Sure, the future of gaming, but it's also ushering in a wave of independent and download-only titles that may not have otherwise seen the light of day.
Current-generation consoles have provided independent studios with accessible platforms like Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) and the PlayStation Network (PSN) that exposes their work to millions of gamers, similar to what the App Store has done for iOS developers.
Microsoft has even taken it a step further with its XNA initiative, ensuring that literally anyone can create a game.
The widespread embrace of these titles has encouraged others to follow suit and has paved the way for indie classics like Braid,, , Minecraft, and most recently, .
The best part? Independent games are cheaper than standard retail disc titles and require far less storage space. Just like in the film industry, true independent pieces are cut from a different cloth. They don't necessarily follow of a strict formula and tend to be more artistically focused and designed.
Independent games are like great little novellas -- a perfect way to break away from big budget titles. So if you're looking to expand your gaming horizons, I've hand-picked a trio of these digital delights and certified them worthy of your hard-earned cash.
Fez, developed by Polytron (XBLA, $10)Anyone who played a video game in the 1980s will instantly fall in love with Fez's throwback 8-bit art style and chiptune soundtrack. The game starts off as any innocent platformer would, but quickly morphs into a mind-bending 3D puzzler that gives the player the ability to turn the world around at 90-degree angles.
Using this main mechanic, players must collect a series of cubes to move on to the next level. Things start simple enough, but quickly escalate into some serious brain-busting goodness.
Fez succeeds because of its clever level design that slowly trains you how to play. Just when you think you've mastered it, you'll be presented with a puzzle that seemingly has no solution. It's the desire to complete these levels that makes Fez so much fun to play, but also the reason you'll be missing out on sleep.
Closure, developed by Eyebrow Interactive (PSN, $15)At first glance Closure looks to be born out of 2010's indie hit, LIMBO, but just seconds after hitting start any and all similarities -- aside from aesthetics -- can be thrown out the window.
Closure plays on the notion of light and dark and uses it in a way I'm not sure I've seen before. In the game you'll play as many creatures, but more often than not one that resembles a spider. The object is simple: make use of the light in each stage to get to the exit.
What's unique about Closure is that the light dictates what exists in a given level. If it's not lit, it's not there, and you can't stand on it. Small orbs of light are placed throughout most stages, but you can only carry one at a time. Things get more complicated when keys are thrown into the mix and when you're given the ability to control spotlights as well.
Each level is its own beast, with usually multiple mini-puzzles built within. You'll become quite familiar with the select button during your time with Closure as it resets the level from scratch.
Closure is smart, beautiful, and simple enough for anyone to pick up, understand, and play. Of course the difficulty ramps up the more you progress, but it's not at an unreasonable rate.
Trials Evolution, developed by RedLynx (XBLA, $15)After the original Trials HD exploded on Microsoft's XBLA Marketplace in 2009, it's tough to label its sequel, Trials Evolution, as a true indie game -- especially since RedLynx's acquisition by Ubisoft. While it may not be as "indie" as its predecessor, a lot of its success is owed to the Xbox Live Arcade community and word of mouth.
Regardless, Trials Evolution delivers more of what made the original so addictive and brings enough new content and features to the table to easily justify another go.
Graphically speaking, Evolution ups the ante on all fronts. Almost everything looks better this time around, and I really liked how tracks can now twist and turn, departing from the straight-line only runs of Trials HD. Almost each track has a unique theme, from warehouses to ruins, battlefields to the desert.
Evolution boasts 60 tracks in the standard campaign and a seemingly infinite amount to download from the community. A fully fleshed-out track editor is at the disposal of every who buys the game, which will undoubtedly lead to a healthy outpouring of over-the-top creations.
Trials Evolution controls exactly like its predecessor, which is a good thing. The easy-to-play, nearly-impossible-to-master controls still rely heavily on motorcross physics as you'll need to carefully know when to accelerate, when to brake, and when to hold on for dear life.
What really amazes me about the Trials franchise is how well the sense of competition is ignited through the posting of time trials on leaderboards and among friends. Progressing through a level is mostly easy, but beating your friend's best time or moving up in the worldwide leaderboards isn't. It won't be long before you find yourself memorizing tracks and replaying them dozens of times just to shave off two one-hundredths of a second.