The Ryan Lambie Column: NXE – the most exciting thing, ever. Honest.

Why Microsoft's new Xbox 360 GUI has made Ryan a very happy man...

The new 360 dashboard. Hmmm....

I love new toys. Which is why I’ve decided to devote this week’s column to Microsoft’s major update to the XBox 360’s GUI, NXE; even though the internet’s already awash with news and opinions on the subject, I couldn’t resist throwing in my two penn’orth anyway.

‘Welcome to the New Xbox experience!’ says a little grey screen, after an 80MB download that seems to last for eternity. Then… animation! Colours! Bubbles! Cars formed from rapidly intersecting lines! It’s most exciting. Then, to spoil the mood, another grey screen appears, demanding that I accept Microsoft’s terms of use. I accept without reading, which probably means Bill Gates can now legally take possession of my house.

Just as I wonder if it’s too late to go back and change my mind, I’m then confronted with a slightly creepy rogue’s gallery of Avatars, which are in ABSOLUTELY NO WAY ‘inspired’ by Nintendo’s Mii facility. Even though they’re little 3D men (or women) which you can customise and dress up. Just as you can on the Wii. Annoyingly, none of the Avatars on offer looks remotely like me, but I decide to choose the camp looking one with the receding hairline. I like his trousers. After about an hour fiddling with all the options, he still doesn’t look much like me, though I do manage to give him my own peculiar saturnine scowl.

Once my Avatar’s been created, I can take a ‘photo’ of it to use as my profile picture, which is quite neat – though the camera won’t let me move the viewfinder down far enough to take a photo of my crotch area, which I find bitterly disappointing.

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The new menu system looks rather nice – a cascading band of 3D cards which you can flick through like a seasoned gambler. It’s all very slick and zen-like now (a far cry from the original interface’s chunky blade system), though I did find it slightly harder to find things like Marketplace than I used to. This could just be me getting old, of course.

Still, there are some neat new features to go with the graphical bling: you can now install games onto your hard disk, which should, in theory, cut down access times and also silence the infamously noisy DVD drive; you can stream movies via Netflix; you can delete any zero point games off your gamer card – great if you’ve had some games that you hated so much you didn’t even play them long enough to score an achievement.

Like most new toys, the brief thrill of New Xbox Experience is quickly replaced by a creeping sense of indifference. The Avatars are a nice addition, though there’s a surprisingly stingy range of clothes to choose from. Anyone who enjoyed dashboard themes will be disappointed to find that their old downloads now look absolutely horrible. You may be able to download films from Netflix, but this won’t make any difference to you if you’re not a subscriber, which I’m not. Oh, and in late breaking news, certain films have mysteriously disappeared from the Netflix roster – these include Superbad, Drunken Master and the Karate Kid trilogy; all property of, funnily enough, Sony Pictures Entertainment.

My main problem with NXE isn’t what’s here – which as I said, looks slick and pleasant – it’s what’s missing. Why can’t we have a web browser? The PS3 has one, and even the humble Wii has one – though you do have to pay for it.

Despite heavy promotion at this year’s E3, Primetime – a sort of online pub quiz based on a gameshow I’ve never heard of – is also conspicuous by its absence, and for some unfathomable reason won’t be appearing until next spring.

Ultimately then, NXE looks slick, with lots of 3D swooshing zen-like menus. And there are little 3D Avatars, which are nice I suppose.

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The most pertinent comment came from my other half. Wandering into the living room after a long journey home from work, she squinted at the television screen (which at that point had my Avatar glowering out of it) and exclaimed ‘bloody hell, what’s happened to the Wii?’

‘I can’t take a picture of my crotch,’ I replied gloomily. My other half looked at me quizzically, and then left the room.

Ryan writes his gaming column every week at Den Of Geek. Last week’s is here.