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XBL Indie Games: Top 5 Hidden Gems

Jonathan Lester
Breath of Death VII, Leave Home, Machiavelli's Ascent, Shoot 1UP, Space Pirates From Tomorrow, Xbox 360 games, Xbox Live, Xbox Live Indie Games
Xbox 360

XBL Indie Games: Top 5 Hidden Gems

Looking back on things, we all got our priorities completely screwed up when the New Xbox Experience arrived a year and a half ago. Pundits and publicity officers made a lot of noise about cosmetic details like the avatars and advert feeds, but most people glossed over the fact that the new Indie Games channel (known as Community Games back in the day) allowed literally anyone to download some powerful dev tools and release their own games from the comfort of their own bedroom. Whilst Microsoft hasn't quite ushered in a new golden age of homebrew and bedroom programming, there's still a huge amount of raw potential in the Indie service.

XBLA provides a fantastic games selection, but the Indie channel offers a huge number of great titles that simply don't garner the mainstream respect and profits that they deserve... but are mired in a sea of rushed and mediocre content. To this end, I'd like to shine the Dealspwn spotlight on a few games that you've probably never heard of, but will offer you big budget thrills for bargain basement prices. Let's do this!

5: Machiavelli's Ascent

XBL Indie Games: Top 5 Hidden Gems

Developer: Naturally Formed Studios

Demo/Buy (80 MSP)

Machiavelli the jellyfish is a simple soul. His only aim in life is to reach the surface- and it's your job to get him there by nudging him into air bubbles, starfish and boosters. It's a simplistic concept, but the gorgeous watercolour visuals and sound design create a hypnotic effect that'll make you lose hours of your life at a time.

Machiavelli’s Ascent is visually charming, aurally delightful and brims with character; delivering a minimal amount of beautifully-polished content at a bargain price. Just download the demo and try it out… if you find yourself wanting more then you might as well drop the 80 points (less than a quid). I certainly did.

4: Shoot 1UP

XBL Indie Games: Top 5 Hidden Gems

Developer: Mommy's Best Games

Demo/Buy (80 MSP)

1UP. These three symbols mean nothing on their own, but when combined they send a shiver down the spine on every hardened gamer. Shoot 1UP takes the familiar concept of gaining an bonus ship with each extra life and takes it to the next level: literally bolting on an extra ship to your armada. Using the triggers expands and contracts your fighter formation- allowing your squadron to squeeze through narrow gaps or expand to charge up an insanely powerful laser.

Nathan Fouts, the brainchild behind Resistance: Fall of Man and Postal's weaponry, has wowed us yet again with a brutal shooter that combines traditional shmups with a deep new mechanic. Shoot 1UP may be short, but veteran gamers will return to it time and again. And once again, it's only 80 MSP.

3: Breath of Death VII

XBL Indie Games: Top 5 Hidden Gems

Developer: Zeboyd

Demo/Buy (80 MSP)

80 MSP equates to a around single US Dollar- and the two games above offer you fantastic (if short) bang for your buck. Breath of Death VII, on the other hand, is a traditional 8-bit RPG that pays a witty and hilarious homage to the original NES final fantasy games. Taking on the role of an undead superhero, you'll quest, level up and dungeon crawl through hours of enjoyable dungeons that both mocks and emulates the classic RPGs of yore.

Breath of Death contains around six hours of quality 8-bit adventuring with a deep levelling system and a fantastic sense of humour. If you were about to spend your last 80 points on an avatar baseball cap, why not net yourself a quality RPG instead?!

2: Leave Home

XBL Indie Games: Top 5 Hidden Gems

Developer: hermitgames

Demo/Buy (240 MSP)

It's amazing what you can accomplish in 5 minutes. All (shockingly accurate) jibes about my stamina aside, Leave Home presents you with a five minute playthrough that evolves dynamically depending on your skill and score. It's a fast paced shmup that adapts to your playstyle, literally providing you with a radically different game experience each time. You can die as many times as you want... but only skilfully collecting orbs and staying alive will unlock Leave Home's true potential.

The split-shot mechanic swivels your weapons as you depress the trigger- and Leave Home's psychedelic art style (and hidden metaphors lurking behind the levels and bosses) is vaguely reminiscent of Rez. Which can't be a bad thing.

Spend the points. Split shots. Leave home.

1: Space Pirates From Tomorrow

XBL Indie Games: Top 5 Hidden Gems

Developer: DrMistry

Demo/Buy (240 MSP)

When I was a lad, Space Flight Sims were all the rage. The X franchise, Freelancer and the classic Frontier: Elite allowed us to take to the infinite reaches of space and trade, coerce and battle our way around the galaxy... but now the once-great genre has atrophied down to practically nothing due to console hardware restrictions and publishers' reluctance to take risks. Will no-one pick up the torch? Will no-one deliver the freeroaming space sim that we truly deserve?

Enter Space Pirates From Tomorrow.

Don't let the name (or the confusing skirmish demo) put you off. SPFT is a fully featured space sim that allows you to plot your own course through a hostile galaxy. Inheriting a battered old freighter from your uncle, you'll be able to explore over a thousand star systems replete with missions, enemies and even optional races. Much like Elite, there's no overarching story: it's just you, your ship and your raw mercantile skills against the universe. Trading on the stock market, making cargo runs or duking it out with lawless lowlives will earn you money to pimp out your ride and increase your reputation.

Of course SPFT isn't perfect. The flight controls are extremely twitchy and there's some marked slowdown when enemy ships jump to hyperspace- but it'll only set you back around three pounds. An entire galaxy for the same price as a London pint? Yes please. If there's one hidden gem that deserves your money and attention, it's this one.

Have you played a great Xbox Live Indie game that you'd like to bring to our attention? Drop us a line in the comments!

Add a comment6 comments
Matt Gardner  May. 30, 2010 at 16:23

Splendid little list. You're right, I couldn't really give a damn when it comes to avatars, but the indie corner has been the real revelation of the new XBL. I really wish Microsoft would promote it a little more, highlighting some of the best perhaps, making competitions far more high profile and recurring or perhaps upping the rewards at the end. Sony have done an excellent job at finding, fostering and nurturing talent over the years and their first and second party stable is supremely impressive. Microsoft could do with following suit.

And yes, 'Space Pirates...' is fantastic!

Late  May. 31, 2010 at 03:50

I spent more hours playing the 80msp "Yet Another Zombie Defence" (about 10-15 hours, rough guess) than I did Fallout 3 and Borderlands combined (about 3-6 hours each).
There's definitely bang for your buck in the indie games market.

(It's a crying shame I've not given the two "full priced" games I've mentioned above a proper go, but that's something for another discussion... ;) )

Charlie Loves XNA Games  Jun. 5, 2010 at 00:04

Machiavelli's Ascent was one of the first standout games for XBLIG but gameplay after a while was too challenging to be fun - not because I wussed out, but because it was just that difficult. So was another great game based on HP Lovecraft called the Shadows In the Underworld.

Thanks for the heads up on Breath of Death VII and SPfT - will definitely check them out. Totally up my alley.

Also take a look at Platypus - hours of fun, great graphics, and gameplay is smooth and consistent as it ramps up the difficulty.

Jonathan Lester  Jun. 6, 2010 at 16:37

Platypus is fantastic- if this had been a Top Ten list, it would've been a dead cert. Claymation perfection!

There are a lot more games and developers that I'd like to shine a well-deserved spotlight on. Watch this space!

stecum  Jun. 30, 2011 at 09:50

A great game thats overlooked because of it's price tag is ETMD. It's price tag is 240 as microsoft wont allow indie devs to sell a game above 50meg insize for any less. This hurt the guys profit which is such a game because the game is worth much more than 240. Alot of people would have missed the rpg element which made the game so good because of the trail only being 8 mins long. Try it out and stick with ityou'll be surprised with the hidden depth.

JonLester  Jun. 30, 2011 at 10:31

"A great game thats overlooked because of it's price tag is ETMD."

Haha, you're right... which is why we ran a full review and crowned it as our Xbox Live Indie Game Of The Week! It's a great game that's much deeper than it looks.

And yes, Boddicker only managed to sell about 50 copies. It's a damn shame.

Last edited by JonLester, Jun. 30, 2011 at 10:40

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