For a machine with such a mainstream focus – a machine that wants a place in every living room as not just a game console but as an entertainment hub – the Xbox One sure isn’t shy about hosting some seriously under-the-radar content.
Dig past the mainstream a little bit – past the “Halo” games, the “Battlefield” games and “Call of Duty” games – and you find things like “Screamride,” (Xbox One; $40; Rated E), a game the “Minecraft” set might find interesting. As you might guess from the title, “Screamride” is about roller coasters: building them, riding them, and perhaps most fun, breaking them.
ScreamRider Mode puts speed and steering controls in the hands of the player, and it’s a surprisingly nerve-racking experience. As you manipulate the speed and balance of your cart on the track, you feel the cart getting closer and closer to being completely out of control; keeping it from going off the track is the secret to success. But Demolition Expert Mode actually encourages going off track, opening up the ability to launch the cart at high speed through various obstacles.
These are fun modes, especially for folks who are too squeamish for the real thing.
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Where “Screamride” really has potential, however, is in its Engineer Mode, where you get to build brand new coasters and test them out. Even before the actual release date, the selection of coasters that has been put up for download (probably largely from the developers) is impressive, and it gives a sense of what people can do when they learn the tools. Once you start building, possibilities never stop opening up.
‘#IDARB’ is deceptively simple
Dig even deeper and you’re likely to find games like “#IDARB” (Xbox One; $14.99; Rated E), which began when a developer posted a rudimentary screenshot of a program he was working on, pointing out that “it draws a red box” (“IDARB”). The developer then began taking input from the gaming community as to what the red box meant, what it should do and what kind of game should be built around it.
The result is a ridiculous, fast-paced handball-type game with an announcer who likes to scream quotes from ’80s movies whenever anyone scores (“JOHNNY-FIVE IS ALIVE!”) and the unpredictable environment that comes with an audience who can affect what happens in the game.
That’s really all there is to it.
You can play one-on-one, or in teams up to four-on-four, although four-on-four is actually a little too chaotic to be fun. Throwing the ball in the goal can be frustratingly difficult, but that difficulty actually evens out the playing field in many cases.
There is a single-player campaign as well, but learning AI patterns in a game this simple is too easy. Getting through the single player experience is simple and unsatisfying.
Much of the appeal of “#IDARB” is the same as that of “Screamride” – customization and creation. You can turn your little handball guy into a policeman, a dinosaur or a slice of bacon. You can program theme songs for your teams. You can change the game field using “hashbombs” in Twitter or Twitch. The gameplay never fundamentally changes, but what it looks like is never the same twice.
These aren’t the games you’ll see in TV commercials during the Super Bowl, and Frank Underwood won’t be giving up his beloved “Monument Valley” for any of them on “House of Cards.” Still, “#IDARB” is free for at least another month, and “Screamride” is the sort of game that can eat up weeks of your life if it hits you just right.
These games may be easy to ignore, but you might be missing out if you do.
Also new this week: It’s a big week for “OlliOlli,” an indie 2D skateboarding game that made a splash on the Vita last year. It arrives on the Xbox One, 3DS and WiiU, even as sequel “OlliOlli2” is showing up on the Vita and PS4. If lo-fi skateboarding sounds appealing to you, this is your week.