Due to some personal-life craziness I've been away from Xbox indie reviews for far too long, and for that I can't apologize enough. The good news through is that the Xbox indie reviews are back, and once things completely normalize again, will be better than ever. This week we've got 11 games with which to whet your indie appetite, covering everything from spacemen to robots to multiplayer games that will have you literally fighting for the controller with friends. It's a wealth of excellent games that require very little wealth to download, which is a pretty ideal setup if you ask me.
Click on that nice little "Read More" button for reviews of Astroman, Return All Robots, Grapple Boy, B.U.T.T.O.N, Vorpal, Revolver 360, Vertigo, Zombies 8 My Cookiez, CuBlocks, BoneD, and Hyper Button.
Astroman - 240 MS points. Astroman is an amazing action/platformer that almost instantly brings back that classic Metroid feeling. As a little yellow space man, you must travel to strange world collecting parts to repair your ship. Each world has nooks and crannies to explore, where you'll often discover health upgrades and ammo on your quest for ship parts. Yes, you'll need to collect ammo, and that limited supply has a huge impact on how you play. I found myself leaving most enemies alive, opting for ways to dodge rather than kill them, which is something few games have challenged me to do. The level layouts are fantastic, with deep caverns and puzzling moving platforms, making levels that stretch out in every direction each with their own unique look. Since Astroman is split into levels, it doesn't have quite the same sense of interconnected exploration as a Metroid game, but it's still a must-play for fans of that series and action/platformer fans in general.
Return All Robots - 240 MS points. Return All Robots is a clever puzzle game where you must safely guide robots to each level's exit. You have a remote to control the robots, but when you use it all of the robots will move in a straight line in your direction until they hit a wall or obstacle. This can make puzzles very challenging, as you'll often have robots moving up, down, and to the side simultaneously, and you need to make sure each robot's path is safe before pressing the button. Then there are the evil red robots to consider, who move according to the same rules as the good robots, but cause a game over if they touch you, another robot, or the exit. In the later levels you get new tools, like a portable wall (it's a turtle on wheels, but functionally a wall) and a laser to melt ice blocks, allowing for some truly mind-bending puzzles. And all of this is encased in a hilariously written story of science gone wrong. If you like a good laugh with your puzzle games, then Return All Robots will keep you playing for hours.
Grapple Boy - 80 MS points. Grapple Boy seems to have come out of nowhere, but quickly captured the addictive platforming style of Super Meat Boy. The hook for Grapple Boy is that the boy, who is actually a blue goo ball sort of creature, can grapple from the ceiling using his long tongue. Using his tongue and jumping abilities, Grapple Boy must make his way through levels lined with death-traps. You will die, a lot, but there are infinite lives and each time you'll learn something new about how to use the grapple ability. There are some times when the grappling can be an annoyance and cause unnecessary deaths, so it isn't nearly as refined as Team Meat's XBLA masterpiece, but for only $1 it's more than a worthy download for gamers unfazed by more difficult games.
B.U.T.T.O.N - 80 MS points. B.U.T.T.O.N is a multiplayer party game with an acronym that stands for Brutally Unfair Tactics Totally Ok Now. After several rounds with the game, I can say with full confidence that its name is 100% accurate. The game is deceptively simple. Each round it tells you to put your controller down, take a few steps back, and then race to your controller. However, the game also gives you a number of progressively ridiculous rules for the players to follow, ranging from striking a ninja pose, to following dance instructions, to moving in slow motion, or switching positions with another player. The win condition also changes every round. One round it might be the first player to press their button wins, in another every player who presses exactly 10 times wins, and then another round the second player to press their button wins. At first I was worried, as the first few rounds were met with groans of "how is this game fun exactly?" But a few rounds and a mere five minutes later we were literally rolling on the ground laughing as we snatched each other's controllers or held our own close using those "brutally unfair tactics" to win each round. B.UT.T.O.N is definitely best played with four people, and all of those people have to be on board to play an unconventional game with ever-changing self-regulating rules. But once you find that right group, B.U.T.T.O.N is an unmatched party game.
Vorpal - 80 MS points. Vorpal is like a bullet hell shooter boss rush mode. Once you choose one of the game's six ships, each with its own stats and power-up ability, you fight your way through the other five as they fill the screen with wave after wave of bullet patterns. As I said, it's essentially a boss rush mode, so there's always only the one enemy ship to hit, but that doesn't mean it can't still let out some devastating screen-filling attacks. One genre innovation that Vorpal adds, and is much appreciated, is a shadow of the enemy ship at the bottom of the screen, allowing you to more easily keep track of its movements while focusing on maneuvering your ship through the sea of projectiles. It's a fun and challenging game that bullet hell fans will enjoy, though those who haven't been practicing on Cave shmups might find the difficulty too high.
Revolver 360 - 240 MS points. Revolver 360 is a side-scrolling space shmup with an interesting twist. And by interesting twist, I mean you literally twist and rotate the level. For example, if an enemy fires an array of bullets in a vertical line, simply twist the level and that vertical line becomes only a single bullet when lined up horizontally. It may be somewhat difficult to describe, but when you actually see it in motion it's quite intuitive. There are two modes to play, either short range mode or infinite range mode. Short range mode is the basic game, through a series of structured levels in ever-changing environments. Infinite range mode though is where the game's real replay value lies giving you, as the name suggests, an infinite number of levels to play through. Add on global leaderboards and trophies to unlock, and Revolver 360 is one of the most polished shooters to hit the 360.
Vertigo - 80 MS points. Vertigo is a platforming racing game where you and up to three friends sprint along rooftops to reach the level's goal. Along the way there are boost pads you can activate with the A button to set your racer on fire giving him or her a boost of speed. The controls can be a bit tricky though, as the A button is also jump. In order to unlock levels for multiplayer you must first play through the single-player campaign mode, which I found to have some very strict time goals in order to progress to the next level. Vertigo is a fun little platforming racing game, that I found much more enjoyable in multiplayer. If all the levels had been unlocked from the start, or if the single-player goals didn't require a near-perfect run to progress, Vertigo likely would have been in the Yay category.
Zombies 8 My Cookiez - 400 MS points. Zombies 8 My Cookiez is yet another game capitalizing on the zombie fad, but one that is actually enjoyable despite its overplayed enemies. You control a tiny tank on a table defending a plate of cookies from zombies. The zombies come from all sides, trying to drag your cookies away, and you need to blast them apart and drag the cookies back to the center of the plate. The game is best played with four players, since there are multiple cookies to defend and you can't fire when dragging a cookie back to the plate. When played solo, the game just gets overwhelming really fast. Players also need to be careful when killing zombies, since stray bullets can damage your cookies, eventually breaking up in to smaller cookie bits that are easier to drag away and harder to keep track of. If you have three friends to play it with, Zombies 8 My Cookiez would be a good buy at 80 MS points, or possibly even 240. But 400 MS points is asking too much for the game considering what else you can get on the 360 for that price.
CuBlocks - 80 MS points. CuBlocks is a puzzle game in which you rotate groups of four colored blocks to create larger blocks. A timer counts down, and when it reaches zero all of the larger blocks are cleared. As you progress through the levels, you'll have to clear a set number of blocks with each timer countdown, losing one of your three lives if you fail. This starts out simple enough clearing four or five blocks, but by the time it builds up to twelve and thirteen blocks the pace becomes much more frantic as you race to rotate and match squares before time runs out. It's a fun puzzle game, and those who download it won't be disappointed, but don't expect it to overtake puzzle heavy hitters on the 360 like Lumines or Chime.
BoneD: Dead Men Don't Jump - 240 MS points. I tried to like BoneD, I really did, even if for no other reason than because I know the developers are nice guys and I've liked their previous work. But even Nintendo can release a Virtual Boy or Metroid: Other M on occasion, and the same goes for indie developers. It's a purposefully difficult platformer, which those who follow my reviews will know I have no problem with. My main problem in BoneD is that the wall jumping is imprecise, or at least overly cumbersome. You need to press toward a wall and jump to jump away from it, which on its own feels unintuitive, but then there are chimney-like tight vertical corridors you need to wall jump through and it can become quite a pain. It doesn't help that BoneD uses the death-wall game mechanic, where a moving wall from the left instantly kills the player on contact, forcing the game to be played at a speed that the cumbersome controls aren't suited for.
Hyper Button - 80 MS points. Hyper Button is like the classic arcade light gun game Point Blank without the light gun. Players are given tasks in each stage, but instead of shooting your targets you'll be pressing the corresponding buttons on the controller. Sometimes this will be a sequence of buttons, other times it's a specific button at the right time, and the game could even show you a set of three buttons and challenge you to press the one button not shown. There's some good variety to the level goals, but it all feels rather shallow. It's certainly a step up from the Simon memory clones roaming around, but without the intense rapidfire quality of something like WarioWare I can't really see myself coming back to it.