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Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Sun Sets Upon the Summer of Arcade

posted by on August 28 at 12:56 PM

For the past five weeks, Xbox Live’s download service has pumped out a gem of a cheap video game every Wednesday, assumedly to make up for yet another half-baked retail summer. As expected, this season has seen a dump of games deemed too meager to compete during Christmas. Perfect time, then, to hip the kids to some brilliant $10 and $15 games that are fun, quick to learn, and easy to put down in case gamers actually go outside this summer.

I already reviewed the first two from this Summer of Arcade series, Geometry Wars 2 and Braid. Now that the series is complete, it’s time to catch up with the rest.


Bionic Commando: Rearmed
(Xbox Live, also available on PS3/PSN and PC)

1987’s Bionic Commando never quite took off in the Mario era—probably cuz the game’s hero couldn’t jump. (Back then, kids, virtual jumping was a technological achievement.) Instead, the guy had a grab-arm which let him swing over obstacles and chasms. Cyborg Tarzan with a bazooka… it made sense in the year of Robocop.

The unique twist of robo-swinging made the game a cult classic, which is probably why BC is being revisited as a big-budget, 3D adventure later this year. To promote that release, Capcom has given the original 2D game the spit-shine treatment. Holy crap, is it nice.

Pace yourselves; it’s not an epic reimagining of the core game. Still the same series of side-scrolling levels. Still no jump button. Still a few aggravating, scream-worthy swing puzzles (devs, why not edit these so that when you fail ‘em over and over, there’s less time to get back into the damn game?).

But the liberties taken in this remake should shame anybody who’s made a lazy, retro cash-in. Boss battles have been reimagined from the ground up, full of hulking robots that are satisfying to take down. The massive series of challenge rooms, reminiscent of Metal Gear Solid’s wireframe “training” levels, are alone worth the $10 tag. Multiplayer feels like an afterthought, but allowing up to four people to robo-arm together is better than nothing. And the presentation is stunning, from the remixed ’80s soundtrack and the freshly redrawn baddies to the ridiculous coat of high-def paint.

Nitpicks: no level editor? Why not let people whip up their own Bionic Commando worlds and trade them online? Also, the grab-arm controls are awkward for 2008. Capcom should’ve mapped the all-direction aim to the Xbox’s second analog stick.

Otherwise, it’s a lot of retro for $10. Assumedly, the low price is because this game is itself kind of an ad for the “new” Bionic Commando coming in October. Otherwise, there’s no reason for Capcom to price so much game for so little cash.

Jump with me for takes on Galaga Legions and Castle Crashers, along with some Penny Arcade Expo banter.


Galaga Legions
(Xbox Live)

Namco had been on a roll with their retro upgrade series. Last year’s Pac-Man: Championship Edition did the series right with surprisingly addictive tweaks to the dot-munching. Space Invaders Extreme blew me away earlier this year by overhauling that ancient shooter’s basic core.

But Galaga? A shooter whose play was more about pace and timing than any of its era? Why screw that up?

Galaga Legions is probably the most-removed remake by Namco. If anything, it feels much more like the wave of early ’00s Japanese shmups, in which the screen is absolutely crammed full of things to shoot at. The twist in this one is that you have two invincible turrets you can place anywhere on the screen to help with sideways/below baddies. Winning means knowing exactly where to place these things to knock off wave after wave of flying space-bugs.

The twist is unique enough in the genre, but the turret-arranging thing takes away from the adrenaline of being in the middle of the action. It waters down the blasting. That got me to thinking, though; if the game were much more strategic—more turrets, an assortment of power-ups, maybe some conquering of planets—then this could’ve been a brilliant new take on arcade blasting. Galaga meets Starcraft. Somebody get on that.

As it is, Galaga Legions isn’t the best of its kind (look instead for the teeth-grindingly hard Ikaruga), and Galaga nostalgics won’t have much to latch onto, either. But if you’ve got a thing for blasting stuff, definitely try the demo.

Castle Crashers
(Xbox Live)

The tiny development team behind Alien Hominid has been cranking this one out for, gosh, three years already? Something insane like that. I have yet to score a review copy, but I feel compelled to tell you, dear friends, that the demo for this ’90s arcade throwback is a blast.

The Behemoth will be showing this game off at this weekend’s Penny Arcade Expo. (Chances are, I may take up residency at their booth.) To get yourself geared up for the show, check out my interview with PAX creators Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, which I’ve posted at And I’ll be writing the heck out of PAX on Slog this weekend, so keep your bookmarks set to our Games category for optimal dorkery.

RSS icon Comments



Im stoked!

Posted by Bellevue Ave | August 28, 2008 1:18 PM

This remake of "Bionic Commando" is awesome. I've beated the original NES version like once every years since it was released, and I've waiting for some revised bionic arm action ever since. This version does not disappoint!

Posted by Jay | August 28, 2008 1:38 PM

You can get games like that for free from the OSS community that run on your Suse/Linux desktop.

What? You don't have a Suse/Linux desktop?

Posted by John Bailo | August 28, 2008 2:22 PM

dude, BC is 3 weeks old already. That's like old balls in the videogame world. You should have been staying up until midnight last tuesday to download Castle Crashers because it's way better than Braid.

Posted by bobcat | August 28, 2008 4:15 PM

@4: Agreed. I don't review games until I have enough time to play through them thoroughly, and since I'm a smaller fry, I'm generally waiting a while for the final product.

But beyond that, uh, it's a remake of a decades-old game, if we wanna talk about your "old balls."

Posted by Sam M. | August 28, 2008 4:38 PM

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