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XBLIG 2010: The Best And The Worst

Xbox Live Indie games: 365 days, 875 games, one reviewer...

Ah, Xbox Live Indie Games.  A home to cheap "massage" apps, Pong clones, Bejewelled wannabes and more zombies than you can shake a shotgun at.

Or is it?

There is a lot more to the service than these stereotypes: 2010 saw a total of 875 games released on the platform, spread across virtually every gaming genre and often offering a bizzare and/or wonderous take on established conventions.

How do I know this?  Simple: I've played them all.  And while I'm still questioning my sanity - and it may have taken me the best part of a month to clear the last of the 2010 backlog - I'm now able to look back at a full year of XBLIG games.  And here's what I found...

(and if you want to see all of these and more, feel free to head over to - comments are welcomed!)

XBLIG 2010: the ten best games

(or: the games which I'd use to showcase the platform, in alphabetic order)

Apple Jack:

Boxart Screenshot

A peculiarly british platformer, where the titular Apple Jack generates coins by picking up enemies and throwing them at each other.  And if you can keep a chain going, you can fill the screen with sparkling goodness...

Cthulhu Saves the World:

Boxart Screenshot

Poor Cthulhu.  He sets out to destroy the world, and look what happens!  Some nasty man steals his powers and plunges him into an old-school RPG where he must perform good deeds to regain his powers.  On the other hand, he does get some groupies *and* he can always eavesdrop on the narrator to find out what to do next...

(radiangames) Crossfire:

Boxart Screenshot

In truth, I've not been that impressed with much of radiangames output: they're professionally implemented (and turned out at a prodigious rate) but lacking that magic spark.  Crossfire is the exception to that however, as it throws some genuinely interesting twists on the age-old Space Invader theme.  And it has shiny, glowy vectors...

Decay (ongoing series):

Boxart Screenshot

One of the few developers to follow through on their promise of episodic gaming, Decay is a impressively polished point-and-click adventure which takes its cue from Silent Hill and Fatal Frame: you wake up in your bathroom after an apparent suicide attempt and it all goes downhill from there...

Garden Gnome Carnage:

Boxart Screenshot

There's indie games and then there's indie games: Garden Gnome Carnage tells the tale of a gnome desperately trying to defend his home-on-wheels from hordes of misguided gnomes, by swinging about on a bungee cord and stripping explosive bricks from the walls.  It's stupendously, gloriously insane.

Gravitron 360:

Boxart Screenshot

Inspired by games such as Asteroids, Lunar Lander and Defender, Gravitron blends these influences into a cohesive whole and wraps them up in glowy vectors: the player must visit a set of planets, destroy the reactors and escape before everything explodes - preferably with a full set of the POW scientists who are stuck on the planet.

Platformance: Castle Pain:

Boxart Screenshot

Old school gaming, modern technology: Castle Pain's platforming action is carried out on a single-screen, HD-resolution map which you can zoom in on - and said map is fulled with plenty of set-pieces and traps to tax the skills of your super-deformed knight...

Rock A Block:

Boxart Screenshot

Let's go for a colour-coordinated roller-coaster race - and may the best block win!

Shoot 1UP:

Boxart Screenshot

A shmup with an entertaining twist (and some vaguely racy artwork): not only can you choose your path - horizontal, vertical, diagonal - but the player can build up a fleet of ships to boost their firepower.  Just don't spread them out too far...


Boxart Screenshot

At heart, Soul is just a wireloop game: move the cursor and don't touch the sides.  However, the setting is superbly disturbing: it's a man's soul you're controlling and there are hungry monsters lurking in the dark...


XBLIG 2010: honorable mentions

(aka: games I like...)

Treasure Treasure FFEE:

A cooperative-multiplayer platformer (which can also be played in single-player mode), as viewed through the medium of an old greyscale Game Boy screen...

The Shadows in the Underworld:

Part Metroid, part arena-shmup: explore the dark, cold depths of an underwater city, fending off cthonic monsters with your torpedos and chainsaw!


Explore the galaxy and engage in true-3D space battles.  Watch the ships burn off the arm of orion, debris frozen and sparkling in the starlight...


Explore a series of mazes with just your (visualised) sonar to guide you

Hypno Vol 1:

Welcome to a murder simulator.  Who do you want to kill?  There's a city to choose from...

XBLIG 2010: dishonorable mentions

Sadly, there's a quite a lot of XBLIG games which could come under this heading - both technically and artistically.  However, there's a few which I'll pick out for special attention, starting with some runner-ups:

Avatars, Ghosts, Zombies:

If at first you don't succeed, hack avatar technology into your game.  That'll work, right? 

Avatar Alarm Clock:

Rather than spending a few quid on a cheap, low-power alarm clock, I'll leave my Xbox 360 and my TV on all night, so I can watch my avatar sleeping!  Yeah, right.


What shall I do with this low-fidelity model of a city which I've created?  I'll hack in the player's avatar, so he can pretend to be the lead in I am Legend!  And for an added bonus, I won't bother implementing collision detection: I'll make the ability to walk through walls and floors a feature!

Combat Tanks Part II:

The original Combat Tanks was pretty poor, but CT2 ups the stakes, by reducing the framerate to around 5fps, blocking your view with a raised hatch *and* allowing your tank to sidestep...

A game you can't beat!:

To be fair, AGYCB is actually a reasonable obstacle-course game.  But it achieves this by literally ripping off everything from The Impossible Game: the gameplay, the flags, the music-switching, the abstract graphic design.  That's simply not cricket, old chaps...

Still, all of these pale next to the winner/loser of the worst game in 2010:

Maids with balloons:

Taking an oil drill to the bottom of Silver Dollar's "sleazy videoclips" barrel, MWB's entire budget appears to have been spent on a cheap video camera and three maid outfits and a script which involves three girls baby-talking to each other.  The result is around 5 minutes of awful video footage and a set of badly written minigames.  Bring back Night Trap, all is forgiven!

Thoughts for 2011

There's been a lot of good and interesting stuff for 2010: hopefully 2011 will continue this trend, especially since developers can now target Win Mobile 7 phones - and XNA may even get Kinect support, which would offer more opportunities.

However, for the love of my sanity, can developers please take note of the following:

1) No more Pong/Breakout/Arkanoid clones.  We have enough.  Really.  Really really.  Also, please think about what you're doing if you're contemplating an arena-shmup.

2) No more Avatar sports minigames.  Yes, Wii Sports has sold millions but it bundled half a dozen minigames in a single package.  By definition, a minigame isn't interesting enough to be treated as a standalone game...

3) Don't bother making applications.  We have more than enough screensavers, calendars, magic-8-ball games, drawing applications... (though if MS do add Kinect support, it might be interesting to see what can be done with the latter)

4) Avatars don't need to be shoehorned into everything.  Honest, guv. Your game will probably sell better if there isn't a slackly gurning face stuffed into the interface of your shmup/puzzle/platformer.

5) Similarly, does your game really need zombies?

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