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As many readers should know already, Zero Punctuation tends to be a couple of weeks behind the release schedule just because that’s about as long as it takes to play the game and make the video. At the time I made last week’s Xbox Summer of Arcade round-up, only the three games were out, Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD, Wreckateer and Deadlight. Well, since then two more titles have bubbled up from the Summer of Arcade ceremonies, which we might as well take a look at here before I write this year’s output off as a total disappointment. Not that it’s done anything right. The Summer of Arcade is for the first time being referred to as the Winter of Arcade here in Oz, so if nothing else at least Microsoft has finally started acknowledging that whole hemisphere thing.

I suppose what’s put a bad taste in my mouth about the whole Summer of Arcade this year is that it’s looking less like a showcase of innovative indie concepts and more a faintly desperate parade of miniature imitations of what the Xbox is usually about, a thing that is to the hideous bloat of triple-A gaming what the Muppet Babies were to the regular Muppets. First Tony Hawk to evoke the very beginnings of the Playstation and the modern shift of gaming to appeal to the cooler, dumber kids, and then a Kinect game to illustrate the horrible directions things have been taking more recently. And no diorama of modern gaming would be complete without that symbol of mediocrity, the powered armor space marine cover shooter. Preferably multiplayer-focussed.

Hence Hybrid, the fourth release. Generic title, generic game. Well, that’s not entirely fair, it is innovative for a cover-based shooter in that you can only move in cover, and from one piece of cover to another. You might think that sounds like taking the piss, but I kind of like the cutting out the middleman approach. Streamlining is how you get closer to the essential fun of things, I find. So if all you want to do is shoot the enemies and not have to worry about the fine details of moving around, or if you’re the kind of person who keeps pressing the “go into cover” button one too many times and ends up standing gormlessly around in enemy fire getting a few additional nostrils installed, then here’s the game for you.

Not that Hybrid isn’t a load of old bollocks. I didn’t play it for very long because (A) it was the trial mode and I’d sooner spend money on bubble gum and (B) my inferior Australian latency made the game essentially unplayable, but I was playing long enough to see that the visuals are a complete mess. I only knew that a random over-detailed vaguely industrial-looking thing against a background of over-detailed vaguely industrial-looking things was something I was supposed to be shooting because a name was superimposed over it in red text, and if that’s all I’m going on then I might as well be playing a fucking text adventure.

And the other big thing about Hybrid is that – Mass Effect 3 style – every online battle you fight in is part of a larger global conflict whose outcome pushes the victory percentage a small increment in favor of the reds or the blues. Which prompts the obvious question: “Who the fuck cares?” Both sides are exactly the same. Listen, when you join a Team Fortress 2 server, which team do you join? You join the one that’s losing or has less players, don’t you. No-one except absolute shitheads insists on being red or blue because they’re loyal to the color. The only way anyone could have a preference would be because of story reasons and Hybrid is multiplayer only, so there is no story. Bad idea, bad execution, bish bash bosh and move on.

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The fifth game, Dust: An Elysian Tail, is paired with Deadlight as the only two Summer of Arcade games this year that actually seem XBLA-y. But both of these games give the impression of having been built around a checklist, at least on a conceptual level. Dust is going down the checklist associated with the traditional Japanese ronin Samurai story with a few crossovers from the action RPG list – you’ve got your lone broody warrior type who’s obviously way too young to be as jaded, skilled or as angsty as he is, he’s motivated to defend the innocent from a growing evil that blights the land, and he was probably more of a dick in his shadowy past he conveniently can’t remember. And just to complete the comparisons to Usagi Yojimbo, everyone’s a humanoid furry animal. Ho yes, that was no accidental misspelling of “tale”.

So Dust is a 2D Metroidvania-style action RPG platformer with exploration and side quests and the like, and is hands down the best of the bunch. But that’s not saying a whole lot, and it has problems of its own. The combat is floaty as shit and the slightest button press on your part can send your character zooming all around the battlefield spinning his sword around like a toy helicopter over a heating vent, and it makes things hard to control. The most you can do is leap into a group of enemies and then hold on for dear life as you zoom away, paying close attention to the confusing clustered mass of pastel-colored enemies and particles, trying to figure out when you’re about to be hit so you can slam on the dodge button. But at the same time it’s way too easy, too. Your attack power probably ramps up too fast, so that most enemies can be killed in seconds just by helicoptering in their general vicinity. And I’d like to ask how the game expects me to build a 1000-hit combo when half the enemies die in three hits.

But as I said, definitely the best of the bunch. Smart of it to come out in this year’s Summer of Arcade, because even the slightly plain of us become the center of attention when surrounded by all our ugly friends. One last word on Dust‘s visual design, though; we should have all figured out that cyan is a fucking hideous color around the C64 period. Please don’t dress your main character exclusively in it.

You probably thought I was going to be down on the whole furry art thing, didn’t you. Well, I don’t want to be one of those internet guys who claims that everyone who does the anthropomorphic art thing secretly wants to fuck dogs, because I’m sure it’s just a vocal 90-95% percent who do. I didn’t have a problem with it in Dust since it seems to be channelling the aforementioned Usagi Yojimbo. But having said that, when the animal people in your world are established to wear clothes, the one sidekick character flying around naked with their disturbingly humanoid feminine proportions flapping in the breeze might sit a bit close to the sexualization line for some people. I think that’s technically known as the “Princess Sally Acorn line”.

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn’t talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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