Everyone knows that summer is typically a dead zone for new game releases. Apparently, with millions of us in the Northern Hemisphere leaving the confines of our cozy homes for the beach, the coast, the lake, or wherever, big new games aren’t high on the priority list. The only time AAA titles come out within a sniffing of the summer months is because of a release date delay or some connection with a summer blockbuster.
But just because gamers leave their homes behind for sleepover camp, it doesn’t mean that they’ve stopping gaming altogether. Likely, it means they just don’t have 12 hours to spend on a Sunday while waiting for that Chemistry test on Monday. Sensing this, Microsoft smartly launched the Summer of Arcade campaign in 2008. The concept was pretty simple, launch a new XBLA game per week with heavy marketing to develop strong brand recognition.
The first wave included highly anticipated titles like Geometry Wars 2 and Castle Crashers. Even more significant was the inclusion of Braid, an instant critical success that would wind up on multiple Game of the Year lists. Thrown in for good measure were two games with throwback pedigrees that justified the “arcade” moniker of the campaign.
As the years progressed, Microsoft continued to deliver good (if not, great) games in the Summer of Arcade. Shadow Complex, Trials HD, and ‘Splosion Man stood out in ‘09. Limbo and Monday Night Combat stood out in ‘10. 2011 teetered a bit, but Fruit Ninja Kinect and Bastion have shown enough shelf-life to make the summer worth playing.
Unfortunately, such success has not been the case in 2012. Microsoft has released a slew of underwhelming games that could have been better. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD started off the schedule and was a decent throwback, but has left some gamers frustrated. The controls, while true to the original games, are not as intuitive as modern games and the level goals can keep players from unlocking their favorite retro titles.
The release of Wreckateer came next, which was a game not reviewed on this site. It wasn’t because we didn’t get a review copy. It was because just didn’t provide much in the way fun. Wreckateer was essentially a Kinect clone of Angry Birds that lacked the sense of whimsy that made the bird-flingin' franchise a cultural phenomenon.
Deadlight followed a week later. While I won’t rehash the bludgeoning I gave the game in my original review, I will say it’s easy to label Deadlight as a major letdown. For a game that looked like it might be as good as Shadow Complex, it failed on almost all fronts.
Hybrid had the potential to save the Summer of Arcade, but a clumsy release botched the title’s potential - the game’s servers were on the fritz and that’s kind of an essential component when releasing a game that is based solely on multiplayer and co-operative gameplay. Furthermore, the game’s dependency on a large online community will likely kill its chances of living on much past this summer.
Lastly, Dust: An Elysian Tale was the final game to release in this underwhelming series of Xbox Live Arcade titles. This game has the pedigree to be a spectacular game (winner of Dream. Build. Play), but even it was met with above average reviews. The title has seemed to split reviewers more than convince everyone they are playing a future classic.
What makes this bummer of a summer strange is that just prior to the launch of the Summer of Arcade there were several fantastic XBLA games that could have been included. Spelunky has garnered tons of praise and has been regularly a part of my daily gaming regimen. Zuma’s Revenge!, a Pop Cap game, had the developer pedigree to justify inclusion in this series, even if the game isn’t nearly as good as Peggle or Plants vs. Zombies. Hell, any of the games that were a part of the Xbox Next games could have been held back for Summer of Arcade (maybe not Bloodforge).
At the end of the day, the Summer of Arcade did not deliver the level of great games that we have come to expect from the promotion in years past. And with so many other XBLA game programs throughout the year, it’s more apparent now that Microsoft’s lead XBLA promotion may have lost some of its luster. Even Microsoft seems to realize the summer months just really aren’t that important to the gaming industry.