Constant assault on your wallet
And so to January, the gaming calendar's equivalent of the graveyard shift.
After a glut of big-name titles in November and December, we're faced with the traditional post-Christmas lull.
Just as many of us overindulged during the festive period and are cutting back on the finer things in life, the feast of releases that left us spoilt for choice last month has given way to a month-long famine, with all quiet on the release schedule front.
While retailers might not have much new stock to freshen up their shelves and window displays, digital downloads are chugging along, hoping to entice gamers hungry for a quick fix.
The are bargains aplenty to be had on Xbox Live and PSN and for those of you lucky enough to have received a shiny new Xbox One in your Christmas stocking, here are a couple of cut-price downloadable titles that should keep you occupied until things pick up next month.
Halo: Spartan Assault. 343 Industries. $19.99. 2.5 stars
A new Halo game on a new Microsoft console is huge news - as the company's flagship franchise it has shifted more Xboxes than any other title, so it was slightly surprising to see this one arrive with such little fanfare.
Then again, this isn't exactly a normal Halo game. Literally putting a new slant on the series, it takes a top-down view as opposed to the usual first-person perspective, reminiscent of old-school twin stick shooters like Smash TV or Geometry Wars.
The story, weapons, enemies and environments will be familiar to Halo fans, but if you're expecting another tactical combat simulation, you may well be disappointed.
Spartan Assault is very much an arcade-action, all-guns-blazing affair where you'll need to keep moving and shooting to complete objectives and wipe out hordes of enemies in a series of frenzied missions.
The fun is drip-fed in short, sharp bursts but, unfortunately, what could have been a bite-size classic is sullied by the unwelcome presence of microtransactions; a constant nagging reminder that more powerful weapons or abilities are available - as long as you're willing to cough up some extra cash.
In-game purchases have become standard practice in "freemium" titles, usually on mobile platforms. In these cases, games are free to download and play, but access to certain features or areas are behind a paywall.
While this can be frustrating, it's hard to begrudge the odd cash grab in a game you're playing for nothing.
However, when you've already paid for a game like Spartan Assault, even if it is "only" $20, the persistent pestering for more money can be exasperating.
You can spend XP earned in the game to unlock premium content but it's doled out so stingily you'll have to play for hours before you can afford the topnotch items.
Worse still, the upgrades you buy last for only a single mission.
It all seems deliberately designed to bleed gamers dry, and casts a shadow over what is otherwise an enjoyable, if limited shooter.
Peggle 2. PopCap Games. $16.99. 4 stars.
After the intense action, huge explosions and money-grubbing frustrations of Spartan Assault, a few hours with the bright and breezy Peggle 2 was the perfect palate cleanser.
Not only is its lighthearted tone in stark contrast to the former game's relatively po-faced approach, there's also a refreshing lack of reminders to stump up with extra cash to enhance the experience.
Like all the best arcade games, Peggle 2 is built around a simple concept that's easy to pick up but difficult to master. Ostensibly a cross between pinball and pachinko, the aim of the game is to clear the board of coloured pegs by launching small silver balls, using simple physics and bounce predictions to create skill shots and rack up massive multipliers.
Each group of levels is presided over by a gatekeeper - cute characters with bags of charisma and their own unique powers which allow you to manipulate your shots, using their abilities to boost your score.
All this is delivered with such visual flair, humour and charm, it's impossible not to get sucked into this world full of vivid colours and catchy music.
Addictive to the point of obsession, this is one of those games that will keep you coming back for more even after the final peg is plonked.
It's slightly ironic that for all its processing power, one of the most enjoyable "next-gen" games on the state-of-the-art Xbox One is a no-frills downloadable title that could easily run on an entry level smartphone.
A timely reminder that while gorgeous graphics and flashy features are all well and good, sometimes all you need for a great game is a good idea and a focus on fun.
- © Fairfax NZ News