|System: X360||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Q Entertainment||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Atari||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Sep. 15, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Robert VerBruggen
When game designer Tetsuya Mizuguchi puts together a soundtrack, he doesn't just find some techno songs he likes. Rather, he turns the game's sound effects into pieces of melody, and as a result, gamers feel like they're creating music while they're working through his levels. Some call this effect "synesthesia," but after spending time with his Xbox LIVE Arcade titles Every Extend Extra Extreme (E4), Rez HD, and Lumines Live!, we'll just call it awesome.
Publisher Atari has just released all three of these titles, which cost $10 apiece over XBLA, on a single $20 disc. That disc bears the title Qubed, presumably because Mizuguchi's development company is called Q Entertainment. For those who haven't yet explored these games, Qubed is a terrific buy.
Of the three included games, Every Extend Extra Extreme is our favorite, because it's the most unique. At first glance, it seems like it might be a space shooter along the lines of Geometry Wars, but in fact, there is no shooting at all (except in one game mode, cleverly called "The Revenge"). The only way to hurt your enemies is to blow up your ship on purpose, setting off waves of explosions. Each explosion creates a sound effect that interacts with the background music, and each stage has different music, effects, and enemies.
Beyond this unique setup, the brilliant thing about E4 is that it presents one risk-reward scenario after another. Let's say you get a pretty good chain of explosions going. As the explosions continue, you earn more and more points, but there are benefits to canceling the explosion (which you can do at any time), too. Most important, the clock is running down. In one mode you can build it back up by grabbing power-ups before they disappear, and when your time is fixed, you can't afford to waste precious seconds on an explosion that isn't burning through enemy ships fast enough.
Then, when you cancel the explosion (or it peters out on its own), your ship becomes whole again, and you're given a few seconds of invincibility. There are three things you have to do: collect power-ups, get your ship to a good place to explode again, and explode before your shield runs out (the screens are hectic enough that, without invincibility, you die almost immediately). If you don't get enough power-ups, you won't get very many points, and you won't extend your play time. If you don't get to a place on the screen where you can set off a big chain of explosions, you waste time and points. If you run out of shields and crash, you return to the beginning of the level; this means there are fewer enemies, and they move slower, making it harder to create big explosions. Every choice you make can pay off handsomely or cost you dearly.
There are lots of options, too. E4 features four different single-player modes: you can play with extendable time, with a fixed time, with music you have stored to your Xbox 360, and as a traditional shooter with 100 stages. The levels have target high scores, which serve as concrete goals. The sadistic can try to top leaderboards, and those interested in multiplayer can head online for matches (we were unable to match up when we tried, but hopefully this will stop happening as more people buy the game). Bottom-line, E4 is a great buy, on XBLA or as part of Qubed.
Our second-favorite game in the collection is Rez HD, a rail-shooter that takes only a few cues from Star Fox. It's an updated but faithful version of Rez, a classic and underappreciated PlayStation 2 and Dreamcast title - the new and superior version boasts high-definition and widescreen support, but the old, standard-def 4:3 version is included here too for the nostalgic. The graphics are amazing and quite trippy, with wireframe environments and bizarre enemies. Gunshots and explosions form the melodies that accompany the background music. The story is that you're a hacker trying to infiltrate a computer network.