I was, admittedly, as excited as all get out for the downloadable re-release of Tim Shafer’s Psychonauts through the 360’s new Xbox Originals channel on Xbox Live. I’d missed the game when it released on the Xbox in 2005, and while I thought it would be a fantastic game, I’d never tried very hard to get hold of a copy.
“Great,” I thought to myself, “Now I can dip my toes into a nice little action-adventure title I skipped in the last generation, one which will probably blow most current-gen titles in the genre out of the water.” And it does – the game’s great, just like it probably was a few years ago. The only noticeable difference is that the Xbox’s white and black buttons have been moved to the 360 controller’s left and right bumper buttons. That’s fine. Someone needs to find Shafer, and give him a pile of cash. Just for being awesome.
But here’s the deal. Try to play Psychonauts through the 360’s VGA cable (a first-party Microsoft product, mind), and you’ll be thrown an error message and booted back to the dashboard. Turns out the game - set to PAL-50Hz like many Xbox games were - just isn’t compatible with the PAL-60Hz signal put out through the VGA cable, there’s nothing that anyone’s going to do about it, and you can only play the game through the boxed-with-console composite / component cable. Obviously the signal quality isn’t as good when you’re stepping down a notch from VGA cables, and having to restart the console and switch cables every time you want to play a different game kind of writes off the whole point of downloadable content – it’s hassle that it doesn’t have to be.
Microsoft were nice enough to point out that the game supports HDMI cables, as long as they’re not set to 720p (probably the most common ‘HD’ signal supported by newer TVs, and probably used by a large proportion of the 360’s user base). Well, that’s all well and good, but HDMI outputs weren’t standard on 360 consoles until mid-to-late last year, coincidentally just after I got my console. And there I was wondering why it was so cheap. Other games now downloadable through the Originals tab include Halo, Fable, Crash Bandicoot: Wrath of Cortex, Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge, Fuzion Frenzy, Indigo Prophecy and Burnout 3: Takedown. You can pick up high-res versions of their manuals through Xbox.com, which is nice. You can also discover that each of them has weird little issues that impact pretty damn heavily on the gaming experience.
Halo, Fuzion Frenzy and Burnout have slight frame-rate drops, Crimson Skies flickers near the top of the screen at times, Fable slows down when you’re adding or removing tattoos from your characters, and, oddly, has random bursts of audio static. Crash and Indigo Prophecy are apparently unscathed, but they’re hardly top-tier titles. One last thing – if the original game discs included additional content, the option to select the content is still there, but if you select it, it’ll crash the system, and make you restart your console. And this was supposed to be the future. Who cares about the flying car – I just want a game that will play the way it’s supposed to.
Microsoft, you could have done this a lot better – I’m thinking re-mastered games, playing through all versions of the 360’s first-party hardware and cabling, with added Achievements through the games. It would have taken some serious resources, but you could have been cool, Microsoft, could have got a real jump on the PSN store and Nintendo’s Virtual Console’s nostalgia bandwagon. Instead, you’ve settled for broken releases of last-gen games. Did you think we’d start a slow clap, just because you’re re-releasing proven winners? Did you maybe think to make them work before you released them?
For gamers wanting a problem-free experience, it’s better to pick up a second-hand copy of Psychonauts (or any problematic Xbox Originals game, for that matter) than waste 1200 MS Points and a 2-5GB download, not to mention having to switch cables every time you want to play it. DLC should be about removing us from the tyranny of cables and discs cluttering our living rooms, and they’ve gone and screwed it up. Which is weird, because they'd finally got XBLA working so smoothly. You’d think it wouldn’t take a genius / more than five minutes of market research to see what gamers want.
Update: Psychonauts is awesome, it really is, and I'm sorry that things got derailed a little. I like the other games on Originals as well, and I still think it could be a great service. Just not with the releasing-slightly-broken-old-games-for-NZD$20 angle MS is trying at the moment.