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Torchlight XBLA review: All the loot, half the noise


There's a large room up ahead. It's an uncharted space on the dungeon map and thus assuredly filled with very large, very nasty monsters. The room, unfortunately, is the only way forward. Physically weak and wielding only a bow, I'll need distraction and distance to survive.

First things first, I lob a couple of shock traps through the door to deal some consistent damage. Then I summon up a pack of skeletons to keep the heat off of me. I rush in, use my Hamstring ability to weaken enemies, unleash a few exploding arrows for crowd control, swallow a health potion, fling some needles into the closest group of baddies and, finally, rush back out. What monsters remain are left to either be electrocuted or bleed to death.

As cool as all that sounds, the most amazing part is that I did it all without a keyboard and mouse.

Gallery: Torchlight (XBLA) | 6 Photos

This is Torchlight. It's not some watered down port of the PC version. It's not a console-tailored spin-off. It's the same game, only a lot more fun for your thumbs.

Four skills can be mapped to different buttons and triggers, while a second set of four skills can be accessed by hitting down on the D-pad. With eight skills available at any given moment, it's easy to be prepared for a variety of situations. PC players may be used to more available hotkeys, but they certainly aren't necessary. After a few minutes, I was hurling traps, casting debuffs and summoning minions with ease.

Navigating the pause menu takes a little more practice, though it becomes second nature before too long. One unfortunate holdover from the PC version seems to be the game's tiny text, which can be difficult to read even in HD. In fact, I'd caution anyone with a standard definition monitor to play the trial version before making a purchase. On my own set, some text was nigh unreadable in standard definition, and many of the numbers can be easily misread (sixes look like eights, etc.).

For those that missed the PC version, the joy of Torchlight resides in the (admittedly familiar) formula of braving dungeons, slaying monsters and periodically returning to town to sell excess loot and stock up on supplies. It doesn't reinvent the genre, but rather refines it, sanding away the rough edges for a smoother experience.

For example, all Torchlight characters receive a pet, be it a dog, cat or the XBLA-exclusive Chakawary, which sits somewhere between baby dragon and giant lizard. In addition to aiding players in combat, pets can also be loaded down with goods and sent back to town to sell them, leaving players free to keep slaughtering monsters. After a minute or two, the pet will return, its pack now brimming with fresh gold. Players can even give their pets protective equipment or teach them spells.

Torchlight also features a simple yet robust crafting system, offering extensive equipment customization via magical gems or the local enchanter. There are several shops in town and, of course, plenty of townsfolk that offer various side-quests. Finishing the main quest -- a feat that took me around ten hours -- opens up even more side-quests and grants players the option of retiring their character, bequeathing their next character with a favorite item and some bonus starting experience. Beating the game also grants a new pet and, while I don't want to spoil anything, I will say it's substantially larger than the standard pets.

In short, Torchlight for Xbox Live Arcade retains all of the charm of the PC original. Unfortunately, it also retains the PC version's major flaw: a complete lack of multiplayer, an especially important feature in the action RPG genre. Even the simple ability to trade items with other players would have been a very welcome addition. As it stands, multiplayer will have to wait for Torchlight 2.

Even without multiplayer, however, Torchlight on XBLA is as close as you can get to dungeon crawling nirvana for $15. Like its PC counterpart, it removes the cruft of the genre, allowing players to get right down to the loot-driven core with a minimum of fuss. And now, thanks to the streamlined controls, we get it all without the constant clacking of a mouse.

This review is based on the final version of Torchlight provided by Microsoft. Torchlight is available for $15 on Xbox Live Arcade.

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