2011 Holiday Buyers Guide: Xbox Live

Hammer time.
With the holiday season fast approaching, you may soon find yourself in possession of hoards of Microsoft Points, or you may be planning to drop some in a few unsuspecting stockings. While you can't really gift Xbox Live games, there's nothing to stop you from making some suggestions, right?

Whether you are giving or receiving, this guide is for you, highlighting some of the best downloadable releases Xbox Live had to offer this year. Just remember, friends don't let friends blow all their MS Points on Avatar outfits. Oh, and also remember to look for our Xbox buyer's guide in the coming days.

Daytona USA (800 MSP / $10)

The classic arcade racer that got the same song stuck in millions of heads returns. As if to drive the point home, it even features a karaoke mode, letting users drive the melodies into the minds of a new generation.

Bejeweled 3 (1200 MSP / $15)

It's Bejeweled. Need we say more?

Bloodrayne: Betrayal (1200 MSP / $15)

A revival of the Bloodrayne series that manages to be much better than the series that inspired it. Combo-driven gameplay, sharp visuals and buckets of blood add up to one of the best action games on XBLA. Also: Coffin rockets.

Guardian Heroes (800 MSP / $10)

You had a Sega Saturn, right? Even if you did, there's a reasonable chance you missed out on this gem from Treasure, developer of Gunstar Heroes and Ikaruga. Mix fighting game special moves with beat-em-gameplay, new visuals and online gameplay to make a classic even better.

Dungeon Defenders (1200 MSP / $15)

One of the most delightfully surprising games of the year, Dungeon Defenders mixes tower defense with addictive RPG elements and well-implemented online or local multiplayer. Some of the most fun you can have with friends.

Wizorb (240 MSP / $3)

Okay, it's technically an Xbox Live Indie Game, but how can you turn down this retro-flavored combination of role-playing games and block-smashing, Breakout-inspired gameplay?

Space Channel 5: Part 2 (800 MSP / $10)

Sure, rhythm and dancing games are de rigueur these days, but the bubblegum visuals and bizarre situations of Space Channel 5: Part 2 make this Dreamcast title stand out even today.

Orcs Must Die! (1200 MSP / $15)

What, you thought Orcs should be allowed to live? Of course not! They deserve to be crushed, catapulted, burned and maimed. Thankfully, Orcs Must Die! is here to help you do just that, allowing players to build the perfect engine of green-skin death.

Crimson Alliance (1200 MSP / $15)

Sometimes, you just want to crawl some dungeons with friends. Crimson Alliance lets you do just that, offering a regular gauntlet of foes to hack and slash.

Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition (1200 MSP / $15)

It's what many fighting game fans consider to be the pinnacle of the 2D Street Fighter games. Now, it's graced with online play, tournaments, a training mode, replays and, hey, did we mention online play?

Toy Soldiers: Cold War (1200 MSP / $15)

Tower defense with a tiny, plastic Cold War twist. Take direct control of turrets, jets and tanks to mow down enemy forces on top of toy playsets pulled right from the 80s. And don't forget online co-op and the Top Gun inspired soundtrack.

Fruit Ninja Kinect (800 MSP / $10)

Microsoft would have you believe that the future of Kinect is performing surgery or playing air violin, but its real purpose has already been discovered: Slicing fruit with your friends. If you're looking for a Kinect game to pull out at a party, this is it.

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (1200 MSP / $15)

An undulating evil from another galaxy threatens to destroy the sun and the world. It's up to a tiny alien and his tiny UFO to explore the beautifully animated Shadow Planet, uncover upgrades, destroy monsters and restore order.

From Dust (1200 MSP / $15)

From the mind of Out of This World (Another World) creator Eric Chahi comes this real time strategy title. Build villages, drain lakes and lava pools and reshape the world itself. Just try not to burn everything down.

Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes HD (1200 MSP / $15)

It's a puzzle game. No, it's an RPG. No, it's a strategy game. Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes HD is all of these things, coupled with online multiplayer and great Capy animation.

Ms. 'Splosion Man (800 MSP / $10)

Ms. 'Splosion Man builds upon the excellent 'Splosion Man, adding lots of new mechanics to the frantic puzzle platformer. Trampolines, zip lines, rocket cars and more create a veritable ballet of destruction across dozens of single-player and co-op levels.

Bastion (1200 MSP / $15)

The debut title from Supergiant Games, Bastion brings action-RPG combat to a wonderful, floating world. A large variety of weapons, enemies and challenges keep things fresh. Throw in a great soundtrack and a fantastic narrator and you've got one of the best XBLA games of the year.

Outland (800 MSP / $10)

From the developers of Super Stardust HD comes this exotic and gorgeous platformer. Combining Prince of Persia brand platforming with the color-switching dynamic of Ikaruga, Outland offers a unique experience for up to two players.

Deadliest Warrior Legends (800 MSP / $10)

The brutal fighting game returns, adding some more advanced maneuvers to the dismemberments and decapitations of the first game. A new Generals Mode also allows players to pit their historical fighters in a Risk-like competition of territorial control.

Bangai-O HD: Missile Fury (800 MSP / $10)

Never in your life have you seen this many missiles on screen at once. All of them, every last one, is heading straight for you in this frantic action game. It's not so much about winning as it is surviving.

Beyond Good & Evil HD (800 MSP / $10)

A game that mixes stealth, hovercraft driving, combat and future air hockey, creator Michel Ancel's classic receives an HD makeover on Xbox Live Arcade. Follow Jade and her porcine companion Uncle Pey'j on one of gaming's best adventures.

(1200 MSP / $15)

Loot-driven dungeon crawlers might once have been the domain of PCs, but Torchlight on XBLA proves is possible to bring the genre's precise control home to consoles. Three character classes, randomly generated dungeons and more loot than you can shake a broadsword of severing at make for a great time.

Bejeweled Blitz Live (400 MSP / $5)

Yes, Bejeweled 3 is already on this list, but Bejeweled Blitz Live puts a surprisingly addictive spin on the old formula: You only have sixty seconds to make as many matches as possible. Play offline with two players or jump online for a sixteen-player party.

Full House Poker (800 MSP / $10)

Sit your Avatar down for a nice relaxing game of poker. Full House Poker adds to the experience with lots of Avatar animations, costumes and customizable cards, tables and furniture. Most interesting of all, you can hop online for live, scheduled tournaments.

Stacking (1200 MSP / $15)

Save the day as a tiny Russian nesting doll in this downloadable Double Fine delight. In the words of our own Justin McElroy: "It's effortlessly charming, with a flexible, unique central mechanic that actually encourages play and experimentation. It also contains a well-hidden but none the less heartwarming message about the importance of family sticking together."

DeathSmiles 2 X ($29.99)

Cave knows how to make bullet hell shooters, and this DeathSmiles 2 X is no exception. So many bullets! Bring a friend and see if you can dodge 'em all.

Resident Evil 4 ($19.99)

Put simply, if you've never played Resident Evil 4, you are missing out on one of the best games of the last decade. If you have played it before, perhaps we could interest you in some newfangled high resolution graphics?

Hard Corps: Uprising (1200 MSP / $15)

A spiritual successor to the most under-rated Contra game ever, animated by the guys who created Guilty Gear? Hard Corps: Uprising takes Contra back to it's arcade roots, and makes grinding through the game multiple times surprisingly fun.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.