[Gamasutra and its sister console digital download info site GamerBytes have been following the Xbox 360's Community Games project since its launch in November, and is proud to present the Top 10 XNA games of 2008, in association with independent site XNPlay.]
For the first time ever, a major console company has allowed hobbyists to create peer-reviewed console games, and publish them directly onto the console for worldwide download.
Thus, Microsoft's launch of its Xbox Live Community Games service in November 2008 has already brought nearly 100 free time-limited, pay for unlimited-play independent games to the service -- and a distinct need for critics and reviewers to seek out and showcase the best.
For this year-end countdown, Gamasutra and sister site GamerBytes is handing over the reins to Robert 'Oddbob' Fearon and his staff from XNPlay, an independent website dedicated to bringing you news, views, reviews and previews of games featured on Microsoft’s Xbox 360 Community Games program.
Here's their picks for the top XNA titles released onto the Xbox 360 in 2008, all currently available for download from the console's Community Games section:
The early '80s arcade game that never was. Galax-E-Mail begins with the bizarre premise that you're an intergalactic e-mail delivery service (which kinda defeats the point of e-mail, don't you think?), and you're charged with guiding a flock of ships from A-B to ensure a safe delivery.
A curiously authentic retro look may put some folks off. But scratch the surface and there's a glorious game lying underneath. It forgoes the usual twin stick arena fare that we've come to know and love -- instead showing an intriguing set of game mechanics melded into a rather sweet maze game.
Harking back to the 1979 Sega classic Monaco GP, Monaco360 resurrects the almost lost top-down racer genre for the Community Games service. For those weaned on a diet of bloom, realistic cars and cityscapes, Monaco360 may look and feel a tad primitive.
But for those like me who dearly miss the hours spent on games like MonacoGP, Spy Hunter and Road Fighter - Monaco360 is an absolute must have.
Dragging the Tron light-cycles concept into 3D and into space certainly isn't a fresh idea. However, rarely has it been done with as much polish. Star Pilot may not have the brain bending nature of Knot In 3D/Counterclockwise, or indeed any number of older titles.
But it proves there's still a lot to be garnered from even the most classic of game design fundamentals. Throw in an incredibly accessible drawing mode where you get to paint with the light trails, and you've got a winner.
This is a flawed gem amongst the Community Games, but one worthy of note, all the same.
Weapon Of Choice is a Contra-style 2D run and gun game, with more than its fair share of bizarre enemies ready to burst forth their innards upon being assaulted with your heavy artillery. Lives are replaced by "operatives", each with different skills for you to take charge of.
It's a loud and brash game that doesn't always achieve the giddy heights it's aiming for. The sheer amount of hand-drawn art is breathtaking and makes Weapon Of Choice look like no other game out there. We're still not sure if the art is a work of genius or if someone threw up a rainbow on our televisions, but we can't help but appreciate the balls-out approach Mommy's Best have taken here.
Lying somewhere between Q? Entertainment's Every Extend Extra Extreme (more so than Omega's original Every Extend) and a color-matching game, Hexothermic is a luscious and aurally pleasing little puzzler.
On first glance, it may feel like it rewards straightforward playing, but hides a surprising level of strategy. Change the color of gems on the board to unleash a chain reaction, aiming to clear the board in just one move. It's relaxing, pretty and incredibly enjoyable stuff.
The jewel in the crown of XNA puzzlefests to date, and one of the earliest games to hit the service, Duotrix still stands proud. It works due to its compulsive playability, and succeeds where many similar games fall down - actually adding something worthwhile to the block dropping genre.
The main twist, as implied in the name, is that the player controls two sets of blocks at the same time in a mirrored environment. It may sound unwieldy and awkward, but Duotrixmakes it feel like second nature after only a short time. The addition of Zoots (the developer's own achievement system, as seen in their previous freeware PC title Echoes) and multiple game modes helps a lot.
And with visuals clearly inspired by veteran developer Jeff Minter, this is one of the most polished and compulsive titles on the service.
A port of the homebrew DS game of the same name, Johnny Platform's Biscuit Romp is an incredibly pleasing platform/puzzle game with some fine pixel artwork.
Recalling the heady days of 16-bit platformers, JPBR mixes elements of Qwak, Super Mario Bros and even the 8 bit "classic" Exolon together to good effect.
With 55 levels to work your way through, and one of the smoothest difficulty curves we've encountered in a long time, JPBR is proof positive that there's life in the old platforming dog yet. Not that we ever doubted that, of course.
Ultratron may already be familiar to PC gamers, since the original Windows version having been floating around the internet since 2005 -- but it's fresh out of the wrapping on the Xbox 360 Community Games service.
A more casual arena shooter than available on the Community Games "big daddy" service, Xbox Live Arcade, Ultratron feels like it's finally found its natural home on a console. A twin-stick shooter with the ultimate goal of defeating the four robots of the apocalypse (didn't you get that memo?), it clearly owes a massive debt to Eugene Jarvis, but is still very much its own beast.
Pumpkin Games have provided a tightly knit package that utilizes the strengths of the service, throwing in their own brand of achievements and new shader effects to sweeten the deal. With a neo-retro graphics style that will outlast many games and a gentle difficulty curve with nary a spike, Ultratron is a fine example of how Community Games can provide an appropriate home for indies more au fait with the PC.
The well deserved winner of the DreamBuildPlay 2008 competition, if there's any justice in the world, CarneyVale Showtime will be the game that puts the Community Games on the map.
It's a blazingly simple concept. You guide a ragdoll up the screen via a series of rotating grappling ropes, and complete the level by flinging him through a flaming hoop. What makes the game so special is its wonderful show of coherence coupled with joyous arcade-esque thrills.
Hurling your little acrobat through the air, popping balloons as you go is just so much fun. It'd be a hard-faced man indeed who wouldn't raise a smile after a particularly successful run of tricks, the crowd cheering them on as they hurtle through the fiery ring and onto the next challenge.
At the frankly silly price of 400 points, and with 18 inbuilt levels and a level editor thrown in for good measure, CarneyVale Showtime deserves your time. Play it and wonder to yourself why XBLA occasionally drifts into the realms of utter tat, and yet sitting there unattended on the Community Games service lies this gem that eclipses a vast proportion of XBLA games. Then smile and spread the word.