There's a lot to be said about the way download gaming has dramatically broadened the types of games you can now buy. Rather than just producing cheap-and-cheerful versions of the most popular genres, most developers have headed down the path less travelled.
The consequence of this is that we've ended up the best of both worlds, where the most treasured ideas of the past are revived, while new ideas get boldly premiered - sometimes in the same game.
It feels like developers have managed to get their creative confidence back in a way that simply wasn't possible only a few years ago. Not everything will work, of course, but the most important thing is that there are a hell of a lot more interesting and original games doing the rounds now, and that can only be good for the health of a risk-averse 'blockbuster' sector that seems intent on focusing solely on safe sequels to ride out the rest of the generation.
- PSN Minis - Free to PS Plus subscribers. On general release soon.
- Coming soon to PC/Mac and iPad with extra levels.
It's not every day that you have to write about a game that places participants in a journey through the world of abstractions, exploring the world of supremacist dreams and eclectic futuristic compositions.
In what purports to be the first part of an on-going series, Kaleidoscope aims to bring its 'Interactive Synaesthesia Project' to the confused masses.
What that means in vaguely coherent terms is that Kaleidoscope consists of level 'paintings', which operate on their own set of abstract rules. There are no on-screen prompts to tell you what to do, but through basic trial and error, it's possible to slowly pick up on what may or may not constitute 'progress'.
In the first, it's apparent that pressing left or right fires a blob from the corresponding side of the screen, and if you happen to hit one of the floating shape fragments, it causes a shape to appear somewhere else on the screen.
After a few minutes, you'll move on to another 'painting' with a love heart in the middle. In this instance, you can cause other love hearts to appear by repeatedly hitting the right direction as matter appears from the edges of the screen. You won't even know if what you're doing is correct, but once the time runs out, you'll gain XP and be able to play the game for a little longer next time.
Do this a few times and eventually you'll find yourself able to sneak onto the next stage, where a collection of squares strung along the centre appear to require you to somehow repel smaller squares heading towards them. It's almost unfathomable, but through basic intuition and repetition, the fog begins to clear.
Kaleidoscope makes almost no sense, and yet this permanent state of addled delirium only makes it all the more fascinating. Turn on, tune in, drop out.
- Xbox Live Arcade - 800 Microsoft Points - £6.80.
Now that the Kinect tap has started to gush forth with XBLA offerings, the creepy, possibly sentient device seems intent on forcing regular rearrangement of my home furnishings. Most inconvenient.
But I'm prepared to heave my footstools out of the way and drag the sofa back for a game intent on making you fulfil the role of a benevolent stickman giant.
Your lot in life is to usher the lemming-like Leedmees from one portal to another while trying to scoop up golden stars, avoid inconsiderate hazards and generally not squish them to death en route.
The first step involves positioning yourself so that the emerging Leedmees hop onto your arms and shoulders. But being stupid, brainless morons, they don't think to just sit still and behave themselves, but continually pace from left to right, only changing direction if they bash into something.
With that in mind, you end up holding your arms up at 90 degrees, and then shuffling gently to the portal exit so that they can escape to TK Maxx, or wherever they're in such a hurry to get to.
But ferrying your charges from hither to thither isn't as straightforward as it could - or perhaps should - be, and demands unnaturally smooth, steady limb movement to avoid accidental death.
Do anything untoward, and the game freaks out all too easily, and tends to fling your delicate cargo to their doom at high velocity. Fortunately, passing each level only requires about half of those that appear, but it doesn't stop your minor failures becoming annoying when you're doing reasonably well.
The longer the game goes on, the more delicate these rescue operations become, and although you adapt to what the game wants from you, there are times when its finicky tetchiness becomes a drag. Needless to say, the two-player co-op levels are even more fraught with technological confusion.
Given the relentlessly creative level design, its procession of new ideas and charming style, it's a genuine shame that Konami's ambition is occasionally thwarted. Whether that's Kinect's fault or Konami's implementation is up for discussion, but the bottom line is that it's never as smooth and intuitive as it needs to be. But don't let that put you off at least trying out one of the most creative motion-based games yet.
Ugly Americans: Apocalypsegeddon
- Xbox Live Arcade - 800 Microsoft Points (£6.80)
I'll admit that I haven't been exposed to the Ugly Americans cartoon. It's probably better than Alan Partridge-flavoured sliced bread, and even funnier than my hair in the morning, if that's possible.
As a game, though, it's so cripplingly inane it makes me want to eat my own teeth and replace them with sweetcorn prongs. Ladies and gents, you couldn't wish for a lazier, more half-assed waste of a brand if you paid a specialist license assassin to take down Comedy Central's from within.
I dare say the idea of a twin stick co-op shooter starring four of the show's lead characters sounded like a riot in the design phase. Play as Leonard the drunk gobshite wizard! Callie the hot demon chick! Grimes the moustachioed cop! Or Mark, the normal dude! Blast man birds, demons and zombies with up to 30 different upgradable weapons!
The depressing reality sinks in within the opening moments, once you've figured out that the gameplay consists of endlessly blasting the enemy hordes until the little arrow on the right hand side dictates that it's time to move on.
You can kid yourself that there's some semblance of variety by trying out each of the different weapons, and inch through the various stages diligently, but by the time you've heard all the characters' speech samples repeated 700 times, you'll start to feel your brains gently leaking out of your ears.
Whether you rope in up to three other players for co-op 'fun', or whether you trudge dutifully on alone, the same spirit-crushing repetition will ultimately grind you into the dust.
If, for complicated reasons, you've got a high tolerance for brainless shooters peppered with the least amusing quips of all time, be my guest.
- Xbox Live Arcade - 1200 Microsoft Points (£10.20)
- PSN - £9.99
It's no secret that the world (yes, all of it) has been waiting on another hack-and-slash adventure in the finest traditions of Castlevania for yonks, but few would have ever expected it to come from a BloodRayne title.
But with games like Contra 4, Shantae: Risky's Revenge, LIT, Mighty Flip Champs and A Boy And His Blob under its expanding man-belt in recent years, WayForward Technologies evidently knows its onions when it comes to downloadable nuggets.
Set across 15 stages in and around a castle, it's exactly the kind of murderously tough side-scrolling slashfest that got young men in a lather about 15 years ago - only buffed up with stylish visuals pleasing to our modern faces.
The fight mechanics are thoroughly familiar, with the red-haired Rayne armed with a blade and pistol throughout, but the game never flinches from an excuse to throw dozens of enemies at you.
As a result, the extent of the challenge might bloody the noses of those unfamiliar to the ways of hardcore action games, but for those of you schooled in games that refuse to give an inch, it hits all the right notes - apart from the fist-eatingly awful metal soundtrack, that is.
If BloodRayne: Betrayal gives Uwe Boll an excuse to make another movie, its appearance might not be such a good thing, But if you can get over such matters, this is a satisfying and brutal return to the old school.
- Xbox Live Arcade - 1200 Microsoft Points (£10.20)
- PSN - £9.99
Futuristic aerial combat racing with a Mario Kart twist? I wouldn't blame you if you were tempted. Fine, it's not the most overtly creative genre-splicing ever (or even this week), but you can forgive a lack of originality when it ticks all the boxes.
The mighty Hungarians at Digital Reality presumably imagined a lost arcade racer where eight players fight it out across a series of dangerous courses for aerial supremacy. You know the drill: power ups galore, unlockable craft and a variety of popular game modes.
So far so predictable, but once you're out there manhandling your aircraft through speed hoops, twisting manically through narrow gaps and loosing off lock-on missiles into the nearest chump, it gets all the right neurons firing.
The important thing is that it feels right. The controls are spot-on, and it's easy to pick up and barrel through its 33-stage campaign or dive into lag-free, eight-player online races.
On the downside, it starts to get fairly repetitive early on and it's easy to see why. With only six courses (and reversed versions), the game wastes little time in recycling the locations. There's also the issue of price. For 800 points or £7.99, it would have been an easy decision to make, but that extra 50 per cent makes it feel pricey.
If you're feeling flush, give it a go - SkyDrift is comfortably one of the strongest aerial combat racers we've seen in the world of download-only titles.