Specials: Revisiting the classics could very well be a big part of next generation gaming?
With the Xbox 360's release fast approaching, many consumers are making their final preparations to pre-order hardware, software, and peripherals. Many potential buyers know what games they want, while others would prefer some clarification on launch day titles and backwards compatibility. In terms of the user-interface and services the system will provide, most critics and consumers seem to have a pretty good handle on what to expect, and so far the consensus has been positive ? and rightfully so. Besides the excellent controller for the Xbox 360, the Xbox Live service and system software is easily its strongest selling point, in particular because of the smart design choices that take usability, aesthetics, and fun factor into consideration. However, one element of the services section might surprise people come November 22: Xbox Live Arcade.
Xbox Live Arcade started a couple of years ago as a disc-based service for the current-gen Xbox. It allows users to pop in the disc and then download and play various card, board, puzzle, retro-arcade, and generally casual games on their Xbox. The service seemed promising from the outset, but highly inflated pricing and poor marketing have ultimately led to a sub-par showing for the service, thus far. MS is looking to change all of this with the Xbox 360 version of the service, which looks to take the original idea (which was very interesting) and pack a lot more into it. Some may have already known that this feature was going to be included within the Xbox 360 software (a very cool touch, itself); in fact, some may have even played the disc version of the service on the current Xbox. What may not be clear is how much potential the Xbox Live Arcade service holds for the Xbox 360. Unlike the current Live Arcade, the 360 iteration will be properly marketed towards a mass audience within the 360 community. Since the Silver-level memberships on XBL will allow access to the Marketplace (and thus, to Xbox Live Arcade), the audience for these retro and casual games grows exponentially. Including the software for Live Arcade within the architecture of the system is smart from a usability standpoint, and broadening the audience with Silver memberships gives developers, potentially, more incentive to sink their teeth into the venture.
A reasonable list of developers did support Live Arcade from the beginning, but none of them were truly ?AAA? studios ? nor did they, even remotely, bring their ?AAA? material. This time around, MS looks to have garnered support from many heavy hitters in the industry, and quite a few of them are pitching numerous games from their back catalogue in order to make a splash on the service. Notable big-name publisher/developers include Bizarre Creations, Capcom, Electronic Arts, Konami, Midway, Namco, SEGA, Ubisoft, and Vivendi Universal Games. Of course, there will still be a strong presence of smaller studios like Garage Games, Popcap Games, Reflexive Entertainment, and Wild Tangent in order to round out the genres (many of these companies will likely specialize in one or two types of games (retro-arcade, puzzlers, etc.) There is also a great opportunity for independently produced content on the Live Arcade service. The aforementioned indy studio Garage Games will sell their Marble Blast Ultra
title at the 360's launch on November 22. Examples like this are a big positive for Live Arcade, and the Xbox 360, as this will not only give developers a chance to make games without the worries of pricey overhead, but it will allow a stream of creative content to flesh out the Live Arcade portfolio, adding plenty of value to the on-demand service. The plan is to, eventually, have independently developed games placed into their own section within the Live Arcade space on the Marketplace; similar distinctions will be made for emulated coin-op titles, puzzlers, board games, and so on.
What about the launch games? Well, MS recently released a list of the titles that will be available between November 22 and December 31. They are:
Astropop ? Popcap Games
Bankshot Billiards 2 ? pixelStorm, Inc
Bejeweled 2 ? Popcap Games
Crystal Quest ? Stainless Games
Feeding Frenzy ? Popcap Games
Gauntlet ? Midway Home Entertainment
Geometry Wars 2 ? Bizarre Creations
Hardwood Backgammon ? Silver Creek Entertainment
Hardwood Hearts ? Silver Creek Entertainment
Hardwood Spades ? Silver Creek Entertainment
Hexic HD ? Microsoft Game Studios
Hoopworld ? Streamline Studios
Jewel Quest ? iWin.com
Joust ? Midway Home Entertainment
Marble Blast Ultra ? GarageGames
Mutant Storm Reloaded ? PomPom Games
Outpost Kaloki ? Wahoo Studios
Robotron 2084 ? Midway Home Entertainment
SmashTV ? Midway Home Entertainment
Wik: Fable of Souls ? Reflexive Entertainment
Zuma ? Popcap Games
This list of games seems like a pretty good mix of titles that cover a range of genres and styles. It's nice to see games like Gauntlet
, Smash TV
, and Crystal Quest
show up early for Live Arcade, as they are great games that should give players a sampling of what the future could be for the service. There are many possibilities for what titles will be put out in the future, but this writer hopes to see the likes of Street Fighter
, Final Fight
, Road Rash
, Streets of Rage
, Monopoly, Texas Hold ?em, and many others. A great aspect of the service is that games previously seen on one system, like the SNES, or titles that were only available in coin-op form can now be upgraded and supplied to a new audience. In addition, if someone isn't sure whether they'd like a game or not, this won't be an issue, as you can download a demo of any game available on the service at no cost; presumably, these will be time-based or limited to a small portion of the game.
One of the most exciting features for Live Arcade titles is the ability to play them over Xbox Live. The initial Live Arcade for Xbox promised this feature, but scarcely delivered any titles that really capitalized on MS's strongest feature. This time around, quite a few titles for Live Arcade are pegged to support online multiplayer, with some representatives intoning that 75% of content on the service will have co-op or adversarial online modes. The good news about the rest of the games is that they will at least support scoreboards for comparing scores, times, and rankings, as this is a mandatory feature for all Live Arcade titles. Some four-player Gauntlet
sounds like it could provide a few late nights, but mixing this in with card or board games and then finishing off with a game of Hexic HD (the pack-in game with the system) could be interesting, as well. The service really shows potential for filling those gaps that Xbox gamers, especially Live-enabled ones, find themselves having between a session of Halo 2
and sports games. Some casual and retro-gaming, amplified by online play, could provide a nice bridge for a night's gaming entertainment.
Pricing hasn't officially been announced, but games will definitely not cost over $20 and, according to some MS reps, could even fall into the $5-10 range. This is good news, as the Xbox version of Live Arcade charged way too much for the content, especially given the minimal upgrades to the titles on the service, as well as the absolute lack of promised online play.
Xbox Live Arcade has found itself a bit lost in the shuffle of the 360 and all of its pre-launch media hype. If MS manages to deliver the Live Arcade service, as advertised, this time around, gamers could be in for a great deal of fun that they might not of expected to have at the console's launch.