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Xbox LIVE Community Games (Mini-Reviews)

XBLC: Games from Independent Spirits article

By Robert VerBruggen


Groov | Dev: Barryman | Score: 3.2

Remember a few reviews back, when we called Biology Battle a "shameless Geometry Wars clone?" We take that back: in the race to most closely emulate that groundbreaking shooter, Groov puts Biology Battle to, well, shame. Not only are the controls and basic gameplay identical to GW, but there's also a space background, a brightly colored ship, odd-shaped enemies, and a big rectangle that delineates the end of the universe.

Most of the differences between Groov and Geometry Wars are to the former's detriment. The shooting isn't quite as fast, making it difficult to handle big waves of enemies, and the pizza slice-shaped ship is rather bland compared to GW's endearingly crafted vehicle. There's no screen-clearing weapon, but rather a bomb that slows down time for everything but your ship.

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The only thing saving Groov as a game (and maybe from a lawsuit) is its incorporation of music. The sound effects to your shooting provide the melody line, and various events in the game, such as enemy explosions and even dying, affect the other voices. As the game moves on, and you gain the ability to shoot at new speeds, the music changes to reflect that. Is this feature innovative enough to warrant a download? Probably not, especially considering the mechanic was aped from Everyday Shooter.

XBLC: Games from Independent Spirits article

Head Banger | Dev: Ganksoft Entertainment | Score: 2.4

This is a Guitar Hero knockoff, playable with either a controller or the guitar attachment. The game features four original instrumental songs. They're actually pretty good, and varied: "Metal Head" is an '80s metal shred-fest; "Dark Fuse" takes on a more ominous tone, "SOS" is a sludgy affair, and "Groovy Toon" brings the synth-funk. Further, the graphics are decent, depicting a 3-D world (and a guy rocking out in it) to go along with the standard bars with the notes on them.

The big problem is that the button presses aren't programmed in very well. There's only one difficulty, and too often, you're simply playing along to the beat rather than enunciating the actual rhythms. Worse, sometimes they seem to get ahead or behind, and other times they just feel completely disconnected, as if it would be easier to play the game with the sound off. During the few riffs where the button presses are programmed well, this game works; it feels like you're actually participating in the song. Otherwise, it just feels like you're pressing random buttons because the screen says to, and that's no fun at all.

XBLC: Games from Independent Spirits article

Johnny Platform's Biscuit Romp | Dev: IshiEiketsu
Score: 4.7

So many aspects of this game are comically bad that it's surprising to us how much we loved it. The sound is awful, with a repeating music line and very odd vocal exclamations that serve as effects. The graphics prove equally terrible; they look hand-drawn . . . by a six-year-old.

But, what the game lacks in polish, it more than makes up for in spirit, and in the end, its amateurish presentation comes off as endearing. It's basically an NES platformer: you can move with the joystick, jump and double-jump with the A button, and restart the level with the B button. There are 55 stages total, each taking up only one screen. You have to kill all the enemies to open a portal to the next level, and then get to the portal.

The levels are expertly designed. Some emphasize execution; you'll have to kill a bunch of enemies while avoiding fatal obstacles in the game's environment. Others are matters of problem-solving; for example, in one, it initially seems that if you head to the left to kill the single enemy, you won't be able to get back to the right to go through the portal. Still others involve both impeccable timing and elaborate strategy. Movable blocks, cookies that roll, and the fact that on some (but not all) of the levels you can walk to one edge of the screen and come out the other all provide little twists that make each stage a fresh challenge.

Our one gameplay-related complaint is that you can only save once every five stages. When levels that emphasize timing and execution are placed one after the other, this can lead to some very frustrating experiences. That hardly means you should pass up this gem, though.

XBLC: Games from Independent Spirits article

Machiavelli's Ascent | Dev: Naturally Formed Studios
Score: 3.0

It's difficult to say much about this simple high-score title, as it's not so much a game as an advertisement for what the developers are capable of. The graphics look great, and the concept is unique, but it plays more like a free Internet timewaster than a fully realized work.

You start out as a jellyfish at the bottom of the ocean, and press A once to start swimming upward. On the way, you steer left and right (with the trigger buttons) to collect various power-ups, and each thing you collect pushes you higher. (Each thing you collect also makes a plinking noise, creating a somewhat musical effect.) You have no way of propelling yourself.

You need to develop your reflexes and steer your fish to the nearest power-up right away, because if you hesitate in the slightest, you sink back down. The power-ups you passed are gone, and it's game over. Time to hit A again.

The free demo is limited by time, and your high score is capped, but a few plays will be enough for most people. Even in this economy, $2.50 won't exactly break the bank for those who like what they see, though.

XBLC: Games from Independent Spirits article

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