Cards on the table: this hasn't been a great week for Indie games.
I've lost track of the number of times that the phrase "well, I suppose I've played worse" escaped my lips over the last few days, and apart from a single standout title, you're probably better off spending your Microsoft Points on EvilQuest, L.A.R.A. or Avatar Grand Prix 2.
Still, at least we have a winner.
Toy Stunt Bike 2
Joe Danger: Special Edition costs 1200 Microsoft Points. Trials HD costs 1200 Microsoft Points. And Toy Stunt Bike 2 costs eighty.
Basic mathematics, therefore, suggests that this latest physics-based motocross romp needs to at most 15 times worse than either in order to be worth a purchase - and I'm delighted to report that it's much better than that.
The basics will be instantly familiar to anyone who's familiar with the aforementioned games. Toy Stunt Bike 2 puts your avatar onto a and catapults you through a selection of obstacle courses. The 2.5D perspective and physics engine requires you to maintain perfect balance while jumping over hazards in order to avoid wiping out in spectacular fashion. There's plenty of content on offer, splitscreen functionality and some neat challenges to beat, so your eighty points will go a long way. If you've an Xbox Live Gold subscriber, you can also design and share your own tracks using the bundled level editor - which is slightly clunky but fit for task nevertheless. It's good, honest fun, and shines despite a few rough edges.
If you've unlocked the Joe Danger Avatar awards... and you squint... from ten feet away... you might be able to convince yourself that you're playing Hello Games' latter-day classic.
As always, though, the Avatar framework is a poor choice for any game that requires precise handling and physics (see also: BurgerTime: World Tour). Toy Stunt Bike 2 is floaty and imprecise, yet devastatingly unforgiving when it comes to sticking the landings. You'll get used to the handling after a few minutes, though, and it's worth noting that the 3D graphics are crisp and effective despite being slightly on the drab side.
Toy Stunt Bike 2 is a cheap, cheerful and functional alternative to Joe Danger. At 80 Microsoft Points, it's hard not to recommend.
Oozi: Earth Adventure Episode 3
Oh look. Another Oozi game.
Forgive me if I'm sounding a little more jaded than usual. The original Oozi: Earth Adventure topped one of our Xbox Live Indie roundups when it released nearly a year ago, but since then, the series has been plodding along with little in the way of originality, innovation or anything remotely new to do. At the time, I stated that "future episodes will need to shake up the formula with new abilities and challenges," and this literally hasn't happened.
Which is okay is far as it goes, I guess. Art direction is capable if uninspired, the level design is reasonable (though the same can't be said of the miserable boss fights) and there's just enough content to warrant the 240 point price tag. Worth a go if you've been following the series, but I'm convinced that Awesome Games Studio are capable of so much more. Finish the fight, guys, and then show us what you can really do.
Union Of Armstrong
Union Of Armstrong has everything going for it - and a premise to die for. As a diehard historical organisation devoted to keeping the Apollo Moon Landing site safe from exploitative mining companies, you'll engage in over forty tower defence levels set inside a 3D-rendered moon base. A strong story and a surprisingly competent fictional radio station (that plays original tunes as well as news bulletins and humorous adverts) helps to add real character to the proceedings.
Unfortunately, Union Of Armstrong just isn't much fun to play. The paltry selection of three towers quickly get boring despite a few stat upgrades, and enemy variety is painfully limited. Juggling resources between power, hit points and money is a neat mechanic that never quite becomes as exciting or relevant as it should. And worst of all, the Sunburn engine is wasted on creating a reasonable looking pre-mission environment... which is then overlain by one of the most bland and unappealing tower defence GUIs I've ever seen.
A near-miss, then, but 80 Points is arguably worth paying for the radio station alone. Definitely give the trial version a whirl.