February 2011s Best Xbox LIVE Indie Games

February turned out much slower than I’d expected it to. With not far off 100 games in peer-review at one point, I was expecting a mass of releases. As it turns out, many of those games still await release and it wasn’t really any busier than it would have been anyway. Odd. On the plus side, that means there’s more time to play some of the excellent games that came out this month!

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.

Ninja360° is all kinds of amazing. Seriously. Think of a kind of amazing: that’s what kind of amazing it is.

You’re on a small level and have to collect all the coins to finish it. When you’re standing on the level, it rotates with you as you move, Mario Galaxy-style. When you’re jumping, the level is stationary and you can take advantage of this to get better times or mess up and fall off. If you fall off and die, you don’t lose, you just go back to the start or a checkpoint, with your collected coins still collected. You can sometimes exploit this for faster times.

The big addictive hook comes from trying to earn better times, which are rewarded with medals. It’s almost a puzzle trying to get gold medals, because the times are so difficult to achieve that you’ve gotta really think outside the box to achieve them. You can watch videos of a few levels at the start and I guarantee you’ll think: “wow, I’d never have thought to do that.” Also, if you achieve a silver medal it unlocks a video demonstration of how to achieve gold. And some are just so clever, and use the basic mechanics in such awesome ways, that it’s impossible not to love the game for its sneakiness.

It looks great, with humorously animated backgrounds that you can change at will. It also controls really well, for the most part. There are occasions where you’ll want to wall-jump and the ninja will open a parachute to glide, making you slip off the wall. These times aren’t that common, though, and the levels are so small that even if it happens, you’ll rarely lose more than ten seconds of progress.

And how much content is there? 99 levels. 99! And it costs only 80 points. Can’t really argue with value like this.

In NYAN-TECH you just have to get a key and then get to the exit. There are basic platforming standards, spikes to avoid, double jumps, but then it gets really puzzley.

There are certain blocks that can only be removed by pressing a button, or made solid by pressing a button. There are different types, too, some that go solid/invisible when you hold the relevant button down, and some that switch between solid and invisible like, well, switches. When theres five different button prompts on the screen to be taking care of at once, it gets pretty hectic.

Theres a time limit, too, which ticks down as you move, so youll need to go through the levels efficiently.

Levels are small, they look great, and it controls really well. If you like Ninja Bros., you need this. If you like games, you need this. 80 Microsoft Points.

Battle High: San Bruno is a beat-em-up and to be honest, it’s not a genre I get on with at all. Which makes it pretty obvious that this one’s good, because I enjoyed it.

I was still terrible at it, but I had fun being so.

It looks pretty cool in screenshots, but the animation is lovely and it looks even better in motion. There’s a movelist in game which shows that there are loads of moves for each of the characters. I had trouble pulling some of them off but I put that down to my own ineptitude rather than any issue with the game. Sorry. I wish I could do it more justice but I just don’t know beat-em-ups.

Only 80 Microsoft Points, this.

Rotor is beautiful. The colour schemes, which you can edit in minute detail, look tremendous and mean that even though there’s only one “level,” every game you play feels completely different. You just have to randomise the colours before you begin.

There are three main modes in Rotor, Arcade, 3 minute, and 10 minute. The gameplay in each is similar and while the timed modes just tick down, Arcade is where the Crazy Taxi style gameplay comes in. Each time you accept a new event in Arcade, your time is extended slightly, and so if you’re good you can go on and on, it’s easily the most compelling of the three games and the one where you’ll spend the most time.

There are three types of events in all three modes. One gives you a line to follow and you’re graded on your accuracy. Another is a checkpoint race, and is similar. The final type is an orb hunt, where you’re given a random number and asked to find that many orbs in time. Orb hunting is where your precision flying skills are truly tested, and you’d be advised to avoid those at first if possible!

In a way, there’s not much to do in Rotor, but the more you play it, the more you want to play it. It takes a few goes to get the controls, but as you get better and better the game seems to open up, and suddenly what could be a quite frustrating experience to begin with becomes wonderful as you swerve around at impossible angles destroying your previous high scores.

80 Microsoft Points.

College Lacrosse 2011 is, well, a Lacrosse game. It’s ridiculously ambitious for an Xbox LIVE Indie Game with motion-captured animation and as a sports game, it feels as comprehensive as you’d want it to be.

I don’t know anything about Lacrosse and the chances are that you don’t either, so why should you be interested? Well, because a good sports game’s a good sports game. It plays a lot like a football (soccer) game, and the controls feel natural and largely how you’d expect them too. It’s a lot pacier though, and the pitch really feels a lot smaller and more cramped. Sometimes this is an issue when you have trouble making space but it’s really just essential to work out how to play it rather than (like I was) playing it like it’s FIFA. Once you get to grips with it, it’s a lot of fun.

Avatar Adventurers Online is, well, there was some discussion over whether or not it’s an MMORPG. How massive is massive? Anyway, it’s an online RPG with (not-quite) massive numbers of players.

The screenshots don’t really sell it, but they do tell a story. The game is every bit as sparse and barren as they suggest it is. That doesn’t make it any less compelling though, and it has great combat and loads of spells, levelling up, and miscellaneous items.

A low entry price and no monthly fees must make this worth a try.

Wizards Keep is the second game from the guys that brought you Miner Dig Deep. Yes, you, because I know you’ve got it.

It’s very different, though, as this one’s an action RPG.

You have a basic attack, a powerful attack, and the ability to block. It’s essential to balance these well because while the combat starts off really simply, hammering the light-attack button won’t get you that far through the game.

Once you’ve completed a few quests you can start gathering materials and making new stuff, which is where it gets a lot more MDD-like and where it starts getting as addictive as that game got. It just takes longer to get going, this one, but you’ll stick with it.

You can’t not.

Baby Maker Extreme 2 is pretty much the same game as the first, but the pseudo-3D graphics are creepy as hell. As far as new stuff goes, theres loads of new upgrades and stuff. You can have new outfits for your creepy baby. As much as people deride it, I enjoyed the original BMX, and this is more of the same. Just a creepier kind of more that doesnt really offer anything that youd need if you have the original.

Timeslip should be fantastic, but I just got frustrated. Youre a snail and every thirty seconds or so a clone of yourself is created which follows the path you followed previously, so you can use them to wait on switches while the current you runs through doors, etc. If you come into contact with yourself, though, you lose and have to start again. This is a mechanic thats been used a lot recently, and if the game focussed on puzzles instead of killing you at every opportunity itd be a lot more fun. Still worth trying, though, because it is a lovely mechanic and it’s interesting to see Yaroze games turning up on XBLIGs.

Run! places your avatar on a course that heads into the distance, auto-runs it, and you have to time your jumps and movements to avoid hazards and take advantage of speed boosts. There’s loads of courses and it looks pretty quaint.

Bird Assassin is pretty ace, really. Not so much for the gameplay, which is alright but repetitive. Its really funny though, I lold a few times during the trial. Gameplay-wise, you walk from left to right aiming with the right stick and shooting birds, avoiding traps, etc. Thats pretty much it, but it works. Theres an extensive upgrade system, too.

Super Tank Run is a retro-styled auto-runner, kind of, with a heavy metal soundtrack. Your tank travels along and you can switch into one of four lanes to avoid barricades and collect coins, which is what your final scores based on. It plays pretty well, but definitely needs to be played on the D-Pad. There are a few modes, a timed mode where you just score what you can, a defensive mode where you have three lives and lose one for every barricade you hit, and an offensive mode where you attack oncoming tanks. Pretty good for 80 points, this.

Spermatozoon is not a bad game, but I am baffled that this made it out when Privates was banned. You have to press A at the right time to get to the egg in the middle, avoiding the walls (contraception) that rotate around. If you miss, youll destroy a bit of wall, so it gets easier as you go. Kind of addictive, and thank the lord that contraception in real life isnt destroyed so easily.

Trivia or Die is easily the best quiz show game on the service, I think, purely down to the speed it goes at. Theres questions every few seconds, unlike the Quizcall games where it takes AGES to load between questions. Speed is where its at. Its quite funny too, getting questions wrong results in abuse.

Googly-Eyed Splitters is a 2D platformer set in small self-contained levels. It starts off ridiculously slow paced and really boring, but then introduces a mechanic where you can split your character in two and fit in smaller gaps, help the other half out with switches, etc. Each thing is controller with a different half of the controller. At that point, the game gets really cool and puzzley. It never controls brilliantly, to be honest, but definitely stick with it until the end of the trial when you give it a go, because it gets better.

Toy Cars is a game that has literally not atmosphere whatsoever, but I haven’t played a decent Micro Machines game in ages and this one is alright.

Escape is a platformer that has deadzone issues so I constantly went left, to my doom. In spite of this, it’s okay. I like the short platforming challenges and there are secrets to discover, which is always a must in platform games.

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.

All Out of Bubblegum! I didnt really get. It starts off pretending to be tower defence, and then becomes a twin-stick. The twin-stick part doesnt work, as you have to kill every enemy in a wave to progress and they keep getting stuck behind scenery so you have to wander around for ages to try and find the last enemy thats stopping the wave ending.

Mummies vs GunnS has some strange punctuation, there. Its the worst kind of FPS, theres no goal, theres no animation, and the enemies take 1,000,000 hits to take down. Yawn.

Avatar Ragdolls is one of few height climbers on Indie Games, which is a surprise with them being so popular on iOS. This ones not spectacular. Its very, very slow and takes a major effort to lose. Also, sometimes you can boost and sometimes you cant, and theres no indication as to how long your boost takes to recharge.

Zombie Concentration is a twin stick. Im losing the will to write anything at all about these at this point. I swear Ive played over 500. This one is slow, cramped, and offers no satisfying feedback when you kill enemies.

Old School Destruction. The loading is just amazing. If I discover that it took less than four minutes between pressing start and the game starting, I would be astounded. Heres a quick outline of the plot: “Oh noes!!!! Invation!!!!” Gameplay is pretty bad. You roam around a 3D environment that looks rubbish, when for the amount of time it took to load youre expecting it to actually be generating a real world or something. Right stick aims, but in a really peculiar way. It controls a cross-hair and when you pass over an enemy it auto targets, you then fire with a trigger to shoot really pissy little bullets. The other trigger fires grenades, when the game feels like letting you. Not great. Or good. Or average. Or passable. Im not even sure its as good as bad.

Try Cuckoo Crack if you want truly annoying sound effects. Gameplay is bad. Its vaguely Helicopter Game like, but with less in the way of obstacles. You just have to avoid trees well sometimes you do. Sometimes you can fly straight through them and nothing happens, other times youll crash. Genius design decision. To score points you have to drop eggs into nests but you have to be pretty much on top of the next to do so or falling too far will mean theyll break and youll score minus points. Sometimes, therell be a nest at the bottom of the screen and its impossible to drop an egg in and then gain enough height to avoid crashing into the tree. Rubbish.

Unstoppable Chopper is a Helicopter Game that has the nerve to use a helicopter. With balls like that, it needs to be good. It isn’t. It’s slow, painfully slow.

And to end on an awesome note…

Every month, we’ll revisit a couple of games that you may have missed from months gone by. These games are lost in the depths of the Games Marketplace, pull them out of there! Played a really awesome Indie Game in the past? Let me know and we’ll see about getting it in here in the future.

Leave Home is a side scrolling shmup unlike any other, because in a way, you make the game.

See, the game changes based on how well you play it. If you play really well and don’t die, the game gets harder. If you play badly and die a lot, the game gets easier.

The game’s always a fixed length so you can’t lose, it’s purely for points. It means you have as long to rack up points as does someone who’s rubbish. Like me, for example. The better you’re playing, though, the higher you’ll score and the higher will be your opportunity to score as the game gets more and more difficult until you eventually lose, or it ends.

And look at that screenshot? Isn’t it just the prettiest? And it’s yours for 80 Microsoft Points.

Bloom*Block lets us end the round-up with the same company we started it with. Cute.

Which is what this game is, funnily enough!

It’s a puzzle game where you have to roam around on the faces of cubes, stepping on each one precisely one time. This starts out fairly simple but gets difficult quickly as the cubes are arranged in ever more intricate shapes.

As with a lot of Indie Games, it’s the sheer amount of content that makes this so amazing, though. There are loads and loads of levels, and also loads and loads of achievements to earn. There’s so much to do, I honestly doubt you’ll do it all. So it’s a game that’ll never end!

Recently dropped its price to 80 Microsoft Points, for even better valuage!

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

Enjoy your Indie Games.