Absolute War is a strategy game which pits your army against waves of enemies. Normally, I’d probably love this game, but the fact that you’re using a controller instead of a mouse to command your army makes the game a pain to play. Things that should be simple, like moving your soldiers across the battlefield, feel slow and tedious due in large part to the controls. Not only that, but some of the battles just feel like they drag on far too long. There is a lot of depth to Absolute War, though. The tutorial mode is fantastic and does a good job explaining everything you can do. On the other hand, it does a poor job of actually teaching you everything, and you’ll often find yourself revisiting it. When the battles do work out to be quickly paced, the game shines and can be pretty fun, but it just does not happen often enough for the fun to really last. This game best serves as a reminder why there are so few strategy games on the Xbox 360. Steer clear.
Aqualibrium brings to mind what Where’s My Water? would have been like if it was made during the DOS era. Your goal is to guide charmingly pixelated water to a container at the bottom of each level. Using a combination of switches and blocks, Aqualibrium is essentially a puzzle game. The introduction of monsters and turrets early on, however, cranks up the action, albeit too much at times. In some of the levels, I spent more time running away from monsters than I did working on the water’s pathway. Getting hit (and instantly killed) by a tiny bullet from a turret is also an annoying occurrence. But that’s a small price to pay for an otherwise well-crafted experience. Setting up a safe pathway for the water and then watching it pour into the container is gratifying, and the DOS-like graphics really tickle my nostalgia bone. Read that how you will. Fewer monsters and more music would have certainly helped Aqualibrium, but if you’re a fan of old-school design, you probably won’t even care.
Build ‘n Bump is a pretty different game from any I’ve ever played before, so I’m not quite sure how to describe it. It’s a multiplayer affair that sees players taking turns building the arena where they’ll face off in. When the arena is built, the players need to platform and jump their way to crushing their opponents. Though there aren’t many block types, you’re really only limited by your creativity in what you can build. Even if you aren’t particularly great at level design, the gameplay can still be very fun and intense with players racing all over the screen, trying not to get hopped on. Like most multiplayer only games, however, it is best played in a large group to really show off the fun that can be had as you leap your way to victory in your custom built battlefields. My only real complaint about the game is the heavy reliance on multiplayer. I’m sure a single-player campaign would have been a blast to play. Despite this, Build ‘n Bump is still fantastic and definitely worth a buy.
Everything from the minimalist design right down the the Windows Phone logo on the box art suggests that Pendulous was built for mobile devices. The controls, simple though they are, didn’t feel natural with a traditional controller. Any time the ball “character” made a full rotation around a peg, I became completely disoriented. This frequently brought my momentum to a grinding halt as I struggled to understand the mechanics. It would be satisfying to string together a series of death-defying acrobatics, but the controls are too unforgiving to allow that. Some of my issues with the controls seem to be inherent in “swing the ball around the peg” games. It takes great patience to nail the precise timing for leaping between pegs, and the confined movement is deeply unsettling. Even more disturbing is the lack of music and the bizarre steam punk theme. I kept going back to Pendulous, hoping that something would click and I’d start enjoying it, but that never happened.
The last great multiplayer game on XBLIG was Hidden in Plain Sight. Well, the bar has just changed, because Chompy Chomp Chomp is the new “last great multiplayer game.” Like a crazy Pac-Man spin-off battle mode, Chompy sees players trying to eat each other in small, maze-like levels. Who you’re supposed to eat depends on what color is under you, which is constantly changing, and there’s always someone chasing after you when you’re busy chasing another player. It’s a neat idea that makes for some very fast-paced and hectic rounds. Because the online mode is a ghost town, though, Chompy is essentially a local multiplayer game. AI bots will fill in for any missing human players, but the AI simply isn’t fun to play with. It’s too good at following you and will often eat you before you’ve even realized where you respawned. Sadly, the game just wouldn’t work without four players, AI or otherwise. Three, maybe, but it was clearly designed for four. If you can meet that requirement, then you’re going to have a lot of fun with this one. It’s a very polished and unique experience.
After finishing the first level, I mistakenly assumed Heroes of Hat was going to be a good game. Then Level 2 proceeded to rake me through the coals, and the frustrations never let up since. This is a difficult platformer… and for all the wrong reasons. Enemies are placed in the most inconvenient spots and shoot or throw things at you that are nearly impossible to avoid. Luckily, there are checkpoints along the way, and any enemies killed stay dead. Or so it would seem. If you take too long, dead enemies eventually come back to life, which really tests what little patience you had left as you try in vain to get to the next checkpoint. On the other hand, I do like the gimmick of collecting hats along the way that grant you new abilities, like being able to shoot arrows, throw bombs, and glide. But that’s it. There aren’t any more. The arrows are fun to use, though, because you can charge them to create a super arrow that acts as a floating platform. Having to charge these and the bombs, however, leaves you too vulnerable to all of the annoying attacks from nearby enemies. Please, developers, let up on the monsters.