Every once in a while our personal lives come in the way of videogame playing, and such was the case for me last week with packing and moving preventing access to my Xbox 360 to review the weekly indie releases. As it turns out, there were a lot of great games released last week, so it wouldn't do them justice to let the week slip by. So rather than heap up an agonizingly long list with 2 week's worth of games, you get a single dose of last week's releases now with the current week's games getting reviewed at the end of the week. It's a Christmas miracle!
- Leave Home - 240 MS points. Buy this game. Oh, sorry, I'm supposed to explain why first. At it's core, Leave Home is a side-scrolling shooter. But you aren't just scored on the enemies you kill, as it's just as important, if not more so, for you to collect little blue dots dropped by every defeated enemy. So not only are you maneuvering to dodge enemies and bullets, but also to collect their remains. This could be a hectic disaster, except for the game's dynamic difficulty adjustment. If you're doing well and playing aggressively, then the game will throw more enemies and bullets at you, which in turn provides more blue bits to collect. But if you aren't doing as well, fewer enemies appear who fire at you less, allowing you to build your skills through repeated playthroughs. And you'll want to play it multiple times. Leave Home is composed of several small level segments, some of which you may or may not see based on the dynamic difficulty. I've played through the game over a dozen times now, and no two times have had the same level sequence. It wasn't entirely accurate for me to call Leave Home a side-scrolling shooter before, because these levels can go forward or backward, or twist and spiral around floating obstacles. Thankfully, your ship has the ability to rotate guns around the ship with the press of the right trigger, allowing you to fire in any direction and take on whatever challenges the game throws at you. At the end of each playthrough you are shown a heat chart to tell you the second by second intensity level of that particular run. And I haven't even mentioned Leave Home's beautiful, neon, retro-styled graphics, which are blocky and vibrant in the best way possible. As I said before: buy this game. Despite its short length, Leave Home is easily one of the best indies that the 360 has to offer.
- Border Wars - 240 MS points. Border Wars looks like a side-scrolling shooter taken right out of a sketch book. From the lined paper backgrounds and black and white doodle enemies to the a capella "pew pew" sound effects and explosions, Border Wars has tons of style. A ship editor only expands on the hand-drawn aesthetic, giving you basic paint tools (and stencils if you're like me and can't draw with a pencil, much less a 360 joystick) to give the game your own personal touch. At the end of each level you can exchange your score for weapon and ship upgrades, which not only make your ship more powerful in gameplay but also unlock more stencils for the ship editor. The ship upgrades also add a strategy element to the game as you ration your points on smaller items while saving up for the big guns. With a style all its own and some excellent customization tools, Border Wars is a great pick for shmup fans.
- Qb Tron 3D - 80 MS points. If Tetris is a game of near perfection, why try and mess with a working formula? Because when you do change things, you can get a game like Qb Tron 3D. It's Tetris, in 3D, from a top-down perspective, and it's awesome. No, don't leave, I know it sounds like it could be a disaster, but it works very well. The pieces are the standard Tetris shapes, and are moved around with the left stick and rotated in any direction with the right stick. The blocks on each level of the stack take on a different color based on depth, making it easy to see how high of a stack you're building even from the top-down perspective. If you've ever liked Tetris, then Qb Tron 3D well worth downloading.
- Grave Breaker - 80 MS points. Grave Breaker is essentially three survivor mode maps for the indie game Veks and Silence. Luckily, Veks and Silence is one of the best shooters on the service, so the stand-alone expansion is a welcomed treat. Where other games would be satisfied to just throw waves of zombies at the player for a survival mode, Grave Breaker throws a new challenge at the player each round to ensure that fighting the same enemies over and over again never grows stale. In one round certain weapons may be locked, then in another you'll only be able to shoot backwards, then a third round will have you scoring points only when your character dies. The round challenges are random, so it will be a different order every time, and with rounds only lasting 30 seconds they're the perfect bite-sized gameplay segments to keep you playing "just one more time."
- Crimson Blues - 80 MS points. Crimson Blues is a puzzle platformer based around swapping your character's color between red and blue to pass over, around, and through red and blue blocks to get to the exit. The rules for how each color interacts with each other can get a bit complicated and confusing, and for a lot of players it may take several levels past the tutorial for it all to click, but the game is just too original, too well made, and too fun not to recommend.
- Bonk! - 80 MS points. An Arkanoid clone in the Yay section? Yup. Bonk! is Arkanoid, or Breakout, or whatever you want to call it, with all of the best blocks from the various versions available, one-way walls, bombs, it's all in there. What makes this game unique is how power-ups and bonuses are handled. In most games you get power-ups by collecting them with the paddle. Not here. Power-ups appear in balls of their own and need to be hit with the main ball to collect them. Since the power-ups bounce around like a ball would, that means that if one is going to fall you can knock it back up with the paddle to keep it in play. This adds a whole new element to the game that's both fresh and rewarding
- PARTYBOAT - 400 MS points. Captain your own party cruise ship in this deep humor-filled and incredibly deep simulation game. Design your boat, hire a crew and entertainment, and micromanage your way to cruise line stardom. If you need a break from economic strategy, then there are also a number of gambling mini-games to pass the time that also add to (or take away from) your financial success. And to top things off, the game lets you set sail as a fabulous gay party cruise. Ahoy sailor!
Don't forget to check after the break for the still-recommended "Ay?" games and the buyer beware "Nay" games, as well as a list of games that received updates this week.
- Square Off - 240 MS points. Square Off is a twin-stick shooter with tons of personality. The art style, with expressive characters and well animated enemies, was the first thing that drew me to Square Off, and continued to by a joy the more I played. Up to four players can blast through waves of enemies in the main mode, or they can head into deathmatch to fight amongst themselves. The gameplay and weapon power-ups are pretty standard fare for the genre, but the game's charm goes a long way toward
- Snail Shot Torpedo - 400 MS points. Zombie snails are attacking, and your own hope of survival is to launch torpedoes at them from a slingshot...underwater. Ok, so Snail Shot Torpedo is a little odd, but it's also a good amount of fun. Aiming the slingshot takes a while to practice, especially in determining how far a torpedo will fly, but snails are slow animals that accommodate the learning curve well.
- Soaring Santa - 80 MS points. Guide Santa as he skydives toward houses and through chimneys to deliver presents. Greedy children and secret service agents will try to steal the presents from mid air, and it's up to you to help Santa avoid or bash them so that the presents are delivered unharmed. It's a lot of fun, but it can also feel very repetitive,
- Sidehill Gouger - 80 MS points. Sidehill Gouger is a game that reminded me of Minesweeper. There is a monster in the forest known as the sidehill gouger, and as a boy armed only with a slingshot you must find and rid the forest of this monster. To find the gouger you need to track rubble, broken twigs, and blood splatter and blindly fire your slingshot at the square you think the beast is hiding in. Levels are randomly generated, so there is endless replay value in the game. Overall a great choice for puzzle fans.
- Magnetic Defender - 240 MS points. Magnetic Defender is half vertical scrolling shmup, and half defense game. As you fly through the levels you have four missiles trailing behind you that must be protected so that they can hit their target. To protect the missiles you must defeat enemies and use your ship's magnetic field to push and pull enemy fire so that it does not hit your cargo. As satisfying as that is, it's even more satisfying when you can completely turn an enemy's bullet around to use as your own weapon. The only sour note in the game is that enemies often fly from the background into the playfield, and it is sometimes difficult to tell at what point you can actually fire at an enemy. Aside from that one fault through, it's a great shooter with a more defensive twist than is typical of the genre.
- Avatar Wave: Snowball Fight - 240 MS points. Suit up your Avatar in winter attire, it's time for Avatar Wave: Snowball Fight. Play is simple enough with holding A to make snowballs, Holding X to charge then releasing to throw, and B to perform a rolling dodge move. It's like dodgeball, except for the renewable ammo, and the added vulnerability risk of building those snowballs. There's a single player arcade mode and a survival mode, but what makes the game worthwhile is the multiplayer with up to 4 players.
- Home Run Challenge - 80 MS points. Home Run Challenge is a homerun derby baseball game using your Xbox Avatar and simple one button controls. It's a bit more complicated than just pressing A to swing, with timing being the key factor in the game. Targets will appear around the stadium that will give you more points, making your timing that much more important since swinging early or late controls how far left and right your hit balls go. I can see the Online leaderboards becoming an addiction as players try to work their way onto the list. That is, assuming the game builds up a strong following to fill those leaderboards.
- Herman - 400 MS points. Herman is the story of a man on the edge, according to the game's description. On the edge of what? I don't know. What I do know is that I jump-kicked an old woman to make her explode and threw tangerines at race cars and men with rocket launchers. There's a story telling the tale of Herman's life that is equally odd as the gameplay and seems to take some jabs at a few other games (ie Braid). If you're looking for something different with that not-so-subtle tinge of insanity, then give Herman a try.
- PanopLines - 80 MS points. PanopLines is a puzzle game of the "falling blocks" variety. Lines fall from the top of the play field, and you must place them to create squares of same-colored lines to clear that box and all adjacent lines of the same color. It's a difficult puzzler, so it won't be for everyone, but if you've long gotten past Tetris, Puyo Puyo, and Dr. Mario, then this will offer a fresh challenge.
- Dot Error - 80 MS points. Dot Error is a game similar in style to the classic Defender. Fly right and left shooting to destroy pieces of data trying to escape, while using a map to be alert to new data to shoot. The controls take a while to learn, with the right and left triggers for thrusting your ship left and right respectively, while the right and left bumpers control firing in either direction. Maybe my coordination is just terrible, but I could not get the hang of using right trigger to move left and vice versa. But the game is well made, and I can see it being a lot of fun for those with better coordination than I, so give it a try and see if it's the game for you.
- Goblyn Stomp - 80 MS points. Goblyn Stomp is a charming game about Mr. Chap Scaliwag, who has a top hat and a penchant for squashing goblyns, tiny chicken like creatures. Later in the game you can use moves like a powerful leap, remote mines, and a whirling cane of death to lay waste to as many poor defenseless goblyns as you can. I almost feel sorry for the things, but then again Chap Scaliwag is such a dapper man that he must have a good reason.
- Pilot Test - 80 MS points. Pilot Test is a game I've been seeing a lot on the iPhone where you control a square and must simply dodge floating shapes in the level. Pilot Test adds an interesting twist in that collision with the floating shapes only takes pixels away from your square instead of ending the game completely, allowing for a bit more leeway and making the game a lot more fun.
- Cut And Run - 80 MS points. Cut And Run is a Track and Field style button mashing game using Avatars for the characters. It has both sprinting and hurdling, so you can either alternate mashing two buttons or mash two buttons and occasionally press a third to jump. As you can probably tell, I've never been a Track and Field game fan, so I can't recommend this one, but if you liked those games you might want to give it a try.
- Game Created By A 5th Grader - 80 MS points. GCBA5G (as I like to call it) is a simple shooter where you control a turret on the ground firing to prevent any cargo or paratroopers from landing. The extremely creative title for this game isn't just a gimmick, though it certainly is to a degree, but the game has that school project feel to it. That being said, I could never create a game like this in 5th grade.
- The Flight Before Christmas - 80 MS points. Santa needs to deliver presents to those chimneys, and only you and an awkward throwing angle can help him. The chimneys Santa passes will have buttons floating above them, and you need to time pressing the correct button to get the present in. You can turn on a spotlight that shows the throwing angle to make things easier, but that significantly reduces your score. It supports the guitar controller, and almost seems set up as a rhythm game, but I can't be too sure about that since the button presses don't sync up with the music as a rhythm game should.
- Avatar Match - 80 MS points. A classic memory match game where you flip cards to try and reveal a matching set of Xbox Avatars. The game supports up to 16 players locally (it'll prompt for whose turn it is) with several board sizes. The game's most unique feature is to set how many Avatars you need to match in order to form a set with a range from 2-10. Unfortunately, the game becomes less of a memory game because if a player reveals a non-matching set, the set will stay revealed on-screen for the first few seconds of the next player's turn. I can understand the feature as a way to encourage you to make matches each turn, but in practice it takes away a lot of the memory aspect of the game. A memory matching game that doesn't test your memory? It's about as fun as it sounds.
- Colaris - 80 MS points. Colaris displays a color on-screen, and you press the corresponding button. If the screen is red, press B, rinse, and repeat. Online leaderboards let you know how your color-matching skills stack up, so that's nice at least. The game also includes Get The Ball, an older Xbox indie game that wasn't too hot when it first released. The combination of both games isn't exactly something that should make you want to empty your virtual wallet.
- Mind Warp - 80 MS points. Mind Warp is yet another piece of shovelware provided thanks to the good people at Silver Dollar Games. This time it revolves around a black and white spiral to...hypnotize you? The purpose is never really made clear. I will say that it is definitely at least worth downloading the trial version of Mind Warp for the bonus game: The Worst Game In The World. Listening to the soothing British voice try to convince me to buy the game while simultaneously telling me that it was utter garbage shows that Silver Dollar Games at least has a sense of humor about the quality of its games. The "Press A to buy this terrible game" button is an especially nice touch. I'm still not going to buy it though.
Arkedo Series - 02 SWAP!
Nuke Your Neighbor