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
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
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
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
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
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!