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Xbox Live Arcade Roundup

Shred Nebula, Rocket Bowl, Gin Rummy, Pirates vs. Ninjas Dodgeball, Sam Shodown II, Shogi.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

Shred Nebula

  • Developer: CrunchTime Games Inc
  • Publisher: CrunchTime Games Inc
  • Microsoft Points: 800

At first, it's hard to get to grips with a Live Arcade shooter that doesn't want to be Geometry Wars. Shred Nebula may feature enclosed playfields and wave upon wave of aggressive enemies, but the similarities end there. This is more like Asteroids, with the emphasis on steroids, although the comparison that seems most apt is the 1988 ZX Spectrum classic, Firefly. There are probably only a few hundred people who'll get that reference though, so let's go over the basics.

You pilot the RIP Rocket, an experimental ship exploring deadly new areas of space. Fiendish aliens don't take kindly to your curiosity and a massive space ruck ensues, spreading carnage over twenty-plus levels. You have your traditional forward-facing plasma cannon, which gets more powerful the longer you survive. And you have a "saber" attack, which sends two plasma balls arcing from your ship. Shoot these and you trigger a smart-bomb effect.

You have a selection of secondary weapons, selected with the d-pad and deployed with the right stick. These also include a scanner, which you must use to extract info from floating hyperspace jump stations and data cores. You also get a shield. Oh, and a turbo boost. The left stick steers your ship, while the left trigger accelerates and the left bumper fires the reverse thrusters. The right trigger activates your hyperspace jump out of the level, once you've collected enough crystals to power it.

Sounds like a lot? It is. In fact, the only button on the controller that doesn't seem to have anything to do is B. While it's commendable that developer CrunchTime Games has crammed in so many features, it makes the game top heavy and too fussy and complicated for what should be an instantly accessible shoot-'em-up. Simply using the left stick for movement, with no need for a separate accelerate function, would make the initial stages a lot less confusing.

The game is hard, because it throws dozens of enemies and hazards at you while you grapple with these sprawling controls, but it's also stupidly easy because there's absolutely no way you'll fail to complete it. Lose your three lives and you get infinite chances to continue, with the game simply restarting you at the exact point you died. It completely misses the point of the whole concept of "Game Over" and means that success is simply a matter of bloody minded perseverance rather than skill.

Both the unwieldy control scheme and the bafflingly forgiving nature of the game count against it, which is a shame because for the most part it's a thoroughly satisfying and meaty shooter, blessed with some stunning backdrops and a blistering frame-rate. The inclusion of a multiplayer deathmatch mode almost makes up for the shortcomings of the single-player adventure, but all things considered this is a game more in need of a refined sequel than the thrill of the frag.


Rocket Bowl

  • Developer: 21-6 Productions
  • Publisher: D3 Publisher of America
  • Microsoft Points: 800

For some people, originality is as simple as the word "meets". You just take two different things and shove "meets" in the middle. Hey presto, an exciting new concept that is easy to grasp. That seems to be the thinking behind this light-hearted ball sports mash-up, as ten pin bowling writhes in a sack with crazy golf in the hope of attracting your attention.

The game takes place across ten open plan courses, each containing ten frames of pins. There are ramps and dips, watery bunkers and banked curves. You get three shots rather than the traditional two, and are free to fire your ball in whatever direction you want, provided you hit some pins along the way. The easy option is to aim for the frame in front of you, but those chasing big scores will soon realise that by veering off the obvious path for "wild shots" you can rack up even more points.

That's not nearly enough wacky changes though, so the game also uses rocket-powered bowling balls. Once the ball is on its merry way, you can nudge it a little with the triggers or left stick, or use the face buttons to make it belch great jets of flame and shoot off in a different direction. Sadly, it's usually not the direction you intended, since even though the game claims you can use left and right boosts, they all seemed to just send the ball skittering at odd angles whenever I tried it. You can also buy bowling balls that boost themselves into the air. If you like.

You can sort of see how the concept for Rocket Bowl must have seemed like a good idea, and for a few minutes it's certainly interesting to play around and enjoy the admittedly good physics. Getting a strike by hitting half the pins, then knocking the others over after doubling back on a ramp, is certainly amusing. It's a shallow amusement, however, and it doesn't sustain itself over ten courses.