Hexothermic by David Webb

>>Community Game Brief

Take any classic puzzle game like Tetris, Columns, Lumines, or Bust-a-Move, and there’s a cheap Community Game knock-off. On the other hand, a truly unique puzzle game is a rarity anywhere, let alone on this small, independent games portal. That’s what makes David Webb’s Hexothermic so special – its premise is unlike any puzzle game out there, and yet it captures that fun, thoughtful simplicity that made those aforementioned classics so vital.

Hexothermic is played on a somewhat drab, hexagonal grid where colored atoms occupy each node. Adding electrons to the atoms brings them closer to exploding, causing a possible chain reaction of multiple exploding atoms. You only have a limited supply of electrons, so it’s all about predicting the outcome, and using as few as possible. The resulting gameplay is reminiscent of Peggle or Every Extend Extra Extreme, where you spend more time watching a light show than actually playing. The difference here is that a lot of planning can go into those chain reactions, so it’s not quite as casual as those titles.


For those that enjoy a mellow, but thoughtful puzzle experience, Hexothermic won’t disappoint. It’s got enough modes to keep the basic premise fresh, including a timed mode for twitch players, and a puzzle mode for brain-teaser fans. It even features its own set of smartly integrated awards. They’re not the official Xbox Live achievements, but they’re intelligently designed to teach you how to play better.

Hexothermic may not be much of a looker, but it has polish and features where it counts. At 200 points, it’s a steal.

Price: 200 points
Verdict:
BUY!
Go to Xbox Live Marketplace

Community Game Briefs are short but informative impressions on the ever-expanding Community Games catalogue on Xbox Live. These are not full reviews. The verdict comes in three flavors: AVOID, TRY, or BUY. Anything can be awarded an AVOID or TRY rating, whether I actually buy it or only sample the demo. You can be assured that any game awarded the BUY rating has been purchased and played extensively.

CaveIn – Miner Rescue Team by Johnny Death

>>Community Game Brief

CaveIn – Miner Rescue Team is far better than it deserves to be. Developed by one person (with some help in art and sound), CaveIn has the kind of premise that leads to fodder like Deadliest Catch or Big Game Hunter. It stars two Fischer Price-looking dudes in overalls, pushing colored rocks and searching for trapped miners. It also happens to be one of the best games available on the Community Games service.

A puzzle/action hybrid, CaveIn begins with a simple match-three premise. Colored rocks must be pushed to create combos, breaking them apart so you can progress. With each area, a new mechanic is added, creating a refreshing stew of old-school trappings reminiscent of puzzle games like Bust-a-Move, Bomberman, Tetris, and Devil Dice.


One minute you’re racing to match colored rocks as they fall from the sky a-la Tetris or Columns, and the next you’re firing them from a cannon Bust-a-Move-style. It’s not just a mix of puzzle mechanics either – some levels will have you out-running an avalanche, while others leave you navigating pitch-black mazes with a meager flashlight. Variety and polish, combined with simple graphics and cool lighting effects, make this title well-worth its meager 400-point asking price.

Groov by Barryman

>>Community Game Brief

Groov Community GameThe Xbox 360 has become a nearly encyclopedic resource for 2D, Robotron-inspired, twin-stick shooters. Geometry Wars got the ball rolling, and ever since then developers have explored nearly every possible twist.

Leave it to Community Game developers like Barryman to put one more spin on the formula. Their title, Groov, is shamelessly reminiscent of Geometry Wars, from the rectangular arena to the simple mob of colorful enemies. It’s only when you crank up the sound that you realize Groov is something a little different.

That’s because each action, from shooting to killing enemies, and even dying, is synced up with a funky jazz soundtrack. If it sounds like a gimmick, it is, but the synesthesic build-up of visual and aural complexity is undeniably cool.

Groov in action
Unfortunately, the gimmick seems to come at the expense of refined gameplay. In order to sync the music with the action, enemies glow white when you shoot them, and explode on beat. The lack of immediate feedback forces you to be overly cautious, usually getting yourself killed in the process.

It may not have the pedigree of Geometry Wars, but Groov’s smooth beats will entertain for an hour or two.

Price: 200 points
Verdict:
TRY!
Go to Xbox Live Marketplace

Community Game Briefs are short but informative impressions on the ever-expanding Community Games catalogue on Xbox Live. These are not full reviews. The verdict comes in three flavors: AVOID, TRY, or BUY. Anything can be awarded an AVOID or TRY rating, whether I actually buy it or only sample the demo. You can be assured that any game awarded the BUY rating has been purchased and played extensively.

A Fading Melody by Anchorcast

>>Community Game Brief

A Simple Lullaby Box ArtWith shades of gray, and shades of Braid, A Fading Melody opens with an art-game pretense. You are a woman living in a world between dreams and a coma. By facing her nightmares she begins to unravel the truth of her circumstances. This is where you take control, running and jumping your way through a collection of obstacle courses. Much like Braid, there’s a huge difference between what you see and what you’re told, but with A Fading Melody, the juxtaposition is far less convincing.

The woman dreams of herself, naked, in a forest full of monsters. That’s what the game tells you. What you actually see is a repetitive gauntlet of blue platforms with a tree or two slapped in the background. The woman and monsters are nothing but poorly animated paper cut-outs. If not for the premise, this tale of a comatose woman’s struggle for truth wouldn’t get a passing glance.

A Simple Lullaby
Then there’s the actual gameplay. For the hour or so it takes to complete the story, it’s nothing but one tedious platforming challenge after another. Imprecise controls complement level design reminiscent of a bad Super Mario World hack. Checkpoints make it all a little more tolerable, but each one reached brings relief that you’ll never have to play that bit of A Fading Melody ever again.

Price: 200 points
Verdict:
AVOID!
Go to Xbox Live Marketplace

Community Game Briefs are short but informative impressions on the ever-expanding Community Games catalogue on Xbox Live. These are not full reviews. The verdict comes in three flavors: AVOID, TRY, or BUY. Anything can be awarded an AVOID or TRY rating, whether I actually buy it or only sample the demo. You can be assured that any game awarded the BUY rating has been purchased and played extensively.

Bored Meeting by Steven Jones

>>Community Game Brief

Bored MeetingUnlike most quality Community Games titles, which sell themselves on unique concepts, Bored Meeting focuses on uproarious multiplayer fun. It’s developer Steven Jones’ tribute to Sega’s Chu Chu Rocket. More specifically, it’s a flexible take on Chu Chu’s local multiplayer mode.

A Dreamcast classic, Chu Chu Rocket pits four players on a grid, directing hundreds of mice into a colored rocket by placing arrows. Bored Meeting keeps the basic premise, replacing rodents and rockets with marketing metaphors. One twist: players can create “marketing buzz” to destroy walls, a mechanic used to great effect in certain stages, where players dig through the level to reach their respective goals.

Bored Meeting gameplay
It’s a must-buy under the right circumstances, but there are a few catches. As a copycat, Bored Meeting isn’t a replacement for Chu Chu Rocket, as it simply isn’t as polished or fully-featured. More importantly, this is a four-player party game, and if you can’t get 1-3 other friends (and controllers) in a room, there’s not much of a game here.

Price: 80 points
Verdict:
TRY!
Go to Xbox Live Marketplace

Community Game Briefs are short but informative impressions on the ever-expanding Community Games catalogue on Xbox Live. These are not full reviews. The verdict comes in three flavors: AVOID, TRY, or BUY. Anything can be awarded an AVOID or TRY rating, whether I actually buy it or only sample the demo. You can be assured that any game awarded the BUY rating has been purchased and played extensively.

GTA: Lost & Damned to Repeat History

>>Review

GTAIV The Lost and the DamnedNaysayers move along. If you didn’t enjoy Grand Theft Auto IV, then The Lost and Damned will do little to change your mind. Rockstar plays it safe with the first of GTA’s heavily-hyped downloadable episodes. Think of it as the cliff’s notes GTAIV – the sweeping 45-hour epic is compressed to a more manageable, 10-hour size. For better or worse, it doesn’t miss a beat, with a colorful cast of characters, tightly scripted missions, and a rollercoaster plot.

You play as Johnny Klebitz, VP of The Lost Motorcycle Club, a brotherhood of anarchistic middle-aged white trash. The story begins as the gang reuinites with their leader Billy. Fresh from a brief stay in jail and rehab, Billy immediately begins to shake things up. His destructive attitude causes tension with Johnny, who had spent his time as substitute leader cleaning up the club.

Johnny Klebitz, star of The Lost and the Damned
The conflict between the two is compelling from the start. Their shaky brotherhood and the dialogue that results is a reminder that Rockstar is ahead of the video game storytelling curve. These polygonal puppets can act, with performances so fascinating they transcend the haphazard script. But when Billy and Johnny’s conflict takes a backseat, and the production values falter, everything suddenly seems less interesting. The same problem plagued vanilla GTAIV, and while its last act was as long as the entirety of The Lost and Damned, it’s sad to see Rockstar make the same mistakes twice.

It’s not to say the last act isn’t full of action and excitement; on the contrary, the finale is just a bit too much. Rockstar has a field day deconstructing their characters. Take Nico, whose original GTAIV journey transformed him from a charming criminal to a mass-murdering monster. Johnny’s path is equally absurd – The Lost are clearly bad people, but the final mission has you breaking into a prison and mowing down scores of cops, all to reach one man. The end game is so nonsensical that the brilliant character development early on is moot.

The Lost MC Rides
That final mission, and others like it, shed light on another issue Rockstar failed to address: mission variety is seriously lacking. Riding motorcycles and bustin’ caps is a lot of fun, but that’s about all there is to do. GTAIV’s world is packed with gadgets like camera phones, internet, TV, and police databases, but none of it is used to spice up the missions. Rather than shooting your way through that final mission, wouldn’t it have been more interesting to use some of those gadgets, or even get arrested intentionally?

The Lost and Damned doesn’t stray far from its big daddy. Marginal improvements imply that Rockstar isn’t fixing something which is arguably unbroken. Maybe they’re right – a year after the original GTAIV, despite that game growing stale towards the end, this new episode manages to entertain. But with so much life already built into Liberty City, it’s hard to deny The Lost & Damned is a little less than the sum of its parts.

//BONUS ROUND
— The Full List of Radio Station Updates @ Rockstar’s Official Site
— My previous words regarding GTAIV, here and here

Mithra Shows Potential, Eats Your Money

>>Community Game Brief

Community Game - MithraFrom a technical standpoint, Mithra is a milestone of the Community Game library. It offers the most impressive 3D engine on the service, with lighting, detailed characters, and fully explorable, albeit small environments.

The production values are relatively top-notch, with full voice acting, cutscenes, and a few unique gameplay mechanics. It’s an adventure game with puzzles to solve, light stealth elements, and some platforming. It can be heavy on trial-and-error in spots, but regular checkpoints alleviate most of the frustration.

The protagonists, Tag and Vee, begin the game imprisoned in a mysterious lab. These two creatures are colorful and detailed, though equally at home in the margins of a high schooler’s notebook. Their voice actors aren’t the most professional sounding, but there’s an endearing honesty in their performances. Mithra’s world isn’t entirely convincing, but it’s clear there’s someone behind the scenes who cares deeply about it.

Mithra
And now for the bad news: beyond this brief introduction, you don’t learn much more about Tag and Vee. Developer Afiction isn’t kidding when they call it Mithra: Episode 1, Chapter 1 – the game can be finished in about thirty minutes. It appears to have three levels, but the second and third options are merely placeholders. Suddenly, what seems like a value at 400 points suddenly feels like highway robbery.

Price: 400 points
Verdict:
TRY!
Go to Xbox Live Marketplace

Community Game Briefs are short but informative impressions on the ever-expanding Community Games catalogue on Xbox Live. These are not full reviews. The verdict comes in three flavors: AVOID, TRY, or BUY. Anything can be awarded an AVOID or TRY rating, whether I actually buy it or only sample the demo. You can be assured that any game awarded the BUY rating has been purchased and played extensively.

Game & Film Opinion by Joe Donato