Is the proliferation of downloadable games making us choosier about our full-priced gaming purchases? It's quite a heavy topic to throw at you on a Friday afternoon, admittedly, but I've a feeling that the answer is, in most cases, yes.
Now, obviously I have to play an ungodly amount of these games, so a lot of my gaming time has been dominated by checking out the whole scene. But the more of these stupendously high-quality and low-priced games that come out every month, the less reason you have to take a punt on a good-but-not-stellar boxed game. I know what I'd do.
And because of the impulse-purchase price of most of these games, I suspect that people are actually spending more on games than ever in total – but in the absence of raw data from all the relevant services, it's impossible to know one way or another. The fact that retail sales are in decline is highly misleading, and it would be good for Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, Apple and Valve to shed more light on how the digital market has grown.
In the meantime, here are some more good games to annoy the retail community...
- Xbox Live Indie Games - 80 Microsoft Points (£0.68)
And the hits just keep on coming for Radiangames' Luke Schneider with his seventh – and final – Xbox Indie title diving headlong into wild-eyed twin-stick shooter territory once again.
At first glance, yes, it's another riff on what Geometry Wars was gunning for, but don't let that put you off. At 80 points, you'd have to be feeling especially fun-averse to pass up on this effortlessly slick and surprisingly varied attempt.
The basic idea is to steer a little ship around with the left stick, and fend off swarms of enemies by directing your fire with the right stick. So far, so done-to-death.
Each 'wave' requires you to play the Pied Piper of death, weaving a path through the madding crowd and ultimately putting an end to their brief existence with dead-eyed accuracy and fortuitous path-finding.
Where Ballistic starts to divert from the obvious is through the addition of various weapon enhancements. At the start, you get to choose one of the nine, and get to choose whether going faster, shooting faster or dealing extra damage is your death-dealer of choice.
Upon completion of every fifth wave, you gain access to an extra enhancement, which is just as well in a game where things start off demented and rapidly degenerate into frothing, unblinking chaos. Some enhancement combinations evidently work better together than others, but figuring out the ones that work best for your playing style is all part of the intrigue.
As if merely ploughing through wave upon wave wasn't quite tempting enough, Ballistics adds a further five score-attack modes, each limiting the the player to two minutes of madness to test their mettle. With online leaderboards in the mix, there's no hiding place.
It all looks glossily divine, too, as we've come to expect from Schneider, though the pyrotechnic fug adds a challenge all of its own.
If this really is the end of the road for Schneider in the indie scene, Ballistic is a fitting conclusion to his retro evolution project. Ladies and gentlemen, pay your respects.
Dead Space Extraction
- PSN - £11.99
The failure of Dead Space Extraction to interest the wussy Wii audience was enough to make a grown man weep into his blog. Apart from being a marvellous on-rails shooter in its own right, it acted as an excellent prequel to one of the best survival horror games of the generation – and promptly sold like halitosis aftershave.
Happily, the arrival of PlayStation Move has given EA the opportunity to grant Extraction a chance to shine in a somewhat more welcoming environment – or that's the plan, anyway. Given away with the limited edition of Dead Space 2 on the PS3, or available in cheaptastic downloadable form on PSN, dismembering spindly-limbed creatures has seldom been more alluring.
As on the Wii, it's savage stuff, forcing you to fend off a relentless onslaught of sub-human Necromorphs as you explore the innards of the Ishimura space station for six grim and grisly hours. If it didn't quite justify shelling out top whack a year or so ago, at this price it would be rude not to pick it up, especially if you were buying the PS3 version anyway.
The only flicker of disappointment is that the developers didn't find it within their hearts (or rather, budget) to produce a truly top-notch conversion. While it certainly looks great upscaled to 720p, there are occasions when the texturing limitations of the Wii original rear their ugly head. Don't tell Digital Foundry, for gawd's sake.
Fortunately, even when such moments occur, it barely detracts from what is one of the best old-school rail shooters out there. Go and bust some heads and sever some spiky limbs in the name of slightly disturbing entertainment.
- PSN Minis - £3.49
Sometimes all it takes is a single, interesting idea to spark interest in a game. In greenTech +'s case, part of its charm is trying to work out what the hell kind of game it's trying to be.
YoYo Games' screenshots certainly provide no clue whatsoever, and even the initial tutorial is a little sketchy. So, yeah, you're a hurricane, on a mission to blow all the pollution into little cleaning facilities. Right. Roll another fat one.
The total monochrome abstraction of it is beautiful, though, and it feels like a lost Spectrum game. It's a shame, then, that actual playability gets lost somewhere in the mix.
The principle of clustering and directing the flow of pollution is a fine one, but taming the beast is far harder than it ought to be.
If you can master its evil learning curve, then 30 levels of breezy fun await – just be aware that getting through most of them is like playing four games of buzz bar at once with each limb. And we all know how that ends up.
- PC (Steam) - £3.49
- Xbox Live Indie Games - 240 Microsoft Points (£2.04)
Strangely ignored (even by us) upon its initial release in the overwhelming wilds of Xbox Indieland, Trinoteam's furious twist on Qix thoroughly deserves the second chance its recent Steam release provides. [Qix again? You're obsessed! -Ed.]
Trino's land-grabbing formula is simple enough, but how it goes about it is entirely fresh and requires diligent triangle-plotting, if you can possibly imagine such a thing. To begin with, you can move your little alien bug freely around the playing area and lay down a triangular trap by plotting three points wherever you desire.
If any of the Nanite robots wandering around happen to be inside your trap, you can then pick up a tasty point bonus as a reward. If they happen to be carrying a light blue blob on their backs, it whizzes into one of the plotted points located in the corners of the screen.
Still with me? Good. Trap enough of these blob-carrying robots and you're eventually able to fill in the entire screen, Qix-style, by land-grabbing between each of those plot points I mentioned. It sounds complicated, but it clicks pretty much immediately.
Within a few rounds, you'll power up and be able to lay down several traps one after the other, but you'll also have horrid snippy crabs to contend with, who delight in breaking the strings on your trap before you get a chance to lay it. It all gets extremely hectic soon enough, as time limits and unpredictable foes are introduced.
Whether it gets a little too intense is a moot point. Some will revel in Trino's gleeful madness and barrel headlong into its 48 stages, but it all got a too unforgiving too early for a Southern pussy like me. If you like your games to bloody your nose, then you should definitely put this insidious nano-robot swarm in its place.
Ben 10 Alien Force: The Rise Of Hex
- WiiWare - 1000 WiiWare Points (£7.00)
- Previously released on Xbox 360 - 800 Microsoft Points (£6.80)
If you're not a parent, you might be blissfully unaware of Ben Tennyson's hero status among millions of young boys. It may have also escaped your attention that there have been about seven videogames starring the villain-fighting youngling, but not me. Oh ho no.
Having been mercilessly bullied by my five-year-old son for the past year into helping him play through most of them (multiple times), the arrival of Konami's downloadable effort does little to aid my fragile grip on reality.
It's not all bad, though. Unlike Papaya Studio's murderously terrible Ben 10 efforts, Vilgax Attacks and Cosmic Destruction, The Rise Of Hex opts for thoughtful-but-repetitive Shadow Complex-lite 2D platform-puzzling.
You still get to change into all the different alien forms (Spider Monkey! Brain Storm!) and engage in the usual rough-and-tumble combat, but, fortunately, the emphasis is mainly on wily platform negotiation and keycard collection.
You might, for example, need to patiently lug around boxes as Humungosaur, then switch to Big Chill, jump on the box and then take advantage of his double-jump to reach a lofty platform, before switching to Swampfire and lobbing fireballs at the lumbering sentry. The only problem, of course, is that it's just too damned taxing for young kids, and you'll end up having to play most of it yourself, rather than just helping out on the tricky bits.
You could just deny all knowledge of this game, of course. There are advantages when games don't come out in high street stores...