VGBlogger 2011 Holiday Review Guide: Xbox 360, XBLA & Kinect

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Before your embark on your Black Friday holiday shopping spree (or do the smart, safe thing, and sit on your ass and shop at home from your PC), browse back through our full slate of 2011 game reviews to help guide you towards the games you should be buying and the games you should be staying away from, in this case those for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 console, including Kinect and XBLA digital downloads. If you don’t do all your shopping in one day, don’t worry. We’ll be updating these guides as reviews continue to post throughout the remainder of the year, so keep checking back here and we’ll continue to do our best to steer you in the right direction. If you have any questions about a particular game you’re considering, whether we’ve reviewed it yet or not, drop ’em in the comments and we’ll be happy to get you the info you need to make your decision.

The Gunstringer (Kinect): “The Gunstringer is kitschy, clever and cool enough to stand on its own bowed legs, but Microsoft has also stuffed something extra into this ten-gallon hat: A download code for Fruit Ninja Kinect, which effectively gives you two of the Kinect library’s most awesome games in one package. And easily makes this the biggest no-brainer Kinect purchase you’re likely to see this year.” Read the full review here.

Child of Eden (Xbox 360 / Kinect): “Imagine tripping out on a hallucinogenic drug while listening to pulsing techno music, staring into a kaleidoscope, and experiencing the most intense orgasm of your entire life, all at the same time. That’s what playing Child of Eden is like.” Read the full review here.

Dead Rising 2: Off The Record (Xbox 360): “With sandbox play, more combo weapons, and the return of Frank and his trusty camera, Dead Rising 2: Off the Record is Dead Rising 2 the way it should have been in the first place. Like the two previous installments, this game is chock full of mindless zombie slashing, disturbing imagery, dark humor, bad jokes, cheesy dialogue, annoying control inadequacies and frustrating time restraints — and did I mention it is also really damn fun? Well it is! Dead Rising doesn’t take itself too seriously, and neither should you. Just play it and enjoy it. Now with more Frank.” Read the full review here.

Halo: Reach (Xbox 360): “Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Halo: Reach. I’ve never been a big Halo guy, but this is the first one I’ve played that left me thinking, “now that was actually worth the hype,” when it was over. If you’ve loved Halo all along, you are certainly going to love it some more after Reach. But if, like me, you haven’t always been on the bandwagon, give Reach a shot and it may just convert you, if only for this one game.” Read the full review here.

Michael Phelps: Push the Limit (Kinect): “Microsoft’s Kinect peripheral, much like the late Jim McKay, has spanned the globe, giving us the constant variety of (motion-controlled) sports. We’ve thrilled to hands-free video game approximations of all the majors and also gone extreme, rocking everything from jungle parkour to hang-gliding. One of the few places we haven’t been yet is into the chlorinated depths of the swimming pool. Enter everyone’s favorite U.S. Olympic bong-hitter swimmer to show us how it’s done.” Read the full review here.

PowerUp Heroes (Kinect): “In this sense, Ubisoft’s PowerUp Heroes seems like it could be the Kinect-based answer to our seven-year-old playground dreams of playing superhero. The package and presentation are only about as deep as your average rebooted issue of the Avengers, but for a few hours of controller-free beat-‘em up action, it scratches that superpowered itch. Well, at least until the villains start kicking your ass ten ways to Sunday, that is.” Read the full review here.

Leedmees (Kinect): “In theory, Leedmees ought to be the perfect realization of Kinect’s body- and motion-recognition system—you raise or wave your arm or leg, and your colorful, spindly stick figure avatar does the same. In practice, the problems crop up immediately, beginning with the first time you’re asked to bend down and grab a Leedmee off the floor. Your avatar stutters and flickers as the camera tries to track your movement. As the levels increase in difficulty, corralling the high-stepping Leedmees demands a precision the camera isn’t always able to match.” Read the full review here.

The Penguins of Madagascar: Dr. Blowhole Returns Again! (Kinect): “Nickelodeon junkies may appreciate the copious number of cutscenes, but I grew to dread the appearance of the director’s icon hovering in the air up ahead, a clear signal that the action was about to stop, again, for some more comic exposition and comedy relief. Or trivia questions. Shudder. The story mission in Dr. Blowhole Returns Again! breezes past in the span of just a few hours, raising the question as to whether it’s a better investment than just DVR-ing a few TV episodes to get your Penguins fix. You can extend the fun if you’re the sort who has to land a gold medal on every level, or if the idea of busting a move with King Julien in the mini-games section sounds appealing. Just don’t expect a ton of depth.” Read the full review here.

Rage (Xbox 360): “All that being said, there can be no denying that Rage, taken as a whole, is a finely polished and well crafted game, featuring greater depth and longevity than what games like Call of Duty and Halo have established as the FPS norm. The final moments are disappointing, and it’s not without some serious flaws, but in the end Rage rises above its blemishes and delivers a scintillating journey through the apocalypse.” Read the full review here.

Batman: Arkham City (Xbox 360): “As the sequel to Batman: Arkham Asylum, a game lauded by many as the best title of 2009, there were concerns that Arkham City would just be a quick slop job designed to cash in on the success of the first game. It is probably the case that to a degree the quick development cycle had something to do with Warner Bros. repeatedly sending emails to team leaders entitled “FW: Strike While The Iron Is Hot” with some of the subject reading “Make us money now or you’ll all be making the next Green Lantern iPhone game.” But, rushed from management or not, Batman: Arkham City shows no lack of quality or content. Rocksteady has done the nigh-unthinkable: They took a great game and made it better. Anyone who likes Batman, open world action adventure games, or fun, within a video game context, should pick this up.” Read the full review here.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (Xbox 360): “Small annoyances aside, this is a great game. Most of the times that the game frustrated me came as a direct result of how I chose to play. Some of the missions are very difficult to clear without setting off alarms or killing anyone, and at times like these it would have been very easy to put down the tranquilizer rifle, stop knocking guys out, pull out the assault rifle, and murder everything in sight. But I was frustrated that I was having a hard time meeting the goal I had set, not what Human Revolution set. The game rarely gives requirements on how a task is to be done, and that is its greatest strength. Very few games put this many tools in your chest. It is a fantastic feeling to do something in a game and think that that was what you wanted to do, not what the game developer wanted you to do. Granted, the developer here probably thought of and thoroughly tested four or five basic solutions, but it is a rare game that grants so many options without pointing them out.” Read the full review here.

Bulletstorm (Xbox 360): “Bulletstorm really has left me feeling torn. On one hand, the skillshot gameplay is fresh and exciting, and the balls-to-the-wall arcade slant to the game is something the industry desperately needs to break up the monotony and predictability of sequels and ‘me too!’ cash-ins. But on the other hand, the dialogue and humor are completely lost on me, and the invigorating “kill with skill” concept does become old hat quicker than I would have liked.” Read the full review here.

Portal 2 (Xbox 360): “With all that said, there isn’t much of anything to not like about this game. Portal 2 is longer, larger, livelier, and somehow even wittier than the original. Since the game is driven by story and doesn’t offer multiple solutions to its puzzles, it isn’t replayable in the immediate sense (by that I mean there is nothing to immediately return for beyond trophies/achievements). But trust me, this is the type of game you’ll want to hang onto and revisit yearly; that you’ll cherish forever (or at least until the next Portal comes along…if it ever does!).” Read the full review here.

Crysis 2 (Xbox 360): “The game Crysis 2 is very likely the best shooter you will play this year on any platform. You can use stealth, subterfuge, ranged shots, run and gun techniques, and so on. You have variety of options in approaching many objectives, and you get to see an awesome spectacle unfold in front of you. Taken as a stand-alone game without any of the baggage I carried into the review, any shooter fan would be foolish to let the game pass.” Read the full review here.

Driver: San Francisco (Xbox 360): “But for now we should all take the time to appreciate what Ubisoft has accomplished here. Other than sports, I can’t think of a genre that’s tougher to innovate than racing, but somehow Driver: San Francisco has pulled it off. The story may be vapid, but other than that the game plays like a dream and has more than enough content under its hood to keep players gleefully burning rubber until the next game motors along.” Read the full review here.

Duke Nukem Forever (Xbox 360): “I don’t mean to trample on any fond feelings you may have when I say this, but Duke Nukem has never been a great or classic gaming franchise in terms of high-end game design. Duke unexpectedly rose to icon status for his raunchy one-liners and in-your-face attitude, and his games have always been more like vulgar, B-movie parodies of other, better FPS titles – nothing more, nothing less. That’s exactly what Duke Nukem Forever is, too. Continuing that tradition, Duke Nukem Forever is not a great or memorable game, but it is a great guilty pleasure experience that is far more enjoyable than it probably should be. It’s not a game to be taken so seriously, and if you can avoid doing so you will enjoy Duke’s ball-busting, beer-chugging, alien-ass-kicking return to gaming infamy.” Read the full review here.

Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds (Xbox 360): “Marvel vs. Capcom 3 does disappoint in the outlined areas, but fortunately it excels in other areas that matter most: it’s outrageously fun to play, performs well online and off, controls like a dream, looks and sounds spectacular, and is properly balanced to reward dedicated players without scaring off ‘newbies.’ Simply put, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is a treat of a fighting game for all challengers, and a flattering love letter to comic geeks and admirers of Capcom’s trademark retro camp.” Read the full review here.

Ace Combat: Assault Horizon (Xbox 360): “Ultimately, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is like a trick pilot who only knows how to perform one trick. The one trick is spectacular, but before long it loses some of its pizzazz. Similarly, Assault Horizon blazes across the virtual skies with a sense of close-quarters aerial action unmatched by any other game in the genre. However, the uninspired mission objectives and heavy-handed zoom lock-on usage result in an extremely straightforward, one-note action experience that doesn’t quite reach the sky-high potential it appears to be destined for after the first few adrenaline-pumping hours. It’s a tremendously fun ride that’s well worth taking, but once it’s over I’m not sure if there’s enough here to make you want to ride it again.” Read the full review here.

Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon (Xbox 360): “Ultimately, your long term enjoyment of the game will also weigh heavily on how much you intend to play cooperatively with others. Insect Armageddon certainly holds up as a single-player affair, offering 15 missions, multiple difficulty settings, remixed campaign stages, and a wave survival mode. But as a single human amongst a sea of bugs, the game can get kind of lonely.” Read the full review here.

Supremacy MMA (Xbox 360): “Supremacy MMA does effectively capture the skull-thudding, body-bruising brutality of the sport, there is no doubt about that. But as a game it neither satisfies as a pure simulation nor entertains as an arcade brawler. If you’re a hardcore MMA fan, you’ll hate its simplified approach, and if you’re merely looking for a quick-and-brutal fighting game, you’ll find plenty of violence but little actual enjoyment. That coupled with a dearth of content and shallow, unbalanced play mechanics sends this game to the mat a bloodied, battered mess.” Read the full review here.

Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi (Xbox 360): “Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Tenkaichi is a snazzy title. But I have a couple other titles that more aptly describe the actual content of the game. Ultimate Dragon Ball Z For Dummies is a good one. Or how about Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Rock, Paper, Scissors Showdown? Yeah, I like that one better!” Read the full review here.

Rango – The Videogame (Xbox 360): “Rango, the new Nickelodeon animated flick from the director of the Pirates of the Caribbean series and starring the voice of Johnny Depp, is in theaters. Have you seen it yet? I haven’t, and I doubt I ever will – though the reception has been surprisingly positive so far. But I have played EA’s tie-in game, and, for a change, it’s actually pretty darn good. And not just ‘good for a movie game’ good, but good on its own merits as a mascot-style action platformer.” Read the full review here.

Thor: God of Thunder (Xbox 360): “On Xbox 360, Thor is more like the ‘God of Tedium’ than anything else, as the gameplay boils down to pounding on the X button to melee through groups of brainless enemies, occasionally sprinkling in a jump, dodge, hammer throw or special power (Thor is imbued with upgradeable wind, lighting and thunder elemental attacks). Bosses repeat the same patterns from beginning to end – you flail away until you wear them down enough to perform a grapple attack, then rinse and repeat until they’re dead – and are more tests of endurance and patience than challenges of skill and intelligent pattern recognition. Many levels also force you to fend off never-ending waves of enemies until you fill up the Fury Meter to unleash a Power Surge attack that clears the area so you can proceed. There is very little variation to the game, and well before the end I was ready to throw in the towel to spare myself any further pain (but I did stick with it to completion).” Read the full review here.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (Xbox 360): “By now I think I’ve established a crystal clear case that Transformers: Dark of the Moon fails to escape the ‘just another movie game’ label, in that it has an unfinished ‘let’s crank this out as quickly and with as little effort as possible’ quality about it that simply can’t be ignored. However, as discouraging as that may sound, Dark of the Moon is surprisingly a very good game that can stand proudly on its own merits as a wholly enjoyable run-and-gun action romp. A rental should certainly suffice, but if you are a Transformer nut and/or an action junkie in need of your next adrenaline fix, I actually wouldn’t be against picking up a copy when it inevitably winds up in the bargain bin.” Read the full review here.

Toy Soldiers: Cold War (XBLA): “Like any good summer festival, the Summer of Arcade lineup of XBLA releases started and ended very strong. With its plethora of modes and difficulty settings, there is plenty of replay value in this Cold War adventure. Which is a good thing, because the campaign only lasts about six hours. Even so, given the price and ample style, this is a strong buy. The problem now is imagining what style of toys we’ll see in Toy Soldiers 3. I’m hoping for a setting based on hand-painted, pewter figurines. Not so much because I have a deep attachment to fantasy table top gaming, but because if Signal Studios did this, it would have to be a different style of game. A third machine gun, artillery, anti-air turret game would wear out this series’ welcome. But, as this is only the second game and has shooting that is more fun than the first, it is worth playing.” Read the full review here.

Outland (XBLA): “Outland is a great game while it lasts. It would have been a fun enough game without the shift mechanic, but with the ability to shift and ignore certain types of damages makes it truly memorable. This is some of the best platforming to be had on modern systems, the fact that it is only ten dollars makes it very easy to recommend to anyone that likes a challenge. And jumping.” Read the full review here.

BloodRayne: Betrayal (XBLA): “There isn’t an overwhelming amount of content here, and a demo is available if the finicky controls and taxing difficulty are a concern. But what you do get for your $15 is an exciting throwback experience faithfully emulating 2D action games of old, and the sense of accomplishment to be gained by surviving the old school onslaught will more than justify the purchase. If you have a lust for pain and blood, BloodRayne: Betrayal is sure to please.” Read the full review here.

Renegade Ops (XBLA): “The end of the first mission affords your operatives the chance to jump in helicopters, there to do some Apocalypse Now-style damage on Inferno’s giant missile-toting boat. A nice touch, but it’s the only time you’ll do anything other than drive your car around the landscape, shooting and blowing things up. Fortunately, thanks to detailed level design and forgiving driving physics, the thrill never really gets stale. Bring your patience–and more important, bring your friends–and you’ll manage to have a blast at Inferno’s expense.” Read the full review here.

Pinball FX2 Sorcerer’s Lair (XBLA): “Anyone who‘s flipped a virtual flipper knows that nobody’s done more in recent years to keep the flame burning for video game pinball wizards than Zen Studios. Both Pinball FX and Pinball FX2 (not to mention Zen Pinball and Marvel Pinball) have kept our plungers plunging with plenty of clever and colorful DLC tables, some based on licensed content (Ninja Gaiden, Marvel, etc.) and some entirely original. While there’s several multiballs’ worth of excitement and anticipation trained on Zen’s forthcoming Epic Quest and the Marvel Pinball Vengeance and Virtue four-pack, it’d be a ball-lost bummer if pinball fans overlooked the addition of Sorcerer’s Lair to the Pinball FX2 lineup on Xbox Live Arcade.” Read the full review here.

Pinball FX2 Paranormal (XBLA): “Paranormal may prove a little frustrating to rookie pinballers than some of Zen’s other offerings, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try to unlock its secrets—especially since, for those who click “download” quickly, there’s no cost involved. If nothing else, Paranormal is an introduction into a world of flashing lights and wonder. And yes, we’re talking about Pinball FX2.” Read the full review here.

Crysis Console (XBLA): “Even with a good back-end, Crysis is more of a historical reference at this point in time. It may seem bizarre having the first game launch on consoles after its sequel, but this is certainly a game worth playing if you want to see everything that there is in the Crysis-verse. In terms of value, it does cost a third of a regular retail, boxed title. When stacked up against similarly priced downloadable titles, this game looks fantastic, like you’re getting a full retail game for a third of the price (minus the multiplayer). Which can happen when a game is old, like this one is. However, the core shooting gameplay doesn’t feel right because of the stronger than one would expect opposition. At twenty bucks, it’s an affordable venture to see if you like it, and the end is certainly worth it. But if you’re stretched for time or money and already have a favorite shooter, don’t feel bad if you decide to give this one a pass.” Read the full review here.

Zombie Apocalypse: Never Die Alone (XBLA): “Never Die Alone is almost bite-sized in its brevity. Assuming you don’t need to re-grind the early levels in order to upgrade enough to keep moving forward—and you may–you’ll blast and blaze through these mean streets in less than five hours. Slightly more than your average trick-or-treat session—and significantly bloodier.” Read the full review here.

Burnout Crash! (XBLA / Kinect): “Enter Burnout Crash, a digital download that’s literally all about the sauce. And the silly. While it’s best consumed in small bites, this a game that speaks to the seven year-old in all of us—you know, the one who loved to create 20-car Hot Wheels pile-ups in the driveway. ” Read the full review here.

Galaga Legions DX (XBLA): “The question for whether or not Galaga Legions DX is a game you need to virtually pick up is really a question of whether or not you have room in your heart and hard drive for another dual-joystick shooter. Even if it is very well done and presented in a fast paced and sense-overloading manner, this game is yet another one of those games. And there are a lot of them out there right now. This kind of acceptance centers around a deeply personally question, and one I am not fit to answer for you. All I can say is that I, personally, like shooting space bugs and I hope that the next Namco Generations game will be another fast paced revival of an old arcade game in the vein of Pac-Man Championship Edition DX and Galaga Legions DX. But I can respect the idea that others might want developers to move onto a new trend in downloadable games, and won’t want to give it a chance.” Read the full review here.

Crazy Machines Elements (XBLA): “Some of the puzzles and challenges are breezy affairs, but there are a lot of them to wade through, and that’s before you break out the awesome mode that lets you create your own challenges to play. It’s a crime against science that you can’t share your creations with other players over Xbox Live. (Apparently, the cats at FAKT Software were too busy creating colorful contraptions to have heard of a little game called LittleBigPlanet.) Still, if you’re the sort who prefers to pour your cup of morning coffee using rope weights, a turkey-head metronome, and a funnel, you’ve found your next download. ” Read the full review here.

Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 (XBLA): “Fair or unfair, Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 switches things around in such a way that it has become an easy target for nitpicking and constant comparison to its predecessor, as I have displayed in this very review. But for all of its changes and downgrades, Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 is a damn good game in its own right; one that is enjoyable to play and has a lot to offer in terms of collectibles and levels designed for speed run / leaderboard replays. It doesn’t have the ‘instant classic’ magic of its predecessor, but don’t let that blind you into thinking it’s not worth playing, because it most certainly is!” Read the full review here.

The Baconing (XBLA): “The Baconing is a fun game, as long as it is eaten in small portions. The question, though, is once you’ve had one small taste, do you want to come back for seconds? There is nothing game breaking bad about The Baconing. Like I tell my 8 year old daughter: bacon is okay to eat, just as long as you don’t eat it for breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, lunch and then for dinner. As a third title in the series, fans will certainly enjoy this game. All other gamers may want to demo it first.” Read the full review here.

Resident Evil 4 HD (XBLA): “If you’ve somehow managed to miss playing Resident Evil 4, this is the best-looking opportunity to rectify your oversight and discover what the fuss was all about. Those who’ve braved the darkened woods and churches with Leon before will discover that without the scares and surprises, the game’s shortcomings are harder to overlook than a chainsaw-wielding Los Ganados all up in your grill.” Read the full review here.

Resident Evil: Code Veronica X HD (XBLA): “Maybe you’re a Resident Evil completest. If so, by all means feel free to bash your head against Code Veronica X’s antiquated control scheme—maybe the plot-twisting payoff will be worth it. The rest of us can go back to blasting black tentacles and zombies with the buff-and-gruff version of Chris Redfield in Resident Evil 5.” Read the full review here.

Enslaved – Pigsy’s Perfect 10 DLC (XBLA): “All ribbing aside, Pigsy’s Perfect 10 is a slam-dunk buy for each and every gamer who still has a copy of Enslaved by their side (which I hope is a lot of you out there, because the game deserves to be owned, played and cherished). $9.99 / 800 MS Points gets you three hours of captivating storytelling, challenging new gameplay, gorgeous scenery further enhanced by the addition of stereoscopic 3D (if you have the TV set to display it), and even some extra collectibles like pin-up posters, food items and new Achievements/Trophies for added value.” Read the full review here.

Costume Quest: Grubbins on Ice (XBLA): “Grubbins on Ice is basically everything I expected and wanted in a Costume Quest DLC extension, so you’d think I’d gobble it up like candy and ask for more. But strangely, now that I’ve completed it, I’ve almost immediately forgotten about it, and except for the closing teaser hinting at further possibilities for expansion, I can’t point to a single meaningful thing that I’d feel bad about missing out on. And now the more I think about it, maybe Costume Quest is a one-hit wonder; a game that deserves to be savored on its own like a tasty piece of candy but isn’t complex or substantial enough to satisfy for multiple tastings.” Read the full review here.

Battle: Los Angeles (XBLA): “Battle: Los Angeles basically plays like the opening chapter of what was supposed to be a full game, but due to quality concerns continued development was scrapped to save money, leftover concept artwork was cobbled together into a cheap comic book story presentation, and the game was tossed out as a digital download just to recoup as much wasted development cost as possible. Please, whatever you do, do not contribute to such a product!” Read the full review here.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!