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Spring of Arcade - Everything You Need To Know about Microsoft's Arcade NEXT

G4Staff
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Posted April 18, 2012 - By G4 Staff


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Microsoft is ramping up available GamerScore points for Xbox Live Arcade titles from 200 to 400, and to celebrate its launch of the Arcade NEXT promotional jamboree. Starting today, four special titles will be released each week to commemorate a change that will have Achievement hunters cracking their knuckles in glee.

But they shouldn’t be the only ones excited. For a few years now we’ve been kicking up a fuss about the Summer of Arcade, the time of year Microsoft seems to choose to spotlight the very best XBLA games – but this time it looks like it’s coming early. The four games in the Arcade NEXT promotion are all looking full of potential, with one or two of them arguably likely contenders for end-of-year accolades. We preview the four games that Microsoft are collectively calling Arcade NEXT, but maybe it’s best to think of them as 2012’s Spring of Arcade.

 

Trials Evolution First Gameplay Trailer »


 

Trials Evolution

What is it? The long-awaited follow-up to Trials HD, the 2009 XBLA game that combined Excitebike-like 2D motocross with obstacle-swamped tracks to make for a brilliant physics-based puzzler/racer.

Why should I be excited? Ask those who’ve played it and they’ll tell you Trials HD is some of the most fun you can have with an Xbox controller. The game has such simple controls: one button to accelerate, one to brake, and gentle taps of the left stick to make your rider lean forward or back. The genius is how precise it all is; the slightest bit of movement can totally wreck your trajectory. This becomes crucial as the game slowly but surely ramps up the challenge and complexity of the tracks, throwing in all manner of huge jumps, explosive landings, fragile platforms, and watery graves between you and that all-important checkpoint. Yet the challenge isn’t just to complete tracks but to do so quicker than your Xbox Live friends. All of this comes together to make a very challenging puzzler/race and yet for all the punishment the one-more-go factor is astronomical.

This same base of play transfers through to Evolution untouched, but most noticeably absent is the abandoned warehouse of Trials HD. In its place are more varied, much richer outdoor environments. You’ll be speeding and jumping through constructions yards and down evergreen hillsides, through a track inspired by the Normandy D-Day landings to one that mimics monochrome platformer Limbo. The developers have gone to town with backdrops this time round, and there is a plethora of little surprises to discover throughout Evolution – which we won’t be spoiling here.

The other big change-up is the introduction of local and online multiplayer. The fantastic real-time leaderboard-based play remained untarnished – in fact upgraded thanks to markers that show the arcs your friend chose as you race – but now you can also race three friends across y-axis paths in specific multiplayer tracks. And it works better than you think it will, although the real meat remains in progressing through the campaign and chasing down times.

The other big draw is the heavily revamped editor, especially with the knowledge that every single track and mini-game on show can be made using a controller. As the skills games show, you can create things in Evolution far removed from biking. There’s a LittleBigPlanet 2 level of freedom for creative types, and it will be fascinating to see what the community creates this time around. It’s safe to say that if you loved Trials HD, chances are you’ll be singing Evolution’ praises too.

When it does come out? April 18

How much will it cost? 1200 MSP

One last thing to remember? Keep some money aside; new controllers cost a fair bit these days.

Bloodforge

Bloodforge

What is it? A Celtic hack-and-slash romp with a 300-like lack of hue, a never-ending spillage of blood that Ed Boon would be proud of, and all the emotional depth of a cheese puff.

Why should I be excited? If you found yourself nodding dejectedly while reading through our review of Ninja Gaiden 3 then Bloodforge could be the bloodthirst-quenching tonic you need right now.

First, the game looks great. The faded brand of Miller’s crimson-against-monochrome is a perfect fit for the streaks of blood spurting out of the many, many detached body parts you’ll create. It’s dumb brutality, but slicing through hulking, leather-clad reprobates who’ve wandered astray of the Gothic Castle, all while literally painting the town Hemoglobin Red, is the right kind of dumb brutality.

Blood, as you may have worked out, is very much the surface-coating life essence of Bloodforge. Firstly, it’s the currency you collect from fallen enemies and then use to buy attacks. Secondly, it’s the factor by which you compete with friends. There’s even a Trials-like meter at the bottom of the screen which compares in real-time you and a friend’s progress at spilling the red stuff.

Combat is kept accessible with just light and heavy attacks for the game’s three melee weapons, but there are some good old hack-and-slash combos for aficionados to master across the campaign’s five or so hours. If it sounds simple enough it’s because it is. Bloodforge wears its brutal qualities on its sleeve, but its simplicity is maybe its beauty. We expect bigger, brighter things of AAA brawlers, but Bloodforge is a reduced hack-and-slash which looks the part but won’t overstay its welcome.

When it does come out? April 25

How much will it cost? 1200 MSP

One last thing to remember? When you play just make sure you’re not wearing white.

Fable Heroes

Fable Heroes

What is it? A four-player hack-and-slash in the Castle Crashers vein, Heroes lets you bound about a tabletop Albion as ragdoll versions of familiar Fable characters. The cartoony visuals complement a brawler which mixes simple button-mashing combat with oddball power-ups and tweaks.

Why should I be excited? Heroes would be easy to dismiss after the dour Pub Games and a dubious E3 showing of The Journey, but this spin-off is looking like more than an aside with some Fable gloss.

Heroes won’t be the deepest title but there are eye-catching Lionhead ideas in there. For example, although it’s a co-op game you’ll be fighting with teammates to “win” each level by getting the most gold – as underlined by the humiliating “Loser cam”. Squabbling over the showers of coins dropped by enemies will make for a right old scrimmage, but the ruckus won’t end there.

You’ll encounter chests that provide good or evil options – choose evil and you can curse a fellow player, maybe by sending him a thundercloud that electrocutes the coins out of him, although he can pass on the cloud by touching another player, this leading to a frenzied game of thunderous tag.

Another clever idea: rather than just die when you run out of health you instead turn into a ghost. You can drift along collecting coins but can’t fight again until you find a life heart. It’s a great little way of keeping everyone active. Of course, other players can beat you to hearts should they want to keep you quiet. You’ll need to work together to complete levels, but it’s definitely all about the win.

Fable fans will appreciate the kitschy adaptations seen in end-of-level boss fights and mini-games, stuff like the Hobbe king with a Hobbes-loaded shotgun and the Kicking Chickens game that sees you punt exploding fowl into teammates. Regards replay value, there are 12 different characters to play as, and a plus mode gained by beating the game’s eight levels, this transforming them into spookier versions that aren’t just redesigned but are also much trickier. Also, coins will transfer over into the Kinect-based game The Journey later in the year which hopefully might be worth caring about.

When it does come out? May 2

How much will it cost? Cheapest of the bunch at 800 MSP

One last thing to remember? Look out for a cameo from a certain Peter M (he lingers, oh he lingers).

Minecraft header

Minecraft

What is it? Minecraft is a procedurally generated first-person sandbox game. It combines surviving, digging, building, and creating. It’s become kind of a thing in the last few years.

Why should I be excited? Many of you will of course already know of Mojang’s blocky blockbuster. If you haven’t, but have a fondness for either a) LEGO b) camping in the woods – keep reading.

In Minecraft, you explore an archaic-looking landscape made up of bitty 3D cubes. This curious world procedurally generates as you explore it, making your experience unique. By day it is peaceful as you hunt the non-hostile environment for resources, but by night it is a death trap. Zombies, skeletons, and exploding Creepers roam around noisily, ready to rid you of health and inventory. Enemies also procedurally generate, so you can never be fully safe in the open. So you build a shelter to survive the night, and as you survive more nights and collect more resources you build bigger things, maybe a bigger shelter, and one day a house, or a town, with roads and a railway track…

And here’s where it snowballs into crazy land.

People have built all kinds of awe-inspiring stuff in Minecraft – and I’m not using that word lightly. Block by block they’ve made anything and everything from huge, ornate palaces to towering replicas of the Statue of Liberty, from theme parks to actual working computers. It’s a creative limitlessness, and one which goes beyond construction and into each individual experience. It’s truly incredible.

If that all seems overwhelming then fret not, for the 360 version offers some exclusive features designed to lessen confusion for new players. For starters there’s a tutorial which gently introduces you to the basics of mining, building, crafting and, significantly, surviving your first night. Also, the crafting system is far less hostile compared to the PC’s wiki-requiring fiasco.

Then there’s the big draw: eight-person online multiplayer which doesn’t involve any convoluted server nonsense. Xbox Live will make Minecraft a doddle to play with friends, meanwhile four-player split screen will let you and brew potions and shave sheep with your couch buddies.

The bad news? In terms of versions, 360 Minecraft will be behind PC Minecraft. The plan is to catch up the PC version through updates and eventually introduce things like mods, player skins, texture packs, and even Kinect functionality. The good news? All future updates will be free of charge.

When it does come out? May 9

How much will it cost? The most expensive, coming in at 1600 MSP

One last thing to remember? Minecraft can get a smidge addictive. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Sinan Kubba is a British type who also freelances for places like VideoGamer.Com, The Escapist, and play.tm, hosts the Big Red Potion podcast, and gets a little angry-obsessive about Trials HD

Spring of Arcade - Everything You Need To Know about Microsoft's Arcade NEXT
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