The only disappointing thing about the 360 Live Arcade at the moment is that Microsoft has done so little with it since it launched five months ago. If the service was utilised properly and continued to give access to new titles every week it could be the company's secret weapon. Giving access to quirky new ideas alongside buffed-up retro classics can be irresistible - it services that need for a quick gaming fix in a way that full-priced titles rarely seem to these days.
Yet since the console launched some five months ago, precious few titles of note have been added to the roster. With only a couple of titles joining the line up every month, Microsoft seems - bizarrely - content to largely rehash the same line-up that comprised its original attempt at Xbox Live Arcade.
And while the Redmond giant sits on its hands and does demonstrably very little to take advantage of the service, there's the very real possibility that its rivals could utterly steal its thunder when the Nintendo Revolution launches, delivering a fair chunk of the company's 8, 16 and 64-bit back catalogue for download from day one, while Sony looks set to do something similar when the PS3 launches in November.
With all the ballyhoo surrounding the PS3 and the launch of The Outfit and Burnout Revenge on 360, it's hardly a surprise that the re-release of Feeding Frenzy last week on the 360 Live Arcade didn't exactly inspire a fanfare - even at its pick-up-and-play price of 800 points (just under seven quid) - because, frankly, even at that price it offers questionable value for money.
At first, the gameplay is utterly charming in its simplicity, and promises the same kind of instant thrills that many of the other great Live Arcade titles offer. The idea is to guide a wee little fishy around a single screen environment gobbling up all the smaller fish and avoid being eaten until you, yourself, become one of the bigger fish. Once you've grown, you get to work your way up the food chain and snaffle up the fish you've been avoiding. Not only does this give you more choice over what's on the menu, but also the chance to go on the sort of feeding frenzies that allow you to fill up your food bar and finish the level.
Along the way, your abilities improve, such as the ability to suck in everything around you, but in the main you'll rely on bonuses and temporary power-ups as and when they appear. For most of the game, you can try and pluck pearls from the oysters on the sea bed or snatch the floating starfish for points, but more useful ones appear if you're willing to take the risk and sneak between the big fish. Things like bubble protection, score doublers, extra lives, speed boosts help, but it's the little critters that propel you around the screen at great velocity that are most useful, allowing you to automatically clear up everything edible on the screen. But, regardless of your abilities, size or speed, the principle of eat or be eaten continues throughout the game's 40 levels. Essentially you'll just sit and play until you either get bored or manage to grow big enough to make the shark think twice about messing with you - at which point the game ends anyway.
No more goes
Sure, the occasional bonus level appears to break up the pattern, tasking you with hoovering up whatever unfortunate marine life appears within a strict time limit, but other than that, it's largely the same throughout. It's a shame, because at first it seems as quirky as Katamari, dramatically growing in size and engulfing everything in your path. Why Feeding Frenzy doesn�t extend beyond sharks and have you swallowing submarines, ocean liners and terrorising beaches is beyond us. The game stops some way short of offering any kind of longevity; in fact you'll easily be able to clear all 40 levels on your first go if you've got an hour or so to spare. With not even a difficulty setting to tweak, it's highly unlikely you'll want to ever play it again - it just doesn't have that one more go appeal. If anything, you'll be hard pressed to see it through to the end, because the monotony sets in quite early on.
Admittedly, the Time Attack mode is far more challenging and requires a much more determined attitude to get through each level. With a strict time limit ticking down, you find yourself paying far more attention to stringing together the combos you need to work through the layers of growth, with the trick being to keep chomping one after the other so your Feeding Frenzy bar doesn't drop back down. If you fail to complete the level within the time limit, it's Game Over, with no second chances. And as soon as you tire of Time Attack, that's your lot.
Technically it's as simple and cheery as you'd expect from a 360 Live Arcade game, offering charming animation and cute design (and in high def, let's not forget!), but ultimately nothing that test the 360's capabilities in a remotely interesting way. Typically, the same goes for the rather empty audio. It's as if Sprout Games went for as basic a port as possible, although its technical failings are the least of its worries, to be honest.
If you're a hardened Xbox Live Arcade collector and have 800 points to spare, then take our advice and save them for something better. There's a free demo to download which will give you more than enough gameplay - the remainder of the levels really are just more of the same, and aren�t particularly challenging at that. Microsoft's Live Arcade offerings are generally well worth the asking price, but Feeding Frenzy, sadly, isn't one of them.