Indie games flourish on the other side of the tracks.
f you're anything like me, you've been growing jaded about gaming over the past several months. Saturated with sequels and repulsed by reboots, I couldn't help but notice the absence of fresh, high-profile IPs on the horizon, and for a moment I was legitimately wondering whether developers had completely lost their imaginations. Cash in hand, I wandered out of Gamestop and into the virtual arcade. And there, basking in the warm glow of indie developers and relishing the refreshing sound of clever jokes and catchy tunes, my faith was reborn. Here are three XBLA titles which have jumpstarted my gaming enthusiasm; perhaps they can do the same for you:
Last week, SouthEnd Interactive released ilomilo, an innovative puzzler with a visual style so whimsically endearing it might be skipped over by self-dubbed "hardcore gamers." To miss ilomilo, however, would be a tragic mistake. Though the core gameplay mechanics of the game are extremely simple, the puzzles are surprisingly challenging, all the more for kleptomaniacs like me who can't not gather all the hidden items on a stage. With 49 levels (and potential for more), along with hundreds of images, songs, and creatures to collect, not to mention a multiplayer mode, ilomilo is probably the best way for gamers to spend ten bucks this month.
If you only buy one game this year, you clearly aren't playing enough games. So said DeathSpank, this quirky action/RPG's protagonist, as I was playing the demo version last week. When the game's own developers humorously responded to my casual mention of the game on Twitter, I knew it was time to do my part in vanquishing evil. DeathSpank (and its autumnal sequel, Thongs of Virtue) is a game built for those who enjoy high customization, low-maintenance leveling, copious questing, and the occasional poop joke. It is as if someone cast Ratchet & Clank's Captain Quark in a Monty Python production of Oblivion. Sure, it is a little low-brow at times, but spot-on voice acting, excellent music, and some of the best writing you'll ever see in a game come together to form an experience which will make even the most prudish of gamers grin. Moreover, the ability for a friend to jump in on the action at any time (to fill the shoes of an implausibly generic wizard) and aid in the dispensation of justice makes this a great game for couples and siblings.
Start with Mario-style platforming, throw in Tetris-style block-breaking, mix a little old-school boss-battling, add an over-the-top soundtrack and cute, zany humor. Hit "fast forward," and you'll have an idea what Raskulls is like. I haven't actually had the opportunity to play this one yet, but Microsoft Game Studios' year-end release has been generating tremendous positive buzz, with many early reviews hailing it as one of the must-have titles of the year. Unlike the other two games, Raskulls emphasizes multiplayer, so be sure to have a few friends handy before diving in. Judging by gameplay trailers, this may be just what the doctor ordered for those who've had one too many dorm-room doses of Super Smash Bros.
As Nathan Riley noted several months ago, quality games come and go like the tide. If you are in a dry season, I heartily recommend looking into the arcade. It has brought us brilliant titles like Braid and Limbo, and yet all too often we completely forget it. And if this holiday season has been bountiful for you, file this advice away in the back of your mind. Low tide may be just around the corner.
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