Home November’s Best Xbox LIVE Indie Games

November’s Best Xbox LIVE Indie Games

by GaryTun

Tons and tons of quality, this time round. There were more really strong contenders for game of the month than any other month so far. Next month promises even more. The first week of December is The Indie Games Winter Uprising, a dev organised showcase of getting the best games out all at once so that people can see how awesome the XBLIG channel really is, all at once. Unfortunately, that means that the last few weeks of November have been dire as all the good games are held back to release in December. 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.)

In the end, the game of the month was just too strong for the rest. In The TEMPURA of the DEAD You play as either President Obama Tompson who looks remarkably like (a black) Lupin at times, or a samurai who looks like a cliché samurai type. Tompson has a gun and can attack from a distance, but his attacks are weak. It’s also harder to juggle zombie heads. Yeah, juggle zombie heads. The samurai uses his sword which is stronger and easier to juggle with, but can only attack at close range, clearly. It’s a sword. You can switch between the two at any time by pressing Y.

You have to save the zombies’ souls, or they’ll just keep on a-coming. You do this by detaching the head from the body, and then juggling it a few times. This is explained to hilarious effect in the opening cut-scene. If you manage it, you’ll go into Tempura Feaver mode, where you only need to hit every head once to save it. Miss a head though, and TF mode stops. The more souls you save, the more lives you get which is what the game uses as currency. You’ll soon rack up hundreds and hundreds of lives, but to upgrade your health and weapons, that’s what it’s gonna cost you. Still, the game over screen is very, very rare. Not that that’s a problem, it’s actually a great solution to the whole “are lives necessary?�? debate. They’re there, and relevant, but there’s no focus on them at all unless you’re not paying attention and you overspend. Even then, you’ll soon rack up loads more. It plays brilliantly, and the characters are different enough that they both have their advantages. Tompson can’t jump as high, etc. It looks amazing, go see the screenshots on the dashboard, and just look how 8-bit it is. You know what that means, right? Fucking awesome chiptunes. It sounds wonderful.

The most incredible aspect is probably how much of a proper game it feels like. There’s a map screen with 24 levels which is just tons of gameplay, and within those levels there are fights with huge bosses, tons of different enemy types, and loads of platforming to do. If this was released 20 years ago, it would have sold hundreds of thousands of copies at $60 a piece, and that’s no exaggeration. That it can be had for $3 now is just insane. One of the easiest buys on XBLIGs.

Iredia: Atram’s Secret is really, really awesome. The first thing you notice is that it looks really great. The second thing you notice is that when you press jump, you jump about half a second later. Normally this is enough to kill a game but Iredia: Atram’s Secret is strong enough that it doesn’t matter, and there’s not really much in the way of precision platforming so you’ve got time to get used to it and you’ll rarely die. It’s not really about dying – there are no enemies. You want to take a flute to your new-born sister, but she’s born deaf, so you can’t play it for her and she’ll never be able to play it herself. Besides, a cat grabs it and runs away with it. The rest of the game is spent chasing after your flute and, erm, learning about ears. It’s an educational game, see, and you get little bits of information about how ears work and stuff as you play through the levels. Then, at the end of every level, you get a small test to see if you’ve been paying attention. It’s really quite excellent.

In the first level you learn about parts of the ear, then you learn about audiograms which can measure the level of hearing of a person. In this level you can fine-tune your hearing so you only hear certain sounds, and can jump on them to reach new places. In the third level you learn about hearing aids and have to find hearing aids to give to frogs to pass. Next comes sign language. Little guys are using it and you have to work out from that which way to go, and stuff, it’s amazing. It’s shortlived, but amazing for its entire duration. The ultimate goal is to get your flute back and, I guess, reassure yourself that your baby sister will still get some joy from it. Which is fucking lovely, really. I honestly think this is one of the loveliest games I’ve ever played, it’s just beautiful.

Coming out at a ridiculously late 30 minutes before December, comes Epic Dungeon. It’s the first game in the Winter Uprising, and if the quality continues like this we’re really in for an awesome few days. Here’s what the game looks like, and what everyone that sees a screenshot of it will expect: a Roguelike. It’s not though, because it’s not turn based. Enemies move independently of you and so you can’t just stand around idly waiting, they will come and get you. While this takes away a level of strategy, it increases the pace of the game massively and it really works. Aside from that, it takes a lot of stuff from the genre. Permanent death, of course, the main one. If you can’t battle down fifty floors with your hero you have to start again. The levelling up mechanic is brilliant though, so there’s a lot of hope for your plucky hero. Each level you get three points to allocate into attack or defence, etc. Occasionally you’ll also be able to upgrade a skill, or learn a new skill. I recommend regeneration ASAP, which restores your HP when you’re not being attacked.

There are some other great touches too. A lamp (which must be refilled periodically with oil) makes the level lighter, and if you’re looking carefully, you’ll be able to find hidden rooms by using it. The more it runs out, the less distance the light carries until the level is really dark. You can still play easy enough, but you won’t find those secret rooms of gold. Oil can be bought at the store every few levels with any number of other trinkets, equipment, and health potions (handily mapped to RT for when you’re in a pinch.) It can be found, too. Along with the store, there are also question marks on some levels, and pressing LT on them activates a small story sequence. I found some goblins playing cards and asked to join in. I chose to cheat, and they attacked me. Choosing another option would have come up with a bonus item maybe, or some gold, or something else. The game is full of really funny little scenarios like this, and it’s so, so playable. This is only 80 points, people. It’d be game of the month were it not for The TEMPURA of the DEAD.

radiangames Fireball is great, and was bought instantly. It’s pacifism mode from Geometry Wars 2, with extra levels and stuff. This was by far my favourite part of GW2 so I was always going to enjoy this. You just zoom around with no weapons, going near to bombs to set them off and trying to catch as many enemies in them as possible, before collecting their Geons, or whatever this game calls them. It looks and plays really well, and the scores are satisfyingly high. Online leaderboards, too.

On the other hand, it’s just pacifism mode from Geometry Wars 2 fleshed out a bit which feels, I dunno, less great than his last few games which have felt much fresher and more original.

Commander – World 1 is a tower defence game. If those two words haven’t turned you off, then you need this game. Y’see, it’s tower defence like I haven’t played before. It looks brilliant, and the choice of music is just utter genius. It’s all classical, and when you feel like you’re in some massive space war and you’re listening to classical music, my God, the atmosphere is just immense. It’d be worth a dollar ($60) for that alone. But the gameplay is great too, and really turns tower defence on its head, in a way. Normally there are two ways TD works. Enemies come on a set path, or you build towers to direct them places. Here, they start on a path that constantly evolves. The path orbits around different planets, and as the planets move, so does the path. Then, it gets better. You can add gravitational turrets to planets that don’t have them, and then the path has to orbit around them too, so you can send it all over the place.

Aside from that, it’s tower defence as standard, pretty much. But that’s MORE than enough to make this game awesome. It’s really funny as well. The loading screens, certainly, but also you get a hilarious message when you lose. It really made me grin. 80 Microsoft Points is nothing.

The Deep Cave was something I played briefly and wrote off because the controls were a bit slippy and weren’t quite precise enough for this kind of super-hard 2D platforming. Think Super Meat Boy. There were a few issues with the hitbox as well, meaning you’d die sometimes when you’re sure you weren’t hit. Wrote it off. But it stuck with me, for some reason. After I’d deleted the trial, I wanted nothing more than to play it again. The incredible music was in my head, and the lovely visuals were washing around my mind, and I just had to have another go.

So I spent the 80 points and bought it, and don’t regret a thing. The previous criticisms do still stand, but it’s something that you get used to and work with rather than against. The short levels and instant restarts mean that even if you do die, you never lose much progress, and so it’s never really that frustrating. There are three endings to earn depending on (I think) how many times you die. I’ve no idea how many levels there are beyond “loads�? but I’m currently sitting on 388 deaths. And counting. In the end, I really really like it.

The Impossible Game Level Pack comes to rescue the Xbox LIVE Indie Games service from rubbish clones. In a year of clones trying to achieve what The Impossible Game achieved, not a single one has managed to combine the ultra precise controls and awesome music-driven gameplay that The Impossible Game achieved. Time to show them how it’s done.

What we get here is two new levels for 80MS points. That sounds like better value than the original, one level for 80MS points, but neither of these are quite as good. Saying that, they’re still excellent, the second one (named Level 3) in particular, which really captures what it was that made The Impossible Game so addictive. The other level in the pack isn’t quite as hooked in to the music, unfortunately, and suffers. For the price though, it’s more, more than worth it.

I have no idea what I expected when I booted Garden Gnome Carnage, but it wasn’t as awesome as what it turned out to be. Amazing, bizarre game. First note is the awesome music since that hits you first. Then, the gameplay. You’re a gnome attached by rope to a house with wheels, and people are trying to climb up the side and get you. You roll the house left and right to swing around and knock them off, and can also grab bricks from the house to throw at them which explode. It sounds bizarre because it is, but it’s also awesome. Physics Sandbox 2 is great in that it’s just Crayon Physics but a bit uglier. Importantly, everything works how you’d expect, physics wise. The only real trouble with it is that analogue sticks are just terrible for controlling such a game and so it’s more awkward than it needs to be. Basic premise: Get a ball to a star by drawing shapes and things to enable the ball to roll there. There’s a sandbox mode, too, as the name implies. Good stuff. Silent Call is a roguelike, and a basic one at that. Which sounds stupid, considering how basic Rogue is. I don’t have nearly enough experience with the genre to be able to say whether it’s good or not, but it kept me entertained and I certainly think you’ll get a dollar’s worth of gameplay out of it. Takes a few minutes to adjust to the controls, but I did enjoy it thereafter. Give it a go. Elite Pinball HD uses the same music as another Indie Game does and this always annoys me as there’s no way I’ll find out what other game it is. It’s not bad, really. The physics aren’t the best and release timing is pretty horrendous alongside the (kind of) free Pinball FX2, but it’s a simpler game of pinball than that game with all its bloat, and it gives you loads of points which makes you feel good even if you’re rubbish at pinball. Which I am. SFG Office Brawlers is pretty nice. It’s got a good sense of humour, and a great (silly) story. It’s a beat ‘em up with avatars and it’s easily the best I’ve played on the service, by absolute miles. The controls screen suggests it’s pretty basic (light attack, heavy attack) but the AI is doing other moves and I’ve pulled off a couple of special moves myself, so there’s some depth hidden away in there. There are loads of weapons to unlock as well. Good stuff. Null Divide is quite slow and ugly, but I really enjoyed it regardless. It’s a twin stick mixed with a Metroidvania, almost. You have to fly around a top down space ship finding new skills and keys that allow you access to new parts of the levels. Nice variety in the enemies, and (though slow and ugly) it does play really well. Get it. Whakman is a 2D platformer that looks, sounds, and plays really well. You have to roll through levels collecting coins, is all, but you get better awards based on whether or not you die, so there’s scope for replayability. I like it.

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. Get your Girlfriend into Games is a sexist piece of shit. A bunch of simple word games and pairs because that’s all silly little girls can handle and WHY AREN’T THEY COOKING MY DINNER, ANYWAY? Pathetic. Chopsticks is odd. You control two chopsticks (one on each analogue stick) and have to lift sushi into a bowl. The closest comparison I can think of is those claw machines you get in seaside arcades. The game is every bit as awkward and frustrating to play as they are. Snake Jam: poor. It takes the basic mechanics of Snake, eat stuff to get longer, then removes all the threat (crashing into walls/your tail). Then. It. Runs. So. Jerkily. It’s. Really. Hard. To. Follow. Then it adds opponents which you can apparently eat but if you touch them it’s completely random as to whether you eat them, they eat you, or nothing happens at all. It’s not dependent on length as you’d expect it to be. Then it makes the whole thing a bit ugly. Then instead of really being in control, there’s some weird physics at play so you have to kind of fling your snake from place to place. Basically, it’s unplayable. Game 35 is a stupid platform game where nearly every level requires you to just hold right and it plays itself. Where that’s not the case, you’re the victim of trial and error gameplay with invisible traps and platforms everywhere. Poor. In Finish you have to direct a black dot to a blue dot really fucking slowly using the analogue stick. It’s kind of like Soul with everything (including the fun) removed. Backyard Battles is so bad that the people involved should be ashamed at themselves for releasing it in this state. Didn’t you play it? Didn’t it occur to you that it was terrible? You walk around REALLY fucking slowly, shooting a water pistol at insects in a horribly inaccurate manner. Then when you hit them 766 times, they die, at which point you’re overwhelmed by more insects. It’s one of the worst games I’ve ever played, but credit: the variation in playable characters is hilarious. Avatar Banker: Greed is Great is not great. It takes the basic gameplay from Avatar Cash Dash (run around collecting coins) and adds such a pointless, complex set of rules and scoring that you’ll never, ever find anyone that wants to play it with you because by the time you’ve finished explaining it they’ll have left. And let’s face it, the basic gameplay was never really that exciting anyway, was it? Monsters Electshould tell you how to damn well play. You’re faced with 20 enemies in level one that are quicker than you, and you can’t attack. This is just complete shit. There’s a tutorial but the controls it teaches you apparently don’t transfer into the campaign where the attack button does NOTHING. Also, I’m really sick of selecting “exit game” in the pause menu and then actually exiting the game. Which sounds stupid, but I expect to be sent back to the title screen. A Game you can’t BEAT!! Oh, look, another rubbish clone of The Impossible Game. It’s over a year later and still nothing has bettered it. Give up trying. Valet Parking Inc. is pathetic. You have to park cars that are practically impossible to control into some random place on a car lot, then drive them to the exit at the right time. I can’t even do justice to how bad this game looks and how much it plays even worse than that. Okay, I saw the title. Spring Break in Zombie USA. I instantly thought “this is going to be shit.” Well, I’m some kind of prophet. It’s the worst kind of twin stick. It’s slow, there are invisible walls, there’s Comic Sans, it’s ugly, it’s not responsive, it’s not fun, it’s not worth anyone’s time. Arrow Storm II is all kinds of shit. It’s almost a horizontal shmup, I guess. Except your hitbox is about eight times bigger than your sprite is and you have no idea where it is. This is enough to destroy the game, but then it’s slow and dull looking alongside it. There’s potential in its upgrade system but there is no way you’ll be playing it long enough to get anything out of it. No way at all. Outbreak on Uranus, Christ. Here’s an exclusive scene from the upcoming movie about Silver Dollar Games.

INT. BOARDROOM – DAY. Four men and a woman sit around a table. There’s a flipchart in the corner with a picture of a man farting on it, in place of a cliché green gas cloud, there are dollar signs. DAVE: Okay, guys, you know Uranus, right? STELLA: What, the planet? JEFF: Seventh away from the Sun, yeah, we know it, where is this going? It’s been two days since we released our last QTE game and I’m not handling the withdrawal well. Last night I, I, I nearly loaded Shenmue. DAVE: Calm down, Jeff. We’ve got another one releasing tomorrow. This one’s about sniping hot girls while they’re farting. It’s got million seller written all over it. Literally, because once the player buys it it just flashes up “million seller” and it’s not even a game. But Uranus, right. Don’t you think that sounds like “YOUR ANUS?” STELLA: Oh God. JIM: HOLY CRAP. JEFF falls from his chair, such is the power of his laughter. DAVE: I’m pretty sure that literally nobody in the history of the world has noticed this, and therefore the idea could be worth millions. STELLA: Should we [beat] should we trademark it? DAVE: No, I’ve got a better idea. Let’s release a crap shooting game about it that’s ugly as hell and controls like a game that doesn’t control at all. A game that’s terrible, even by our standards. Someone get Jeff some water.

And to end on an awesome note… Every month, we’ll revisit the 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! Did someone say it was Christmas? I decided to dedicate this section to the best Christmas themed games available on the service right now. It turns out though, that only one of them is any good. Luckily, it’s so good that you honestly don’t need anything else this Christmas. Johnny Platform Saves Xmas! was the best platformer on XBLIGs prior to the release of Apple Jack, and is still just full of awesome. FULL of it. A sequel to Johnny Platforms Biscuit Romp, the aim of all of its 100 levels is to kill all of the enemies on the screen by bouncing on their heads, and then getting to the exit. Each of the levels is a puzzle, as you use enemies to reach other enemies or platforms, and things like rolling Christmas puddings to access otherwise unreachable areas.

As well as looking and sounding really crisp, clear, and Christmassy, the game controls amazingly. There’s a double jump which has a perfect weight to it, and various other special moves that you need to utilise to beat the harder levels. RB and LB when pressed when jumping on an enemy’s head will roll Johnny left or right through the air, which is an essential skill for reaching the aforementioned other enemies, platforms, exits, or the mugs of coffee that you can collect for extra lives. It gets very difficult, as well. A year later and I’m still ten levels short of completing it. There’s just no flaws to be found in it. Everything it aims to do, everything you want from a 2D platformer is right here in abundance. Excellently as well, as if he knew I was writing about it, it’s just had its price cut to 80pts. Absolutely 100% essential.

So, what did you think of these games? What do you think of what you’re playing this month? Enjoy your Indie Games.