When I say ‘arcade games’, most people would think of the rooms filled wall to wall with games that, for a few quarters, can bring enjoyment rivaling that of full-length titles. In this case, however, I’m referring to the assortment of downloadable games that populate the marketplaces of Xbox Live and PSN alike. The main idea behind the product remains the same; give a good game experience without the big game cost.
Since the games are normally shorter and cheaper to produce, many small companies can get their shot at getting noticed by the gaming populace. Staples of arcade game selections like Limbo and Castle Crashers were made by fairly new companies. Behemoth, the creators of Castle Crashers, had only made one game before CC and Playdead, the creators of Limbo, had never made a game before their hit title made its debut on Xbox arcade.
This also leaves room for pure multiplayer games by little known developers to grow. Despite only being around since 2008, Uber Entertainment brought forth the competitive madness known to the masses as Monday Night Combat. While being extremely similar to the smash hit game Team Fortress 2, these similarities are more of an advantage than a hindrance. They also make additions to the play style that bring a new tower defense style gameplay to the already solid base that Valve set up. Even seasoned developers use this exclusively multiplayer minigame tactic to get a new title out there. Monolith Productions, the minds behind the Condemned and F.E.A.R. series, developed Gotham City Imposters. While having an interesting take on the standard multiplayer FPS, it provided poor grounds for a campaign so it was left out all together.
Big companies can also use the Arcade system to get some of their smaller scale and lower budget games to see the light of day. Doublefine, maker of Psychonauts and Brutal Legend, came out with the co-op mech shooter Iron Brigade (formerly known as Trenched) to continue their tradition of shenanigan-filled games. The game was barrels of fun especially with other people to play with, but I don’t think I would have picked it up for full price if I saw it in a store. There just wasn’t enough content to keep me coming back for more than the number of playthroughs need to get all the achievements and help my friends do the same.
Nostalgia is also an effective tool employed to attract gamers to some of the better known franchises. Big companies re-release their bestselling games so if you have always been a fan, or you are seeing it for the first time and have heard good things about the original, you’re more likely to pick it up. Bungie, best known in recent times for their Halo-filled success, re-released one of their original popular games, Marathon. I had never played the game before, but Bungie has a reputation for making good games so I figured it was worth a look-see. While the mechanics and barely-3D graphics are outdated, the games still a blast to play even years after its original release in 1994. Tactics like this introduce gamers that are new onto the scene to the older franchises and squeeze every possible cent out of their game.
One of the more recent uses for arcade games is to make them directly support a larger franchise. They usually add another small tale to the overarching story, but one not so important that you’ll miss anything if you don’t play it. The Warhammer 40000 series did this with the release of Kill Team, a twin stick shooter with some pacing issues. Fans who want to get every little piece out of their franchise would most likely pick this game up because it has two redeeming qualities. One: it adds another story to the universe, and two: it’s cheap; the latter making it more attractive to the players who haven’t been fans of the franchise before playing.
Having cross-game awards can also improve your time spent playing the larger games in the series by giving you intangible awards. These can be anything from the credits of much space lore to a nice shiny spark plug. Both can be rewards for playing Dead Space’s assortment of smaller titles released between the first and second installment. The mobile version of Dead Space tells a story that directly leads onto the events of Dead Space 2 and provides hours of entertainment. Upon completing achievements, rewards are unlocked for DS2 via your linked EA account giving you an edge over the assortment of flesh fiends that want you as a snack.
From the big guys over at EA and Bungie, to the little studio that barely has a name, arcade titles are cheap games that give gamers a small, yet awesome, dose of gaming excellence. Sometimes they’re standalone games, sometimes they support the big games. No matter what their purpose, arcade games have started to cement themselves as a staple in the gaming community and are likely to stay that way for some time. Who knows, one day these small-time studios could be the ones calling the shots.