Game Room hit for Xbox Live this week, but I've seen little press for it beyond the original previews and CES hands-ons, so I thought I'd give a little rundown of my own.
Not unlike the Family Game Night program, Game Room lulls you into a false sense of security by being a free initial download, and free downloads for the game packs, and then revealing that you have to pay for pretty much anything else. To keep you interested, achievements have been tied to various arcade-building and Medal rewards, the latter functioning rather similarly to 1 vs 100's level system.
Each game has three medals you can earn, with three grades apiece, the obvious bronze-silver-gold progression. Medals are rewarded for reaching certain score benchmarks, continuing to play for X amount of time before a Game Over, and for cumulative play time. Not only do these medals give you bragging rights, but they unlock new decorations and room skins for your arcade.
The arcade itself is customizable per player. You have three floors, each with four rooms, in which to install game cabinets and tacky decor. The decor tends to be themed in conjunction with the various room skins available, which range from company-themed motifs, to specific settings like an ancient temple or a neon-and-8-bit 80's pastiche. One of the achievements unlocks when all twelve of your rooms have unique themes, which is impossible to do as of yet unless you earn enough medals to reach level 12. Smooth one, Microsoft.
Capitalist trickery aside, the pricing model is fairly reasonable. Merely downloading a game pack gives you access to one free demo play of any game in that pack, and then the option to either pay by play at 40 banana dollars (aka fifty cents) a pop, or up and buy the cabinet or game in question for 240 points. Three bucks for unlimited plays on a game is hardly a raw deal, even if most of these games would only cost 20 points (a quarter) if arcades still existed in any notable amount in the real world.
If you don't want to cough up for games, you do start out with a stash of 20 tokens (plantain dollars?), which can give you free plays on any machine for 5 tokens a pop. The main way to earn more tokens is to have people visit your arcade, however, so you'll help your chances of keeping a decent token pool by picking up two or three cabinets and telling your friends.
Buying a given game on release day will entitle you to a free version of the game's Mascot to let roam around your arcade space. Mascots are just 3-D versions of the various primary characters, but they float about and are a neat little extra. Picking up a game post-release does not bundle it with the mascot, but the little buggers only run 40 points a pop, so it's not that much more a dent in the wallet.
Game Room also lets you send out challenges to your friends, and keeps track of leaderboards for every game, so you can keep tabs on how much you've lost your edge over the years.
The initial selection of games is decent, if a bit confusing; why they released the Atari 2600 version of Millipede right alongside the arcade cabinet for Millipede, for instance, is a mystery. Why I bought both is even more of a mystery (read: I didn't see the Centipede cab before buying Millipede). Despite this, I appreciated the detail that went into recreating the cabinets and consoles. Arcade games are rendered, outside of play, in true-to-life versions of their original cabinets, and the console games are represented by their respective host consoles being plugged into a stand-up cabinet. 2600 and Intellivision games also enable access to the switch setups and keypad with overlays, respectively, to continue that authentic feel.
It's worthwhile to check out Game Room if you're into vintage gaming at all, and you might want to swing by the game's forum on Xbox's official community site and post any recommendations you want, as they've got a stickied thread for just that in the Game Room subsection. Personally, here are five titles I'd love to see included in the future.
Barnstorming was pretty much dumb fun for me, but the graphics are pretty solid for a simple 2600 title. Just look at that sunset!
If they're not going to go current enough to give me T-Mek, at least give me its great-grandaddy, Battlezone. Heck, the 2600 version was, in some ways, better than the arcade version when it came to fun. Just a little uglier, that's all. I could live with either one.
I cannot begin to count the hours I wasted on Marble Madness, between the arcade and NES versions. I'm not sure how well the former's controls would translate to the 360's analog stick, but I'm more than willing to find out.
Yeah, I know this project was canned, but imagine if MS were willing to throw a little cash at the devs to get things restarted? I'd even be willing to pay a bit more than the standard 240 points if they actually cranked out a full-fledged RPG as originally planned.
Alternatively, they could talk to the Homestar Runner people and get the Videlectrix as a featured system. Eh? Eh?
This one's a fairly obscure 2600 title, which is a shame, because it's got one of the best tunes on the entire system.
If the video isn't too telling as to what the game's about, you're a short order chef grabbing various sandwich items that are flying from launchers on the right, and putting them on sandwiches on the conveyor belt, throwing the finished orders in their respectively colored boxes once they're complete. You lose points for food hitting the wall, and letting too much go or missing too many orders is a game over. It's like working a fast food joint without all the douchebaggery, and is pretty fun.
I was a bit leery of the whole Game Room thing at first, which was only exacerbated by launch-day woes, but it seems that was only a mild stumble for what is otherwise proving to be a pretty good start.