Xbox 360

  • Gamestuff: February 2009 Xbox Update


    Xbox Live AvatarHere’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 SagaLEGO 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 BoxThe 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, 1I have yet to play any of my games online, mostly because I haven’t scheduled anything with my circle of friends and I’m not at all eager to play with random strangers. but the other titles appear to have some serious content and I’ve totally been sucked in to Half-Life 2. 2How sucked in? Up-until-3am-last-night sucked in.
    • Grand Theft Auto IVGrand 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.
    • CrackdownCrackdown. 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 UltraMarble 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 PredatorFar 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 AllianceMarvel 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.
    • BraidBraid. 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.
    • CatanCatan. 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 2Ninja 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!

    1 I have yet to play any of my games online, mostly because I haven’t scheduled anything with my circle of friends and I’m not at all eager to play with random strangers.
    2 How sucked in? Up-until-3am-last-night sucked in.
  • Gamestuff: The Next Generation


    My Xbox AvatarIn reality, the “next generation” of gaming consoles is whatever the folks at Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo and Infinium Labs 1That’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 … Continue reading 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, 2Understand 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. 3Kyle originally called the game “cowboy hat Star Wars”, as his favorite game on the Xbox classic was LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy.

    Xbox 360My 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 JonesLEGO 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 PandaKung 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 HDHexic 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 AnimalsViva 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.
    • CarcassonneCarcassonne. 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 WarGears 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 CreedAssassin’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 JuarezCall 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 3DDuke Nukem 3D. The classic first-person shooter and predecessor to the long, long, long awaited Duke Nukem Forever 4Any 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 WingAegis 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 DestructionDash for Destruction. I feel a little guilty that I racked up 190 Achievement points 5More 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.

    1 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.
    2 Understand that I am using a very generous definition of the word “grueling” here.
    3 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.
    4 Any day now.
    5 More on Achievements in a later post.