So, many moons after the XNA (Xbox Nautical Acclimatiser) was first announced, we're finally getting to see the fruits of all those amateur coders, beavering away over a hot keyboard. Seven preview versions of XNA titles are available from the Xbox Live Marketplace, but will turn into smoke and be blown away on a fragrant breeze in just over two weeks time.
To access the games, you first need to download the XNA Launcher from the Game Store. Then scroll through the blades to My Games, and select XNA Creators Club from the top bar. Hit the Y button and you can start downloading.
The games are, as you'd expect, a mixed bag. Some have their amateur roots proudly on display, others could be added to Live Arcade tomorrow and fit right in. This, then, is not a review but a sort of "previewy roundup", to use Tom's delightful phrase - a critical overview to see what sort of content is being created, how it's shaping up and what we might start seeing once Microsoft's peer-reviewed developer community really starts cranking them out.
- Developed by: Hidden Path Entertainment, USA
Three horticultural mini-games await in this curious compilation. In Bloom Game, you're the curator of a spherical green garden. Nasty weeds pop up on the surface and you must stamp down their botanical invasion by surrounding them with flowers. Rotate the globe, draw lines of flowers, try to remove all the weeds before they dominate the garden. It sounds simple and it is. Accurately boxing in the weeds can be a random affair, however, since you're never entirely sure if your lines are joining up. Is that a gap in your line, or just the normal gap between the flowers? The effect of the flowers sprouting life beneath your cursor is very nice, but it's all too repetitive and vague to really grab your imagination.
Paint With Flowers is exactly what it sounds like. Paint By Numbers, using flowers instead of paint. Scroll around the large grid, selecting the correct colour from your palette and clicking in the right place. Once you've correctly filled all the areas, the game zooms out and shows you your masterpiece. It's almost entirely devoid of challenge, but strangely compelling.
Both of these games earn you "mixers" which can then be used in the third element of the game - the Flower Garden. Here you combine different types of flower to create new colours and designs.
Certainly the most unusual of the seven demos, it's not entirely clear who Culture is aimed at. It's got a very nice relaxing feel to it, but it's not exactly overflowing with gameplay. Somewhere in this grab bag of ideas is the seed of a really lovely game, but it'll need careful nurturing to bear fruit.
- Developed by: Walaber, USA
Now this is the sort of title that grabs your attention. A car? Made of jelly? Who could resist the chance to muck about with such a thing?
As the game succinctly explains, the aim is to drive a squishy car through squishy worlds. Between you and your goal are ramps, obstacles and other pitfalls. You can inflate your car to traverse gaps, and simply watching your gelatinous vehicle burble across the eight preview levels is immediately enjoyable. Calling to mind Crayon Physics Deluxe, the game is cheerful and bouncy in all the right ways, and there's clearly potential here for some devilish level designs. The part in the Factory level where the car is squished between two giant wheels and boinged across the room is a particular highlight.
Control, however, is very twitchy and navigating some of the moving puzzles is a right chore, especially as it's easy to get stuck in the scenery. Checkpoints wouldn't go amiss as well, since nothing drains goodwill more than painstakingly crossing a series of fiendish rotating platforms, only to start all over again after one mistake. Those are easy problems to fix, though, and this is one of those demos where you can clearly see how much fun the full game will be.
- Developed by: Loic Dansart, Belgium
The first of two side-scrolling games, Little Gamers is based on a web comic. My tolerance for smug Penny Arcade rip-offs is incredibly low, so I'll just move onto the game itself.
It's sort of like River City Ransom, as you guide the hilarious Little Gamer characters across a series of nicely rendered but rather bland levels. There are loads of weapons to pick up, and as enemies approach from the left and right you mash the buttons to kill them all. In its favour, the game does mix things up with each new level, introducing vertical ascents up skyscrapers and mech-suit combat, but the core gameplay never changes to suit.
Little Gamers certainly looks good but is neither original nor particularly interesting at this stage, I'm afraid. I'd happily swap all the "l33t" jokes in the world for some better-paced level design.