me to truly consider this a “god game”. The only exception to this is that the last level allows you a “sandbox” mode after completion, and while the sandbox level is cool, it is only a small portion of the game.

In From Dust, you play the role of “Breath”. A tribe of people have created you as their god, and need you to survive. Your goal on any given stage is to guide your people to start villages across the land, and eventually move on to a portal, which takes your people to the next stage. You complete this objective by using your many powers. Powers range from picking up dirt, and placing it elsewhere, to doing the same with lava and water. While it sounds simple, in execution, it’s quite a bit more complex. In your way are any manner of natural disasters, ranging from world clearing tidal waves, to ground burning volcanic eruptions.

Sounds a lot like a “god game”, right? Well, the problem is that most of these natural disasters begin occurring within the first 2 to 3 minutes into each stage. What this means is that there is an extremely limited order in which you must take the different villages. Placed around the map are powerups that do things like grant your people the ability to repel water. If a tsunami is going to hit in the first 45 seconds, then you absolutely must rush that powerup.

Essentially there are only one or two ways to complete each level, which limits the impact your powers truly have. That said, I did find the game extremely fun to play, and very satisfying upon completion.

Graphically, this game shines. Never before have I seen such realistic water, lava and erosion physics. Water flows down mountains cutting caverns, lava burns through tropical forests – absolutely stunning. The camera does leave a little to be desired, however, as at times it can’t decide exactly which distance (close or far) it wants to be in, and places you in some strange in-between spot.

A great followup to Bastion, but many people will be turned off simply by not understanding what type of game they are getting into.

[xrr label=”Rating: 8/10″ rating=8/10]

Finally, we have Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet.

A lot of people have compared Shadow Planet to games like Super Metroid, or Castlevania – they aren’t wrong. It’s clear that the inspiration for this game comes from those classics.

In Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, I think you play as the member of an alien race, whose world has been consumed by some sort of evil shadow stuff. Yep, that’s as specific as the storyline gives you. Thankfully, the story isn’t what drives Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet.

The gameplay is actually at its most basic level, a twin-stick shooter. Where it differs is that it’s open world like games such as Metroid. Your “character” (you are actually inside a little flying saucer) controls exactly as you expect it would. You upgrade your ship with a myriad of different weapons that are also used to progress, and even revisit some areas previously visited.

Graphically, the game is very stunning, sharing a lot in common with games like LIMBO, or Outland. It’s clear that the artists truly love what they do, and a testament to their abilities lies in the games hidden concept art pieces. Nearly all of them look exactly as the game turned out.

There is very little music to accompany you, as the game relies on it’s ambient sound and myriad of “bleeps” and “bloops” coming from your ship, but quite frankly, I think that it suits the game nicely. It adds a small level of isolation, and despair to the character’s plight.

Throughout the game there are plenty of hidden pickups such as the aforementioned concept art pieces, as well as upgrades for your ships main blaster and shields (the latter of which is basically necessary to survive some of the late game boss battles). Finally, you can find artifacts. For every three artifacts you are treated to a short animated clip of how this problem began, and then spread. They aren’t much, but they are pretty to watch, and do add at least some semblance of a story.

The only knock on the game is that it’s short. You can probably finish the campaign with 100 percent completion is just under 7 hours, and there isn’t much replayability. There is a multiplayer mode (Lantern Run), but quite frankly, I haven’t been able to find enough people to play with that this mode offered anything exciting.

Overall, I found the experience to be fun, and a great way to continue the Summer of Arcade promotion.

[xrr label=”Rating: 9/10″ rating=9/10]

Final Truth:

I am finding that while the quality of the Summer of Arcade titles thus far this year has been extremely high, I find myself wondering if any of them are really worth 1200 MSP, as that’s the price of each game. Maybe I’m being a penny pincher, but I feel like each of these games should have been 800 MSP, though that’s the same thing we said about LIMBO last year.

Stay tuned at the end of the summer for the second half of the review, featuring the last three games from Summer of Arcade: Toy Soldiers: Cold War, Fruit Ninja and Crimson Alliance.

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I'm the guy everyone loves to hate. The resident Devil's Advocate for GAMINGtruth, my words are harsh, my message serious. The gaming industry needs some big changes to keep from destroying itself.

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