December 21, 2012 10:00 AM | Danny Cowan
Between Xbox Live Arcade and the Xbox Live Indie Games service, Xbox 360 owners have no shortage of great indie games to choose from. While XBLIG represents an untamed frontier largely suited for experimentation, Xbox Live Arcade is a haven for polished, focused efforts from some of the industry's most talented creators.
This year saw the release of many great indie-produced efforts for Xbox Live Arcade. These are our favorites.
10. Pid (Might and Delight)
Pid had me intrigued ever since its first trailer launched. The dreamy aesthetic is instantly appealing, and its unique gravity-shifting gameplay mechanics are explored in new and interesting ways throughout.
While Pid launched to mixed reviews (thanks largely to its unforgiving checkpoint system), Might and Delight has been hard at work fixing the game's uneven difficulty curve, and recently released a patch that rebalances some of its more troublesome areas. Thanks to the efforts of a dedicated team that continues to support it even after its release, Pid's mechanics truly shine.
9. Awesomenauts (Ronimo Games)
League of Legends and Defense of the Ancients are as impenetrably complex as ever, but if you want the MOBA genre boiled down in an easy-to-grasp summary, Awesomenauts is for you.
I'd never touched a MOBA before, but after playing Awesomenauts for a few minutes, I was hooked. The skillful side-scrolling presentation keeps the experience fresh and frantic throughout each match. It's unfortunate that the single-player element is somewhat lacking, but the multiplayer aspect is second-to-none among console real-time strategy games.
8. Joe Danger 2: The Movie (Hello Games)
Subtitled "The Movie," the filmmaking aspect of Joe Danger 2 is what truly sets it apart as a more interesting, more polished experience than the original game...which was already a lot of fun to begin with!
The movie backlot setting gave developer Hello Games ample opportunity to play around with Joe Danger's familiar mechanics and explore new territory with creative gameplay objectives. Though some challenges are frustrating due to their difficulty, the core gameplay is fun enough that you'll keep playing even after Joe fails to stop that stupid jerk butt getaway van for the thirtieth time.
7. Fez (Polytron)
Fez drew criticism for its extended development time, and new controversy sprouts up seemingly every time outspoken creator Phil Fish opens his mouth. Taken on its own merits, however, the multiple IGF award-winning Fez remains a remarkable achievement in its genre and for Xbox Live Arcade.
Despite its unassuming exterior, Fez harbors a ton of secrets, and the experience will surprise you with how hard it makes you flex your brain muscles. Even after completing the game, you'll come away from the experience wondering if there are still hidden mysteries yet to be solved.
6. Warp (Trapdoor)
Warp is unexpectedly gory. Granted, it's by necessity, but for a game starring such a cute alien creature, Warp's over-the-top violence is quite surprising.
It's also evidence of developer Trapdoor's refusal to compromise its vision. Warp could have been retooled to appeal to a wider audience, but it would have risked losing its identity in the process. Thanks to Trapdoor's unwavering design sensibility, Warp was able to show us the joys of exploding the human body from within -- many times over -- within the context of a creative action-puzzler.
5. Quarrel (Denki)
Denki's word-building game Quarrel turned heads when it launched at a $5 price point earlier this year. Offering a lengthy single-player campaign and satisfyingly strategic multiplayer modes, it remains one of the best values on the Xbox Live Marketplace to date.
Make sure you play the multiplayer mode only with trusted friends, however; Quarrel's gameplay is easily solved with online anagram makers, and playing against random players is an exercise in misery. Lesson learned, then: don't play with jerks.
4. Minecraft (Mojang / 4J Studios)
For many, Mojang's enduringly popular Minecraft was an epiphany -- a truly open sandbox world limited only by your own imagination. For me, Minecraft presented so many options that I was overwhelmed, and during my time spent with the PC version, I was never sure if I was playing the game correctly or wasting my time.
The Xbox 360 version of Minecraft presented almost as many options as the PC edition, but thanks to the inclusion of tutorials and achievements, it also added structure to the experience. With some helpful prodding from 4J Studios, I finally understood what made Minecraft so satisfying (yesssss I finally found diamonds), heartbreaking (nooooo I fell in the lava and lost all of my equipment), and terrifying (hey what's that hissing sounOH GOD).
3. Mark of the Ninja (Klei)
Klei Entertainment builds on the success of its Shank series with an enthralling, original take on the stealth genre, and I couldn't be happier with the results. Mark of the Ninja empowers players with a wealth of tactical options, and the result is some of the most fun I've had with a stealth-action game since the original Tenchu.
Even if you're not a fan of stealth games, you need to play this. Mark of the Ninja deftly sidesteps many of the frustrations common to the genre, leaving only a brutally satisfying core experience.
2. Dust: An Elysian Tail (Humble Hearts)
I'm a sucker for Metroidvania-styled games, but I've played enough of them to recognize their common faults. Happily, Dust: An Elysian Tail is well-built throughout, and I can't imagine anyone coming away from the experience disappointed.
Creator Dean Dodrill reveals many of the issues that hampered Dust's production in a recent Gamasutra postmortem, and it's gratifying to see his years of difficult work reflected in a polished, charming, thoroughly enjoyable final product.
1. Spelunky (Mossmouth)
Spelunky is fun even when you suck at it. It's rewarding even when it's played recklessly. Every long fall, every unnoticed trap, and every inevitable death teaches you something new about the game and how you can do better. And you'll want to do better.
I admit that I haven't yet reached the end of Spelunky, but that's mainly because I'm having so much fun running through the earlier levels and learning their intricacies (also, I can never resist the temptation to steal from shopkeepers, and they're always happy to murder me). In this case, the journey itself is so much fun and so full of randomly generated surprises that I don't really care if I ever reach the destination.