XBL Community Games Roundup 0.5 – the best of the first six months

It’s been half a year since Microsoft activated its peer-reviewed, amateur-friendly games portal on Xbox Live, and while there’s been a fair bit of discussion about its success (or lack thereof) in bringing an audience to startup developers, actual coverage of the games has been slight.

It’s understandable, really – the service sees tonnes of new games every week, and the quality:dross ratio isn’t fantastic. Moreover, most of the projects – being generally amateur works – don’t have anyone pushing them to the media, so they don’t get coverage that way. And many of the titles defy judgement – how do you review a ‘game’ whose sole aim is to make a controller vibrate (for a ‘massage’), or a music visualiser?

But still, it can be daunting for a gamer to log into Live, look at the community marketplace and try to decide what’s worth trying. This feature is here to help. In future you can expect a regular look at recent uploads, but for now I:D presents you with a roundup of some of the more notable, but unsung,* titles on offer, starting with two of the best.

Miner Dig Deep

No, it's not a Boulderdash clone. Or a Manic Miner one. Or Dig Dug.

No, it's not a Boulderdash clone. Or Dig Dug.

 

Miner Dig Deep commits several crimes against grammar, most notably in its abuse of ‘an’. Fortunate for it, then, that it’s a game about mining, and not teaching English. At first glance, it looks like a Boulderdash clone, and indeed it shares its core mechanic – dig dirt, collect gems, don’t get crushed by falling rocks. But then you realise that, no, the game is more of a dungeon crawl than anything else, with its random layout and loot collecting. Only, the monsters have been replaced by rocks and drops; the dungeons are just one gigantic clump of earth for you to dig out how you choose; and rather than shiny new armour and weapons, loot goes towards improving your lantern, grappling hook and digging device.

This makes for a better match than you might expect. Though you may not get to cave in (hoho!) any kobolds’ heads, there’s a great deal of satisfaction to be had digging out a gigantic, twisting mine system (complete with lifts), all the while equipping your little to be the most efficient, versatile miner he can be. The presentation is charming, if simple, and the lack of monsters make for a relaxing experience. And, most significantly, you can’t die. Sure, a rock can fall on your head, or you can plummet hundreds of feet, but you only ever ‘fall unconscious’ – causing you to lose whatever loot you had picked up on that dig and wake up back at camp – much less of an irritation when you consider that your limited backpack and constantly-depleting kerosene supply make trips underground last a few minutes at the longest.

It shares the compelling, ‘just one more descent’ gameplay of Nethack, even while managing to be one of the most relaxing games around. And it only costs 200 MSP. Absolute bargain.

Relaxingly Addictive / 5

 

Groov

Doesn't that neon glow make you feel warm inside?

Does the neon glow make you feel warm inside too?

“Great,” you think. “Another arena-shooter”. And you know what: you’re right. Waves of enemies gradually becoming overwhelming; movement on the left-stick, shooting on the right; flashy neon graphics – what’s new? Well, nothing really. The game doesn’t have the tricks, the tech or the balance of Geometry Wars, and it’s much slighter – you’ll have seen everything it has to offer after a few play throughs. So why isn’t this down with ‘the rest’?

The thing is, Groov is all about the presentation. As the name implies, it’s aiming for the same ‘synaesthetic experience’ touted by Rez, Audiosurf, Space Giraffe etc. The game matches an evolving backing track with the player’s bullets as synth and the exploding enemies as percussion. Cleverly, not only does each enemy have a distinct sound associated with them, their explosions are also ‘timed’ – where Rez achieved similar by forcing the player’s bullets out to a set, slowed pattern, Groov has the enemies survive as harmless white ghosts until the beat hits – meaning you can line up a series of them to blow at the same time. A simple solution, but one that works brilliantly. It matches this with simple but elegant graphics, perfectly mimicking the old arcade game glow of a CRT pumping out neon-coloured abstracts against a black background.

The gameplay really isn’t much to write home about – no clever tricks here, and the most nerfed smart-bomb substitute you’ve ever seen – but as stated, that doesn’t really matter. The big issue is the game’s brevity – it has but three modes: the standard, three-life game; a harder, one-life ‘remix’ (unlocked by getting a high enough score on the first mode), and a freestyle mode in which you cannot die (unlocked by getting a high enough score in the remix). The first two modes took me maybe twenty minutes to get through, and I’m no arena-shooter hotshot. 

But then – the game is only 200 MSP. As it’s scorebased, there’s always that to return for. And, most importantly, it’s a perfect jump-in game – fun to boot up just to play around with the sights and sounds (particularly in the freestyle mode, which allows you to alter the instruments at will). Well worth it.

Groovy %

 

*hence no Weapon of Choice: when Kieron Gillen’s already given it a long-form review, rounding it up here seems a little pointless. Similarly, most of the week 1 games got a fair amount of attention, due to the then-novelty of the service. It’s been the intermitting months that have seen a drought of criticism.

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