The Six XBLA Games I Made A Family Member Try

Last weekend I was visiting with my in-laws and saw my 16-year-old brother-in-law. He has an Xbox 360 and a high-school student’s limited income, so, I tried to make his gaming life richer by introducing him to Xbox Live Arcade and having him download six demos. I hope I picked the right ones.


My brother-in-law and I scrolled through the full list of Xbox Live Arcade games on Sunday. I’d talked up XBLA to him before, but he never got around to downloading any games for it.

Maybe he thought they’d be lame.

But I had repeatedly told him that some of them are quite good and all of them, at least in demo form, are free.

Doesn’t that make XBLA a great platform for the working high-school student? Finally I got him to agree. I watched as he downloaded and tried the following:

-“Braid” — The demo for Jonathan Blow’s famous time-manipulating side-scroller gives players access to the game’s entire first main world. It went over quite well with my brother-in-law, though I wish he could have seen how time flows in the game’s second world (which, confusingly for the purposes of explaining this, is world three).

-“Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2” — The demo for this twin-stick arcade shooter gives the player unfettered access to the game’s best mode, the three-minute score attack Deadline mode. Even in demo form it pulls in the “GW:RE2″ scores of any fellow players on your friend’s list. My brother-in-law had to face the fact that my score’s pretty good in this game.

-“Portal” — Valve offers an amazing amount of content in the free demo of this unusual first-person-shooter/puzzler. The player gets access to the game’s first 10 rooms, which can take about an hour to complete. This gets you to the ability to shoot blue and orange portals but barely hints at where the game is really going. He liked this one too.

-“Rez HD” — To be honest, I wasn’t paying much attention while he played this one, but I was asked by family members in the room if the person who made this game was on something. It’s a shooter/music-game that looks and sounds like a rave — and it only shows the game’s first level, not it’s amazing final one, so what do you expect?

-“Pac-Man: Championship Edition” — This demo timed out pretty quickly, and I’m not sure my brother-in-law was into this remix of the old classic. Frankly, it wasn’t even that fun to watch and this is coming from someone who loved playing it back when it came out. Maybe it’s a slower-burn than I remembered.

-“Castle Crashers” — This is the last demo he played. It canceled out after the first boss. It’s a four-player side-scrolling brawler that isn’t meant to be played by just one person, I realized. When played alone by a person in the same room as you, you realize that the music loops a lot and that the same thing is happening again and again. At least in the demo, one that doesn’t have nearly the ingenuity of the first few on this list.

When all the demos were done, my brother-in-law went back to “Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2.” That seems to be the winner here. And if anyone else out there is looking to figure out which demos to start with on XBLA — and how to get a lot of good gaming for free on the XBox 360 — now you’ve got your list.

Should I have recommended something else?