Being quite successful for the third year in a row, Xbox Live's "Summer of Arcade" has given the community over a dozen quality titles to keep the summer months from becoming the usual gaming lull. Fall is right around the corner (and with it, the "Feast of Arcade"), but XBLA has one more gem for us to put in our libraries and a kibosh on the summer, and Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is quite possibly the best of the five game bunch, toting an all new top down view, dual-stick shooting mechanics, and cooperative play that makes for a unique experience.
While The Guardian of Light definitely holds highly entertaining gameplay, the same can't be said for the very lackluster story. A group of mercenaries, led by the local warlord, have captured Lara during her exploration for the Mirror of Smoke, which also happens to be the warlord's objective, and have found its location. However, as he takes the mirror, the Keeper of Darkness, Xolotl, breaks free of his prison, as does the living statue and Guardian of Light (*gasp* he said it!) Totec, who was able to subdue the demon over 2000 years ago within the Mirror of Smoke. Now it's up to Lara and Totec to perform some damage control, either going their separate ways (single player) or joining forces (coop). It's a stock story, and though it does a "sufficient" job of progressing the game, it's not exactly the most creative of ideas, and it is just as forgettable as it is unoriginal.
The Guardian of Light shines greatly due to its awesome use of dual-stick gameplay, as well as the exceptional cooperative, and single player, puzzle design. For the most part, combat is a straight forward blast with a multitude of weapons, ranging from Lara's classic double pistols and Totec's Spear of Light to an always fun flamethrower and a double barreled shotgun. While the basic weapons, the pistols and spear, have infinite ammo, the other advanced, more exciting weaponry do not, which requires a decent amount of strategic planning when it comes to the superb, over-the-top boss fights, especially since you get to run around with both a spear and a flamethrower. Lara and Totec also have a pretty heft amount of customization options in the form of relics and artifacts, respectively granting special upgrades and stat boosts and decreases that you'll have to fiddle with to determine what best fits your play style. Puzzles vary depending on which mode you choose, both offering intuitive uses of your weaponry and surroundings in order to progress, and differing greatly between singleplayer and coop play, which is enough to garner multiple playthroughs. They're challenging enough to make you sit back and think for a minute or two, but not to the extent where you may "accidentally" fling your controller through the drywall.
For all of its gameplay prowess, The Guardian of Light also sports some slick visuals - some of the best I've seen for an XBLA title - especially during the gorgeous cutscenes. They're up to par with many AAA titles, and has a unique style that looks better than most of the recent Tomb Raider games. However, the same can't be said for the sound work. While the sound effects are spot on, the voice work isn't, specifically when it comes to Totec. I cringed everytime he opened his mouth; Jim Cummings (Totec) is truly a master of ear-raping. It's fortunate that during co-op Lara takes on most of the narrating for the lengthy adventure, yet if you choose Totec in single player, you're out of luck. At least you'll have the wonderful level design and character models to keep your mind off his unforgivable voice.
With a very large amount of collectibles in the form of artifacts and relics, plenty of challenge dungeons that will test your intellect and combat abilities, impressive visuals, and satisfying action, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light will keep you entertained for close to 20 hours across both the single and multiplayer campaigns. As of yet, it doesn't support online options besides leaderboards, although once the PS3 version releases an Xbox 360 patch will be made available enabling it. 1200 points may sound a little steep, but for the amount of content and pure fun factor it's a small price to pay, and it's definitely an amazing end to 2010's "Summer of Arcade."