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Hidden Xbox Gems Part 1: Multiplayer Hits

22:3224/04/2012Posted by Raymond WebsterOne Comment

For a student constantly on the lookout for cheap games to play and not really wanting to buy full-priced new releases, second-hand shops and Xbox Live Arcade seemed the perfect solution. Some purchases were really not worth playing, but there were some real gems that turned up from time to time – some of which were clearly at their best when played multiplayer, but had nobody online because perhaps they had not been critical successes, or had been out so long everyone had lost interest. So it’s time to fight the fight for these obscure games – and if people can get them and play them, it can only be a good thing!

Virtual ON Oratorio Tangram (XBLA)

This is a game that is fondly remembered by a small subset of gamers – people who enjoy arcade games, and the days of imports, Dreamcasts and so on. However, its reputation is a well-deserved one; it remains one of the tensest, most skill-based and yet easily-understood fighting games around.

Rather than relying on a long move-list and traditional inputs, it is a fully 3D game in which use of terrain to avoid attacks is as important as carefully timed blocks and counters, but the combination of two attack buttons, contextual melee and the ways in which the properties of attacks change when dashing mean fights have a skill and elegance all of their own. The wide range of fighters available to choose from are well-differentiated, with a range of beams, missiles and more exotic weapons each requiring different techniques to dodge while still remaining well-positioned to capitalise on your own strengths. While a 2D fighting game may be based around tentative jabs, well-timed blocks and trapping an opponent in combos to win, Virtual ON is a straight battle of attrition, about trying to force the opponent to make a mistake and wearing them down with salvoes of missiles or machine gun fire.

In single-player, there are the usual staples; a one-life score attack mode and an arcade mode which contains two very tricky boss fights in addition to the usual trip through the roster. It’s fun, and highly rewarding to replay and try to improve on, but the real meat of the game is in the sadly deserted online multiplayer. When you’re up against an unpredictable human player, there’s a whole new level of tension and it goes from knowing how to win against the AI to actually knowing how to master the game.

Wartech: Senko No Ronde (Xbox 360)

If Virtual ON was a fighting game in giant robot form, Wartech is a strong attempt at a bullet-hell fighting game – and it remains one of the most unique and interesting concepts for a game I’ve played. Players control fighter craft on a 2D plane much like a top-down arcade shooter (see Dodonpachi, ESP Galuda et al) and have a mix of beams, bullets, bombs and melee attacks to try and wear their opponent down. At certain points through the fight, players can call in a boss mode, where their fighter is replaced by something the size of an end-of-level enemy with the curtain fire and screen-filling patterns that entails. It’s an interesting balance; a fighting game that’s drawing heavily on the skills needed to prevail at arcade shooters rather than any skill at Street Fighter.

The single-player, much like Virtual ON, is mostly just preparation for the online; and the online is sadly empty. But if you have a friend who’s into bullet hell games and want to try something different, see about tracking a couple of copies of this down and giving it a fair go. It even has same-screen multiplayer, as any good fighting game should.

Sensible World of Soccer (XBLA)

You will not find a better football game than this for your money. Yes an old copy of FIFA or PES is probably 99p by now but SWOS is a classic of a whole different kind, there with Emlyn Hughes Soccer Challenge and Brian Clough’s Football Fortunes. In the momentous anniversary of the venerable ZX Spectrum, relive what for many were the glory days of computing by getting your SWOS on – it’s got a catchy theme tune, bizarrely edited player names and team names to avoid copyright infringement and footballing gameplay so simple anyone can pick it up in seconds. It may not be ground-breakingly realistic, or have pixel-perfect recreations of Camp Nou or Wembley, but there’s a real charm to SWOS that those who grew up on it can attest to – it’s a football game as intuitive and, well, sensible as a kick-around in the park. There’s a surprising amount of depth hidden beneath the dead simple controls, and a healthy amount of single-player content – but really the joy of SWOS is getting some friends round and playing (digital) football.

So there you have it; part one of D+PAD’s Xbox Hidden Gems. Check back soon for Part 2…

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