Category Archives: Editorial

And ‘theXBLIG of 2014’ is…

Yes sir, it is that time of year again. That time when we unanimously say, ‘Out with the old and in with the new’, make a whole bunch of resolutions we’ll have forgotten about by February, and hope the new year brings us some sort of sign / luck / love / money / whatever. And if not, we’ll complain about it on Twitter.

For ‘theXBLIG’, the end of the year means an all-new ‘Best-of’ list, narrowing down all of the games released in 2014 into one handy leaderboard, voted on by the community. That’d be you guys and gals, the loveable readership of this fine site1. Just like last year, I’ve rounded up my personal choices for ‘Game of the Year’, listed them in no certain order, then asked you guys to vote on them to see which game would come out on top.

Interestingly enough, though plenty have been spelling doom for XBLIG for some time now, I actually labeled more games ‘leaderboard quality’ this year than last. Whether that trend will continue in 2015 is anyone’s guess, but it’s not a bad ending to an otherwise up-and-down year. Seems you’ve felt the same way, as some games saw massive interest in voting, while others struggled to net a handful of votes. Strange times, but, without further ado, here are the Top Ten…, excuse me, Top Nine (and one write-in), XBLIGs of 2014.


(Sort of but not quite) 10. Fright Light (5 Votes)

Fright Light is the ‘write-in’ vote winner, and I can’t be entirely sure that developer Chris Antoni didn’t just vote five times for his own game, but… so be it. Horror on the cheap, with visuals and production to match, Fright Light did its best Five Nights at Freddy’s impersonation, and didn’t do too bad at it.

9. Shipwreck (3 Votes)

Imagine a classic The Legend of Zelda game. Got that? Okay, now picture that series being handed off to an indie developer. Scared? You shouldn’t be, as Brushfire Games did an excellent job porting over the look, the feel, and the puzzle / dungeon design those games are known for. It’s an overlooked gem.

8. STRACO: Purge & Conquest (4 Votes)

The STRACO series (this game is parts two and three of a trilogy) may not impress you from the start, but its charm and playability wears on you the more you play it. A top-down shooter with heart, humor, and… Optimus Phillip, it’s well worth the look.

7. Dead.Kings (5 Votes)

Dead.Kings

Dead.Kings is a lot like the original BloodyCheckers, which may hurt its originality, but it’s more fun and player trolling per square inch of checkerboard than the now-boring real-life version of the game.

6. Amazing Princess Sarah (10 Votes)

If large breasts and throwing corpses around a stage sounds like an excellent retro-ish platformer to you, then Amazing Princess Sarah is the game for you. This kind of stuff sells itself.

5. Survival Games Season 1 (21 Votes)

Survival Games Season 1

Take the look of Minecraft, add in the survival mechanics and the merciless backstabbing of DayZ, and you’ve got the general idea behind this game. Each match can be a tense affair, a mad dash for limited supplies. Or you can play silly dress up and hide in your private corner of the world. Your choice, no judgement from me.

4. ApocZ (23 Votes)

An impressively-large, post-apocalyptic world full of zombies, the harsh reality of survival, …oh, and the real threat; other asshole humans shooting you in the back and taking all your carefully-scavenged equipment and weapons. Thanks a lot!

3. Shutshimi (37 Votes)

A fish with human arms (and giant muscles). A fish with a cigar-smoking problem. A fish with a ten-second attention span. What does that equal? Neon Deity Games’ ridiculously-fun shooter, which tosses new powerups and modifiers your way every ten seconds.

2. Dead War (49 Votes)

Part overhead shooter, part storyteller, part roguelike, Dead War mixes the good ole’ ‘zombie game’ with those aforementioned pieces to good effect. A nice change of pace from the usual zombified suspects that appear on XBLIG with alarming regularity.

1. Survivalist (139 Votes)

Survivalist

It’s tempting to dismiss XBLIG as a juvenile playground of avatar games, zombie shooters, and Minecraft wannabes, but Survivalist is one of those rare types, the type that sneaks up on you without anyone realizing it. Sure, there’s zombies, but they’re hardly the focus. The game presents you with a huge open world, the onus to survive, and dozens of characters that will remember your actions. One of the best XBLIGs I’ve ever played, Survivalist is a special game.


  1. Not a blog. 
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My Big Flappy, Feathery Weekend

I know what you’re thinking. Most of the Flappy Bird ire and / or love has died down by now, so why bother with the (literally) hundreds of clones spread across every possible videogame medium? Like 2013’s flash-in-a-pan Harlem Shake videos, there’s only so many videos of ‘somebody humping something to a soundtrack’ that you can watch before the police get called. Such is the case with Dong Nguyen and his Flappy Bird phenomenon. Well, minus the humping, at least, although I wouldn’t be surprised if a video like it exists somewhere. This is the internet.

And like any good internet-driven bandwagon, XBLIG and its eclectic cast of developers has seen fit to grace the channel with seven ‘clones of a clone’ thus far, with many more to follow (I hope not, but hope is just a band-aid you put over despair). There’s undoubtedly a group of people that are still interested in the phenomenon. So, it falls to me to steer you towards the better versions and guide you away from the worst offenders.

Since this is less of a review, and more of a catch-all ‘impression’ of each game, I’ll simply label the results with a PASS (not worth the time), TRIAL (okay), or BUY (good). Of course, if any of these games strike your fancy, you’d do better to download them and see for yourself. For everyone else watching from the nest, on with the show.

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FlappyAvatar - Screen

FlappyAvatar ($1.00), from AztecGames has one thing going for it that all the other ‘Flappy’ clones (but one other) do not; the ability to use your avatar. If you ever wanted to see what your Xbox doppelganger would look like flying through green tubes, FlappyAvatar is that chance personified. It’s also one of the ‘easier’ clones to control, as even though the gaps between tubes get smaller and start to move, you can maintain pretty effective control over your Flap-atar (bad joke, I’m aware).

Verdict: PASS. It has Online Leaderboards, and follows the ‘Flap’ formula slightly, but its lone mode is unexciting.

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Flappy Feathers - Screen

Flappy Feathers ($1.00), by developer RicolaVG, is one of the more ‘authentic’ Flappy-likes, in that it looks and plays similar to the original format. That’s both good and bad, the bad part being you’ll feel the same frustration when crashing into the obstacle mushrooms (no tubes here). The full version features an ‘inverse’ mode, but that’s ridiculous. Who would want to invert the controls and run the course backwards? No one’s hands are raised? I thought so.

Verdict: TRIAL. Authentic look and feel to the original game, but no Online Leaderboards or other (serious) modes.

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Flupp the Fish - Screen

Flupp the Fish ($1.00) from EntwicklerX throws traditional ‘Flappy’ conventions out the window and opts for fish-based flapping. In addition to the standard ‘Survive’ setting, you have a ‘Escape’ mode that requires you to avoid obstacles and not get eaten by a giant fish pursuing you, and a ‘Rush’ mode where you drive a car (a fish, driving a vehicle underwater, yes), collecting coins and jumping out of the way of stationary enemies and potholes. Hmm, unexpected.

Verdict: PASS. The additional modes are neat… on paper and in theory. In-game, they play roughly the same and have a terrible ‘feel’ to the controls.

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Flapping Avatars - Screen

Flapping Avatars ($1.00), from AwesomeGamesStudio, also uses your avatar as a stand-in for a bird. But not really a ‘bird’. You see, you’re not really flying here. You’re running, and jumping through obstacles. As such, the control scheme doesn’t match up to what you’d expect. So, that shouldn’t really qualify this as a Flappy Bird clone, right?

Verdict: PASS. Not exactly a clone, and the lack of additional options and online leaderboards makes this one a bust.

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Flappy Wrecker - Screen

Flappy Wrecker ($1.00) comes from Team Shuriken, makers of not-so-fine boob games and challenging boob platformers. Here, they use their voxel engine from the Uncraft Me! series to recreate ‘Flappy Bird’. It does contain a helpful ‘Fucking Destroy Everythiiiiiiing!!!’ secondary mode that gives you a wrecking truck to ram through all the obstacles and various birds. Not very polite or bird-friendly, but very therapeutic.

Verdict: TRIAL. Nice look and style, authentic controls. No leaderboards here, demolished by your truck’s ‘rage quit’ run.

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Failing Bird - Screen

Failing Bird ($1.00) by Gamefarm, carries with it a similar look and feel to the source material, as well as the not-so-subtle theft (Bullet Bills abound). There’s plenty of varied hazards here, giving it more of a refreshing challenge upon repeated plays. You also have to appreciate a developer that comes right out and tells you all the money you waste on this title will be spent on other, serious endeavors.

Verdict: TRIAL. Four player co-op (local) and online leaderboards puts this one on par with Little Flappers, making it the closest to a BUY from this bunch.

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So, what have we learned from this extended exercise? Only a handful of these Flappy Bird clones are really worth a trial, and even then, it’s going to come down to available features and which game feels the most ‘comfortable’ to you. For me, playing through all of these games reinforces my argument that Little Flappers (REVIEW) is still the best Flappy Bird clone on XBLIG, with Failing Bird coming in at a close second. Do what you will with these assessments.

At any rate, it’s been a long, lost weekend flying around (and boy are my arms tired!), so let’s consider the argument settled. You hear me, XBLIG? No more flying, swimming, or running birds… or bird men… or fish posing awkwardly as birds… please?

And ‘theXBLIG of 2013’ is…

For all the bad press, and some really terrible games, I still believe 2013 was a good year for Xbox Live Indie Games. Hell, I think 2014 will be an even better year, once it’s all said and done. That may be a little overboard optimism on my part, but stopping to consider the quality of some of the recent releases has made me revise my outlook. Narrowing this year’s batch of games down to five top-tier XBLIGs wasn’t easy. That’s why I allowed anyone to include their Write-Ins, resulting in a vote apeice for several games (probably by the developers themselves, you sly dogs), and one vote for Uproar!, which is just, seriously, not funny.

So, without further pomp, and after an exhaustive counting of all the votes on-site (92, to be exact— not very exhausting), here are the Top Five XBLIGs of 2013, as voted by You.

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5. Magicians & Looters (8 Votes)

It’s hard to imagine a Metroidvania on XBLIG currently that can hold a candle to Magicians & Looters. Excellent design and near-flawless balancing / pacing combine to compliment a humorous story. Castlevania it is not, sure, but Morgopolis Studios has crafted a solid indie alternative.

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4. Arcadecraft (11 Votes)

You will likely never own an arcade. It’s sad, but the very next best thing to that would be playing Arcadecraft. You don’t get to play the actual games, but you do get to manage what’s in your arcade and how it’ll all pan out. Look at it this way, you get all the retro bleeps and bloops, with none of the snotty kids and inevitable bankruptcy.

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3. Blood & Bacon (13 Votes)

Sometimes, you just want to shoot things and watch them explode into hundreds of tiny, bloody pieces. For the sheer joy of firing guns and watching the world turn red around you, you have Blood & Bacon. Featuring online co-op, 100 waves of enemies, epic boss fights, and a tough (but fair) challenge, it just simply satisfies.

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2. Astralis (18 Votes)

As an open-world, third-person shooter on XBLIG, Astralis could win its respective genre by default. It’s just not something you typically see on XBLIG. Not content to rest on existence alone, the game carries one of the best camera and control systems around, letting you explore and cleanse its unique alien environments with ease.

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And the winner is…

1. One Finger Death Punch (37 Votes)

Winning by a comfortable margin, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone that’s played it that Silver Dollar GamesOne Finger Death Punch wins ‘theXLBIG of 2013’ honors. Using simple controls and an even simpler objective (beat the hell out of every stick ninja that comes your way), OFDP handily checks off the most important gameplay boxes; easy to learn, difficult to master, and ridiculously fun. If you don’t own this game yet, you are missing out on one of the best on Xbox 360, period.

Indie Gamer Chick Bundle is Live!

(EDIT: Though the ‘Indie Gamer Chick Bundle’ is no longer for sale, you can still visit the link to find the most current Bundle on offer.)

As the site name clearly incorporates ‘XBLIG’, short for Xbox Live Indie Games, the focus here is exclusively on games that fall under that banner, for better or worse. I’ll let that rule slide for a day, though, as I am proud to pimp the PC ports of eight former XBLIGs, joined together and bearing the name of the community’s most read / respected critic and ardent supporter. Ladies and Gents, the Indie Gamer Chick Bundle is now live on Indie Royale!

Coming in at a ridiculously cheap price, you’ll net yourself eight fantastic indie games that will easily keep you busy for the rest of the summer. The bundle includes Dead Pixels, Chester, Antipole, LaserCat, Smooth Operators, Little Racers STREET, SpyLeaks, and Orbitron: Revolution. Some of the games are still looking to crack the beast known as Steam Greenlight, too, so be sure to give them an upvote if you’re on that platform. But above all else, enjoy eight fantastic games that got their start on Xbox Live Indie Games!

EDIT 7/27: Discord Games’ navigational puzzler 48 Chambers, and the very excellent RPG (ranked on the leaderboard, ya know) EvilQuest from Chaosoft Games have now joined the bundle. That’s ten (10!) great games for (currently) $4.47, with 3+ days remaining. You need this bundle in your life.

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More Info at Indie Gamer Chick

Buy the Indie Gamer Chick Bundle on Indie Royale

What Worked and What Didn’t: The ‘Uprising III’ in Review

Without the benefit of time to look back on the Indie Games Uprising III in a foggier and perhaps more glamorous way (it’s only been a few weeks since its conclusion), the general review of the Uprising doesn’t have the luxury of hiding or settling much in my system before being held under the microscope and dissected. So a brief article, if you will, of me spouting off whatever pops into my sad little head concerning the before, during, and after of the event, which took place from September 10th to September 20th, 2012. I take a look at the hits and misses of the promotion on a case by case basis. This is an overview of the Uprising as a whole. For an in-depth review of each Uprising game, the titles are clickable links. Enjoy.

Pregame: Uprising III

WHAT WENT RIGHT: A great deal of promotion and mentions from a variety of sites, mainstream and backwater establishments like myself, in the weeks leading up to the Uprising’s start. Indie journalists around the web, at Cathy’s (IndieGamerChick) insistence, worked together to spread the news, not just on their respective forums, but with links and cross-promotion with other sites, creating a network of easily searchable previews, interviews, and articles related to the launch and its lineup. Personally, I don’t think we as a group could have done any more to better set the stage for September 10th’s start date.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Microsoft. Again. Surprise. Not that the company ever puts much faith or weight behind XBLIG (changes to the service usually only happen once enough people complain about their lack of effort), but outside of a few token lines and minor stories, the big M was mostly silent on the promotion. No dashboard banners, no vocal support. To make matters worse, the prepaid code generator for Xbox Live Indie Games, the system that spits out free codes that developers hand off to reviewers and the general public, broke down in the middle of the Uprising, and to date, has not been fixed or given a timetable for repair. Considering the Indie service makes them money, you’d think they show a little more drive. Not so. Unacceptable and baffling.

qrth-phyl

WHAT WENT RIGHT: A classic ‘snake’ arcade game, now updated in three dimensions, with a unique look, nice soundtrack, and a great 3D camera. That camera-work, by the way, it’s not easy to get right. Extra kudos. qrth-phyl was a great choice for a leadoff title that got people excited to see where the Uprising was headed.

WHAT WENT WRONG: That depends on who you talk to. Some felt it needed leaderboards, which aren’t easily-implementable or ideal for XBLIG. Others, including myself, expected more besides the snaking, given the complexity of its presentation and the mention of ‘ghosts’. It was deliberately cryptic, both in previews for the game and in interviews with the developer. Regardless, the final product didn’t suffer for it.

qrth-phyl+fun=good

Sententia

WHAT WENT RIGHT: An existential premise; paving your own path in life, remembering not to lose your youth in growing up, a statement on bullying, and a cool twist to combat and puzzle-solving. A thinking man’s game, a Braid for XBLIG. Prior to its release, I had the game pegged to be one of my Top 3 to come out of the event. I fully expected it to shine.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Pretty much everything beyond the title screen. Bad platforming bits, clunky puzzle-solving, and utterly-aggravating enemy spawns leading to cheap death after cheap death. Given that developer Michael Hicks was also in co-charge of the Uprising itself, there were some that felt his game’s inclusion should have been somehow invalid or disqualified. Past Uprisings have contained games from co-sponsors, but having played the game, I can say it certainly needed a lot more work and testing. Would’ve better served the Uprising to have been left out of it.

Diehard Dungeon

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Roguelikes are popping up everywhere these days, and much like FPSes and Block Crafters, the gaming public can’t get enough. Diehard Dungeon hit the spot dead on, proving it was more than a Binding of Issac cash-in. With a fun twin-stick shooter (including a leaderboard!) as an extra mode and the promise of almost 50% more content to be added to the game in post-release, you got your dollar’s worth and (eventually) then some.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Very little, which frankly, after the fiasco that was Sententia, the Uprising sorely needed in order to get back on track.

Gateways

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Portal in 2D, plenty of gateway guns to experiment with, and some of the best puzzle designs seen anywhere, including the big boys in arcade and retail. Gateways deserves every accolade it receives. It ended up being my favorite from this Uprising.

WHAT WENT WRONG: I reached the last puzzle in the game, and having heard the horror stories of its solution (time-consuming, required a bit of luck, placing actual tape over the TV screen to mark locations), chose to back away slowly and then run in the opposite direction. There were accusations of me being a pussy, which I was completely fine with. I escaped with my sanity to tell the tale, and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the game otherwise.

Gateways, or visual depiction of my fractured mind? Both?

Smooth Operators

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Manage the daily grind (and incessant ringing) of a call center, the comings and goings of your workforce, set the schedule and decor, survive the ups and downs of operating a business, and, most of all, feed your personal addiction that keeps games like Sim City, Tiny Tower, and, now, Smooth Operators, in business and thriving.

WHAT WENT WRONG: My productivity in real life, sleep sacrificed so that I could build and maintain a fictional call center. My parents are proud.

Entropy

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Being so damn pretty I almost proposed to the game (in truth, I did propose, but Entropy turned me down. I’m still not proud of the way I begged it to reconsider. Plenty of tears.). Mystery, intrigue, lovely fire effects and lighting.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Kids, the moral of this story is, looks aren’t everything. Despite flashes of fun, the puzzles were extended not due to their complexity or guile, but by physics and controls that were manageable, but in no way perfect, for the solutions the game requires. It also lacked any kind of personality, which should have been impossible, based on the environments and their details.

Be still, my beating heart.

City Tuesday

WHAT WENT RIGHT: More art than most art, City Tuesday had time-travel and puzzles / people that were linked and grounded in the real world. It tackled the idea of terrorism, in a limited way, yes, but still carried more ideas with it that most other XBLIGs never bother to even touch on.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Just as you’ve adjusted to and learned the game’s tricks, it’s over. Twenty minutes in. The ending sequence feels tacked on and completely out of place.

XenoMiner

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Survival, a palpable sense of life and death, an incredible (and incredibly helpless) feeling of being on a foreign planet, discovering it for the first time. Crafting / Mining that rewards your patience with even greater rewards. Alien technology that can be put to work for you, provided you’re C-3PO and speak Bocce.

WHAT WENT WRONG: There’s no easy or quick way to get set up on Xenos, outside of hard work and (lots and lots of) time. Horrible skipping and pausing when venturing from one area to the next almost ruined the experience for me. Others have reported the same.

I can literally see my free time disappearing over the horizon.

Pixel

WHAT WENT RIGHT: A cool cel-shaded look. A puzzle / platforming hybrid that had variety.

WHAT WENT WRONG: The Uprising ended on Pixel and it should not have. Glitches, oversensitive controls, guns that didn’t shoot where you aimed, and a bad FOV all contributed to its downfall. That it was a short game was a blessing. It stunk of an unpolished title either rushed to meet the deadline or someone forgiving way too much during the testing process. As the bookend, it needed to finish the promotion on a strong note. Instead it left a bad aftertaste.

Postgame: Uprising III

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Three top-tier games that anyone should be able to enjoy (qrth-phyl, Smooth Operators, XenoMiner) and two immediate leaderboard games (Diehard Dungeon, Gateways). Not a bad showing from nine games, and all for $9. I will say this; overall, from both myself and other reviewers, as well as the gaming public, it is confirmed and accepted that the Uprising III games were much improved upon last year’s cast, and site traffic across the indie sites did see a boost. That doesn’t necessarily equate to sales, and it’s probably too early to measure it a success, but it does show that gamers were interested in the crop. Assuming there is a fourth outing for XBLIG, it will have to be quite good to match the combined quality of Uprising III.

WHAT WENT WRONG: A few ‘dud’ games in Sententia and Pixel, Microsoft dropping the ball, then kicking it out of the stadium so no one could play. One rejected marriage proposal. Some review-related stress, some sleepless nights.