Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I Want My XBLA

If you can imagine "Money For Nothing" playing in the background while you read this, that would be pretty cool. Better yet, if you could just play it on some sort of device so you can remove the imagination equation, that would work even better.

Okay, just go here in another window and we'll be golden.

I'd purchased an Xbox 360 in early 2006. It was part of the first waves of the machines that came out. You know, the ones that didn't work. With that in mind, you can probably imagine both my surprise and delight at the fact that it took a whole 4 years for the machine to finally bow out (ungracefully) with a red ring of death. This isn't to say my 360 was without its share of problems. It habitually destroyed games and, about 15 DAYS into its lifespan, took an extended vacation (that lasted roughly 15 days shorter than 4 years) from determining whether or not the disc in its tray was a game or a DVD. Spoiler: Apparently every disc I own is a DVD. I don't know if I even own a DVD but the 360 was pretty much sure I did.

God. Whatever, it's just hundreds of dollars.
More after the jump.

Back to the destroying games talent, the 360 made a whole lot of terrifying noises apart from idling at something ridiculous like 100 decibels. There was an oft-repeated, gut-wrenching grinding sound that conjured images of that gigantic Indian dude getting sucked through that awesome rock-crusher in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The sound was very brief, and after a panicked grimace (from me...not the machine), all would normally be well and the next WHATEVER would load. After a few days of this (per game), disc read errors would abound and I'd notice upon inspecting the disc that there would be perfectly circular scratches in the disc itself rendering it little more than an extremely ineffective coaster.

Rock. Crushed.

Microsoft's official stance was that their cute little coaster-factory was working as intended and if I didn't WANT it to make coasters, I should have kept it more still while it was operating. Explaining that it was harder to make anything move less than "perfectly still" got me nowhere but hey, each game had about 24 hours of life until the etchings slowly and inexorably wounded it beyond any sort of meaningful repair so it's not like I couldn't play them AT ALL. In a way, it added a new challenge. Beat the game before the nebulous time limit is reached and try to make peace with the fact that you spent $60 plus tax on something you won't be able to enjoy any longer than a week of real time. I always failed the last part.

Don't worry about roster updates, you won't get that far.

This isn't to say that home consoles are completely useless...they're just useless for what they're designed and marketed for. I desperately want a new Xbox 360. I just don't want them to play incredibly overpriced generic whateverware that may or may not (may) get turned into functional furniture shortly after purchase. There are only so many 3rd person action games with RPG elements I can spend way too much money on before I start to get the feeling that maybe Gears of Halo Creed 2: Assassin's Resident isn't the best choice anymore for my entertainment dollar.

That brings me to the Xbox Live Arcade/WiiWare/PlayStation Store hydra, the a la carte meccas of choice for the disenfranchised gamer. Now, if you're reading this, odds are you don't need the service spelled out for you. For those less familiar, XBLA, et al. is basically a service where you can download bargain-priced games with (usually) much smaller budgets as well as demos and trailers of AAA titles and all that good stuff. There's more to it than that, but for the sake of this article, that's what I'm talking about. This is where you will find the best bang for your buck when it comes to the home consoles and inexplicably, none of the three seem to be a focus of any sort marketing-wise. You would think with the influx of casual gamers making heads spin playing games like Farmville, Mafia Wars, Lemonade Gangster 3: The Juicing, and whatever the hell else I'm getting flooded with Facebook updates about, the opportunity to kind of get the word out to this demographic would have long since been seized.

It hasn't. It's not like it's a pressing issue for any of the Big (read: Only) 3, but it IS an exploitable one. Nintendo started on this bent with the Wii when it launched and all their efforts accomplished was the fact that they're leading the pack by a wide-margin in overall console sales this generation. That momentum has since slowed. Why? Sure, motion-sensing as a means of gameplay is novel and novelty sells. Sadly, the Wii's motion-sensing capabilities aren't actually that great and once the new and shiny wears off, the casuals turn away and the "hardcore" that are left continue to purchase what LOOKS new and shiny. Right now, those games are found on the 360 and PS3 which are just now themselves venturing into the motion-sensing arena roughly 4 years too late.

Pictured: Praying for death in the digital age

Perhaps there is a fear that consumers, especially casuals, wouldn't be willing to spend $200-$300 to play 2D side-scrollers but if you were to tell me that every few months I'd be able to download a game like Shadow Complex or anything from the Bit.Trip series, I'd be chomping at the bit. Does that make me a casual. I half hope not and I half don't care. Anyway, if the brick can do anything else, it's a bonus. Thankfully, everyone loves coasters.

I got side-tracked somewhere in there. The point is someone buy me another Xbox 360 so I can play $10 games again.

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