Make no mistake, ladies and gentlemen: this has been one of the best weeks for Xbox Live Indie games that I've ever witnessed. The quality of some of the titles on offer is absolutely astounding; rivalling their full-price XBLA brothers in terms of length, mechanics and graphics. In fact, it's been so good that I've had to declare two joint winners.
Don't you dare download that avatar outfit. Buy these games instead.
Blocks That Matter
Blocks That Matter is one of the most polished, rewarding and plain great platformers that I've had yet to see on the Indie marketplace - and in fact, that I've played in recent weeks.
Sod the usual preamble, because it's time to delve into exactly why this sweet Swedish smorgasbord deserves your 240 Microsoft Points.
After the developers, Swing Swing Submarine, are kidnapped Misery-style in order to finish their anticipated title, it transpires that they weren't actually working on a game at all. Rather, they created an experimental drilling robot, and it's up to the plucky little automaton to rescue its creators from captivity and certain death. To do so, players will guide it through intricate levels and use its powerful drill to destroy blocks of scenery that stand in your way.
So far, so basic, but as the title clearly states: the blocks of matter... matter. You collect them Minecraft-style once destroyed, and can then reassemble them into tetrominoes that form new platforms and staircases to access new areas. The puzzles are clever, the platforming mechanics are floaty yet precise and, quite frankly, the anarchic sense of humour and snappy writing makes this little an absolute gem.
The presentation also deserves a mention. Detailed, high resolution sprites and smooth animations make Blocks That Matter look absolutely exceptional (rivalling even full-price XBLA downloads) - and the minimalist art design serves to create a feast for the eyes.
Blocks That Matter is everything you could want from an Indie platformer - and thoroughly deserves to become a breakthrough hit. In a week of exceptional quality, it still stands tall as a polished, professional and outstanding title... and thus, you should download the demo without further ado.
The Last Pod Fighter
Atari's recent reboot of Star Raiders was absolutely terrible... but don't despair, space combat fans. Fighter9 is here, superhero style, to give you your fix of intense laser dogfighting in the shape of The Last Pod Fighter.
In any other week, this would have been my standout pick - and is a worthy joint winner this time around.
Commanding a powerful fighter, you'll weave and dodge your way through enormous asteroid-strewn arenas, using slick and accessible Rogue Squadron controls that give you free range of motion rather than tethering you to invisible rails. Barrel rolls and boosts provide you with multiple ways to evade enemy fire and close with swarms of opposing fighters, which eventually allow you to duke it out with massive armoured capital ships for points and glory.
Killing enemies rewards you with various pods that can be triggered with a jab of their respective face button. Upgraded weapons, health boosts, nuclear explosions and even slow motion can turn the tide of battle - and provide more depth than most arcade space combat outings.
Oh, and the graphics. The graphics. This is one of the smoothest 3D engines I've seen on the Indie Games marketplace, and it's used to devastating effect. Though the pod fighter itself looks a bit silly. This niggling gripe aside, The Last Pod Fighter looks as great as it plays - and it plays beautifully.
The Last Pod Fighter is an visceral, capable and slick arcade space shooter that provides obscene value for 68 pence. For the love of Allard, download it immediately.
10 Amazingly Awful Games
Boddicker Games managed to ace one of our previous Indie Game Of The Week roundups with their raucous and deep space shooter ETMD... that only fifty people bought. Fifty. Shame on you!
Anyway, they're back with a more mass-market title this time around. Despite its name, 10 Amazingly Awful games is essentially a compilation of capable clones of classic arcade games that delivers seriously impressive bang for your single buck. Breakout, Pac-Man, Space Invaders and even a fully-featured poker app all make an appearance, and rather than rushed and broken little, they're actually very well balanced and provide responsive, fluid mechanics. Local multiplayer for up to four players is also supported by a few of the games, making this a perfect impulse buy that you'll find yourself booting up to kill time between larger gaming sessions.
10 Amazingly Awful Games doesn't live up to its name... which in this case, is a very good thing. It's a slick and surprisingly solid compilation that more than earns your respect as well as your points.