Holy... And I thought last week had a lot of games with 24. 33 new indie games have hit the Xbox 360 since last week! If that seems like an utterly ridiculous number, that's because it is. On the bright side though, with such an unusally high number of game releases also comes an unusually high number of good games. There's even a retro-styled hack-n-slash game (developed in part by one of the minds behind games like Streets of Rage and Actraiser) where same-sex love can flourish. Was it one of the biggest weeks for the Xbox indie games channel? Definitely. Was it also one of the best weeks for the Xbox indie games channel? Oh yes.
Click on to see reviews of all of the past week's indie games. With so many games, there's bound to be at least one to strike your fancy.
Radiangames JoyJoy - 80 MS points. JoyJoy is a fitting name for this twin-stick shooter, seeing as that is precisely the emotion I felt while playing. Unlike so many other twin-stick shooters out there, JoyJoy isn't trying to be another Geometry Wars clone with neon wireframes. The visual aesthetic is much more calming, which lends to a different style of gameplay. Sure, it's still all about fighting against waves of enemies, but you have a lot more versatility in terms of weaponry. There are enough weapons in the game that I actually exclaimed "wow, another one?" while playing upon finding a new upgrade. All of the weapons behave differently and are upgraded through power-ups found at intervals between waves. You can also charge any weapon for a secondary attack, typically in the form of a devastating barrage of bullets. Charging takes time though, which perhaps that combined with the visuals is what lent to my feeling of calm compared to the frantic shooting of similar games. Though perhaps calm isn't exactly the right word, since you'll be dodging enemy fire and ships the whole time, leaving little room for a lull in the action. Nontheless, I felt less stressed throughout my playthough, which motivated me to keep playing, and playing, and playing, and I'll surely go right back and play some more as soon as I'm done writing this review.
Gerbil Physics 2 - 80 MS points. The first Gerbil Physics was a fantastic physics-based puzzle game in which you blasted apart towers build from adorable gerbils. Gerbil Physics 2 picks up where the last game left off adding new tools of destruction, more challenging levels, minigames, and adorable (yet evil) penguins. It continues to be the closest you'll get on the 360 to a game like Boom Blox, and is one of the easiest download decisions I've made in a while.
Zombie Estate - 80 MS points. In this game I got to play as an 8-bit duck shooting zombies with a shotgun. For me, that was enough to guarantee a purchase. Yes, it's another twin-stick shooter, and yes, it's another zombie game. Check your preconceptions at the door though, because this one is an absolute blast to play. A lot of the game's charm comes from the visuals, putting 8-bit sprites on a 3D field so that they look like little cardboard cutouts of characters walking around. There are 30 characters to choose from, including the aforementioned duck, so it shouldn't be hard for you and up to three other friends to find a favorite. Waves of zombies, seemingly by the hundred, come after you, occasionally dropping money and ammo. In between waves you can shop for new weapons and ammo, with certain weapons sharing the same ammo type so that you need to ration how to best use which ammo with which guns. For my money, Zombie Estate is the best zombie-related dollar you can spend on the Xbox Live marketplace.
Paipa - 80 MS points. In Paipa, you twist pipes to connect one end of the game board to the other. It plays similarly to another personal favorite Xbox indie game, Kuchibi, except while Kuchibi lets you leisurely connect lines, Paipa has a more frantic pacing. As you connect and clear pipes, there is a constantly rising water level that ominously threatens to cut your game short. If the water level reaches to top of the screen, it's game over. Luckily, each time you clear a pipeline the water level recedes a little bit, with it receding more if you clear pipes in a combo. This ever-present threat of water encourages a fast style of play that sets Paipa apart from other puzzle games. Then when broken pipes get thrown into the mix, requiring you to perform a motion with the right stick to fix them, things get even more frantic and fun. It doesn't hurt either that Paipa is also gorgeous, with the rusty pipes and water having a visual flair fit for an XBLA release.
Murphid - 240 MS points. At first, Murphid seems like any other match three puzzle game. Of course, first impressions can be deceiving. The first difference you'll notice is that the blocks that fall are linked together, meaning that if you dangle a block off of the side of a block stack it won't fall unless the block it's attached to vanishes. This can create some interesting strategies for combos. But the more striking difference between Murphid and other puzzle games is that you can't rotate the pieces. That's right, whatever orientation the pieces are in, you're stuck with them that way. You aren't completely lacking in control though. To make up for the lack of rotation, you gain the ability to swap a piece with the next piece in line, and can continue doing so as much as you want. It really makes you think differently as you play when you realize that you can't rotate the pieces, and yet it doesn't ever feel restricting in a bad way. I was beginning to wonder if there was any innovation left in the match three puzzle genre, and then along comes Murphid with the most obvious innovation that nobody else seems to have thought of.
まもって騎 士 - 240 MS points. I believe that the game's title translates to something along the lines of "Protect Me Knight." When dealing with an indie game made by the development studio of composer Yuzo Koshiro (who worked on the music for games such as Streets of Rage, Actraiser, Y's, Shenmue, and Super Smash Bros Brawl) it's hard not to go in with pretty high hopes. Thankfully, "Protect Me Knight" lives up to the composer's pedigree. You control one of four standard hero classes (warrior, mage, thief, etc.) to protect the princess from hordes of monsters in this retro-styled action-defense game. Each of the classes has unique attacks as well as the ability to build and repair defensive barriers to help protect the princess. You can even move the princess around slightly (by pushing her) to keep her out of harm's way. Your resource for building barriers are the hearts that the princess gives to you out of love for protecting her. And yes, the princess still falls in love with you if you choose a female class. It feels like a long lost NES classic with large, well animated sprites and hack-n-slash gameplay with just a touch of modern tower defense strategy.
Bloom*Block - 240 MS points. Looks can often be deceiving. Bloom*Block looks like a cutesy kids game where you guide a girl who blooms flowers wherever she walks. At it's core, it is a puzzle game, with the end goal of covering the game board in flowers without ever backtracking over a square you have already covered. And that's where the deception comes in. Behind the pastel colors this game is hard. Very, very hard. The game boards you'll be spreading flowers across are 3D figures which you will task you with walking across all sides in order to finish the level. To balance the difficulty of the puzzles, there is a rewind feature in place so that you can retrace your steps and avoid and slip ups. There are a ton of levels, with each one taking quite a while to figure out, so you're definitely getting your money's worth with this puzzle game. There are also a whole slew of achievements (unofficial ones of course) that you are awarded for completing specific challenges to further extend the game's replay value. Puzzle fans should not miss out on this excellent game.
Get To Tha Choppa!!1 - 80 MS points. First of all, please ignore the odd and unappealing cover art that you'll see on the Xbox Live marketplace. I swear, there's actually a good game hidden behind it. Get To Tha Choppa takes the simple design of platformers like Canabalt and turns a one-button platformer into a three-button platformer. You'll be jumping over mines, ducking under missiles, and shooting zombies to get to the chopper, and presumably safety. The art style is fairly crudely drawn, yet very well animated which adds a unique charm to the game. It's simple fun, but the operative word there is fun.
Loot, Steal, & Destroy - 240 MS points. In Loot, Steal, & Destroy, you play as a pirate searching for gold and trying to amass more wealth than your opponents. It's an interesting balance you need to strike between gathering gold and defending yourself or attacking other ships, in large part because you'll always be playing against smart human players to add a significant challenge. Unfortunately, that's always what puts the game in the "Ay?" category, since there's no single player option even against AI opponents. If you have other people to play it with, then it's well worth looking into, but solo players should look elsewhere.
Quarantine - 80 MS points. One of my favorite games on the computer used to be a little game called Jezzball. Balls bounced around the level and you needed to separate them and cordon off 75 percent of the level. Quarantine is almost exactly like that game. There is some added depth in this version though, in the form of three viruses that will be bouncing around the level. The basic virus just bounces normally, while a second type will duplicate if it comes into contact with any walls you are building. Then there is a third type of virus that must be secluded all on its own in order to complete the level. This last one is often the hardest type, and I've gotten plenty of game overs from poor planning and locking another virus with that last type. It doesn't hold quite the same charm for me that Jezzball did, though that may be more nostalgia talking than any type of objective view of the game. If you too have fond memories of Jezzball, or what to find out what the heck I'm talking about with this long-lost game, then check out Quarantine.
Doppleganger - 80 MS points. What if the classic game Defender were split into two parallel dimensions? That seems to be the concept behind Doppleganger, a game where you essentially play two games of Defender at once, with your ship able to switch between them at the press of a button. Both the top and bottom screen have their own set of human astronauts to protect and alien invaders to defend against, but the ship you control can only exist on one of the screens at a time. When on one screen, a ghost of your ship will appear on the other screen to show where your ship would be. This comes in handy for avoiding running into enemies when you appear, but also for vanishing from one screen when an enemy gets a lock on you. Keeping track of two screens at once isn't for everyone, but Doppleganger is still a game well worth venturing into for those skilled at multitasking.
Bit Crunch - 80 MS points. Bit Crunch has its roots heavily set in the Atari 2600 classic game Adventure. You control a figure (a randomly generated sprite based on you gamertag) and make your way through the labyrinth finding keys and fighting back monsters while searching for the goal orb protected by a boss. The labyrinth is randomly generated each time you play, which adds replay value, though the short playtime of each quest and retro aesthetics may turn off some modern gamers.
LOL LOL Kitty Commando - 240 MS points. In this well animated action game you control a kitty with a minigun stuck in its chest. Yes, a minigun comes out of the cat's chest. This minigun is apparently quite powerful, since it can not only be used against enemies but also propelling you through the air when firing and jumping. Aside from the graphical exterior, it's a pretty basic platformer game, but some interesting secret areas can be reached through the use of the minigun, making this game worth at least a trial download.
Lone Gunner - 80 MS points. In this twin-stick shooter there are seemingly no limits to the options for equipping and upgrading your ship, with new upgrades unlocked frequently after each level. It does seem though that enemies take a few too many hits to defeat, and can sometimes even be faster than you ship. That last point is a little concerning when there isn't an invulnerability period for your ship after getting hit, meaning that an enemy can take you down in little time at all without firing a single shot. The psychedelic art style and isometric camera view are unique compared to other games in the genre, and it's still a solid shooter, but I can't say it was one of my favorite twin-stick shooters on the Xbox 360.
Flatland - 240 MS points. In Flatland, you need to reach a goal by rotating the level. You can rotate the level either right or left, with all of the platforms relocating instantaneously so that you can pull off some interesting platforming moves jumping between rotations. Though graphically the game is pretty lackluster, and it can be disorienting with the level rotations occurring without any rotation animation, it's still a solid puzzle platformer for the indie game channel.
MAGIC GEM - 80 MS points. When I saw that the description for Magic Gem was that "it is a refreshing hurling itself action game," I was both intrigued and confused. As it turns out, that's a fairly accurate description. Think of it as a fantasy action game that takes place on a billiards table. You fling your character's ball into enemies to whittle away at their health and defeat them. There are even corner pockets to fall into that will kill either you or an enemy instantly. It's surprisingly fun, though it's likely not for everyone so downloading the trial version first is recommended.
Modern Pirate Hunter: EP 1 - 240 MS points. No, this isn't a game about tracking down copyright pirates on the internet. These modern pirates still prefer to sail the seas, but do so with modern boats, technology, and missiles. You take on the role of a speed boat hunting down these pirates with your own arsenal of missiles, torpedoes, cannons, and other unlockable and upgradable weaponry. Defeating pirates earns you cash that can be spent between waves of enemies on buying weapon or boat upgrades to aid you in hunting more pirates.
Play x Play ! Guitar - 80 MS points. I'm not sure how good a judge I am of this game since it's really more of a guitar playing instructor than a game. I don't have any idea how to play the guitar, but the way that it shows how to play chords makes me feel like I could at least learn the basic scales from it if I had a guitar on which to practice. I'm not really sure who this game is targeting, since the beginners who it would be most helpful to likely don't already own a guitar, but for what it is, it seems to work well.
Team Chess - 240 MS points. Team Chess is an interesting concept. Two chess matches play out simultaneously between four players. When one player captures a piece, then that piece becomes available to his teammate in the second game. It's hard to get an assessment of how much this breaks the game of Chess since I only have one other chess-savvy friend to play with, and there doesn't seem to be anyone else online to play against, but I'm all for supporting new ideas on classic games. It's worth checking out the trial version at least for the novelty of it, but without more players online to play against and a requirement of four players to get a game going, how often you will actually get a chance to play it is in question.
Ranger - 80 MS points. Ranger is a game that gives you a bow with unlimited arrows and hordes of goblins to shoot at. It is easily the best game Silver Dollar Games has produced, with tons of power-ups and some strategy involved in attaching magical abilities to your arrows. That said, the aiming controls are extremely loose, making the game much harder to play than it should be. A good game marred by poor controls.
Quarry - 80 MS points. Quarry is a competitive two-player game where you try to collect more colored gems than your opponent. The gems grow over time, with larger gems worth more than smaller ones. You can also drop decoy gems for your opponent to run into, causing them to drop what gems they have already collected.
Rapunzel's Fight Knight - 240 MS points. You and up to three other friends play as knights fighting to climb Rapunzel's tower. Obstacles are everywhere, and occassionally there will be ropes of hair to climb on to avoid walls of spikes. Although the hair doesn't seem to be attached to anything, so I'm not sure it's actually Rapunzel's hair you're supposed to be climbing. In any case, you can attack opponents immediately next to you and shoot projectiles to the side or down to try and slow their climb. Compared to other indie games, it's not worth the current price, but it's still a decent multiplayer racing game.
BLASTER AND AMETHYST - 80 MS points. Blaster and Amethyst is a 3rd person shooter where shooting enemies doesn't so much kill them as push them off of the side of the level. The aiming controls are fairly clunky, and overall the game causes much more frustration than fun.
Lamingtons Zero - 80 MS points. A fairly basic shooting gallery where you fire either blue bullets from the left or red from the right at what appears to be anthropomorphic Oreos. Some of the targets can only be defeated with a certain color weapon, others change color, but it never becomes much more than a simple shooting gallery.
Avatar Ninja! - 80 MS points. I'm a big fan of Moonstone's past games, but I can't get behind Avatar Ninja. It's like Canabalt, except that you need to mash the A button the entire time to keep your speed up while also jumping to avoid obstacles. I suppose for the people who like mashing buttons for track and field games this could be good, but it's a gameplay mechanic that I've never been able to endorse.
Avatar Racedrome - 80 MS points. A simple racing game with a nice selection of courses but floaty controls. Coming out around the same time as the Xbox Live Arcade game Things On Wheels probably doesn't help either.
Avatar Hangman - 80 MS points. It's hangman in name and concept, but where's the hanging? I'm half kidding, since I realize that Microsoft would never allow a developer to hang an Avatar, but really, hangman with simple strikes for missed letters instead of actually building a gallows seems rather silly to me. I'll say the same thing here that I have for the other dozen hangman games out there: get some paper and a pencil.
Fabarite - 400 MS points. I swear this developer has released this exact same puzzle game at least four times before on the Xbox indie channel. Pastels Squares, Matrix, Matrix II, and PanopLines. Maybe it's being released again because Pastels Squares and PanopLines have been removed from the marketplace. In any case, it's just as unfun now was it was the last four times.
Amazing 8bit Ball - 80 MS points. It's a magic 8-ball in a pixilated 8-bit style. If that's worth a dollar to you, go for it, but considering the great games you can get for the same price it seems like a waste.
Zombie Sniper 3D - 80 MS points. Zombie Sniper 3D unsurprisingly puts you in the role of a sniper shooting at zombies from a balcony window. The 3D in the title comes from graphics that look like an early PS1 tech demo, but graphics aren't everything, right? My biggest problem is that the game seems to only have an unlimited survival mode, yet it allows you to run out of ammo with the only way to regain ammo to take a hit from a zombie. A survival mode that requires you to take damage in order to progress just seems like bad design.
Retent - 80 MS points. In Retent you are given a series of five numbers that flash on the screen for about two seconds, then the game asks you to remember the sequence. This continues until you mess up one of the five number sequences. It doesn't help that the numbers you are trying to remember blend in with the background so that you need to squint in order to read them for the brief time they are shown on screen.
Rock4U - 80 MS points. Imagine the classic game Boulderdash with the ability to rotate the gravity in a level and you get Rock4U. Your goal is to collect all of the gems in a level while avoiding enemies and pushing blocks our of your way. Rotating levels can get very disorienting very quickly, though that seems to be this developer's specialty since his last games were Snake and Tetris with level rotations. The lesson to be learned from Rock4U is that motion sickness-inducing rotation is not applicable to all classic games.
Coastal Defense - 80 MS points. You aim a cannon on shore and shoot at poorly drawn boats as they float past you on a river. There are also historical flash cards and a quiz that I suppose are meant to make this an edutainment title, but neither the gameplay or trivia hold much in the way of entertainment value.
The Tower: A Bomb's Climb
Newton Vs The Horde - 4 new levels added
Pinky vs Blocks
Retrofit - Overload