March 2011s Best Xbox LIVE Indie Games

Not the best month, really. Dream.Build.Play is around the corner and everyone seems to either have a game they’re holding back for it, or they’re working very hard on getting something ready. That said, there have still been some great titles. It’s mainly been a month of conflict and stupidity. Mostly from FortressCraft’s PR person, but also with the whole ongoing situation with XBLIG ratings being abused. A huge problem, because the Top Rated list is the one place on the dashboard that really seems to drive sales.

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, click here.

Solve It Pack 1 is 30 levels of puzzling bliss, which is probably most closely related to Chu Chu Rocket. Chu Chu Rocket and someone asking you directions to the shops.

You’re placed somewhere in a level, and you have to reach the end by turning, jumping, climbing, and just, well, getting to the end. To do this, you have program instructions into your character so that they know where to move, then when you press go they’ll do it. It takes a certain amount of spatial awareness, but that’s not where the true difficulty lies.

You can always have another go if you fail, see, so accidentally sending the character right instead of left isn’t a terrible thing to happen.

No, the difficulty of the puzzles here is in how you only have a limited number of steps that you can take to get you to the exit. You have 12 moves you can make, which can be upgraded slightly by using LB and RB which allow you to add a few extra specific series’ of steps.

The game looks great, and is a really interesting puzzle, the kind of which I haven’t seen before. Only 80 Microsoft Points and so, totally recommended.

Oozi: Earth Adventure Ep. 1 is an excellent platformer that only really misses out on the Gold Award by being so short. It feels thoroughly 16-bit in its execution, which is something that the world is lacking so much these days. 16-bit 2D platformers are probably the king of all genres.

So, you run through huge levels hitting checkpoints, bouncing on enemies and collecting stars for extra lives, and it’s genius. Oozi feels a bit weird at first, he’s very very fast, but you’re used to it in seconds.

What’s most notable perhaps is how well it’s presented. Not only are the graphics amazing, but the whole front end is really professional looking.

It’s still short, though. There are just five levels and then some challenge levels to do after that. For only 80 Microsoft Points though, it’s an easy buy, and I’m totally there for episode 2 when that hits.

TriLinea ReAct is a match-three game which is normally enough for me to yawn myself into a coma but this is actually really good.

Where it succeeds is in breaking the gameplay down into really small chunks so you don’t get bored wishing you were playing Zookeeper on DS. The bits it breaks it down into are all really varied too, so even if you’re bored of one level the next will, while using the same mechanics, be totally different. There are fights, puzzles, challenges, and it’s all really nicely presented.

There were issues with controls initially, but these have been patched now and there’s a colourblind mode too! If you tried it before, give it another go.

みみ いんざ すかい or, Mimi in the Sky, is a twin-stick shooter. I know, I know, you want to stop reading now. But carry on, it’s actually good.

I’m serious. It’s good.

It doesn’t make the mistake that most make, and assume the player isn’t going to wake up for the first five minutes and so start off really slowly. None of that here, it starts off crazy with screen filling points to collect and enemies to shoot and so there’s always something going on.

I particularly like the way that points are only attracted to you if you stop firing for a few seconds. It’s a nice risk/reward mechanic and makes the game much more interesting.

Infinity Danger is another twin-stick, but it’s totally different to Mimi. There are no enemies here, as such, it’s all about boss-rush.

There’s one boss, at first. Kill it, and you’ll get a time bonus and it’ll come back stronger. Kill it. Time bonus. Stronger. Kill it again and again and again and it’s filling the screen in a very very short time which makes it not only harder to kill, but harder to avoid too. There are no lives to speak of, just a time limit. You get extra time when you kill a boss, and time is taken away when it kills you.

There are online leaderboards, something milkstone are great at, and there’s a sort of achievement system in place too for accomplishing various tasks. One level and one boss, yet such great value for money.

If you like it, check out Warning Forever, the game it’s based on.

Love Hurts is a side scrolling beat-em-up. Im not sure its that good, really, but it kept me playing it. It looks pretty cool, the music is good, and theres a decent amount of moves. Mainly I played on because it was funny, though. The gameplay itself feels pretty slow and difficult, but I dont play this kinda game so Im not sure how good it is compared to its peers.

Snake Man is, well, Snake. Its good though. Its pretty lenient with hitting walls and stuff so youll die usually from blocking yourself in. There are levels to play, awardments to get, and its playable. Itd be a much better game if it included an endless mode as well though, which it doesnt appear to.

The Hearts of Men is a decent Gauntlet kinda game. It looks nice, save for the dodgy animation, and plays pretty well. Search for keys, go through gates, kill bosses.

Solar System 4D. Youve basically got the solar system and can speed up/slow down time to see how planets rotate/orbit. Its interesting. Then you can click on planets to get basic information and some photos, which are really cool. Stuff I didnt know before, Mercurys orbit is all askew, Venus is much bigger and closer than to us than I had any idea of. Obviously the software can be slightly limited, and stuff like the above might be common knowledge (Im no expert) but it was a really cool, interesting way to learn about stuff like that and I spent an unexpected amount of time messing around with it.

Mute Crimson is a 2D platformer. It doesn’t look great, but it’s fun to play and has some interesting mechanics like wind, etc, that makes it quite timing based in places. It’s funny, and has some very well concealed collectables too which is always fun if you’re afflicted with OCD about such things.

Bureau Agent Kendall is notable mainly for what it attempts. A text adventure, almost, but with a good attempt at CGI graphics and certainly the best attempt at them we’ve seen in XBLIGs so far.

The sum of Hello Rocket’s parts is better than the whole, really. I love the idea, a lander kind of game where you have to manipulate the world around you to destroy enemies and collect stars. I love the rating system which awards you up to three stars based on your time and your performance. What I couldn’t get on with is the collision detection and the controls. Rather than the thrust button thrusting, as you’d expect, it pulls the tip of your ship upwards as if it’s attached to the top of the screen with a piece of string. It doesn’t feel very natural, really.

CEPINAS would be pretty nice if the controls were better. You have to take over planets by orbiting them with LT held down while your opponent does the same. Take over all the planets to win. Movement is weird though, its digital rather than analogue and combined with dodgy collision detection, means youll often collide with stuff by mistake. It’s a nice idea, though

Shoot Your Self is funner than I was expecting. Youre in a gun in the middle and you have to adjust your trajectory/power to shoot your avatar at structures to destroy them. You only have a certain amount of shots, and theres a combo that builds if you dont miss. Pretty playable, actually.

Duodecad is a card game. You place your cards on a 34 grid, then your opponent does, and if the number on the side of the card that he plays is higher than the adjacent number on your card, it’s a point for him. Whoever has the most points when the grid is full, wins. There are tons of rules you can change, including trade rules that determine how many of your opponents cards you get when you win, to build a stronger and stronger deck. Online multiplayer, or play the (pretty good) AI. There’s also loads of ways to upgrade the power of your cards, like placing them on special squares, etc. Rules like this are all customisable so play with or without ‘em. If this was an XBLA title, it’d be as popular as UNO.

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.

Gyroball doesn’t appear to make much sense at all. It doesn’t tell you how to play and as a result, you won’t know how to play. Funny how things work out like that, isn’t it?

Fortune Cookies in Bed is ridiculous, of course. You press a combination of buttons, it gives you a fortune like hey man, youre excellent and then you can change the ending between in bed, on drugs, something else, and at farting. Yes, that is genuinely an option. Silver Dollar Games have done it again.

BugO StinkO is a ridiculous platformer that isn’t in any way fun to play, and isn’t in any way funny unless you are very, very simple.

ETMD. You know when you first start making games the first thing you do is make a scrolling shooter cause theyre relatively simple to do? Thats what this feels like.

Crisis: North Korea could almost be good but it’s like the dev got bored half way through making it and released it unfinished. It plays music for the first five seconds then that stops and its kinda plain after that. When you die, the game just waits. And waits. Hopefully clicking this link won’t get you put on some sort of list.

A tricky game with a cookie is The Impossible Game done badly. Again. This one is done particularly badly though, with unresponsive controls and terrible collision detection and checkpointing.

Abronium Tournament disappoints. Its a series of top-down different multiplayer events. The first one I played was a Mario Kart style race with powerups. You cant see your ship half the time, I have no idea what any of the powerups I deployed actually did, and you cant see the ones that youre being hit with so you just end up losing all momentum and being flung around for no apparent reason. Then there was a capture the flag game that proceeded in much the same manner until I just gave up on it.

Bouncing Avatars is the game that Doodle Jump would have been if when they were making it, Lima Sky said hey, you know whatd be fun? Having almost no control over the character at all! Your avatar moves so slowly its almost impossible to enjoy. Its better than Avatar Ragdolls, but most stuff is.

Strategic Warfare: Conflict has about 10 walls of text that explain how to play the game and then when the game starts you realise that they havent actually told you how to play the game and youve got no idea what youre doing. In a way, its like RISK but in real-time. You have to send troops from your towers to enemy castles to take over them, while they do the same. Then they take them back and destroy you because its stupidly hard. On the first level you start with four towers with 20 troops each, the enemy starts with six that have 30-40 each, and they refresh a lot quicker, their troops move quicker, and theres literally no introduction to the mechanics at all. Difficulty curves are not present, here. The way to win is to replay the battle over and over and over until you get lucky. Not really fun.

Conquest of the planet earth. Absolutely do not download this if youre in any way epileptic. I think it might actually have given me epilepsy just from playing it. Its an FPS, but for some reason the screen is constantly flashing so you cant even play the thing.

Avatar Snake is a nice idea but its been done so, so badly here. A decent dev could have some fun with the idea. This just exists.

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. For no real reason at all, this month it’s an Echoes (ECHOES, echoes, echoes) special! Played a really awesome Indie Game in the past? Tweet me @toythatkills and we’ll see about getting it in here in the future.

Echoes+ is probably what the guy who made Asteroids was thinking when he was making his game. In his head, this is what it was. Basically, the best version of Asteroids I’ve ever played, as a twin-stick (with a classic Asteroids control scheme if you prefer).

The controls are quick and responsive, there are bombs, powerups, four difficulty levels, and everything looks awesome.

The best part is the amount of modes there are to play with. There’s the normal mode, a classic Asteroids mode that removes the new enemies, and among others, there’s a couple of modes that just focus on those new enemies. These are probably my two favourite modes, particularly the one you see in the screenshot above. Waves of meteors just come constantly from any of the four walls, and you have to blast through. Blast the yellow meteor for a multiplier bonus. It starts off slowly but soon you’re trying to evade 2, 3, 4 waves all at the same time and it’s total chaos, and awesome with it.

The leaderboards aren’t online, which is disappointing, but it’s still a great game with a ton to do, and a sort of achievement system too. There are 25 achievements to go for, and you get more points depending on the difficulty level you achieve them on. Get to 100% and you’re clearly some sort of robot.

Halfbrick Echoes is part of the very, very short-lived “Halfbrick Fridays” series of games, which Halfbrick released before going on to uber-success with Fruit Ninja on iOS.

In the game you have to collect gems in top-down levels such as the one above. Sounds simple enough, but every time you collect a gem it creates an “echo” of yourself which follows in your footsteps. Soon you’re collecting gems while trying to avoid tons of the different versions of yourself, collecting powerups to freeze or destroy them to give yourself a breather and generally taking part in a hectic game.

It’s pretty unique. About the closest thing it can be compared to is Pac-Man or radiangames Fluid (which came later) and neither is really that similar at all.

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

Enjoy your Indie Games.