Much like the App Store for iPhone and iPod Touch, the Xbox LIVE Indie Games service is proving to be a viable way for independent developers to break into the market and make a few bucks at the time. It is also proving to be a great way for gamers to get some great games at great prices.
In this edition of The FWD Download, I will briefly review eight titles released between December 2009 and February 2010 that highlight the variety of genres on the Xbox LIVE Indie Games service. All impressions are based on the full purchased versions of the games, though like Xbox LIVE Arcade Games, trial versions are available. Read More…
Arkedo Series: 03 Pixel!
The third game in the Arkedo Series is a sleek 2D platformer that stars a wonderfully adorable cat named Pixel. Although the game is brief, it features great level design and enough variety to keep it interesting.
Arkedo is not your typical Indie Games developer, having produced the well-received retail games Nervous Brickdown and Big Bang Mini for the Nintendo DS. Their experience shines through in this simple, yet polished effort that features a great look and sound.
Pixel himself resembles a Tamagatchi and the game world is drawn with oversized pixels and a clean, monochromatic look. The game uses many familiar mechanics, including a run button that lets Pixel jump farther and the ability to stomp on baddies’ heads. After stepping on five baddies and filling his Roar ‘o’ Meter, Pixel can unleash a powerful attack.
The game also employs a magnifying glass system that allows you to zoom in on suspicious blocks and initiate a maze-solving mini game. Rewards for completing mazes include full life for Pixel and “Useless Relics” that act as the game’s collectables. Each of the seven levels in Arkedo Series: 03 Pixel! contains three of these relics.
Arkedo Series: 03 Pixel! is not a challenging game by any means, but it is a pleasant, family-friendly experience that should last most players two or three hours. (Arkedo, 240 MS Points)
Dreams of Witchtown
Here is a case where the description and screenshots are better than the game itself. Dreams of Witchtown is billed as a 2D side-scrolling RPG in the vein of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. While that is technically true, it is executed poorly and plays like an early Flash game.
The premise here is that Aurora, an apparently elderly witch that looks like Sailor Moon loses her broom and scroll spells after being hit in the face by a rogue soccer ball. She then grabs a bag of soccer balls an embarks on a quest to thwart evil.
Aurora can kick soccer balls and cast spells to dispatch of enemies, who will in turn drop experience points. The idea here is to level up before proceeding to the next area. Unfortunately, this game is riddled with sloppy programming traits like infinitely spawning enemies and inaccurate collision detection.
In my experience, I had to grind through the same area no less than five times in order to get to the game’s recommended level for the next area. While the concept is solid, I simply could not have any fun with this game. On the plus side, Dreams of Witchtown does feature bright and colourful graphics and a low price. (Dip Slit, 80 MS Points)
Roguelike fans will certainly appreciate Dungeon Adventure being on the Indie Games service, as it is the only example of the genrea available on the Xbox 360. This dungeon crawler can be played in old-school ASCII mode or using modernized graphics that include a tiny version of your Xbox LIVE Avatar.
The game is controlled using a single analog stick, though players have the option of using a ChatPad or USB keyboard to provide an authentic experience. There are also a ton of other graphic and gameplay options that can be tweaked.
After completing a tutorial that explains the basics of roguelike gameplay, you create a character from one of nine classes and venture forth into the dungeons. As you proceed, you will gain experience, find better weapons and encounter more powerful enemies.
Fans of the genre should pick up Dungeon Adventure without question. It has plenty of content and wildly-named loot to collect, though it could be considered a bit easy for verteran players. Newcomers will find an excellent example of a roguelike to cut their teeth on. (UberGeekGames, 240 MS Points)
Home Run Challenge
Home Run Challenge is a simple baseball game that can be played using your Xbox LIVE Avatar and is controlled with a single button. The object is to time your batter’s swing properly in order to knock out a few dingers. As you progress, the pitcher will begin throwing fast balls and change-ups.
At first, home runs are worth a single point, but there are several ways to increase your score like smashing targets, building streaks and even smashing the stadium scoreboard.
Home Run Challenge features a clean and attractive look that was clearly inspired by the baseball game in Wii Sports. It features a stadium filled with animated Avatars and a bright colour pallete. Though there is not much to it, the game proves to be addictive and is an inexpensive, family-friendly experience that anyone can play. (BarkersCrest, 80 MS Points)
Pixel Boarder is a physics-based snowboarding game that features some excellent chip tune music and an intuitive dual analog control scheme. Players send their highly customizable boarder down big air jumps in hopes of landing a high score, or just landing at all.
Through manipulation of the analog sticks, you can make your boarder crouch, grab and flip as it traverses a course. In practise, I found that they physics were a bit floaty and that pulling off tricks proved to be quite difficult. I did get better as I played, but it was admittedly frustrating at first. There are a few settings and assists that can be adjusted to your liking.
High scores are kept locally and globally for each of the 20 courses in Pixel Boarder, though in many cases I was happy just to complete the course. Should you pull off a great, trick-filled run, you can view or save replays.
There are four graphics filters to choose from ranging from 4-bit to 32-bit, though none of them look particularly good. In fact, I had trouble looking at the screen when the game was set to anything less than 32-bit because of the colour palletes. There is a v-sync option for those sensitive to screen tearing and other screen options to help alleviate overscan.
Despite a few quirks like the game taking too long to realize you’ve fallen, Pixel Boarder is a quality title that rewards persistence and sounds fantastic thanks to its Commodore 64 inspired soundtrack (PixelFriends, 240 MS Points)
Hand-drawn graphics and a genuinely creepy atmosphere help this maze game stand out from the crowd. The premise is that you are guiding a man’s soul to heaven and must avoid running into evil creatures and walls.
Soul is played using only the left analog stick, but also requires extremely precise movement to navigate through the mazes. Along the way, you will encounter “shock scares” that remind me of those old internet videos people used to trick their friends with. These sections are loud and jarring, which can easily cause you to make a mistake.
Luckily, when you do fail, you immediately start back at the beginning of the room you were in. Many rooms require a trial and error approach in order to determine where creatures will appear or to gauge the speed of obstacles.
Though the art does look great and the game features some nice lighting effects, I sometimes found it hard to determine where walls were, which caused some frustrating restarts. The sound effects in Soul are also well done and serve to help create the atmospere of what appears to be an abandoned hospital.
It certainly is not for everyone and the shock scares become all-to frequent, but Soul does provide a unique and challenging experience that fans of Kururin Paradise or Irritating Stick will appreciate. (Kydos Studio, 80 MS Points)
Yet Another Zombie Defense
A hybrid of an arena-based shooter like Zombie Apocalypse and tower defense games, Yet Another Zombie Defense proves to be a fun diversion well worth the price of admission.
Your task is to survive night after night of incoming zombie attacks by shooting them and slowing them down with barricades. As you progress, the zombie hordes will get tougher and faster and will require stronger weapons to defeat. In between waves, you will be able to purchase both weapons and defenses like steel fences or turrets.
Weapons stronger than the default pistol have limited ammunition resources, so careful spending is required to make it deep into the game and achieve high scores. Zombies will drop both money and health packs that need to be picked up before they disappear.
Yet Another Zombie Defense features 3D models and ambient lighting provided by a single street light. The music is rather generic and loops too often, but like other games on the Xbox 360 it can be replaced by your own custom soundtrack. (AwesomeGamesStudio, 80 MS Points)
You Will Die
The concept of this shooter is simple: you have one life to survive as long as you can against increasingly powerful enemy ships. You Will Die is an addictive boss rush experience that shows a lot of potential and features global leaderboards.
You start by battling a simple enemy ship. As you progress, ships will become more complex. You must destroy every weapon on a ship before it can be damaged and areas get weaker the farther they are from the centre. As you build your score multiplier by landing successful attacks, shields will become available for use. You can also use the multiplier to repair your ship, which is easier said than done in the heat of battle.
Though it plays like a traditional horizontal shooter, You Will Die is controlled primarily with the analog sticks. I found that ememy bullets were quite small and were often obscured by a scolling star-filled background. The rest of the graphics fare quite well and the in game sound effects are adequate, though there is no music to be heard while playing. (Derrick Hopkins, 80 MS Points)
The quality of the games on the Xbox LIVE Indie Games service is getting better every week and though there are a number of duds and novelty applications no one needs, I find myself checking the Indie Games Marketplace more often all the time in search of unique ideas to spend my leftover Microsoft Points on.