Torchlight (XBLA) preview: Cure for the common controller

Runic Games' Torchlight has received lots of well-deserved acclaim since its release back in October of 2009. It took Diablo's well-traveled hack, slash, and loot action-RPG formula, and updated it with both some solid innovation and a lot of excellent polish. Now, after a lot of promises, Runic is bringing the game to XBLA, and the question is how such a PC-centric title will work on a console.

Microsoft let us have some hands-on time this week at CES, and after playing the game for hours on the PC and the better part of an hour on console, I can say the answer is: Pretty well. At this point, I wouldn't call the console version definitive at all -- there are a few quirks in the system like monsters getting caught in corners and some complicated menus (probably a given anyway, as Runic has revamped everything from the original with a brand new interface). But combat works great, the new menu systems are carefully considered and designed, and a vast majority of the PC version's polish shines right through like a Perfect-level gem.
%Gallery-112898% The biggest challenge to bringing the game to consoles was the combat, Runic CEO Max Schaefer told me. "By far, by far. We ended up doing a lot of little things to make that melee combat feel better. You take a little move forward whenever you swing, and there's a cone of influence in front of you that it'll hit into rather than to specifically have something targeted." The combat does feel good -- while the game seems like it would be a dual-stick affair, basic hits have been mapped to the X button, making it much more tactile. Ranged attacks automatically hold you in place while the button is held down, unlike the PC version, which requires an extra toggle.

The combat looks better, too. "We had to do all new attack animations and all new animation blending," explains Schaefer, "just because of the different ways that it felt when you used the controller." Unfortunately, some of the textures in the background could probably have used some cleaning as well, but whether that's better than the PC or not depends on your computer -- a slow computer turned down will absolutely make the game look better on the Xbox, while a high-end rig will make the console version look a little jaggy.

The game's item system has also been altered -- in addition to the aforementioned 50 item limit, the menus are more or less shortcut-based. Selecting an item assigns appropriate functions to buttons, so you can equip gear, give items to your pet, drop them in place, or use or sell them as needed. Every function is listed all of the time, which is handy when figuring the system out, but makes things a little cluttered when you've got every menu open. Still, replicating all of the functionality, from item vendors to character stashes, is very impressive.

In fact, there was only one thing in the entire experience I missed from the PC version of the game -- shift-clicking to command your pet to get an item. That had to go, Schaefer confirmed ruefully. Other than that, it's all in there. You can control your pet's stances, build up your talent trees, run random dungeon maps, look for random dungeon quests, transmute gems and slot them in items, re-run dungeons to your heart's content, and cast spells, summon minions, and hack and slash your way through the game with all three classes.

There is a new pet -- a raptor-style dinosaur that's quite cute. There's a new random questgiver as well, and some new items and other content made specifically for the XBLA version. "We wanted to make sure that even people who had the PC version had reason to try the console," says Schaefer. I would say fishing is even better with a controller in your hand -- getting a bite while fishing shakes the controller, something the PC version probably needed.

PSN hopefuls, don't hold your breath. "I made the decision that we would do one or the other, PSN or Microsoft," says Schaefer, "because we're a small studio, and we just wanted to make sure that we were focused on getting it right rather than getting multiple SKUs out at the same time." Runic likes the Xbox Live platform and "had some good talks with the Microsoft guys," so Schaefer says the deal came together quickly and went well.

Contrary to rumors, the game's price hasn't been confirmed, but Schaefer says a guess of around $10 to $15 sounds right. "It's actually up to Microsoft to decide it," he says. "We figured it would be in that ballpark, but we really don't know."

And as for if this release means the upcoming sequel to Torchlight is headed to consoles, Schaefer can still only tease. "If this does really well, and it's going to obviously be something that we want to do again, we'll just see how it fits in. Because we want to do one thing at a time and we want to do it right. But I think that, having played a lot of Torchlight 2 on the PC at the office, it also would work really well."

This article was originally published on Joystiq.