Ten Super Cheap Xbox Indie Games You Have To Play

by Matt Miller on Jul 27, 2010 at 01:35 PM

We’ve all been there. Microsoft points never manage to come out even; just like carnival tickets, you always have a few left over. But what to do with that extra change after you buy some big new Live Arcade game or DLC expansion? We’ve gathered together 10 of the best Xbox Live Indie games that cost between 80 points ($1) and 240 points ($3) for you to explore.

For those not in the know, the Xbox Live Indie Games channel provides an outlet for small developers to release their games at a low price, where they are evaluated by the community and given a chance to rise to the top. Generally smaller and more modest in scope than Xbox Live Arcade games, most of them are also extremely inexpensive. Like Live Arcade games, you can always download a trial version to try before you buy.

For the 10 choices that lie ahead, we’ve included links to their pages on xbox.com, so if you’d like, you can download either the trial or full versions while you’re at work, and have the game waiting for you when you get home. We’ve also included video links so you can get a taste of how the game looks in action. We’ve avoided listing any of the numerous “apps” that have cropped up on the Indie channel, like the fireplace and aquarium, or the dubiously named “massage” simulators that cause your controller (or someone else’s) to rumble at high intensities, though those products are all certainly available if that’s your thing. Instead, our choices focus on honest-to-goodness games, some of which rival much larger and more expensive games in depth and ingenuity.

Enjoy the feature! And, as always, if you want more information on downloadable and independent games, make sure and check out our Impulse hub by clicking on the image below.

Developer: MagicalTimeBean
Price: 240 Microsoft points ($3)

Our favorite game on the Indie channel is Soulcaster, a remarkably original and enjoyable fantasy adventure that’s more than worth the price of a cup of coffee it’ll take to purchase it. The game clearly emulates the early days of the Gauntlet franchise in its look, with pixilated environments and characters shown from a top-down view. Don’t let the primitive graphics scare you away, as a great gameplay mechanic is waiting within. You play an old wizard with almost no powers of his own as he wanders into a lost and ruined ancient city. There, he begins to encounter statues that embody heroic spirits from a bygone era; these powerful warriors join the wizard on his journeys, and he can summon them to fight the evil monsters that lie ahead.

In practice, the game becomes a mobile tower defense experience, where your position, and that of your towers, is constantly shifting. Each of the three warriors you can summon has unique abilities. One is an armored melee warrior who can hold the line against charging enemies, blockading doors and protecting your other heroes. The second hero shoots arrows over gaps at long distances, but has limited utility in tight spaces. The third hero flings explosive bombs that wreak havoc on the baddies, but only at short range. At any time, you can summon any combination of heroes, including all of the same type. And by the end of the game, you can have access to up to five heroes at once.

The result is a game of strategy and planning that still has plenty of action along with the requisite fantasy trappings. It’s a great adventure that is unlike anything else you’ll find on the Xbox Live Indie channel, or anywhere else, for that matter.

Try or buy it here

Breath of Death VII: The Beginning
Developer: Zeboyd Games
Price: 80 Microsoft points ($1)

Old school RPG fans rejoice! Zeboyd Games (formerly RainbowDespair) has crafted an entire 8-bit adventure that parodies the classic role-playing games of yesteryear while simultaneously delivering everything you loved about them.

In an epic storyline that should take around five hours to complete, you play as silent protagonist Dem the Skeleton, who lives in the undead world that has risen up after humanity wiped itself out in a massive nuclear holocaust. Zombies and ghosts roam freely about the world, just trying to make it by. Alas, as it always seems to go, evil finds its way into this idyllic undead wonderland. Dem and his buddies (including a vampire techie, ghost historian, and zombie prince) are all that stands in the path of devastation.

For a parody game, the mechanics that lie behind the project are incredibly solid, with an engaging battle system that emulates the early Dragon Warrior games, but with the advantage of current-gen tech to make fights fly by and turn leveling from a chore into an enjoyable diversion from the story. The game is chock full of humor, most notably in the character of Dem. Though silent in speech, the player is privy to the thoughts of their hero, which usually turn to disbelief at the stupid behaviors that everyone around him seems to exhibit in this clichéd RPG world.

Rarely will you find a game that gives you so much entertainment for so little money. Plus, if you like the game, you can look forward to the imminent release of Cthulhu Saves the World, the next project from Zeboyd.

Try or buy it here

Miner Dig Deep
Developer: Robir
Price: 80 Microsoft points ($1)

You’ll spend the first few minutes of Miner Dig Deep wondering why in the world anyone would ever recommend this game to anyone. Give it a little bit; an hour later, you’ll wonder where the time went.

Miner Dig Deep is a classic resource gathering and upgrade system. You play an intrepid little miner with an untapped stretch of land that is surely rife with minerals and other goodies. All you need to do, as the title suggests, is dig deep. To do so, you’ll need to manage your resources and constantly improve your infrastructure by buying items up on the surface. A lantern sheds light onto the vast, dark underworld that lies below, but be vigilant, as your lantern fuel is likely to run out. Here’s hoping you’ve mined enough to go buy some replacement oil. Better yet, get a better lantern that can hold more oil, letting you dig deeper. Your pick doesn’t dig fast enough? Well, maybe it’s time to invest in that shiny new tool at the shop that takes only one swing to topple the earth rather than two?

As your mine grows deeper and more complex, so too does the game. There are more minerals to gather, more tools to utilize, and the endless drive to be more efficient. Eventually, your web of tunnels and ladders looks like a massive ant colony, with your tireless miner its only occupant.

Fans of city simulators and resource tree games could find a simplistic joy here that’s unmatched by anything else at this price point.

Try or buy it here

Developer: Ska Studios
Price: 80 Microsoft points ($1)

The same developer behind the incredibly polished XBLA action game, The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai, brings us this more modest undertaking on the Xbox Live Indie channel. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time. I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES 1NIT!!!1, independent of its goofy l33t-speak name, is a fun little multi-directional shooter that ends up being both charming and challenging.

Up to four players can jump in together on one TV to tackle the game’s teeming hordes of undead, which spawn around the empty playfield in alarming numbers. A number of different pick-up weapons scatter as you drop the zombies, giving you the power you’ll need to tackle the ever-more challenging waves of enemies that head towards you.

Along the way, you’ll be treated to an incredibly strange soundtrack – one big song crafted for the game by its creator, telling you about the game and what it’s all about; the chorus, as you might expect, is the name of the game.

There’s nothing terribly innovative about the game, and the visuals are simple and stark, especially in comparison to Ska’s stylistic work on The Dishwasher. Even so, the enemy waves in I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES 1NIT!!!1 are well designed, the soundtrack is strangely entrancing and amusing, and the action is fun and easy to enjoy.

Try or buy it here

Developer: caedicus (Firetorm Studios)
Price: 80 Microsoft points ($1)

Top-down space shooters meet tower defense in this complex but approachable shooter from developer caedicus. You are the cloned pilot of a guardian fighter ship protecting the massive space battle cruiser called Abaddon. Squadrons of alien attack ships are sweeping in to destroy Abaddon, and between your own piloting skills and the careful turret upgrades you place on the gigantic base ship, you may just survive to complete one of three varieties of missions.

The best part of Abaddon are its multiplayer features, letting one or two players join in on one 360 to defend the ship cooperatively, and up to four different Xboxes can join in one game, adding up to a potential max player count of 8. The multiplayer features are integrated to allow for drop-in play, so you only need to start a game and wait for other players to join in.

Gameplay is built around managing a single energy resource that fuels all your upgrades. You can power up your small ship (one of four you can obtain) with ridiculous weaponry, or spend your hard-earned green energy to build up the turret towers on Abaddon. To really succeed, you’ll likely need to do both. You’ll also be rewarded with power orbs for successful mission completions, which can be equipped and combined for static buffs that always follow you into subsequent battles. There are three distinct game modes: Ambush challenges you to halt an alien supply line, Assault sends you out to attack a major enemy base, and Survival tests you to see how long you can keep Abaddon in one piece during a daring final stand.

The game is a visual treat, with all sorts of cool laser effects, missile blasts, and dozens of onscreen ships. For sci-fi fans looking for a fast action game with more than a little depth, Abaddon might be right up your alley.

Try or buy it here

Developer: Muradai
Price: 80 Microsoft points ($1)

You are the sun. Act accordingly. That’s about the sum total of what Solar has to offer, but it’s an enticing and original game concept. As a fledgling star in a wide universe of asteroids, planetoids, and other broiling balls of gas, it’s your job to roam the universe, grow in size, acquire planets, and increase your gravitational pull on everything around you. Grow truly massive and, like any star that’s had its time in the vast reaches of space, you’ll become the ultimate gravitational juggernaut as a black hole that swallows up the rest of the galaxy.

For a game that’s all about what we think about as stationary stellar bodies, there’s a lot of movement and physics involved in the game of Solar. Of course, that in some ways is more accurate to the real nature of the galaxy, where objects are constantly moving and orbiting in response to the dictates of gravity. You’ll have to use that gravity to your advantage to attract small planets, and then moons to orbit those planets. Advance your planets as far as you think they can safely go without having them smashed to pieces by colliding asteroids, and then absorb the planet to fuel your star’s continued growth. However, planets are often worth keeping around, particularly once they begin to develop life, because they’ll shortly produce allied spacecraft that protect your system from enemy systems.

You can mess around like that all you want in the massive sandbox mode, but the real meat of the game is within the individual challenges. These short, timed situations task you with a particular goal out there in space, like the destruction of a planet, or soaring across the heavens for a great distance without any collisions.

Above it all, a trance-inducing soundtrack accompanies your journeys, giving a contemplative air to the whole experience. It’s a strange twist on the god-game, and worth a look for folks fascinated by cosmology and the vastness of space.

Try or buy it here

Arkedo Series – 03 Pixel!
Developer: Arkedo
Price: 240 Microsoft points ($3)

Don’t let developer Arkedo’s terrible name fool you. The company is far better at making games than giving them decent titles. Arkedo’s third major project for Xbox Live Indie is Pixel!, a charming platformer with lots of gameplay depth.

“When it is time for everyone to go to sleep…It is time for Pixel the Cat to go on an adventure!” the game’s intro declares. With that, you’re off wandering through the monochromatically blue world of Pixel, a cute protagonist with some impressive platforming skills. Jumping on enemy heads and leaping between suspended platforms, the game offers a modest gameplay package with a lot of charisma.

Childlike music accompanies the little cat’s journey, which is punctuated by a unique minigame. In it, players can call forth a magnifying glass to inspect special points in the environment. Zeroed in on the block, you enter into miniature mazes that must be completed to open secret doors, unlock chests, and other hidden objectives.

Pixel! is about as close as you’re likely to get to a full-fledged Mario-style title for under five dollars, and we think you’ll find the game as smile-inducing as we did. Plus, if you like it, you can always check out Arkedo’s earlier (and equally poorly named) 01 Jump! and 02 Swap!

Try or buy it here

Developer: Funkmasonry Industries
Price: 80 Microsoft points ($1)

Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved is an amazing game, but it costs 400 points. Who has that kind of money these days? No one, that’s who. That’s why you may want to consider Groov, a game built firmly on the foundation established by Geometry Wars, but with a few tricks up its sleeve to help it stand out. That four-quarter price tag sure isn’t bad either.

In a large enclosed arena, strange, geometrically shaped ships are assaulting your location, and your dual-analog combat skills are all that stand between you and total annihilation. The twist lies in the funky musical track, which responds exactly to every motion and attack you make. Shots from your ship create a little synth melody. Bass strums every few beats trigger the explosion of targets you’ve destroyed. The game shows its true worth after the first few minutes of slower-paced warm-up, when the soundtrack bursts into a high-energy electronica track and your ship slides into high-speed gunfire.

Groov includes three unlockable levels of play that remix the musical track for more complex beats and combat. As a result, the game has limited longevity, but it will fill that high-intensity shooter urge for a short but thrilling duration.

Try or buy it here

Developer: Shortfuse Games
Price: 240 Microsoft points ($3)

Perhaps the most unique game on our list, it’s also one that will only appeal to gamers interested in some experimental approaches to gameplay and control. However, in the world of Xbox Live Indie game, Colosseum stands out as an original and robust fighting game with an impressive and stand-out art style.

Colosseum is effectively an arena fighting game. You play one of several unlockable characters. No matter your choice, there are several fighting styles to choose from, each of which in turn utilizes different gladiatorial-style weapons. Combat utilizes a responsive set of controls rooted in directional-presses on the right analog stick instead of face buttons, offering a smooth and engaging flexibility to fights. There are a huge number of moves to master, which include everything from spinning charge attacks to long-form combos. The face buttons allow for special power moves, including healing, pushing away enemies, or drawing them close to you.

The whole game has a cool looking cel-shaded style to it, and dialogue is communicated through comic speech bubbles. The vaguely post-apocalyptic desert setting evokes games like Borderlands or Fallout. Along with dynamic camera angles that you can change on the fly, the whole game has a cinematic vibe that would seem appropriate on a much more expensive game.

A story-lite single-player campaign takes you through several different battlefields, but there’s also a robust competitive local multiplayer mode for up to four players. While it’s hard for us to recommend Colosseum to everyone, there are some gamers we know who will go crazy for something like this. Give the trial game a shot, and see what you think.

Try or buy it here

Try Not To Fart
Developer: Silver Dollar Games
Price: 80 Microsoft points ($1)

Okay, so hear us out. Try Not To Fart isn’t a great game. It isn’t even a good game. But it is a hilarious game in the right setting, (as in, around a bunch of buddies on a Friday night), and so it deserves a spot on our list.

Try Not To Fart tells the gripping tale of a man with a problem. A flatulence problem. But even men who can’t contain their basic bodily functions deserves a chance at romance and happiness, right? In a sequence of short vignettes, you’ll witness his attempts to hold back the gas as he meets, courts, and tries to find everlasting joy with the girl of his dreams.

To enable this happy outcome, you’ll need to hold down increasingly hand-cramping combinations of buttons on the controller to help him hold it in during South Park-esque animation sequences, complete with constant dialogue appropriate to the situation at hand. A few slips will most certainly disgust your lady love, along with everyone else around you, but it’s not until the entire room fills with noxious green gas that your chance at settling down and raising a family will be dashed. Meet at a bar. Manage a first kiss. Have dinner with her parents (perhaps the best level in the bunch). Propose marriage.

It’s a love story, really.

By the end, there may even be a new generation to carry on your farting ways.

Try or buy it here

Next up, check out our Honorable Mentions, which were just a little too expensive to make our list.

There are hundreds of other games available on the Xbox Live Indie channel, and many of them are worth a look. While there are some definite stinkers in there, the entire service is benefited by the Trial Game feature, helping to reassure against buyer’s remorse. If you’re bored some evening, start by downloading trial versions of these 10 games, and see what you think. If somehow you don’t find something to your liking, dig through the other titles and try something else. Something in there will almost certainly strike your interest.

By the way, in case you’re interested, you can buy every one of the ten games on this list for only $16.

Honorable Mentions

We’d be remiss to not point out that, by its very nature, this list excluded several of the best games on the Xbox Live Indie service based purely on price. Several games list for between $5 and $10, and we reluctantly left them off to highlight some more inexpensive options. Nonetheless, we’ve included summaries of a few of our favorites below, in case you’re really rolling in the money these days with a few Lincolns and Hamiltons.

Twin Blades
Developer: Press Start Studio
Price: 400 Microsoft points ($5)

This gorgeous manga-styled action shooter stars a scythe-toating nun who kills zombie hordes with all sorts of crazy weapons. It has pretty simple gameplay, but acts as a showpiece for high-end graphics on the service.

Try or buy it here

Developer: David Flook
Price: 400 Microsoft points ($5)

This simple but challenging title has you utilizing the wind to guide your bubbles to safety at a distant exit. It’s a great little puzzle game with dozens of levels to explore.

Try or buy it here

Sol Survivor
Developer: Cadenza
Price: 800 Microsoft points ($10)

One of the most expensive games on the Indie channel is also one of the best. This excellent tower-defense game includes support for up to 8-players. If you have the means, we highly recommend picking it up.

Try or buy it here

That about covers it. Did we miss one of your favorites on the Xbox Live Indie service? If so, sound off in the comments below, and let other readers know about the titles they should check out. And, as always, check in at gameinformer.com/impulse for all our coverage of downloadable and independent games.