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I Keep Discovering Great Indie Games In Xbox Game Pass

undermine key art
If you haven’t played Undermine, stop reading this article and go play Undermine!
Illustration: Thorium
Kotaku Game DiaryKotaku Game DiaryThe latest thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we're playing.

Throughout my time with Undermine—which has been in early access on PC since 2019 but received a full release last month for PC and Xbox, where it’s part of the Game Pass library—I’ve seen a lot of good soldier-miners die.

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Bryeb got trampled by a bobo, a large primate that indiscriminately charges at anything in its path. Luphie fell into a pit. Cassman was killed by spiders. Tybylor didn’t see it coming; he was impaled by something called a lurker, a spiked snake-like creature that burrows underground and pops up elsewhere in the room without warning. Caran stepped on a trap switch and was shot by an arrow. Quincher was also impaled by a lurker. Sades, too. (Lurkers are the worst.) Oliby was immolated. Emley was overrun by glomps—basically, ChuChus from Zelda. Maddy stepped on some spikes. Josella was taken out by acid-spitting bats. I could go on.

Like many of its peers, Undermine features lovely pixel art and compelling top-down dungeon-crawling, and if the fun holds up I wouldn’t be surprised if Undermine secures a spot in my personal roguelite pantheon.

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undermine starting menu
Look at these unsuspecting miners lining up just to have me walk them into a pit.
Screenshot: Thorium / Kotaku

Undermine is just the latest tiny gem I’ve found on Xbox Game Pass. Yes, Microsoft’s games-on-demand service is great for trying big blockbusters, like Gears 5, Halo 5, and other games that don’t end in “5” (ex: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt). But I’ve wrung a lot more use—and joy—out of the service by using it to test-drive various smaller games. Sometimes, I’ve stumbled on a new favorite.

Exhibit B: Wizard of Legend, a game I otherwise would’ve totally passed by. Wizard of Legend is, broadly speaking, a top-down dungeon-crawling roguelite. Before each run you customize a loadout of four spells. The more you play, the larger your spellbook grows, and you quickly reach a point where your potential loadout combinations total, according to my math, 900 million. It’s very cool, but the real draw is the seamless local co-op, which gives both players access to the full suite of unlocked spells.

To date, I’ve clocked more than 50 hours.

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I’ve also finally given Enter the Gungeon a shot. (Yeah, yeah, I’m four years late to the party. I know.) Turns out, everyone was right: It’s a terrific game. My only gripe is that the co-op relegates the second player to a lower-powered character. Otherwise, no notes. Shooting animated bullets with bullets is a total blast.

I haven’t just used Game Pass to sink hours into various roguelites, though. After my colleague Mike Fahey sang the praises of CrossCode (and sang them again for this year’s console release), I gave it a whirl. There’s a lot to like—the puzzle-platforming, the tricky 2D-but-not-really verticality, the delightful art—but it wasn’t for me. (Don’t tell Mike.) Still, I’m glad I tried it.

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spiritfarer
Spiritfarer is one of the year’s loveliest games.
Screenshot: Thunder Lotus Games

And then there’s the shining star: Spiritfarer, a “cozy management game about dying.” Unlike other management games—say, Frostpunk, also on Game Pass, and also something I only tried because of the service—Spiritfarer is as laid-back as it gets. Yes, you have to cater to the whims of anthropomorphic animals as they approach the great beyond, but you can do so on your own terms, without having to worry about screwing up and killing your animal pals. They’re already dead! Amidst all the murder-happy games of the summer, Spiritfarer is a welcome, charming delight.

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Pushing Lambos to 200mph in Forza Horizon 4 is undeniably awesome. Playing cowboy in Red Dead Redemption 2, when it was briefly available, was too. But it’s the smaller gems on Game Pass that sing. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go see what fate befalls the next miner in my queue.

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Staff Writer, Kotaku

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DISCUSSION

One would think it would be your job as a games journalist to uncover great indie games without MS serving them up to you

That aside, I’m glad MS is giving indies some exposure they wouldn’t of normally got. Game Pass is a pretty amazing value