Once again, we've delved deep into the murky waters of Xbox Live Indie Games and surfaced to bring you five of the best and brightest.
Kong360: Gorilla Warfare
Developer: SpaceDude & Kiwi
Buy/Get Demo (240MSP)
Timesplitters taught us that monkeys and guns are an instant recipe for fun- and Kong360 doesn't disappoint. Imagine Unreal Tournament reimagined as a brightly coloured twinstick shooter starring psychopathic gorillas and you're somewhere near the mark. Your ape's controls are mapped to the analogue sticks, with the ability to jump, walljump and change weapons within easy reach. Basically, if you've ever played a twinstick shooter before...scratch that... since you've all played a twinstick shooter before, you'll quickly be able to jump straight into the action. Being able to change your trajectory is a little offputting at first, but you'll soon get used to it.
The weapon selection will be familiar to most FPS fans. Machine guns, shotguns, rocket launchers and a tremendously powerful banana bomb provide a solid (if small) arsenal, but Unreal Tournament fans will be delighted with the shock rifle. Much like the classic ASMD, the secondary fire launches a slow-moving energy ball that can be detonated to create a massive shockwave!
The fusion of addictive FPS deathmatch and CTF mechanics with the accessibility of twinstick shooters makes for an impressive little singleplayer experience- but the real draw of Kong360 is its competitive multiplayer. Whilst drop-in 8 player Xbox Live deathmatches are supported, you'll probably find it difficult to find a populated game (hopefully the lobbies will fill out over the next few days)- but luckily 4 player splitscreen is perfect for rounding up a crew and engaging in some immediate and engaging gunplay. Throwing down on best mates or total strangers is a lot of fun and makes for a surprisingly tactical experience in capture the flag.
Whilst the small online audience may sadly relegate Kong360 to obscurity in the future, we highly recommend you give this one a go. Besides, the nearest comparable experience is XBLA's Madballs: Babo Invasion... which retails for 800 MSP! Highly recommended.
Buy/Get Demo (240MSP)
Ancient Trader is an engrossing and tactical turn-based board game that invites you to set sail, fight and trade your way to victory. Played on an attractive grid based on an ancient map (replete with plenty of monsters and rival players), you'll need to upgrade your ship's weaponry and acquire enough artifacts to locate and destroy a powerful boss enemy. Naturally, upgrading your galleon will require plenty of money; which you'll earn through simple delivery quests, battling and trading using the at-a-glance stock market.
The twist in the tail is that your opponents are seeking to do exactly the same thing. It's therefore necessary to keep your ship...well, shipshape whilst making sure that you're not falling behind your foes. An accessible three-button card-based battle system and an simple control setup allows you to do just that. Ancient Trader is both easy and fun to play, but there's a huge amount of depth if you're looking for it.
Ancient Trader is a fantastic little title that's fun both alone or with a few friends... but it certainly isn't for everyone. Fans of slower, strategic experiences or board game fanatics will get a huge amount of value from their 240 MSP.
Old School Racer
Buy/Get Demo (80MSP)
Tired of Trials? Can't wait for Joe Danger to appear on XBLA? Luckily, Old School Racer will be more than enough to tide you over. Using the tried-and-tested Trials control scheme (triggers dictate velocity, thumstick controls weight distribution), you'll jump, climb and generally rag your bike around a number of twisted platforming courses. OSR actually provides a genuine edge over the competition by providing 14 unlockable bikes that can be purchased by acquiring carefully-positioned tokens, which in turn increases both the replay value and the addiction factor. Whilst nothing special, the graphics are colourful enough to keep you interested and the soundtrack is fast and funky.
For 80MSP, you can't really go wrong with this one (bar the odd bit of stuttering and frame rate issues). Old School Racer provides quality and value that belie its price tag.
This Is Hard
Developer: Stegersaurus Games
Buy/Get Demo (80MSP)
This is Hard is an attractive platformer with a slick art style, smooth controls and and a sadistic streak a mile wide. You'll race across challenging level, circumvent traps, avoid zombies...and die. And die. AND DIE. If the title didn't already clue you in, This Is Hard is... hard. The difficulty curve is absolutely immense and the challenge is formidable even for veteran gamers.
However, the hardcore "just one more go" mentality is very much intact- and makes for an addictive and worthwhile game when coupled with the excellent presentation. Well worth a look for platform fans, and well worth the 80MSP.
Pwnage of Empires
Buy/Get Demo (80MSP)
The console RTS is fraught with near-misses, big problems and inherent pitfalls- and even the biggest developers haven't been able to get the hang of it. By that logic, a cheap Indie game shouldn't have a chance in hell. Thing is, Pwnage of Empires actually gets a lot right.
As a streamlined RTS with a scalable cursor, selecting groups of units and targeting enemies is a breeze- but at a moment's notice you can jump into direct control of a unit. Pwnage suddenly becomes a twinstick shooter, with skilled players being able to trounce entire armies with a single unit. The balance stems from the fact that you can't manage your base and resources whilst throwing down in direct link mode... do you go for an all out offensive or turtle up? 4-player splitscreen and Xbox Live modes round out the package.
However, weak graphics, repetitive sound effects and other occasional hiccups make Pwnage of Empires a curiosity piece more than anything. It's still worth trying the demo, though- and I hope that EA does the same!
Want to bring a game to our attention? Disagree with our assessments? Drop us a line in the comments!