#15: Blocks That Matter
Developed by Swing Swing Submarine
Concept: Solve puzzles and reach an exit by collecting blocks and then linking chains of four of them. Oh, and it’s a platformer.
Sort of like: Mario mixed with Crafting mixed with Tetris.
What I liked about it: My top 25 might be a little bit on the brain-bendy-heavy side, but I can’t help it. I’ve seen so many examples of very good puzzle design on the XBLIG platform and yet it I’m still always surprised by how smart they can be. Blocks That Matter ups the ante by adding a clever hook (pausing the game to arrange platforms) that uses a trendy mechanic (material harvesting) to go with good (if somewhat unintuitive) play control and highly intelligent level design. This won the grand prize of Dream-Build-Play 2011, and it deserved it.
How it could have been better: While movement and jumping physics are spot on, the controls for opening up the menu and placing blocks on the board never feel natural. I’m not actually sure how they could do better, but that’s why they’re the game designers and I’m the.. point out what’s wrong.. person.
Who will like it: Blockheads (as in fans of blocks), miners who take the daily Sudoku down into the shaft with them for their breaks, Johnny 5.
Who won’t like it: Blockheads (as in people who skipped to #14 as soon as they read the word “puzzle”), miners who take whiskey down into the shaft with them for their breaks, Slimer.
#14: DLC Quest
Developed by Going Loud Studios
Concept: Satire of the game industry’s over-reliance on up-selling additional content for games you already paid for.
Sort of like: Super Mario Bros. mixed with Idiocracy. You’re not sure if this is really a comedy or a bleak look into our future.
Why I liked it: DLC Quest mixes parody with an amusement park ride. It’s not about what you do, but rather just taking in the experience. The game only lasts anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour, enough time to make its point. The jokes work, and we know they do because these are the exact same gags we think about when we kid around about the subject matter. DLC Quest is a send-up, but one made because it feels your pain.
How it could have been better: It really couldn’t have been better. The things people request most, like more gags or a longer length, would have just made it worse. DLC Quest did it’s bit and walked away before the joke stopped being funny.
Who will like it: You must pay $1 to unlock this line.
Who won’t like it: Anyone who didn’t laugh at the previous line.
#13: Aesop’s Garden
Developed by Excalibur Studios
Concept: Extract weeds from your prize-winning lawn. That actually sounds like something children spin on the chore wheel, but trust me, it’s fun.
Sort of like: The Adventures of Lolo, only more so than Crystal Hunters.
Why I liked it: Aesop’s Garden mixes 8-bit aesthetics with some absolutely stunning puzzle design. Maybe I’ve over-saturated this list with logic-puzzlers, but when judging the top games on the basis of quality, you have to go with the games that are designed the smartest, and the funnest. Aesop’s Garden probably is the best of the “hard-puzzler” breed on XBLIG.
What could have been better: The controls are touchy as hell, leading to all kinds of unnecessary deaths.
Who will like it: Green thumbs, Nebuchadnezzar II, people who can declare they enjoy hoeing without giggling to themselves about it.
Who won’t like it: Weed-Whacker advocates, migrant workers, Eve.
#12: Pixel Blocked!
Developed by Daniel Turong
Concept: Create patterns using a block gun. Sigh. I hate games that sound more boring than they really are when you write about them.
Sort of like: Picross mixed with Bust-a-Move (that’s Puzzle Bobble outside of the US).
Why I liked it: Pixel Blocked! was one of the first games I reviewed, and it stuck with me long after I finished writing about it. Then the developer drastically altered the game mechanics, and it got even better. It was the first (and so far only) game to be ranked in my top-ten list, fall off the list, and then return back to it. The finished product is a very sharp puzzler that is probably the most professionally designed of any XBLIG I have played so far. Dare I say it, Pixel Blocked! is primed for acquisition from a major developer.
How it could have been better: Although they are unnecessary towards making progress, the game offers some rewards that are borderline unobtainable. These are typically related towards speed-runs, which have no place in logic-based puzzlers.
Who will like it: People with an abundance of grey-matter, people who don’t have an abundance of grey-matter and wish to grow some, people who have recently destroyed their grey-matter when they decided to give that whole paint-sniffing craze a try and now have buyer’s remorse.
Who won’t like it: People who don’t know what grey-matter is, people who think grey-matter is the stuff between your toes, people who tried to color their grey-matter purple by shoving a magic marker up their nose.
Developed by Zeboyd Games
Concept: Sequel to the previous Penny Aracde RPGs, only this time it’s 16-bit, and on Xbox Live Indie Games.
Sort of like: The Far Side meets Final Fantasy.
Why I liked it: Games that try to look and feel retro often rely on archaic game mechanics and don’t take risks with the established formula. Rain-Slick 3 takes everything Zeboyd knows has no place in modern gaming and chucks it out the window. The battles are fast paced, the mechanics are hugely customizable, and the dialog can be very funny. This is probably the most enjoyable “retro” RPG I’ve ever played from a technical perspective.
How it could have been better: The dialog can be very funny, but it often falls flat, and the banter between the characters can drone on and on forever.
Who will like it: LARPers, Walt Disney’s head, people who always wondered where the guys in RPGs keep all those fucking potions at. Their pockets? Where the fuck are black mage pockets at?
Who won’t like it: Tim Buckley, the rest of Walt Disney, that noise that happens when you get a random encounter in games that is now out of a job.