While the whole world gets caught up in Kinect fever (or not), it's reassuring to know that it's possible to completely ignore the whole thing and still end up playing some real gems.
In the week when indie developers were collectively kicked in the nuts over the whole 360 dashboard update debacle, it's especially interesting that our favourite download game happens to come from an independent studio.
The point, really, is that good games are good games, and if Microsoft doesn't see the benefit to consumers of flagging up the best ones in its own Games blade, then we will.
- Xbox Live Indie Games - 240 Microsoft Points (£2.56)
Now that indie games have been exiled kicking and screaming to the 360's equivalent of the Siberian salt mines, expect hidden gems like Dice XY to remain the sole preserve of the determined and the tenacious.
Even so, those balaclava-donning, pistol-wielding few who dare to scale the razor wire-topped electric fences of the 360's new 'Speciality' store may easily forget to bust KakCAT's dice-rolling puzzler out of gaming's new purgatory. It doesn't look like much.
The simple task at hand is to make the dice disappear off the grid by pushing them next to one another. But as you carefully plot to match awkwardly placed dice, like all the best block puzzlers each and every round can quickly turn into mini obsession.
To start with you'll be focused on matching pairs, but once you figure out how to dispose of three or more it's a totally different story, and a near-genius piece of simple game design.
With its sparse presentation and basic block-pairing mechanics, Dice XY wheezes apologetically among the morass of stinking indie filth when it should be kneeing the detritus in the nuts and whistling The Great Escape.
But stick around, because once you crank up the difficulty, you'll quickly discover that underneath Dice XY's feeble exterior is a growling Steve McQueen of a game, ready to mount a Triumph Trophy and ride on out of the wilderness and smash through your stony heart. [Good grief. -Ed]
- PC (Steam) - £5.99
If you went out and bought a craft like the one featured in Nimbus, you'd be straight back down the shop to demand a refund - assuming you hadn't smashed headlong into the nearest wall and killed yourself on the way.
With no direct means of propelling yourself along, you're forced to improvise your way to the goal in the quickest possible time. Gliding limply along, you have to make the most of the little momentum you have, steering desperately into bouncy surfaces at the correct angle, or into little adjustable cannons that fire you skywards.
Sometimes, plotting a safe route is more of a case of carefully threading your fragile ship through deadly hazard-laden caverns, hitting the brakes and steering with the utmost precision. Fortunately, when you do inevitably foul up, the regular checkpoints make progress less painstaking than it would otherwise be.
But that's not to say such concessions blunt the challenge. With global leaderboard glory to shoot for, the sight of accumulating time is as much of a punishment as you'll ever need.
Set over 50 hugely absorbing levels, Noumenom's curious puzzle-racing hybrid marks a confident debut for the Swedish team. It's tricky and exacting, but in all the right ways. The hard part is knowing when to stop.
Go! Go! Island Rescue!
- DSiWare - 500 DSiWare points (£4.50)
If you ever leave one of these hefty desk lighters around a five-year-old child, you can safely assume they will want to see what happens when you fill them up with flammable liquid. "BOOM!" is what happens. My parents probably didn't see the funny side then, and probably have no interest in a videogame reconstruction of these devastating events.
Tasked with rescuing similarly hapless idiots from a fiery death, Go! Go! Island Rescue! puts you in the boots of a brave hero who likes to squirt retardant substances on nearby flames and then lob screaming people to safety. And then do it all over again in progressively more challenging levels.
Played out in a series of cute 2D platform environments, the general gist is to get everyone to safety by any means necessary. Thankfully playable on buttons as well as the touch-screen, connect2media's game curiously believes that tossing fire extinguishers at flames puts out fires, but you'll soon forgive such nonsense in a game that shares some of the same spirit and energy as the often-overlooked March of the Minis.
After its unnecessarily basic opening run of levels, the excitably named Go! Go! Island Rescue! begins to justify all the exclamation marks with some furiously taxing levels. By the time you've hit the second island and started flicking between squads of fire fighters, it's clear that the DSiWare scene is all the better for this engaging platform puzzler.
chick chick BOOM
- WiiWare - 800 WiiWare points (£5.60)
In certain cultures, it's perfectly acceptable for chicks to blow one another up. Five yellow chicks in one pen, five black ones in another... Boom! [Boom! - Ed] I'm not even embellishing the details for comic effect.
Okay, I should have mentioned that these are chicks of the fluffy cartoon variety, and that this is a noble form of turn-based warfare that we're discussing. With five vengeful avian terrorists on each side, the idea is to take it in turns to throw bombs, heavy objects or snarling fauna over onto your opponent's arena and then try to sabotage their defences.
Attack or defence is a matter of swift and timely line-drawing. For example, the power of each attack is based on how quickly you can join the dots of the outline of the icon, while defending involves drawing lines to stop your chicks being crushed or blown up.
But even then, the attacker can try and sabotage these carefully-placed bomb shelters or weight deflectors with more lines of doom. Sometimes you'll even get the chance to send lightning crashing down, or sabotage their attacking abilities by making it harder for them to join the dots when it's their turn to issue an order.
Although the lack of a campaign structure makes chick chick BOOM a little lacking in single-player mode, as a local multiplayer game it has potential. With the option to set up round-based or time-based challenges, you can rain death upon one another till your heart's content.
The only question is how long you'll want to do so. While it's undoubtedly fun for a few rounds, developer Tons of Bits' debut WiiWare effort feels like it lacks a little substance to make it worthy over the longer haul.
Bloody Good Time
- XBLA - 400 Microsoft Points (£3.40)
- PC (Steam) - £3.99
A 400 Point XBLA game you say? From Outerlight, the makers of The Ship? Sold.
And just like its promising PC game from 2006, it's a sneaky take on the murky business of multiplayer death-dealing. This time around, you choose from one of eight Hollywood hopefuls, who all find themselves having to prove their murderous abilities to a crackpot director.
Playable over four modes by up to eight players, the task at hand is to snuff out your quarry in any way you can, while also keeping an eye on tiredness, hunger and the need to relieve oneself. With three ever-depleting meters and patrolling guards ready to berate you for carrying a weapon, it's somewhat distinct from the average multiplayer knockabout.
Rather than simply run around smashing your opponent to pieces, you can stalk your enemy and wait for them to take a sleep break, or better still catch them with their pants down and dish out a humiliating taunt in the process. You've also got your own issues to deal with - not least that you're never quite sure who's stalking you. As a result, it's a finely balanced affair that introduces some interesting ideas that keep players on their toes throughout.
Unfortunately, a lot of the fun of Bloody Good Time is locked away in elusive potential. Cursed with somewhat woolly targeting, and a wholly unreliable melee combat system, it's often easier to circle-strafe opponents and wait to strike after they've missed than to take the risk and leave yourself exposed.
With a more refined combat system, BGT would be a fine prospect at its slim price tag. As it is, it doesn't quite live up to its title, but then Fairly Good Time doesn't quite have the same ring to it.