This week's selection of Xbox Live Indie Games may be light on quantity, but quality and value have been ramped up to absolutely insane levels. 80 Microsoft Points - about sixty eight pence to us Brits - will net you a cavalcade of monstrous multiplayer racing or slick singleplayer shooting, and it's been incredibly difficult to choose which of the two standout titles deserve our Game Of The Week award.
If you've got some spare points floating around, you should treat yourself to both. After all, they might not be around forever...
Avatar Grand Prix 2
Developer: Battenberg Software
Avatar racing games have been around ever since Microsoft allowed Indie developers access to the toolkit, and we've seen plenty of Mario Kart-style arcade racers over the last few years. However, Avatar Grand Prix 2 is probably the best of the lot: a polished and mechanically brilliant experience that packs an inordinate amount of content into its tiny £0.68 price tag.
Karting games typically live or die on the strength of their controls, and Avatar Grand Prix 2 has absolutely nailed the fundamentals. Steering your Kart is responsive and effortless, with perfectly-weighted drifting mechanics allowing you to powerslide through corners and give yourself a speed boost if you maintain long enough. The tracks are well-designed if a little on the short side, featuring plenty of randomised powerups to collect and brutalise your seven fellow AI racers with. Rockets, force fields, mines and bombs (amongst others) all have their uses - and amazingly, they all actually work properly. Avatar Grand Prix 2 puts the likes of Jungle Kartz to shame, and for a fraction of the cost.
It also looks better than most Wii karting games. Avatar Grand Prix 2 is really rather pretty by Xbox Live Indie three dimensional game standards, and displays nary a glitch. It goes without saying that the visuals are fairly primitive by current-gen standards, but they're crisp and colourful enough to impress nonetheless.
For your money, you'll get twelve tracks, full Grand Prix championship mode complete with qualifying laps and multiple difficulty settings, quick races and time trials... which, of course, are best enjoyed with a few friends. You can race with up to three mates in split-screen head to head, evoking simpler times of crowding round a telly and punching your rivals when they sandbag you with a powerup at the last corner. If you're feeling a little more adventurous (or just want the screen to yourself), you can also hop online where up to eight players are supported by some reasonable netcode.
Avatar Grand Prix 2 is a smorgasbord of content, multiplayer shenanigans and old-school thrills that doesn't scrimp on the basic mechanics. For 80 Points, you simply can't go wrong.
Developer: Nostatic Software
Voxels are all the rage at the moment thanks to the runaway success of that mining, crafting game. I forget the name exactly. Indie developers certainly like to fall back on the increasingly clichéd visual style as it allows them to produce a nifty looking title without much in the way of graphical grunt, and one look at Block Zombies' title suggests that Nostatic Software have decided to put two tired conventions together as a lazy cash-in.
Except that this isn't the case. At all. Block Zombies is a damn fine shooter in its own right, and one that could have easily topped this roundup.
I shouldn't have to describe what a dual-stick shooter is at this point, so I'll get right down to brass tacks. Block Zombies throws you into combat against ravening hordes of voxelicious undead foes, giving you just a simple pistol to fend off the swarms as best you can. But this is where Nostatic Software throw out the rulebook in favour of something infinitely more satisfying. Instead of boring waves and cramped arenas, Block Zombies sets you continually-changing objectives such as draining power crystals or assassinating key enemies throughout a massive overworld map - and continually beefs up your arsenal with new weapons, items and upgrades to trick out your boomsticks as you see fit. It's an evolving and engaging triumph... and naturally, those voxel visuals are utterly adorable to behold.
Mind you, some multiplayer would have been nice.
Block Zombies does the business. If you enjoy shooting things (virtual things, preferably), consider this an essential purchase.
Ocean Drive Challenge
Outrun is one of my favourite driving games of all time, and I was delighted to discover that someone has taken a run at creating a functional clone. Ocean Drive Challenge allows you to pick three characters and race through sun-drenched environments, nattering away about past conquests while dodging the insane amount of traffic. The graphics are particularly impressive if a little simplistic; halfway between a SNES era homage, a cartoon and a rotoscoped selection of stock images. It shouldn't work as well as it does. But it does.
Ocean Drive Challenge certainly isn't perfect by any means. The repetitive written dialogue can start to grate, there are no branching routes and the raw mechanics are more akin to an on-rails game rather than a true driving game. But if you're a fan of Outrun or all things retro, you could do a lot worse than enjoying a few minutes of nostalgic fun.