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There is a huge array of games created by indie developers that are now starting to be played and talked about. With the advent of Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony’s efforts to capitalise on this interest by providing platforms for such games, we now have a hard time wading through the inevitably saturated landscape. Given that most indie games are confined to the PC, Microsoft found a tangible niche with their indie games service, providing a solid platform for the furthering of individual developers to create games on the 360 and a global market. Unfortunately, not everyone will create the next masterpiece of the indie game world and with that in mind, I’d like to take some time and list a few of the best Xbox LIVE Indie games that have piqued my interest since the service began to take form.
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I MAED A GAM3 W1TH ZOMBIES 1N IT!!!1
Conjecturally becoming the most infamous Xbox 360 Indie game currently available, I MAED A GAM3 W1TH ZOMBIES 1N IT!!!1 is one of the most originally implemented idea for the usage of zombies in any media format. The 15 minute theme song that influences the gameplay, the amount of zombies, the differing enemies and the changing backgrounds throughout help this Smash TV influenced shooter become something worth playing. Although the dual stick aiming and shooting is well placed while often feeling organic and manageable (even when being swarmed by large quantities of enemies), the lack of replay value and divergence from the core game really hampers the longevity of the experience. With that being said, the deliberate nature and satirical use of zombies to sell what is essentially a woefully short game, is somewhat of a master stroke. It’s certainly a unique game and for that it makes this list, get the trial at the very least, you won’t regret it.
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Japanese developer Dot Zo Games third outing is a puzzle-platformer mashup that utilises a single player co-op gameplay mechanic that gives a heightened strategic depth to the measured gameplay. As you control up to 4 separate ninjas at once, each governed by their own universe (or 2D level) and working in tandem to complete stages via simultaneous movement and an individual jump button (A, B, X, Y), the obstacles and mechanics really begin to shine through as you progress. The distinct color scheme and retro graphics give the game a great feel and instantly give you nostalgic flashbacks to older games while hurriedly trying to beat the countdown timer on each level. NINJA BROS has a novel twist that gives an abrasive enjoyment and worthy departure from N+ for the avid 2D ninja fan.
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Arkedo Series - 03 PIXEL!
PIXEL! is the third in the Arkedo series on Xbox LIVE Indie Games, following on from the 2D sidescrolling JUMP! and matching block puzzler SWAP!, french co-developers Arkedo and Pastagames’ have the player take control of Pixel the cat while everyone sleeps in this distinct dotmatrix 2D world. A noteworthy and pleasantly soothing soundtrack offsets the familiar platforming and solid gameplay. The addition of a magnifying glass, allowing the player to view things at the pixel level as a means to open doors, find strutural weaknesses and treasure chests, provides a great structure to the levels and gives the game a quant feel reminiscent of earlier sidescollers that we retain fond memories of. Certainly the prospect of more games from Arkedo and Pastagames’ is an exciting one, especially if they can continue to surpass the quality of their output with every new indie game.
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Beat Hazard is a frenetic shoot 'em up in the style of both Geometry Wars and Asteroids. Take this over the top action and lace it with a defining trance music overlay and you have a very addictive and enjoyable indie game. The power ups that you encounter through the 3 or so minute tracks do varied things, from giving you a bomb like weapon that will destroy all enemies currently on screen when the right trigger is pressed to increasing the music’s volume and giving you extra points towards your total for that level. An unfortunate criticism that instantly manifests itself while spending time with the game is the overabundance of color and oft times confusing display. With a weapon that fires screen shattering beams of light and douses the layout in nothing but bright green or pink, the player can easily lose track of their position and pay for it with a life or two. However, this confusing aesthetic seems almost by design and you would be hard pushed not to enjoy the fast paced action that this game offers.
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As the game itself asserts Leave Home is best described as an “abstract shooter with dynamic difficulty and metaphorical explosions”. Within its melodious take on R-Type’s gameplay, the use of dynamical meaning and player influenced interaction throughout the levels, Leave Home is a solid shoot ‘em up that tries to reconcile the question of replayability with an ever changing and player influenced experience. By using the aptly dubbed “anger” meter, the game will challenge you with more obstacles and enemies whenever you collect the small blue blocks that escape from defeated foes, creating a unique sequence of events with each playthrough. The simple difficulty recurve and patterned AI creates a great challenge that gives further gaming temptation for Ikaruga fans.
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Fitba is a soccer game with a distinct control scheme and cel-shaded graphics that makes an appreciable homage to classic soccer titles. It’s the small twists on games like Sensible Soccer that make Fitba such an addictive experience. For instance, the use of both analog sticks as a means to aim, move, pass and swerve the ball give a fresh way of playing a top down (although you can go side on with the camera also) soccer game. Add to this the large potential for editing and customisation with team and player creation and you have a solid package for most soccer fans, especially those who remember the glory days of World Cup Italia ‘90 or Sensible Soccer. Also worth checking out is the follow up from Triple B Games, College Lacrosse 2010, which brings a Fitba style to some quickened lacrosse action.
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Time Flows But Does Not ReturnThe Shape of Games to Come brings us Time Flows But Does Not Return. While a penchant for laborious titles may have distracted you from that first sentence, the words give a great foreclosure to expectations for a game with such a name. You’ve probably already guessed that the game is about wasting time and not properly using it (doing something meaningful with it etc) and TFBDNR provides a great platform for the idea of dynamical meaning from gameplay elements as opposed to using physical or deliberate story cutscenes or dialogue. Its a great metaphorical experience where each game item represents something that doesn’t necessarily have a direct reward and is not a requirement for advancement or completion. For instance, the meters throughout the game are representative of grades and the importance of measuring yourself throughout life, however, there are no eventual rewards for using these items as the games focus is to show that meaning is created through your own actions. As each level represents a time period, and the ever burgeoning game mechanics and items are metaphors for the differing and expanding daily routines that we go through, the player finds themselves repeating the same processes in order to fill the meters and enter the next level. These processes are often things as simple as pressing Y when the slider hits the middle or hitting a sequence of buttons 4 or 5 times, which add to the meters to the right. This mechanic is indicative of our own thirst for meaning and the eventual prison of tasks we create around ourselves during life. A ponderous and deliberate game that leaves the player debating choices and ventures in true existential fashion like great indie games such as Jason Rohrer’s Gravitation or Passage.
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StreamLine is a solid racing game where the constantly moving stream you control will have to avoid obstacles and gain powerups to topple the opposition. With a clean aesthetic and polished score, it becomes apparent that this game was made in earnest as a means to create something enjoyable and challenging. The ever changing landscape that the player has to navigate along with the slick horizontal movement, usage of well-placed energy rechargers and speed up points throughout the different courses, gives a platform for some tense and often fun racing action. Unfortunately one life is all you get, which means being defeated or draining your energy by hitting obstacles will have you restart the level. The easiest of controls (left stick for movement) lets you enjoy the on-screen action and most importantly let’s you react to the obstacles that will rapidly appear before your stream. The LIVE indie game is only 80 Microsoft points, for something this air-tight with racing goodness, I’d recommend it.
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Miner Dig Deep
My personal coup de grace of the indie games library, Miner Dig Deep is a minimalist indie game that borrows heavily from games like Mr. Driller and Dig Dug, yet it still maintains a individualistic finesse and aptitude for brilliance that not many indie offerings can accomplish. While these games are certainly the forbear for Miner Dig Deep, its well crafted contextual setting and superbly tranquil music help make it shine above other digger titles. Coupled with an upgrade system (done via a shop on the surface near your base camp) and playful graphics, it excels at making you empathise and engage with the miner you’re controlling and gives a sense of progression when you finally reach around the lower depths of the mine some 5+ hours in. The little flashes of brilliance, the lamps oil running out, the jump noise of the miner, the pause menu music, all make for a unique experience and give weight to this stunningly beautiful and perfectly simple indie game.
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Honourable MentionsAs with any list, there are considerable gaps for other games that I’ve either missed completely or felt didn’t satiate themselves well enough with the rest of the list provided. Here I will list a couple of names that you might want to check out for yourself;
- Light’s End - Some RPG action, with the ability to change your player character when interacting with people.
- RC-AirSim - A surprisingly relaxing RC Plane simulator, with a nice look and playful controls.
- Colosseum - Great cel-shaded fighting, takes a leaf from Rise of The Argonauts with a meaty combat system.
- Weapon of Choice - Still can’t get enough of Metal Slug or Contra, play this game!
- Dungeon Adventure - Classic (and morbidly difficult) dungeon crawling with the ability to ASCII the graphics.
- it says on set! ONLINE - Japanese hand game, you’ll want to use it in a drinking game at some point.