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Xbox Live Indie Games Nook: July 2011

Nook is a new feature that will run regularly on the last day of the month, every month, highlighting the most noteworthy new Xbox Live Indie Game releases. This article hasn’t been reviewed by Microsoft or a ratings board.

Top picks

TIC: Part 1

TIC: Part 1 features some of the best art and production values to be found in an Xbox Live Indie Game release. It’s outright impressive stuff, the kind of clever platforming game that necessitates XBLIG as a platform and begs for an XBLA sequel. TIC: Part 1 is consistently well-designed across nearly every category, the only real downside is in its relatively short length; it comes highly recommended.

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Solar 2

An excellent indie title that adds structure on top of an ‘open universe’ setting, where you’re assimilating lesser beings and enlarging your avatar. You start as a minuscule asteroid, but as you begin pulling in other asteroids, you’ll quickly work your way up to becoming a life sustaining planet. There’s a bit of a risk/reward system there, however, as once you’ve grown larger, the life inhabiting your planet will act of their own accord, often attacking anything that’s near. Solar 2 is a fairly formidable space sandbox with solid game mechanics strengthening its appeal.

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Honorable mentions

Topochopper

Do you know where Lahore is? Maybe you know it’s in Pakistan, but could you point to it on an unmarked map? If not, Topochopper may be able to help sharpen your geographical awareness. An edutainment game with an arcade overlay, the true challenge of Topochopper is in flying your helicopter over the each of the objective capitals before the timer runs out. You’re given three ‘city finder’ tools, along with limited boosts to aid in this process, but burn them early and you may be out of luck in later, more challenging rounds. Topochopper goes to show that good gameplay and educational values don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

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Sum Fighter

A puzzle fighter using math-based mechanics, Sum Fighter is one of the better choices this month for competitive multiplayer action. The experience adds fun character archetypes to the intuitive puzzle design and feels like a cohesive concept from the beginning. There’s little wrong with Sum Fighter on a technical level – it executes on a familiar idea in a solid way, offering up plenty of multi-player value in the process.

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Platformance: Temple Death

Imagine an 8-bit Temple of Doom adaptation – not quite as rudimentary as Pitfall, but along those lines. As the sequel to Platformance: Castle Death, Magicko Games’ Temple Death is a well-designed, if not occasionally inconsistent platforming title (in case the title didn’t drive the genre convention home) pitting an Indiana Jones-esque character against the stretches of treacherous jungle that await him. The premise is that Grace Belly (a caricature of Grace Kelly) is kidnapped and Indie has to save her. Any excuse for a pixel-styled platforming game is good enough for me.

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Pixelbit Helicopter Challenge

Remember Toy Commander? Pixelbit Helicopter’s developers sure seem to. They’ve got the same idea down: recreating bright, vivid locations for toy vehicles to navigate, reinforcing the innocence of childlike imagination. In fact, everything from the menus to each of the level designs – and even the level select screen – is wholly reminiscent of those found in Toy Commander. The objective here is to fly your helicopter through rings and collect golden stars; it’s a little limited, but it’s a nice idea that’s fairly well executed.

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Bunker Buster

Bunker Buster’s a straight-forward casual game about dropping bombs on things. The things vary from mission to mission and sometimes there are targets you can’t hit or the level design challenges you to approach the targets differently. The mechanics are as simple as can be – your aircraft floats back-and-forth across the screen: you can control the craft’s pitch and drop bombs. And that’s about it. There’s some replay value here, however, as Bunker Buster features online and local leaderboards, in-game “awardments”, and ranks each performance based on time taken and the number of bombs dropped.

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BloodyCheckers

What if you took the strategic formula of checkers and cut it with the similarly themed (yet contextually opposite) content from a King’s Field title? Turns out, it feels pragmatic in unexpected ways. BloodyCheckers’ mixture of first person adventure and classic board games is a nice change of pace and the medieval design of its castles fits the aesthetic ideas of checkers well. Unfortunately, this style of ‘90s adventure design feel about as dated as the archaic castles it offers up. Still, BloodyCheckers remains a neat game and is well worth a look.

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Lair of the Evildoer

Going Loud Studios presents Lair of the Evildoer, a twin-stick shooter with more personality and depth than it has any right to have: a dusting of rougelike mechanics; character development; weapon stat comparisons; etc.). All of these elements contrast against a fairly plain backdrop. It’s simple, fun, and all right with being both of those things.

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The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in July 2007. Get in touch on Twitter @Calvin_Kemph.

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