Xbox 360 Arcade Hands-On


Following up on yesterday’s announcement of the new Xbox 360 Arcade console, I had a chance to drop by a press-only Microsoft event here at the massive Times Square Toys ‘R Us to get the scoop on the new unit. I also got some hands-on time with the five very family-friendly games that come on the Arcade disc as well as a few current and upcoming releases that just may make the Arcade system one of the surprise hits of the holiday season. In case you were wondering, that $279.99 price point means that the original Core 360 has been replaced by this SKU, making it a much better value for those families on a budget that still want a next-gen system. Of course, there’s still the matter of stuff like larger storage space for all that premium content and how to reach out to the nearly 50% of broadband-less households across America, but it looks like the 360 just may be the entry-level console of choice for those about to make the move…

I also got to play a bit of the excellently addictive Viva Piñata: Party Animals with Microsoft’s John Porcaro and can report that developer Krome Studios has done an amazing job with the selection of mini-games. The demo had two types of races, a soda drinking “burp the boat” contest, a variation on “Hot Potato” and more that kept things rolling. Unlike many other games of this type, you get straight to the action. There’s no dice-rolling or space moving necessary; other than an intro movie and some brief load times between events, you’ll be bashing buttons and twirling analog sticks. This is one of those games that you’ll buy for the kids, yet play it with them (or play it when they’re asleep).

The other cool new game, Scene It? Lights, Camera, Action, was on display and super easy to pick up and play. Set to release on November 6, the $59.99 package includes the game and four big-button wireless controllers that look like something out a sci-fi flick. Speaking of flicks, the questions I got to answer (or try to answer) ranged from super obscure to slightly tricky and some of the easier Q’s often had head-scratching follow-ups. Although you’ll see and hear a nice balance of questions overall, I’d imagine movie hounds with kids that don’t watch too many older films will be beating the pants off their offspring… at least until Microsoft signs a deal with Disney to bring the Scene It? Disney Edition to the 360.

So, how will the 360 Arcade do in the current marketplace? Well, here’s a bit of forecasting from someone who generally dislikes forecasting: With Nintendo’s Wii about to spend a second holiday buying season as a super hard to get item and the Playstation 3 struggling despite some excellent new titles, Microsoft has the right idea so far. However, a few elements need to be tweaked a bit in the future to insure those new 360 Arcade system buyers stick around for the long haul. My suggestions (as I’m full of ideas these days):

1) Pack in a second, wired controller in future Arcade packages – Microsoft could conceivably do this and charge $299.99 with not too much effort. However, I’m guessing research has shown that $300 is some sort of stress point where budget conscious hands start to stiffen before they reach for that wallet and yes, I know Microsoft has to make some money on additional peripherals. How about adding in a $5 discount coupon for an additional wireless or wired pad or a similar discount on additional memory cards? It’s a given that you HAVE to buy a second controller at some point and 256MB might not be enough for some new users that start buying more 360 games, so why not give potential owners something to really smile about when they scan that green box for product details?

2) Change up the pack-in selection every few months – The initial selection of Arcade games is good, but a bit too pedestrian in my 3000 games-owning opinion. Granted, the remixed Pac-Man is superb, Boom Boom Rocket, Feeding Frenzy and Luxor can become habit-forming and you can’t beat a good multiplayer game of UNO, but with so much Xbox Live Arcade content available, it would be even better to see collections of themed games. For example, a Sci-Fi Pack with Geometry Wars, RoboBlitz, Time Pilot, Galaga/Galaxian and one or two other titles would be an amazing buy, as would an all-puzzle disc that featured Marble Blast Ultra, Hexic HD and so forth and so on. Granted, this series would be limited by be some save data issues for those buyers that haven’t planned on upgrading to a Hard Drive down the road, but given all the new family content now available for download, it’s clear that those buyers happy with their new systems just may fork over that extra cash for a HDD upgrade sooner than later.

3) Follow the Gametap model and make an Ad-supported FREE version of Xbox Live available to 360 Arcade owners (Or have a special area set up solely for Family Settings content) – Make new users feel special and they’ll be loyal for life, I say. Microsoft should hook Arcade system users up with a separate site that features family-friendly game demos, free full version XNA games and other fun stuff. Sure, you can hop on Live and download plenty of goodies gratis, but serving up a specialized section for parents and users who only want to see happy, happy content options and not end up dodging around M-rated games would be a cool thing indeed.

There are a few more ideas floating around in my skull, such as separate labeling for Xbox 360 Family related games and such, but I’d need to be on the payroll over at Microsoft if they want to squeeze my brain some more. Anyway, like it or not, it certainly looks and feels as if the 2007 holiday shopping season is officially open and Microsoft has thrown down yet another gauntlet.

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