Top 10: Xbox Live Indie Games
A lot of people I’ve asked don’t even realise that the Indie Games section of Xbox Live actually exists. It’s disappointing that not enough recognition is given to the service as there’s some quality titles available at extremely cheap prices. Sure, like Apple’s own app store there’s also a lot of rubbish floating around on there, but the same could be said for the 360′s game catalogue as a whole. Moreover Indie developers are more likely to try something original with their titles, not pressured by publisher demands or the need to fit a certain demographic. They may not have the production values of today’s blockbuster games, but the amount of high quality Indie games available to play across the Internet is testament to the fact that great games can be made with small budgets or even a single person with a great idea. Hats off to Microsoft for supplying a way to get these types of games into the hands of the 360 masses, but the service could still do with a little more exposure.
That’s why Xboxer360 is starting a new Indie Weekly feature, designed to spotlight both the new and old games that appear on the XBL Indie Games service. Look out for this feature from next Monday, but for now here’s the Top 10 games that I personally enjoyed. With around 1,800 games available I couldn’t possibly play them all, but here’s the best from the fair share of the amount that I have had the chance to play. It’s by no means a definitive list, but it’s a list of 10 quality titles that you may be missing out on.
10. Moon Taxi
The strange thing about Moon Taxi is that it’s not the actual gameplay that made me love it. In fact the gameplay is pretty simplistic, having you control a taxi on the way to the moon (I just thought I’d tell you that, in case the title didn’t already scream it at you). Players must dodge oncoming asteroids, which gets increasingly harder as the taxi is constantly building speed. While you’re doing this a story is being told by a different narrator on each level, a narrator who is supposed to be your passenger. Words from the story pop up as you zoom along, and collecting enough will unlock further levels. Doesn’t sound like much of a challenge, does it? It isn’t, but it’s the story that makes this game a pleasure to play.
The stories are the real star here, the gameplay simply being a side offering for something to be doing and enticing extra stories should you do well. All the stories are user generated, all 8 of which are varied and pretty funny. This is also only volume 1, with the developer planning a second volume should the user submissions come in. I hope it happens, as I for one am looking forward to hearing more entertaining stories as I zoom towards the moon.
9. I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES 1NIT!!!1
If you’re prone to seizures then it’s probably best that you stay well away from this game. For everyone else we can get a feeling of what I assume is similar to massacring thousands of zombies at your local night club. What starts as a simple top-down twin stick shooter, having you face off against floods of bloodthirsty walking bags of rotten flesh, turns into a psychedelic LSD tinged race for survival. It’s an extreme assault on the senses, full of weird backgrounds and more lasers than David Guetta is comfortable with. While you’re killing things (not just zombies; as snakes (we’re talking the once extremely popular Nokia game), gloopy things that split into dozens of smaller clones, and even angry faces will constantly rush towards you) power-ups will litter the floor, giving you such delights as the flamethrower, missile launcher, and a laser weapon amongst others that all make your job of causing mass mayhem that much easier.
It’s also got a hilarious theme song, rounding off what is surely one of the best uses of 80 MSP on Xbox Live.
When I think about a breeze I picture myself standing at the seaside on a warm spring afternoon, a slight breeze coming across the sea and buffeting my carefully prepared hair. It’s a calming thought, and a scenario that we sadly don’t get all that often in merry old England. Then we have Breeze the game, which is anything but calming. Sure, the graphics are beautifully crafted and the smooth music may well be playing in my head during my calming fantasy, but the gameplay can be infuriatingly frustrating.
The objective is to guide a flower through each of the games 60 levels, which are in turn split into the four seasons each presenting a unique style and obstacles. You use your right stick to control the fan, while the right trigger blows the fan and sends the flower shooting in the direction you want it to. Careful precision and timing is needed to get the flower through tiny gaps or around obstacles, all while trying to collect sunspots to unlock the exit and doing all this in a certain amount of time. Its latter stages are frustratingly hard, but it ultimately feels rewarding when your flower finally touches the exit. Then there are the developer’s times to beat…
7. Apple Jack
Take a journey through the faraway land of, erm, Suffolk with Apple Jack. You also happen to have an apple for a head, which must be mightily inconvenient when trying to avoid the wrath of birds. Although birds are the least of your problems, as there’s deadly pandas and washing machines to deal with. Thankfully you can ride those enemies, and then have fun throwing washing machines at pandas. You probably shouldn’t do that in real life as it’s not advised to annoy the Chinese.
Killing enemies nets you a shower of coins (I have no idea what Apple Jack is spending them on. Maybe Bananas?), but getting that done starts to present somewhat of a puzzle. You’ll need to use your noggin to get past each level, which hopefully isn’t an apple too, and with 100 levels of weird and wonderful platforming environments you can be sure you’re getting good value for money. Maybe you can spend some of that spare change on an apple – or go wild and buy an orange!
What would a Top 10 games list be without a hardcore strategy game? It would probably be full of easier games to be fair. Flotilla sees you engaging in interstellar battles, manoeuvring your scarcely detailed fleet of ships to fire missiles at other seemingly plain-looking ships across the cold darkness of space. Except space is apparently an orange colour in this case, and filled with music that sounds like it’s coming from the nursery your little kid is dumped in for the day. Then there are pigs, pigs in space! If you’ve never seen a pig fly then you certainly haven’t seen one flying a battleship capable of traveling thousands of light years.
Beneath the humour of space faring animals Flotilla is a surprisingly rewarding game for strategy fans. You direct your ships (all of which are upgradeable with upgrade rewards you gain from completing a battle) across the planes of space, moving them across and up and down. The ability to attack from any side gives you a wealth of tactical options, such as having one of our ships come up at the enemy from below while another of your ships flanks to the right. Maybe that isn’t a good tactic, but Flotilla is all about experimenting to become a legendary commander of the space fleet when we have to defend Earth against the alien cat threat. That last part might not happen, but one can only dream that we’ll be fighting the rare Kurilian Bobtail cat breed sometime in the near future.
Somehow I doubt Microsoft would allow a game about cocaine on to the Xbox Live marketplace, and that obviously isn’t what Blow is about. Instead your objective is to literally blow bubbles across each level, with the aid of fans that you can place on any piece of the environment. You only have so many fans, and you have to be very careful of their placement if you’re going to get the bubbles past the various environmental obstacles. You can also control the speed of your fans, making the bubbles go further, or control the temperature (hot makes the bubbles rise, cold makes the bubbles fall) which all brings a degree of further puzzling complexity to the game.
With beautifully crafted graphics, and a soundtrack that’s simply excellent for such a small indie game, Blow’s 70 stages and the procedurally generated challenge mode levels are easily worth the 400 MS points asking price. It’s a fun and addictive addition to the XBL Indie games service.
4. A Fading Melody
One of the best things about the Xbox Live Indie Games section is that it provides a platform for the type of arty games that other developers probably wouldn’t take a risk on. A Fading Melody is one such example, telling the story of a coma patient. You’re traversing through the platformed levels of the coma patients mind. As you play the screen gradually gets darker, which signifies the coma patient slowly fading away and eventually dying. Killing enemies brings back colour to the world, and you have to keep this up until the end of each level.
While the gameplay is pretty standard stuff and doesn’t bring anything new to the platforming genre, the story and artistic style are both beautifully crafted and captivating. It was always a joy to get to the end of each level and learn more about why the patient is in a coma. A game doesn’t always have to provide innovating gameplay to become a quality title.
3. Breath of Death VII
With its charming 8-bit style graphics and a story brimming with jokes Breath of Death VII feels like a JRPG from the SNES days. The setting is a post-apocalyptic world where humans have wiped themselves out. Instead civilization is now made up of zombies, ghosts and monsters that live an almost medieval life. You play as Dem, a skeleton Knight who ends up having the staple RPG adventure of ridding the world of evil. There’s a world map, towns populated by the undead, a retro (and pretty basic) battle system, and a party made up of people who couldn’t be more different from each other. It’s also got a hilarious script, with plenty of in-jokes in relation to the RPG genre. All-in-all it combines elements from such games as Phantasy Star, Breath of Fire and Final Fantasy.
The only real criticism I have is that the game is short, clocking in at around four or five hours. However, for only 80 MS Points you can’t really complain much and it’s probably one of the best uses for a bit of spare change that you can find. Well, that and a Creme Egg!
“Stars are big. Ours swans around in the sky thinking it’s top man, laughing at the fact it can hurt your eyes or burn your skin. Here it is though sun, you may be pretty big around these parts but the universe is even more massive than you can ever imagine. In reality you’re just a tiny spec in the grand scheme of things.”
“Yo Human, the universe doesn’t even know you exist. At least I can zoom around the universe and actually manipulate it. I can grab asteroids; sucking them in and making me grow. I can nurture them so they turn into planets and eventually produce life. I can grab planets off other stars, and even destroy those stars if I so desire. Eventually I can have a giant solar system that can swing around and destroy anything this universe puts against me. It might be big but it doesn’t scare me. Sure those planets sometimes produce hostile ships, but they’re little more than flies to me and I usually have my own fleet of ships to swat them away anyway. In short, I am awesome”.
So, yeah, that’s Solar.
1. Cthulhu Saves the World
Cthulhu may be a being of supreme evil, but strip him of all his powers to go on a journey to save the world and he’s actually a pretty funny guy. He might only be saving the world to satisfy his own selfish desires to destroy it, but he and his odd companions aren’t past cracking a good few jokes while they’re at it. The game also has zombie cheerleaders, and you really can’t argue with that.
Similar to Breath of Death VII, Cthulhu Saves the World is the kind of retro game that may have nothing on today’s graphical powerhouses but still manages to create a world full of personality. There’s a reason why earlier JRPG’s are loved by many, as they’re filled with the kind of charm you can’t help but love. Games may look superbly realistic today, but I love this kind of art that the RPG genre grew up on.
While the game is filled with the staples of the RPG genre (dungeons, random battles, exploring towns), the humour and wacky story elements makes it a pleasure to play. You won’t get much more than 10 hours out of it, but it doesn’t need to be longer than that. I loved every second of this game, and for such a cheap price you don’t really have an excuse to not give it a try. The Indie games section may have its fair share of crap, but it’s gems like this that people are missing out on by not giving it a look in.
You owe it to yourself to give this one a shot.