The word “indie” has a romanticism attached to it that appeals to the screw-the-man sympathies held by many gamers. Indie games are shorter and less extravagant than the triple-A titles that we hate and buy in droves, but they often provide a unique experience in the way that only a true labor of love can. Chances are that every frat boy has played Modern Warfare 2 (though perhaps only as a drinking game - take a shot every time you get shot in the face!). Real gamers know and love lesser-played titles like Limbo and Braid.
But there is a dark side to the indie scene. Occasionally a creative masterpiece is born in the crucible of limited resources, but most of the time tiny budgets result in cheap-and-crappy games that should never have been released from the minds of their developers. Xbox Live’s Indie Arcade, which lets anyone make a game and put it up for sale, provides ample evidence of this. There are hoards of sub-par titles available, and many of the games don’t even work properly. But there are a few games that stand out from the crowd as steaming examples of what happens when you lift the velvet rope of quality assurance for any geek off the street.
This game is the Xbox version of Youtube videos featuring moderately hot girls who babble about their pampered lives and soak up the admiration of lonely men.
Framed as a trivia game, each question is delivered by a video recording of an attractive blond girl who I assume is named Cassie. She talks as slowly as possible and often prolongs the moment by making stupid faces at the camera or twirling her hair. You can’t answer the questions until she finishes being a drama queen and there are only 39 questions in the entire game.
Avatar High Five!
Rhythm games depend heavily on presentation, and usually work best when you feel like you're doing something cool, like say, rocking out on stage. Giving your avatar a high five isn’t cool. The developer of Avatar High Five! at least was able to recognize that, but unfortunately his solution to the problem was to add a "fist bump" option.
This exciting game lets you play the role of a detective desperately working against the clock to find a serial killer who is murdering innocent folk in a local hotel!
Oh, wait…no. Hotel Danger is just a screwed up memory game where you unveil two “doors” (i.e. cards) at a time. If they two doors contain innocent people, they live, but if you uncover one serial killer and one innocent, the innocent person is killed.
So, a murder mystery-themed game of memory sounds decent, but here’s the kicker – the killer’s location is occasionally randomized as you play, so there is no point to remembering anything at all.
Combat Tanks looks like the pet project of a twelve year old kid excited by a pirated 3D rendering program that he just finished downloading to his parent’s computer. Textures, when they even exist, are applied with wanton disrespect for the player’s corneas.
And then there are the controls – my God, the controls! If you ever wanted to know what it would be like to pilot a tank while having double-shot lattes pumped directly into your veins this is the game for you. The real kicker, however, is the price – this gigantic turd costs 240 MS points. That’s $3! You’re better off giving it to a bum in exchange for a punch in the face.
“Hey Bob, this Mario Kart game is great!”
“You’re right, Jeff. But I feel like something this missing.”
“Gee, Bob. What if we made a game just like it, but instead of making the karts handle well, we could make them handle like footballs!”
“My God, Jeff, we’ll be rich!”
For a moment – just a hint of a moment – I thought that Seaside Racing would be a decent game. The graphics are only somewhat terrible and the untextured shoe I’d been put in charge of accelerated quickly.
Then I hit a bump and everything went to hell as my apparently feather-weight car flipped endlessly. The tracks include various stunts and shortcuts, and the football physics kick in the instant that your wheels leave the ground. If you’re lucky you’ll land flat and be able to keep racing, but nine times out of ten you’ll land only slightly off center and go careening into the scenery.
I think this game might be trolling me. You might think that this is a tower defense game from the title, but it is actually about shooting poorly rendered boats with a cannon turret. There are no power ups and no alternate fire modes. The ships don’t shoot back. Hell, there doesn’t even seem to be a fail state because boats that make it past your cannon fire do nothing but disappear.
The weirdest thing about the game, however, is the optional quiz mode that presents you with scanned text from history books and asks you questions about them. Maybe this is someone’s idea of a joke, but I like to imagine that it’s the work of a cracked history teacher desperate to find a way to make those damn kids in the back of the room pay attention.