The Games of Summer

Tron discusses the XBox games that have consumed his summer.

The Games of Summer have finalized their roll-out and the Games of the Fall (Gears 3, Battlefield 3, Modern Warfare 3) are still looming on the horizon so with this couple months of dead time, we at Cybermonkeydeathsquad have decided to give you a preview of the best games this summer had to offer.  This handy guide should assist in whether to pull the trigger on that hot new arcade game or sadly pass it by and maybe give you some options you may have not thought about before.  Either way, we’ve been playing a lot of games and here’s what’s caught our attention recently.

Pac Man Championship Edition DX:  We’ll start out easy.  I have been curious about this title for some time and decided to see what all the hype was about and I must say this game is brilliant.  Easily my favorite game of the past few months and it’s not even new.  First, this isn’t the Pac Man you remember.  Sure, there’s a yellow circle and sure, he’s still got an eating disorder and he’s got ghosts who don’t approve of his antics and yes, there’s a maze.  This is where the similarities between this game and the old Pac Man stop.  In Pac Man CE DX, the dots appear in specific patterns and it is your job to eat them all while trying to attract as many stationary ghosts as possible before hitting a power pellet, creating some of the most hyper-insane ghost-busting action seen in a Pac Man Game.  Each set of dots cleared on one side of the board opens up a new pattern on the other side of the board and so on.  As you do better at the game, the speed increases from a reasonable level 20 to a “can’t turn my Pac Man with any skill” level 50 and the free roaming ghosts cause more trouble than they ever have before.  Attempting to play this game like the old Pac Man will frustrate some but it’s easy to pick up the pattern they want you to follow and challenging as all get out.  The gameplay centers around three modes: Score Attack, in which players attempt to get the highest score in a 5 or 10 minute match; Time Attack, where specific amount of fruit must be eaten in the shortest amount of time and Ghost Combo, where players must stay powered up and eat as many ghosts in succession as possible.  Add to this a big group of varied levels, the ability to change backgrounds, massive leaderboards and a free play mode makes this game well worth the $10 price tag.  I managed to knock out all the achievements the first day and have still gone back to the game at least a dozen times to make that time trial just a little faster, that Score Attack just a little higher and that Ghost Combo just a little longer.  Fun and Value are the name of the game and Pac Man Championship Edition DX fits the bill almost better than any other game on the Xbox Marketplace and ranks right up there with N+ in terms of awesome.  Highly Recommended.

Warhammer 40K Kill Team:  I used to play the old Warhammer RPG back in the paper and dice era and we thoroughly enjoyed the space variant of the game, which brought the war between Orks and Humans to the far reaches of outer space, complete with huge suits of armor and laser weapons (which made for some bad-ass miniatures, let me tell you).  Not one to rest on it’s laurels, the Warhammer group released a top down Gauntlet-style shooter to the Xbox Live arcade for a mere $10, which was just enough to have me pick it up.  The critical flaw in this game is it’s lack of online co-op, which have turned many of my friends away from this game (like Crazy Legs C, who loved the demo but without online co-op he sadly passed) but before you say “then why get it?” allow me to point out it does have a brisk local co-op mode for those of you like me that have company over quite frequently.  The game puts you in control of an Elite Space Marine who has been sent on a vital mission to stop an Ork Kroozer headed towards an Imperial Forge World.  Choose your Marine type and let the purging begin!  The game is top down and feels a lot like Gauntlet (which I adore) and consists of battling through levels of the ship in an effort to destroy certain objectives, all the while blowing up Orks and gathering new power-ups to continue the battle.  The game suffers a bit from it’s repetitive nature, as all games of this style do eventually and the lack of online support is the kiss of death for most games but if you have a good buddy and the desire to kill, the $10 price tag makes this game an attractive choice and is actually quite fun.  Warhammer 40K Kill Team is a solid “pick up and play” title that you won’t be too disappointed to have in your collection.

Toy Soldiers: Cold War:  I’ve always been curious about the Toy Soldiers franchise, which seemed to be a strategy action shooter centered around all the awesome military toys young boys had growing up but the first game had a $15 price tag and a couple of add-ons that kept me away from experimenting with the title, despite hearing good things.  This summer saw the next game in the series, Cold War, hit the Xbox Live arcade for $15 so i figured I’d give it a try.  The game features all the advanced toys of the 1980s, including tanks, jets, helicopters, anti tank emplacements and even Rambo himself as you try and repel a Soviet invasion of your toybox.  You place your defenses in certain areas and “jump into” their emplacement for some first-person attacking, all the while making sure you have the right stuff out there, repairing or replacing damaged equipment and upgrading your pieces whenever you have enough cash.  The game is frantic and I often would forget what needed upgrading or repairing but the learning curve can be overcome with moderate difficulty.  The game features a Single Player mode, Co-op Versus and Survival Modes (both online and off) and some of the most entertaining mini-games found in a game of this type.  Our friend Brodaki had all his mini game scores smashed by our motley crew recently and he’s good enough to raise the bar again just by playing it once so I sense some heated leaderboard competition in the weeks to come.  The game is not everyone’s cup of tea and the $15 price tag will make many think again but Toy Soldiers: Cold War is a solid strategy shooter that causes many laughs as well as providing a decent gameplay experience.  Not the best but good.

Dungeons and Dragons: Daggerdale: As mentioned earlier in this article, I love Gauntlet.  I miss GauntletYou can’t get Gauntlet on the Xbox 360 so I am always on the lookout for a Gauntlet-type game to get over my sadness at not having Gauntlet at my fingertips.  One of the best Gauntlet-style games to come out on the original Xbox was Dungeons and Dragons Heroes, which felt like Gauntlet but gave you new weapons and armor to upgrade.  It wasn’t as intensive as RPG upgrading but was allowed you to look at stuff and sell items between big rounds of combat.  All in all, Heroes fulfilled all my Gauntlet cravings while adding something to the mix.  Well, imagine my excitement this summer when Daggerdale was released to the 360 Marketplace.  Sure, it was $15 but it boasted a 2 player local and 4 player online co-op mode; it was Dungeons and Dragons, which I played a ton of as a kid and it was done Gauntlet-style so win-win, right?  Wrong.  This game is a broken, buggy mess; it’s short; the quests repetitive; the achievements ridiculous and the development team was fired upon release, so the rumored patch and extra content are probably not arriving.  My friend Clean Plague and I took a couple days and blazed through the game, which was mildly entertaining and reminiscent of Heroes in the sense that after every major battle there was loot to look at and sell but the element of fun in Heroes is sadly absent from Daggerdale.  You begin in a mine and after a couple of hours you wonder if you’ll ever get out of the mine or if the whole game is centered in this one location.  Well, when you do get out it’s into another mine and the only respite is at the end when you arrive at the bad guy’s castle which is strangely just like the mine.  The final fight with the Dragon is confusing, the quests consist of “hey, go back to where you just came from and rescue these dwarf workers while fighting through waves of enemies,” the combat is bland, the environments are the same and it’s just an overall bad game.  My desire to play online with the few buddies I conned into getting this game is rapidly waning and even getting into a co-op game is daunting.  I don’t care how much you or I like Gauntlet or D&D – save the $15 for anything else.  Daggerdale, unfortunately, is a Cannot Recommend, especially for that price.

Torchlight: Another Gauntlet-style game, Torchlight was a selection I had a problem with from the very beginning.  $15 for a game ostensibly multi-player in style and execution but sadly single player in practice.  I don’t care if the Diablo crew made this or not – if you’re going to do a Gauntlet-style action RPG, then you’d better make it multi-player.  Had I not received a point card as a gift (yay Fred Voyak!) I would have passed on this game entirely.  As it was, I figured I’d better play it a little just to justify the cost.  Turns out that Torchlight is second only to Pac Man DX in terms of fun and I’m horribly addicted.  The Xbox Live description sums it up better than I could: “Players will choose from three classes and venture forth from the safety of the town of Torchlight into randomly generated dungeon levels with a huge variety of creepy monsters, an endless variation of loot and quests to complete.”  Ok, like Daggerdale, there’s a mine in which to explore but unlike the D&D fiasco, the mine is laid out so incredibly different – not only from Daggerdale but since it’s randomly generated, from the last time you played even – the monsters are so much cooler and varied and the quests are indeed broader in scope.  Along the way, you may even find hidden mine scrolls or purchase them from vendors, which open up mini-dungeons reminiscent of areas you’ve been to but totally different in terms of monsters and objectives.  The town has several vendors of weapons, magic and equipment; enchanters to make your stuff more powerful; transmuters that can take certain items and combine them to make them more powerful and a few people who will give you additional side quests to achieve.  For you stat people, the game really shines.  The loot comes in droves, so much so you find yourself stopping after every major combat, not boss battle but combat, to look at your ill-gotten gains, upgrade your equipment and sell anything not worth keeping.  Your companion pet can even go back to town and sell stuff for you so you never have to stop adventuring and gathering more goodies for future upgrading and enchanting.  The gameplay is simple but but has more depth than you’d expect from a Gauntlet game and is totally worth the financial outlay, even though it’s a single player adventure.  Though missing a co-op component, Torchlight delivers all the Gauntlet and Dungeons and Dragons feel you’re looking for without being a giant mess like Daggerdale.  Needless to say, Torchlight is Highly Recommended.

Adventures of Shuggy:  What would a Summer bonanza of games be without a puzzle platformer  to round things out?  The Adventures of Shuggy caught my eye immediately as little vampire Shuggy has inherited a castle full of goblins, ghouls, zombies and robots and it’s up to you to help him clear out over 100 rooms to make his castle livable.  Every room is different, allowing Shuggy to float, spin, fly, change size, lift platforms, control time, turn the entire board and more as he attempts to clear out the Dungeon, Clock Tower, Boiler, Graveyard and Gallery.  The single player game is chock full of cleverly frustrating puzzles to solve, all with their own leaderboards so you can see just how much better all your pals are at the game (damn you, Mexomorph!) and the co-operative mode contains 36 puzzles which can only be solved with clever teamwork, both local and online.  The idea is to collect gems on the level to free up a key while avoiding obstacles such as gnats, spiked balls and often times past versions of yourself.  Magnificent Bastard has been over twice to try the game and he always gets the same look on his face as he does when playing N+ so this game is a solid winner and a must-add to your collection.  If you like platforming and puzzle games, you could do little better than The Adventures of Shuggy, which also gets our Highest Recommendation and is only $10!

Akane the Kunoichi:  It wouldn’t be a review if I didn’t mention at least one Indy game and Akane the Kunoichi takes that prize.  You are Akane, a young ninja that must platform, wall jump and throwing star your way through evil ninjas in order to rescue your master from the clutches of the dread Hiromi and her crew.  The game is very well thought out and has that Contra side-scrolling playability, making Akane leap and dodge the enemies on each board, collecting kimonos and battling her way through the level in an effort to achieve her objective.  The controls are tight, the graphics are pretty and inspired by the 8 and 16-bit classics of yesteryear, the levels are challenging and there are over 15 to struggle through on your quest to free your master.  Plus, the game is only $1.  Seriously, $1.  If side scrolling platformers or ninjas are your thing, Akane the Kunoichi is the game you want.  Needless to say, the game is Highly Recommended, for both the playability and price.

Honorable Mention: Legends of Wrestlemania:  This is a Fred Voyak purchase.  The game is still considered a $50 new title, even though it’s been out a bit but all I’ve been hearing for the past week is the Ultimate Warrior’s music emanating from Mike’s room so I figured it was worth a mention.  Legends of Wrestlemania is a game where players can take control of their favorite WWE Superstars past and present and relive some of the greatest Wrestlemania matches of all time, as well as create new fantasy matchups never before seen.  The game has sacrificed a daunting and deep control scheme to focus more on an arcade-style fun control scheme, utilizing the stick and four face buttons to control your wrestler’s output.  Watching Mike play, the controls seem intuitive and certain button presses during grapples or rope moves will cause something to happen, though there is some button mashing involved, especially on a pinfall attempt.  The game shines with it’s multitude of modes, led off by the Wrestlemania Tour which allows players the ability to Rewind, Rewrite or Redefine classic Wrestlemania moments.  Of course, Single, Tag Team, Triple Threat, Cage Matches, Ladder Matches, Iron Man Matches, Submission, Handicap, Hell in the Cell and Royal Rumble modes are also available for your enjoyment, as well as a Legend Killer tournament, Create a Superstar and Hall of Fame mode (whew).  Needless to say, your match variety is staggering and the list of Superstars is pretty awesome but with a few glaring omissions (like where is Vader?  Or Harley Race?  Or Sid? or Sabu?).  All in all, if you’re looking for a fun brawler with that Pro Wrestling flavor, you could do worse than Legends of Wrestlemania, which Mike D assures you is Highly Recommended.

Honorable Mention 2: Mortal Kombat Arcade Collection:  I do not have this yet because it just came out and I’m not much of a fight fan but how can you pass up the first 3 Mortal Kombat games in one package with new online capabilities and leaderboards for a mere $10?  Right, you can’t.  Even passing fans like myself will get a ton of enjoyment out of this collection and the price is sure right.  Get your Fatality on right now on the Xbox Marketplace.

So there’s the games we’ve discovered this Summer and hopefully you’ll find something among that list to while away the hours until this Fall’s Blockbuster game release.  Of course, we’re still playing zombies on Black Ops and  Battlefield Bad Company 2 as well so if you want some dog tags, you know right where to find us.

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The Games of Summer
Tron discusses the XBox games that have consumed his summer.