The lights are on
2010 has been a standout year for downloadable games. We’ve
gathered a list of several standouts that may have slipped under your radar.
As independent developers continue to branch into new territory on the various downloadable game platforms, we’re seeing an increasing number of incredibly high quality titles appearing on XBLA, WiiWare, PlayStation Network, and DSiWare. There have been so many high quality titles, it’s hard to keep them all straight. We do our best to recommend great games to you as they come out, but in such an excellent year for games, here are a few that you might have missed. Our two criteria? The game was a lot of fun, and not as many people may have played it as should have. Enjoy!
Snoopy Flying Ace
Xbox Live Arcade
Many devoted players of the original Xbox will happily tell you their
joyful remembrances of an arcade flight game called Crimson Skies: High
Road to Revenge. While you won’t get that same unique alternate history
setting out of Snoopy’s latest return to the wild blue yonder, you’ll
find some remarkably similar gameplay. Snoopy Flying Ace continues the
long tradition of the Peanuts dog and his aerial dogfighting titles. This
latest is a high quality and polished DLG that offers a lot of fun game
modes, including a single player campaign, co-op, and extensive
competitive multiplayer options. In high-flying midair maneuvers,
you’ll engage in WWI-era plane fights, albeit with a family-friendly
sheen over top. However, it would be a mistake to dismiss the game as a
kid’s distraction. The fully featured combat, tight controls, and
excellent animation turn out to combine into one of the best flight
games available on the 360.
Hoard PlayStation NetworkHoard is a surprising and fun arcade experience wrapped in an unfortunately drab package. It’s one of the reasons we chose the game for this list, as it’s so easy to overlook its great qualities because of a lackluster exterior. In Hoard, you play as a dragon that must amass a hoard of treasure and protect it from those who would steal it away. From a distant overhead view, you’ll flap about the countryside, laying waste to towns with your fiery breath, picking up princesses to hold ransom at your lair, and fighting off jealous other dragons who would stand in the way of your expansion. There’s an addictive quality to your build up of treasure, and even some RPG-esque skill improvement that goes along with the action. In addition, players will find a fun multiplayer component in which each player controls a competing dragon, leading to some amusing possibilities for screwing your friends over. Though the visuals won’t knock your socks off, there’s a lot to like about Hoard once you push past to the meat of the gameplay experience. Simple, accessible, and fun, this unique title is a great option that can only be found on the PlayStation 3.
Shantae: Risky’s RevengeDSiWareWith all the great downloadable titles coming out on major home consoles, it’s easy to overlook the fact that Nintendo has a portable format to play downloadable games. While loads of new games come to DSiWare, few of them can compete with the titles available on those more powerful platforms. Shantae: Risky’s Revenge is the exception. Easily one of the most robust and full-featured titles on DSiWare, this beautiful action/platform game is a sequel to a lesser known Game Boy Color game that appeared near the end of that system’s life. The new title boasts bright, vibrant sprite visuals, a complex musical score, and great tweaks on the familiar 2D platforming design. Levels are non-linear, opening up exploration options. Players can move between the foreground and background of levels. Shantae can transform into different creatures as she progresses. The game is light years beyond nearly every other game on the DSi downloadable service. If you own that system, you should acquire the game immediately.
Zeno Clash: Ultimate EditionXbox Live ArcadeZeno Clash is worth a play if only to see that first-person brawling can succeed. Originally a PC title, the excellent port over to Xbox Live Arcade maintains all of the weird charm of the original, minus the need for a mouse and keyboard, and plus some smart tweaks to the graphics, audio, and design. The world of Zeno Clash is strange and confusing, introducing any number of grotesque and surprising story elements that will have you scratching your head. If that kind of creative and original game world appeals to you, Zeno Clash is a must play. Independent of the setting, the real reason to pick up the controller is the aforementioned combat system, a brawling affair that is easy to pick up and explore. Various styles of punching, dodging, and countering all feel natural and easy to implement, and there’s a satisfying weight to the hits that draws you in. If you’re ready for something off the beaten path of tired first-person tropes, Zeno Clash should perfectly fit the bill.
Cave Story WiiWareWe’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Cave Story is the best action/platform game you’ve probably never played. The original version appeared as PC freeware back in 2004, the brainchild of a single Japanese developer who goes by the name Pixel. North American developer Nicalis saw the potential in the project, and did a massive overhaul to the game’s visuals and audio, and released the game on WiiWare earlier this year. The result is outstanding – a deep and lengthy 2D exploration game in the vein of Metroid is supported by an original and surprising plotline, catchy musical tunes, and rewarding level design. New upgrades and weapons roll out in a steady flow across the course of the game, enabling the player to reach new areas and confront more powerful foes. Several endings promise enormous replay potential. It’s a game not to be missed – one of the great downloadable titles of 2010.
Email the author Matt Miller, or follow on Game Informer.