Keeping up the IBTimes' Christmas 2011 buyers guide series, we offer you our definitive list of five Xbox LIVE Arcade titles you don't want to miss this holiday season.
5) Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet
The brainchild of Fuelcell Games and artist Michel Gagne Twisted Shadow tells the story of a brave alien sent to save the galaxy from "corruption." Boasting an insanely creative artistic direction Twisted Shadow sees you take command of the Alien's flying saucer and navigate through the planet's hostile planes and caverns, weeding out the corrupted denizens and environments as you find them.
With an emphasis on puzzle solving, Twisted Planet challenges the player to use the ship's expanding arsenal of gadgets and tools to use the environment around it to overcome the planet's obstacles. The game's intense and often forbidding graphics and sounds give the game a suitably lonely and eerie atmosphere.
In fact, so impressed are we with the artistic direction and aspirations of Twisted Planet, were it not for the at times finicky controls, Twisted Planet would likely be far higher in the list.
Released: 3 August, 2011
4) From Dust
Another title that, had the games on this list been judged purely by their aspirations, would have been far higher, From Dust offers gamers the ultimate seat of power, letting them literally play God.
From Dust sees you take the role of a small tribe's God. In your role as God, the game grants you several world molding powers, letting you do everything from manipulate the laws of gravity to causing volcano eruptions and tsunamis. The game in turn challenges you to use these powers to protect your worshippers.
The game sees you guide your tribe of followers through numerous hazardous paths and protect them from a disturbingly high number of natural disasters. These challenges range from protecting one of your followers as they journey to collect resources needed by the tribe, to helping the villages emigrate to a more hospitable location.
As was the case with Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, the only thing stopping From Dust climbing up the IBTimes' hidden gems list are a few technical bugs that can occasionally intrude on the fun. These bugs include troubles with the villagers AI that lead them to pick paths to certain death over the nice safe route you've just created them, and a few control issues that can occasionally make it difficult to manipulate the environment.
Released: 27 July, 2011
3) Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax
Half-Minute Hero came to the XBLA earlier in the year equipped with updated graphics and the same manic gameplay that made its PSP precursor great.
The game's mechanic is simple; every new level you're dropped into a new classic RPG scenario and have 30 seconds to complete it. Every level the premise and details change, but the core 30 seconds mechanic remains the same. Half Minute Hero's main strength lies in the fact that while it contains some of the staple ingredients common to most RPG games, it condenses them and mashes them together to create a new dynamic, frantic dash for the finish line gaming experience that keeps you interested for all 40-plus of the game's levels.
Released: 29 June, 2011
Containing an insanely distinctive artistic style, gorgeous visuals and a suitably epic soundtrack, Outland has earned its place as one of the best games on the XBLA ever, let alone for 2011.
The game's story is a somber one, involving ancient heroes, mystical powers and a decaying world that is slowly dying. A platformer at heart, Outland houses a clever duality system that sees you use switch between light and dark abilities to traverse the game's hostile world. The controls are a particular delight, with the animations all being fluent and intuitive, imbuing a true sense of grace in every movement.
Yet, despite the impressive gameplay, like LIMBO before it, Outland's primary strength is its artistic direction. Outland makes use of a dark foreground, with the character and environments being mainly shown in silhouette, while items of interest are marked using striking neon colours. The marked difference creates a vibrant and startling tone that mixes well with the games sombre music.
Released: 29 June, 2011
Proving the time honoured truth that a game doesn't need a AAA budget to be awesome, Bastion is one of 2011's pleasantest surprises.
Opening to the game's unnamed protagonist, Bastion sees "the kid" explore the remnants of a mysterious city complex known in-game as the Bastion following "the calamity." Available via the Xbox 360's XBLA Bastion was one of the few RPGs this year that really took us by surprise.
The game's artistic direction is astounding and the ongoing real-time narration that literally chronicles what you do as you're doing it make it a blast to play and for the paltry 1,200 Microsoft Points it costs, Christmas RPG-nuts left an XBLA reward card come Christmas day will finally have something to be excited about.
Released: 20 July, 2011
Xbox 360, PC