Joust is a lot like a game of chess. The basic idea can be explained very quickly, but mastering the technique required to pop evil buzzards out of the sky takes forever. As an ostrich-riding knight, all you have to do is fly around your one-screen domain and pounce on the other guys' heads. If they land on yours, you die instead.
That's it. No super weapons, no time-slowing devices, nothing. Just jam on the flight button to keep your wings flappin' and never let the buzzards, pterodactyls or lava monsters get near your head. Why is this so difficult to master?
Apparently, finding real data on how a flying ostrich would handle wasn't available in the '80s. The bird needs constant attention, and its forward momentum can launch you right into an enemy's lance. This is all part of the learning curve, though. Once you get it down, Joust is nerve-racking assault on the mind. In a good way, of course.
On Xbox Live you can hop into some versus or co-op matches, but as was the case in the '80s arcade, prepare to get owned by people a billion times better. There's a little mission variety (if you can call "don't die" and "collect eggs" missions), but the real rub is popping your friend off his bird after he "accidentally" lands on your head.
Initially, it's you against three other birds. Then they start coming in packs. Then chunks of the level start disappearing. Then the rival buzzard-jockeys start getting smarter and wilier. It's this progressive difficulty that makes Joust just as intense today as it was 20 years ago, and a welcome addition to the Live Arcade for those who fondly recall the Defender days of yore.