If you’re fanatical about creepy-crawlies then:

a.)    What the hell is wrong with you?

And

b.)    Check out the XBLA deals of the week!

That’s right, puzzle/platformer Swarm is soon to be released for both XBLA and PSN. Hell, any image depicting a small blue creature holding a makeshift pickaxe gets my vote!

Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley is a strange game. It’s apparent after playing that Twisted Pixel, the developers behind this and other XBLA oddities, The Maw and ‘Splosion Man, crafted this title with their own ridiculous sensibilities in mind. What resulted is an often hilarious, always absurd ride through four worlds of comic madness that should be experienced in one form or another. It’s a shame that the only sin Comic Jumper commits is a grave one; it is rarely compelling to play.

The story here revolves around the exploits of Captain Smiley and his conjoined companion, Star, comic book characters whose series gets cancelled after the opening level. Luckily, Twisted Pixel (yes, the developers have inserted themselves into the game as actual characters) like Captain Smiley so much they’re willing to donate their technological prowess to get the defunct series back on its feet. Becoming a hero for hire, Captain Smiley takes on jobs from other comic characters for cash, leading him to appear in a dark fantasy, a Silver Age storyline, and a manga throughout the game’s 6 hour campaign. It’s a pretty clever idea, actually, and the execution is filled with ridiculous non-sequiters, in-jokes, movie references, and tons of humor that pushes the game’s T rating to its limit. Not all the humor works, but it is by far the best aspect of Comic Jumper and one that it is almost worth the price of admission on its own.

comic-jumper-screenshot-5

This is partly because there just isn’t a ton of content in Comic Jumper. From the start, you’re embedded in Captain Smiley’s headquarters where you’ll accept missions and challenges from throughout the four comic worlds you’ll visit. Each world has approximately three missions or “issues” to complete in order to unlock further issues and challenges from the hub world. Completing these earns Smiley money that can be used to not only upgrade his stats in battle, but to unlock the myriad of concept art, comic book covers, video and audio clips from the game’s merchant. There are tons of unlockables and, normally, this kind of secondary stuff wouldn’t concern me. However, whether it’s because there isn’t anything else to Comic Jumper or whether this stuff is genuinely interesting, the auxiliary content is actually pretty neat.

Where the game starts to fall apart is ironically with the game itself. Comic Jumper is, for all intents and purposes, a dual-stick shooter. There are some relatively dull and simplistic melee sections and occasionally the context and style of the dual-stick shooting will change, but that doesn’t alter what the game is. Although the backdrop and enemies fought might change, repetitiveness eventually sets in as you gun down seemingly endless waves of foes level after level after level. It isn’t for lack of difficulty. In fact, with some of the mechanical limitations of Captain Smiley’s abilities, this can be one doozy of a tough game especially if you’re aiming for higher scores for more cash. The fact of the matter is that the lack of variety in Comic Jumper is just punctuated by its often unfair and tedious challenge, making the continuation of Captain Smiley’s saga the sole motivation to keep slogging through.

comic-jumper-screenshot-4

What really sells Comic Jumper as a great story is the quality of its voice-acting and the distinctiveness of its visuals. Captain Smiley and Star get the most dialogue here, and although they can both come off as a tad annoying on occasion, they play off one another very well and you can tell the voice actors were really having fun with the script. The rest of the actors provide a positively manic supporting cast that fit right in with their respective settings; from the campy Silver Age styling of Mistress Ropes, to the too cute to not be evil characters of the manga issues. These settings look great for the most part as Captain Smiley changes to fit each of the various comic styles he’s featured in. Apart from the manga level in which the black and white aesthetic is a bit rough on the eyes, each of these is a joy to look at. A genuinely funny soundtrack rounds out the presentation package. Trust me, you’ll want to check your stats in Captain Smiley’s headquarters just to hear the goofy song that goes along with it.

This odd combination of the excellent and the mediocre make Comic Jumper pretty difficult to recommend whole-heartedly. The gameplay difficulty combined with the tedium that eventually sets in may just be too much for some people. However, if you love games with comedic elements and have a soft spot for comic books, you can more easily forget its inherent gameplay faults. Comic Jumper is worth experiencing, but perhaps by a smaller audience than old Captain Smiley was hoping for.

Are you a big fan of Sonic Adventure? Or Crazy Taxi? Well you’re in luck, because today SEGA announced that the popular games from the Dreamcast era will be making their way to Xbox Live Arcade. The first two games to receive this treatment are the aforementioned Sonic Adventure and Crazy Taxi. These games will not just be emulations of the old games, but will in fact receive High Definition treatment, as well as other goodies such as surround sound support, leaderboards, and achievements.

Xbox Live Arcade has kind of been dead with big releases lately. I think the last game I purchased on XBLA was Shadow Complex back in the summer of 2009. Since then I haven’t heard much booming from that portion of Xbox Live’s package. However today I caught a glimpse of the debut trailer for Ancients of Ooga, an upcoming indie-developed title for the platform. It looks like an odd throw-back to SNES-era gaming with its 2D perspective and unusual soundtrack. You can see the game yourself via the trailer below:

Big ups to Space Ark for making it to XBLA, as the indie game will be available to all Xbox 360 owners come this Spring.  True indie games are a rarity on the service these days, so it warms the heart to see such a fine game make it to the top. Currently, no pricing has been announced for the title.

Braid is an upcoming Xbox Live Arcade game that you probably haven’t heard about.  After I had some extensive hands on time with a near-finished build of the game, it is safe to say that Braid is a game you will be hearing a lot more about as it nears release.  It succeeds in all the places that I believe Portal succeeded in—that is, Braid delivers both a unique setting, as well as a clearly defined world for players to interact with. If you’re unsure of what I mean, let me set up the premise and what Braid actually is.

Braid is a puzzle game with a touch of platformer mixed in for good measure. In it, you’ll control Tim, a man in search of a “princess in a castle.” Each of the worlds are prefaced by little tomes you can read before  you reach the gameplay, offering little nuggets on Tim, the princess, and other odds and ends. So far, the story could turn out into something neat, but to me, the main attraction is the puzzle-solving, which is, in a word, phenomenal.

Going back to my Portal and “clearly defined world” example—what I mean by that is that in Portal and now in Braid, these games put you into situations where it is either orally taught or experientially learned by the player on what the rule sets are in the world you are playing in. So, in both Portal and Braid, you can look at your surroundings as they are and then logically think through the steps you must take in order to retrieve puzzle pieces (more on these in a bit) or to clear an area.

A personal pet peeve of mine is games that do not introduce puzzles that are completely bereft of logic and have you slapping your head, wondering how the developer thought anyone would understand their intent without consulting a game guide. These moments are not to be had in Braid. The challenge is not figuring out what the hell to do, but how you are going to accomplish that end given the specific rules in the world and the objects and obstacles that are in your way. Most of these brain-teasers come by way of trying to attain puzzle pieces that are strewn about in each world.  Collecting all the puzzle pieces in each world and then putting them all together helps you advance up a ladder to an additional world (which, sadly I report I have not reached).

Aside from playing great, the build also showcased a distinct visual style that exudes vitality and life. The backgrounds in the game world appear to be living, breathing hand-drawn watercolor paintings that move and pulse as you do. Braid also liberally uses color at every juncture, which adds to the good-natured, lively feel the game has. Though, the soothing, peaceful music tracks don’t hurt, either.

I probably could have covered the game in a bit greater detail, (please don’t point out my faults, I know them all too well!) but for the sake of spoilers and to curtail my own man-crush from spiraling out of control, I need to cut things off here. Though this is not a final version, I can safely assume that this will be one of the most cherished titles to be released on Xbox Live Arcade. And although there have been plenty of stinkers to come out on the service, Braid is definitely not one of them. Rather, Braid has a chance to be regarded as one of the best.

Look for Braid to crash the XBLA in the coming months.