I truly believe that the Indie scene is the last remaining bastion of creativity in the games industry. Microsoft's willingness to welcome bedroom developers onto the Xbox 360 dashboard provides one of the last unique selling points that the console has to offer... but there's a catch. A vast selection of excellent games can be found on the Xbox Live Indie marketplace, but they're usually difficult to find beneath a putrid heap of rushed, lazy and insultingly broken content. To this end, I'll be diving headfirst into said heap every Wednesday in order to select three outstanding Indie titles that deserve your time and money.
Oh, and we'll be picking a winner. There's nothing wrong with a little friendly competition...
Developer: Haiku Interactive
" Oh great, yet another avatar game."
Usually my pre-emptive exasperation is entirely justified. The XBLIG marketplace is crammed full of nasty little avatar apps that drag the entire service's reputation down into the mire right along with their ratings... but in this case, I'm delighted to have discovered one of the finest games on the service to date.
Using the shiny new Sunburn engine and a professional physics library, AvaGlide allows your virtual persona to take to the skies and participate in a selection of addictive minigames. Detailed textures, real-time shadows, water reflections and expansive levels make for a slick little title that genuinely looks a lot better than most Wii games! The physics engine provides your gliding with a accessible yet realistic feel, requiring clever use of updrafts and speed regulation to succeed.
The three minigames on offer includes flying through rings for points and time bonuses, a target-based delivery game that requires you to drop crates onto giant bullseyes and a freeform points-snatching challenge. Whilst there are only three levels (each of which has two selectable times of day), AvaGlide remains surprisingly addictive through a medal system and a dynamic Xbox Live scoreboard. The gamertag and highscore of the next best player sits tauntingly above yours- and it's a real blast to continually own new rivals every few seconds. The three minigames are equally enjoyable in 2-4 player local hotswap multiplayer.
AvaGlide looks and plays a damn sight better than the majority of Xbox Live Indie titles... and in fact, it's a lot more fun than most of the full-price Wii Sports and Wii Play minigames. It may only be a brief and frequent diversion, but considering that it retails at a pocket-friendly 80MSP, AvaGlide wholeheartedly gets my vote as Xbox Live Indie Game of the Week.
Ophidian Wars: Opac's Journey
Developer: Small Cave Games
Ophidian Wars is an atmospheric platformer set in a bizarre and stylish subterranean labyrinth. Taking on the role of the ghoulish Opac, you'll set out on a mysterious mission that gradually reveals itself over the course of a handful of hours. Starting with the bare minimum of skills, you'll soon collect a variety of artefacts, bizarre fruit and equipment that lend Opac some nifty abilities. You'll soon find yourself gliding and wall-grappling your way around the NES-style levels with joyous abandon, discovering secret areas hidden behind destructible panels with the aid of a highly explosive vegetable. The feeling of being truly alone save for some enigmatic ancient messages makes for a powerful and compelling experience.
It was a close call as to whether Ophidian Wars would hit our top spot this week... but unfortunately, a few elementary design flaws hold it back at a very basic level. Many of Opac's abilities are seriously glitched and inappropriately mapped to the same button, which makes seemingly simple manoeuvres extremely frustrating to pull off. The lack of a save function also means that you've got to complete it in a single epic session- and the infuriatingly low ceilings ensure that the tall, gangly protagonist bumps his head every few seconds. It's more annoying than it sounds.
Flaws aside, Opac's journey is still a stylish and nuanced platformer that delivers serious value for your 80MSP. I would recommend it heartily to retro fans and old-schoolers.
Developer: Blendo Games
Kids love computer games. According to my research, the average 21st century child spends around 23.5 hours per day [wait, what? - Ed] playing inappropriately violent and mature titles bought for them by their lazy inattentive parents [stop it. - Ed]... and if even a few minutes of this time could be leveraged into learning, we could usher in a new golden age of digital education. Enter Blendo Games (of Flotilla fame), with an attempt to deliver a half-decent edutainment title.
Air Forte lets kids fly around a cute cartoon world in a cute cartoon biplane; solving maths, geography and vocabulary problems by bumping into bubbles and avoiding traps. The story (such as it is) is presented in lavish and frequently hilarious comic panels which are as fun to watch as the game is to play. Four player co-op is included in the package, which delivers a considerable saving at 400MSP compared to the $15 PC price point.
As an edutainment title, most gamers should steer well clear of this one- but parents ought to seriously consider letting their kids have a go. They'll enjoy the bright colours... and hey, they might even learn something.