Is XBLA Adding Quality?

I’m waiting for my PS3 to get updated, so I have some time to kill.

I didn’t really give it a good think until the N+ devs brought it up, but has the Xbox Live Arcade has been riding the Suckage Express into Craptown in recent time?

I used to be a huge advocate of the service, having bought probably close to ten games in the first year. But I haven’t purchased an XBLA game since Carcassone despite having downloaded nearly every demo. Recently, I stopped caring enough to even spend the thirty seconds paying attention to what comes out every week, which I suppose is very bad for their service. I doubt everything that has come out has been bad, but has anything even been inspiring enough to warrant downloading? There isn’t too much that is radically new. In fact, most of the quality titles are remakes of old console games or conversions of board games.

For your reference, I’ve listed below the releases on XBLA over the past year. If I say something snarky about your game, don’t take it personally. I don’t have the time to be diplomatic about every game listed. As someone who has made a very… *ahem* poorly received/executed game himself, I know how there can be extenuating circumstances that conspire against you and your team. Don’t take it personally. Keep coming up with ideas.

Date Title Metacritic Verdict
3/12/2008 Bliss Island 44 Paying for it is not a good idea – IGN
3/12/2008 Brain Challenge 60 It’s a mobile phone game ported to XBLA. Out of place.
3/5/2008 Rocketmen: Axis Of Evil 57 An arcade shooter. Let’s see how many we get.
2/27/2008 Trigger Heart Exelica 63 A very short arcade shmup with no hook. No one will play it once Ikaruga comes out.
2/20/2008 N+ 82 I’ll be honest, I don’t get it. But others seem to eat it up.
2/13/2008 Discs of Tron 42 Broken arcade port.
2/13/2008 Commanders: Attack of the Genos 73 A neat little turn-based strategy game. I approve.
2/6/2008 Poker Smash 80 Sounds terrible, but is actually one of the most new and refreshing games on the service.
1/30/2008 Chessmaster Live 76 Fantastic if you love chess. I don’t.
1/30/2008 Rez HD 89 A quality game, but I wasn’t the hugest fan of the original.
1/16/2008 Boogie Bunnies 54 Shallow puzzle game #2
1/9/2008 Omega Five 73 Another shmup. Hooray.
1/9/2008 Tron 43 Broken arcade port #2.
1/2/2008 Metal Slug 3 78 Quality shmup. But another shmup nonetheless.
12/26/2007 SpongeBob SquarePants: Underpants Slam 55 [E]xercise in tedium – IGN
12/21/2007 Sensible World of Soccer 81 Quality soccer remake.
12/19/2007 Tempest 47 Broken arcade port #3
12/12/2007 Arkadian Warriors 59 Uninspired dungeon crawl.
12/12/2007 GripShift 72 A kart racer I actually missed out on trying. Note to self.
11/28/2007 Asteroids/Asteroids Deluxe 55 Broken arcade ports #3 and #4
11/21/2007 Undertow 75 Uninspiring action/shooter that I didn’t get.
11/14/2007 Screwjumper! 40 Best left unsaid.
11/14/2007 Shrek N’ Roll 49 It’s a game for kids but apparently not a good one.
11/7/2007 Switchball 78 See also: Marble Blast Ultra
11/7/2007 Word Puzzle 44 Not broken. But who green-lit the concept?
10/31/2007 Mutant Storm Empire 76 Mindless.
10/24/2007 Battlestar Galactica 55 Another arcade shooter.
10/24/2007 Exit 75 Great art style, but the controls don’t work.
10/17/2007 Every Extend Extra Extreme 77 A different experience. What we are looking for.
10/17/2007 Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe 64 Brutal is a good description.
10/10/2007 Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords 87 A quality port. Too bad I’d played it out on DS by time it was released.
10/10/2007 Yaris 17 I try to say nice things, I really do. Okay… how about this? It deserves better than a 17.
10/3/2007 Tetris Splash 53 Have you played Tetris before?
9/19/2007 Geon: Emotions 59 Not great, but I give respect to the idea. Needed more iteration.
9/12/2007 Sonic the Hedgehog 2 82 A port that isn’t completely hosed.
9/5/2007 Cyberball 2072 41 A port that is completely hosed.
9/5/2007 Fatal Fury Special 63 Arcade port + boring beat-em-up
8/29/2007 Streets of Rage 2 76 See above.
8/29/2007 Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo HD Remix 83 Quality port. But still a port.
8/22/2007 Space Giraffe 68 Garbage for pseudo-intellectuals. It’s baaaaaaaad. (Get it? A llama joke?)
8/22/2007 Street Trace NYC 45 Looks good next to Space Giraffe, but not that good.
8/15/2007 Ecco the Dolphin 53 Port port porty port.
8/15/2007 Hexic 2 72 I only enjoyed the first one because it was free.
8/8/2007 Track & Field 63 I hated this game on the NES and I hate it now.
8/1/2007 Marathon: Durandal 63 Nausea-inducing. Literally.
8/1/2007 Spyglass Board Games 54 Thanks, grandpa.
7/25/2007 Wing Commander Arena 51 Hey, look, another arcade shooter.
7/25/2007 Super Contra 60 Broken port #700
7/18/2007 Bomberman Live 84 I can say nothing bad about Bomberman except that it is a played-out idea.
7/18/2007 Yie Ar Kung-Fu 51 Broken arcade port #1011
7/11/2007 Golden Axe 68 Broken arcade port #1101
7/11/2007 Sonic the Hedgehog 77 I’ve seen this somewhere before…
7/4/2007 Missile Command 63 Broken arcade port #e^7
6/27/2007 Carcassonne 78 A delightful Euro-boardgame
6/20/2007 Band of Bugs 67 I give NinjaBee points for being somewhat original, if not successful.
6/13/2007 Prince of Persia Classic 82 A pseudo-port, but excellent.
6/6/2007 Pac-Man Championship Edition 83 Reinvent one of the greatest arcade games of all-time? Okay. Textbook example of how to remake what could have been a simple port with some bells and whistles.
5/30/2007 Mad Tracks 62 Not good.
5/23/2007 Rush ‘n Attack 58 Russian attack? Broken arcade port #i
5/23/2007 Xevious 56 A classic for sure, but better games have come since.
5/16/2007 Aegis Wing 58 It was free, but it also didn’t take any risks. And it was a shmup.
5/16/2007 Soltrio Solitaire 59 Solitaire!!!!
5/9/2007 Double Dragon 57 How many games in a row can we have between 55-59 score?
5/2/2007 Catan 81 The best example of XBLA integration of a classic board game yet.
5/2/2007 Centipede/Millipede 55 Damnit Catan, why’d you get in the way? We had a streak going. Broken arcade port.
4/25/2007 Pinball FX 68 Neat camera integration, I suppose. But it is still pinball.
4/25/2007 Eets: Chowdown 77 Excellent original content.
4/18/2007 Gyruss 56 I think this belongs near Catan.
4/18/2007 3D Ultra Minigolf Adventures 66 A yawner, although they do try some interesting stuff.
4/11/2007 Boom Boom Rocket 69 Not excellent execution, but I love the effort.
4/4/2007 Luxor 2 70 Son of Luxor. You got tired of Zuma a few years ago though. It’s in the action-puzzle games retirement home with Snood and Dr. Mario.

So we have a lot of shmups, a lot of arcade ports and a lot of sequels to games we’ve already played. If we are looking for new designs and experiences that we either haven’t played at retail or haven’t already played on XBLA or the web, we have a very narrow market. And if we are looking for these original ideas that were also executed well, then we get even less from which to choose.

Now, Metacritic scores in handy chart form:

XBLA Stats

Now compare that to the Metacritic stats for all X360 games:

XBLA Stats

You see that insofar as Metacritic can be used as a barometer for quality, there is an obvious lack of top-tier games getting through the XBLA channels compared to quality titles getting through retail channels. The issue here is that XBLA was supposed to be a shepherd of good titles; that the ideas that retail missed because of its reliance on publishers who are risk-averse and ideas that could be hatched on a shoestring budget could find life on that service. What we have is retail mark two, which is exactly what the N+ devs were saying. It’s nice to back that up with data.

When I see devs kibitzing, I usually just take it as a singular event – that people are venting after a long cycle. I certainly do it. But this vent is different. It is absolutely spot on as commentary. We aren’t getting a Castle Crashers every week. We aren’t getting a Braid every week. In actuality, we are getting top-tier games on a less frequent per release basis than we do in the old-fashioned retail channel.

I of all people know you can’t just cater to the hardcore folks and only come out with titles that satisfy our nerd gamer fetishes, but the service should at least be able to come out with more daring items on a per release basis that the press-discs-and-ship-them-around-the-world model. That way is so twentieth century.

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