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Xbox Indie Review Roundup - 7/2/10

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Now that the craziness of last week's double update has died down, you would think that we would be back to a much more normal level of indie releases. But those indie developers have been busy, with 30 games releasing in the past week. Of those, two really stand out in quality that should please fans of bullet hell shooters and cartography alike. And who doesn't like a little cartography in their day? But just because a game wasn't a stand out title doesn't mean it's bad, there are still plenty of other hidden gems in the bunch waiting to be played.

Click after the jump for reviews and impressions for all of the indie games to hit the 360 in the past week.


Vampire Rage - 80 MS points. It looks like Shoot 1Up has some competition for the premier shmup on the 360. As you fly through the colorful animated backdrops you have three methods of attack. Tapping the A button fires a spread shot while holding the button down unleashes a more powerful but more focused attack, the latter of which also slows your movement. Just balancing these two attacks would be fine, but then there is also a bullet-deflecting sword mapped to the X button, allowing you to sweep the area around you of deadly projectiles as well as slash any enemies within range. If you deflect enough bullets, you can even trigger a screen-clearing bomb. But don't think that just because you can deflect bullets at the press of a button that the game is any easier. You can't fire your projectiles while using the sword, and it has a recharge time of a few seconds after each use, so you still need to have some legitimate shooter skills to make it through. Though the game's length runs a little on the short side, there's a lot of gameplay packed into Vampire Rage.

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Ancient Trader - 240 MS points. Resource trading games aren't usually my personal favorites, so I didn't expect much going into Ancient Trader, but it managed to get past my initial defenses and pull me in with its varied gameplay. I suppose at its core Ancient Trader plays more like a turn-based strategy game, with a grid of squares on the map dictating your ship's movement across the sea. It should be noted that the aforementioned map is a gorgeous animated recreation of the traditional sepia-toned sea maps one would expect to find a marker labeling "here be monsters". There is a fog-of-war type effect where clouds will dissipate as you traverse further across the ocean, discovering ports for trade and clues that could lead to artifacts and treasures. It's finding those artifacts that is the real goal of the game, more so than the titular resource trading mechanic. Resource trading still has its uses though, as you can use the profit from your trade to upgrade your ship. And you'll need to upgrade your ship for the sea battles, both against other ships and terrors from the deep. There's so much to do in Ancient Trader, and the art style is so wonderful, I can't recommend it enough for gamers who like a little more thinking in their games.


Bloody Death - 240 MS points. Bloody Death is like a throwback to the Sega Saturn when FMV games were still being made. It's more of an interactive movie than a game really. That being said, it's surprisingly well done, and shouldn't just be written off for fans of slasher flicks.

テスターフェイズワン(TESTER PHASE ONE) - 80 MS points. At first this may seem like a fairly standard vertical scrolling shooter, perhaps with sub-par retro graphics. But what makes Tester Phase One stand out isn't so much the shooter gameplay, but the achievements. Like the flash game Achievement Unlocked, pretty much every action in Tester Phase One unlocks an achievement, making this game like crack for achievement hunters even if indie games don't count toward your gamerscore.

Sharpshooter - 80 MS points. Sharpshooter is a shooting gallery game that feels like it would fit right in at an 80's arcade with a light gun attached. Of course, the 360 doesn't have a light gun, so you're left to use the controller's analog stick to aim a reticule on-screen. It isn't ideal, and aiming the reticule feels pretty loose, but somehow that looseness actually makes it feel more like trying to aim with lightgun in hand. It's actually quite surprising how closely the controls nail the feel. There's even a white flash on the screen with each shot to mimic the same effect of a lightgun. The game also supports two players, so you can compete for a high score with a friend, each shooting at your own half of the screen. Sharpshooter should definitely satisfy high score chasers for quite a while.

Pwnage of Empires - 80 MS points. Pwnage of Empires is a combination of RTS and twin-stick shooter genres. You start out in typical RTS fashion: gathering resources, building a base, building units, and sending units into battle. The RTS controls work fairly well, with your cursor able to expand using the right analog stick to help select multiple units. At any time you can also take direct control of a single unit, allowing you to do more precise evasion of enemy attacks. The presentation is lacking in the graphics department, nobody will mistake this game for a well funded professional effort, but the gameplay mix is well done and definitely worth a look.

Paradox - 80 MS points. Paradox is a puzzle game where you are given a wheel of colored blocks and must rotate it to match with incoming blocks. It's very tricky to manage, with blocks simultaneously flying in from opposite sides, but it's a fun, controlled chaos that gamers have come to expect from a quality puzzle game. I know that there are a lot of puzzle games out there, but the fact that you have 360 degrees of blocks to manage makes Paradox a unique puzzle experience of its own.

Drum Studio - 80 MS points. Want to get some extra usage out of that Rock Band or Guitar Hero drum kit? Drum Studio lets you freestyle drum as if it were a real drum kit, and then record your percussion creations to save them for later. What's really impressive though, is how customizable it can be. There are over 300 drum sounds that you can configure to any of the drum kit's pads (or 360 controller buttons if you don't have a drum kit). If you're interested in music creation and not just playing along, then Drum Studio should definitely be in your download queue.

Avatar Insane Race 3D - 80 MS points. Avatar Insane Race 3D seems to be based on the classic Excitebike. Your avatar races down the track, boosting off of jumps, performing tricks, and avoiding the occasional wall the pops up in your way. The controls are a little loose, sometimes making it difficult to line up your go-kart with the ramps. As the title suggests, if you have those red/cyan 3D glasses then you can get a 3D experience while playing, though this is more of a gimmick since there's nothing really in the gameplay that pops toward the screen to take advantage of the effect.

German 101 - 80 MS points. I'm not entirely sure that I'm qualified to review this one, since I neither speak nor understand German. Although, maybe that makes me the perfect candidate since German 101 is a flashcard app aiming to help people learn the language. As someone who doesn't know anything about German, It seems like, on a basic level, German 101 can at least help you to read the language. I don't think that I would be able to speak German based on what I've been learning from the app, mostly because there is no spoken pronunciation guide to let me know how badly I'm butchering the words when I talk, especially those words with umlauts. This app is probably better for those people who already are taking some German classes and need a refresher rather than for those who want to start from scratch.

Fluidityk - 80 MS points. Is there really a large audience for using an Xbox 360 as the household primary music player? Personally, I can't stand using it that way since my system sounds like a blaring jet engine from three rooms away, but I suppose people with newer quieter models and larger hard drives might use their 360 for music. Well, if you are in the segment of gamers that listen to music on your 360, then you might want to give Fluidityk a look, as it's a beautiful visualizer to go along with your music. Most visualizers seem to rely on psychedelic light shows, but Fluidityk takes a different route, working with different effects that more closely resemble water, smoke, and fire that will pulse and flare to the beat of your music. It can also access music streaming from your PC, which is a nice addition for those of us with small 360 hard drives.

Nay :(

8-bit Girlfriend - 80 MS points. Based on a webcomic by the same name, 8-bit Girlfriend puts you in control of a knight's dialog options as he tries to seduce four different RPG stereotypes. There's the naïve elf girl, the romance-obsessed princess, an item shop girl that might as well be a prostitute, and a lesbian ninja. Yes, this game rewards you for having a male knight seduce a lesbian ninja. Even if the gameplay were decent, which is isn't, and the dialog options were well written, which they aren't, that last bit alone would have gotten this game a Nay rating.

Avatar Karate - 80 MS points. After the disappointment that was Avatar Showdown, I was excited for Avatar Karate. This game actually lets you move your Avatar around the arena Powerstone-style and attack with various punches and kicks. Unfortunately, this is an extremely stiff fighter. The lengthy attack animations mean that your punches won't hit until almost a second after you press the button, and the animation can't be stopped once it's started. It did have one feature though that I think should be implemented in every fighting game made from this point on. If you use the same attack a few times in a row, the attack starts to do less damage until you perform a few other attacks. This is a brilliant addition to the gameplay that prevents people from just doing the same move over and over again. I just wish such a brilliant idea were attached to more responsive controls.

Quizocalypse - 240 MS points. Take a list of questions based almost exclusively on dated pop culture references (really, do people still think "This is Sparta!" is funny?) and internet memes then cover it in a coat of zombie paint, and you've got Quizocalypse. The game's artist did do a great job with the zombie quiz contestants, who are each animated very well, but the overall product will be entertaining for about as long as the fads and catchphrases it's based on.

Academy Trivia - 80 MS points. In this trivia game you spin a roulette wheel to get a category and then compete with friends to see who can answer the most questions correctly. The first category I spun was entertainment, where the question asked about an actor appearing in several movies based on Tom Claney novels. Not that I'm personally a fan of his work, but if a developer isn't going to put in the effort to spell check a name like Tom Clancy, then why should they be considered a reliable source for trivia knowledge?

Anger Management 4 - 80 MS points. The developers at Super Boise have mercifully skipped bringing us a third in their stoner-fodder Anger Management series, but less mercifully decided to release a third one anyway with the number 4 slapped onto it. It's a breakout clone this time, with Abraham Lincoln in the background and the paddle disappearing after about a minute of play. Though there is a code you can input so that the paddle doesn't disappear, there are over a dozen better Breakout/Arkanoid clones on the 360.

MonkeyAirBoard - 80 MS points. It's air hockey, which is to say, it's essentially pong. You can press a button to do a swift hit of the puck to make it go faster, but other than that you can only move your paddle up and down. Oh, and the paddles are being held by monkey paws, which is where they can justify using the word monkey in the title.

H0W 2 P1NG A(TrademarkRemoved) - 80 MS points. Another pong clone? This one tried to be funny by pretending that they had to remove the word pong from the title. It is somewhat unique in that there are paddles on the top and bottom of the screen in addition to the sides, and that the goal is to keep the ball bouncing rather than trying to hit it past an opponent. In fact, one player can play by controlling all four paddles at once

Crazy Wizard in Creepy Castle - 80 MS points. You control a wizard as he jumps and casts fireball spells to shoot at enemies. His greatest magic trick though is how sensitive the collision detection around the wizard's sprite is. Small flames are all over the levels, and many times I went to jump over them only to find the wizard taking damage without ever touching the flame. The character art and animation is quite well done, though unfortunately the quality of that art highlights how every level seems to use the same bland static background.

Avatar Bowman - 80 MS points. Honestly, I suppose the game is decent, but I have no fewer than 6 versions of this game that were all downloaded for free on my iPhone. Here's a free flash version you can play right now.

Sword&Magic - 80 MS points. In this side-scrolling shooter you control either a flying boy throwing knives or girl with a magic wand. Some enemies can only be defeated by one or the other, so at least the game makes it easy to switch between them. Enemies take on average 6-7 hits to kill, can move faster than your character, and can hover overlapping your character sprite in such a way that you continue to take damage while also being unable to attack.

Nightmare - 80 MS points. Nightmare is a platformer where each level is an intricate and bizarre drawing that you must navigate. Most of the levels seem to revolve around the use of doors that will teleport you to another part of the level, and using multiple doors in succession to make your way to the goal, though there is still a fair amount of running and jumping platforming gong on. Unfortunately, the controls are incredibly stiff, and you may often find yourself plummeting to your death because the jump button didn't register when you thought it would, or find yourself unable to climb a ladder because you aren't standing on exactly the right pixel to trigger it. In a "games as art" sense, I suppose Nightmare perfectly replicates the feelings that a nightmare would elicit. In a "games as enjoyment" sense, that isn't particularly fun.

Licky Licky Lizards - 80 MS points. Take a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos and replace the hippos with lizards, and you've got Licky Licky Lizards. Instead of eating balls that can roll and bounce around the level to potentially give every player a fair shot, in Licky Licky Lizards you are trying to eat flies that will buzz around haphazardly, often giving only one or two players a clear advantage.

Biz School - Twist-Ed - 400 MS points. In Biz School - Twist-Ed you need to start several businesses to try and amass a ridiculous amount of money. Unlike enjoyable tycoon games though, the way you run your business is to pick random items from a grid and hope that the item you choose will have a good letter grade on it. If you randomly choose an A then you'll do well, or if you choose an F you'll probably end up bankrupt. It completely escapes me how this game is fun in any way.

Packito lost in space - 240 MS points. Packito is a space shooter about recycling. Trash comes flying at you, and you must fire at it with the proper button to eliminate it. This would be fine if there was any consistency in the type of trash that is destroyed by each button, but instead you have to pay attention to a little button indicator underneath each piece of trash. This makes the game feel more like a chore of pressing buttons on command than playing a game.

United States of Zombieland - 80 MS points. In the overwhelming sea of twin-stick shooters, developers really need to do something unique to make their game stand out. That is the opposite of what this game does. It takes the most popular indie game on the 360 and shamelessly tries to copy/paste everything about that game except for the fun. The thing that made I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES so special was the song that accompanied and complimented the gameplay, with the waves of zombies actually ebbing and flowing with the beat of the music. United States of Zombieland tries to mimic that song, even referencing the other game with lyrics that basically amount to the creator wailing "this game is so much better" over and over again. It is not better, it is much, much worse. And while Z0MB1ES had the good sense to make a 2 minute song and have the game end when the song was over, Zombieland manages to drag through the same song loop for 30 minutes of torture. It also manages to rip off its title from a movie in addition to ripping off another game, making this game 100% lacking in originality. Though I will say that the game did make me chuckle once: when the song lyrics screeched "there are so many zombies" for the 6th time and there was only a single zombie on-screen.

Avatar Scent Wars - 80 MS points. In Avatar Scent Wars, two teams of avatars are pit against each other throwing either perfume or stink bombs to make their opponents smell like them. Once you successfully stink/de-stink your opponents they are converted to your team. The ultimate goal is to attach the enemy's base and convert it, though usually it's easiest to convert your opposing team first. The gameplay itself is pretty bland though, with AI opponents standing in place to make them easy targets and human players usually circle strafing around each other dodging the slow-moving attacks.

Avatars VS Zombies - 80 MS points. Another twin-stick zombie shooter? Instead of giving the avatar a gun, it appears that in this game magical shots appear to fire from the avatar's pelvic region. Magic protein aside, this game does nothing that the dozens of other twin-stick shooters don't already do better.

The Omniscient Orb - 80 MS points. Yet another magic 8-ball app. This one has the distinguishing feature of text that has been blown up past its actual resolution to give that quality artifacting that can only come from someone trying to make a quick buck off of people without putting any actual effort into it.

Japanorama - 80 MS points. I'm not known for forgiving picture slideshow apps released through Xbox indie games, and I don't think I'm going to make an exception for Japanorama. Admittedly, Japanorama does something unique with its 360 degree panoramic images that let you actually turn around and look at the scenes as if you were standing in the middle of them. But it's really no different from the effect you can get from loading up Google Maps street view.

Updated Games
Avatar Ninja
Avatar Penalty Kick
Apple Jack
Attack of the Verbose Dinosaur
Pilot Test
MeetURMatch (Avatar Edition)
Plasma Spheres 2
Astro Taxi
RC Airplane Challenge
Marauder Madness!

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