(Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the December 2008 issue of GameCola, back when GameCola was published in a monthly online magazine format.)
One of the trends you’ll notice if you look at the archives here at ye olde GameCola is that, by the end of the year, there’s only about two or three reviews per issue, before Paul’s water breaks and the Janish flies out of his open legs with 17 reviews in one hand and the unreleased DVD of the complete Journeyman series in the other. What causes this phenomenon? Sprite Monkey hasn’t been around for a few issues. What has happened to Sprite Monkey? Is he dead? If he is, then I call his “Are You Game?” column now and forever.1 As my first year as a GC writer draws to a close, I now understand this situation. We’re all fucking lazy/busy.
As of this writing, I am sitting here, two hours before the deadline, typing this on my cousin’s laptop while I watch a Family Guy marathon on TBS with said cousin and his girlfriend, who tends to press the enter key a lot for very odd reasons.2 I am now pressed for creative ideas, and my gaming time has dwindled to zero over the past month thanks to my participation in my high school’s production of Beauty and the Beast, which leaves me with no idea of what I want to review this month. I’ve no desire to review a retro game. The Mega Man 9 review I’m supposed to write with one of the other slops is impossible to complete due to the other GC writer’s inability to understand what I’m talking about ever, I can’t review Rock Band 2 because Zach Rich wrote the review of the year last month and then killed himself, even though that’s really all I played last month…what the hell do I review here?
Let’s discuss one of the major events that happened in the past month. The New Xbox Experience (NXE) graced all of our 360s this month to either the enjoyment or dismay of gamers all over the universe. Most gamers have embraced this evolution in the gaming community with arms wide open. Others have cried themselves to sleep over their loss of their blades; this is the same crowd that cried when Final Fantasy XII threw out turn-based battles, Trix changed their shapes to circular puffs, and I became a Paramore fan.3 And while those are horrible, horrible events that have truly changed the face of the world more than any other in modern history since September 12th, 2001, the new dashboard may actually be the best improvement to Xbox Live in a long, long time.
First things first, let’s talk about the avatars. If you’ve been paying attention to my reviews, you’ll know that I’m the biggest Rare fanatic out there, and I plan to murder whoever the hell reviewed Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts at GameTrailers. However, I’m very indifferent about the NXE’s avatar system, which was created by Rare. There’s nothing really special about it. It was fun to laugh about for a few seconds with some of my buddies, but my avatar took ten seconds to assemble, and ten seconds to forget about. It’s nice that a steady stream of new clothing for the avatars is on the way. They’re going to be free for now, but I’m going to break the legs of anyone who’s actually dumb enough to pay for content like this, when Rock Band has ten million beautiful songs to buy. Also, there’s no excuse for not being able to change the color of your clothing. That’s just a little lazy, Rare.4
Now the big addition I’m loving to death is the Party System. This is a feature I’ve been dreaming of ever since I first received my 360 two years ago. Being able to commutate with up to eight of your closest 13-year-old, profanity-spewing friends no matter what you’re doing on the 360 is an important addition to make the community aspect of XBL its strong suit. Sending out just one game invite to everyone and instantly joining games with your party makes the entire experience more streamlined and enjoyable. Being able to chat about how much I hate my chorus teacher ’cause I didn’t get the lead in High School Musical5 with all of my musical friends while they’re enjoying a good game of Gears and I’m rewatching the entire series of 30 Rock on Netflix is a nice touch.
And that segues into the other major feature I’m loving to death: Netflix on the 360. I’m in a family that subscribes to Blockbuster, and the two-week trial period convinced me to convince my family to switch over to the service. The amount of streamable material is nice, and HD playback is a grandiose touch that seals the deal in my book. Being able to control and instantly watch on the 360 is great; it allowed me to watch season 2 of Heroes again, remember how terrible it was, and not write an article for the December issue of GameCola. My hope is to see more and more movies and TV shows made available for streaming, and eventually killing off Microsoft’s rather bland movie rental service.
Other minor features add nice touches to a great revamp. I haven’t been able to copy a game to my hard drive, due to my 20 GB hard drive being full,6 but I do plan on copying Rock Band 2 to end that dreaded noise. Viewing my Achievements is much easier than before, as is the Game Library, which brings up all of your downloaded games at once, instead of your latest downloads last. Finally, being able to get rid of those Arcade game trials on my played games list is like the maple syrup on the stuffed waffles with maple syrup filling. Quick Launch is very handy in parties and works like a dream. The new guide window has all the tools you need at the press of a button. I was only unable to find what I wanted once. (Appear Offline is a tricky beast.)
The New Xbox Experience, in my opinion, is an important step in making Xbox Live more accessible to everyone, gamers and casuals alike. It’s sleek and useful, and it gives you a lot of good ideas and innovations. It’s a damn shame that not every feature was made available at launch. I’m actually very excited to see how Primetime will work out, being the kid who could not, and would not, miss a minute of The Price is Right as a child, Kindergarten be damned. In the here and now, though, I have to begin preparing for the Janish. Starting with a review of Nuts & Bolts where I give the game a perfect score…NOW.7