XNA Creator's Club Demo Impressions

Microsoft's XNA Studio for the Xbox 360 is a great way for independent, up and coming developers to get noticed in the industry. They make a new game, Microsoft likes it, it goes up on Live Arcade and the developer is renewed with the vigor to make bigger an better projects or is hired by a larger studio. Now gamers on Xbox Live can try out these developers' creations thanks to the recently released (and free) XNA Creator's Club Game Launcher. The first round of XNA games had seven demos. The demos were only available to play for a limited time, so if your 360 was in the Red Ring of Death shop, then you missed out. The trial time ended on Saturday yet I've still been able to play them. Hmm. I spent some time with each title and now that their time has supposedly expired, here are my impressions and verdicts of Culture, The Dishwasher, JellyCar, Little Gamers, Proximity HD, RocketBall, and TriLinea.

Where dreams are born... or red-ringed.

 

A world smothered in flowers would smell nice at first, but you'd get sick of smelling so pretty all the time.

Culture

Culture is a game about planting flowers. Actually, I don’t know if you could really call it a game so much as it is more of an activity center. There are three modes: Bloom Game, Paint with Flowers, and Flower Garden.

In Bloom Game you have a planet with nothing but green grass, well, grass and weeds. You plant flowers around the weeds. Once the eco-system-hurting weed is surrounded by a circle of flowers, the weed dies. As you get into higher levels there are an increased number of weeds that grow faster. There are lots of different types and colors of flowers to kill weeds with. Paint with Flowers is a paint with numbers book on your 360, but instead of numbers it's flowers. You pick the right flower by matching the letter and number that is in the square and that’s about it. You can make some nifty pictures, but I don’t see the “game” in this. I’m not really sure what the point of Flower Garden is either. You plant flowers in a virtual garden using two "parent" flowers and unlock more flower possibilities as you play.

Culture does have a nice menu system with it's "Field Notebook & Observations" book. The music is fairly relaxing, which is good when you're just painting by numbers or in the garden. The visuals are very colorful with the many types of flowers being represented in full HD lushness. There was some considerable slowdown when my planets went into full bloom, something I'm sure can be fixed before release.

Verdict: Some people, or kids, may dig the flower activity center for its simplicity and ultra colorful visuals, but I don't have any interest in continuing my flower culture.

 

This is what you'll want to be playing after N+.

The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai

The Dishwasher is a perfect example of a great game being developed with XNA. The Dishwasher rocks. It's a fast 2D action game with a cool, almost film noir visual style. The story is this: you are a dishwasher at the Foghorn Café. The dishwasher's heart has been ripped from his chest yet he somehow still lives. He doesn't know how or why he still lives, he just knows that cyborgs are out to kill him so he's going to destroy them. The story is told through comic panels that appear throughout the stages.

The scruffy dishwasher fights agent cyborgs, ogre cyborgs, SWAT cyborgs, and ED-209s with a pair of deadly cleavers. Combos are easy to do by continually hitting the same button and he has a quick samurai slash move. The boss in the trial's Story Mode is a cyborg samurai riding a cyborg horse. At the end of the epic battle the dishwasher is granted a pair of swords. The action is fast and the camera zooms in when fighting an individual enemy. The music also changes with the action, becoming more intense when fighting and calm when just walking around.

There are three playable stages in Arcade Mode, which put the dishwasher in a violent room full of a certain enemies. From the looks of the locked stages, there are 14 in story mode and 50 in Arcade mode.  The game also has local and live co-op.

Verdict: The Dishwasher is fun, has a cool visual style, and loads of blood splashing the environments. I will definitely buy this when it's released.

 

Quick, make a random noise. That's a JellyCar sound effect.

JellyCar

JellyCar is a cute little platform / puzzler. The objective is to get your squishy car through various obstacles to the target at the end. To reach the target you must make use of the car's transformation ability. Press the A button and the JellyCar becomes super-sized. With a mega-JellyCar it is much easier to get over certain obstacles. The car can get squished by rocks, or flipped, or shot through spinning wheels and launched across massive pitfalls. Everything is drawn on a crumpled piece of paper.

The default visuals are a crumpled paper backgrounds with everything drawn with crayons. Should you tire of crayons graphics the game does have vector, blueprint, and graphic visual styles. The sounds are great and add to the fun absurdity of the title. All the sounds come directly form the developers mouths, or someone’s mouth, as every sound you hear is no doubt a noise you made when playing with Hot Wheels or G.I. Joe vehicles when you were younger. It was pretty funny when I first heard the sounds and stayed humorous through my play time of the rest of the trial's stages.

Verdict: JellyCar is no doubt a fun title for XBLA. I'm don't think it's a game that I would personally buy (unless it was cheap enough), but there are plenty of people out there who will love the game.

 

This should be fun, but...

Little Gamers

Apparently Little Gamers is based on the web comic of the same name which I somehow I never heard of before. The game is a side-scrolling beat-‘em-up. Some of the jokes seem to come directly from South Park. “OMG! The house is infested with hippies again?!” Maybe its something from the comic, but I guess it's kind of funny. Throughout the game the little gamer guy says other “funny” things such as how beer makes him slow. Hmm, okay that's more of a statement about life than a humorous phrase. Anyways, you’re little gamer starts by punching people in the face, but can upgrade to various weapons like baseball bats, knives, sticks, pistols, machine guns, chainsaws, shotguns, spears, clubs, and missile launchers. Secondary items give him limited special abilities (beer makes everything slow).

There is a decent variety of stages to play in the trial. Stage 1-1 has the little gamer fighting against hippies in the house. Stage 2-3 is an assault against a legion of zombies. Stage 3-1 sees the little guy ascending a secret spy building. It was during stage 3-1 that the game lost its charm for me. Not even the little gamer mech you play as in the fourth stage was enough to hold my interest. At the end of the fourth stage was a boss battle against some other dude in a mech, but I didn't really care if I won or lost the battle.

Verdict: As I said, I lost interest during stage 3-1. The humor was stuff that I have heard before, at least what was in the trial. Maybe I'll see if the comic is any better.

 

Strategize your essential math skills to claim victory.

Proximity HD

Proximity HD is a strategy game of numbered tiles. You and your opponents lay numbered tiles on the board. As you place greater numbered tiles, your opponents’ total score is reduced, however so is yours when your opponents place theirs. If the tile you place is a higher number than the opponents' it captures the tile. Or your tile will decrease their tiles' point value by 2 if theirs are higher and you can increase your tile number by 2. The game really requires execution of a grand strategy to end up with the largest score at the end. The visuals are simple as they don't need to be detailed when you're just placing tiles one board.

Verdict: I enjoyed the game, but it's not something I would purchase for my 360. This is a game that could easily be done on a cell phone, and I wouldn't be surprised if Proximity finds its way there. Maybe it already is. If the game had a element that doesn't exactly belong with a tile-placement game, such as Crimson Conquest's back story of a knight winning the land by strategic tile placing, I would be more interested.

 

RocketBall is so extreme it doesn't have to be good.

RocketBall

I'm just going to say this right away: RocketBall is a terrible game. It's a fast-paced combination of dodge ball with rockets. The characters movements are very jerky with poor controls, which feel unresponsive at times. The rest of the game is equally poor in graphics and fun. You collect power-ups to throw faster and harder, but good luck with your balls making substantial contact to your opponents because controlling this game is a nightmare.

Each of the characters' life bars are juice boxes, which is somewhat of a novel idea. I know I always feel in the mood for extreme sports when I've got a juice box in my hand. If you get knocked out you press buttons on an orange slice to come back in the game. It doesn't make much sense, but that's okay; The game is bad enough on its own.

Verdict: RocketBall is as much fun as taking rocket propelled balls to the face.

 

The only thing TriLinea is missing is Blue-eyes white dragon.

TriLinea

TriLinea is a fast-paced stone tile-placing game. The story is that TriLinea is a game is enforced by the gods, so you have to play it. Old man Batran is your master and you have to prove yourself to him before taking on your rivals. TriLinea is easy to get into. All you need to do is match three colors in a row; the tiles disappear and your opponent looses life. You can also line up the symbols on each tile unleash various spells on the board. Before you play you choose what special abilities you want like shield, shatter, bless, and confuse. However, the selection sound effect is the most annoying high-pitched sound effect possible. My ears bled from it. The epic score makes the whole game feel more important than it is. The visuals of the stone tiles are fine, I mean you can't really screw up rectangles. The art for the characters is rather poor, though. It looks more like bad fan art for some anime series.

Verdict: This might be nice diversion for the Yu-Gi-Oh crowd after they're tired of playing a card game all day, but I'm not going to obey the gods' forceful will of playing TriLinea.

 

That's all the games for the first round of XNA demos. It's worth noting that according to the game descriptions in XBLA, the only game that will be released for sure is The Dishwasher. We'll have to wait and see is any of the other games actually see a release.

- Shawn - 03/10/08