The fact that the greatest Xbox Indie games are buried under tat like Baby Maker Extreme and Dont B Nervous Talking 2 Girls [sic] makes their discovery seem all that more special.
Some damning praise for the way Microsoft manages the service, there. Perhaps we should be glad that Microsoft has never really shown any interest in capitalising on the Xbox 360’s indie service. That said, it wouldn’t be an entirely bad thing – those deserving of more than just a postage-stamp sized advert on the dashboard may have ended up receiving a bit more press coverage.
To make finding those elusive hidden gems easier, we’ve rounded-up five of the best.
Like the name suggests, Arcadecraft offers the chance to construct and manage your own arcade. It’s a concept that’s so utterly ingenious that you have to wonder why nobody else has thought of it before.
The journey into arcade ownership begins in the early ‘80s, commencing with a brief chat with the arcade’s bookkeeper Lisa. “So you want to try and make some money off this videogame fad?” she questions, before asking you to give your establishment a name that “won’t offend the neighbours”. A $12,500 loan is then at your disposal, which is enough to buy two or three machines to get things started.
Attention to detail is miraculous throughout – the first batch of cabinets available are simple black and white space shooters, paving the way for machines with coloured screens, sit-down cocktail tables and more. Due to the obvious reason the game names are entirely fictional but those well-versed with all things retro will easily spot their influences. Super Contractor Twins, anyone?
Up to 30 cabinets can be placed in the arcade at once with new machines available to purchase every 10-15 minutes or so. It’s also possible to spend profits on improving the arcade’s interior with different colour schemes, neon signs, vending machines and a jukebox that improves the overall atmosphere no end. If your business really takes off then it’s a good idea to hire a helper – popular machine’s coin boxes fill up as quickly as you can empty them.
Like all good simulation games, Arcadecraft does a superb job of keeping you on your toes. Troublemakers have to be thrown out, machines kept in working order, and their prices adjusted accordingly in regards to popularity. Even older machines can suddenly become money makers again if the price is dropped low enough. Random events likewise keep things interesting, including appearances from celebrity gamers that can provide a popularity boost if they manage to beat their high score, and travelling businessmen offering import cabinets unobtainable elsewhere.
Since being released early last year, Canadian developer Firebase Industries have updated Arcadecraft numerous times, adding pinball machines, an achievement-style ‘Milestone’ system and the ability to play beyond 1986 – the year the game rather abruptly ended when it was first released.
Polished and instantly engaging, Arcadecraft is a clear labour of love and a credit – no pun intended – to the Xbox Indie service.
Super Amazing Wagon Adventure
A parody of educational PC game The Oregon Trail, Super Amazing Wagon Adventure tells the tale of three randomly chosen emigrants migrating west in a rickety wagon.
With dragons, buffalo stampedes and trippy mushroom-fuelled twin-stick shooting sections developer Sparsevector has obviously had some fun bending the story of the legendary trip countless Americans took. Actually, buffalo stampedes may have happened – we were never forced to play The Oregon Trail while at school. Or even learn about it. You can ask us anything you like about the bubonic plague though.
It’s easy to dismiss this scrolling shooter as crudely drawn pixilated nonsense, but to do so would be unwise. Under those supersized 8-bit visuals lies a game that’s surprisingly clever and curious addictive with it. Bullet formations and enemy attack patterns soon become recognisable, and so every time you play chances are you’ll get that little bit further.
Sequences are randomised too. Just when you think you’ve seen everything and faced every outcome of every decision, something will occur out of the blue…including a trip into space.
There’s also an incredibly dark sense of humour to it, most notable during the grizzly text-based descriptions of how the characters met their demise. It’s perfectly acceptable to laugh out loud at these. Well, we think so, anyway.
The music is also worth a mention – each chip-tune is as infectious as the last, bound to linger in your earlobes for days to come.
White Noise Online
A group of explorers find themselves tasked with locating six tape recorders while under the cover of darkness. The twist? Evil lurks in the shadows – stare at it for even a second too long and you’ll go insane. This almost happened to us back in the ’90s while trying to figure out a Magic Eye puzzle.
Sound plays a critical part of the experience, as does a clever use of lighting and shadow effects. The only way to survive the lingering demons is by catching a glimpse of them with your torch well in advance, and then making a run for it. As the intrepid adventurers run for their lives they puff and pant, while the wind can be heard whistling through the trees and such. Atmosphere is tense – a fact that can also be attributed to this being one of the most visually accomplished Xbox Indie titles.
Sound is the also the only means of locating the tape recorders – the ‘white noise’ they emit becomes louder as you approach.
Online play is available to make the task at hand easier, with each character having their own perks that they can bring to the team.
For better or worse, it’s the nearest we’ll ever get a Blair Witch Project videogame. That’s providing we ignore that such a thing does actually exist, anyway.
One Finger Death Punch
This simple yet pleasing beat’em begins with a rather brash warning not to button bash. It may seem like a confrontational way to begin a game, but it’s a justifiable one. Bashing the buttons won’t get you far in his brawler – it’s all about elegant timing, with little leeway with error.
Enemies that attack from the left are defeated with a simple push of the X button, while those who approach from the right are defeated with the B button. They can only be defeated when they approach the coloured markers to the left and right of the centrally placed lead character – an incredibly nondescript stickman.
Soon you’ll find yourself “in the zone”, tapping rhythmically on the pad while the stickman unleashes slow-mo, weapon-based and bone breaking attacks on the hordes of enemies. Later levels add colour-coded foes, and then eventually enemies that require a list of button prompts to defeat.
Presentation is lavish – artwork and backdrops are nicely drawn, while a suitably oriental chap provides the narration. If it wasn’t the fact that that the stickmen veer on the ugly side, this could easily pass as a fully fledged XBLA title. In all honestly, that’s about the only grumble we have with it.
Mount Your Friends
Did you ever own one of those plastic figures with sticky arms that would tumble down whatever surface they were thrown onto? Mount Your Friends reminds us of those notoriously cheap toys, with the aim being to form a tower of the bizarre looking super sticky sportsmen.
The more characters added to the pile, the tougher the climb to the top gets. Oh, and for some unknown reason there’s a goat buried at the bottom of the bundle. Goat of the year!
The time-limit is tight, but the real genius lies in the control system. Each appendage is allocated a button on the controller, and so to get the gloriously goofy characters moving at a fast pace requires some thought into which limb should be moved first and where. The physics engine allows them to get into all kinds of awkward looking positions, limbs flapping everywhere. And they have wangs that wobble around whenever they move. Perverse? Yes. Hilarious? Absolutely.
Sixty five pence is a small price to pay for something that’s bound to make you giggle like an immature schoolboy. It’s a surprisingly comprehensive package too, offering one-vs-one play, an online mode and the chance to design your own well endowed muscle man.
If a sequel is ever made, we suggest the subtitle ‘Ding Dong Merrily on High’.