Are downloadable prequels like Dead Space Ignition and Dead Rising: Case Zero hugely cynical exercises, or a smart, forward-thinking piece of business? Personally, I'm torn. On the one hand, publishers get a chance to service the fan community with exclusive content, and extend games beyond their traditional scope, but on the other hand, why not just release a free demo and include this content in the box?
It's a practice I'm pretty sure most of you won't be too happy with if – as seems certain – other publishers get in on the act. Given how well Case Zero sold, many will be looking on in envy. When it comes to Ignition, though, it was a throwaway bit of puzzle-based filler, and a bit of a missed opportunity as it happens.
The key thing will be how publishers manage it, and how well they can dress up this pre-release teaser content as something worth owning. As a pre-order incentive, it's a complete no-brainer, and if it gets gamers into the habit of downloading games a bit more, maybe they'll try out some of the other things that otherwise fall by the wayside. Here's hoping.
- PSN (PS3) / £7.99
The battle to depose grizzled media mogul Rupert Murdoch continues in Creat Studio's politically charged PSN exclusive. We can but dream. Actually, it's an exciting side-scrolling tale of dogfighting shenanigans set in the second world war, where men fearlessly blast the living crap out of each other in the name of patriotic glory, cheeseburgers and getting the girl. Probably.
The scenarios don't matter, but what does shine through is Creat's knack of crafting an intuitive, instantly engaging blaster that very quickly gets its hooks into you. Set over 22 brutally challenging stages, Sky Fighter has you whizzing through blue skies and cotton wool clouds, taking out the designated number of bogies while bombing enemy positions and runaway trains, and trying not to take too much flak in the process.
Despite its deceptively simple appearance, it's a visually charming little game, packed with detail and subtle touches that shine through. And thanks to its deft control system and refreshingly simple premise, you can just get on with taking on enemies and dodging incoming fire.
There's plenty to enjoy, too. Playable multiple difficulty levels (each with an online leaderboard), Sky Fighter also let you take on a bunch of challenge levels or duke it out in multiplayer - assuming you can find someone. While it's maybe a couple of quid pricier than you might hope, Sky Fighter is another fine addition to PSN - and exclusive, too.
- DSiWare / 800 DSiWare Points (£7.20)
Some games you really want to like, despite themselves. You make all sorts of slightly irrational allowances, take a deep breath, and give them the benefit of the doubt. Thorium Wars is one such example.
Despite doing its level best to offer impressive variety, slick 3D visuals, and a decent raft of challenging stages, it's a game that seems determined to irritate the player. Regardless of whether you're engaging in aerial combat, piloting a hovercraft or driving a tank, the game perpetually sends a posse of drones to pester the life out of you and chip away at your health.
While you're getting on perfectly well with the task at hand, blasting enemy emplacements, taking out sentry towers, and destroying the designated fixtures, the perpetual onslaught of these drones makes it practically impossible to get through without having your health knocked down to zero.
You'll respawn at the last checkpoint with all your health restored, and go through the motions all over again - and then maybe again. Eventually, by virtue of repeatedly having your health topped up, you'll beat the boss creature and move on. But after a while of tolerating this nonsense, you'll most likely tire of the incessant drones. Where do they come from? Why don't they just piss off? Who thought they were a good idea? Lord, I guess I'll never know.
Excruciating Guitar Voyage
- Xbox Live Indie Games / 240 Microsoft Points (£2.04)
Self-effacing game titles certainly work in getting our attention, but the idea of slogging through an agonising, extremely painful journey involving an invincible hairy moron didn't sound like the best way to round off the week.
But it turns out that this particular hairy moron can set himself on fire and electrocute himself to solve puzzles, jump around bizarre platform environments, and talk to absolute weirdos while trying to bust a mate out of prison.
It's all very knowingly lo-fi, with photographed heads superimposed on crudely animated bodies, and probably the most basic jump mechanics you've ever seen. But WickedWorx tries to win you over with its slightly surreal brand of humour, penchant for lever-pulling, and cast of complete losers who spout absolute nonsense at every opportunity.
Having spent most of its time recording demented dialogue and setting up one crazy skit after another, it's a shame, then, that the actual gameplay is mired in tiresome amateurishness. Pulling levers and messing around with flinging yourself into fire and electricity is mildly entertaining once or twice, but gets excruciating over the long haul.
- Minis (PSP & PS3) / £3.99
- Also available on iPhone for £0.59 as 'Urbanix Arcade'.
- Coming soon to WiiWare.
I love Qix as much as the next guy, especially if the next guy spends half his time pondering on the demise of arcades and the other half wishing we still loaded games from cassette. The rest of you might want to follow the magic blue letters and nod in appreciation of one of the most timeless games around.
In Urbanix, the aim is to guide a tractor around, building towns on open fields and avoiding the 'house crashers'. Quite how a tractor can build houses is never fully explained, but we'll let that one pass. For now.
More pertinent is why the designers thought it was a good idea to design a riff on Qix where you can only see a small portion of the screen at any one time. The very point of Qix (or Zolyx, which was even better) was that you could make daring manoeuvres by anticipating the likely path of your enemies. Without that ability, you're just driving blind and, unsurprisingly, you'll get unfairly caught out because of it.
Whether you'd want to slap down four quid on Nordcurrent's take on the idea is another matter entirely. Given that Urbanix is available for 59p on iPhone, you'd be better off looking up that version if you really must have a slightly broken take on an old classic. Better still, go and pick up the free trial of Taito's remake from last year instead.
- DSiWare / 500 DSiWare Points (£4.50)
Tedious, haphazard, unsatisfying: these are just three of the words that best describe ArtePiazza's uninspiring pinball-flavoured shooter. Others include unbalanced, frustrating, and unattractive. I could go on, but you don't want to kick something when it's down. Not when people are watching, anyway.
The third offering in Rising Star's promising GO Series of Japanese-developed DSiWare releases, Pinball Attack's big idea is to turn pinball into a vertical shooter, where you must fend off waves of incoming enemies using a pair of flippers and an errant ball that defies the laws of physics.
The prospect of a jolly pinball shooter might be a relatively fun were it not for the ridiculously bobbly ball behaviour, and the feeling that the game will gimp you at any moment. Progress seems to rely as much on blind luck as anything else, though a high tolerance for insipid game design won't hurt either.
And then there's the issue of the price. Unlike the other two reasonably-priced GO Series titles, this one demands 500 points, a 250 per cent hike. Talking of hikes, Rising Star can take one on this occasion – for free.