It's time for a whole bunch of mini-reviews! Let's get started!
First up, it's Vorpal for XBLIG. It's a rather good vertical bullet hell shmup. Unlike most shmups, there are no real levels - the entire game consists of boss fights. This isn't necessarily a bad thing though - the boss fights are fun and there's enough variety in bullet patterns to keep things interesting. As far as bullet hell shmups go, it's pretty easy on the Normal mode, but of course, pretty easy for a bullet hell shmup means that it's still fairly difficult. Wasn't a big fan of the trance music, but the visual style - consisting of only black, white, and red - works surprisingly well. At only 80 MS points, it's well worth a shot if you're a fan of the genre or would like to give the genre a try.
Next up, we have Aban Hawkins & the 1000 Spikes. This is one of those insanely hard platformers like I Wanna Be the Guy or Super Meat Boy. If you have a masochistic streak or are just really skilled, then you'll definitely want to pick this game up since it's very well done - clever level designs and nice retro aesthetic. Everyone else should probably stay far, far away. Only 80 MS points.
Next, Astroman and A.R.E.S. Astroman is an XBLIG title for 240 MS points, whereas A.R.E.S. is a Dream-Build-Play winner that is now available on Steam for $10. Both games have a Metroid-lite feel to them - you explore large levels, shoot monsters, and find upgrades that make yourself (and in the case of Astroman, your space ship) more powerful and versatile. Of the two, Astroman has more of a focus on exploration, whereas A.R.E.S. has a greater focus on combat. Both games are pretty good and offer a nice amount of content for the price, however, there are better Metroid-style games out there for download like Cave Story (PC/Wii), Shadow Complex (360), Iji (PC), and Hero Core (PC) so pick those up first if you haven't already.
And now for my favorite game of this bunch, Atom Zombie Smasher for the PC ($15) from the creator of Flotilla (360/PC). Atom Zombie Smasher is a great puzzle/strategy hybrid that puts you in charge of a zombie apocalypse evacuation. The primary gameplay places you in a section of city with a variety of tools (Evac Helicopter, Barricades, Artillery, Infantry, etc.) and your goal is to rescue as many people as possible before the zombies get them. Between stages, you gain XP for your different tools (which can be used to purchase various upgrades) and see the zombie infestation spread on a Risk-like map. You and the zombies also gain points which can unlock new features (or problems in the case of the zombies) like research scientists, giant zombies, and orbital death beams. All of this would be enough to make for a good game, but then you also throw in a strange sense of humor, mod support, and a number of gameplay options, and you've got a very addictive game that you're sure to replay again and again. Very highly recommended.