It's been a while since I've put together a batch of mini-reviews, but since the two most important games in my life right now are both downloadable Xbox Live Arcade games, I figured this would be a good time to make like Whoopi and get back in the habit.
Thus, hit the jump for a miniature review of the downloadable survival horror/platforming/noir/indie/mindfuck opus that is Limbo and the wildly misunderstood, above video'd, co-op multiplayer, vampire killing extravaganza known as Castlevania: Harmony of Despair.
Or, as I call it, "Konami Loves Me Very, Very Much."
Limbo — $10 (800 Microsoft Points) — Xbox Live Arcade
Look, there's simply no way to describe this game that doesn't make it sound incredibly pretentious, so I'm not even going to try. If you think you should buy a monocle and top hat to wear while playing Limbo, feel free. I can't guarantee that it will make the experience more accessible, but ladies love a man who can peer incredulously through a single lens before popping said lens into a glass of champagne whilst harumph-ing loudly.
Seriously. Ask any woman. I'll wait.
Back to Limbo for a moment though: This is less a game and more a study in interactive media and human emotion. Limbo's stark environs (everything is in black and white) and minimal audio force the player to fill in these huge swaths of nothingness — which, in most games would be packed full of vibrant textures and whiz-bang graphical effects — with their own imaginations.
No matter how gorgeous the graphics get, no matter how well-rendered zombies might be, there is nothing more terrifying than the horrid things we imagine lie waiting for us in the darkness. Need proof? I challenge any of you not to jump the first time you meet one of Limbo's giant spiders.
It would be impressive enough if Limbo was just a spooky indie game with neat aesthetics, but it's also an extremely clever platforming title. The puzzles play out like a combination of Super Mario Bros., Flashback and Ico, and the intuitive way in which all the items in Limbo function and react to one another is a work of genius on the part of the game's development team.
When you get tired of shooting space marines and punching martial artists in the snout, spend $10 on Limbo. If for no other reason than its creators should be rewarded for building something original in a landscape of me-too derivative clones.
Castlevania: Harmony of Despair — $15 (1200 Microsoft Points) — Xbox Live Arcade
A lot of reviewers will tell you that Castlevania: HD is flawed. That it scores a 7 out of 10 on a good day and that's only if you already have a hard on for the series.
Well let me be the first to say, "fuck those guys!"
Castlevania: HD is not a traditional Castlevania game, I admit that. Instead it is something wholly wonderful, designed specifically for fans like me who own every 2D game in the series, can tell you all about the fun and profit to be had from curry tossin' skeleton waiters, and who spend hundreds of hours playing and replaying Boss Rush modes even after we've finished a Castlevania title.
Castlevania: HD is essentially Castlevania: Tournament Edition. It takes Castlevania's aesthetics and gameplay mechanics, blends them with the fun of Left 4 Dead's frantic co-op, and fills in all the blanks with fan service aimed squarely at a handful of gaming journalists (at least three of whom are myself).
Yes, it has flaws. The sprites in this game are recycled (some date back to 1997's Symphony of the Night), the game could use an experience system and the characters aren't as balanced as they should be. Some could even argue that the game's localization needs work, based on a few obvious typos in the in-game text.
Despite all that, there is really only one question you need ask yourself when deciding whether or not to buy this game: "How much do I love whipping Dracula?"
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