In reality, the “next generation” of gaming consoles is whatever the folks at Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo and Infinium Labs ((That’s a joke. Infinium Labs, now Phantom Entertainment, announced what promised to be the end-all, be-all of video game consoles way back in 2002. Many were skeptical of the rather bold claims made by Infinium, especially given that technical detail was entirely non-existent and the only “prototype” of the console appeared to be a computer-generated mockup. It came as a shock to almost no one when Infinium missed their announced launch date of January 2005, and the aptly-named Phantom console never appeared.)) have up their sleeves for 2010 (or maybe 2011). Despite the fact that the PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii have both been on the market for two years and the Xbox 360 had its third birthday over a month ago, the phrase “next-gen console” still gets bandied about in relation to all three systems. Well, if that’s the way it’s going to be, then fine: The next generation of console video games has arrived at the International House of Johnson.
That’s right, my final Christmas gift—acquired on 02 January 2009—was an Xbox 360. That handsome fellow to the right (or above left, if you’re reading this in an RSS aggregator) is my Xbox avatar, the closest I could approximate how I look when I arrive home after a grueling day at work, ((Understand that I am using a very generous definition of the word “grueling” here.)) ready to kick back and play some LEGO Indiana Jones with my young apprentice. ((Kyle originally called the game “cowboy hat Star Wars”, as his favorite game on the Xbox classic was LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy.))
My budget allowed for the Xbox Pro console, an extra wireless controller and a 12-month Xbox LIVE Gold membership, but there wasn’t much left over for games, which typically cost $50-60 new. Thankfully, both the console and the extra controller came with games, roughly 40 of my Classix Xbox games are compatible with the 360, and I have some very generous friends with some fairly extensive Xbox 360 game collections. As a result, here is what I’ve been playing for the past week:
- LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures. Included with the console, this title has definitely gotten the most play. Kyle and I both loved the LEGO Star Wars games, so making the jump to Dr. Jones was a no-brainer. The “Original” part of the title means that there’s no Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but I’m okay with that.
- Kung Fu Panda. The second game included with the console is surprisingly enjoyable given that it’s a movie tie-in. I think I’m a little less than halfway through this one and I’m having a lot of fun with it. Unfortunately, it’s only a single-player game and a little complex for Kyle to handle on his own.
- Hexic HD. The final game included with the console was pre-loaded on the hard drive. Hexic HD (I assume HD stands for “high-definition”, though my television is incapable of confirming this) is a puzzle game similar to the insanely popular Bejeweled. Simple, fun and very, very addictive.
- Viva Piñata: Party Animals. This one was included with my second wireless controller. It’s bright and colorful and Kyle likes the way it looks on the screen, but the gameplay is a bit out of his reach right now. Like most party games I’ve played (Fusion Frenzy, Kung Fu Chaos), Party Animals features a variety of short, fast-paced games, ideal for a quick pick-up game with a group of friends.
- Carcassonne. The one game I did purchase separately cost me 800 Microsoft points ($10 US) on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace. It’s an adaptation of a tile-laying game by the same name that Laura and I both enjoy. We’ve only played one game together, but I’m hoping for many, many more. Why play this on a console instead of a tabletop? One word: scoring. Having the computer handle the final scoring is much simpler than tallying it up by hand.
- Gears of War. Until the sequel was released last year, this was one of the must-have first-person shooters for the Xbox 360. I don’t mind being a version behind, because this game is so blasted cool and the graphics are like nothing my Xbox Classic could ever dream of achieving. Gears of War is on loan to the International House of Johnson from Miscellaneous G™.
- Assassin’s Creed. Another title courtesy of Miscellaneous G™, Assassin’s Creed is a third-person, over-the-shoulder action game featuring lots of sneaking around and parkour. I’ve heard that the game can get rather repetetive, but I’m still in the “Holy crap, that looks so awesome!” and “I can’t believe I just did that!” phase of our relationship.
- Call of Juarez. The third title brought to me by Miscellaneous G™ is a Wild West shooter. My first impression of this game isn’t terribly favorable. I wanted it to be like Gun or Red Dead Revolver, or even Dead Man’s Hand, but the interface feels clunky and there are visual elements that make the game feel like it was rushed to market. I’m going to give the game another shot before I declare it a dud, but it had best turn around quickly, or we’re never going to get out of the “Holy crap, that looks so not-awesome!” and “I can’t believe I had to do that!” phase of our relationship.
- Duke Nukem 3D. The classic first-person shooter and predecessor to the long, long, long awaited Duke Nukem Forever ((Any day now.)) has not been updated to take advantage of the exponential improvements in gaming technology. At all. And yet, it’s still a heck of a lot of fun to play. This one is courtesy of a free download code, provided by one of the hosts of The Video Game Show.
- Aegis Wing. An action-shooter in the same vein as the classics R-Type and Silpheed. Aegis Wing was a free download from Xbox LIVE. It’s really meant to be played with multiple people, with Voltron-style hook-up action, and the single player missions (sans up-hooking) are rather difficult.
- Dash for Destruction. I feel a little guilty that I racked up 190 Achievement points ((More on Achievements in a later post.)) playing what is blatantly an interactive advertisement for Doritos, but there you have it. Dinosaurs chase Doritos delivery trucks; play as the dinosaur or the truck. That’s pretty much all you need to know.
I’ve also been taking advantage of my Xbox LIVE membership to play a boatload of game demos, including Braid (which has an excellent soundtrack), Rocketmen: Axis of Evil (the title is far cooler than the game itself), LEGO Batman (want!), and UNO (also want!).
Because the Xbox is connected to the Intertubes during play, anyone with a little know-how can find out what I’ve been playing recently. My Gamertag badge displays my current Gamerscore and the five games I played most recently, while 360voice uses the very same information to create a daily blog for my Xbox 360. A recently-added feature allows me to log in to my Xbox account from anywhere and queue up downloads of free content or even purchase games on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace, which will automatically be downloaded the next time my console connects. Pretty slick.
Yeah, I’m gushing a bit, and about two years too late, but that’s the way it goes around here sometimes. Tomorrow, Microsoft will announce the Xbox 720 and a year and a half from now I’ll be the only person I know still slumming it with the 360, but it should be a pretty cool year and a half—until the inevitable Red Ring of Death, that is.