Tucked away on one side of Microsoft's genuinely very impressive TGS stand was a bank of four 360 demo pods exclusively devoted to Xbox Live titles. And when we say 'titles' we mean about 50 of the blessed things. Old stuff. New stuff. Indiscriminate stuff. It was like inviting round a mate who's been away for a couple of years and showing him everything he'd missed. Xbox Live Arcade really does have an embarrassment of riches now.
On closer inspection, only five of those games on show were actually unreleased (to us Westerners at least), so those are the ones we're going to tell you about. (Unfortunately none of them were called 'Rez HD', despite official confirmation of the game's future appearance on the download service. Despite that cataclysmic disappointment, the playable consolation prizes were gigantic. Jim Bowen take note. Look at what you could have won.)
Leading the future XBLA charge was Treasure's long-rumoured Ikaruga, along with Every Extend Extra Extreme, Exit, Omega Five and Triggerheart Exelica all providing much to look forward to in the weeks and months ahead.
First up, Ikaruga. Treasure's 2D masterpiece is an especially welcome addition, and comes with a bunch of new features which will ensure that it could well be among the most popular shooters to appear on XBLA, but more of those in a moment.
For those unfamiliar to this revered vertical shooter (and slim sales figures suggests that this is pretty much all of you) it first emerged in late 2001 as an arcade game. Made by a four-man team, it was then ported to the Dreamcast later the following year as a 50,000 limited-edition Japanese-only release. In mid-2003, Atari released it on GameCube across the world, helping it to gain a wider audience and broader critical acclaim from those starved of such sublimely pitched 2D twitch shooters. To give you an idea of just how refined it really is, the original game apparently takes up a mere 18MB of uncompressed space. No fat here, daddio.
It's not a game for everyone, obviously, demanding as it does a rare ability to tolerate massive amounts of trial and error from its yin-yang black/white 'duality' gameplay mechanics. Considered a spiritual sequel to the equally notorious Treasure classic Radiant Silvergun (and even referred to as Project RS2 in the start-up sequence), the game involves switching the polarity of your ship's cannons (with the A and B buttons on the 360) between white and black bullets. Switch to black bullets and you can soak up bullets and missiles of the corresponding colour that rain down upon you sent towards you - but at the risk of being blown up by a stray white bullet. Switch to white, and the reverse is true. It's a fascinating, truly 'pure' concept, and one that's instantly engaging, but quickly demanding.
The new Xbox Live Arcade port is exciting for several reasons. Not only does the game now boast high-def visuals (which can be rotated in either direction if you have a suitably specced monitor), the game will feature online co-op play, leaderboards, and even a replay mode. The price has been confirmed as being 800 points, although a release date has yet to be revealed.
Next up, Exit is another game which makes perfect sense to be re-issued via Xbox Live Arcade. Originally released in 2006 via Ubisoft on the PSP, this Taito-developed title scored a highly respectable 8/10 and wouldn't score any less for the 800 points it will be released for in the near future.
The game is one of those admirably original concepts which is wonderfully addictive, and looks great in HD on the 360. Starring Mr Esc, this unique looking side-scrolling title is best thought of as an action-puzzler, where you have to guide a trilby-hatted protagonist to the level's exit within a set time limit.
Able to run, jump, climb and swim, it's like Flashback with a rescue theme, with various types of people trapped within each environment requiring specific help. With 100 levels in the PSP version, it's one of those games that Taito has to do very little to in order to offer something which is not only great value for money, but perfect for the pick-up-and-play demands of XBLA.
Every Extend Extra Extreme
Elsewhere, we're certainly not complaining about the forthcoming arrival of another former PSP title - Q Entertainment's Every Extend Extra, now with 'Extreme' moniker.
Originally announced back in March, this high-def, super-cheap 800 point version was shown off in fully playable form on the Microsoft stand, and looked every bit as intriguing as the freeware version, and the PSP version you might be familiar with, and which we awarded a princely 8/10 back in February.
Like Tetsuya Mizuguchi's peerless Rez, the whole concept of this trippy-looking, almost synaesthesic title is based on detonating as opposed to shooting your foes. As they appear randomly on the screen, you have to link them together and attempt to set off chain reactions and aim for combo bonuses. This new 'extreme' version benefits from new power-ups that extend the speed meter and invincibility after you respawn, while it's also possible to have many more enemies on screen than in the recent PSP version.
Also thrown in for a lark is the new 'S4 mode' which will allow players to utilise their own choice of music to play alongside each level. During the few minutes we had hands-on with the game, it's yet another title that makes perfect sense on Live, and we can expect to pay 800 points for it later this year - as a single download, unlike the Lumines debacle.
Unlike the games we've run through so far, Omega Five was a 'new' title on display at TGS. Developed by Japanese stalwarts Natsume and published by another old hand Hudson Soft, this horizontal, side-scrolling shooter could be described as an archetypal Xbox Live Arcade shooter. Using the increasingly popular control system favoured by shooters like Geometry Wars, Heavy Weapon and Mutant Storm, the basic control set once again revolves around the central concept of left-stick for movement and right-stick for fire and fire direction.
You control what appears to be a ninja, shooting enemies that appear, and static emplacements, while also controlling a buddy 'pet' that spits out fire independently. From a first glance, it had that typically instant appeal, and showed a decent amount of promise. More on this when it appears on Live later this year.
And finally, our shooter overload continued when we fired up Triggerheart Exelica, another former Naomi Arcade/Dreamcast schmup, but this time not trading on retro memories. Released just last year into the arcades and released on Dreamcast in February this year (never say die, chaps!), it has been ported faithfully (and presumably with ease) to Xbox Live Arcade. Developed by Warashi, it's all a bit garish and in-your-face next to Ikaruga, and nowhere near as critically admired. From first impressions, it's not hard to see why.
That said, it's a game with its admirers, and can be played solo or in co-op across five stages and is one that will make a welcome addition to Xbox Live Arcade - as long as it makes it for 800 points or less.
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