The launch of Microsoft’s monetized emulator/social game club — Game Room — didn’t exactly flow like chi. Like most massive online releases it was plagued by unexpected issues; unloadable at first, the game packs themselves weren’t functional, then the whole thing was offline and finally back up and mostly working. Now that the data packets have settled down and the experience is mostly flowing as planned we can take a closer look at things.
Like the Xbox 360’s Dashboard, Game Room’s interface looks great but suffers from its unique visual design. Three “floors” of a circular arcade megaplex offer 12 different rooms, each individually themed with your Avatar and those of your Friends milling about. Developer Krome has nailed the feel of a classic arcade but making sense of what games are where, if anyone is actually online with you, and how things work is overwhelming.
It wasn’t until about 90 minutes in, after circling the virtual arcade-o-plex numerous times and finding many of the same games repeated that I fumbled my way back to the main interface. Here you’re presented with a much more efficient and familiar menu system where you can browse the games available as well as all the themes, decor and stats that make Game Room a scary addictive place to hang out with Microsoft Monies in your Avatar’s wallet. This is also when I spotted the face-melting image you see here, one that clearly shows a Sega Genesis 6-button pad and an arcade-at-home style fighting stick. I enjoyed playing around with many of the initial 30+ games (though I only bought one: Finalizer) but the promise of newer games for more old consoles has me hesitantly ecstatic for what the future may hold and how much it’s going to end up costing me.
The netcode stuff — leaderboards, interaction with Friends, and even purchasing content — is still flaky and the interface is like a slap in the face (a slick, well animated and colorfully fun slap at least) but Game Room is well worth fighting these ‘Zero Day’ hitches to check out. You’ll get a few Achievements for free, you can spend 10 minutes with any of the games on offer (with new ones added every week) and I just can’t say enough about the presentation. That’s the visual and aural experience, not the user interface design. Seeing Avatars out of your periphery as you play while the sounds create a nostalgic cacophony of digital noise feels dead-on like being in a real arcade. There’s a lot more to say, too, but I’ll save that for a podcast or an upcoming post.