July’s Xbox Games With Gold Not Exactly a Slam Dunk
Welcome to one of the strangest Julys in recent memory, where the likelihood of people staying indoors and firing up their Xbox is significantly higher than in past years. One would think that subscription services like Live would look at these unique circumstances and capitalize on the opportunity, offering noteworthy, head-turning titles for entertaining while people are both getting out of the sun and avoiding the perils of the ongoing pandemic. Instead, the July Games With Gold titles feel like they’re on a level just under par: obscure indie titles, a middling racing game, and a dated decade-plus old GTA clone that has enjoyed superior – remastered – sequels since its release. Variety may be the spice of life, and that’s here, but it would be to Microsoft’s benefit if they dug a bit deeper in their trove of AAA games they haven’t released through Games With Gold and delivered some real spice. Before delving into the titles, be sure to Grab a Year Xbox Live Membership Card from Amazon to get in on the fun.
WRC 8 (July 1-31)
The spectrum of racing games isn’t unlike that of traditional sports video games: there’s usually one juggernaut franchise for a given style of sport, and a handful of others that struggle to keep up with it. One of the racing subgenres with the tightest competition lies with rally racers, where the likes of Codemasters’ Dirt line of games has several competitors hot on its heels for superiority. The WRC (World Rally Championship) franchise has certainly kept up with the pack over the past twenty years, and WRC 8 marks the fruition of nearly a half-decade of releases on current-gen systems from Kylotonn. After receiving less-than-stellar marks for the previous entry, Kylotonn took a year off to focus their strengths into this iteration, while also borrowing a few ideas from their competition for their career mode and car selection. Combined with an overhauled visual presentation and retooled physics responses, WRC 8 marks a bend in the right direction that I’m sure Kylotonn would like to accelerate further into this year’s WRC 9.
Dunk Lords (July 16 – August 15)
NBA Jam proved early on that arcade and simulation sports games games could coexist with one another, paving the way for outside-the-box basketball games to succeed alongside the official, updated franchise entries. A revamped version of Jam and the likes of NBA Street and NBA Playgrounds ensured that this sort of game could thrive over the years, leading to smaller labels like Story Fort being able to develop titles like Dunk Lords. Colorful, outlandish, fast-paced and dominated by anthropomorphized animals, this arcade sports game has the soul of its predecessors with a lot – a lot – of extra personality injected into it. Whether it goes too far in its eccentricities will probably depend on the player, but the unique challenges that its oddball characters, their abilities, and the hazardous courts bring to an online multiplayer space make it worth a taking the shot.
Saints Row 2 (July 1-15)
Recently, Saints Row: The Third received a generous, amazingly polished remaster for current systems, and the choice to do that as the franchise’s first true overhaul might be surprising to newcomers. Those who’ve played it know the score, though, as that entry serves as a soft reboot of the series into the zany, satirical, self-aware clone of Grand Theft Auto that it’s become. Before that, the first two installments in the franchise were markedly less outrageous, attempting to play it straight as a slightly exaggerated take on the concept with a more cogent and considerate emotional narrative. Saints Row 2 still serves as a breath of fresh air for those wanting the GTA experience with added personality and less heaviness, refining on the original concept so the second round through the city of Stillwater offers tons of variety and sheer volume of things to do. Thing is, once you’ve hopped on the crazy train with Saints Row The Third and into the superheroic, reality-bending antics of Saints Row IV, it’s tough to go back to Stillwater.
Juju (July 16-31)
Early in the history of console video games, many titles shared more than a few similarities. There were countless side-scrolling adventure platform games, in which the character jumped and collected items while progressing through an intermittently puzzling and hazardous gauntlet of ledges, pits, and enemies between. We’ve come a long way in the gaming spectrum, though, so a title’s really got to have something special for it to tread down that same path in 2020: the speed of Sonic, the timed cannon shots of Mega Man, or the artistic perspective of LIMBO. Juju feels vaguely like all those games, only with any sort of signature element stripped away from it. The only defining aspect here comes in the couch co-op playability of the title, which ensures that families will be able to play this without too much of a struggle. Those who have enjoyed the pseudo multiplayer aspects of Sonic 2 and 3 will likely feel at home in the colorful realm of Juju, if the likes of TRINE or the LEGO games aren’t available alternatives.