The Xbox Live Indie Games was supposed to be a shining beacon of unrestricted indie gaming, where new developers could get out their first console title. Instead, it’s turned into an argument for curation. Filled with rip-offs and games that sell purely on shock value, Indie Games is a great place to lose a few bucks.
There are, however, a small handful of $1 games that stand out. They provide strong gameplay and production values that, while not excellent, hold an undeniable indie charm. Here are six titles you can spend hours playing for only $1.
Mining games were around long before Minecraft and, generally speaking, they offered 2D graphics with no option to build items or structures out of what you acquired. That doesn’t mean they were dull, however, as the best provided a perfect risk-reward loop and endless gameplay.
Miner Dig Deep is an exceptional old-school take on the genre. All you do is mine, bring your minerals back to the surface, and mine some more. While the game starts simple, you eventually have cave-ins and hidden wells while constructing and ever more elaborate series of tunnels and elevators.
This is not a work of art, but the game’s cartoony graphics, relaxing soundtrack and modest difficulty curve make for the perfect chill-out game. Had a rough day? Sit down and play 30 minutes of Miner Dig Deep. I guarantee you’ll feel better.
Z0MB1ES!!!1, released in 2009, was an early peak in Xbox Live Indie Game’s history. This simple arcade shooter combines a hilarious, rocking soundtrack with infinite zombies and cool guns to create a solid, albeit short, experience.
This game is designed to be a quick burn; once you’ve played for five minutes you’ve seen all there is to see. The core gameplay is so much fun, however, that you’ll likely find yourself loading Z0MB1ES!!!1 again and again. And, as an added bonus, the game offers local co-op for up to four players.
Your incentive is to beat your previous high score, and because the mechanics are simple, you can leave the game for months and come back to it on a rainy day with no fear that you’ll have lost your touch.
Another shooter, Beat Hazard puts you in charge of a spaceship powered by music. And not just any music; you get to choose the tunes that you listen to from your own library. The highs and lows of songs will dictate the weaponry your spaceship uses. There are also bundled songs you can use if you choose.
Like Z0MB1ES111!, Beat Hazard is a simple title that relies on solid core mechanics to keep you coming back. The way songs impact your ship’s behavior adds an element of experimentation, as you’ll find that some songs work better than others.
You also have to navigate all the usual dangers of a good dual-stick shooter. Enemies fire at you constantly and power-ups, which increase the volume of the music and thus your damage, frequently lure you into dangerous situations. There are better shooters around, to be sure, but Beat Hazard is surprisingly solid given the price.
While all of the games here are worth playing, Vintage Hero is arguably the cream of the Indie Games crop. A relatively recent release (the game debuted in July of 2013), this title puts you in charge of a janitor unexpectedly thrust into a heroic adventure against invading aliens.
As the title suggest, this game tries to re-capture the feel of classic action platformers like Megaman and Metroid. Unlike many other imitators, Vintage Hero pulls it off and even manages to modernize the classic recipe. The game includes a broad range of enemies and levels, seven bosses, a RPG-lite leveling system, and three difficulty levels. Oh, and did I mention the music is awesome?
The only downside is length, as the game is rather short. An average player can clear the game in just a few hours. But hey, this is an indie project sold for a buck, and what Vintage Hero lacks in length it makes up for with depth and old-school fun.
Another old-school throwback, Breath of Death VII: The Beginning is a tongue-in-cheek RPG with humorous writing and an interesting twist. Due to an apocalyptic disaster, the “living” are, in fact, the undead. Zombies, ghosts and ghouls are regular citizens in the world of Breath of Death, and the main character is a skeleton.
The game simultaneously indulges in, and makes fun of, 8-bit RPG gameplay. Fights are simple turn-based affairs and movement consists of shuffling around a 2D overworld in search of fights, quests and treasure.
Fortunately, the game better balances reward and risk than some titles from the era, which often annoyed players with seemingly unwinnable fights, infrequent save points and a constant barrage of random battles. Breath of Death is far more balanced than what it imitates. For example, the number of random battles you can encounter in any given area is capped; after you hit the cap you won’t be bothered again.
Unlike other Indie Games, Breath of Death is rather long; expect to spend at least 20 hours beating it. There’s also a 16-bit spiritual sequel, Cthulhua Saves the World, which serves up more comedic RPG gameplay and, like Breath of Death, is only $1.
This list could be re-named the Xbox Indie Games hall of fame. While the store is mostly filled with junk (the reason Microsoft hasn’t added it to the Xbox One, no doubt), these games exceed expectations and deliver smile-inducing gameplay for just one dollar.
What’s your favorite Xbox Indie Game? Let us know in the comments!