Putting the “A” back in XBLA.
There's a certain irony in the fact that a good chunk of the folks who've downloaded a Twisted Pixel game on Xbox Live Arcade have never actually been in a real arcade. Not that that's their fault, seeing as arcades have essentially vanished from North America.
But Lococycle, Twisted Pixel's maiden voyage on the Xbox One, captures much of the vibrance and simplistic-yet-maddening challenge that I constantly lost quarters to as a child. Described as a “buddy action comedy,” it stars a sentient, Tron-esque lightbike named I.R.I.S. and her trusty mechanic Pablo. The twist: You control the star, I.R.I.S., who's literally dragging her unwitting, Spanish-speaking cohort along for the ride kicking and screaming.
It's a fun role reversal to be the machine that controls the man rather than the other way around, especially when your “hero” is so gleefully oblivious to the distress she's putting her accidental travel buddy through. Comically, despite being programmed to be adept in various forms of combat, I.R.I.S. doesn't seem to know a lick of Spanish, so while the player knows exactly what Pablo is saying via subtitles, I.R.I.S. has no idea, making their exchanges thoroughly chuckle-inducing. Twisted Pixel is known for their sense of humor, and Lococycle might be their most inventively funny title yet.
With hits like The Maw and 'Splosion Man under their belt, this team is no stranger to bright colors or goofy charm, and that tradition is preserved here too. But it's the extra bit of spit-shine and performance afforded by the Xbox One's beefy internals that gives Lococycle that classic arcade look. Arcades used to feature games that married peerless sheen and fluidity with Saturday morning cartoon inspired art direction, and Lococycle would've looked right at home among them. It's no technical marvel, but it more than makes its mark with expressive animations, vibrant colors, and a framerate that simply refuses to drop below 60.
In terms of play, it borrows elements from beat-'em-ups, rail shooters, and checkpoint racers, all of which were arcade staples in the '80s and early '90, but are a lot less common today. You'll zip along down a predetermined path, deftly bobbing and weaving between obstacles, gunning down pursuing SUVs, and going mano-a-mano with groups of jet-packed robots. Yes, folks, this bike knows kung-fu.
Controls are simple and sensitive, but precise, which means all the challenge comes from what's getting thrown at you rather than from having to learn complex button sequences. Combos get into the triple digits, and slow-motion camera cuts frequently reward successful counters and jumps. Checkpoints consist of a series of smaller challenges and your performance in each will determine your grade at the end, giving score-nuts all the incentive they'll need to replay again and again -- an impulse I had trouble fighting, much to the chagrin of the people in line behind me.
Poor little Pablo. A wretched fate is his who must be thanklessly dragged about by a two-wheeled death machine with a disposition that falls somewhere between Johnny-5 and Hal 9000. If you have the taste for fun, fast, whimsical arcade action of any variety, be a dear and lend him a hand when Lococycle launches alongside the Xbox One would you? Believe me, he's going to need all the help he can get.