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The Best Xbox Live Indie Games of 2011 - 10 Games for Less Than $25

The problem with Xbox Indie Games is that the vast majority of games on the service are awful. That was true at the beginning, and it's still true now. The games are so bad that the public rating system is nearly useless—anything even mildly interesting gets four stars, because at least it's not as bad as Zombie Avatarcraft 20XX or Massage Pirates Episode One. It's no wonder Microsoft seems intent on burying the service into obscurity with each new dashboard update.

What sets the following ten games apart from the rest is that these are real, legitimate games. They have polish, production values, and some honest gameplay depth. They're as legitimate as many Xbox Live Arcade releases, and you can buy all ten games for less than $25. Even better? They're independent games, meaning many of them offer fresh and unique gameplay experiences you won't get from even the best of this year's mainstream releases.

 

10. Aban Hawkins & The 1000 SPIKES – 80pts

Aban Hawkins opens with a simple premise – survive through a gauntlet of traps and do it with a seemingly ample 1000 lives. What makes the game so great is the devious effort it takes to extract every last one of those lives from you right from the very start. Much like a Super Meat Boy or Limbo, Aban Hawkins relies on a lot of trial and error to progress, so it isn't for everyone, but once you're effortlessly navigating traps that took a dozen attempts to solve, you'll know you're playing something special.

9. Solar 2 – 400pts

Any game that is more of a relaxing play space than a legitimate challenge needs to have a good hook to be worthwhile. The original Solar had this problem. With very little to actually sink your teeth into, and a very bare-bones presentation, it didn't hold your attention for long. Solar 2, on the other hand, makes its sales pitch within 30 seconds, dropping you into the big bang (complete with famous Carl Sagan quote). This may be a bit of a stoner game, but it's also space porn at its finest.

8. DLC Quest – 80pts

This platforming adventure game could have been little more than cheap commentary on the state of excessive downloadable content. Instead, it puts its premise to clever use, turning the concept of purchasing DLC into a mini-Metroidvania game. This is the perfect game for a dollar—charming, clever, and easily beaten within an hour or so.

7. Dead Pixels – 80pts

I almost hate to encourage any more zombie-related releases on the Xbox Indie channel, but Dead Pixels is too good to deny. The basic gameplay is more or less Streets of Rage with guns and zombies, but the addition of engaging RPG mechanics and resource management makes the game undeniably addicting. Add in some very charming grindhouse presentation and co-op play, and you have a game that's criminally enjoyable for a dollar.

6. BloodyCheckers – 80pts

The screenshot above may not feature any actual checkers, but rest assured the crux of BloodyCheckers is the simple game we all know and love. The catch is that it's framed within a King's Field-esque first-person dungeon crawl complete with companions, quests, and shops. Of all the games in the list, this may be the most value for your dollar.

5. Escape Goat – 240pts

Clever title aside, Escape Goat is a puzzle platformer with an old school aesthetic and an almost Jeff Minter-esque fascination with farm animals. Playing as the title character, you'll traverse gauntlets of buzz saws and fireball-tossing reapers with the help of a mouse and teleporting powers. It's an innocent premise aided by some fantastically clever puzzle-solving gameplay.

4. Blocks That Matter – 240pts

Blocks That Matter has the advantage of indie cred beyond Xbox Live Indie Games. The game is most likely better known as a Steam release on PC, but you'll be happy to know you can get the same experience on 360. It's another puzzle platformer like Escape Goat, but this one requires some careful thinking, as the blocks really do matter, and one wrong move could leave you with no escape.

3. Wizorb – 240pts

Puzzle Quest is to Bejeweled as Wizorb is to Breakout. That's the quickest way to describe Wizorb, but it ignores the fact that this may be the best version of the block-breaking classic to come along since the original. RPG elements eliminate much of the frustrating moments of traditional Breakout, and also give you a chance to explore a town full of NPCs. A great art style and old school soundtrack round out a surprisingly polished XBLIG release.

2. Cursed Loot – 80pts

There may be no better way to dabble in the roguelike genre than with Cursed Loot. While it may lack a lot of the crazy scenarios possible in games like Dwarf Fortress, it captures the main pillars of the genre (permanent death and randomly generated dungeons) with a pleasant interface and simple controls. If you've ever wondered what the appeal of this genre is, you owe it to yourself to play Cursed Loot.

1. T.E.C. 3001 - 240pts

Easily the most fun and impressive release on XBLIG in a long time, T.E.C. 3001 brings the autorunner genre of games like Robot Unicorn Attack, Canabalt, and Jetpack Joyride into the third dimension. The result is one of the first game types to make the move from 2D to 3D and legitimately feel like an entirely new dimension of fun and depth has been added. It's one of the few genuinely thrilling experiences on XBLIG.

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Joe Donato Video games became an amazing, artful, interactive story-driven medium for me right around when I played Panzer Dragoon Saga on Sega Saturn. Ever since then, I've wanted to be a part of this industry. Somewhere along the line I, possibly foolishly, decided I'd rather write about them than actually make them. So here I am.
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