Vacation from the outside world

When does summer end and fall begin in Southern California? Are there really seasons, or is it an artificial countdown that the North east experiences while we wallow in our year-round spring? Imagine trekking through 2 feet of snow just to get to the Gamestop, a pleasure we will never know. Leave it to the good people at Microsoft to throw us a bone, though. Their Summer of Arcade games have me sweating as if we actually have a summer.

Summer of Arcade on Xbox Live is a way for Microsoft to promote independent games without making much of a fuss about it. Since July 20, one game developed by an indie studio has been featured on the Marketplace, giving it a chance to be played communally and talked about as such. For 1,200 Microsoft Points (roughly $15), each game can be purchased. But are they all worth it? Let’s take a look at the releases thus far.

Bastion, one of the Notebook’s Best of E3 winners, came first in the Xbox 360 promotion. From developer Supergiant Games, Bastion takes the player through an action RPG journey unlike any before it — every action is narrated, for one. Destroying enemies warrants a congratulatory, ego-boosting comment or two; destroying barrels has the narrator question your motives.

It’s also set in front of a hand-painted world, wherein the vibrant colors of the apocalypse make for a more welcoming end-of-the-world scenario than, let’s say, the gray scale doomsday of a Fallout.

Should it be on your purchase list? Absolutely.

I was privileged to speak with the creators of Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet while the game was in development.

The only details that had been released at that time were that the game would feature a soundtrack by Dimmu Borgir (a black metal band from Norway) and have the artistic style of a futurist nightmare: the foreground bathed in darkness, while the landscape behind the action would be alive with a cacophony of alien wonders. I was already sold.

Our goal is to rid our home planet of a terrible, parasitic nightmare. What follows is a classic platformer, reminiscent of Metroid and the water levels from Super Mario Bros., as the spaceship we fly navigates treacherous paths and avoids the horrible grip of monstrous tentacles.

ITSP lives up to the insanity, in that it’s a beautifully crafted, unique experience that screams to be rewarded. The animations of the bosses are a reflection of the artist’s impossible dream world. The only real complaint is its length; but for what is crammed into the short ride, it’s a journey worth taking. Purchase this game as soon as possible.

The most complicated release has been From Dust, a god simulator in which the idea of affecting humanity moves from interaction to becoming a force of nature. Imagine, as a child, sitting next to an anthill resting beside a stream.

As the god of the ants, one could divert the stream into the hill for a good laugh; or, perhaps, fortify the mound with trenches. This is what From Dust asks of us, to guide a meager tribe through the world as Mother Nature does everything in her power to destroy it.

Instead of building roads or cities (as in Sim City), we’re tasked with forming islands out of lava and rivers out of streams. Every action has a consequence; tribesmen can be harmed by your actions, drowned in a flood caused by the construction of a river too near the camp, or burned alive by the land-producing lava.

Of all the titles, From Dust asks more from us than simply to win, but to become an omnipotent being and decide the fate of an entire civilization. Who doesn’t like playing god?   

Chris O’Neal is being reprogrammed to feel love, a trait never before seen in his model. Follow him on Twitter @AgentONeal.