by Caleb Jones

Earlier this year, Microsoft announced the “Games with Gold” feature would be making its debut on XBOX One in June. Like many other gamers, I was excited to see what would be free, especially with such a limited game library available. To my surprise (and delight), they did not disappoint. The first two games to be made free with a gold Xbox Live membership were Max: The Curse of Brotherhood and Halo: Spartan Assault.

max coverMax is a standard platformer with a not-so standard twist, the ability to draw on the environment with a “magic marker” given to you by a magic old woman. This changes the dynamic from a Rayman-like jumping game to a next level puzzle platformer. The best way I can describe it is Rayman and Little Big Planet having a baby, and the baby was rendered beautifully with next generation console graphics. Puzzles are varied and challenging, and keep the player entertained for the whole five hour campaign. The story is a bit flat, as the game is obviously intended for a young crowd, but the dialogue between characters is often humorous enough to tickle all ages.

With these many strengths, it is easy to overlook the mild weaknesses shown by Max. Marker controls are sometimes unresponsive and can force you to begin entire puzzles over again, and the physics are about as frustrating as one would expect from a typical jump and run game. Sometimes your character simply won’t grab a ledge that he obviously should have, and other times he’ll somehow latch onto one that is obviously out of his reach. These shortcomings can be frustrating at times, but only deduct a small amount of enjoyment from this otherwise wonderful game.

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood sets the standard high for platformer games on the Xbox One with its varied landscapes, enticing puzzles, and beautiful graphics. Even if you’re not a huge fan of this style of game, I guarantee you will find it worth a free play through.

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halo coverThe other title made free by Games with Gold was Halo: Spartan Assault. Currently the only Halo game on XB1, Spartan Assault is a twin-stick shooter that tells stories of famous and important battles in the history of the Covenant war. Familiar characters such as Spartan Sarah Palmer help tie the game into the franchise, but the game stands alone nicely, even for someone who has never played a Halo game before.

Twin-stick” refers to a control scheme popular with indie and arcade games. It implies an aerial view, looking almost straight down, with one joy stick controlling movement and the other controlling the firing of some weapon in a circle around the character. Good examples include Smash TV, Geometry Wars, and the indie surprise hit I Made A Game With Zombies In It

Easily the most well put together twin-stick shooter I have ever played, Halo: Spartan Assault’s controls are fluid and easy to grasp, and the missions vary enough to keep you interested. Usually twin-sticks are simple games based on surviving waves of enemies for as long as possible, but this game does the Halo name proud with fun and challenging objectives, such as capturing objectives and escorting AI.

halo spartan assaultSpartan Assault also boasts a cooperative multiplayer mode in which two players can face an increasing number of zombie creatures for a short time. While entertaining for a time, this multiplayer grows old quickly and most likely won’t occupy you for more than a few hours.

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Microsoft surprised me by releasing two of what I consider to be the best arcade games available on the Xbox One. I would have gladly paid for either of them, but thanks to my gold membership, I got them for free and get to keep them for as long as I have my membership. To top it off, new free games will be released each month to all gold members. August’s offerings are Crimson Dragon and Strike Suit Zero.

If you are interested in some free games, head on over to your local Slacker’s and pick up an Xbox Live membership card today.