5 For $5: Adventures In Xbox Live Indie Games

It’s easy to understand why some people would completely ignore the Xbox Live Indie Games channel in the Xbox Live Marketplace. After all, the once-promising service has been completely overrun by tons of silly zombie/vampire/ninja games, puzzling avatar-based titles, awkward Angry Birds clones, games clearly made for extremely horny teenagers, and pretty much the entire Silver Dollar Games catalog. However, there are some very solid needles in that haystack, and some of them are as little as one dollar! That’s why we’re here, in fact – if you were to, say, purchase 400 Microsoft Points for $5, you could get five Indie Games for that five dollar transaction. You’d be supporting small, independent developers, and finding some fun takes on popular genres without going broke. Everyone likes getting good stuff for cheap, right?

The Game: JoyJoy
The Brains: radiangames
The Point: Shooting Stuff
The Price: 80 Microsoft Points, or $1

Indie developer radiangames released a bunch of games in 2010, but JoyJoy was the first. On the surface, JoyJoy is your traditional twin-stick shooter, which might be enough to turn people away, given the oversaturation of twin-stick games these days. Regardless, JoyJoy is still an enjoyable take, with a campaign that features five difficulty levels for all skill levels, a separate challenge mode for more difficult gameplay, and a handful of modifiers to change the core of the campaign. It also features a very slick visual engine that toes the line between minimalistic and stylish. The big thing is that JoyJoy can be played very casually – you can respawn on whatever level you died on, the campaign has numerous checkpoints that let you start over later in the game, and with those five different skill levels, it’s easy to find a way through. If you’re a fan of Geometry Wars or its army of clones, it’s worth blowing 80 points on.

The Game: Breath of Death VII: The Beginning
The Brains: Zeboyd Games
The Point: Retro JRPGing
The Price: One Dollar!

One of the most discussed narratives in this hardware generation is the almost instant death of the traditional Japanese RPG on consoles. After the barrage of outstanding JRPGs towards the end of the PlayStation 2’s run, the genre has dried up, and fast. Breath of Death VII: The Beginning is not actually a Japanese RPG… but it’s definitely designed in the old mold of Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy. It’s also seriously warped. The main character is a mute skeleton named Dem, who adventures with ghosts and vampires to save the world. Or not… since the world was destroyed long ago. Anyway, the game is actually more traditional than most JRPGs of the modern era, as it features random battles (that stop once you reach a specific amount of battles in a dungeon), extremely fast-paced turn-based combat, and non-linear character progression. It’s not a super long game – five hours at the most – but for a dollar? That’s pretty good for a really solid tribute to a genre that’s apparently on the other side of life.

The Game: Blockplus
The Brains: heloli
The Point: Breakout Through, To The Other Side
The Price: A dollar, remember? Try and keep up next time!

There’s plenty of Breakout clones out there, and many of them reside on the Xbox Live Indie Games channel. The one that’s caught my attention the most, however, is Blockplus. It’s not the most fully featured entry into the genre, but it has a stylish retro feel that’s really appealing. Upon startup, the game does its own version of the “tune to the right channel” that most of us remember having to do when RF was the only way to hook up a console – and if you want, you can use the triggers to change the channel yourself, with familiar results. Even better, it emulates the feel of playing it on an old CRT television, complete with a hugely reflective screen that shows your Xbox Live avatar, who is busy following the ball around. The gameplay is fairly basic, and it lacks powerups or other gimmicks, which makes it closer to a real Breakout clone than most in the genre. However, it features numerous boards and variants to keep things interesting, and since many are locked at first, it gives incentive to explore the game. If you’re into that sort of thing, getting Blockplus for the cost of your average package of gamer pictures is a solid investment.

The Game: Concept Car Series 2010
The Brains: Juan Alberto Munoz
The Point: FAST CARS BRO
The Price: Sigh…

There’s also a lot of racing games on XLIG, but… most of them aren’t very interesting, or appealing to my specific taste in them. The closest I could find was Concept Car Series 2010. Rather than being a cartoony, cheesy take on racing, CCS 2010 is an honest attempt at a realistic – but not too realistic – racing sim. It’s not a looker, since it comes off as a high-definition PlayStation game, but it makes up for it with a lot of content. Though the “Championship” and “Rally” modes are basically the same thing, one rewards you for position, the other for time. Track designs are challenging, but still fairly basic – you won’t find anything memorable, but serviceable is still a worthy goal. It also features split-screen multiplayer, which is a welcome treat given this is practically a dead concept in the “mainstream” racing game business. Of course, the game wouldn’t be much without decent handling, and the game has that too. It’s not perfect, but it’s still enjoyable and you’ll never feel out of control. Racing game fans should definitely check it out… there’s a lot of bang for your buck.

The Game: Avatar Pinball
The Brains: ladron
The Point: Violence Towards Avatars
The Price: SRSLY GUISE? 80 MSP, $1, etc.

Xbox Live Avatar gimmick games are everywhere on the Indie Games channel. One of the few I’ve spent time with is Avatar Pinball, a traditional, yet odd, take on the oldest form of arcade gaming. As the title might suggest, the concept revolves around using your avatar as the ball, flinging them around a pinball table to get a high score. It’s not exactly revolutionary, but you know what? The pinball action is pretty solid, and the physics are definitely worthy of comparison to the real deal. While sending your personal avatar into the fires of pinball hell is the main draw, it’s also possible to 1) send a sock monkey into a world of pain, 2) use generic avatars in a time-based multiball event, or 3) use that traditional silver ball to become a Pinball Wizard. The numerous modes of play make up for the fact that there’s only one table, but what can one expect for a dollar? If you want more, Pinball FX 2 is out there on Xbox Live Arcade.

The Xbox Live Indie Games channel has been a point of contention for many over the years. On one side, you have the developers giving Microsoft hell for not promoting it better, and on the other, you have gamers wondering what the fuss is about, thanks to a never-ending stream of stupid, lowest-common-denominator trash that tends to bury the truly good software that one can discover with the service. Which is too bad, because if one digs deep into the large collection of games, it’s possible to find some diamonds in the rough… or perhaps just some rough diamonds. Maybe these five games are not the “best” of the service, but as starting points, they’re worth a look, especially since it’ll cost all of five dollars to own them all.

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