XBLIG dies on Friday
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
About two years ago Microsoft announced that XBLIG would be closing this Friday, 29 September 2017. Ironically the same day the SNES Classic Mini launches. A quick Google for coverage of "XBLIG" over the last month reveals very, very little fanfare or farewells for its demise. I'm actually wondering if most people forgot. There's like three article! So I'm going to cover a bunch of random statistics for it, with some personal game recommendations, and some comments from David Johnston, an XBLIG dev I spoke to. We've got less than three days people, before it's gone forever!
Although XBLIG had a lot of trash, it also had some genuinely amazing games capable of standing alongside the very best which professional studios put out. It also allowed for genuine "indie" development. Today indie developers spend small fortunes producing expensive games with extremely high production values. They're basically just like professional studios except... Well I can't tell anymore. But XBLIG harkened back to an earlier time, like the monthly PlayStation demo with Net Yaroze games. Everything was a bit wonky and rough around the edges, but there was a sense of fun and naivety to it. And people kinda made the games without the intent of making big money. On XBLIG most were 69 pennies in England, and a dollar in the US. A few were £1.99, but even that's less than a half-pint.
I never paid as much attention to it as I feel I should have. Now I'm scrambling through it's games trying to grab the gems before they're gone forever. While a lot of the best ended up on Steam, quite a few are exclusive to XBLIG. It's like Microsoft are about to set fire to the Library of Alexandria, or something.
At the time of its closing there will be 3'398 games on XBLIG.
This number does not represent all the XBLIG titles, since many were removed over the years. I downloaded a lot of demos from the Japanese XBLIG store, and the majority of them have long since been delisted and cannot be paid for (though the demos still function). A few good ones are still available though.
In fact, while the US and European XBLIG storefronts close this Friday, the Japanese storefront closed quite a while ago! I don't know the exact date, but about two years back I tried to log on and it just wasn't there anymore. Only the normal XBLA storefront was available.
The saddest casualty of Japanese developers delisting their games has to be:
This weird space rabbit run-n-jump was like Jumping Flash from the PlayStation cross with a 3D speedrunner game. It featured massive jumps, with a lot of height, a great sense of speed as you raced up walls and along the underside of surfaces. It's probably my favourite XBLIG title, even though I only have the demo. By the time I got around to trying to buy it, the thing had been delisted.
I will never get to play this game.
You will never get to play this game.
The author Kenichi Yagi has not made it available anywhere else, meaning in all likelihood, no one will ever get to play it, despite the fact it's quite excellent. Even though there's 3'398 other games available, all I really, really want to play is Ginga Saikutudan. If anyone knows how to contact the author, or if it's available to buy elsewhere, let me know!
Back to those 3'398 games... To put the enormous quantity of games in perspective, let's look at the total number of games for other systems (I randomly Googled these, they are probably wrong!):
Game Boy: 1'049
PS1: 2'507 (one place claimed 7'978 - WTF?)
Saturn: Over 1'100
Wow! So, you know that Super Nintendo Classic Mini you're getting this Friday? Yeah, that machine only had 42.5% of the games released on XBLIG. (OK, sure, a lot of those were Snake clones, or Flappy Bird, but roll with me here.)
Let's break that 3'398 number down by genre, based on what the storefront tells us:
Action & Adventure: 715
Role Playing: 105
Sports & Recreation: 119
Strategy & tactics: 173
Racing & Flying: 156
Card & Board: 93
Family & Educational: 154
Puzzle & Trivia: 377
Avatar: No items
Again though, a lot of titles have been delisted since the service started, including many of the Japanese games. Just for a laugh, let's break down the numbers by the Alphabet (keeping in mind that Japanese titled games do not show up AT ALL when browsing through the A to Z tabs).
A - 336
B - 240
C - 217
D - 163
E - 81
F - 140
G - 122
H - 107
I - 70
J - 50
K - 34
L - 104
M - 196
N - 70
O - 69
P - 200
Q - 19
R - 139
S - 360
T - 223
U - 41
V - 39
W - 78
X - 17
Y - 11
Z - 78
# - 57
~ HOW TO BUY JAPANESE GAMES ~
A lot of the still existing Japanese games only have Japanese text, and since XBLIG only allows you to browse from A to Z and 0-9, or search using Roman letters and Arabic numerals, there is only one way to access them: You need to click the "Most Popular" or "Top Trials" tabs, and then click the filter box at the top to filter by Title. This will put all 3'398 games into alphabetical order. Now just fast scroll to the end, and you can pick what you like.
In addition to filtering by Title you can also filter by Release Date, which is self explanatory; User Rating, which is based on star ratings; and Top Downloads, which is presumably how many times a title was downloaded. These last two don't directly correlate, because something like The Undead Syndrome in Role Playing had comparatively few downloads, but seemingly those who did download all rated it highly.
Release Date: The earliest releases still listed were Fruit Attack, Space Combat, and Being. The last three releases were Solaroids: Prologue, Caroline's Important LifeDiary, and Survival Games Zombies.
User Rating: The highest rated seems to be Avatar Era Online, I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES!!!1, and That Orange Guy 1. The lowest rated are Catch a Cold, Save Them Sheeps, and Tank Negotiator. But this doesn't really mean anything, since from what I could tell they simply hadn't been rated... So I dunno what the criteria for their ordering is.
Top Downloads: Assuming this is based on actual download numbers, it should indicate which games were popular, or at least had good publicity. The top three were CastleMiner Z, CastleMiner, and Deadburg. The bottom three were Runic, GravArena, and FatSheep. Whoever made Runic, sorry no one downloaded your game dude. :-(
MY OWN TOP 10 (mine goes up to eleven)
I'm going to level with you, part of my reason for writing all this is that everyone recommends some games to download. I wanted to try to avoid games which are available on Steam, and focus just one games available nowhere else. Some of these are available elsewhere. Here's some personal recommendations, post others in the comments. I am especially keen to know if there were any XBLIG that copied the early 2D Metal Gear games on the MSX2. Or Star Control II, because while Odyssey 3011 is a good Elite clone, Elite just isn't Star Control II.
You'll have to use my method above to find this in the English language store. Utterly bizarre physics based shooter with a grappling hook mechanic. Like Umihara Kawase with guns? Nothing else quite like it!
I interviewed the man behind it, David Johnston, for an article on Net Yaroze, and later I covered Gateways for HG101, and he told me the following:
Gateways will be an XBLIG game as opposed to XBLA. After all the hassles I went through with getting Shuggy on XBLA I decided it was so much easier on XBLIG. I could probably self publish and try and get on XBLA myself but that means submitting the concept of the game to Microsoft first and getting them to approve that, then making sure the game complies with all their weird requirements for an XBLA game and hoping that it passes certification or it’ll end up costing money. I believe the first pass at getting through cert is actually free but it starts costing money after that. Gateways has changed quite a bit since I launched it on my website. The XBLIG, Steam & Desura launch on the 13th is a bit more of a big push for me. Fingers crossed things work out well!
Seemingly an XBLIG exclusive, this is a Metroidvania type game where you control both a woman and her snake-like tail, independently of each other... Mechanically like nothing else I've ever seen.
A modern-day port of Cataclysm, originally on the Acorn computer. Extremely addictive. Place blocks in such a way as to direct falling water into a funnel. The day I bought it I ended up binging through the first 30 levels non-stop.
A carp swims up rainbow waterfalls! Simple, and there's a ton of other equally as good cheap games (Cursed Loot for example), but this is weird, fun, and I can't think of any similar games.
Ogre's Phantasm Sword Quest
Shadow of the Colossus meets Attack on Titan, with your sword acting as a pogo stick! Although difficult to get the hang of, once it clicks, it's good fun taking down the massive bosses. Has a shop to upgrade gear.
Parasitus: Ninja Zero
Like a PlayStation era clone of Castlevania, with swords instead of whips. I couldn't find a version on Steam.
Rainbow Ball into Adventure
A wacky katamari clone! Available for free on PC.
There's a ton of zombie and survival games, but I liked this for the rubbery looking graphics, and the enormous scope of the game world. Is it great? Maybe not. But I love this kind of experimental weirdness, and I love that it was pumped into my living room TV through my regular ol' Xbox, as opposed to trading it on some PC user's forum.
As close as I got to finding a clone of Metal Gear in 2D. Top-down adventure where you search for keys, collect weapons and equipment, fight enemies, and try to avoid zombies stealthily. I cannot work out how to remove the above video I linked to, which is for an older version, so here's the newer one. (Maybe a mod could fix this?)
If you want more recommendations, this website is good though rather out of date:
There are so many great games. Like Opposites, which is the best 2 player versus Tetris variation you will ever find. Or Cell: Emergence, which sees you fighting disease cells inside a body. Or Qoccer, which is like soccer, but with little cuboid house people...? Or TimeSlip, which in fact started on the Net Yaroze! So many games and so little time. Let us know what's good.
You have until Friday to grab anything before it's gone forever. Once bought it will still work as long as you can log in to Xbox Live.
I keep hoping Microsoft patches out the need for online connectivity once they shut the service... One can hope, eh?