Friday, July 9, 2010

Thursday Thoughts - XBLIG Half-Year In Review (Part 2)

Welcome back for part 2 of my top 25 XBLIG titles from the last six months. This week we'll check out my favorite 10 games to hit the indie scene, but first let's see a few that slipped through the net for one reason or another.

Honorable Mention: Scribble Defense. Like I've said before, tower defense isn't my thing without something extra to do. Scribble Defense turns your normal tower-placing cursor into a strategic weapon, giving it the abilities of whatever towers are near it and giving you not only part of the action but also a new strategy and resource. That plus its nightmare-inducing art style make it something worth trying for both tower defense enthusiasts and the rest of us who aren't that into the genre but still enjoy good games.

Honorable Mention: Moon Taxi. Calling Moon Taxi a game is like calling that porn DVD you have stashed behind your Magic card collection a movie. The point of the game is to taxi a passenger from the Earth to the moon, but the draw is that you hear their stories along the way, spoken by the people who wrote them. So, really, you're buying a collection of short stories. It's an interesting idea and something worth the trial demo at least.

Honorable Mention: Bloom*Block. This probably would have been on my top25 if I'd given it more attention and if it worked the first time I downloaded it. Regardless, Bloom*Block is a sort of 3D puzzle where you need to turn all the blocks from nothing into a blooming flowerbed by stepping on them. Sounds easy, but it's difficult, frustrating, and seriously adorable. It's also long and provides a lot of puzzle solving fun for your three bucks. Maybe I'll make it up to the game and review it sometime. It's too cute to ignore.

Honorable Mention: Murphid. Match-3 puzzle games are all over the place and really don't have too many more ways to innovate. Murphid tries its hand at this with taking away the ability to rotate or even move the blocks when they're being dropped. Instead, you can switch whatever block you're holding with the one in the "next" slot. Sounds limiting, and in some ways it's a little TOO limiting, but it turns out to be a somewhat interesting take on the genre.

Honorable Mention: Decimation X. I wasn't as huge of a fan of this as most others. What I AM a fan of, however, is the idea of four-player co-op Space Invaders on crack, and that alone should give Decimation X an honorable mention. I think there's a little too much going on at once, mostly from the destruction your ship rains down (er, up), but considering that this is one of the top 20 rated games on XBLIG I don't think I'm in the majority on this. Regardless, still a fun time.

Honorable Mention: Flotilla. And finally for the honorable mentions we have Flotilla. This is another one of those games I didn't sink my teeth into but lots of others did. It's a 3D turn-based space battle that I'd love a whole lot more if it were easier to control, but as it was I spent the majority of the trial figuring out how to point and click. Regardless, if you get a feel for the controls, Flotilla is possibly the best turn-based strategy game on XBLIG and XBLA.

And now, your starting line-up.

10. Kaleidoscope. As far as platformers go, Kaleidoscope isn't the most complex. Nor is it put together the best. It does, however, have some of the best presentation you'll see on the service. It's adorable, the "color in the world" mechanic that happens as you collect pigments looks great, and the soundtrack by OCRemix's Another Soundscape all come together for a memorable package that's a lot more than just another platformer. It's like a coloring book that comes to life while you play.

9. Relativity. Real-time strategy games aren't usually something you see on consoles, let alone as downloadable titles. Maybe that's exactly why you'll see it on the XBLIG scene as it allows developers to make titles that are risky elsewhere. Regardless, Relativity is an interesting RTS with battles that take place across multiple solar systems, and the neat mechanic that lets your units survive such long travel is having the ability to bend space with near-light speed travel (think the Enders Game series). Plus, instead of simple point and click all the time, you can take one of your ships and use it like in a twin-stick shooter to take on other ships and protect your planets. It's an interesting game that deserves some attention, especially for taking a genre so unfriendly to consoles and making it work on the 360.

8. radiangames JoyJoy. Easily my favorite arena twin-stick shooter on the service, JoyJoy takes the tired genre and breathes fresh life into it. The music sounds like Saturday morning cartoons, the bullets look like gigantic happy blobs of colored ink, and everything is fluidly animated. Gameplay-wise, JoyJoy strays from a lot of the things Geometry Wars does and everyone else copies. Six collectible and upgradable weapons, armor and speed start off the differences, but also instead of the normal fight until you die style of play the game has you going through waves of enemies and even three boss battles. It's difficult to do the game justice with words as it really is one that needs to be played to feel how happy and different it is. That experience makes it one of my favorite XBLIG titles of all time.

7. Apple Jack. Interesting tidbit about this game before we start: the one-man developer got all the sounds of the game for free from free sound project sites. Even the incredible music. It's a show of what developers have available to them if they look hard enough. Now then, as far as the gameplay, it's a pleasant mix of Super Mario 2 and Bubble Bobble with a large amount of puzzles mixed into the platforming itself. You're a dude with an apple for a head throwing pandas and washers at each other in an attempt to find your dog. Yes, it's silly on purpose, and that presentation lasts throughout the whole game. And when I say "whole game" I mean 100 levels that just keep getting more and more brutal. The level design has more genius and bite than pretty much every XBLA title I've ever seen, even N+ and Splosion Man. And it's all for a buck. If you like platformers at all and even only get to play the first 20 levels, the game's worth it right there.

6. Retrofit:Overload. Nothing makes me happier than a Galaga style game updated and done right. Retrofit:Overload is that type of game. I actually wish this is what Galaga Legions was instead of what it is. The normal left and right movement is complemented nicely by the addition of vertical movement and a rechargeable shield, adding a lot of options and strategies to an update of a game that's older than I am. And to round everything off, the game is addicting enough that I would be millions of dollars in debt if it were an arcade game.

5. Breath of Death VII. This game is the only one to knock G4EM W1TH Z0MBI35 off the Top Rated spot over the last nigh two years. That alone would cement its spot in a top xx list, but the game itself is probably the funnest and funniest JRPG I've played in years. So many of the ideas that are in the game are features I wish were in older JRPGs. Branching level up bonuses, fixed amounts of random battles per location, a lightning fast run speed, different difficulties, quick battles, and a mode that has no random battles at all that rewards you when you DON'T grind. Zeboyd Games definitely has me anxious for their next RPG, Cthulhu Saves The World, as this looks like the start of some of the best RPGs on the system.

4. Shoot 1UP. I love myself some vertical scrolling shmups, and I love myself some good games. Enter Shoot 1UP from Mommy's Best Games, a vertical scrolling shmup that's also a good game. Not quite as difficult as most shmups, Shoot 1UP instead focuses on some excellent score attacking strategies as well as an interesting mechanic involving controlling a few dozen ships at once. Looks great, not a bit of slowdown, and there IS a much more difficult mode involving one ship, so this one dollar game has something for all degrees of shoot em up lovers. For me, it's one of the most fun games I've played on the service, and fun is one of the most important things for these indie games.

3. Urban Space Squirrels. N+, Trials HD, and Splosion Man took a large portion of my time. And with good reason. They're all great addictive puzzle platformers (yes even Trials HD) that constantly keep you trying the same thing over and over. Add Urban Space Squirrels to that list, as it's in the same quality as the mentioned XBLA titles. Urban Space Squirrels is a game that involves a cybernetic squirrel with more bomb jumps than a 48 hour marathon of Super Metroid. If it were all just carefully planned jumps the game wouldn't be that great, but throw in some clever puzzle design, professional presentation and rock solid mechanics and you have a game that every core gamer should have on their hard drive.

2. Protect Me Knight. It was a tough call of whether to give the number 1 or number 2 spot to this, and I'm still undecided. If you're constantly gaming with others locally, this game may very well be the best thing on the XBLIG service. It's a straight throwback to the days of Gauntlet where you grab your character with its specific class and try to hold off against a couple hundred enemies, and turns from a decent time button mashing alone to a memorable and fun night of gaming if you can grab some friends. The music is phenomenal, the palette-swap enemies and purposely bad Engrish is hilarious, and the action is both non-stop and fun the entire way through. For multiplayer gaming, this is my new "go-to" game.

1. Soulcaster. Quite possibly one of the most original and enjoyable experiences I've had with a game. Soulcaster is a blend of dungeon crawling, RPG and tower defense without ever leaning so heavily on one that it abandons the others. It has a retro style but doesn't rely on it to carry any part of it. It has a soundtrack that shames my memories of the golden days of 16 and 32 bit RPGs. It's got a play length that is long enough to satisfy but not too long to get repetitive or keep you from wanting to dive right back in once you're done. In short, Soulcaster is the redhead with green eyes and perfect skin, and if you don't go talk to her right now I'll be very angry with you. Thank you, Magical Time Bean, for making what I consider the best indie game on the 360 and quite possibly Game Of The Year.

And so there you have it. My XBLIG favorites for the first six months of 2010 and titles worthy of any gamer's library. Thanks to these games, the bar has been raised and developers continue to fill the Marketplace with quality offerings. With this trend, I'll need a top 50 for the next six months. And I can't wait.

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