More than 250 downloadable games were released for consoles in 2009. Some became deserved hits, racking up huge sales figures and becoming pervasive in gaming circles, but with so many titles, it's inevitable that a few gems would fall through the cracks.
Ryan Langley, editor of console download-focused Gamasutra sister site GamerBytes, has rounded up eight Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network games that he believes should have found their audience.
But for whatever reason -- be it confused release schedules, price point bungling, or lack of gamer awareness -- they have languished in relative obscurity.
Here are GamerBytes' picks for overlooked console downloadable games of last year:
Lode Runner (Tozai Games, XBLA)
Lode Runner XBLA is a great revitalization of the series. It has a ton of levels to complete, numerous modes to play, online cooperative play, and you can create your own levels. It's got everything you'd want in a Lode Runner game.
Unfortunately, its release was a troubled one. The game was announced as being a $15 title -- a little expensive, but it had a lot of content to back it up. But due to a screw up on Microsoft's part it was accidentally released at $10 for the first 10 hours of release, and was then hiked back up to $15 once the problem was fixed.
This caused an instant backlash against Microsoft and Tozai Games, and many waited for a further price drop. It's sad to see a mistake like this causing such a problem. There was a price drop later on, but few people picked up on it as the newer titles got top billing.
Definitely give the demo a go. It's tons of fun and perfect for some coop play with the missus.
Rocket Riot (Codeglue/THQ, XBLA)
A twin stick shooter of sorts, Rocket Riot is a game with a funny premise, cute character designs, and a lot of fun. So what happened?
Rocket Riot took an awfully long time to come out. With a lack of promotion by THQ, and the Major Nelson blog not announcing its release, few people knew it had come out. The only thing it had was buzz from some website editors who had been playing it prior to release and absolutely loving it.
It's still quite fun to play. You may not find much of an online audience anymore, but get a few friends around an Xbox 360 and you'll have a blast. Download the demo here.
Axel & Pixel (Silver Wish Games/2K Play, XBLA)
With Secret Of Monkey Island: Special Edition's release on Xbox Live Arcade, you'd think more point-and-click adventures would be viable on the platform, but there might be a ways to go before that happens. Case in point: Axel & Pixel.
The journey of a nonsensical artist and his dog companion, Axel & Pixel is a mixture of point-and-click adventure and a hidden object game, wrapped in a bizarre and fascinating art style. The game is filled with character.
Its problem was communicating just what it was. The game didn't have a trailer until about a week before it came out, and the 2K Play label hasn't had much contact with the gaming press with its previous titles Dora The Explorer and Carnival Games.
For a simple point-and-click adventure, Axel & Pixel is great, and I had fun playing it. I hope Silver Wish Studios continues in this vein or releases a PC version to Steam. For now, download the demo.
Droplitz (Blitz Arcade/Atlus, XBLA/PSN/PC/iPhone)
There have been plenty of puzzle games this year, but Droplitz was a great spin on the genre that was unfortunately ignored by the masses.
The game is based on drops of water falling from the top of the screen into a series of pipes. The player must rotate the array of pipes in order to let the drops make their way down, while creating multiple paths for a single drop to create combos.
Itís quite an addictive game, but like many of Blitz Arcade's titles, it drove little interest on the marketplace. It's not really Atlus' or Blitz's fault; puzzle games involving blocks have had an incredibly rough time everywhere, much like dual-stick shooters that aren't called Geometry Wars.
The other problem is that it faces the iPhone generation of games. There are so many puzzle games to choose from nowadays that in the end none of them do well. Why would someone buy a $10 XBLA game when they have a choice of thousands on the iPhone for $0.99 each?
A small anecdote: I bought the Steam version when it went on sale from $10 to $2. The first thing I did was check the leaderboards: 103 people were listed. Only 103 people could bother buying the PC release of this game. That's crazy! By the end of the sale there were some 12,000 players -Ė certainly better than it was doing before, but at only $2 a pop.
The game has been on and off sale for the past few months on the PlayStation Network, and I wouldn't be surprised to see it go on sale some time later on the Xbox Live Arcade. In the meantime, at least check the demo out.
Gyromancer (PopCap/Square Enix, XBLA/PC)
Gyromancer is the collaborative effort between PopCap and Square Enix. It seems perfect, but a few small problems and no big push from the publisher led many people to ignore it.
Similarly to Puzzle Quest, Gyromancer leads you on an adventure to battle monsters using the power of match-three puzzles. While on the surface the games may look alike, Gyromancer is different in many ways. It's set up as 12 different levels, and the player battles by removing bad blocks from the field. Just that change from the standard Bejeweled mechanics to those of Bejeweled Twist changes the game entirely.
It does have its problems -- the story is pretty dull, for one -- but I've had a huge amount of fun playing the game.
I feel its major problem was the demo itself. It doesn't accurately portray the difficulty that the game provides later on. After the first two levels, you begin to get penalized for making bad turns, which really changes the game as it progresses. The lack of customization is also a little odd, but it doesn't stop the game from being enjoyable.
And while Square Enix has been trying hard with its downloadable games as of late, Gyromancer could have been done a bit better. The game came out the week after some huge retail titles and was released alongside Diner Dash and Peggle Nights. Fans of puzzle games were split into three for the opening week.
Over the past decade companies have been trying to find a way of making real-time strategy games on consoles. We've seen Halo Wars, Lord Of The Rings and Command & Conquer take a jab at it, but there is still a lot of insecurity about whether it works on a console and not a PC.
Many people think the genre just doesn't work on consoles at all. The high-tier PC players will talk about their shortcut keys and elaborate strategies and already they've already lost you.
In comes Commander's Challenge, an Xbox Live Arcade and PSN version of Red Alert 3's PC expansion pack. It's a set of missions that lets new players slowly understand and unlock new weapons while ramping up the difficulty over 50 missions. For a measly ten dollars it has a lot of content -Ė 50 missions is not a piddly number. The game took me a good 10 hours or more to get through, and then I went back to try and complete old levels with my unlocked weaponry.
It's the perfect setup for anyone who's been afraid of trying a console RTS, but it seems like the game was still ignored. Having not played an RTS since WarCraft 2, I was able to jump in and enjoy the hell out of this game, and now I'm looking forward to going back and grabbing Red Alert 3 and Command & Conquer 3 on the Xbox 360.
The biggest thing holding it back is the file size. Two gigabytes is a big chunk for anyone who still has a 20GB hard drive on the Xbox 360, but for anyone else, if you've even thought of trying a console RTS at some point, download the demo of Commanderís Challenge.
Mushroom Wars (Creat Studios, PSN)
To fans of the PlayStation Network, Mushroom Wars looks like a knockoff of PixelJunk Monsters. While the art style is certainly similar, the gameplay is completely different, and a lot of fun.
Mushroom Wars is a real-time strategy of sorts. You must direct little men from one house to the next, taking over neutral points and finally overwhelming the opposing team. Regular houses can regenerate new men, and upgrading houses leads to making soldiers more quickly. You can also turn any point into an attacking tower which shoots cannons at the incoming team.
For those with an itch for rushing the enemy, this game is for you. It's quite exhilarating to watch 200 or more of your dudes run across the map and decimate the opponent's final mushroom.
The game is quite short, but I got my $10 worth. Online multiplayer would have made this game a must, but local play is quite fun too.
Death Tank (Flat Games / Snowblind Studios, XBLA)
I was a huge fan of Death Tank on the Sega Saturn. It was a game developed by Lobotomy Software that you unlocked in a copy of the Saturn version of Duke Nukem 3D by having a Quake save file. I had seven Saturn controllers with a multitap and had a blast with friends trying to kill each other in small multicolored tanks.
When it was announced for the Xbox Live Arcade I was ecstatic, and when it was released I played it a ton, but the reason for it being ignored it pretty evident: the price tag.
Thanks to the success of games like Castle Crashers and Braid on the Xbox Live Arcade, other developers thought that the $15 price point was now viable for downloadable console games. Thus began a torrent of poorly-priced games.
Death Tank is not a $15 game. It really should have been $10. But it's still a ton of fun, and the addition of new weapons a few months ago added to the carnage. Hopefully a permanent price drop down the line can bring the game back from obscurity. Check out the trial at the very least. You get 30 minutes of online play for free.