Friday, July 2, 2010

Thursday Thoughts - XBLIG Half-Year In Review (Part 1)

I love the offerings on the XBox Live Indie Games Marketplace. I love them so much that I've seriously considered making this a XBLIG-only blog, stopping my coverage and reviews of everything else. Even the more "professional" XBox Live Arcade games. The only thing keeping me from doing that is, well, I go where the games go, and that includes XBox Live Arcade, WiiWare, and the Wii Virtual Console. Heck, it'd include the Playstation Network if I had the appropriate system laying around. But even though I cover all these, I give the most of my attention and affection to XBLIG. And, as six full months have gone by, I'd like to share what I consider as the top 25 indie titles from the first half of 2010. A list that started as a top 10 list but one that I just couldn't bring myself to cut any further than this, and even now I feel like I'm leaving a few out. And, since this list IS huge, I'll be breaking it up over two weeks. This week we'll focus on 11-25, and next week we'll hit up the final 10 along with a few honorable mentions.

26. Kaotik Puzzle. Alright, I lied! I NEED that 26th spot. I can't leave you off of this, Kaotik Puzzle. With your many different match-3 modes and completely customizable competitive gameplay, you make it impossible for me to forget about you.

25. Abaddon. And now we can get to the top 25. Abbadon is part twin-stick, part tower defense, and feels like what happens when you play an epic space defense battle from the Robotech/Macross series. It was actually a little overwhelming for me, but a game worth checking out by any twin stick or tower defense fan. And now that the developer dropped the price from the original 400 MSP down to 80 MSP, it's an impulse buy that only the most picky would think twice about.

24. Wayne the Brain. Physics games need more love and appreciation. Boom Blox on the Wii proved that, when done right, the genre is a bundle of bliss. Wayne the Brain, though not exactly the next Boom Blox, is a crane-based physics title that was quickly buried under a flood of other games and was appreciated by few. It's a shame, as the game has a great sense of humor and rewards you as well as it challenges you.

23. Curling 2010. There wasn't a single event I watched during the 2010 Winter Olympics that, for some odd reason, captured my attention anywhere near as much as curling. And this game, without a single player on the ice or really any extra detail, captures the game of curling so well that I rate it as the second best sports title on XBLIG right under Avatar Golf and barely ahead of the 2010 Lacrosse title. At three bucks it was a decent buy alone and a great one with company, but for the dollar it's at now I think it's worth a look from anyone with the slightest interest in turn-based sports. (You know, like bowling or golf.)

22. Tunescape. Music-based games are somewhat few and far between on XBLIG, and a lot of the ones that come out are either too confusing or just fail to remain fun for longer than the trial. Tunescape seemed to start that way to me, looking like a twin-stick shooter without the shooter, but eventually the game grew on me and turned into a fun little title that both challenged me and let me zone out to some tunes. Maybe not a game for everyone, but an interesting idea that shows just one of the reasons I love XBLIG: creativity.

21. Olu. I think I'd rate Olu higher if it didn't feel like a lesser Rez. That said, it's an impressive feat to be compared to Rez as far as XBLIG titles go. Fans of rail shooters don't have many titles to go with anywhere on the 360, but thankfully Olu isn't just a last resort. It's a solid addition for the rail shooter fan.

20. Vampire Rage. A vertical-scrolling shmup that, though not quite on the same level as Shoot1UP, is easily my second favorite of that genre on the service. It's one of those that doesn't try to break new ground or do anything risky. It just throws a bunch of stuff at you, gives you some ways to score more points if you're good, and keeps the mechanics and gameplay solid. Also, you deflect bullets, and that right there is fun in its own right.

19. Ancient Trader. Here's another title I'd put higher, but for a completely different reason: I haven't played it that much yet. What little I've played, however, is a great mix of turn-based strategy and resource trading and just about made me cry once the demo was finished. I'm pretty sure this one will move up the ranks and become a multiplayer title I'll bring out more than a few times along with a single player experience that would easily justify a higher price tag than the 240 MSP it's at right now.

18. War of Words. The Puzzle Quest/Scrabble/Puzzle League hybrid has a lot going against it. Odd balance, spotty presentation, a lack of replay value, and at times just too much going on. With all that said, it's worth every one of its 400 MS Points and is one of the more interesting word games on not only XBLIG but on every electronic device known to man. I sincerely hope a sequel is in the works because, with more polish, this is a game that could see a worthwhile XBLA or even DS release.

17. Decay (Part 1). I normally don't recommend games that last roughly half an hour unless they cost a buck and even then it's a rare occasion. Decay is such an occasion. It's a pretty simple point and click adventure with a few puzzles, but the story and atmosphere are suspenseful gripping from start to finish. I've never been so genuinely freaked out by a game nor desired its sequel so much. Luckily, Part 2 is on its way, and I can't wait.

16. Pew Pew Pod. Some people scoff at the phrase, "imitation is the most sincere form of flattery." In this case, it's absolutely true. Pew Pew Pod is heavily influenced by Geometry Wars, but this 80 MSP game has enough of its own flavor to make it taste great in any gamer's bowl. I'd actually rather play this than the original Geometry Wars to be honest, and that's saying something.

15. Tobe's Vertical Adventure. When I think of vertical platformers, I think of Kid Icarus. And, dammit, that's a pretty high standard to live up to. So when I say Tobe's Vertical Adventure lives up to that, I think that's enough reason to check the game out.

14. Along Came A Spider. Alright, you got me. This game came out on 12/30/09. But it's just too good for me to not mention it. ACAS is a platformer where you're a spider (more like a koosh ball than anything) trying to get from point A to point B via some well-executed jumps, wall climbs, and web-slinging. It's also got one of the weirdest soundtracks I've heard. Fans of literally any platformer out there should give this one a whirl.

13. Gerbil Physics 2. Personally, I did enjoy the first GP more. With that said, Gerbil Physics 2 was more of the same physics puzzle gameplay that made the first one great but with a couple new weapons and a lot more stages. It's also the closest thing the 360 has to Boom Blox, so if that sort of game is your thing then do yourself a favor and snag this one for a mere 80 MSP.

12. Abduction Action. The more I think about this game, the more I think it deserved more praise instead of finding itself lost under the flood of avatar games and massage apps.

11. Blazin' Balls. When most people go retro, they go pixel NES art. Not Dr. Mistry. He goes for that late 80's/early 90's Klax view. If that isn't enough to count for something, the game itself, a sort of forward-only Monkey Ball race against time, is pure arcade quarter-crunching fun. I'm eagerly awaiting his update, BB: Xtreme Edition, and will recommend that just as highly if not higher than this one.

Well, that's it for this week. Tune in next week when I let you know what indie games were my favorites from the last six months. If the wait is killing you, log into XBox Live and check out a few of the games from this week. Chances are you'll find a favorite in no time.

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