Minecraft XBLA: Not Bad for a Rush Deal

Allistair Pinsof for Destructoid:

Even companies with net worth in the millions are guilty of turning in a rushed assignment from time to time. While Microsoft Studios seemed pretty confident getting behind a Xbox Live Arcade port of the indie PC hit Minecraft, at E3 last year, the publisher only signed the deal a week before the announcement. Even crazier, the graphic they made for the announcement was a rushed job made the night before.

“Even the people inside Microsoft, as they were looking at it, were thinking, ‘What is that Minecraft thing and why are we putting it on stage?’ Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft Studios, told Destructoid.

A few million in sales to date.

Snagging good indies and radical ideas is one place where PlayStation Network has an edge on Xbox Live. They take on projects that are riskier and more experimental.

Based on this quote I’d say that the biggest challenge for the Xbox game library might be Microsoft itself.

Quarrel and Xbox Live’s Word Filter

Patrick Klepek for Giant Bomb:

Quarrel is a word game (imagine a mix of Risk and Boggle) with a massive problem: an inconsistent, utterly mystifying word filter.

Try typing in “help,” “start,” “hung,” or a variety of so-far unpublished words during an online game on Xbox Live Arcade and prepare to be told, without explanation, the word can’t be used.

You can see why this might be a problem for a word game.

I haven’t had the chance to play Quarrel online yet, but the fact that there’s a word filter at all on a game like Quarrel that depends on playing words in order to win is ridiculous, let alone the fact that the words that are being caught are seemingly completely innocuous.

I also have the Scrabble implementation that is part of Hasbro Family Game Night and have played it a couple of times, but I can’t recall running into a word filter this strict before.

“Microsoft clearly has reasons for censoring the words they do but we haven’t discussed that with them,” said Taylor. “What we’re focused on at the moment is working with Microsoft to provide a suitable solution.”

The “suitable solution” will come in the form of a patch in the near future. Taylor did not have a timetable for this patch, nor would he elaborate on the details of any proposed solution.

“Suffice to say that it will fix the current word filter issue,” he said.

The only acceptable fix in this case would be to remove the word filter entirely so long as the parental controls on the 360 are set to permit non-family friendly content.

I’m not quite sure what the concern is here. Quarrel is rated E, but every game that has an online component has to carry an ESRB notice that states “Online Interactions Not Rated by the ESRB.” There is a reason for this in that a rating system—however it reviews the content of a game—cannot actively anticipate all actions of a human player.

As an example of how misplaced this word filter is in a game of this type, I can attempt to play the word “start” in a game, and when that fails and I lose the battle (really, you should check out Quarrel, warts and all), I can let fly with an unrestricted string of profanities over the voice chat and there is nothing to stop me.

No; Really – Buy Quarrel Today

Nathan Brown for Edge:

“We heard the same justifications for passing on it over and over again ad nauseam. One signal came through clearer than any other among the general noise of reasons why Quarrel wasn’t for them, and that was this: ‘Gamers don’t buy word games’.”

It’s a claim Anderson naturally disputes, and with Quarrel launching today on Xbox Live Arcade, he calls on gamers to buy a copy – “Or four, it’s only 400 MSP” – and to “tell everyone you can about the game. Discovery remains the single biggest challenge facing original games these days by far.”

I plan on proving them wrong later this afternoon (and I already have it on iOS). Join me.

You Should Buy Quarrel

Quarrel comes out on Xbox Live Arcade today for the measly sum of five whole dollars and it’s pretty safe to say that if you don’t buy it you don’t like words.

It is a great iOS game that inexplicably lacks multiplayer, which is something that they thankfully decided to remedy for the Live Arcade incarnation.

Someone Publish Shadow Complex 2, Please

Joystiq:

Epic’s Cliff Bleszinski confirmed to Gamasutra that Shadow Complex 2 is “largely designed” and is just “sitting there.”

Bleszinski said Epic and Chair Entertainment, the developer behind Infinity Blade and Shadow Complex, are looking for a partner to help finish the sequel.

The original is still one of my favorite games on Xbox Live Arcade. It’s like the team sat down and decided to craft a love letter to Super Metroid. I hope a potential sequel is not overlooked.

Pac-Man Championship Edition DX

It’s general wisdom that you shouldn’t mess with a known classic, usually for one of the following reasons:

  • The game is so good that any attempts to improve upon it will merely fail.
  • The game is so bad that it was merely tolerated, even if people have fond memories of it. Don’t mess with nostalgia.

Thankfully, Pac-Man Championship Edition DX (or PMCEDX for short—if you can call it short) isn’t a retread of old game mechanics, and it’s not the old Pac-Man game shoehorned into flashier graphics. It’s not even the previously-released and also-awesome Pac-Man Championship Edition in a new package.

PMCEDX is a whole new game, I love it, and you should too.

You can boil the basic gameplay of Pac-Man down to a few simple concepts:

  • Eat dots to clear the board.
  • Get chased by ghosts who try to reach your position at all times.
  • Eat power pellets to change ghosts and eat them to huge points.

What PMCEDX does, is take these gameplay concepts and crank them up using a little Geometry Wars-style sound and flashiness. As in Pac-Man Championship Edition, you are eating dots on each half of the board to clear it. When you clear one half of the board, a fruit appears in the other half. Eat the fruit, and the maze on the cleared side regenerates, with a new maze layout and refreshed dots and power pellets.

Easy enough, right?

In the basic Championship Mode, there are also “sleeping” ghosts (you can see them as green in the shot above). When you pass them, they wake up and then begin to follow you in a line that trails behind you and constantly tracks you. When you finally do grab a power pellet, you can turn around and immediately begin tearing into the ghosts behind you, creating very long chains of point values, up to 3200 points for each ghost you eat.

What makes it challenging is trying to find just the right path to take to maximize the ghost eating and improve your score. In the base game, you have only five minutes to score as many points as possible and end up on the leaderboards. You’re given lives, but the score you rack up will take care of that problem—and that’s if you get touched by a ghost when you play. You’re also given bombs that will get you out of a tight spot, like when a ghost has you cornered (because the four normal ghosts are out in addition to the conga line behind you). They’ll bounce the ghosts away, but the downside is that they will bounce the ghosts away, which stops your chain and makes you waste precious seconds not building the chain behind you or destroying the ghosts by turning the tables.

The time limit, the increasing speed of the game as you play, and the pumped house-style music all combine to create tension and provide pressure to do better each successive time you play the game.

There’s something really endearing about games where the only enemy is yourself. You know how the game plays, you know what a good score is thanks to the leaderboards, and you know each time you lose that if you’d shaved that one corner a little faster or you hadn’t had to juke out that one ghost, you could have scored just a bit higher.

And if you mess up, it’s no one’s fault but your own. Restart and try again.

Pinball FX 2 Preview: The Pinball You’ve Known All Your Life

It won’t include any tables, but you’ll be able to import all of your original Pinball FX content, free of charge, and add new tables via custom content packs.

Old and new tables benefit from a revamped physics engine and graphical overhaul. The new tables are way more elaborate and really invoke the feeling of playing pinball at the arcade. While the old tables won’t change cosmetically once imported into the sequel — they’re far less elaborate than their newer counterparts — they will benefit from the updated physics, which dictate more realistic behavior for the ball.

Sold. Pinball FX is one of the Xbox Live Arcade games I come back to time and time again, but it’s ugly. A new engine and more new tables is going to be very welcome.

(via Joystiq.)

Castlevania: Harmony of Despair – Jeremy Parish’s Review

It’s weird in the sense that Harmony is a far cry from what fans expect from the series. It’s weird in the sense that it uses familiar graphics and mechanics and music to create a game quite unlike its source material. And weirdest of all is the fact that it actually works. Harmony of Despair is no masterpiece, but it’s unique and even fun, and that makes it worth playing.

If there is one person in gaming journalism that I would trust to review a new Castlevania game, it is definitely Jeremy Parish.

(via 1UP.com.)