January 2011s Best Xbox LIVE Indie Games

I am back! I moved on December 6th, and haven’t had the internet since then. I don’t know why it took so long. We did have a few centimetres of snow between then and now, and I understand that while the entire country is cleared, Royal Mail are still snowed in, and some postmen have been trapped ankle deep in snow for over a month now. So maybe the company that came to sort my phone line suffered similar delays. Regardless, the games! I think this is possibly the worst month I’ve ever had to create a thread for. I could have put almost every game in the “bad” category, and it was a Herculean effort not to.

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.

Bonded Realities was a shoo-in for Game of the Month, really. All the pre-release hype (insomuch as any Indie Games are hyped pre-release) suggested that it was going to be a funny, charming RPG, and that’s exactly what it is.

Bonded Realities

The sound is great, both the music and the sound effects are really nice. It looks good, too. The screenshots don’t really do it justice, as it looks quite, simple, I guess. But in game, and in the context of the characters and the world they really work so well. The best graphics come with the enemy design, though.

The enemies, see, are just ridiculously imaginative. Every single one is either funny in basic concept (Pitch Fork) or has some hilarious attacks; usually both. This makes the (random) battles a joy, and if you don’t like random battles, turn ‘em off! The enemies are full of puns, and the rest of the dialogue continues the humorous trend, and there are laughs everywhere you go. It’s honestly impossible not to like it when the whole atmosphere around the game is so happy.

The story is a mysterious one, and I’m not nearly far enough yet to spoiler your face off. What I can tell you, is that after being dropped at playschool one day, you suddenly find yourself transported to a strange place with only a sword for company. It’s a nice twist on the old “waking up with amnesia and a sword” plot that’s been done to death in RPGs.

Bonded Realities

There are some issues, the battle system is very simple for example, but equally that could be seen as an advantage. There’s less pressure on the player in battle which frees them up to sit back and enjoy the enemies attacks.

For just 80 points, it’s another great RPG on Xbox LIVE Indie Games, and you can click here to read more about Bonded Realities later!

Aban Hawkins & the 1000 SPIKES is a super-hard and super-unfair platformer, but that’s what it tries to be and that’s why it’s so awesome. It’s from the same people that made The TEMPURA of the DEAD and has a similar style/sound to it. An excellent one.

AH1000S

Each level is pretty big, and you have to get to the end in one go. There are loads and loads of things that will kill you and most of them come from nowhere so you’ll die and have to start again. Some people won’t like this, but personally I do. I really enjoyed having to learn the levels and it made me laugh when I’d get right to the end and suddenly die from something you didn’t notice. When I say stuff comes from nowhere, it’s always signposted, just sometimes hidden really well.

You’ll know from this description whether you’ll like the game or find it frustrating, so buy or don’t buy!

My favourite thing about Pixelbit Snooker & Pool might be that it’s only 4MB in size, which is just amazing, because it looks excellent. It’s, well, it’s snooker and pool, and there’s none of the faff that the WSC games have. So, no player models which means small filesizes and next to no loading times.

PS&P

It plays a great game of snooker, too. The AI is fairly suspect but I never play these games for the AI, it’s all about the break building and this has that down. Aiming at a ball shows the direction both will travel in which makes building breaks easier, but really puts the focus on positional play, as well it should, so it really feels snookery.

The physics could be better, but there’s absolutely nothing gamebreaking wrong with them and indeed, it feels a lot better than many snooker games I’ve played. Like it.

Squid. I’m all for games that take the top-down-shooter mechanic and do something unique with it. It’s why I liked Ripple before, and it’s why I like Squid now.

Squid

You’ve got no weapons, see. The only way to defeat enemies is to use their own weapons against them, any way you can. This starts basic enough, with missiles that tail you that you can lead into enemies, but then other enemies appear with their own attack patterns, etc. It’s always the avoiding I enjoy more than the shooting, so this is right up my street, and plays differently enough to the norm to warrant a look.

It looks and sounds lovely as well, which never hurts!

Hyper Button is a bunch of QTEs, basically, but it has a really nice scoring hook that rewards you VERY well for perfection, so it’s quite addictive, playing over and over for that perfect score.

Antipole is a game I wanted to like more than I could. Or, I do really like it, but the movement of the main character is about twice as fast as it should be, and this badly hinders the jumping. Aside from that, the game is nice. The gravity mechanic is different enough from VVVVVV to warrant its existence, and the enemies add an extra thing to think about.

radiangames Ballistic is a perfectly competent twin-stick, as you’d expect from radiangames. The UI is uncharacteristically poor, it’s cramped with options hidden and explanations obscured, but overall, the game’s decent enough. Is it the worst radiangames game? Probably. But it’s still better than most other shooters on XBLIG.

Sword and Hammer is the stupidest game I’ve ever played, but I can’t not recommend it because everyone needs to at least play the trial for the utter bizarre absurdness of it all. Live action QTEs. Wut?

Wizard Apprentice is simple, but could have a whole ton of depth later on, it looks pretty big. It’s a monster-raising dungeon-crawling RPG. When you defeat a monster in battle, you can capture them and use them in battles. The battles aren’t that exciting, and the plot is non-existent, but there’s something compulsive in raising stronger and stronger monsters, and this has got it covered. Interesting, interesting, bit of a surprise, this. Oh, it’s an avatar game too. Even more surprising!

龍炎高校伝説 is by Hunters, there’s something about their games that I really like. They’re never brilliant, but they’re always fun and always packed with charm and humour, this is no different. It’s a side scrolling beat-em-up. And it’s enjoyable.

I don’t get Maid_sans Caving Adventure but yet still I enjoy it, and still I keep playing it. It’s a 2D platformer with stealth elements. You have to complete levels quickly and/or collect stars, or something, the whole thing is so vague. But whatever, you have to get a rank C or above in a level to proceed and that ain’t easy. Needs more play, more working out, but it’s quite fun doing so. Contains bouncy tits and some upskirts, if that’s your thing!

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.

2010: A New Threat is horrible. It took me about ten seconds to actually work out where my ship was every time I died, by which time I was nearly dead again. A simple twin-stick with horrendously confusing controls.

Bioerosion バイオエロージョン is bad. It’s a weird looking over-the-shoulder shooter with controls that are so inaccurate that it’s nearly impossible to play.

Blocks Indie. Here’s a game that could be really good. But is not. You are a ship with a crate balanced on top, and you have to manoeuvre your way to a delivery point by using left and right thrusters to keep your ship straight and the cargo balanced. This would be brilliant, were it not for the stupid decision to not let the player use both thrusters simultaneously, making it impossible to keep the ship straight while at the same time having fun.

Boom Kikker is stupid. It’s just stupid. It’s some weird tile placing game that has a set of rules that make no sense and even if I have understood them right, they don’t appear to act how they’re explained and the whole thing is so ugly that you can’t even tell what’s meant to go where anyway. Any other theme at all and it might have made sense.

If Bounce! was programmed by a three year old, that’s still no excuse for how amazingly inept it is. Absolutely shameful that someone thought this was fit to be released. Embarrassing. Actually embarrassing. I’m embarrassed just playing it.

Corrupted. I probably claim every month that something it the worst twin-stick ever. This is the worst twin-stick ever. A medieval theme doesn’t disguise your crap gameplay.

CRON, oh CRON, I looked at your screenshots and I was hopeful. I saw your main menu and I knew you were to be rubbish. Invisible maze game with invisible enemies. Yeah, that’s a good idea. You can Sonar to identify them but that’s just irritating, and if you were going to let me see stuff, WHY HAVE YOU MADE EVERYTHING INVISIBLE!?

Death N Failure. Yes, I will die. Do you know why that is? Because your game is an unplayable mess. The player has absolutely no control over the character at all. Awful.

Extreme Skill is not needed to play this game. Extreme patience. Extreme masochism. Extreme inability to realise you’re playing a crap game. That’s what’s needed. It’s The Impossible Game but shit. Again.

Honor in Vengeance. Read this sentence. How long did it take? One second? Now imagine I gave you 45 seconds to read it. Then did the same for ten more sentences. Literally half of the trial of this game is spent looking at text that fades in and out so slowly that you need an iron will not to quit before the game starts. They you’ll wish you had, as you’re faced with a 3D space shooter with enemies that you can’t even see.

I didn’t play Snowball Showdown and I’m not even ashamed of it. You’ve got eight minutes to make an impression on people trialling your game, forcing them to spend the first five watching an unskippable video is dumb. I quit, so did everyone else. How are your sales?

I would rather kill myself than ever play SSRGFM again. It’s an arena fighter where you don’t appear to have any attacks at all, you just run around and fart. This is hilarious if you are four years old, or a fucking idiot.

The Charge isn’t a good game, but it’s here mainly for having the nerve to put some skank on the cover in a cynical attempt to generate more trials to people who haven’t discovered porn on the internet yet.

And to end on an awesome note, because we need it after that…

Every month, we’ll revisit a couple of games that you may have missed from months gone by. With last month being the first of 2011, it only makes sense to look back at the two best games from 2010. There were a lot of amazing games, but if you’ve been following my thoughts on Indie Games even remotely closely you can probably stop reading now, because you know what two games I’m about to rave about.

If you’ve got recommendations of older games for future months, tweet me @toythatkills.

Apple Jack came out just before these round-ups started, so I’ve never had the chance to rave about it properly. It also came out at around the same time as Super Mario Galaxy 2 on Wii did. I got Mario first, played it solidly, but then downloaded Apple Jack because it was there. I expected to play it for a few minutes and get back to Mario but from the very first second I was totally hooked, and didn’t play Mario again until I was done with Apple Jack. That this Indie Game was more compelling than a game with a year of hype, made by an experienced team in a major franchise confirmed for me that Indie Games had “arrived,” as it were. That there was more potential in this service than in any other distribution method.

Apple Jack

The first game I ever remember playing properly was a 2D platformer (Alex Kidd in Miracle World, history fans) and I’ve loved them ever since. Xbox LIVE Indie Games have been very good to me in this regard, and Apple Jack is the best of the lot. There’s just so much going for it. Most importantly, it gets right what so many get wrong, the jumping, which has a perfect weight to it. Too floaty or too heavy and your game fails, but Apple Jack is spot on. This perfection carries over to the rest of the controls too, and playing it is a total joy.

This is aided by gameplay itself, which is great. Your goal in each level is to defeat every enemy, and this is done by throwing them into one another, which destroys both. There’s a ton of variety in the enemy design and each has its own attack and movement patterns which means you have to learn them to use them to their full advantage. Some enemies are colour-coded and can only be destroyed by enemies of the same colour which adds a brilliant puzzle element to levels, the design of which is excellent.

There are 100 levels, all set somewhere in the British countryside. There’s no relation between the places the level is set in and the level itself, but being English myself it’s lovely when you happen to be playing somewhere you’ve been or heard of before. To add a little bit more addictiveness, is the multiplier system. Killing a pair of enemies releases coins, killing another pair quickly gets you twice as many, then four times, eight times, 16x, 32x, and it keeps going and going until the screen is totally filled with coins which looks glorious. So many levels I had to replay after insisting to myself that I could complete it better!

I’m also really proud of the fact that I’m one of the very few people that will have completed the super-hardcore version of this before the patch came out that made it easier! It’s still difficult, though, and there are levels that’ll take loads of attempts to beat – the difficulty curve is, like everything else in this game, perfect.

This is absolutely the best 80 Microsoft Points you will ever, ever spend. I don’t think I can express my love for this any better than Robert Florence did, though. “Apple Jack, I love you to your core.”

Hypership Out of Control is some close competition for “best 80 Microsoft Points ever,” though. It’s another game that came from nowhere but totally got its hooks into me. The screenshots imply that it’s a bog-standard vertical scrolling shmup, but it’s anything but.

What it is, is a super-fast corridor based avoid-em-up, or something.

HSOoC

You’re in a ship and the accelerator is stuck, the brakes are out, and you’re screwed. You go faster and faster and faster and faster and your job as the pilot is to avoid all the walls and just live for as long as possible, racking up points – it’s a wonderful high-score chasing game, and horribly addictive with it.

Points are earned by progressing through the level, the quicker you go the more points you get. You can also get points by collecting coins, and doing so increases a multiplier. This, people, is about as perfect as risk/reward mechanics get. There are loads of power-ups too but you always have to balance the reward with the risk of getting to them, this leads to some hilarious level design, too.

The game is split into waves, each with a distinct look, feel, and set of hazards. The hilarity comes when something tempts the player one way, a long trail of coins, a power-up, or something, only for something better to appear in a now impossible-to-reach area. You can only laugh at the cleverness of the developer and how you were totally sucked in.

Since its release, the game has been updated with reverse waves too. These weren’t designed to be played this way round so they’re full of dead-ends and other hazards, think of them as a hardcore mode, and prepare for some learning if you want to set some scores on the leaderboards, which handily are online.

You can set scores in one of HSOoC’s many modes. The normal mode gives you three lives and you go as far as you can – there’s no end, so once you complete all the waves you go back to the start. Another mode gives you a single life to, again, go as far as you can. Another mode requires that you collect coins, as they constantly tick down. Kind of like Super Sonic. If your total ever reaches zero, you lose. There are infinite lives in this mode, but you’ll need enough coins to keep using them!

The gameplay is totally solid, but it’s the little things that really elevate it above and beyond. The sense of humour, mainly, which is absolutely brilliant. It’s not something the game really needs, but it’s twice as good with it being there. The music, too, is so good. I’ve been offline for two months and so haven’t been able to play this, but the tune still appears in my head now and then.

It’s an amazing game, and you owe it to yourself to play it.

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

Do tell!