It can be hard to find good games among the chaff of the Xbox Indie Marketplace, but they’re certainly there.
It can be hard to find good games among the chaff of the Xbox Indie Marketplace, but they’re certainly there. These are three games that I like enough to go back to over and over again every month or so. The fact that their entertainment value holds up so well over time speaks to their quality. This is by no means a comprehensive list -- just three games from my collection that I think deserve a special mention.
In the game, you command a S.W.A.T. team as they burst into houses of varying sizes to kill bad guys and rescue hostages. You play using only the face buttons of the controller: A, X, B, and Y. The team automatically slides up to every door, waiting for you to hit X before breaking it down. They automatically target the nearest person in the room, and you need to press the corresponding button to shoot before a timer runs out.
Because so much of the game is automated, shooting takes on a rhythmic pattern: break into a room, scan the target, hit the button, and repeat. The timer speeds up as you progress, and it becomes easy to fall into that zen state of play so typical of rhythm games. But that’s not why the game is so much fun.
The twist to the gameplay is that your team will also target the hostages as if they were bad guys. When this happens, you can’t hit any button but must wait for the timer to run out so that your team will automatically move on to the next target. The sudden demand to not push a button is jarring, interrupting any rhythmic flow you might be falling into. It’s like playing Rock Band and letting a note go purposefully unplayed.
This discordant gameplay makes the game more intense than you’d initially expect. The normal pace of action threatens to lull you into a false sense of competence that you have to constantly fight against. Shooting can’t ever become second nature, or you’ll certainly shoot a hostage. Raid demands your full attention and only becomes more absorbing the more that you play.
Home Run Challenge
Your Xbox Avatar steps up to the plate, and you have a total of five baseballs to work with. If you hit a ball you can keep going, but every miss or foul ball or bunt will cost you one of your five initial balls. So consistency is key. The addictiveness of the game comes from how the points stack up. A home run is only worth one point, but each consecutive hit adds to a multiplier. Five consecutive hits earns you a bonus bat that provides more points with every hit, and there are also targets in the stands worth 5-15 points. If you get a good streak going, you can rack up hundreds of points very quickly, and this is immensely satisfying because hitting the ball is tough at first.
You need precise timing to score a hit. It’s hard enough that you’re certain to fail your first few times at bat, but it’s not so hard that you have to spend an hour getting the timing down. Within a few minutes, you can see yourself get better, and it’s immensely satisfying to go from awful to awesome in such a short span of time. However, even if you’re swinging like a pro the game isn’t so easy that it’s boring because one mistake will mess up your streak and cost you hundreds of potential points. Home Run Challenge is a game that perfectly balances its challenges and rewards.
This is a surprisingly ambitious game in terms of theme, but it is also incredibly simple in play. Like BioShock or Portal, it wants to examine the relationship between the player and developer, specifically the unspoken bond of trust between the two. Since it’s an indie game and exists on a much smaller scale than those other two games, it can’t examine its own theme in any real detail, but there’s more than enough in this five minute game to provoke at least a bit of thought. To say more would spoil it, and it’s a game that hinges on the player’s lack of knowledge.
You can play the entire thing just by downloading the demo, but it’s only 80 Microsoft Points ($1), and if this intriguing little game isn’t at least worth $1, then I don’t know what is.