Microsoft Game Room launched yesterday for the Xbox 360 and Windows PCs. At its core, the Game Room is a fancy menu for playing classic arcade games such as Combat, Centipede and Lunar Lander, but with a few extra features that Microsoft hopes will get you to stick around and spend lots of money. After playing around in the arcade last night, I’m on the fence as to whether I’ll be an arcade junkie once again.
Here’s what I liked about Microsoft Game Room:
Free Plays: If your retro gaming urge is temporary, you can satisfy it in Microsoft Game Room without spending a quarter. Every title includes one timed demo session, and that’s usually enough to get in a game or two. You also get 20 “tokens” for downloading the free Game Room software, which lets you purchase more play sessions for the games you like, and you can get more tokens by visiting friends’ arcades.
Build Your Own: Microsoft scratches the collectable item itch with decorations and themes that become available as you play more. You can then trick out your own arcade with a different look for every room of machines.
Hustle and Bustle: It’s a minor thing, but I really like how other avatars walk around the arcade, even while you’re playing. Occasionally, you’ll see a flash of someone’s shirt go by in the border just outside of the game’s frame, and it’s sort of like being in an actual arcade, where you’re sometimes distracted by what’s happening in your peripheral vision.
And here’s what didn’t thrill me:
Be Kind, Rewind: Made a wrong turn in Crystal Castles? Just hold the left trigger button and you can rewind the game as far back as you like. Sorry, this almost ruined Game Room for me. I know the feature isn’t available in competitive modes, but it’s hard not to use rewind when it’s available, and it feels cheap when you do.
Price Per Platform: Each game costs $3 if you’re only playing on Xbox 360 or Windows, but if you want to play on both, games cost $5. That’s obnoxious, and it sets a dangerous precedent for Microsoft: When Windows Phone 7 Series comes out with compatible Xbox Live Arcade games, will users have to pay extra to play on every platform?
A Lonely Place: Most of Game Room’s allure is in playing with friends. You can invite people to your arcade and create custom challenges for friends to compete in. But if you have a small friends list, these features will go unused. That’s because Game Room has no mechanism for finding other players outside of your list. Some sort of matchmaking system would go a long way towards making Game Room more social.