The news that Just Cause's Avalanche Studios is branching out into the digital field simply proves how far the downloadable market has advanced in the console realm. While the idea has been gradually ground into PC users' brains for years, it's funny to consider consoles have only been privy to the notion for five years, starting back when Xbox Live Arcade was a cute but directionless off-shoot of Xbox 360's online capabilities.
It's less of a joke now, with both XBLA and PSN producing works that instil a greater sense of expectation than some retail games, and definitely a greater sense of enjoyment.
2011's no different, with the digital releases coming thick and fast - and there'll be something for everyone waiting in a download queue very soon. Here, we take a lot of some of the best to come.
An indie classic making the leap onto the HD world, Fez is Super Meat Boy divorced from the abuse and instead married to the platforming puzzlement that kept Paper Mario ticking over nicely, forcing you to shift between 2D and 3D perspectives to progress.
It's a title that we've been keeping an eye on since it announced its intent to make the shift to XBLA last year, and watched with annoyance as the game has been gradually pushed back until sometime in the next few months - don't be surprised if it becomes the highlight of this year's Summer of Arcade collection.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet
Great name and a great concept for an explorative puzzle title. You control a UFO venturing into the caves and open places of an even more alien planet, infested with dangers and traps aplenty.
The "shadow" of the title's a nod to the art design of the game, with the artists leaning heavily on the black silhouettes. As you explore, you can collect upgrades such as blasters to protect yourself and pinchers to shift rocks blocking your path, and ultimately using the environment to solve puzzles. Its in a similar vein to Limbo in that respect - but despite its somber colouring it appears to be a lot more cheerful in tone.
We've previewed the title only recently, which forces you to reshape the land to protect growing groups of tribespeople and stave off natural disaster. For all its playful simplicity as you reform the world, it's a haunting, thought-provoking game and strangely relaxing to boot.
Resident Evil: Revival Selection
Alright, its a re-release of a game that doesn't seem that old (more so because its went through more ports than the Navy) but its an important recognition as to how far digital distribution has come. Only a generation ago you've never have thought it possible to download a game of this size and quality onto your console for a fraction of original retail asking price.
Yet now we'll be able to download one of the best Resident Evil titles (and Code Veronica X) onto our hard drives - like Beyond Good & Evil, this is one of the few HD makeovers that'd we'd gladly welcome back. Sell it to you at a good price, you say? We hear you, stranger.
Radiant Silvergun HD
It's the spiritual predecessor to Ikaruga. Also developer Treasure's finest moment (and believe us, it's had quite a few). It's the Sega Saturn import-only shooter that some spent vast amounts of money just to own a copy of.
This year you will see those people struggle in an internal battle of wills as two strong emotions war for dominance: happiness that finally other gamers can play one of the finest shoot'em ups ever created. Anger and bitter jealousy that other gamers finally get to play one of the finest shoot'em ups ever created for barely a fraction of the price they paid for it years ago.
Our money's on the tears.
Bangai-O HD Missile Fury
The XBLA trailer in all its missile crisis loving madness.
The other flip side to Treasure's shooter love gun, the Bangai-O series offers the same level of tactical bullet-dodging precision but combines its with the badly translated dialogue worthy of a horribly subtitled 70s kung-fu flick.
The series has struck gold twice so far, first with the Dreamcast original then the Nintendo DS version, and XBLA seems the perfect home for tiny sprites and missile numbers that could warp time and space with their number and speed. This is not the game you bought that big flat screen for. But it will be the game that'll give you sprite-loving folk realise it was money well spent.
Less filthy phrase, more awesome Indiana Jones-meets Mr.Driller platformer. You dig through a series of mines uncovering treasure and tackling snakes and all sorts of beasties. And when we say "series", we mean "endless" as creator derek Yu designed the original PC version to spawn an infinite amount of cave layouts. Talk about your value for money. Read all about it with our interview with the man himself here.
Ms. Splosion Man
Some could say Twisted Pixel has run out of ideas and thus returning
to return to one of its earlier titles for inspiration. These people would be wrong. Slap them. Slap them hard.
What they'd be missing is the quasi-80s commentary on on a video-game legend, which saw another yellow-toned hero go pink and don a bow. The arcades of yore saw Pac-Man throw on a pink bow atop his head and convince everyone that he was now Ms.Pac-Man. People tried to convince us it was two different characters - but you never saw em in the same place though, did you?
Anyway, shocking transvestite gaming secrets aside* expect the pink exploding tornado to be an even more difficult spin on what was the already tough but great original.
*in a National Enquirer "allegedly" sort of way.
Twisted Pixel could be onto a world's first with this Kinect-enabled XBLA title, letting you control a strung-up gunslinger marionette with your fingers using Xbox 360's surprisingly-decent-but-needs-more-games motion controller.
Its as charming as Stacking with its recreation of puppet theatre, and expect solid gameplay with the studio's usual spin of twisted humour that'll make you think playing finger puppets with an undead cowboy is a Very Good Thing.
Castle Crashers developer Behemoth strikes again. Truth be told, we weren't sold on this originally, the multiplayer arena combat system echoing too strongly of Smash Bros for our liking. Then the announcement trailer (above) came out and suddenly we can't wait. Humour sells concepts better than sex - FACT.
Ubisoft missed a trick getting this out on the 3DS for launch (but you never know - it could still happen in the near future) instead of retro-fitting Rayman 2...but that's an argument for another time. Or GR article.
Rayman Origins takes the limbless big-nosed hero and tosses him back into the 2D platform realm. The difference this time is that the title uses modern day tech to produce artistically beautiful animation and level designs, and tosses into the fold a two player cooperative mode. Think Castle Crashers level of humour (but with a french edge) and Donkey Kong Country Returns style of play.
FlOw. Flower. Now this. The boys at ThatGameCompany sure are improving their craft with every game.
Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online Edition
Okay, its another remake/remaster/port (whatever your argumentative preference for the term) making the list. But to listen to the fighting fraternity talk (outside of matches obviously - there's language there I wouldn't even use...or understand) Street Fighter III is one of the finest games in the history of the genre.
You could argue that the cast (all new, bar Ken, Ryu, Chun-Li and Akuma) don't match the classics, but the fighting system is perfectly balanced and, therefore, timeless. Plus any game that provokes the kind of reaction seen in the video above is worth a resurrection. If only to prove us mere mortals could never reach such perfection. Here's hoping that a) Capcom get the online right and b) it doesn't mess about with the visuals, which lead to all sorts of problems for Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix on XBLA.