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The Endless Downloadable Summer

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Posted July 29, 2011 - By Guest Writer


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The Endless Downloadable Summer

It became clear sometime around E3 week that downloadable titles would dominate this summer. Somewhere between the release of Double Fine’s awesome Trenched and the heady buzz surrounding Bastion, From Dust and the rest of XBLA’s Summer of Arcade promotion, something clicked in the blogosphere, a sort of acknowledgement that hey, the little guys are seriously going to rule this season.

Maybe it has something to do with the traditionally slower sales in the warmer months, so publishers are more willing to bolster their downloadable services when the dog days hit. Maybe it’s the fact that “marketability” is less of a strain on a small budget title than a game that needs to sell countless millions just to recoup losses, so creativity abounds. Whatever the reason, the boxed games of summer 2011 are pretty out there (in a good way), and the downloadable games have been pretty fantastic. Here’s a list of some of the very best so far – and the most hotly anticipated titles to come.

 

Iron Brigade GDC 2011 Announcement Trailer »


 

Trenched

It all started in June, with Double Fine’s latest – an action/tower defense hybrid with a wacky jingoistic storyline and killer mech-based gameplay. The development team has spent the last year releasing quirky downloadable titles, starting with Halloween-themed RPG Costume Quest last fall and Russian doll adventure Stacking in February, with Trenched completing the trifecta of awesome, polished, genuinely unique experiences.

With a robust multiplayer game, customizable tanks (excuse me, mobile trenches) and a seriously meaty single-player campaign, Trenched had enough content (and more importantly – good content) to put most full-priced boxed games to shame.

 

Bastion Review »


 

Bastion

Everyone came out of the Warner Bros. booth at E3 talking about two games. The first was no surprise at all – Batman: Arkham City, the sequel to one of 2009’s most awesome blockbusters. The second, however, was totally unanticipated – a funky, colorful little XBLA and PC action-RPG by the name of Bastion.

The game has players stepping into the shoes of the spunky “kid”, on a quest to figure out just what the hell is going on in the world. The trippy visuals actually assemble right before your eyes as you traverse the isometric terrain, and a deep, baritone voiceover accompanies your every move, as you hack and slash through wacked-out looking monsters. Its a little bit like the old NES platformer Totally Rad had a baby with Zelda and the whole shebang had play-by-play commentary by Samuel L. Jackson.

The Endless Downloadable Summer

Alien Zombie Mega Death

You may have missed this one when it arrived on PSN last June – or maybe you avoided it because the title sounds like an overly “ironic” cliché of arcade gaming. No matter – this is a seriously underrated, fun “hidden gem” of a platformer/shooter, starring the player as a little space dude that needs to – you guessed it, blast the crap out of hordes of alien zombies.

What propels this little game beyond the army of shooters available on the platform is in its sheer variety of gameplay modes (including Space Baby Rescue), and the impressive number of levels and “medals” that can be earned.

 

X-Play Recommends - Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax »


 

Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax

The port of a truly awesome PSP RPG with rapid-fire gameplay, divided into – yep, you guessed it – 30-second chunks, this hyperbolically named XBLA title came out at the very end of June. It’s just about stuffed with personality, humor and whip-fast “classic” JRPG gameplay.

This is another example of a “small” game that is anything but – there are 60+ levels and multiplayer content, plus you can actually change the graphical style from the “classic” 16-bit look to “Neo Cartoon”. It’s all about player choice, you see.

The Endless Downloadable Summer

Puzzle Dimension

A totally under-the-radar PSN puzzler with fantastically retro tile-based gameplay, Puzzle Dimension pretty much came out of nowhere and wowed the hell out of people who like old-school challenge from their brain teasers. It looks a bit like the uber-charming 3D Dot Game Heroes and plays a bit like IloMilo (it’s a spatial puzzler, after all).

More than any other game on this list, it recalls the first really great downloadable games – aesthetically simple, polished affairs that iterate brilliantly on a solid core idea. Play this if you want to party like it’s 2005!

 

The First 15: From Dust »


 

From Dust

We haven’t seen much from the “god game” genre lately, but From Dust is about to change that in late July. A truly dynamic gameworld wherein you need to literally shape the land so that your villagers can thrive, it’s a unique, fresh, totally intriguing concept that comes backed with an impressive pedigree – Creative Designer Eric Chahi cut his teeth on games like Another World and Heart of Darkness.

It’s being hailed as a sort of “spiritual successor” to Populous, and it’s astoundingly, breath-takingly gorgeous, especially for a “smaller” game. We’re champing at the bit to get our Dust on before the month is out.

The Endless Downloadable Summer

Fruit Ninja: Kinect

Also part of XBLA’s Summer of Arcade promotion, and the only (so far) downloadable Kinect title, this is a Kinect-ified port of the ultra popular mobile game that has you slicing and dicing ridiculous amounts of – well, fruit.

It’s a simple, feverishly addictive game built on a simple, undeniably charming concept. It will be interesting to see how well it translates to the big screen – and the Kinect’s full-body controls - when it launches in a few short weeks.

 

Official Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet E3 Trailer »


 

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet

A gorgeous action-platformer with a whiff of Metroid influence, this Summer of Arcade release has been enjoying some serious preview buzz for both its unique style (artist and animator Michael Gagne is behind the visuals) and its clever, exploration-heavy design.

Preview footage shows the player-controlled UFO exploring all sorts of lusciously animated 2D alien territory, looking for all the world like a living sci-fi cartoon. This could very well turn out to be the best side-scrolling game of the year.

 

Retro City Rampage Official Trailer »


 

Retro City Rampage

Ok, so this puppy is out in September (still, technically summer), so we have a little ways to go yet, but it’s been turning heads ever since it was first revealed. It’s an 8-bit open world action/adventure game packed with self-referential humor (see the title) and started off on 2010’s PAX 10 list, which is always a good sign.

The developers over at Vblank are taking their not-very-serious game very seriously, with three chiptune artists providing the soundtrack, a particularly detailed development blog at their official site and a wealth of information about the game. See if you can point out all the old-school references in the front-page screens alone.

The Endless Downloadable Summer

PixelJunk LifeLike

Also toeing the line between late summer and early fall is this PSN exclusive, the latest in Q Games’ excellent genre-spanning PixelJunk series. They’ve dabbled in racing, puzzling, platforming, shooting and tower defense, but Lifelike is much harder to nail down – it’s a move-enabled music/visualizer app that lets players create trippy beats with even trippier images and animations. Unlike other games of its ilk (say, Electroplankton for the original DS), you can actually save, share and broadcast your creations, making for a truly social tripped-out experience.

Danielle Riendeau is a freelance writer, digital media professor, and nonprofit web ninja from Boston. You should

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