Earlier this week, I introduced possibly the world's most ardent PlayStation 3 zealot to the Xbox Live Indie Channel. After he'd finished furrowing his brow at the prospect of being sullied by something connected to Microsoft, the penny dropped. Hours passed, ridiculous games came and went (including the unforgettably bad Adventures Of Captain Becky), and the mood changed to something altogether more convivial. "I'm going to have to buy one of these, aren't I?" he scowled.
And lo and behold, almost five years after its release, he went and bought a 360. Not because of the Xbox's glittering array of exclusive triple-A blockbusters, or the slightly better frame-rate of multi-platform titles, or its superior online service, but because of the creative lunacy that exists in bucketloads on this almost entirely unmoderated Indie Games service.
- Xbox Live Arcade / 1200 Microsoft Points (£10.20)
Just when you think you're absolutely categorically done with dumb, side-scrolling beat-'em-ups, someone comes along and makes you feel like a cantankerous old bastard for being so mean.
With a spring in their step, a nod, a wink and probably a how's-your-father, the chirpy chappies at Twisted Pixel have come up with probably the most self-aware videogame of all time. Completely at ease with the ridiculousness of both videogames and comics, Comic Jumper fuses the two to create something that revels in the absurd.
Starring as a hapless superhero with a ball for a head and a smack-talking star emblazoned on his chest, you find your rather useless comic cancelled, and you're forced to eke out a living 'comic jumping' from the secret lab of Twisted Pixel.
In reality, this means you wind up leaping into three visually distinct scenarios, and engaging in plenty of twin-stick platform combat. With slick 360-degree aiming and over-the-top melee attacks, the gameplay initially goes down an overly familiar (and repetitive) road before doling out endless surprises that completely change your impressions of the game.
With goofy stupidity and smart one-liners pepping up the otherwise simple gameplay, it's the kind of game you'll happily trudge through just to see what nonsense Twisted Pixel can throw at you next. Frankly, it's worth it for the stat screen song alone.
- Xbox Live Indie Games / 80 Microsoft Points (£0.64)
If you don't ask, you don't get. That was certainly the ballsy attitude of Nathan Fouts, who refused to release his latest title until Microsoft deigned to fix the Top Downloads list on its Indie Games marketplace.
Having gained his game plenty of attention in the process, it's nice to know he wasn't wasting everyone's time with cheap publicity tactics. Like Mommy's Best Games' much-admired Weapon Of Choice, Explosionade squeezes the 2D platform-shooter lemon until the juice runs down its leg.
Strapped into a chunky mech, you (and a friend, if you have one handy) bound around giddily, dispatching assorted irritants with the twin might of your directional laser and grenades, and occasionally activating a shield that appears to double up as a Zorb. Each of the 40 levels has an easily accessible manhole exit, and most of the fun comes from trying to speed-run them without copping damage in the process.
Although it's all over inside half an hour, for 80 points, Explosionade is an absolute steal. And thanks to the challenge room-style gameplay and online high-score tables, there's plenty of reason to go back, crank up the difficulty and do it all over again.
- PC (Steam) / £9.99
- Coming soon to WiiWare and Xbox Live Arcade
Some things are just better left in the past, buried deep underground in a trap-ridden sealed vault, guarded by denizens of the internet and Daleks. Things like Haunted House, in fact.
Credited with being one of the earliest examples of survival horror, Haunted House asked you to guide a disembodied pair of eyes around a spooky mansion, collecting keys, lighting matches and ferreting around in the perma-gloom while trying to avoid the attentions of the patrolling monsters. In 1981, this was revolutionary stuff. It had scrolling levels!
Nearly three decades on from its original Atari 2600 release, Atari and developer ImaginEngine have decided that the time is right to exhume the concept, and have come up with a loving homage that pays perhaps rather too much attention to the source material.
After regaling us with a tale of suspiciously old-sounding children and their hunt for their missing grandpa, the game quickly settles into a repetitive and moribund search for keys and locked doors. You'll scoop up discarded matches and candles en route and sometimes even discover journal entries and coins, but that's about the extent of the excitement.
Thanks to the complete absence of combat mechanics, you'll spend half your time swishing the mouse from side to side to shake off beastly spirits and hoping that no-one's listening to the manic heavy breathing sound effects. It's all a bit dodgy.
As well-intentioned as this remake probably was, the harsh truth is that the gameplay hasn't aged well. If you can stomach even a quarter of the game's 16 levels, you'll deserve a Medal of Honour for special feats of tolerance.
- DSiWare / 200 DSiWare Points (£1.80)
Nintendo has a curiously low-key attitude to its first-party DSiWare releases, so let us enlighten you about one of the most admirable to hit the under-appreciated service.
Having crashed down from the heavens, you must guide your fallen star back up to the sky, using, er, its grapple arm. Obviously. Presumably having wiped out every living entity on Planet Earth, it has something of a guilty conscience to salve.
With various points to latch onto in the sky, you launch yourself skywards and grab on, before working your way to an inevitable goal as quickly as possible. Playing out like a kind of disembodied Donkey Kong: King Of Swing, the idea is to fire yourself around, avoid nasty electrical storms, flick switches and pick up point bonuses.
Presented with all the audio-visual charm you'd expect from Nintendo, there's much to admire, but with only 10 levels to barrel through in Score Attack mode, it's not a game destined to last long in the memory. Still, for only 200 points, you get a good few hours of beautiful entertainment, and an Endless mode to pick through once you're done. More of this kind of thing, and Nintendo's best kept secrets won't stay that way for long.
- PSN Minis (PSP & PS3) / £1.99
These are dismal times for the Minis scene. Launched a year ago as Sony's answer to the indie freedom of the App Store, it seems like the well of quality titles has run dry already as developers gear up for PSP 2. Case in point: Apache Overkill.
Although by no means the worst offender of late (take a bow, the amazingly terrible Panda Craze), Playerthree's frantic side-scrolling shooter is devoid of any interest value whatsoever as you blast your merry way through an endless barrage of military hardware.
With your thumb clamped on the X button, you'll wearily cut a swathe through predictable formations, hoovering up collectibles and barely breaking sweat as you make mincemeat of almost everything in your path. You might have your progress temporarily held up by lumbering bosses, but such instances are a small bump in the road to inevitable progress.
Level upon level of near-identical forays follow (99 in total), but the endless repetition soon starts to grate. At just £1.99, Apache Overkill might be one of the cheaper Minis to date, but that hardly absolves it. Someone kindly turn the lights off on the way out.