The Xbox Live Marketplace has gone from strength to strength over the last few years, becoming nothing less than the Xbox 360's unique selling point. It's the ultimate equaliser and a source of innovation that frequently puts retail releases to shame - but the only flaw is that it's easy for XBLA games to go unnoticed without even making a splash.
So here are ten of the games that fell through the media cracks, that languish near the bottom of the best selling lists yet provide plenty of bang for your buck. We've balanced quality with rarity, and thus, I hope that you'll be able to add a couple of worthy titles to your library that you've never heard of before. Be sure to check out the trial versions!
10: Shred Nebula
What happens when you mix a lengthy, visceral shooter with a crunchy rock soundtrack? A whole lotta shred, that's what. Your journey through hostile territory may be light on story, but it's packed full of great set pieces, rewarding exploration and a soundtrack that will stick with you for years.
Crank the volume up to maximum, grab the trial and prepare to enter the Shred!
9: Strania: The Stella Machina
As we stated in our full review, Strania is a competent and eyecatching scrolling shooter that adds just enough innovation to balance familiarity and new features. The cyclical weapons system allows you to switch between powerful armaments at a whim, and provides multiple ways to deal with bosses and surprisingly fun defensive sections.
The new expansion pack bolts on an entirely original campaign that takes place from your enemy's point of view, and is well worth a download along with the original. So long as you like your shooters twitchy and tense.
Launching a cooperative-centric title is a risky proposition at the best of times, and sadly relegated Schizoid to obscurity fairly quickly. Which is a damn shame, because it's one of the most unique games on the service. Each player controls a coloured vessel that can only destroy half of the enemies in each stage, and thus has to rely on their partner to survive, dominate and conquer. A massive slew of levels and a ridiculous single controller mode make Schizoid an incredible breath of fresh air for parties and local multiplayer gatherings - and something quite unlike anything you've ever played before.
7: The Fancy Pants Adventures
After making a splash at a few industry events, The Fancy Pants Adventures sadly stalled thanks to, in part, its overshadowing by the 'PSNgate' scandal. Brad Borne's follow-up to his popular Flash platformers is a seriously meaty proposition and is packed with anarchic humour and outrageous multiplayer. Definitely check this one out and support a true indie developer!
You can check out our review for more details.
Aqua is a hammy tale of steampunk swashbuckling on the high seas. And a twinstick shooter. But don't let that put you off, because it's a competent and graphically capable outing with some great weapons and excellent art design. A recent price drop has reduced Aqua to 400 Microsoft Points, making it a thoroughly attractive impulse buy.
It also has possibly the best avatar award of all time: a full naval dress uniform complete with gold braid and a nifty hat.
XBLA prices are on the rise and sadly Darwinia+was caught in the crossfire. 1200 Microsoft Points is a big ask, but one that's totally justified once you consider the quality on offer. Darwinia's wireframe universe presents a hybrid between real-time strategy and action that defies description, along with a bevy of multiplayer modes to immerse yourself in. You'll rarely encounter a game with such coherent visual design and brilliant pacing, and though you can pick it up on the PC for next to nothing, the XBLA version more than earns its asking price.
4: Trouble Witches NEO
Saying that Trouble Witches NEO is vaguely reminiscent of Deathsmiles would be a major understatement, but thankfully, it takes its inspiration from a very good place. Sugary sweet visuals and cute characters belie a seriously impressive shooter with a perfect difficulty curve, slick controls and enough bullet dodging to satisfy even the most exacting Cave aficionados.
Trouble Witches NEO is a young upstart that feels like an arcade thoroughbred - meaning that SHMUP fans should definitely cue up the trial without delay.
3: Zeno Clash Ultimate Edition
I've never played a game this bizarre before. It's insane. Crazy. Mad. Ridiculous. And utterly brilliant. Zeno Clash is an indie first person brawler set in a wonderfully fleshed-out universe, and features a twisted storyline alongside truly brutal melee combat.
One moment, you'll be assaulting a one man band with a pair of fish... and then pounding a six-breasted rat girl into the ground with a massive hammer. Zeno Clash defies belief, shatters conventions and redefines what first person games can offer - so I'd urge you to check out our full review and the trial as soon as possible.
2: Madballs: Babo Invasion
Madballs: Babo Invasion has no right to be as good as it is. Conventional wisdom dictates that a game based on an obscure toy license should suck beyond all reason, yet it actually delivers a fantastic team-based shooter packed with classes, unlockables and a revolutionary gametype that revolves around dynamically creating your own maps before each battle. Numerous weapons and abilities make for a hectic online experience that's bolstered by a huge singleplayer campaign.
And hardly anyone bought it. Shame on you. Shame! The only thing that Madballs lacks is players to populate its servers, and I hope that I'll see a few of you on there in the near future.
1: Greed Corp
Gatling Gears, the twinstick shooter from Vanguard Games, has been selling well over the last couple of months... but did you know that it's based on the Greed Corp universe? This brave strategy title flew in the face of conventional wisdom by contending that turn-based cerebral tactics could work on Xbox Live Arcade, and lo, it absolutely does.
Each match is a bite-sized morsel of strategy goodness that brims over with destructible terrain and steampunk shenanigans. It's perfectly balanced, easy to learn and accessible on an Xbox 360 controller - packing the action and thrills of a title four times its price. You owe it to yourself to swallow your preconceptions and give Greed Corp a fair go.
Right folks, it's time to do your bit. Shout out to your favourite hidden gems in the comments, and let your fellow readers know what they might have missed!