The other other side of Xbox Live
It takes a person of true grit to brave the weird and unpredictable shores of Xbox Live's indie games section and uncover the gems buried deep within. Simply finding this section of Xbox Live's storefront is an achievement unto itself. If you somehow manage to stumble upon it, you'll be rewarded with a seemingly endless supply of dirt-cheap, small-scale games. Many of these are either Minecraft clones, softcore pornography, or both (who wants that!?), but rest assured there are some quality entries hiding among all the crap.
Today, the service has long been abandoned in favor of ID@Xbox for Xbox One, but you can still hunt down these great games to fill out your Xbox 360 library on the cheap. These are our favorites, and many of them play unlike anything you'd typically find on consoles. The entire XBLIG program has a style and humor all its own - and while it does spawn a lot of junk - it also breathes life into some really fun games that may not have found a home otherwise.
Amazing Princess Sarah
A bit like: A million 8-bit games that never existed
The bar for platform games on Xbox 360 is high, but dig into the annals of Xbox Live Indie Games and you can find this gem. Ignore the bosom-heavy boxart and tepid name, and youll uncover a tricky, clever and remarkably consistent platformer.
Amazing Princess Sarah feels like a relic, a forgotten gem lifted from a bygone 8-bit era. Sarah has to use the scenery to eliminate enemies, or even use the corpses of those enemies to defeat others, all while mastering a level of pixel-perfect platform action. If theres one downside, its that it gets extraordinarily, unpleasantly difficult towards the end. If youre up for the challenge, though, this will push you to your platforming limits.
A bit like: Viewtiful Joe
The boxart does Bleed a disservice. It shows a cartoon girl with pink hair and a gun the type of retro-tinged genericism that fades into the background on XBLIG. But ignore Bleed at your peril this is one of the finest action games youll find on the Xbox 360.
The framework is that of a 2D action game, the type you might have enjoyed back on the Mega Drive or Super Nintendo back in the 90s. Yet theres so much more here. Bleed combines a brilliant slow-motion mechanic with a lightning-quick dodge to move through bullets like a neon-pink Neo, and an endless supply of ammo makes for a 2D platform shooter that is almost peerless in its action. It only takes around an hour to plough through, but the real beauty is in replaying on higher difficulty.
Cthulhu Saves the World
A bit like: H.P. JOKEScraft
Cthulhu Saves the World is a straight parody of the turn-based RPGs of our past. You play as Cthulhu - the slumbering, tentacled god dreamed up by horror writer H.P. Lovecraft - only this Cthulhu is a bit more snarky than in his source material and fights by strategically driving his enemies insane (which is true to the source material).
Cthulhu is looking for a way to reawaken his powers, and is set upon by a young woman, named Umi, who is smitten by his roughish charms. Such a combination could have easily doomed this game to an endless parade of bad jokes and rudimentary gameplay. Thankfully, this game avoids such pitfalls and opens up into an expansive RPG with a great sense of humor.
A bit like: DayZ... at a stretch
Okay, it couldnt be a list of ten XBLIG games without any zombies at all. On the surface, this looks like a stupidly simple shooter. Pixel-art man uses a shotgun to blast pixel-art zombies. Eat, sleep, zombie, repeat.
Except, its not actually that simple. Its no match for DayZ, but it is a proper survival game, where the ammo is short and the difficulty is high. Yes, you do have to shoot zombies, but you also have to carefully manage resources. Loot a shop and find a bog roll? Well you can probably sell that for enough cash to buy another box of shotgun shells. Or do you keep hold of it in case you need food? Its survivalism distilled, and a steal at 69p.
A bit like: Reddit
If youre fed up with the piecemeal way modern games are being delivered these days, then DLC Quest might just be the antidote youre after. An action platformer with pixel-art visuals is nothing new, but this one leans heavily on parody.
The world is full of coins. Lots and lots of coins. What can you buy with said coins? DLC of course. New areas, levels, voice packs, weapons, costumes everything that should be in a game in the first place. Its hardly the most sophisticated gag, but its wry cynicism is backed up by a genuinely entertaining and well-constructed action platformer.
A bit like: River City Ransom
Fist Puncher takes you back to the simpler days of beat-'em-up brawlers, when the only instructions you needed were "go right." It blends that timeless gameplay with a very San Francisco sense of humor, meaning you may end up beating a bunch of tweakers on a nude beach as Dr. Karate.
Taking a page from Castle Crashers, Fist Puncher also has some light role-playing elements to it, such as being able to level up your character's skills in between stages. And it just wouldn't be a classic beat-'em-up if you couldn't team up with three of your buddies and hit the streets as a doctor of karate and a roller derby hellion.
A bit like: if Super Mario were a magic, purple goat
You can't stay mad at Escape Goat. Sure, you'll die over and over again trying to solve the game's many 2D platforming puzzles, but when you look into the pixelated eyes of that purple goat and its jaunty mouse companion - all that frustration just melts away.
Much like Super Meat Boy, Escape Goat's platforming is both responsive and fun to control. But the game doesn't focus on split-second, platforming challenges. Instead, it's more puzzle-oriented. If you flip a switch here, how will that affect the explosive barrels sitting over there? (Hint: they'll blow you up.) Should you get stuck, the game's bite-sized nature means you can simply move on to another room and return to the one that's giving you trouble later.
Hidden In Plain Sight
A bit like: Assassins Creed multiplayer
One of XBLIGs earlier cult hits, Adam Spraggs party game is actually an ingenious precursor to Assassins Creeds multiplayer. It works as a kind of social stealth game, where you have to hide, then kill or simply aggravate opponents by pretending to be nothing more than a simple AI nobody.
The presentation is fairly sparse crudely drawn sprites walk about a screen randomly and, depending on the game mode, you have to mimic them. Hidden in Plain Sight is a proposition completely unique to videogames its dynamics only exist because of the innate history of this medium. A perfect curio for the videogame-savvy, and a cracking party game.
Mount Your Friends
A bit like: The Royal Rumble
In its short time on this planet, Stegersaurus uproarious Mount Your Friends has become the quintessential Xbox Live Indie Game. In a sea of rip-offs, it took something as original, hilarious and gloriously homoerotic as this to stand out. Basically, its a two-player game about building a tower. It just happens to be a tower of muscle-bound 2D men, whose central appendages swing wildly in the wind.
You control these Friends one limb at a time, with each face button on the pad manipulating a hand or a foot. Skilled players can use the unusual physics to fling men to the top of the tower, where it then becomes a game of tactics, as you try to make it as awkward as possible for your opponent to scale the tower and place a man on top.