Version tested: Xbox 360
With that Wii-chasing price drop now confirmed, it's clear that Microsoft is aiming its 360 Arcade package right between the eyes of the family market. No doubt some are already clenching their fists and scowling about casual gamers and how they're ruining games and grumble grumble swear. Personally, I couldn't give a toss about the bane of casual games. Pretty much all the early classics of gaming, the basic templates of which are still in use, were casual by definition. I mean, imagine people wanting to play games just for fun. The fools!
With that in mind, this week's Live Arcade update provides two games designed to appeal to this audience. Neither do much to help my pro-casual argument, both being largely inessential, but their flaws lie more with lack of inspiration and make-do design, neither of which are unique to the casual end of the gaming spectrum. So there.
- Publisher: Codemasters
- Price: 400 Microsoft Points (GBP 3.40 / EUR 4.80)
Tom already sank his pristine fangs into this one when it surfaced on the PSP and all of his criticisms still stand. Bliss Island is about as uninspired as mini-game compilations get, with a flavourless selection of challenges and a half-hearted attempt at adding charm and character.
The concept, for what it's worth, follows fluffy air-puffing creatures called Zwoophs whose job it is to guff the clouds into the sky. There's apparently no Zwooph union, so they only get one day off each week and spend this time playing games. The games you will also play, you see. Trouble is, all of the games seem more like hard work than lying around all day farting into the sky, mired as they are in repetitive drawn-out gameplay, obtuse instructions and a general lack of anything that might endear the game to all but the most attention deficient.
Zwoophs are puffed up vertical platform levels, or across horizontal levels, or around Frogger-style courses. Fruit is puffed into monster mouths, balls are puffed into each other, or into descending blocks. While there's variety between the nine games on offer, they all share a common blandness that makes it hard to muster up the enthusiasm to work through them all to unlock the various medals.
We gave the PSP version 4/10, and this largely identical Live Arcade version only scores higher because the price is much more agreeable, the multiplayer more workable and some of the irritations - such as having to unlock everything in the laughably titled Adventure Mode - have been removed.
- Publisher: Gameloft
- Price: 800 Microsoft Points (GBP 6.80 / EUR 9.60)
This latest Brain Training knock-off earns some kudos for not even bothering to mask its Nintendo-copying tendencies. It even looks like a DS game, with eerie smiling Real Doll tutors who deliver their Stepford-style judgments in silent word balloons.
The concept is, of course, utter arse. Starting from the nonsensical lingering misconception that we only use 10 percent of our brains, we're once again expected to believe that grinding through daily reaction and observation tests will somehow make us smarter. Intelligence actually comes from, you know, the less sexy notions of learning facts and the application of logical and lateral thought but as long as Dad feels like he's staving off the intellectual atrophy of middle age by playing a jumped up shape-matching "computer game", who are we to argue?
There are twenty challenges spread across five sections - Memory, Visual, Logic, Maths and Focus - with only one unlocked in each at the start. Keep playing and you'll open up more games that can then be played on their own, or as part of the daily test. Trouble is, the games are a dull bunch, reliant either on rudimentary mental agility or Fisher Price pattern recognition. Many, such as the Bouncing Balls game where you have to spot which ball is bouncing highest, have absolutely no point and simply rely on looking at things with your eyes and making your best guess. There's absolutely nothing here beyond the sort of hand-eye-brain coordination that you practice while playing pretty much any videogame, but then that doesn't have the obligatory pseudo-scientific veneer required to ensnare the sort of customers who think poo-loving Gillian McKeith is an actual medical doctor. The game does include some howlers - using "friend's" instead of "friends" - which made me laugh in a hollow ironic fashion.
All the expected charts and grades are present and correct, should you wish to know how the game rates your brain on its own arbitrary scale, while the Creative Mode generously encourages you to "have fun". There's a mode for kids, which didn't seem any easier than the normal version to me, as well as an online and offline multiplayer mode in which you complete challenges in order to get rid of cards in a sort of "Carol Vorderman does Uno" affair.
What it doesn't have is an option for different people to have their own profile in the game, which seems like a rather silly omission. The game just assumes that it's the same person playing every time, so families wishing to enforce their own fascistic Brain Challenge regime will have to log in and out of different Xbox Live accounts every time. There's also no limit on how many times you can take the daily test, so you can just sit there for a few hours and crank your score up through repetition rather than any genuine increase in skill.
For all my reservations about the format, there's definitely an audience for this sort of thing out there and while 800 Points puts this in the upper price bracket for Live Arcade, it still makes it the cheapest brain game option around. In that regard at least, it gets the job done.