Version tested: Xbox 360
- Publisher: Merscom
- Price: 800 Points (GBP 6.80 / EUR 9.60)
Let's get something clear right from the start. I'm going to assume that you're interested in sudoku, okay? More to the point, I'm assuming that you're interested in playing sudoku on your Xbox 360. So if you've read this far hoping for a merciless mauling and lots of hilarious references to how you can play it for free in most newspapers, move along sonny.
You see, Buku Sudoku is - whisper it - actually really good. I mean, it's a sudoku game and all, but it's an extremely polished and generous sudoku game, positively groaning with options and ways to customise the game. You get 1200 puzzles designed to inspire pensive biro-chewing, with additional puzzle packs costing 200 Points each. There's also the option to create your own puzzles, if you're dead brainy. Really, 1200 is a hefty amount to start off with, and not to be sniffed at. Even if you did five puzzles a day, it should still last you until Christmas.
But these aren't just the traditional 9x9 square puzzles that most people are familiar with. For the truly hardcore there are 12x12 grids, which introduce an alphanumeric system rather than just plain number crunching, while those in the market for something a little different can go for 8x8, which changes the square grids to oblongs. Novices can start out on a 6x6 layout, at which point the backdrop changes to a rather patronising nursery design, complete with wooden blocks and crayon scribbles. The tutorial, however, manages to make sudoku sound a million times more complicated than it actually is.
You solve puzzles by moving your cursor around the grids with the left stick, and when it lands on an empty square it changes to show a miniature grid of numbers from 1 to 9. You use the right stick to highlight the number you want to place, and hit A to scribble it in. There's oodles of help on offer for anyone just getting into sudoku, all of it scaleable to suit your needs. If you want it to tell you when you've made a mistake, it can. If you want it to show you the available numbers left to fill a particular grid, it will. If you want the game to finish the puzzle for you, that's okay too. The game keeps track of every puzzle you play, and you can save and come back to a tricky one if you need to clear your head.
There's even online multiplayer, although this is something of a mixed bag. The option for co-operative play is a nice touch, but the attempts to turn sudoku into a competitive team game are less successful. Tripping up your opponent through successful play may work for something like Puzzle Fighter, but it doesn't suit the more measured, thoughtful pace of sudoku. Single players can test their wits against the clock, or opt for a less nerve-wracking casual game.
Even beyond the gameplay, the game is as eager to please as a bouncy Labrador puppy. You can shift the controls around to suit southpaw players, and there's even a control setup for one-handed play, so amputees and people uncontrollably aroused by numbers won't be left out. You can also choose your backdrop, from tranquil Japanese garden to a newspaper and breakfast table combination. There's even a space-age arcade design for those who fear their hardcore status may be threatened by something your nan might like.
Generously stocked with puzzles and options, and with something to offer for players of all skill levels, Buku Sudoku is actually one of the strongest puzzle packages on Live Arcade and - somewhat to my surprise - comes highly recommended.
- Publisher: Atari
- Price: 400 Points (GBP 3.40 / EUR 4.80)
You know you're dealing with a pure arcade game when the entire premise, as well as detailed instructions on how to play, can be summed up in ten words. "Move your shield around your castle to deflect the ball." That's what the game says, and that's what you do.
Designed as one of the pioneers of multiplayer arcade action, what we have here is a port of the sit-down cocktail cabinet for four players, rather than the monochrome two-player stand-up version. Each player has a castle in the corner of the screen, and a shield that can be rolled around the exterior wall. Flaming balls come into play, and you must ricochet them away from your castle and into your enemies until you break through. You can also grab a ball and then fire it off on a new trajectory, but doing so causes damage to your castle while you aim. Just as in real life, a flaming ball landing in your courtyard means game over.
Trouble is, the arcade machine used Tempest-style spinners for control and the joypad is a poor substitute when playing the classic version. Even before you activate the Throttle Monkey mode, it's simply too fast and slippery to be much fun. The modern Evolved version fares better in this regard - it's been written for thumbsticks, at least - and the larger graphics make it a lot easier to keep track of what's going on. This is essential, since the game still reaches lightning speeds, but at least in the remade version you can react and survive more consistently.
Online multiplayer obviously plays a large part, but it's a basic affair. Apart from Live Vision support and the option to tilt the viewpoint, there's nothing here that wasn't in the original game, which will presumably please the purists but may leave everyone else rather unsatisfied. The only thing to have evolved is the graphics, while the gameplay could really do with a little more meat on the bone to placate modern players. Even just the addition of some power-ups would go a long way to livening things up in the long term.
Warlords certainly isn't a bad game, and it's priced just right at 400 Points. If you're just in the market for some a simple multiplayer arcade game then it does the job and will probably provide a few evenings of amusement, in short bursts. It's hard to shake the suspicion that there's missed potential in the Evolved version though.
- Publisher: SouthPeak
- Price: 800 Points (GBP 6.80 / EUR 9.60)
While there's something inherently infantile about the idea of sorting colourful shapes through appropriate holes, don't be fooled into thinking that Roogoo is some sort of easy-peasy kids game. Quite the opposite - it's a fiendishly fast-paced puzzler. Beneath the gentle pastel exterior lurks the heart of a beast.
There's a very skippable story to explain what's going on, but the guts of the matter is this: coloured shapes drop from the sky and you have to rotate a series of discs to line up the correct shaped holes. For the majority of the game, you're simply using the left and right bumpers to swizzle things around, and it's this simplicity that enables to game to start ramping up the challenge fairly quickly.
You'll often have to stack up a certain amount of shapes before they'll drop through to the next disc, for instance, and the amount varies from level to level. The higher the stacks get, the less time you have to move things around to catch the next lot. Each shape you miss brings you closer to Game Over so, rather than battling against the clock, your biggest enemy is your own lack of coordination.
If blocks come to rest on a disc with flowers, butterflies swoop in and carry them back up again - forcing you to essentially play the game in reverse as you shuttle the discs around to allow the ascending blocks back through. Evil Meemoos will also block the holes, and can only be removed by speeding up the blocks with the A button. Later in the game the coloured blocks start appearing in different shades, which must be sorted together using the B button to switch them around in the stack.
There's not much more to it than that, but it's a surprisingly solid basis for a puzzle game - though it's more of a reaction test than a brainteaser. Minor alterations to the speed of the game, or to the number of blocks tumbling down, is enough to produce considerably different challenges. It's all wonderfully designed as well, with your eye subtly tugged in the right direction by simply visual cues, so that even when things get really hectic you never feel overwhelmed.
The multiplayer options are a tad limited, with only the option to replay levels against a friend to see who can shuffle shapes the fastest, and some may find they rattle through the 45 levels quite quickly but that's hardly a deal-breaker. Roogoo is an original and beautifully presented addition to Live Arcade, and that's something worthy of praise.
Aces of the Galaxy
- Publisher: Sierra Entertainment
- Price: 800 Points (GBP 6.80 / EUR 9.60)
There have been so many top-down twin-stick shooters on Live Arcade that it's something of a novelty to get a straight-forward-into-the-screen blaster where you pummel the fire button rather than gently directing a constant stream of fire with your thumb.
Aces of the Galaxy is a shoot-'em-up of the old school - an unashamed rollercoaster of excessive bloom lighting, insane amounts of enemies and scores that rack up into seven figures. This makes it both an exhilarating blast and an eye-watering game of luck. Yes, luck. The great shoot-'em-ups give the illusion of inescapable chaos, but are actually driven by poise and grace. Aces of the Galaxy is the other kind - a shooter where skill is essential to progress, but not always a guarantee of success.
Key to this unbalanced feel is the slightly twitchy control. Even after sliding the sensitivity up and down, I never quite found a response that felt natural or fluid. It was either too sluggish or too slippery and, in a game that moves as quickly as this, anything that gets in the way of hand-eye coordination is a problem. This is compounded by the game's misleading camera, which leaves you unsure as to which hazards are actually headed your way and which will pass you by, and the habit of stringing such obstacles in a way that doesn't give you much chance to recover from mistakes. If you hit one, chances are you'll hit at least some of the others because of the exaggerated screen shake.
To compensate you have the ability to go into slow motion, using a recharging meter at the bottom of the screen. It's just one of several borrowed ideas that leave the game with a rather second hand feel. Some elements do work, though. The branching mission structure allows you to hop between three parallel routes through the game, provided you find the warp icon in each level, while glowing enemies will open up different paths when destroyed. Throw in basic but effective co-op play, both local and online, and you've got some incentive to replay the game a few times at least.
If Aces of the Galaxy were a fighting game, it'd be an unapologetic button-masher.
There are moments where the noise and fury onscreen coheres into an honest and intuitive arcade rush, but there are also too many where you get the impression that it simply isn't playing fair. Whether or not this is actually the case, such suspicions crank up the frustration and make the full 800-Point purchase less desirable.