Most XNA developers have thus far shied away from doing anything too involved with their games, developing disposable puzzle titles or quick shooters in lieu of something that better emulates retail games. Enter Colosseum, a combat-heavy 3D action game with a full customization system.
It's easily one of the most ambitious titles to appear on the Community Games channel, and looks as professional as they come, but with its twin-stick approach to fighting and slow pace, does Colosseum have what it takes to bring thrilling gladiatorial scraps to your Xbox 360?
Colosseum (Xbox 360 Community Games)
Developer: Shortfuse Games
Publisher: Shortfuse Games
Released: November 19, 2008
MSRP: 800 Microsoft Points
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Colosseum is a series of arena-based battles which pit your chosen warrior against increasingly dangerous waves of enemies. There is very little story to get in the way of the violence, although the speech-bubble dialog that is had before each fight tends to be quite amusing and is often self-referential. The aim of the game is to basically fight, fight, fight, gather as much gold as possible, and kit out your gladiator with all sorts of cool stuff.
Creating your character is incredibly simple, and the options are streamlined to color, body type, and equipment. At first the selection is fairly limited, but as you progress through the game, you'll be able to unlock and buy new armor and weapons. There are are quite a few weapon types that handle quite differently, from long-range spears and halberds, to weighty and powerful hammers, to the quicker, but short ranged swords. Fans of RPG-lite elements in action games should enjoy the simple but robust system in place.
Unfortunately, the gameplay isn't addictive enough to make the acquisition of gold and equipment feel quite worth the effort. While by no means terrible, the Too Human style twin stick combat feels awkward and alienating, making the player feel disconnected from the action. In fairness, the right stick attacks are slightly more interactive than Too Human's, allowing you to generate combos by pushing the thumbstick in certain directions, but it just doesn't feel right.
This is not helped by the almost schizophrenic difficulty that ranges from stage to stage. With no real sense of scale, sometimes you'll find yourself overwhelmed by teleporting enemies with cheap ranged attacks, and sometimes you'll be cleaving through enemies with one-hit kills and barely any fear. The fact that the second level seems several times more difficult than the fourth doesn't make much sense at all.
At times, the gameplay can be somewhat satisfying, especially when you're on a winning streak and using the face buttons to unleash devastating range attacks, or learning how to get more stylish kills to avoid the "vanilla" tag, but the slow pace is something that many gamers might find unexciting. Movement and character responses are sluggish, and everybody moves as if they're fighting underwater.
There really isn't much to play either. Despite there being plenty of stuff to unlock and buy, anybody looking to get the ultimate loot will find themselves replaying levels over and over, and even with three difficulty levels to try, it will definitely take someone incredibly dedicated to earn enough gold to get the top tier goodies. There is a Versus mode and some Achievement-like challenges, but nothing that will last you longer than a few minutes.
While I am being incredibly critical, that's not to say the game is truly bad in any way. It does what it set out to do very well, but its success might come at the expense of providing a title many people will feel compelled to keep playing. The slow pace is an acquired taste, and not one I found myself acquiring.
When it comes to the game's presentation, however, a bad word cannot be said. Colosseum sports a professional cel-shaded graphical quality that makes it look better than a number of XBLA titles, let alone XNA games. While the sound is quite repetitive and slightly muted, it is certainly inoffensive, leading to a slickly produced package that looks like it could have easily been featured on Xbox Live's premier downloadable game platform.
Ultimately, Colosseum stands as a shining example of the potential that Community Games have, but it's potential that remains slightly unfulfilled. A better combat system and a more balanced difficult might have made this truly exceptional. As it is, Colosseum is something for a niche crowd only.
Score: 6.5 -- Alright (6s may be slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy them a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.)
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