Saturday, May 28, 2011

Must-Play Arcade Titles: The Top 10

Welcome back folks for the second part of our rundown of 20 of the greatest games that the 360 and PS3 arcades have to offer. In part one we saw such shining stars as Monkey Island and Trials HD taking centre stage, and well, there's plenty more of that sort of gaming goodness in this instalment. Here we'll see little boys lost, a princess in need, battles from the past and we'll blast into the future. Oh, and a little newspaper delivery is thrown in for good measure.

They say time is of the essence so enough of this idle chat... let's dive straight in with number 10.

10. Paperboy
Alright, don't all moan at once! I know that Paperboy isn't particularly a shining star in the Arcade sky, but what it is, particularly for us gamers of a certain age, is a real blast from a misspent past. The premise of the game is as simple as they come, starting on Monday you must travel on your bike from one end of a street to the other while delivering newspapers to your customers - launching said broadsheets from the comfort of your saddle. Along the way there are a variety of obstacles to avoid, from screeching cats to dozy pedestrians, and if you manage to reach the end of the street there's a nifty little BMX style track to whizz through before coming to a stop and taking the applause from a Grandstand of adoring fans. It's not quite how I remember my own paper round but hey, let's just go with it. Paperboy doesn't look great, doesn't sound great and is at times frustratingly difficult, but for me it's a game that keeps saying 'just one more go' and for that reason along with it's ability to nudge the memory banks, it's on the list.

9. Ikaruga
It was games of this ilk that helped me no end as a youngster to maintain a decent fighting weight. This was largely due to the fact that on most days it was these machines that had an unhealthy appetite for my dinner money. Ikaruga is a classic old school shooter and holds one hell of a challenge for even the most hardened of gamer. Getting the best from Ikaruga and to be honest getting anywhere in the game takes genuinely skillful play; it's certainly not a game for the faint hearted or easily disheartened. The object is to destroy the swarms of enemy ships using the weapons on offer and clever use of the polarity shift between black and white. Only bullets of an opposite colour can destroy your ship and end your progress, while bullets of the same colour will be absorbed and used as energy for your craft's special weapon. As 2D shoot-em-ups go, Ikaruga is in the Premier League and if you've the got the patience and fancy yourself as a bit of a hot shot then it comes highly recommended.

8. Beyond Good & Evil HD
It was a crying shame that Beyond Good & Evil was so overlooked on it's initial release, it deserved so much more than the disdain and shrugged shoulders it was met with. But it's now a reason to rejoice as it's back for a second shot at public affection and this time it's even added glorious HD to it's armoury. So what is Beyond Good & Evil? Well, it's an action adventure game where you play as Jade, a photojournalist, and come armed with a staff and a camera. The story follows Jade's recruitment by IRIS and her subsequent investigations into the disappearances that have been plaguing the planet. The game fuses stealth and puzzles beautifully as you take on assignments and attempt to uncover the truth behind the unfolding events. Everything is in place within BG&E to make it the stellar hit it should have been first time around and I'd urge anyone undecided to give it a go and discover for yourself the masterpiece that lies within.

7. Costume Quest
Costume Quest is another of those titles that have charm and gameplay in abundance. It's set in a quaint little town on Halloween and follows the adventures of siblings Reynold and Wren. You get to choose which sibling to play and then - after the other one is kidnapped by a monster mistaking them for giant candy - it's your mission to get them back. The game moves nicely between the cartoony style as you travel around the town, to the slightly more realistic looking turn-based combat sections. Throughout the game, various costumes can be collected and each has it's own unique powers in battle. It's full of cutesy characters and has a certain charm that makes it perfect for sitting back and spending a few hours with.

6. Outland
Outland is a new addition to the Arcade line-up and a very welcome one it is too (check out our review after the jump). The 2D platformer is an absolute beauty in both looks and gameplay. It manages to combine elements of a number of other games (Ikaruga and Limbo both spring to mind) and combine everything into a stunning slice of arcade action as you move from level to level solving puzzles, slicing enemies and leaping like a Ninja. The Ikaruga polarity system is evident in so much as you can use Outland's main characters use of switching colours depending on the enemy you're confronted with. Outland's use of colour and stylized artwork is truly a feast for the eyes and when the game underneath is so downright rich and playable, it's a sure fire winner.

5. Battlefield 1943
When Battlefield 1943 arrived it was a sign of the evolution of the console. Light years away from the traditional arcade title we'd become accustomed to, what we had here was a game that could support up to 24 players online and looked almost as good as it's full priced counterparts. This World War II FPS delivers traditional online warfare, three maps and a slightly disappointing solitary game mode. But despite a lack of maps and modes, and the fact that it's online only, BF1943 still gives countless hours of entertainment. As we've come to expect with a Battlefield title there are plenty of vehicles to man and plough headlong into the action, and the whole experience is well balanced and fun. Battlefield paved the way for ever more impressive arcade titles to follow and warrants a place on everyone's hard drive.

4. Banjo Kazooie
Rare was once hailed as a God alongside other, mere mortal developers and although there have been glimpses of past brilliance over the years since their purchase by the Microsoft money machine, they have never quite hit the same dizzying heights. Well, Banjo Kazooie is a game that harks back to Rare's golden era and is a masterclass in game design. Featuring the big cuddly bear Banjo and his bird sidekick, Kazooie, it plays as part platform, part action adventure and is as fresh today as it was when it made its N64 debut. The basic plot of Banjo Kazooie sees the evil witch Gruntilda kidnap Tooty, Banjo's sister and steal her away to her lair to steal her beauty. Banjo and Kazooie set forth on the rescue mission. The game is a great combination of puzzling and platforming, features fantastic characters, bright bubbly graphics and a superb soundtrack. Banjo Kazooie has become a part of the foundations of gaming and is a much loved title worldwide. You owe it to yourself to either discover or re-visit it's myriad charms.

3. Flower
Described as more of an experience than a game, Flower (review after the jump) is certainly an example of imagination and creativity still being alive and well within video games. Flower is an experience unlike any other, it asks the gamer to literally just float away on the breeze, worry free and tranquil. The premise of the game is to simply guide a flowers petal on its journey by orchestrating the wind on which it travels. Direction is controlled through movement of the sixaxis and wind strength via the push of the button. The aim of this gentle game is to carry the petal across the landscape, while spreading life into the unblossomed flowers that stretch before you. Each newly blossomed flower dispels it's own petal that joins you in your dance across the land. It's a stunningly beautiful looking game with a soundtrack to match and is the perfect antidote to today's more harsh, high tempo and less imaginative fare.

2. Limbo
If Flower is bright and breezy then here in the world of Limbo we have something altogether more sinister. Limbo follows the path of a little boy, lost and unsure in a strange twilight realm of shadows and silhouettes. The game's artistic direction is utterly stunning, adding layer upon layer of atmosphere and dark beauty to the world. The game begins with no pomp or ceremony, the little boy wakes, his piercing white eyes shine like a beacon among the gloom and the adventure begins. Gameplay-wise, Limbo is simple but effective 2D platforming and puzzling. The aim is to guide the boy along the path while avoiding death, and death in Limbo can take many gruesome forms. Limbo's looks, sound and gameplay come together to make one hell of a game, it may be a little short lived considering the 1200MS points price tag but it doesn't take away from the fact that this is a game that needs to be experienced. It's a beautifully macabre piece of gaming art and gameplay genius.

1. Braid
Braid has been placed upon a pedestal by many, it's merits shouted from the rooftops to all within earshot and had incredible amounts of praise heaped upon it. The reason for this? It simply deserves it. Braid is one of the most incredibly beautiful games you'll ever play. It follows the journey of Tim as he attempts to rescue the princess from the clutches of a monster and right the wrongs of the past. One of Braid's great strengths is its story telling. As the tale progresses you are given more insight into the demons that are driving our hero onwards. This story of regret and wanting to change the past adds wonderful depth to the game before reaching it's powerful conclusion. Graphically it's superb; the backgrounds look like they were done in pastels, colours dance and blend in a way that is always startling but never distracting, while the inhabitants of the land are bold and stand out amid the lush backdrops. The gameplay is 2D puzzle platformer style and is nigh on perfect, the puzzles are enough to genuinely test your mind but never become frustrating, Tim's ability to manipulate time is used to wonderful and ingenious effect from start to finish and it never gets old or becomes a chore. Braid is an incredible accomplishment and if you were to only have one game on your hard drive, then make sure that this is it.

And that, as they say, is that.

Arcade games on the PS3 and 360 have truly been a shining light for this generation of machines - an inspired move by the companies and a great benefit to us gamers. And while certain triple-A titles begin to stagnate, scared to change due to the pressure of selling huge numbers, it's refreshing to visit the arcade and see that, free of those shackles, imagination and creativity can still flourish and bloom and we can all be reminded of what it's like to play games in their purest, uncluttered form.