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Average User Score: 8.3Jan 7, 2015This one slipped under the radar a little bit. One of the first offerings on the 360's fledgling Xbox Live Arcade service, time has proven itThis one slipped under the radar a little bit. One of the first offerings on the 360's fledgling Xbox Live Arcade service, time has proven it to also be one of the best. Marble Blast Ultra bears more than a passing resemblance to SEGA's classic Super Monkey Ball. The difference is that in this game you control the ball/marble directly rather than tilting the environment.
The physics are the sturdy foundation upon which the game is built and if that had been its strongest card then maybe it would have been nothing remarkable. Luckily however, some of the level design is profoundly inspired. The "just one more try" feeling of obligation when you fail a level is strong, as is the desire, when successful, to shave a small amount off your best times. As in many great games, there are a number of hidden techniques and tricks which will enable you to do just this. In addition, there is a small selection of inventive powerups which facilitates your voyage through each braintwister of a stage, including the gyrocopter, which enables a brief period of hovering, mega marble, which changes the physical size and weight of your marble, and the gravity modifier, which can change left to up or right to down.
The puzzle focus of the solo mode is complemented extremely well by the mad dash action of the surprisingly enjoyable multiplayer mode. And fair enough, the music is ridiculous, but it just adds to the charm. Sadly, Marble Blast Ultra can no longer be purchased following the reformation of GarageGames and their loss of the rights to the Marble Blast IP. This is digital distribution.… Expand
Average User Score: 8.9Jan 7, 2015I will come clean - I adore Mario. To me, Mario is videogames. No other character embodies the essence of gaming more. So any half-decentI will come clean - I adore Mario. To me, Mario is videogames. No other character embodies the essence of gaming more. So any half-decent Mario game always has a good chance of being one of my favourite games of any given year. But with Super Mario 3D World, Nintendo EAD went above and beyond and constructed something which overlaps perfectly my template for a sensational videogame. It hooked me from start to excruciating, five-and-a-half hours' worth of solid attempts final-level finish.
Let me take you back in time, to 1997. The move from the 16-bit era to the 32/64-bit one was the biggest shift gaming has known. It was the dawn of 3D games. At that time, the new kid on the block, the Sony PlayStation, was surprisingly trouncing SEGA's Saturn sales-wise, but the one we'd all been waiting for, Nintendo's new N64, was on the horizon. And, more excitingly than the console itself, its flagship title, Super Mario 64. I personally don't recall anticipating any one individual game more. The screenshots I pored over, the magazines I bought just to get a little bit more information on this brave new world, just envisaging how it would feel to play it. It was a combination of being at the perfect age and the mindblowing prospect of what was to come - a Mario game in 3D. I could scarcely imagine what wonders it could bring.
After what seemed like forever, the day arrived and I finally got to play it. And at first, I was somehow disappointed. This wasn't Mario as I knew him. This wasn't really a platformer. For all the awe of being able to command Mario's myriad of new techniques and explore Peach's castle in three dimensions, something had been lost. It was that tightness of control that only games played in a 2D plane can bring. In time I grew to love Mario 64 for what it is, this subtly different new genre of "3D platformer", a little less reflexes-based, a little more cerebral. It's still the finest example of that type of game even now, approaching 20 years later, and without question the most influential game of all time.
Super Mario 3D World is what my naive 14-year-old self from 1997 was expecting Super Mario 64 to be. This is a real platformer. The thrill of precision control, the focus of linear progression, the simple goal of discovery and collection, it's all here. The game features 8-way as opposed to true 360 degree control, which cuts down on the forced uncertainty of playing a game in a 3D world on a 2D TV screen. The title is so incredibly apt, at heart it really is Super Mario World in 3D, but in practice it's so much more. Some small part of me that's always remained troubled by what path the history of gaming took can now eventually be laid to rest.
The game contains a plethora of new ideas. The cat suit, the double cherry, the cannon block, the skating shoe, giant Mario, the pet piranha plant for gobbling baddies, the Boo-disintegrating torches, the multiplayer, the mystery houses, the Captain Toad levels, the 2D shadow sections, the stamps, the Miiverse integration, the Mario Kart level, the inventive bosses, controlling platforms by blowing into the gamepad's microphone, and Plessie the aquatic dinosaur, to name but a few. All of these have meaning, and are not just there for show. For example, with the double cherry (which creates duplicate Marios), Nintendo didn't feel that the enjoyment gleaned from controlling four or five Marios at the same time was enough, they actively work it into the level design - usually if you can survive a good distance with enough of the clones still intact you will be able to open up sections of the course unavailable to a lonely Mario. It's this marriage of invention and design which makes 3D World a cut above.
In the recent past, certain Mario titles have been guilty of trying to recreate the early games in a modern setup, but that was missing the spirit of Mario. The original NES and SNES games were so good because they brought something new to the table each time. They had to - they had very little to fall back on. This is Mario in 2013, and he's never felt more fresh. Where most games of this kind would be content to milk a new gameplay gimmick to death and base a whole game around it, 3D World bases a level or two around each one and then, when its purpose has been served, it discards it, ready to move onto the next new and exciting thing. Creative, compact, concentrated, and the most confident game I've ever played.
Super Mario 3D World is a real statement by Nintendo about the strength of their software teams. When they're at the height of their powers, nobody else comes close. Of all the landmark titles Mario has delivered throughout his history, this stands tall right up there near the peak. It compares more favourably with Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World than any game I ever imagined would get close to doing. It captured my heart in a way the Galaxy twins never managed. Make no mistake, this is one of the very best there has ever been.… Expand
Average User Score: 6.3Jan 7, 2015There was always huge potential that this was going to be a disaster. For Killer Instinct's triumphant return after the best part of twoThere was always huge potential that this was going to be a disaster. For Killer Instinct's triumphant return after the best part of two decades, Microsoft decided to farm the license out to Double Helix Games, a studio responsible for such recent classics as Silent Hill Homecoming and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. It also seems as though they weren't given much time to work on it, as clearly it was expected that it would be an Xbox One launch game, so I'm sure a lot of people were expecting a rush-job to be on the cards.
Luckily, somehow, the developers have confounded expectations and produced a game more than worthy of the name. Ken Lobb, one of the designers of the original Killer Instinct arcade game, was brought in to oversee production, and they hired a few guys who had previous experience of fighting game development, and it paid off. The new KI feels true to the original vision, very faithful in gameplay terms to the classics but with the responsiveness you would expect of a 2013 title. Everything feels correct, right down to the music. The OTT combo system still takes centre stage but things have been made a lot more interesting by some of the gameplay systems, such as "counter breakers" (which enable you to counter a combo breaker and carry on the combo), as well as the presence of a meter which indicates how long you can keep a combo going before it will end, which means you can plan when to use things like shadow moves (which delay the meter's rise) and instinct mode (which resets it completely) to keep the combo going as long as possible. One star of the show in particular is the excellent Dojo mode, which teaches you first how to play fighting games, and then how to play Killer Instinct. In education terms, it's the best mode of its kind in any fighting game, without exception.
Chief quibble aimed at the game by professional reviews is, of course, the lack of content, with only six characters and a paucity of modes at launch. While this is a fair criticism, it's much better to have a lack of content in the game's initial state than for the game mechanics to be substandard. The foundations are there and they're rock solid, and more content is coming in time - two more characters and an arcade/story mode by the end of March 2014 and then another "season" of content (likely another 8+ characters) due towards the end of 2014. Ideally everything would have been available from day one, of course, as now there's a high probability of balancing issues, but the fact that there is a new KI game at all, and that it's this good... I can let it slide.… Expand
Average User Score: 8.5Jan 7, 2015Bioshock Infinite is far from the greatest shooter I've ever played. The gun mechanics are nothing special at all, and in fact, at times,Bioshock Infinite is far from the greatest shooter I've ever played. The gun mechanics are nothing special at all, and in fact, at times, suffocatingly basic. It lacks the variety, fluidity and precision of some of its peers. Surely the kiss of death for a first person shooter? Well... no, something I can't quite put my finger on kept me glued to the game to see it to its conclusion.
Maybe it was the setting, the glorious floating sky-city of Columbia, filled with its distinctive early-20th century America adornments. There are few locations quite like it in gaming - completely memorable and thrillingly abstract; a particular personal highlight was encountering a barbershop quartet early in the game performing their own rendition of the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows". Maybe it was the plot, convoluted and verging on being too ambitious for its own good, nevertheless like any good science fiction mystery story I was suitably intrigued and wanted to know how it all ended. Maybe it was Elizabeth, your delightful companion throughout the majority of the game, never getting in the way or seeming like a chore, it was a pleasure to accompany her and enjoy all the little things she got up to: exploring, interacting, dancing.
And so I did finish it. But when I did, I felt a little empty. A good game without doubt, but not the rip-roaring success I had been led to believe it was going to be. Maybe it was the skylines, a great idea and a real strength of the gameplay but somewhat, I felt, underutilised. Maybe it was the overzealous item-collecting busywork needed to further the knowledge of the plot. Maybe it was the plot itself, interesting but at the same time unsatisfyingly porous. All in all, it's an enigmatic, confused game, but one for whose heights I feel it's worth enduring the journey.… Expand
Average User Score: 7.2Jan 7, 2015This was a lovely surprise. At its core, an open-world zombie game, State of Decay is made so much more interesting by the strategic additionsThis was a lovely surprise. At its core, an open-world zombie game, State of Decay is made so much more interesting by the strategic additions to its gameplay - building up a team of survivors, developing their unique perks and combat skills, keeping them all happy, and alive. Permadeath awaits any member unfortunate enough to be caught out by poor preparation for an encounter with the undead. Most individual zombies are straightforward enough to deal with (apart from some of the "freak" ones), but if you're negligent enough to be ganged up on by more than three or four at once without any of your allies in tow then you run a real risk of being a goner. And when one of your most developed characters gets their torso ripped clean off the rest of their body and they're gone for good, it's a real kick-to-the-stomach feeling. The fact that there's the potential for this to happen at any time means you never feel safe in this game, you're always on edge.
In addition, everything I wanted to do, whether it be move my group to a larger home base, or expand the facilities therein, something always seemed to happen to make that goal just out of arm's reach. You're not really playing State of Decay, you really are just survivng through it. Possibly the closest any game has ever come to making you feel how you probably would do if zombies really did take over. It's not the most polished game, a relatively low-budget offering, it's a little rough around the edges technically, but such deficiencies are easy to forgive when you consider the wider picture and the unique experience the game does offer. Even the story is somewhat involving. It's the best Grand Theft Auto game I've played.… Expand
Average User Score: 9.0Jan 7, 20152006's Final Fantasy XII was, without doubt, the biggest milestone in the history of JRPGs. In bravely abandoning the tired, established2006's Final Fantasy XII was, without doubt, the biggest milestone in the history of JRPGs. In bravely abandoning the tired, established format of turn-based random battles in favour of something more reminiscent of MMOs, the game dragged the genre kicking and screaming into the 21st century. The tragic legacy of FFXII is that very few subsequently were willing to acknowledge this fact, perhaps partly down to a somewhat lukewarm commercial performance. With Xenoblade Chronicles, Tetsuya Takahashi's Monolith Soft showed themselves to be the only development team to learn the lessons FFXII had to teach. In doing so, they have created one of the most magical videogames we are ever likely to see.
The battle system does have marked differences from its major influence. FFXII's great thrill was that it let you pre-program each party member's response to a number of different battle eventualities and then let the game carry out your instructions. You played the babysitter, watching over your party and ensuring that your planning played out as expected, and intervening and tweaking if it didn't. Xenoblade Chronicles' battles themselves are a little more interactive. Although the two supporting party members are largely automated, you retain full control of the leader, introducing the other two when necessary through your actions. The tougher battles largely come down to the timing of deployment of character-specific arts and can therefore be just as strategic as in FFXII and certainly as engrossing. In addition to the battle system, the game further accepts the limitations of the traditional JRPG model and looks further afield for inspiration, such as to western RPGs - by incorporating a questing system as well as having EXP be awarded upon discovering new locations, for instance.
So that's why Xenoblade is an important game. But what are the reasons it's a great one? Well, the answer to that is: pretty much everything else about it. Every aspect of the game is executed flawlessly. There are almost no systems which I can think of ways to improve upon. The fact that the developers understand what differentiates a good game from a great one shines through clear as day. For example: the foresight to make it unnecessary to return to the NPC who bestowed a quest upon you in most cases, the ability to warp quickly to places you've already visited in the sprawling world, or the fact that death has been designed to be a mere inconvenience rather than a motivation-destroying setback.
To fail to acknowledge every single one of the game's triumphs would be a crime, but I'll have to be brief and just mention some of the things I really love. The game's setting is uniquely imaginitive and so enchanting - two ancient warring colossi frozen in time, upon which biological and mechanical life have evolved. The beautiful environments and the awe-inspiring sense of scale really draw you in and have you totally invested. Xenoblade proves that it's not the power of the hardware a game runs on that counts, it's the love and inspiration that has been poured into its development. The entire cast is so endearing, partly down to their individual stories and backgrounds and equally due to the quirky British voice actors. The fact that the relationships between the characters actually play a part in the gameplay really reinforce your will to make things right for everyone - I felt it was my sworn duty to resolve the problems of every individual NPC. And the heartwarming love story at the centre of the plot is more than enough to keep you interested in seeing the game through to its conclusion.
The music is excellent, I particularly like how each area has a different theme for day and night. The controls are superbly responsive and a sparkling example to all 3D games that aren't particularly action-based. Completing the Collectopaedia, the separate/refine/boost gem crafting process, hunting advanced arts manuals and secret skill trees and levelling them up, maxing out everyone's affinity and accessing all the heart-to-heart scenes, preparing to take on the optional superbosses, and eventually winning - everything is utterly compelling and so much fun to experience.
There are seven main characters in the game, meaning a possible 35 different party combinations. Yet, despite this high number, unique dialogue exchanges were recorded between all the individual groups of three characters and these are sometimes reeled off at the conclusion of a battle. They always make me smile no matter how many times I hear them and they're just so indicative of the care and consideration that has gone into making the whole game.
I adore absolutely everything about Xenoblade Chronicles. I stretched it out over almost a year because I didn't want the thing to end. I spent over 250 hours exhausting almost everything it has to offer, and in each one of those hours I was continually reminded of the reasons I love videogames.… Expand
Average User Score: 8.3Jan 7, 2015This is how every sequel should be. 2009's Borderlands proved that originality isn't dead just yet by splicing two videogaming staplesThis is how every sequel should be. 2009's Borderlands proved that originality isn't dead just yet by splicing two videogaming staples together, the RPG and the FPS. The end result was an absorbing adventure which especially shone in co-op with friends. Borderlands 2 quite simply ditches everything from the first game that didn't work while retaining everything that did and cranking it up to 61.
How do I love Borderlands 2? Let me count the ways. Firstly, apart obviously from its predecessor, the game is unlike anything else out there. It blows my mind that no other company has even attempted to rip off the Borderlands formula in the past four years. Next, looting. I love to collect loot. I'm obsessive compulsive about finding a gun with a tenth of a second faster reload time, or with 1 extra bullet in the clip, or a shield with a couple of thousand extra damage in its nova, or a class mod with slightly quicker health regen. Only in special games would you care about such things, but Borderlands 2 makes you care. In this respect the game shares much in common with #9 on my list.
Every time I levelled up I was rushing to the skill trees to see what exciting new unique abilities I could upgrade my character with. The depth of customisation by the end-game is immense, with the right investments you can really configure some staggeringly powerful builds. The game is still being strongly-supported with new characters and campaign DLCs almost a year after its release, with more recently announced to be incoming.
But one element really steals the show - the characters. Seen through the eyes of a brand new batch of vault hunters, the playable cast of the first game, who feature in the second as NPCs, take on an elevated sense of majesty. Claptrap is back and is as tragic and loveable as ever. In addition, Scooter, Moxxi, Dr. Zed and crew are joined by a host of other new Pandora residents, the writing for most of whom is stellar. Tiny Tina just makes the entire game. The icing on the cake is one of the best bad guys to grace the medium - Handsome Jack, equal parts stand-up comedian and evil genius. You will love him one minute and hate him the next, you will laugh and you will cry.
It's wonderful to experience the whole thing online with your friends, coming up with strategies to survive some of the trickier situations (especially on Ultimate Vault Hunter mode), sharing out loot depending on which class everyone is playing, and just enjoying the unfolding story together.
We danced and ate pizza with Claptrap. We played chicken in Ellie's car crusher. We hunted rare varkids in the Caustic Caverns and we helped Tina get revenge on Fleshstick. Best tea party ever.… Expand
Average User Score: 8.3Jan 7, 2015The most impressive aspect of Rock Band 3 is the degree to which it blurs the lines between videogames and playing instruments for real. TheThe most impressive aspect of Rock Band 3 is the degree to which it blurs the lines between videogames and playing instruments for real. The pro modes for drums, keyboard and guitar/bass (requiring the pricy Pro Guitar controller - essentially a real guitar you can plug into your console) really are just like playing the real deal, so if you want to get into things to such a level then the game is powerful enough to offer you that option.
As a game, it excels also. There are a myriad of modes to work your way through, both single and multiplayer, including comprehensive practice modes for each instrument, and with over 4000 downloadable tracks to choose from there's enough content to last you a lifetime. I'm still playing it after almost three years, at least. Of course, the most fun to be had is with a group of friends all playing together in the same room, but the experience is only slightly less satisfying when held online with internet people.
It's difficult to see how Harmonix could have improved upon Rock Band 3 in any way - it is the ultimate refinement of its genre. The game is so definitive that they've stopped making Rock Band games and are now making one based on Fantasia instead. The best music/rhythm videogame.… Expand
Average User Score: 8.5Jan 7, 2015The developer commentary featured in the "Still Alive" XBLA version of Portal is incredibly insightful. Well aware that they had created aThe developer commentary featured in the "Still Alive" XBLA version of Portal is incredibly insightful. Well aware that they had created a completely new animal, the first-person puzzle platformer, the guys and girls at Valve explain how each of the 19 puzzle chambers was carefully engineered to gradually "train" the player and equip them with the necessary skills to tackle the increasingly more complex challenges. Some levels were modified, some cut completely, and additional ones added based on the responses of the playtesters. There's no filler, everything is there for a reason. It really illustrates how impressive the game is - not only refreshingly original, but also constructed to perfection.
Portal is short. It can be completed in a couple of hours, but it houses more new ideas and memorable moments than most other titles ten times its duration, and that's really what matters. The escape sequence at the end, which all that training has been leading up to, is the highlight, and means that the game is one of very few which continuously builds up all the way through and peaks at its conclusion. The characters are also excellent - the menacing GLaDOS and her chilling dialogue, and player character Chell for the exact opposite reason - because she is silent and almost invisible, giving the player a real personal connection to the villain.
The sequel, released four years later, was also spectacular, but the first game left a much greater impression on me. Portal 2, while possibly the funniest game I have ever played - largely thanks to Stephen Merchant's portrayal of Wheatley, was understandably an evolution of the first game. It contained some nice innovations and furthered the physics-based puzzling with a handful of new obstacles, but the exploration sections of chapter 6 just dragged far too much for my liking. The success of Portal meant that the budget and scope for the sequel was much greater, and it ended up not quite being as concise and perfectly-formed as the first game, which was perhaps to be expected. Nevertheless, it was a fantastic effort.
Playing through Portal felt like returning to the early days of videogaming, when everything was new and every game needed to be learned from scratch. A first-person game which didn't involve killing bad guys by shooting at them? Who would have thought? (Shooting a portal onto the floor underneath a turret doesn't count.)… Expand
Average User Score: 7.5Jan 7, 2015Resident Evil 5 gets a lot of undeserved criticism, largely for the fact that it isn't Resident Evil 4. While both games use essentially theResident Evil 5 gets a lot of undeserved criticism, largely for the fact that it isn't Resident Evil 4. While both games use essentially the same mechanics, and while RE4 is undoubtedly a masterpiece, those that judge RE5 often fail to acknowledge the many ways in which the game matches or even betters its predecessor. Go back to RE4 after playing through RE5 and you will notice, conspicuous by their absence, a handful of improvements that you mistakenly remembered being in the fourth main-series game.
Most obviously, RE5 features online co-op. Although the game works well as a singleplayer experience, co-op truly is how it was designed to be played, and it is a superb addition. The co-op dynamic feels so natural when applied to the "second generation" Resident Evil framework. The storyline is broken up into chapters of a suitable size for online sessions, meaning that it's easy to jump in with a friend for anything from 30 minutes to multiple hours. As a result, I'm sure I've spent more time playing RE5 than any of the previous entries in the series, and I am a huge fan of the older games.
The inventory system had to be reworked since weapons and restoratives needed to be easily-accessible in the heat of the moment. With pausing a thing of the past, so too the attaché case grid had to be ditched - seemingly a major issue for some, but completely necessary. The pacing of the game is spot-on. RE4, while fantastically relentless, was over-long and, at times, a bit of a slog. I felt that certain sections dragged and could have been condensed, resulting in a more impactful game. This game has very few lulls.
All in all, a wholly worthy successor to one of the landmarks of videogaming, updated for the online age. Seeing how hideously wrong it all went for the sixth game just emphasises even more what a sensational title this is.… Expand