Image: Limbo
On July 21st, "Limbo" will kick off Microsoft's Summer of Arcade program, which shines the spotlight on independent and downloadable games during the summer months.
By InGame reporter
NBC News
updated 7/6/2010 8:41:36 PM ET 2010-07-07T00:41:36

Summertime can be a difficult time for gamers. After all, this is when the annual gaming drought sets in.

That is, while the winter and early spring months tend to deliver an onslaught of top-tier game launches, the warmest months bring these introductions to a crawl. Apparently we're supposed to be sitting outside soaking up the sun rather than sitting inside playing video games.

Sheesh. Haven't they heard? The sun gives you cancer.

So, I’ve ranted against the game industry's feast-and-famine practice in the past. Too many games to keep track of followed by too few games to keep us interested. It's just sort of ... dumb. I have a better idea: How about a nice steady flow of new games instead?

If my plea to the major studios has fallen on deaf ears, well kudos then to Microsoft for making an attempt to fill the summer gap in a smart way. For the third year in a row, the company will be launching their Summer of Arcade program. ( is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)

Summer of Arcade brings a steady diet of top-tier downloadable games to the Xbox Live Arcade online marketplace. The program spends the sunny months shining the spotlight on outstanding independent and downloadable games that would very likely get lost in the shuffle if they were launched during the cool-weather's Triple-A gaming crush.

In past years, Summer of Arcade has delivered superb sleeper-hits like " Braid " and " Castle Crashers ." This year's Summer of Arcade launches July 21st with a game that's been on the top of my "most-anticipated" list for quite a while — the indie game "Limbo."

"Limbo," created by a small development outfit based in Copenhagen, was among our favorite games at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo. Meanwhile, as a judge for the Independent Games Festival, I had a chance to play an early build of "Limbo" and found it to be a beeeeautiful, eerie and utterly engaging 2-D puzzle/platformer. Clearly I wasn't the only one who thought so — "Limbo" won both the Excellence in Visual Art and the Technical Excellence award at this year's Independent Games Festival.

Hothead Games
The summer months are a great time to check out some of the best independent and downloadable games out there. Ron Gilbert (the man behind famed game "The Secret of Monkey Island") will be bringing his new action RPG "DeathSpank" to both PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on July 13th and July 14th respectively.

The other entries in this year's Summer of Arcade schedule are "Hydro Thunder Hurricane" launching July 28th, "Castlevania: Harmony of Despair" launching August 4th, "Monday Night Combat" launching August 11th, and "Lara Croft and the Guardian of the Light" launching August 18th. All of these games will sell for 1,200 Microsoft Points which equals $15. Players who buy all five games will get 1200 points to spend for free.

In conjunction with Summer of Arcade, Xbox 360 owners next week will also be able to download a new app that will help them better sort through the more than 250 Xbox Live Arcade games currently available in the marketplace. This recommendation engine/visual browser is called Destination Arcade.

Launching on July 14th, it will give players the ability to sift through games based on things like price and rating. Users will also be able to "like" games and see which games their friends liked most. Meanwhile, Destination Arcade will recommend games that are similar to the ones you liked. We'll see how it works when it launches but it sounds like a much-needed improvement.

Image: Super Meat Boy
Team Meat
Indie platforming game "Super Meat Boy" stars a cube of meat on a quest to save his gal pal from the clutches of a dastardly featus sporting a tuxedo and top hat. The game will launch this summer via WiiWare, Xbox Live Arcade and on PCs.

But Microsoft isn't the only company with plans to launch anticipated indie games during the sluggish summer months. Wii owners should keep their eyes open for "Super Meat Boy" from Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes. It will launch through Nintendo's WiiWare service as well as via Xbox Live Arcade and for PCs this summer. "Super Meat Boy" is another clever platformer I had a chance to play during IGF competition. It stars a cube of meat (Meat Boy himself) on a quest to save his sweetheart Bandage Girl, and it looks to be some bloody, twisted good fun.

Meanwhile, Ron Gilbert (the man behind " The Secret of Monkey Island ") will be bringing his new action RPG "DeathSpank" to both PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on July 13th and July 14th respectively. You can bet that this game is going to make you laugh — in the best way possible. And that's way better than getting skin cancer from spending too much time out in the sun.

You'll find Winda Benedetti hiding from the summer sun right here on Twitter.

© 2013  Reprints

Explainer: Best original games to come

  • Image: Image: Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent
    Telltale Games

    When it comes to video games, it's easy to get caught up in franchise mania. Certainly at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, games with numbers in their title seemed to hog most of the spotlight. Crysis 2, Gears of War 3, LittleBigPlanet 2, Killzone 3 — we're lookin' at you.

    It's easy to go with the games we know. It's certainly the safe choice. But it can be far more rewarding and surprising to dive into completely new games – games that are delivering brand new stories and trying out brand new gameplay ideas. At E3 this year, there were plenty of excellent original games to be found. Here's a look at some of our favorites.

    — Winda Benedetti & Todd Kenreck

  • Journey — PS3

    Image: Image: Journey
    That Game Company/Sony

    We can't wait to see what Jenova Chen has in store for us next. Chen is the designer/artist behind indie downloadable PS3 games " Flower" and " flOw" —  games that earned raves thanks to their unique take on gameplay and art.

    At E3 earlier this month, Chen revealed that a game called "Journey" is his next project – and one that looks to be another unusual take on gaming.

    Chen says "Journey" begins with a character waking up in a desert, with no clues as to what might have happened before or what will happen later. There’s only a tall mountain in the distance, beckoning the player to set out and explore.

    In his company's blog, Chen says he hopes to evoke "a sense of awe and mystery" with the game. Beyond that, we understand that there will be an online aspect to the game but we don't know much more.

    Looks like we'll have to wait until 2011 to see exactly what this sand-swept "Journey" is all about.

  • Limbo — Xbox 360

    Image: Image: Limbo
    Playdead Studios/Microsoft

    The more footage we seefrom this eerie indie game, the more we can't wait to play the whole thing.

    Created by Playdead Studios, a small development outfit based in Copenhagen, "Limbo" is a 2-D platforming/puzzle game set in the murky, creepy netherworld. It won both the Excellence in Visual Art and the Technical Excellence award at this year's Independent Games Festival.

    "Limbo" will be available to download from Xbox Live this summer.

  • Lost in Shadow – Wii

    Image: Image: Lost in Shadow
    Hudson Soft

    "Lost in Shadow" is another puzzle-platformer with a unique game mechanic that we can't wait to try. In this game, players use light, shadow, foreground and background to manipulate the landscape and help a shadow boy as he attempts to climb through a mystical tower and reclaim the scattered parts of his soul.

    The graphics look amazing and the puzzle solving looks wonderfully unique. The game will be available for the Wii this fall.

  • Rage — Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Mac


    Post apocalyptic setting: Check. Vast world: Check. Plenty of guns and flying bullets: Roger that.

    Those of us "Fallout 3" and " Borderlands" fans can't help but get excited for this first-person shooter from the people who basically, you know, invented first-person shooters.  In id Software's "Rage," players find themselves learning to survive in a world ruled by raider gangs, mutants, and an oppressive government regime.

    This game not only offers tons of running and gunning, it tosses in some intense vehicle combat to boot. And with the new id Tech 5 engine running things, the graphics look spectacular.

    The apocalyptic good times begin sometime in 2011.

  • Bulletstorm — PS3, Xbox 360, PC


    This over-the-top first-person shooter looks like it's going to be one bloody good time. Here you won't just be aiming to take out your many enemies with killshots ... but with skillshots. That is, you'll want to kill with creativity. Shoot an enemy in the throat and you'll earn "Gag Reflex" points. Shoot an enemy in the junk and then finish  him off with a bullet to the head and you'll earn "Mercy" points. More points equals more upgrades equals more mayhem.

    The bullets will fly Feb. 22, 2011.

  • Sorcery — PS3


    We liked the looks of the forthcoming motion-controlled wizarding game "Sorcery" when Sony showed it off at their E3 press conference.  Certainly "Harry Potter" fans should take note – this looks to be the closest you'll get to holding a real magic wand in your hand.

    The game makes use of the PlayStation Move's wand controllerin a way that makes great sense. As the wizard in the game goes to battle against his enemies, players will swing and flick the motion-sensing controller as they would a wand, casting spells and vanquishing baddies. While Wii games have done this in the past, the PlayStation Move device appears to be far more precise in the way it senses motion. Mr. Potter might just want a Sony wand for himself.

  • Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent — Wii, iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, PC, Mac


    "Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent" is what you'd get if you crossed the gameplay of "Professor Layton" with the creepy-cool strange of "Twin Peaks.

    This puzzle game comes from the folks at Telltale Games (the developers behind the " Tales from Monkey Island" and "Sam & Max" adventure titles) and from artist Graham Annable (do not miss his short animated videos on Youtube).

    Players take on the role of Nelson Tethers, the lead (and only) agent in the US Department of Puzzle Investigation, sent to Scoggins, Minnesota to find out why the town’s eraser factory has stopped working. Mazes, puzzles, riddles and logic brainteasers twist their way through an eerie mystery story. But what most intrigues us, is the way it's all wrapped up in Graham’s humorous-yet-creepy visual and narrative style.

    Fortunately, we won't have to wait long to get our hands on this game. It's due to launch sometime this week.

  • Brink — Xbox 360, PS3, PC

    Image: Image: Brink
    Splash Damage/Bethesda

    It's the future. The world has flooded. The survivors are scraping out an existence on a floating city known as The Ark . No, things aren't looking so bright. With this waterworld on the fast track toward civil war – the Resistance versus the Security – you the player must pick sides and pick up your highly customizable gun.

    We like the looks of this first-person-shooter's in-depth character customization system and we're intrigued to see how the game lets us develop our characters across the single-player, online and co-op modes. Also, we're keen to put "Brink's" parkour movement style through the paces.

    Alas, it looks like we'll have to wait until 2011.

  • Enslaved: Odyssey to the West – PS3, Xbox 360


    It's the future. Yes, again. Only in this game the world hasn't flooded. Instead, nearly all the humans have been wiped off the face of the earth ... which is now mostly populated by the robots that wiped them out.

    This action-adventure game centers around the uneasy relationship between two characters – a beefy brawler named Monkey and a tech-expert named Trip. The two literally cannot survive without each other if they're going to survive the evil robots onslaught, and players will have to learn how to best use each of Monkey and Trip's skills if they want to complete the game.

    "Enslaved" is being developed by Ninja Theory — the developers behind "Heavenly Sword" — and the game's story was written by Alex Garland — the novelist who wrote "The Beach" and the screenplay for "28 Days Later." It's scheduled to launch Oct. 8th.

  • Rock of Ages — PC, PS3, Xbox 360


    "Rock of Ages" is one of those utterly original games that, when described, sounds like utter nonsense. It's basically this:  A tower defense-ish, ball-rolling game in which you try to knock down your enemy's castle with a giant rolling boulder as you progress through the stages of art history. (You'll also try to defend your own tower from the enemy's boulder using all sorts of zany defenses).

    We love the unique, arty look of it and, best of all, we think knocking sh*t down looks like a lot of fun.

    This downloadable title will crash into our lives sometime in 2011.

    Also see: The best games to come

Video: The video games of July


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