Microsoft Studios/Toylogic Inc.
Xbox Live Arcade
The free-to-play business model is common throughout PC and mobile gaming, but the trend has yet to stake a huge claim on consoles. Microsoft’s experiment to change that is a DOTA-style game (wherein you attack the enemy’s towers while defending your own), but it stands out from the pack with a great mix of humorous fun, depth and customization. The 30-player game has a silly, Castle Crashers feel to it, with weapons that include giant fish or hams. And the cartoonish levels undulate and bounce around you. This humor helps to maintain a casual gameplay amid the countless gear, weapon, skill and buff customizations. Three classes bring diversity to the beat-’em-up combat system without requiring hours of study to predict opponents’ behavior. Unlike other DOTA-style games, Happy Wars is about goofy fun, not million-dollar tournaments. Free-to-play games have a bad reputation for being unpolished, and while Happy Wars is better than many, the number of attempts necessary to start a matchmaking game is almost intolerable. Still, when 30 freakish avatars are battling over a tower, ham swords are flying, and player-summoned tornados are whipping milk-carton-armored opponents off cliffs, you forget the wait time and mash the buttons as fiercely as when you were a kid.