I admit it. When I first heard about micro transactions and receiving downloaded content at Microsoft's E3 media briefing two years ago, I scoffed. In my defense, their initial approach to the presentation was ridiculous—the famous example given was of a non-gamer girl designing her own clothing and selling it to gamers via the wonderful interface provided by the Xbox 360… maybe it's just me, but that wasn't exactly the first thing to come to mind when trying to imagine a new way of capturing consumer dollars.
However, even though Microsoft may not have made a strong case for it at the time (and I doubt that they knew where the focus would eventually fall) the downloadable content on Live is the start of something great.
Recently, I reviewed Wik: the Fable of Souls and loved it. It was a small game with small goals. But what it did, it did wonderfully. That game, more than any of the other offerings on the Xbox Live menu showed me the potential of a high-powered console connected to the Internet, and having the structure behind it to deliver gaming experiences that probably would not be had any other way. Extra items and new levels are fine, but as someone who likes niche gaming and titles outside of the mainstream, I suppose you could say it was the moment Microsoft's master plan crystallized for me.
It was heartening to hear that Microsoft is putting resources into expanding the Arcade aspect of the Live experience— Wik is great, but none of the other titles available at the time had the same feeling of being a true, complete game. I'm glad to say that this feeling has changed; NinjaBee's recently-added Cloning Clyde is another small project that's a credit to Microsoft's network and well worth the few dollars it takes to download the full version.
A very simple 2D platforming game with a heavy puzzle influence, Cloning Clyde actually reminds me of the PSP's Exit, but with less emphasis on precision controls and a more relaxed difficulty curve. The goal is to take Clyde (naked except for a hospital gown open in the back) and navigate him through a series of abstract levels, eventually leading to his escape from a surreal laboratory of sorts. There's a lot of jumping and climbing ladders, but the real hook to the game is genetic; Clyde can create multiple copies of himself in addition to getting spliced with animals to gain different powers—for example, becoming Frog-Clyde leads underwater, and Chicken-Clyde takes to the skies.
The maze-like level designs may seem a little chaotic at first, but their appearance is misleading. In fact, they're very logically designed and player-friendly. With just a little experimentation, solutions become readily apparent. Need to hit four switches to open a door? Hop onto a nearby machine and Xerox away. Can't reach that far-away platform? Transform into Sheep-Clyde and make the jump. I wasn't sure what to make of the minimalist art style and old-school goals at first, but the experience of leading a bare-assed escapee and his fifteen identical copies along a path strewn with man-eating plants and guard robots was oddly gratifying, and the fact that most of the Achievements are very reasonable was just icing on the cake.
After finishing Clyde, I can now say that I've had three extremely satisfying experiences that I wouldn't have had if not for the Live Arcade. (Geometry Wars grew on me, what can I say?) I wouldn't have guessed it, but dipping into indie-flavored projects is turning out to be the most exciting feature of owning a 360— here's hoping that it's just getting started.