The Best Xbox Arcade and Indie Games of 2011

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It might have been a good year for big budget titles but there’s a lot of fun to be had in the bowels of the Xbox 360 with Arcade and Indie games.

I’m not the biggest mainstream gamer but when it comes to the smaller (and cheaper) arcade and indie games, I’m all over it. Not only is the price point perfect, I find most of the smaller games a lot more fun and a lot more challenging. The arcade and indie games are also a lot more plentiful with weekly releases. With all the games it can be harder to find the good ones, but at least you don’t have to drop $60 to find them.

If you’re not a big arcade gamer, I ask that you do yourself a favor and try something different. There are lots of great games to play for not a lot of money. Maybe you don’t want to surf through all the massagers and avatar games, so it’s good for you that I have a list of some of the best arcade and indie games the Xbox had to offer in 2011.

Xbox Live Arcade

Picking only a few XBLA to highlight from this year was a difficult chore. At least a dozen great games came out this year that are all worth your money. Here’s a short list of the ones you need to buy across several genres.

Iron Brigade

If tower defense is your thing then you probably already have Iron Brigade (aka, Trenched) but rather than just place your towers and hope for the best, you get to march around in giant mechs fighting the bad guys at the same time. It’s a good blend of game types that works wonderfully and is a lot of fun. However, if sci-fi mechs isn’t your bag then check out Orcs Must Die! because it’s pretty much the same thing with swords, arrows and boiling oil.

Iron Brigade

Iron Brigade: part tower defense, all action.

Bastion

More often than not I shun the games that lay it on thick with the story, but Bastion is one of the few that hit a perfect balance of RPG and action…the awesome narrator certainly didn’t hurt either. Bastion is a throw back to the SNES days of adventure gaming that has exploration, lots of fighting and just enough inventory management to keep things interesting. Bastion is one of those games that reminded me that you don’t always need a high score to feel a sense of accomplishment.

Renegade Ops

Game remakes are usually a good thing to avoid and although Renegade Ops isn’t a true remake, if the old NES game Jackyl was going to be released today, this game is what it would be. Pick a Jeep and start blowing stuff up, it’s as simple as that. Renegade Ops has everything that would have made Jackyl all the more awesome. Selectable characters, upgrade trees, side missions and more…not to mention extra DLC. You won’t find anything new or innovating here but that’s okay because you’re not going to play this game to get a new experience; you’re going to play this game to relive the past as it should have been.

Renegade Ops

This is what Jackyl wanted to be.

Radiant Silvergun

Considered one of the holy grails of arcade shooters, Radiant Silvergun will complete the collection of any shmup fan. If you thought Ikaruga was a challenge then Radiant Silvergun might make you think again. Silvergun has one of the most complex chaining systems combined with a weapon system that makes old favorites like Gradius look tame. Radiant Silvergun is one of those games that separates the men from the boys. If you are one of the boys and Silvergun is a bit out of your league, try out Galaga Legions DX. It’s not a difficult as Silvergun but still a lot of fun and quite a challenge.

Stacking

At first glance, Stacking seems like an oddball game that just doesn’t fit anywhere. It’s not everyday you find a game based on Russian nesting dolls…but that’s kind of what drew me to it, it was a bit different even if only in appearance. Stacking is a puzzle adventure game that asks you to defeat the evil bad guy by stacking inside of other dolls, each with their unique special abilities. Stacking isn’t quite on the Katamari level of odd-yet-fun, but it’s close. If you’re looking for something different yet familiar, then Stacking is money well spent. There’s a hefty amount of replay value here too with lots of side quests, challenges and the all important achievement points.

Stacking

Stacking: a little weird but a lot of fun.

Xbox Live Indie Games

It’s not hard to see the quality difference between XBLA games and the Indie games, but you’ll find a lot of great indie games that deliver on the fun even if they don’t deliver on the high end graphics or hours of game play. Indie games are the Xbox’s answer to game apps on your phone. Most indie games are under $5 so if you need a game to cleanse your palette, these are some great options.

Orbitron Revolution

Orbitron Revolution was a recent XBLIG release that I reviewed recently, so I won’t go into a lot of the details, but it’s safe to say Orbitron is one of the best playing and best looking indie games I’ve ever played. Orbitron builds on the arcade classic Defender to give you plenty of high score challenges. If you’re one of the people that poo-poos the often 8-bit look of indie games, this one will change your opinion.

Dead Pixels

Speaking of 8-bit gaming, Dead Pixels is just that with a lot of guns and zombies thrown in. Dead Pixels follows the classic beat-em up formula but instead of whoopin’ bad dudes with lead pipes, you’re blasting angry zombies with shotguns and Molotov cocktails. You’ll wander the streets of the city collecting coins that you’ll need to buy guns, ammo and health packs. There’s a lot more play here than you might think…and a lot more fun. I almost wrote this one off but I kept coming back for more.

Dead Pixels

Think these indie games are easy? Try surviving Dead Pixels.

Wizorb

What happens when you cross an RPG with Arkanoid? You get Wizorb. Yet another retro-style game that will put you right back in front of your NES deck, Wizorb is able to connect two genres wonderfully in a game that challenges you, frustrates you and keeps you playing until you’re done. You might be tired of the 8-bit look but Wizorb nails it perfectly along with sound and controls.

Cursed Loot

When it comes to RPGs, I need something simple and fast. I don’t like overly complex micromanagement of inventory or worrying about what NPC to talk to in the tavern…I just want to go, and Cursed Loot offers me just that. Formerly known as Epic Dungeon, this is a game that is all about grinding as you go from dungeon to dungeon mindlessly beating up more and more difficult baddies. But without much story, what’s the real goal? Just see how far you can get. And it shouldn’t surprise you that Cursed Loot sits squarely in the 8-bit category.

Mimi in the Sky

Unfortunately, if you search the Xbox Marketplace for “Mimi in the Sky” you won’t find anything. This weird dual-stick shooter is listed by its Japanese name so you’ll need to use this link to check it out and add it to your queue. I admit that getting passed the oddball theme of a flying insect girl fighting killer onions is difficult, but under the sketchbook graphics is a fast and furious high score shooter. You can’t judge all books by their covers.

Mimi in the Sky

Another weird Japanese game but it's non-stop shooter fun.

Aban Hawkins and the 1,000 Spikes

If you enjoy the “try and try again” puzzle platformers like Super Meatboy, then Aban Hawkins is right up your alley. Don’t get me wrong, this is no Meatboy but if you just can’t get enough of the genre, this one is worth a look. I find these games great for about 10 minutes, at which point I usually get incredibly frustrated and come near to throwing my controller down the street.

Mainstream isn’t the only place to have fun

I didn’t do any math but if you add up the cost of all these games it’ll probably be right around the price of one big box game. Sure, you don’t get the big budget graphics or sounds, and you don’t get 100 hours of game play, but you do get a lot of fun for a small price. You’ll have a library full of games that cross all sorts of genres, themes and styles. And if you’re burned out on multiplayer mayhem, any of these games are worth the price of admission.

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About Author

Brian is a staff writer at TMA. He races Hot Wheels at RedlineDerby.com while watching cartoons with his kid. You can follow @morningtoast on Twitter.

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