Indie Games on the Xbox have something of a rough history. If you dive back into the Xbox 360 indie games marketplace, you might be genuinely confused by the sheer number of Minecraft clones that popped up before Minecraft was officially ported to the platform.
After its program for community-built games launched in 2006, Microsoft required developers to use its XNA tools to build games specifically for the Xbox 360, phasing a hobbyist program into a full development program that began to play host to small and mid-sized developers alongside the bigger games listed in the marketplace. But between 2011 and 2013, that platform suffered from XNA’s comparative restrictiveness, an unfriendly approval process with exorbitant fees, and backlash against developers who spoke up about how they were treated on the platform.
After Sony staked a huge claim on last-gen indie games, Microsoft shifted its Indie program to become ID@Xbox, which has exploded into an incredible library of Indie games on the Xbox One. And with the promise of Xbox 360 backwards-compatibility for the Xbox One, let’s guide you through some of the indie titles you may enjoy.
As this humble writer has stated elsewhere, Massive Chalice is a turn-based strategy game about the long kind of heroism—a story of survival in a war lasting 300 years, where players have to grapple with the reality of their strongest heroes having families, growing old, and dying alongside the turn-by-turn combat against the monstrous Cadence. Its celtic-themed fantasy means you’ll be commanding heroes and heroines wielding massive battering rams and shoulder-mounted crossbows, and setting up family lines worthy of Game of Thrones. Double Fine’s vision to have players deal with characters aging out of their squads lends itself to unique kinds of situational drama that help make the story of a long war worthwhile, and their doubled commitment to making sure you can include same-sex couples in your noble families helps create a mood and atmosphere unlike any other strategy game we’ve covered in this space.
Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine
Monaco, the city and the game filled with bright lights and great riches. And if you’re quick on your feet, they can all be yours. Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine launched on the Xbox 360 toward the end of the console’s lifespan to great critical success, sending players scurrying through mansions as one of eight scurrilous thieves all hoping to get rich and not be apprehended by the police.
Monaco is a game where you don’t just need to love the thrill of the heist, you need to be very okay with the fact that the heist may go way south. Each thief has their own special ability that can help or hinder the individual heists depending on your playstyle, but the co-op shenanigans and trial-and-error difficulty mean you’re bound to be shouting about how screwed everything is as you high-tail it back to the van after a bad day in the mansion. If you ever aspired to be Danny Ocean of Ocean’s Eleven,
dive into the world of Monaco.
Ori and the Blind Forest
Somewhere along time ago, I vaguely wished for a video game exploring the idea of Motherhood. Vaguely conjuring what indies might be able to deal with it, I never wound up speculating it could look like Ori and the Blind Forest. When Ori unhesitatingly halted its fast-placed, finger-bleeding play for a scene of two mothers staring each other down, willing to do anything to protect their young, I cheered at what this little fantasy game was willing to do.
Ori and the Blind Forest mostly will pull you in with its arboreal fantasy world and finely tuned side-scrolling adventure puzzles that, like many other games we’ve highlighted here, evoke older titles like Metroid or Castlevania.Thankfully, Ori shares those games’ strengths and creates incredible environments and spaces for you to explore, using its level design to create flavor and personality for everything from a corrupted swamp to a roaring volcano to a haunted and spooky forest. Be warned: intense patience and practice will be necessary to complete some visually beautiful yet utterly maddening puzzles at the end of major sections.
Where do I even begin?
Bastion was a smash hit on the Xbox 360—but because it was also a success on Steam, it has gone on to be playable on everything from the iPad to the Ps4. It’s an isometric adventure set in the fantasy world of Caelondia, a ravaged place that’s fallen victim to something called the Calamity, and you, the Kid, are the only one who can put it back together. Its combat and level design are high points for the genre– refusing to let its weapon or enemy types devolve into repetitive brawls, and nudges you to shift your play style constantly. The in-story difficulty system, where you choose how hard the game will be by cursing the Gods themselves, is still one of the best ways I’ve seen to give players control over their own skill level.
Bastion embodies many of the classic video game hero’s tropes, but does so with an incredible emphasis on tragedy and loss. Even with only 3 other characters to interact with, Bastion drives home the absolute horror of the monstrous deed that broke this land. Even on a jaunty east-meets-west fueled adventure from wharf to wilds, every character from the silent Kid to the gravelly voiced narrator has a past that collides violently with the central deed behind the Calamity itself. Every discovery, every haunted vision the game has to offer of a world broken by terrible war, is matched by the optimism of a small cast of characters determined to make up for the sins of their fore bearers.
And when the big moment comes, Bastion will ask you what you’d do if you were caught in scenarios so far south—let go of the past, and claim your future, or fight to restore the things you lost? The results will definitely surprise you.
What were some of the best Xbox indie games that you have played? Let us know in the comment section down below.
Feature Image Source: Microsoft/Ori and the Blind Forest