Imagine a store that never closes filled with hundreds of games, and you don’t even need to put on your pants to go there. Xbox Indie Games might not be the easiest shop to find, but with a half a dozen games appearing on their shelves every week, this is one place you want to check out. With the end of the year quickly approaching, I picked out five games that not only demonstrated some of the creativity found in the XBLIG area, but are a really a lot of fun to play. With so many gamers complaining about the lack of creativity, the expense, and not finding the right game to play; these XBLIG titles represent a solution to the problems plaguing the industry and gamers alike.
When two of the top indie game developers are kidnapped, it’s up to their secret project, a tiny robot with a drill, to come to their rescue. As the miniature Tetrabot, you trek across dangerous terrain with only a drill as your guide. Break and store a variety of blocks from sand to concrete. Collect four or more blocks and you can rearrange them anywhere on the map. The only catch is that you’ll need to build a four-block shape – think Tetris – in order to lay them down. You’ll gain new abilities along the way such as breaking special blocks or clearing out rows of eight or more blocks. Replay levels to find hidden items or take on the challenge levels if you’re still itching for a block to scratch.
Okay. I went with an easy pick first since it won Microsoft’s “Dream. Build. Play.” Contest earlier this year. Blocks that Matter, however, won for all the right reasons. Easy “pick up and play” design and cartoonish graphics makes this a game that’s inviting, but the complex level designs will keep even veteran gamers scratching their heads. The developers, Swing Swing Submarine, keep the game moving at a brisk pace by switching up the level designs. Some take place in one room while others will have you explore a vast network of caves. One level even finds you running away from a giant blob. There are more than a couple of nods to indie games with the secret items coming from some of their favorite games. If you love puzzle-platformers or just indie games in general, you have no excuse not to pick this one up.
Sometimes you can’t keep a bad pixel down. With only a couple of bullets and less hope, you need to traverse several streets to get to safety. Abandoned buildings hold little relief, the occasional weapon, and most often discarded junk. But one man’s junk may be another shopkeeper’s treasure as you’ll often run into storeowners looking for particular items for a little cash. Money will keep you afloat in ammo, weapons, and additional perks such as speed or reloading when it comes to facing the undead in this stylized pixel shooter.
Like any good horror story, Dead Pixel puts the emphasis on what really matters, the player. Though linear in nature, the game gives you enough wiggle room to create your own adventure or just to dig your own grave. Variety in weapons gives you more options how you want to take on the undead. Items shopkeepers ask for feel like little missions. One of the novel aspects of the game is the ability to be encumbered by carrying too much. Picking up every weapon lying on the ground now has a consequence. You pick and choose what goes in your pockets. Additional zombie types and playing along with a friend is just icing on the undead cake.
You are a rock floating in space. It happens. But you are a rock with big dreams, goals, and ambitions. You want to be a bigger rock. By mashing into smaller rocks, you suddenly find yourself with a little more heft and gravity. Collect enough rocks and you start to develop an atmosphere. People develop on you, and with them, technology. Flying ships and a force field form because this isn’t a nice universe. Other civilizations you pass by will want a piece of you. Gain a moon. Hell, take a couple of moons while you’re at it, and soon you’ll develop into your own solar system. Solar 2 breaks down the walls of a sandbox game and lets you play with a whole universe.
I know. I just picked another “Build. Dream. Play.” Winner, but I was crashing into planets in the first Solar way before the award. Or at least, that’s the story I’m telling. The fact remains, open world XBLIG titles are hard to pull off and harder still at this scope. In this Katamari meets Carl Sagan, the billions and billions of stars out there each hold a new adventure or a new story for you to share. I’ve found myself at the losing end of twin blackholes as well as the conqueror of an entire solar system with only a single planet. You start to get to know the shuttles flying around you after awhile and if you can keep them alive. Solar 2 is about bold exploration and experimentation. You don’t become a solar system just by hanging around a bunch of rocks.
Imaging waking up in an evil tower filled with monsters and the only way out of it is by dancing. As much as I wish there was a Cotillion of the Dead, Sequence goes one better by combining two of Japan’s major exports – DDR and JRPG. What you get is a rather inventive and ingenious combination that compliments each part. Battles take place on three screens that you switch between one at a time with your controller, DDR pad, or plastic guitar. One screen meant to represent attacks from the monster will show arrows floating down on occasion. Hit all the arrows and you don’t take any damage. Another screen represents attacks. Pick the one you want and follow the steps. Players quick on the arrows will produce better results. The last screen fills you with mana to spend on attacks with you follow the arrows. On top of all of this, there’s crafting, leveling, and bosses to fight. Whoever said that innovation was dead needs to give this game a spin.
Stop rolling your eyes. Microsoft picked out some great games this year. Sequence mashes together many great ideas such as active battles, crafting with experience points, and makes them work in a rather well written framework. It’s the combination for both the rhythm elements and RPG elements that intrigue me the most. In DDR, you would call it practicing. In an RPG, you would call it grinding. Put the two together and what you get is a reward system of learning a song while accumulating items and experience points from it. Practicing gives you both learning experience and in game experience. It’s a win-win situation all around. While using the words DDR and JRPG will send most gamers running for the hills, those of you even a little curious about the combination will be delighted with this indie hybrid.
If you ever read the poem “The Owl and The Pussycat” then you sort of know how this all goes down. If you didn’t, you should probably start flexing those Google skills of yours to correct this error. Got it? Now throw in a wizard to kidnap the owl and an interconnecting fortress of rooms, platforms, and weird enemies. LaserCat lets you explore a castle filled with traps and tiny jumps as you search for keys to free your beloved owl. This colorful 8-bit world only requires you to jump around. No special abilities. It’s just you and the next jump.
Simply put, LaserCat is addictively adorable. The simple colors, shapes, and challenging jumps remind me of VVVVVV in style, but without all the hair pulling. Frequent save spots encourages exploration by forgiving mistakes and warping between points in the ever-growing castle. Though animation is all but none existent, it’s hard to play LaserCat without a smile on your face.
Antipole – This puzzle-platform turns the genre on its head by letting you flip gravity with the simple press of a button. While not the prettiest girl at the ball, Antipole has all the right moves to keep you playing way into the night.
Cursed Loot – Epic Dungeon gets a major revamp in this rogue dungeon title. More classes, powers, and things to do; this is one of the best games you can get for a buck.
BloodyCheckers – Take the game of checkers, throw in traps, and play it in the castle next to Amnesia and that’s a bit of a taste of what this downloadable title has to offer.
Escape Goat – With a slick pixel style and real physics under the hood, this platformer-puzzler lets you take on a goat and a magical mouse as you try to rescue a flock of sheep.
radian games Ballistic – Radiangame polishes this twin stick arena shooter to a gleaming shine with multiple levels, power-ups, and enough content to make this a must download for any fan of Geometry Wars.