Here's a rundown on the latest crop of Xbox 360 titles introduced to the International House of Johnson. Some (The Orange Box, Ninja Gaiden 2) were borrowed from friends, some (Braid, Catan, Marble Blast Ultra) purchased on Xbox Live Arcade, and the rest were previously-owned (or "gently-used", if you like) titles I picked up at The Exchange, an awesome local store where I traded in my Xbox Classic and several of my old games.
- LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga. This game is currently king at the International House of Johnson. When I realized that my young apprentice was completely obsessed with LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy for the Xbox Classic, I decided that it was time to upgrade. Not only is there twice as much lightsaber-swinging, brick-smashing action, The Complete Saga includes Achievements, so the hours (and hours and hours) we play together have resulted in a 450-point increase in my Gamerscore.
- The Orange Box. I liken this title to the can of frozen Minute Maid juice tucked away in my freezer: concentrated orange goodness. The Orange Box is actually five games on one disc: Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2 Episode 1, Half-Life 2 Episode 2, Portal and Team Fortress 2. To be sure, Portal is a very short game—I played through it in a single marathon session that concluded at 4am—and Team Fortress 2 can only be played online,1 but the other titles appear to have some serious content and I've totally been sucked in to Half-Life 2.2
- Grand Theft Auto IV. The GTA series, beginning with Grand Theft Auto III, proves time and again just how easily distracted I am. I start the game in "mission mode", intent on advancing the storyline, but inevitably I wind up running rampage through the streets of Liberty City (or Vice City, or San Andreas) trying to concoct new ways to get myself killed.
- Crackdown. I tend to think of this game as Grand Theft Auto plus superpowers minus the story. There's a lot of the same freestyle play and off-mission challenges that make the GTA series great, but the main character (a genetically-enhanced Peacekeeper) has absolutely no personality whatsoever. There are no cinematic cutscenes to draw the player into the world, but it's still crazy fun to wreak havoc on four separate criminal factions with guns, bombs and a roundhouse kick that can flip a speeding car.
- Marble Blast Ultra. I purchased this Xbox Live Arcade title because Kyle got a kick out of the demo. Think Marble Madness on steroids. Unfortunately, the difficulty ramps up fairly quickly and there are only a few levels that Kyle likes to play. Actually, the difficulty gets downright annoying after a while, so I don't play this one much.
- Far Cry: Instincts: Predator. This first-person shooter is a sequel to Far Cry: Instincts, which was a console port of the PC title Far Cry. Predator is essentially the same game with a second chapter, or so I'm led to believe. I tend to prefer the keyboard/mouse control scheme for FPSes—I purchased Far Cry on Steam, Valve's digital distribution platform for the PC—but the allure of more tropical island butt-kicking was too strong to resist.
- Marvel Ultimate Alliance. I played this game all the way through on the Xbox Classic, but I felt that there was enough replay value to warrant picking it up for the 360. Plus, it gives me a chance to play as someone other than Captain America. As an aside, Clive Revill, who provided the original voice for Emperor Palpatine in The Empire Strikes Back, lends his talent as the voice of the nefarious Doctor Doom.
- Braid. This platformer is an Xbox Live Arcade title that borrows elements from both Super Mario Brothers and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. In the case of Super Mario Brothers, "borrow" is probably an understatement, as the story (not to mention some of the gameplay) is pretty much identical: rescue the Princess from the castle. Whether you call it an homage or a ripoff, Braid puts a very clever twist on the classic platformer and adds an absolutely haunting soundtrack to boot.
- Catan. A port of the wildly popular boardgame, Settlers of Catan, this Xbox Live Arcade game is a steal at 800 Microsoft points ($10 US). I don't think the implementation is quite as smooth as Carcassonne (which, admittedly, is a much simpler game), but the ease of play versus setting up the actual board (not to mention finding someone to play with) makes it a bargain.
- Ninja Gaiden 2. Blood, blood and more blood. I haven't played much of this game, but what I've seen has been incredibly gory. Needless to say, this is a title that doesn't get played until after Kyle goes to bed. The fighting is intense and the stunts are a lot of fun, but the rails are painfully obvious, especially when your uber-ninja—who can run along walls and perform elaborate, fliptacular airborne attacks—can't jump over a low fence or other seemingly-insignificant obstacle.
That's a whole lot of games there, but LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga really is dominating the console. The disc rarely comes out of the drive, and even when Kyle is in bed I'm probably trying to complete one of the chapters in "Challenge" mode or find the last mini-kit canister. I'm bound and determined to reach 100% completion on this title, and when last I checked I had 20.7% remaining. Must. Find. Canisters!