Xbox 360 swanky soiree shows off new games, mini burgers

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Microsoft held a pretty swanky soiree last night to introduce gamers and the media to their latest offerings for this upcoming holiday season. My compadres and I found ourselves bathed in green and purple stage lights as we strolled around the venue, nibbling on miniature comestibles.

Mini was the food-theme of the night, with a mini-Dim Sum table, along with mini-cheeseburger and mini-BLT hors d'oeuvres (I'd swear that there was a Wonkavision machine in the kitchen shrinking regular-sized cheeseburgers). Kinect was definitely the game-theme of the night. Microsoft had 15+ Kinect stations set up throughout, demoing a wide variety of genres, including music games, shooters, and even the latest hotly anticipated Cookie Monster dance game.

We tried a hand at Gunstringer, which is a rail shooter for Kinect that uses your hands as guns - you make a gun shape with your hand, move it around to aim, then snap your hand-gun upwards to shoot, like you did when you were a kid. The game was surprisingly accurate, but not perfect. The learning curve is pretty low - once you're synched up to the game, you'll be able to snipe those insidious arm-flailing tubemen with reasonable accuracy.

Fruit Ninja was also on display, which uses Kinect to place you onto the background as a shadowed point of reference, and then use your arms as blades to slice flying fruit. I didn't get a chance to play it, but watched on as folks lined up for a brief shot at furious arm-flailing. I wondered how much fun it would still be after a few tiring minutes of game play, but the game's trailer at least implies a more focused style of playing by slicing the fruit with the least amount of strokes - more martial artisty than spastic.

In the center of the room were several stations set up for Gears of War 3, along with a few stations for Forza 4 and Madden 2012. I tried out Forza using the 360's Speed Wheel controller. It took a minute or so to get used to the controls of the game and the controller itself, but you quickly get the hang of it. The controller was fairly responsive, although I personally prefer a racing wheel attached to a base over a floating wheel. Forza 4 carried over the Sands of Time-like rewind button from the prior game, which remains a unique and intriguing aspect of the game.

Gears of War 3 was set to horde mode, with some fun additions to help you overcome the onslaught. Environmental defenses available for purchase include laser walls, turrets, and floor spikes, while players also have access to a new sawed-off boomstick (however reloading takes twice as long as the gnasher). New weapons and game modes aside, core game play remains largely unchanged (if it ain't broke...).

Accessory-wise, Microsoft also had their new Media Remote on display, which is a much slimmer and simpler version of the prior model. It's very useful for controlling your TV and the media center features of your 360, as well as the less useful ability to extract puddles of drool from everyone around me.

Microsoft typically spares no expense for press events, and last night was certainly no exception. The mood was relaxed and low-key, and we were able to observe and play games among a light crowd while imbibing on fancified cocktails several levels above my pay grade. But underneath the glitz and pomp, what really matters is the games, and how they'll sell this upcoming holiday season.
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