Microsoft declared this past August "Xbox Live Arcade August," and used the month, usually the slowest time for gaming, to release four top-shelf original game. Two of those games were reviewed by the Phoenix: Geometry Wars 2 and Braid. Not surprisingly, those are both among our best-reviewed titles of the year.
The other two games are worthy of at least some limited discussion. First is Bionic Commando Rearmed. It's an update of the 8-bit NES classic - it's mostly the same game, but not quite. In addition to the graphics getting a makeover and the score getting remixed, the physics of maneuvering on the grappling hook have been altered to be more realistic. It's fun, but it didn't totally click with me; that could be because I wasn't a huge fan of the first game, it could be because I still after all these years can't get used to a game where I don't jump. I'm not sure. I would never call it a bad game or anything like that, I just felt it was the fourth-best game released this month.
The other game, released just this past week, is Castle Crashers. In Castle Crashers, you select a knight out to rescue multiple princesses, wreaking havoc on armies of evil knights in the process. It deftly combines the action of a side-scrolling arcade-style beat-em-up with the character-building elements of a role-playing game. It's nothing that hasn't been done before, but the cartoony aesthetics and humor are both top-notch. There are jokes strewn throughout the game, ranging from various stalling slogans (like "Can't we just talk about this?") written on banners in the background during battles to allusions to the popular theory that aliens built the pyramids. I've heard the multiplayer is laggy, but I haven't tried it myself yet.
A lot has been written about Braid and what it means to gaming. And I don't really disagree: it's an artistically significant game, perhaps the first game that could be considered a true work of art since the similarly somber Shadow of the Colossus. But then again, taking away all of the game-as-art stuff, I've probably had a lot more fun just beating up guys Castle Crashers than I did solving some of those puzzles in Braid, even if I still regard the latter as the "better" game.
Later this month, Mega Man 9 will hit, though, and that will likely trump them all.