Gather around, Xbox fans, as we welcome you to Live Ware, Crispy Gamer's biweekly look at the latest Xbox Live Arcade titles. The last thing we want to see is you tossing away those valuable Microsoft Points on unworthy games, so we'll give you the low-down on which new releases are worth your hard-earned dough and hard drive space.
In addition to the recent game releases, there have been quite a few new things in game content releases, as well. If you're playing Ubisoft's Chessmaster Live (and if you enjoy chess, you should be), you'll want to snag the free Calvert chess set. The Turbo Boost Expansion Pack for GripShift boasts new tracks, new deathmatch arenas, new music, a new multiplayer mode, and three mini-games for only 350 MS points. Not too shabby.
Project Gotham Racing 4's new content comes in both free and 400 MS point varieties. The free version nets you a new car and two new modes -- Tourist and Free Roam Cat & Mouse. Toss a couple bucks in for the Premium Challenge Pack, and you get 10 new cars and bikes and a third new mode -- World Challenge. Both packs also include new Achievements (although there are three extra Achievements in the Premium Pack).
But enough with the bonus content. Let's get on to the games!
Developer: Void Star Creations
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Price: 800 Microsoft Points
Originally appeared on: N/A
RECOMMENDATION: Buy It
"Wait a second," we hear you cry, "Why should I buy this game when I already got that Texas Hold'em game that Microsoft was giving away for free a while ago?" Don't worry -- we thought the same thing as first, too. As it turns out, Poker Smash isn't so much a poker game as it is a puzzle game with a poker twist. The game board is made up of multi-colored playing cards, with the different colors representing the cards' different face values. By moving a cursor around the screen, you must swap cards along their rows (but not their columns) to make matches, causing them to disappear. You can simply match three or more similar colors to clear them out, but by paying attention to the cards' values and suits, you can also form poker hands to clear the board.
If the gameplay sounds an awful lot like Panel de Pon/Tetris Attack/Puzzle League/whatever Nintendo's calling it this week, that's because it is an awful lot like that classic puzzler. If you've played Puzzle League to death, it's strange but satisfying to experience a similar game with a whole new set of rules. The updated control scheme (the right analog stick is used to swap blocks) will also be disorienting at first, but after a round or two you'll never want to go back to using the buttons to play.
Puzzle games tend to be more fun against a human opponent and up to five people can compete online. It's a shame that you can't see the other players' boards, but you do get a constant view of who holds the most chips in each match. The better the "hands" and combos that you form, the more chips you take from the other players.
There are quite a few puzzle games on Xbox Live Arcade, but Poker Smash is easily one of the top ones available. Even if you've never played a hand of poker in your life, you'll be glad you went all-in on this one.
Commanders: Attack of the Genos
Developer: SouthEnd Interactive
Publisher: Sierra Online
Price: 800 Microsoft Points
Originally appeared on: N/A
RECOMMENDATION: Try It
Curse those lucky Wii-owning devils! Thanks to their Virtual Console, they've long been able to enjoy the classic TurboGrafx-16 turn-based strategy game, Military Madness. Where does that leave Xbox 360 owners? Nowhere, that's where. Well, nowhere until the release of Commanders: Attack of the Genos.
With gameplay that's very similar to Madness or Nintendo's Advance Wars series, Commanders puts you in charge of a fighting force comprised of infantry units and military vehicles. As you move your troops around each map, you attempt to wipe out the enemy and capture their bases. The bulk of the strategy comes from carefully positioning your units so that they are in the best position to take on the opposition. Each one is strong or weak against other types, so there's a rock/paper/scissors element to the interaction between the 15 different units.
Your army's commanding officer also joins the battle in a more powerful vehicle that grants special performance boosts to any units within its range and can pull off more powerful attacks.
The single-player campaign consists of 15 missions, which may not sound like much, but the battles get pretty tricky as you get further in the game. There's also an advanced difficulty level for you expert strategists. Of course, there's even more fun to be had by taking the fight online. Up to four people can battle at once, and it's always more challenging to compete against a human player.
Hardcore turn-based strategy fans might be disappointed to find that Commanders isn't as fleshed out as other entries in the genres, but it's still a rather enjoyable game (and it certainly looks nicer than a 19-year-old TurboGrafx game). If you've never played a game like this before, however, this just might be the one that gets you hooked.
Discs of Tron
Developer: Backbone Entertainment
Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
Price: 400 Microsoft Points
Originally appeared on: Arcade
RECOMMENDATION: Fry It
Back in the early '80s, the two arcade games based on Disney's "Tron" were quite the big deal. They offered slick cabinets, unique control schemes and a chance for geeks to relive their favorite moments from the film. Strangely, the games never saw a proper console release after their run in the arcade. Until recently, the only official rereleases were in the GBA version of Tron 2.0: Killer App. Disney Interactive Studios has put an end to that, however. The original Tron was released a few weeks back, and now it has brought us that game's sequel, Discs of Tron.
Discs recreates the gladiatorial disc battle from the movie. You control the humanoid security program, Tron, as he attempts to knock the evil Sark off a series of circular platforms with a barrage of boomerang-style discs. You'll simultaneously have to dodge or deflect Sark's projectiles. It's a good enough game, but the Xbox Live Arcade version suffers from a poor control scheme. The original arcade version allowed you to move Tron with a joystick while aiming your discs with a spinning wheel. The right analog stick is supposed to replicate the wheel's movement, but it's far too imprecise to make any effective shots. Derezzing Sark often feels more like a result of luck than skill.
The tacked-on multiplayer modes are also lame. You would think that a one-on-one battle mode where you toss discs against a human opponent would be a given, but no. Instead, each player simply plays the single-player game and is judged against the other person based on score and time. Such a waste.
If Discs of Tron and its predecessor had been bundled together like the Asteroids/Asteroids Deluxe and Centipede/Millipede releases, that would have been great. As a separate release, however, Discs just isn't worth it.