Spending Christmas in the Game Room

I’m one of those people who are pretty stingy with my Microsoft Points. Those $15 Live Arcade games are a breaking point. But, give me points that aren’t mine, the type handed out with regularity at Christmas around here, and things change.

Game Room, that seemingly forgotten section of Xbox Live that houses 2600, Intellivision, and some arcade games, is one of those spots that used to be a curiosity. I bought two games prior, including the wildly fun Shaolin’s Road, and never really went back. On rumors that Konami may soon be adding titles like Sunset Riders though, things perked up. So, with my stack of gifted points, I headed back into the Game Room for the day, in-between football and dinners.

The day could not have been any better.

Suddenly, the potential of Game Room sprung to life. Konami titles like Devastators (later turned into G.I. Joe and Rambo III in the late ’80s), the arcade version of Jackal, a Twin Bee sequel, and unknown Rush ‘n Attack sequel Missing in Action were mine. Those ranked matches, where you are timed to beat your high score (and others) sprang to life. There’s a constant reminder of how close you are to your next goal ticking down in the corner. The medals were in reach. I was leveling up. Seeing my status on the leaderboard update live is brilliant.

Part of what didn’t work before were the games. While I adore games from the Atari/Intellivision/Coleco¬† era (Shark! Shark! and River Raid proudly don my all time list), they don’t have the same draw of later arcade games. They weren’t designed as money makers, but time consumers, big difference. What arcade games did was push you forward. You couldn’t stop, you couldn’t rest, and you were always under attack. They were stressful, and death meant not having another quarter to plunk into the machine. That’s the experience Game Room replicates, that final quarter being inserted into the machine for one last run against that guy at the top of the list, only now, that guy is someone you probably know.

Game Room still has faults. Whoever thought putting Venetian Blinds in there (a tech demo that exists as more of a joke) for $3 needs a better understanding of what Game Room exists for. However, there is untapped potential here that other companies simply aren’t seeing. While titles like X-Men may be suited for the Live Arcade for their mass appeal, discovering something new in Game Room is a revelation.

You can speak for MAME and all of its wonders, sure, but that emulator for all of its own power can’t replicate the stress and intensity that Game Room does. Maybe those Microsoft Points will spill out in a tweaked direction from here on out.