Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death
This game's Wikipedia entry matter-of-factly states "Marlow Briggs, a smokejumper who wields ancient Mayan powers, must prevent an industrialist from becoming a primeval Mesoamerican deity and destroying the world." Whow! Hold on there, cowboy, that's a lot to unpack. Smokejumper? Mayan powers? Ancient Mesoamerican deity? Solid Snake on his best day couldn't puzzle this one out. Thankfully, Marlow Briggs is more interested in being a fun, B-movie action game than, you know, making sense. The guy runs around wailing on people with a double-bladed scythe and sweet tribal tattoos. Who needs logic?
Blood Drive takes the opening to Dead Rising 2, switches out motorcycles for cars, and makes a surprisingly well-realized vehicular combat game out of it. Had this game been released circa 1999 for, say, the original PlayStation - featuring the hit single Dragula - developer Sidhe would've been king of the world (instead of moving on to Rugby League 3 on Wii). It mixes car-on-car violence with an endless horde of zombies shuffling around the arena, which supplies the blood part of the Blood Drive equation. Think Mad Max in the post-zombie apocalypse.
When you sit down to make a first-person shooter involving the President, the secret service, and terrorists, that's a responsibility. From Metal Gear Solid 2 to Metal Wolf Chaos, video games have a time-honored tradition of building fun and/or crazy experiences around the commander-in-chief. But Secret Service doesn't come close. Despite playing a secret service agent for the President - which, in video games, could potentially be the most exciting job ever - the most secret service-y thing you do is shoot people while wearing a suit. And that's not even fun, because this game plays like a bad Call of Duty knockoff.
Madballs: Babo Invasion
If you never had the pleasure of owning one, Madballs are among the quintessential 'gross-out toys' that were all the rage in the '90s: spherical, freaky foam faces that really don't do much besides sit there and look weird. In a moment of bizarre serendipity, someone on the Madballs marketing team saw a perfect opportunity to incorporate the toyline into a sequel to Babo Violent 2, a freeware twin-stick shooter populated by globes with guns. Shockingly, Madballs: Babo Invasion isn't half bad for a budget arcade shoot-'em-up, especially in four-player co-op. And the XBLA version lets you do something that the Steam port never could: let you roll around as the disembodied, weapon-wielding head of your Xbox 360 Avatar.
In some parallel universe, Dollar Dash turned out to be the Bomberman of modern times: a raucous, top-down, four-player party game, rife with shenanigans made possible by goofy power-ups (including giant boulders, bottle rockets, and Jell-O shields). Sadly, this 'no cops, just robbers' caper didn't fare so well in our reality - the premise of grabbing and holding onto gobs of money couldn't keep players hooked, no matter how many unique pick-ups, weapons, and costume options are on offer. But even if Dollar Dash couldn't capture the magic of fun, frenzied multiplayer, it at least got one thing very, very right: the groovy, toe-tappin' menu music.
When it comes to peculiar first-person shooters with outlandish character designs and off-the-wall aesthetics, Xotic is right up there with Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath and Zeno Clash. Your primary weapon resembles a gigantic fly's head, and each level evokes the feeling that you've just dropped acid at a black-light bowling alley. Rather than shooting up everything that moves, your primary objective is to score points by popping colored orbs with your icky bug-gun. You do eventually get to take potshots at some incredibly freakish enemies, including deranged cyborgs and metallic-skinned mutants. There's a lot more style here than substance, but Xotic's trippy take on the FPS archetype is certainly unique.
Virtual billiards is nothing new, and most people can appreciate the simple satisfaction of lining up a geometrical shot to sink a ball in a pocket. But Inferno Pool needed something to really set it apart - so it tossed out the smooth felt of a pool table for the grit and grime of industrial metal. For reasons unknown, you've decided to enjoy a game of eight-ball in the break room of the local foundry, which is just as dingy and rusted-over as you might imagine. The attempt at making Inferno Pool feel like regular billiards' older, edgier, street-smart cousin is rounded out by some generic techno and a ridiculous announcer with gravelly, Unreal Tournament-style callouts like "BANK SHOT!" or simply "INFERNO!" to pump you up for all the intense pool action.
0D Beat Drop
If you're a fan of Japanese arcade obscurities - and really, who isn't - then you might've heard of Magical Beat, a competitive puzzle game that's like Tetris, Lumines, and Beatmania combined in one. By dropping colored blocks in time to the music, you can rain down trash blocks on your opponent while enjoying some incredibly dope beats. All that is to say: Magical Beat is amazing, and you should absolutely pick up the PS Vita port. Alternatively, you could seek out 0D Beat Drop, which is pretty much the exact same game with Avatars instead of pixelated caricatures. There's a reason these games are so similar: they're both made by Arc System Works, who you probably know as the maker of Guilty Gear and BlazBlue. In either case, you're going to have a good time - I guarantee it.
While we're on the ever-popular topic of Japanese rhythm games (see: previous slide), here's Beat'n Groovy, the Westernized version of Pop'n Music. If you've never had the pleasure of plunking some change into a colorful, cartoony Pop'n Music arcade cabinet, it's essentially the kid-friendly version of the rhythmic button-tapping from Konami's own Beatmania series. Problem is, those games are only available in Japan, and Beat'n Groovy is a poor stand-in for the genuine article. At a glance, the cutesy visuals and screen layout look the same, but upon closer inspection, you'll find all the ugliness of a Western artist trying to imitate the anime style and coming up short, landing somewhere in Bratz territory. Also, playing with a standard 360 pad just can't replicate the magic of Pop'n Music's nine-button, Fisher-Price-looking controller.
Go! Go! Break Steady
To round out this trifecta of forgotten Xbox 360 rhythm games, we've got Go! Go! Break Steady. This oddity adapts the smooth, physically demanding moves of breakdancing into a juxtaposition of simple rhythm gaming in the vein of Gitaroo Man (where inputs randomly fly in from off-screen towards a central node) and the colored-ball-blasting of Zuma. It's a strange mix, to be sure, but the gameplay's perfectly satisfactory, and it's hard not to appreciate the hand-drawn animations and funky art style. Plus, you can play as a breakdancing grandma wearing Bruce Lee's iconic yellow tracksuit.