Decembers Best Xbox LIVE Indie Games

December was always going to be a fantastic month for Xbox LIVE Indie Games, but I think it took everyone by surprise just how fantastic it turned out to be. There were already plans beforehand for a number of high-quality games to be released at once as part of the Winter Uprising, organised by the guys at Zeboyd Games (Breath of Death VII, Cthulhu Saves the World). While the plan was to release these at once at the start of the month, many of them missed the deadline and in the end they were spread out over the month, though no less brilliant for it. What was surprising was the number of unannounced games that weren’t part of this, games that appeared from nowhere and were as good as if not better than many of the Uprising games. And so, it’s probably been the best month for Xbox LIVE Indie Games ever, and this round-up is absolutely epic as a result. Enjoy!

One interesting thing to note is that Xbox LIVE Arcade has never had a month with so many high-quality games coming out, ever. Just saying.

You can buy any of these games via xbox.com by clicking the link associated with each game, or on the Games Marketplace on your Xbox 360. Simply enter the marketplace and scroll up to Indie Games, where you can check the top rated titles, the games that have just come out, or “browse” to find the games mentioned in this thread. Indie Game trials last eight minutes, which is often enough to establish what you think about it. Even if you don’t buy any of these games, at least trial them, tell people what you think, get more people trying them.

Go. Play. Enjoy. Tell us what you think! Tell all your friends! Get them to tell all their friends…

(Xbox LIVE Indie Games are available in Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom and the United States. If you’re outside those countries you can still play these games by setting up a Gamertag for free for one of those countries. It’s worth doing.)

For a round up of previous months releases, click here.

Picking the best game of the month when there are so many contenders is not at all easy.

Astroman gets it, though. It’s a Metroidvania. You’re stranded on a strange planet after you crash land and you have to visit different planets finding bits to repair it with so you can go home.

Astroman

You do this by going around 2D platformer-like levels shooting enemies and jumping and the such. Unfortunately, you’ll find that even in the first level there’s plenty of areas you can’t reach, so after later planets when you find upgrades for your jump and things like that, you can revisit earlier planets to find all the stuff you missed first time around.

New planets are visited by flying to them in your ship, and the more parts of the ship you find the further you can travel from the starting point and the more levels that open up to you. The whole progression in the game is just brilliant.

The platforming is really good too. It looks fantastic and everything is really crisp and chunky, the controls are really responsive and it all combines to make something that works. The jumping is ever so slightly floaty but I can forgive it because it still feels fine, and hey, who’s to say what the gravity’s like out there?

Astroman

It could do with a deadzone on the controller, as I was constantly walking left when I didn’t want to, usually off of platforms onto spikes or into enemies. In spite of this, though, I had loads of fun with this.

Loads of content, plays brilliant, and an easy purchase.

If you dont know already, Break Limit is inspired by Hypership Out of Control, so dont be surprised when it feels similar at first. It quickly becomes its own game though, as aside from the corridor-based nature of it, theyre not really that similar.

It feels more like a shooter, this one. Theres obviously still loads of walls to avoid but theres a quite generous shield (which is toned down in higher difficulties) which means theres a small room for error and so avoiding stuff isnt as essential (though still obviously fairly important.)

Break Limit

It puts more focus on collecting points and shooting stuff, basically. The faster youre going, the more points you get for the things you collect. The game is slower than HS, though, which makes collecting things a bit easier. It takes a while to get going but thats where the Break Limit can help. Collecting blue orbs fills your Break Limit gauge and holding LT activates it. At this point your speed doubles and you become invincible, youll just smash through everything. Collecting anything at this speed, obviously, is worth a ton of points. Its just not easy to collect stuff at that speed!

There are different courses to shoot through, and different difficulty levels to play with, and leaderboards for any combination of the above. Graphics are really crisp and clear and so its easy to see whats going on. The presentation is great, the music also is great and really suits it, it feels like theres a much more serious vibe to it, but theres some lovely little moments of silliness that offset it and make you smile.

One negative: the courses arent quite as memorable as HSs waves are, because the style of it doesnt really lend itself to it as well. In HS where everything was bright and every wave was a different colour, everything stood out. Here everythings a bit more samey. This memorisation will come with more practice though Im sure

One other thing: at certain points you can change the direction of the game and head left/right/etc instead of up. It really changes the feel of it drastically and is excellent. Im not sure if it has any effect on score or, well, anything, but its really cool and a nice way to play differently.

Absolutely no reason not to own both these games!

Score Rush is a mental shmup. Look at the screenshot. Look at it. See all those bullets? They’re all trying to kill you and you have to avoid them. It’s not easy to do, but it’s a ton of fun. I’m rubbish at these games, but it’s always the dodging of bullets that I enjoy (failing at) the most. This game is perfect for that! While the on-screen action is chaotic as hell, it’s always clear and easy to follow.

Score Rush

Aside from the bullet hell, it’s a twin-stick. You’re moving with the left and firing with the right. That this doesn’t feel like a twin-stick is testament to the developer’s skill in creating it.

It’s hard enough trying to keep track of one ship, but it can played with up to four players. Insane – but nothing but fun, surely!

In a stupid decision, there’s no online leaderboards, which mean this game can never be game of the month. Coming from a dev that had been promising a patch for online leaderboards for one of their earlier titles for a year or so, this is unforgivable. It’s still a fantastic experience, just one that’s so much more shortlived when finding the competition that pushes you further is so awkward.

Soulcaster II is the sequel to, erm, Soulcaster. It doesn’t really change much, it just builds on what was a tremendous game to begin with and makes everything feel bigger.

That game comes with an unexpected twist. When you start, you expect some kind of retro-RPG, maybe with a Gauntlet kind of flavour. Then, it quickly becomes apparent that you’re playing tower-defense. It’s excellent, it’s the first retro-style game that I’ve played where I’ve genuinely never seen anything like it before, where it’s not just something that’s not much more than a remake.

Soulcaster

You play as a character who has no attacks, and you can summon three different warriors. These then remain in place (as towers) and attack anything that comes near until they’re defeated or recalled, at which point you can put them somewhere else. It’s tower defense, then, but it doesn’t feel like it when you’re playing, so even if you don’t like the genre it’s worth trying. It looks amazing too, and sounds as good.

Soulcaster II, as I say, doesn’t do much more than the original. The maps feel bigger, and there’s better enemy AI which makes your strategies even more important. The original was excellent though, it didn’t need much more to make it perfect.

Rainbow Ball into Adventure is a shameless Katamari Damacy clone, sometimes amazingly so, but it’s so lovely that I couldn’t not enjoy every single second.

Ya see, while I was playing, I just got the impression that the people who made it were having an absolutely amazing time while they were doing it. It just feels like everyone involved was having so much fun.

RBiA

There’s the constant sound of children laughing and shouting as you collect stuff, mainly calling out what you collected. Everything is hand drawn and is given a really nice 2D paper cut-out feel. It looks tremendous. Special mention to the lighting, which is just incredible. Don’t know why, it just really strikes me while I’m playing that the stuff I’m rolling up is just lit so very well.

The aim of the game is to roll up everything in the small levels in the time you have. Sometimes there are some twists that make me think this could be a really nice educational game. In one level, you have to collect things in pairs. So once you collect a car, the only thing you can collect next is another car. Excellent for kids. Equally excellent for adults.

As a sign of how good this game is, there’s Comic Sans in it and I don’t even care.

OSR Unhinged is the sequel to Old School Racer, which I awarded my very first Game of the Month award to. That was six months ago and I still go back and play it now, and OSR Unhinged is every bit as good and for all the same reasons.

People will accuse it of being a Trials clone, but they miss the point. While it’s similar, OSRU has a much more lenient feel to it, so rather than falling off all the time, many positions are recoverable. I know that Trials HD frustrates a lot of people and for them, this is the game they need. It’s also got loads of other little tricks, like messed up gravity in some levels, night levels, that make it interesting.

OSR

Where it’s amazing though is in the sheer amount of stuff to do. There are loads of levels and medals to be won on each when you’ve unlocked the faster bikes. Bikes are unlocked by collecting tokens in each level which are hidden or placed around each course.

Soon, to collect all the tokens and compete on the online leaderboards for quick times, you’ll have played each level ten or twenty times. There’s loads of levels, some mini-games, it’s just content-city and it’s only 80 Microsoft Points. Essential.

Cthulhu Saves the World is an RPG with 16-bit graphics, music, and it feels it. That’s where the 16-bit stuff ends though, as the developer takes everything that might have frustrated players going back to games from that era now, and streamlines it.

Random battles are there, but once you’ve fought so many in an area they stop, allowing you to explore unhindered. The battles are fun, though. They’re fast, there’s loads of different magics and techniques to use and you’ll have to, because the battles can quickly swing away from you if you’re not careful. Complete battles quickly though, and you’ll recover bonus MP (HP is always restored). Battles are kept further interesting by a combo meter that goes up with every attack so you’re always getting stronger, unfortunately, the enemies increase in strength by 10% each round of turns too – this makes boss fights terrifying in the awesomest way!

Every level-up gives you a choice between two attacks, or two different sets of stat-upgrades, which mean you can customise your character any way you want. It’s excellent.

CStW

The story sees Cthulhu lose his powers and go on a quest to become a hero, the only way to recover them. The story is introduced in a really funny way and the humour carries on throughout, as he meets a cast of funny, weird characters. The gameplay is pretty traditional RPG stuff. Go from town to town talking to people, exploring dungeons, opening chests, buying and equipping new equipment.

One thing I like is that you can save anywhere, but it has save points too. Basically this means that you’ve got a choice whether or not you play it like you’d have played it in 1993. It’s just full of stuff like this for gamers.

It’s just great, is all.

Return All Robots is a nice puzzle game with robots and the returning of said robots. You control a guy who can run around while robots face in his direction. Pressing a button then makes the robots move in the direction that they’re facing until they reach a wall.

RaR

Your job, is to lead all the blue ones to a teleporter. The red ones are BAD and must be led into some fire or something to destroy them. All this happens simultaneously, so you’re trying to navigate the blue ones around while keeping them away from the red ones, and keeping yourself out of their way too. Some good puzzlin’.

B.U.T.T.O.N, or, Brutally Unfair Tactics Totally Okay Now, is a party game for between two and eight players. Can be played on one controller, or four. It’s really nicely presented.

BUTTON

You put your controller down, walk a few steps back, and then the game gives you a task. Press a button. Press a button 14 times. Don’t press a button. Loads more. You then run to your controller and try to do it while everyone else tries to do the same, or tries to press other peoples buttons to make them fail, etc. It’s ridiculous but as you can imagine, it’s a stupid amount of fun, too.

There’s an “adult” mode that can be switched on in the options. I’ve no idea what it entails.

Casino Nights. Okay, a confession. While I was downloading these games I hovered on this for ages. It’s a Casino game, what could possibly be worth my time trialling it? I already know what it’s like. But I downloaded it anyway. Then, when I was playing all the games I had exactly the same thoughts, but played it anyway.

Then I really liked it.

Casino

I think it was the graphics that got me, as they’re slightly pixelly which gives it a really nice feel. What you’ve got is six casino games from Roulette to Blackjack to Poker, and a $250 kitty. You just play whatever you want until your money runs out. You can earn awards (achievements) that increase your starting kitty.

The games are all really easy to play and the rules are explained very well in case you’re not familiar with them. I suppose I was always going to get addicted to this, wasn’t I? Ah well, it’s always better to lose virtual money!

Curse of the Crescent Isle is a 2D platformer which is ridiculously retro, but so very excellent. It controls really well for the most part, the levels are varied, and it looks and sounds great. As a warning, it’s so retro that there’s not even a way to save, but that’s how we all used to play games so don’t let it put you off, because there’s a wonderful game here.

PentomiGo came as quite a surprise. I was expecting a Blokus clone but it’s not like that at all. You have a series of pentominoes, as does your opponent, and you place them anywhere in a grid in turns. At the end of the game, the player with the most uncovered edges is the winner, with bonus points available too. It’s so clear as to how you play and as to what’s going on at all times, and what each piece is currently scoring, that it’s just great to play. Playing the AI will get boring, but find a human opponent and you could be at it for ages.

Tile Trip is another tile placing game, but in this one you have to use pieces with sections of tunnel on them to connect the top of the grid to the bottom, while blocking off your opponent who is trying to connect the left to the right. It reminds me of Blockbusters. You’re scored by the number of entrances into your tunnel network multiplies by the number of exits, as are they. Win by getting the highest score. It’s another neat two-player game.

Asteroids Do Concern Me is a clone of The Helicopter game, but a really good one. The physics are really good so it’s actually fun to play, there’s a very fine line in this type of game between too heavy and too floaty, and ADCM treads it fine. It’s really funny as well, especially when you die. Loads of levels, loads of modes, loads of fun.

Chus Dynasty is a Smash Bros.-esque (up to) four-player fighting game. I’m useless at these but it’s obviously quality. The look of it is stunning, from the menus to the in game graphics which are easily amongst the best on XBLIGs, it’s just gorgeous. There’s about a million different moves and button combinations to get your head around which is where I always struggle, but as far as I could get it played really nicely. There’s multiplayer, or loads of single player content too.

Football Games Room is an interesting take on Association Football that’s really hard to get to grips with, but really satisfying to play. It’s basically a super-simplified twin-stick version of the sport. You move with the left stick and aim with the right, pressing the right trigger to shoot or pass and the left to change player. It takes a while to get used to, but it’s fun when it does. It could use a few less players on the pitch, I think, because it feels quite cramped. It also makes me really want a turn-based football game because the couple that are on XBLIGs at the moment aren’t much fun.

CannonBotGo is really loud. Like, REALLY. I had to turn my TV down. It’s a puzzle game, and if you’ve played Eets, you’ll be at home here. You set up a number of items and your character walks mindlessly forward, interacting with whatever he touches. You have to reach the end of the level, or destroy an enemy, etc. It’s ugly and quite difficult to control, but the core gameplay is solid.

Toy Stunt Bike is another Trials HD clone, but it’s not as good as OSR. There’s not as much to do, here. It’s still as annoyingly addictive, though, and there’s still enough to warrant 80 of your hard-earned Microsoft Points. You get points for stunts and air time, so high-score runs are expected.

Vorpal is a stylish shmup that isn’t easy. It’s all black and white and so the red really stands out in a pretty way when you’re being shot at. Lovely clear hit-box, too. It doesn’t do anything amazing, but what it does do it does very well, and if you like bullet-hell even a little bit this is for you. It’s nice to chill with after some Score Rush, it’s still hectic but it feels less so!

Zombiez 8 My Cookiez is a twin stick with a twist. Your aim isn’t to kill zombies, and indeed, they can’t kill you (in the traditional way). The aim is to protect a plate of biscuits in the middle of the table from zombies. You can do this by shooting them, or by dragging the biscuit away from them. It takes ages to get going, but at the end when there’s tons of zombies and you’re trying to pull the last crumb of a jammie dodger back to the middle while ten zombies are trying to pull it the other way and another ten zombies are trying to drag you off the edge of the table, well, it’s just so silly that you can’t help loving it. The shooting, it should be mentioned, is solid.

ZP2KX: Zombies & Pterodactyls! is an online 2D arena fighter type thing from the guy who made a game zombies in it and Dishwasher. It’s not for me, but it’s clear that there’s quality here, I just don’t enjoy it as much as I did Chu’s Dynasty. Still, for the price, can’t argue, and I hear that finding online games isn’t impossible, which is nice.

Aphelion 2 is a RPG. If you haven’t played the original, you’d be wasting your time starting here because it doesn’t do a great job of explaining what’s going on. If you’ve played the original though, it’s more of the same futurey turn-based RPG action.

radiangames Crossfire 2 is too similar to Crossfire, but if you haven’t got the original then this is the better game – it’s just not better enough to justify owning both. The sequel adds an upgrade system that powers up your ship as you complete each wave. If you want to know how it plays, think Space Invaders but with a ship that can teleport between the top and bottom of the screen to avoid fire and get behind enemies.

Vertigo is a running game that looks really nice. You run across stylish rooftops using boosters and stuff to get to the finish line as quick as possible. Really satisfying to play and like I say, looks great. Multiplayer too for some proper racing funs.

Bad Golf isn’t. It’s golf on a 2D plane. You choose the angle and the power, and then try and get the ball into, well, you know how golf works. It’s nothing amazing, but it’s fun.

REVOLVER360 is a shmup that lets you revolve the arena so that bullets that are on a 2D plane suddenly don’t become an issue. I’ve honestly got no idea how to explain how it works, but when you play it it feels natural within seconds and makes total sense in your mind. Loads of stuff going on on screen so it’s hard to follow sometimes but it’s yet another ace shmup this month.

AutoMorpion is a strange thing. You could as easily play it on paper. You get a small set of crosses in the shape of a “plus” sign, and you have to add a dot somewhere that creates a line of five, and then draw a line through. You can then use these dots and the crosses that are already there to make more and more lines of five, until you run out of possible moves and can’t go any more. Lines can cross but not overlap. You probably won’t play it for long unless the maths/logic grabs you, but it’s worth having at least one go of.

Some games are bad. Really bad. So bad that they don’t even deserve a functioning link to the Xbox LIVE Marketplace. But if you’re in the mood for some punishment, or just want to be reminded how much better the games above are, check these out, last month’s most terrible games.

Rumble Checkers Online is a horrible checkers game. The controls are really cumbersome and awkward, and theres no animation so most of the time you cant work out what move the opponent actually just made. Such a simple thing to get right, yet its rubbish.

Squee Pig Piggle BBQ. Piggle? You mean like Peggle? Yeah, a bit like that. You drop a pig into a level, it bounces off some pegs, and then (hopefully) lands on a barbeque where its turned into as many pieces of bacon as you hit pegs. The physics are totally wrong (its so slow) and its just stupid, you dont feel anywhere even slightly close to in control of what happens, even though you can even slightly control your pig by farting. Million seller confirmed.

SIRTET. SIRTET. Do you get it? DO YOU SEE WHAT THEY’VE DONE THERE? It’s so slow, even holding “down” is still ludicrously slow. Literally 1,000,000 better versions of Tetris exist.

AVATOUR is hilarious. You control your avatar and walk around the blurriest cityscape you’ve ever seen in your life, and that’s it. Due to presumed limitations in the programmer’s knowledge of programming, or sheer laziness on his part, you can walk through buildings. In the item description, this is listed as a selling point.

Shooting Models is a game in which you chase a cute girl through a park with your knob out, while attempting to take some sneaky upskirt photos before she calls the police.

Freak Out is yet another The Impossible Game clone, only this time with a “character” that bounces. Which means most of the times you need to jump you won’t be able to, because you’re slightly above the ground.

C.L.E.S. Party is an alright idea. A 2D platformer version of basketball/football or something. Unfortunately, the controls make no sense at all, and it’s so fast that it’s impossible to play.

Ahoy Pirates. Hey, developer, would you like people to get a feel for your game in the trial? Yes, you say? Well then maybe it would be a good idea if you actually let people play the game in the trial instead of being a dick about it.

Alien Hunter is a terrible FPS with poor graphics and as-bad gameplay.

Maids With Balloons (NSFW) is Maids with balloons. It’s awful, but the thing is, for some reason I get the impression that the FMV at the start was made with prostitutes. I can’t think of any other way you’d end up in a hotel room with three women in French maid costumes. “What are you doing tonight, darling?” “I’m going to film some footage for my game, don’t expect me back until morning.”

Snake is literally no better than Snake on your Nokia phone from fifteen years ago.

Polar Escape made me laugh a few times (normal, difficulter) and so it was disappointing when it turned out to be a terrible Frogger clone.

Retrovaders has literally no reason to exist.

CyberSnake is a sort of Snake game with rules that are needlessly complex and that only responds to player input about 50% of the time.

Combat Tanks Part II features tanks that can strafe. What?

Warbirds At Work. A shmup with near-invisible bullets. Yeah, that works.

Insanity is Pong and Space Invaders at the same time. There’s just no point.

Petunk wasn’t that bad, but taking you to the “confirm purchase” screen when you press “quit” is shady as hell. So the developers win the fictional “arseholes of the month” award.

With the delay in getting this up (apologies) there are no old games for you to check out. To be honest though, scroll up, there are more than enough new ones! Look out for some more classics in January’s round-up.

So, what did you think of these games? What do you think of what you’re playing this month?

Enjoy your Indie Games.