Since the Xbox 360’s launch in November 2005, the Xbox Live Arcade has been a driving force in the console’s success. With a library of hundreds of games ranging from casual puzzle games to ports and remastered classics, and from unheard of indie gems to groundbreaking milestones in gaming, the XBLA has become an important place for any type of game to succeed and find an audience.
But it hasn’t always been about easy success stories on the XBLA. There have been many setbacks and growing pains within Microsoft’s download service. Outages in service, file size limitations and Microsoft’s own certification process have plagued the XBLA in the past, and flops like Game Room are disappointing. But the XBLA is what it is today for one reason – it has some truly amazing games.
Many of these games have instituted changes within the XBLA, some in ways we can’t yet see. So we at XBLAFans.com have decided to rate the top 15 games that changed the face of XBLA as we know it, for better or for worse.
15. Lara Croft and The Guardian of Light
The release of Lara Croft and The Guardian of Light marks the first time an iconic videogame character skipped a retail release and went only as a digital download. By dropping the Tomb Raider name and providing a totally new and engaging co-op experience, developer Crystal Dynamics created something new and interesting with a very familiar character. It was something that took many people by surprise, and as it turns out, resulted in something good.
It seems likely that more large developers will do something similar with known franchises, especially considering the massive budgets and production costs that most retail games currently require. Double Fine has already announced the development of a series of smaller downloadable titles instead another retail game, so expecting this trend to continue in the future is reasonable.
14. Prince of Persia Classic
Most gamers today probably don’t remember the original Prince of Persia for the Apple II, which came out in 1989. Like the original, this updated version was brutally difficult and featured beautiful, fluid animation. It also marks the beginning of the idea that outdated retro games could be remade for the modern gaming generation, rather than just being straight up translations, which the XBLA didn’t lack. Later, XBLA greats like Bionic Commando: Rearmed, Battlefield 1943, Call of Duty: Classic and After Burner Climax would receive the same remastered treatment.
Prince of Persia Classic proves that there’s a certain satisfaction to seeing your favorite classics updated with HD visuals and sound, and having them play the way you remember. There can often be a despairing realization when the memory of a favorite game doesn’t hold up in reality, and because of games like Prince of Persia Classic and those that followed, reality can be just as pleasant as the memory you once had.
13. Dead Rising: Case Zero
As the most recent XBLA release, Dead Rising: Case Zero marks the first time gamers have had to pay for what could be considered a glorified demo. But for the meager price of 400 Microsoft Points ($5), gamers receive a meaty chunk of game.
For a game whose novelty is built around killing zombies in hilarious and sadistic ways, there’s a lot to do and enjoy in DR: CZ. The game’s objectives and Achievements encourage multiple play-throughs, and the player’s stats will carry over in to Dead Rising 2 upon starting it. And let’s not forget the combinable weapons and specials drinks, which add a great deal of strategy and comedy.
For better or worse, expect to see more and more games follow DR: CZ’s example. Future games like Dead Space 2 and Red Faction: Armageddon already have short downloadable tie-ins scheduled for release on XBLA, and as with DR: CZ, these titles will carry over in some way to their corresponding full retail game. As long as these downloadable titles are marketed and priced correctly, they should prove to be a good thing.
Banjo-Kazooie was the first Nintendo 64 game remade and updated for XBLA in late 2008. But it wasn’t just any N64 game, it was a game made by Rare, the notorious developer of some of the N64’s most iconic titles, a company now owned by Microsoft. The release of Banjo-Kazooie was followed heavily with rumors and hopes that games like Killer Instinct, Goldeneye 007 and Perfect Dark would follow.
A few months later Banjo-Tooie, the N64 sequel to Banjo-Kazooie, was released on XBLA, and almost a year would pass before Rare fans would get anything else from the developer’s legendary game library. Finally, in March 2009 a remastered version of Perfect Dark was released exclusively for XBLA.
Today, the chances of seeing updated versions of games like Goldeneye 007 and Killer Instinct are quite slim, especially now that Goldeneye 007 is getting a remake on the Nintendo Wii, but there is still hope among the diehard fans of both games. At least now there’s the precedent for some of Rare’s N64 classics appearing in HD form on XBLA.
Personally, I would kill to see an HD remake of Jet Force Gemini more than anything, so if anyone at Rare or Microsoft is reading this, I’d totally buy that and tell all my friends about it.
11. Rez HD
This marks the first Sega Dreamcast game to be ported to the XBLA. A cult classic that featured an amazing soundtrack and trippy visuals, it also lead to HD updates Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and Soul Calibur, two of the Dreamcast’s best fighters.
Rez HD’s release would eventually result in some heavy rumors regarding whether or not Sega would release more updated Dreamcast games on XBLA. And after many a rumor, Sega eventually confirmed that not only would Sonic Adventure and Crazy Taxi be updated for XBLA, but they would also be the first among a wave of Dreamcast games updated for digital download. Sega even went as far as to make comments that Saturn remakes would also be a possibility.
So even though they’re not making game consoles anymore, Sega is still listening to what people want, and Rez HD is the beginning of this on XBLA.
Peggle represents the casual gaming revolution hitting hardcore game consoles, as it was quickly spreading on mobile devices, handheld systems and the Wii. Because of games like Peggle becoming so popular, casual gaming is now regarded as a genre of gaming in it’s own right.
While few videogame terms put off hardcore gamers more than the “casual gaming” one, people should realize that Peggle is something special. It’s really a unique and surprisingly fun game that can be played for any amount of time. It also made sure that PopCap’s newest hit Plants vs. Zombies would eventually see a console release.
While some people may scoff at these games being on XBLA, they can’t be denied as important releases. The XBLA was intended for games such as Peggle, and is a game that anyone can enjoy.
Undertow set a high graphical standard for games early in the XBLA’s lifespan. It was the first XBLA game to utilize Epic’s Unreal Engine 3 and won numerous awards, including Official Xbox Magazine’s XBLA Game of the Year award.
Undertow was also briefly available as a free download in January 2008 in an effort by Microsoft to apologize to everyone who experienced serious Xbox Live service problems around the holiday season.
Undertow’s developer, Chair Entertainment, would follow the success of Undertow with the fantastic Shadow Complex, one of last year’s most prominent Summer of Arcade titles, and one of the most superb out of the entire XBLA’s library.
This terrible, terrible advergame for the Toyota Yaris is a prime example of how creating a game for the sake of advertisement is just filthy and wrong. It’s also a prime example of what it can feel like to be ripped off by a game without actually paying for it.
Although it’s not available anymore, and yes, it was free, Yaris represents the dastardly encroachment of advertising in videogames, or as in this case, advertising with a videogame. It wouldn’t be the last something like Yaris happened, either. Later, PepsiCo would run a contest for concepts for a Doritos-themed game, the result of which was Dash of Destruction. Although a slightly better game than Yaris, Dash of Destruction is still a shameful advergame designed solely for product awareness.
7. Hexic HD
While Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved was taking the XBLA by storm during the Xbox 360’s infancy, Hexic HD quietly made a name for itself among gamers and helped further establish the XBLA’s importance. From Alexey Pajitnov, the creator of the original Tetris, Hexic HD was a free puzzle game preloaded in every new Xbox 360’s hard drive.
Most people who owned an Xbox 360 during launch most likely tried Hexic HD before playing GW: RE, or before they even knew what the XBLA was supposed to be. Together, these two titles helped shape the XBLA into what it is today.
6. I MAED A GAM3 W1TH ZOMB1ES 1N IT!!!1
How many indie games get their own game-based merchandise sold in Hot Topic stores? Oh yeah, not too many if I can recall correctly. This little game from indie developer Jamezila has currently sold more than 300,000 copies, a staggering amount when taking into consideration the average most indie games sell, let alone some XBLA games. For the generous price of one dollar, gamers can experience this fun dual-stick shooter as they mow down legions of undead.
This game managed to strike a special nerve among people that most games don’t, and it wasn’t just because it focused on our culture’s current obsessive fascination with zombies. Maybe it was the game’s satirical title that in itself took a jab at our zombie-loving ways, or maybe it was game’s cool soundtrack, which happens to have a song on the Rock Band Network, or maybe it was simply good timing. Whatever the reasons, I MAED A GAM3 W1TH ZOMB1ES 1N IT!!!1 is a benchmark indie title and an inspirational achievement for others to take note on and follow.
5. Shadow Complex
The first Summer of Arcade was great, but when the second annual promotion came around in 2009, it was Shadow Complex that secured it in the minds of gamers as the absolute best time of the year for XBLA.
An Xbox 360 exclusive, Shadow Complex was a fantastic game by any means and won numerous awards from major gaming publications. It also didn’t hurt that it looked beautiful, and was clearly inspired by classics such as Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of The Night. Shadow Complex is still one of the best games in the XBLA’s library, and is one of the main reasons why the annual Summer of Arcade continues to feature stellar titles that either surpass or at least match the quality of the previous year’s titles.
4. Castlevania: Symphony of The Night
A great classic game that still holds up well today, it was the first PlayStation game to be ported to the XBLA. What is perhaps even more important about Castlevania: SoTN, however, is something that most gamers might not know – it was also the first game to exceed the initial 50MB limit Microsoft instilled on every XBLA game, which would implicate the future of all XBLA games.
The file size limit would eventually increase to what it is today at 2GB, which is now just a technical limitation rather than one placed by Microsoft. But because of Castlevania: SoTN, we are blessed to experience the lengthy, meaty arcade games we do today.
The game that kicked off 2010’s Summer of Arcade was a milestone in the XBLA’s life for some important reasons. Besides generating a great deal of discussion among gamers and critics pertaining its meaning, it’s one of the only games I can think of that didn’t shy away from showing the grisly death of young children.
In addition to this, it was also a very cleverly designed game. By placing the player in the shoes of a defenseless young boy, it challenged them both psychologically and mentally with fear, dread, quick thinking and puzzle solving. Just read our review and see why you must play this game.
However, Limbo also set off a debate about the pricing structure of XBLA games, and how much is too much to pay for a downloadable game. Since the game only took two to three hours to finish, many felt 1200 MS points ($15) was insulting, while others argued it wasn’t Limbo’s length that made the asking price worth it, but the quality and richness of the experience it provided. Either way, it’s likely that Limbo has set the new pricing standard for major XBLA releases. With more titles releasing at 1200 points instead of the usual 800, it’s becoming easier to point a finger at Limbo as the game that solidified this trend in XBLA game prices. Where do you fall in this debate?
Braid was a major XBLA release for many reasons. Not only was it one of the best games to come out of the first ever Summer of Arcade promotion in 2008, it also holds the highest Metacritic average out of any XBLA title at 93. But more than this, Braid marked a turning point in the XBLA’s life in which the games released on it could be more than just a casual arcade experience you killed time with.
Braid was different – it had significance. It had implications that changed the way everyone thought about what kinds of games would be on XBLA. And for the first time on XBLA, Braid dealt with mature themes in a meaningful and touching way, something that videogames as a medium are still trying to do. Braid also made remarkably intelligent use of time manipulation in its gameplay and puzzles when it could’ve easily been a nice looking Mario rip-off with a more mature story.
Games like Limbo and The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom likely may have never seen the light of day on XBLA if it weren’t for Braid. And if this weren’t enough already, Braid also seemed to reignite the “games as an art form” debate, something that is continually brought up when a unique game catches everyone’s attention.
1. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved
Originally a pointless minigame in Project Gotham Racing 2 for the original Xbox, the updated Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved was arguably one of the best games the Xbox 360 had at launch. It was an extremely important time period when something new like the XBLA had to sink or swim, and thanks to GW: RE, it most definitely caught everyone’s attention during the 360’s first months on store shelves.
Featuring a pounding techno soundtrack, leaderboard tracking and addictive gameplay that was easy to learn yet tough as nails to master, GW: RE was a fantastic showpiece for the XBLA. It arguably anchored the XBLA as the viable download service it is today, much in the same way that Halo: Combat Evolved solidified the original Xbox as a contender in the console war.
Geometry Wars became even more popular with releases on the Nintendo Wii and DS, mobile phones, iDevices and PC, but without this game launching on the XBLA, who knows how long it would’ve been before anyone cared about what the XBLA had to offer.