Published February 06, 2009
If you're at all interested in online gaming, you need an Xbox 360.
For starters, it's home to the most popular multiplayer games, "Halo" and "Gears of War." And its redesigned interface, the New Xbox Experience, makes it easier than ever to meet your friends (or make new ones) online.
Even if you prefer playing solo, the Xbox 360 is the only console that lets you download bonus material for "Fallout 3," "Fable II" and (later this month) "Grand Theft Auto IV."
The results of Microsoft's Community Games project continue to surprise, with such clever amateur productions as "Rumble Massage," which turns the Xbox controller into a neck massager. And Xbox Live Arcade remains the premier source of downloadable original games, most costing $10.
—"The Maw" (Twisted Pixel, $10): The Maw, a purple blob that's basically a mouth with a single eyeball, would be a monster in most games. But here he's the best pal of a diminutive spaceman named Frank, and the two set off across an alien landscape to find their way home.
The Maw will eat just about any living thing it comes across, sometimes absorbing their powers. For example, eating a fire lizard enables the Maw to breathe fire.
"The Maw" is a brief and not terribly challenging journey, but its two heroes are very appealing and worthy of further adventures. Three stars out of four.
—"A Kingdom for Keflings" (NinjaBee, $10): This medieval sim will appeal to fans of "god games" like "SimCity" and "Black & White."
The "god" here is your Xbox Live avatar, who stomps around the wilderness encouraging the much tinier Keflings to build a village. Things start simply, with a few houses and a town hall, but you'll eventually want to goad them into celebrating your glory with a castle.
Sim veterans may find "Kingdom" a little too easy, since the Keflings never come under any sort of threat. But most players will appreciate its laid-back nature, and will enjoy helping the charming Keflings create increasingly elaborate structures. Three stars.
—"Meteos Wars" (Q Entertainment, $10): Four years after its introduction, "Meteos" remains one of the most addictive variations on the "match-three" puzzle genre. This version adds head-to-head Internet competition, and it looks and sounds beautiful.
But this game was built for the touch-screen controls of the Nintendo DS, and it's much more difficult to play with a standard controller. Two-and-a-half stars.
—"FunTown Mahjong" (FunTown, $10): If you've ever been curious about the classic Chinese game of mah-jongg, here's a decent introduction. The graphics aren't pretty and the tutorial is sketchy, but the computer plays a solid game. Two stars.
—"Interpol: The Trail of Dr. Chaos" (TikGames, $10): Hidden-object games like "Mystery Case Files" have become surprisingly popular online, but "Interpol" is too poorly designed to be satisfying. The main culprit: out-of-focus pictures that will exhaust your eyeballs. One star.