Xbox Live has been one of the success stories of the Microsoft Xbox project. Originally introduced as the centralised online gaming network for the original Xbox, it has evolved into something altogether more exciting. Today, with the Xbox 360, it's an online destination for download HDTV programmes, trailers, game demos and even full games. Xbox Live has been pushing to make digital distribution of console games a reality.
This has been through Xbox Live Arcade. Arcade is home to many 'casual' games, designed to be easy for non-hardcore gamers to play. As such, there are plenty of poker, card and puzzle games around. These games are easy to pick up and play, often feature simple online play, and are a great distraction from the mega-titles like Gears of War or Splinter Cell.
Over recent months, however, the number of more enthusiast titles on Live Arcade has gotten much larger. As well as casual games, we're seeing more retro games, conversions of the kind of titles we were playing in our youth, appealing to the retro movement. Titles like Street Fighter 2 and Doom, both classics of their time. Sure, it's great to spend £40 on the latest blockbuster, but why not £4 on something a little less, well, flashy?
As well as retro conversions, we're also seeing modern day updates. Worms has been updated for the service, not to mention Geometry Wars, perhaps the ultimate Robotron-a-like.
So we thought it was high time that we took a look at our favourite games on the service, to point you in the direction of the best places to spend your Microsoft points.
Points mean prizes
So what exactly are these elusive points? Well, they're pseudo currency. Rather than giving each item on Live Arcade a price in dollars or pounds, each item has a points value that doesn't really translate to any particular currency value. However, there is an official exchange rate, based on the fact that you can buy points in round values. This, unfortunately, has the side effect of usually leaving fifty or one hundred points kicking around in your account at any one time - a very cunning way of taking money off you for nothing.
Cost of 500 Microsoft points UK: £4.25
Almost all Xbox Live Arcade games are 400 points, putting them at just under four quid, or five bucks.
The Microsoft points system (also used for the Zune Marketplace) is an incredible annoyance, especially compared to the relative ease with which small purchases are made on the iTunes system. However, you get used to it and, with your credit card stored on the system, you can at least buy points straight via the 360 Dashboard.
Once you've got some points in your account, it's time to pick up some games. Every game on the Live Arcade has a trial version which you can download for free. Most of the time this is just the full game with just the first level available. You then have the option to purchase the full game through the dashboard, which usually just takes a few seconds to unlock the rest of the content on the hard drive.
So what are the best ones to go for? Obviously, we can't play through everything, but here are our favourites.