games / Reviews

Microsoft Game Room (360) Review

April 9, 2010 | Posted by Trace Aber

Title: Game Room
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studio
Developer: Krome
Genre: Various
Players: 1-2
Rated: E10 for Everyone 10+

When it was first announced a few months back there were mixed opinions on Microsoft’s newest service, the Game Room. While the concept seemed promising (playing all of your favorite console and arcade games from the past), the pricing method introduced was met with negativity. After a shaky start the Game Room is fully up and running and the results, much like early opinions, are mixed.

The software required to use the service itself is free, and after that you will be required to download game packs, which contains a variety of games in each one (as of this writing, there were two available). You only need one downloaded to being exploring, though downloading them both is recommended to get the full experience. Some of the games included in the initial release are Adventure, Asteroids Deluxe, Lunar Lander, RealSports Tennis, Shao-Lin’s Road, Yars’ Revenge and more. For review purposes I purchased Asteroids Deluxe, Shao-Lin’s Road and Adventure.

But most importantly, Adventure!

One of the biggest complaints about the service initially was the pricing. After playing around with the service for a bit, I’ve decided that the complaints were a little premature and exaggerated. Players are entitled to one free, ten minute demo of each game found on the service. After this trial period the game can no longer be played for free and can be purchased in three ways. There is a single play option, which costs 40MP (or roughly fifty cents), unlimited play purchases for 240MP for either Windows or Xbox 360, or unlimited play purchases on both platforms for 400MP. While some will argue for cheaper prices per game, and while I understand the outcries I don’t think it would really work out. The 40MP single play pricing makes sense and does fit in line with the arcade “experience.” From a business standpoint, if you’re charging 40MP for a single play and charge 80MP per game (as some people have suggested), why would anyone purchase the single play? I’m not saying I love the prices, but you have to look at things from both sides. You are also given 20 free “tokens” which can be used to play the games, with five tokens equaling one play. These tokens can be “earned,” which I’ll explain in a little bit.

As of right now, the Atari 2600 and Intellivision are the only consoles supported, though I’d imagine with time more consoles would be supported. Various arcade machines can be found as well. For the Atari 2600 you are able to configure the switches that you would normally find on the console itself via the start button. It provides a more authentic feel and is a nice touch. The Intellivision games feature the numeric keypads, complete with the overlays and everything. Unfortunately, for games that require a lot of button entries, it can become tiresome and irritating, especially if you happen to press the wrong button. For the arcade games you are able to modify the DIP switches for each board. I tested each individual game through the ten minute demo and found nothing that would suggest improper emulation, so everything runs exactly as it should – including graphics, controls and even sound. Each game also features a rewind function, meaning you can back to any point of your game session. If this feature is used in any session it will not be counted on the leaderboards, however.

Clearly some of the best graphics available on the 360

As well as playing these old games, the Game Room allows players to create their own, custom arcade setup. You can choose from a variety of themes including a grave yard, 80’s room, and even console-specific rooms. From there decorations can be placed in various locations, along with the arcade machines themselves. The cabinets appear to be spot-on recreations and older fans will love checking out some of their favorite games of yesteryear. Some of the decorations are theme-specific while others include things such as a pool table and snack machines. As fun as it would be, the avatars are unable to interact with anything other than the arcade cabinets, which is a bummer. Having mini-games such as pool or even an animation of the avatar eating a snack would have been nice touches and really added to the atmosphere.

To the atmosphere of the most badass arcade ever!

If the default decorations aren’t enough for you, it’s possible to level up by earning medals. Earning medals can be done through playing a specific game for a specific duration or getting a high score, etc etc. As you increase the levels more themes and decorations are unlocked, though it doesn’t unlock any more games or the like. Some of the medals require you to play the game online either with a friend or solo while going for a high score.

After the perfect arcade is built, you begin inviting friends to come and check it out. When your friends visit your arcade you get more tokens, which can get you free play sessions. But there’s one thing to note about the having your friends visit your arcade – you don’t get to interact with them. In fact, there will always be people in your arcade, it’s just that they won’t actually be there. And when you go to other people’s arcades, you’ll actually be alone. It’s kind of a weird feeling when you think about it, but it’s not as though it’s a make or break experience. You’ll also be able to send challenges to your friends, such as attempting a high score or getting to a certain level.

The Game Room, on a whole, is a great idea that could potentially introduce these classic games to a whole new generation of gamers. Despite only thirty titles being made available right now, Microsoft is planning on having over 1000 games on the service in three years, with new games coming out weekly starting sometime in April. There are tons of customization options and seeing as how you’re given a three-story arcade to fill up, there should never be any space issues. In addition, the multiplayer support is nice and they did as much as they could to make the virtual arcade feel as authentic as possible. It’s not perfect and some people may not be impressed with the launch titles, but I imagine that with time most of the early classics will be covered. When it comes to pricing I think some people are thinking as though they plan on buying every single game made available. When you look at it from the perspective of only buying the games you really like, plus the added benefit of a free ten minute demo (which is more than enough time to beat some of these games), the pricing system isn’t all that awful. Even though it’s not perfect, the Game Room is a great idea and players should definitely be checking it out, even if it’s only to play the demos.

Note: I’m not going to give any individual categories scores, simply because it would be too varied and unfair. The overall score takes into account the games available, pricing, customization and worth of the service.

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Trace Aber
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