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December 26, 2012 | By Danny Cowan's Danny Cowan revisits 10 standout Xbox Live Indie Games from the past year.

This year was perhaps the best year the Xbox Live Indie Games service has ever seen. It was packed so full of surprises, in fact, that I had to make major revisions to this list just a few days before it was set to be published. Here are my picks for the top 10 XBLIG titles released this year.

10. Quiet, Please! (Nostatic Software)

Nostatic Software's retro-styled, side-scrolling adventure game Quiet, Please! has a narrow scope, simple objectives, and it can be beaten in less than an hour. It's also a real charmer, and it'll win you over in no time.

The quest sees a grade-schooler seeking peace and quiet after a rough day at school. During the adventure, you'll distract your noisy brother, sabotage your dad's satellite dish, and pacify a rowdy gang of kittens... and you'll love every minute of it.

9. Penny Arcade's On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness Episode 3 (Zeboyd Games)

09pennyarcade.jpgFans had all but given up hope of seeing the concluding chapters in the Rain-Slick saga after creator Hothead Games abandoned the franchise in 2010, but in swept Cthulhu Saves the World developer Zeboyd Games with a sequel that took the series in a dramatic new direction, both in terms of graphics and in gameplay.

It's definitely a change for the better, and fans of the 16-bit entries in Square Enix's Final Fantasy series will especially find a lot to like here. Even if you loathe the comic or didn't care for the first two entries in the series, you'll love Zeboyd's inspired, well-written sequel.

8. Vidiot Game (GZ Storm)


I love it when video games surprise me. Luckily for me, if there's one word that could best describe Vidiot Game, it's "surprising."

Other words I'd use to describe it include "bizarre," "inscrutable," "nonsensical" and "brilliant." Created by Barkley Shut Up and Jam Gaiden collaborator GZ Storm, this is every bit as strange as you might hope. Just don't hurt yourself trying to make sense of it all.

7. EvilQuest (Chaosoft Games)


Frankly, I'm just glad that someone else remembers SNK's overlooked NES action-RPG classic Crystalis.

More than that, though, EvilQuest gives players a chance to play as an evil jerk, with satisfying results. Aside from providing a humorous narrative, the gameplay mechanics -- many of which were heavily inspired by Crystalis -- are also quite solid. I really need to go back to this one, as the hours I spent with it earlier this year were some of the most fun I've ever had with an Xbox Live Indie Game.

6. qrth-phyl (hermitgames)


The sequence during which qrth-phyl shifts from 2D to 3D at its outset is one of my favorite moments in a video game released this year.

Your initial surprise soon turns to delight/horror as you realize that you're in for much more than what you'd expect from a Snake variant. qrth-phyl is simple in concept, but the execution could scarcely be better.

5. Snops Attack! Zombie Defense (Snops)


The title might make you think this is just another generic zombie game, or maybe some kind of tower-defendy nonsense. Instead, Snops Attack: Zombie Defense is a vertically scrolling bullet hell shoot-'em-up -- and a damn fine one, too.

Inspired by the chain-based scoring systems in games created by respected arcade shooter developer Cave, Snops Attack stands among the best in its crowd, easily rivaling top XBLIG shmups like Score Rush and Shoot 1UP.

4. Apple Jack 2 (My Owl Software)


Apple Jack 2 has a great intro. It certainly gave me the single biggest laugh I've had with an Xbox Live Indie Game this year. Well played, My Owl Software.

I also really enjoyed Apple Jack 2's clever take on Super Mario Bros. 2's enemy-throwing mechanics. Nintendo's odd-man-out Mario sequel has always been one of my personal favorites, and the skillful way in which Apple Jack 2 builds on its gameplay is quite an achievement.

3. Gateways (Smudged Cat Games)


Smudged Cat Games' previous title The Adventures of Shuggy is one of the unsung greats in Xbox Live Arcade's catalog, and Gateways is a worthy follow-up.

Gateways easily tops Shuggy's inventive puzzles with an array of environmental challenges that see players reversing gravity, shifting time, and teleporting through solid walls -- sometimes simultaneously. Its well-designed hint system also deserves mention, as it makes the game a much friendlier and better-paced experience than it would be otherwise.

2. Super Amazing Wagon Adventure (sparsevector)


Super Amazing Wagon Adventure takes the best and most memorable elements from edutainment classic The Oregon Trail and adds in a healthy dose of surrealism to create a roguelike / visual novel / shoot-'em-up that defies easy explanation.

Sometimes difficult, other times surprisingly grisly, Super Amazing Wagon Adventure is a delight from start to finish, and you'll replay the game dozens of times as you pursue its wide variety of unlockables. If you've ever used an Apple II, you'll love this.

1. Bleed (Bootdisk Revolution)


Bleed had the good fortune to be released one day before I started compiling this list. By that point, my picks were pretty much finalized, and I was convinced that nothing released in the final weeks of December could top my favorites for the year.

I like Bleed a lot, in other words.

Let's put it this way: do you remember how great it felt when you found out that you could propel yourself skyward by firing the machine gun in Cave Story? Bleed gives that same feeling of exhilaration from start to finish. Bleed's acrobatic, dual pistol-wielding, air-dashing, quadruple-jumping gameplay is instantly gratifying, and though the story mode is short, you'll find yourself replaying levels over and over simply because they're just so much fun to speed through.

Bleed is everything I love about run-and-gun platformers squeezed into a tightly designed package, and it's my favorite Xbox Live Indie Game released this year.

Honorable Mentions: Smooth Operators, Life in the Dorms, City Tuesday, The 4th Wall, The Rise of Gaddafish.

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Christopher Myburgh
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And you actually played every single XBLIG that came out this year?
What about Die Hard Dungeon and Ninja Crash?

Danny Cowan
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I didn't like Diehard Dungeon. Ninja Crash was just okay.

E Zachary Knight
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It never fails. Post a subjective list of what *one* person views as his/her favorite games and you get an instant outpouring of "Why didn't you pick *my* favorites game(s)?"

Looking over this lists, I see several games I have never heard of that actually look interesting enough to buy. I think that justifies this list.

Diego Leao
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I want to like XBLIGames, but appart from number 1 and 9, I probably won't buy anything on this list, as I haven't throughout the year.

It is not that they are not good games, not at all, they seem very interesting. I just can't see myself playing them for more than a few minutes. It is only my personal taste.

I expected that games like Shank, Braid or Super Meat Boy would come out of XBLIGames frequently, but it is so rare. Microsoft's excessive restrictions are probably putting off Indie Developers (not being able to play offline being one of the worst offenders).

Since I'm a game developer too, my reasons for not publishing anything on XBLIG are:

1) I'm Brazilian, and therefore my company can't legally publish anything there. I need a trusted american fellow to set up an account to receive the money, and that is just not going to work for me. On the other hand, many of the most successful apps on the Apple App Store are from all around the world.

2) XNA. In the age of multiplatform, Microsoft decided (as always) to be platform specific with their XNA. XNA is useless for iPad/iPhone and even Windows (as you had no way to make an install for your game, it was a complete nightmare to distribute XNA games). We struggled with it for one year before dropping it forever to never look back.

3) Microsoft makes so many strange and/or sudden decisions, that it makes XBLIG too unstable for us to work 6 to 12 months on a game for it. For all we know, it can vanish next month, or be moved to the settings menu, or to be restricted to albinos with xbox platinium membership. I guess they do this to keep XBLIG from competing with XBLA, a very bad decision. XBLA should be about a "premium" slot (with proeminence on the dashboard, greater quality control and promotions), nothing more. -- To be fair, however, Indie Games are as proeminent as anyone could ask for in this iteration of the dashboard, so props to Microsoft for that - hope they don't change it.

Curtis Turner - IceIYIaN
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When you compile your XNA Game, it creates an installer?

The other option was to include XNAFX40_Redist and find the App in your Bin folder, that and your content is all you need.

Christopher Myburgh
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"XNA is useless for iPad/iPhone"
MonoTouch + MonoGame = XNA on iOS. MonoGame makes XNA development for several other platforms possible as well.

Diego Leao
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Thanks for the pointer, I'm actually aware of MonoGame (and other options), but I don't think it is worth going this route when I can just use other, much better framework/engine, with a more stable roadmap and support (as you probably already know, XNA is not supported in the new Windows 8 Metro interface - meaning its not even portable between MS platforms anymore). But hey, if it works for you, that's great. There are just too many "if"s for my taste (and probably a lot more people).

Having said that, I will probably HAVE to port one of our products for XNA this year. But that is out of need.

Kyle Redd
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This is an excellent list. Big thanks for including Snops Attack, which is one of the best shmups of the last several years yet seemed to be completely ignored by virtually everyone.

Given the uncertainty of whether we'll even be able to play these games on future XBOX consoles, I've pretty much stopped buying XBLIG games now (after building a library of about 30 of them). I really hope the many great games that haven't already been ported to PC manage to make it there at some point.

Daniel Erickson
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Biggest indy pet peeve of the year (Penny Arcade made me think of it): Thinking retro graphics is an excuse for blocky, unreadable text. Especially in an adventure or RPG setting where you're getting tons of text thrown at you.