A few weeks ago, some of the XBLA Era staff of XBLA Fans took to Skype to debate the merits of the Backwards Compatible XBLA Games. We wanted a pound for pound best list. The definitive buyers guide for when Microsoft did a big sale (like the one happening this week). These are the best games on the platform that are still worth playing today. These are the XBLA games most worth your time on Xbox One.
There are some notable absences from this list. For example, anything that has an HD Remastered Version on Xbox One was excluded, such as Shadow Complex. If the sequels have well advanced beyond the original, such as the Trials Franchise, we skipped those as they are a better use for your time. If the multiplayer community was dead when we checked, we dropped a game from our list, looking at you Monday Night Combat. There are some heavy hitters still waiting in the wings that haven’t been added to BC such as Mark of the Ninja. We will update this list as needed.
20: Alien Hominid HD
Alien Hominid HD was the first XBLA release from The Behemoth. A side scrolling game similar to metal slug with an insane amount of personality, Alien Hominid was one of the earlier games on XBLA to catch our attention. Everything in the game is a one hit kill, and the game is full of exciting boss fights. The fresh cartoony feel really solidified the Behemoth’s voice on Xbox One. The hand drawn graphics of Dan Paladin became a staple to the platform. While many players likely picked this game up on sale to get an extra character in Castle Crashers, we highly suggest giving it a spin. Even ten years later, this game still holds up.
19: Ms. Splosion Man
Ms. Splosion Man was more than just a bow. Twisted Pixel nailed the sequel to ‘Splosion Man retaining all the humor and the core gameplay pattern while iterating on adding new gameplay mechanics. Ms. Splosion Man oozed personality. The game still required the same tight pattern of exploding three times to complete often challenging platforming segments. With level design that was even more diverse and interesting than the original, Ms. Splosion Man shone brightly.
One of the best aspects of Carcassonne was the fact that it was simple to play but hard to master. Almost anyone could jump in with a very basic understanding of the rules and just play. The game offered both online and offline play along with customizable AI. It was a faithful and high-quality board game adaptation on the Xbox. Carcassonne seems to be a lesser known game than Settlers of Catan or Ticket to Ride, but it is equally fantastic.
Buy Carcassonne Here
Gripshift was an early darling to the XBLA library and still holds up to this day. It was very easy for casual gamers to jump into, but only the truly skilled could learn to master the variety of objectives it had to offer. From standard racing to collectibles, insane stunts and physics, and even penguin bowling, Gripshift had it all for the gamer looking for something different than just another arcade racer. At a time where XBLA games were challenging your typical console experiences in a wide range of ways, Gripshift stood out among the crowd. A truly remarkable game that will bring fond memories to anyone who gives it a fair shake.
Buy Gripshift Here
16: Poker Smash
The match-3 genre is pretty saturated today; however, Poker Smash was something truly special on release. It has simple to understand but incredibly addictive gameplay. From high scores, chain scores, speed levels and puzzle mode, the game was built around making the player always think “just one more game.” The game utilizes already understood concepts from poker to add unique and exciting combos such as making a Royal Flush. The controls were exceptionally intuitive and gave players enough precision to make complex chains. The game will appeal to a wide variety of audiences and is just a blast to play.
15: NBA Jam: On Fire Edition
Boomshakalaka is really all that is needed to describe NBA Jam: On Fire Edition. This fast-paced arcade basketball game nails 2v2 gameplay. It’s over the top, exciting and maintains the classic feel of the original formula. At the same time, the game looks and feels great even by today’s standards. The online community still seems to exist, as we found a match almost instantly after booting it up. There are numerous unlockable teams and players including Republicans, Democrats, Mascots and SSX. The single player career mode is robust enough to hold the attention of most players; however, the game shines best versus real opponents either in Online or Local play. It’s still on fire.
A spiritual successor to Radiant Silvergun, Ikaruga is a vertical bullet hell title with a unique polarity mechanic. Change from light to dark to kill enemies and dodge their attacks. Dark Bullets can be absorbed when dark and light enemies will take double damage. It throws the concept of dodging every bullet completely out the window and adds a nice risk-reward combination to being quick with polarity switches. The game is fast paced and action packed with excellent controls. While it likely appeals to a more niche audience this title is something special and can’t be ignored.
A 2D-platformer with one of the more distinctive art styles on XBLA, Outland shone brightly on release. The game revolves around manipulating Light and Dark energies to pass through puzzles and defeat enemies (which should perhaps sound familiar, as it borrows from Ikaruga). As you traverse through the game, you’ll unlock new powers giving you a constant sense of progression. While the difficulty ramps up significantly toward the later ends of the game, the fantastic sense of style and flow to the game is well worth the time spent to master it.
Torchlight felt at home on a controller. It wasn’t just another Diablo clone. The game oozed charm, and the core gameplay mechanics of dungeon crawling and tons of loot have stood the test of time. The character progression is deep enough not to feel stale or stereotypical. The game was wonderfully optimized for console gameplay even down to the ability to save anywhere within a dungeon and pick up later. It’s a deeply enjoyable grind full of constant combat and loot.
11: A World of Keflings
A World of Keflings moves the formula from the original game forward in almost every aspect. There are multiple unique environments that the game spans including a forest, desert and ice kingdom. Small tweaks have been made to make the game easier and more intuitive for new players. The villages can be personalized even easier than before. The game has a funny story and great gameplay. While it may look simplistic, this game is a ton of fun to play.
Double Fine has a few very excellent games on XBLA. Stacking is easily the most unique. It’s an incredibly refreshing puzzle game with creative solutions. Puzzles have multiple ways they can be accomplished even down to passing gas to make a crowd dissipate. Thankfully, the experience can be tailored difficulty wise to the desire of the players. The in-game hint system is wonderful. The look and feel of the title are exquisite and memorable. Each stacking doll is visually striking and fits the look of the game wonderfully.
Spelunky’s cute aesthetic masks its deep and difficult gameplay. With tight controls, wonderfully designed procedural levels and a sense of constant exploration and discovery, Spelunky makes this difficulty feel like a worthy challenge. Death is never the end. There is more to learn and discover, and the game will push you forward. A constant case study of risk vs. reward, players will have to decide how to go about each level and what is worth their effort. With near flawless controls and deep gameplay, Spelunky is a fantastic experience even today.
8: Pac-Man CE DX
Ok. Listen, I get it. It’s Pac-Man. What really could have changed to make this so worth playing? Especially since there are like 100 different versions of Pac-Man on Xbox. But Pac-Man Championship Edition XD takes one of the more beloved fan favorite remakes of Pac-Man and turns it up to eleven. There are ten different game modes, and each has its own unique set of challenges. Players are given absurd levels of control over the background visuals and character design. There is so much gameplay packed into this package. The best part is that Microsoft finally has a decent D-Pad.
7: Plants Vs Zombies
Plants vs. Zombies will forever be the visual representation of Popcap for me. And the XBLA version very well might have been the high-water mark for the franchise. While the game was previously out on iOS for nearly one-fifth the price, the XBLA version was easily worth the $15 thanks to extra modes and multiplayer. PVZ is truly a special game with a delightful art style and devastatingly addictive gameplay. There are a large variety of plant towers and zombie enemies and a distinctive style. If you enjoy tower defense at all, odds are you’ve played this game in some form.
6: Toy Soldiers: Cold War
Toy Soldiers captured the unique feeling of being a child and imagining a much larger chaotic battle going on in your bedroom with your army men in the form of an exciting action tower defense game. Toy Soldiers: Cold War added to that formula in numerous ways and largely perfected it. The entire experience is well crafted from the excellent control scheme to the random 80’s items like floppy discs that can be found inside the room. Toy Soldiers: CW excels as a tower defense game in a very crowded genre. Taking control of a turret or running around as someone who looks a whole lot like Rambo is still incredibly exciting.
N+ is simplistic yet elegant; punishing yet rewarding. The ability to play with friends both locally and online helped set this game apart. An excellent platformer with a couple of quirky design flaws, N+ remains a highly addicting experience. Death will be commonplace. But there is something special about helping propel our unnamed, acrobatic ninja forward to the end of each level that will make you continue onward. With excellently crafted design N+ still stands out as something very special.
4: Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine
Everyone loves a good heist: a coordinated plan coming together with various criminals, each with their own essential and unique talents. Monaco is the epitome of a great heist. Players must navigate through stages using the different skills of the characters each of which can interact with the level in a variety of ways. The game utilizes but doesn’t rely wholly on stealth, as being seen doesn’t mean game over. Instead, it just means a truly pulse-pounding high adrenaline chance to finish a now botched perfect plan. Get in. Get out. Get Rich. The motto to Monaco still fits this day. This stylistically gorgeous game remains a wealthy and exciting gameplay experience.
Buy Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine Here
3: Portal Still Alive
Portal Still Alive added additional levels to an already fantastic game. While it’s hard to argue the Orange Box wasn’t one of the best values ever, Portal Still Alive provided an excellent option for those which hadn’t already played the game in that bundle. Portal’s puzzle design was exceptional. GLaDOS remains one of the most memorable AI of all time for me. Portal Still Alive is a must play for anyone who somehow missed the game Portal.
2: Super Meat Boy
Super Meat Boy remains the tightest controlling platformer I have ever played. The game has never been the reason I died. I’d love to blame the controller itself, but I know it was my fault. The stylized look and overly irreverent character design remain memorable. Super Meat Boy brought back challenging platforming that seems all too familiar now. With an excellent retro feel and fantastic homages and cameos, Super Meat Boy still stands out from what is now a much more crowded genre.
It’s hard to imagine someone isn’t already familiar with Braid. This indie darling blew up on release among game critics. Players play as Tim and manipulate time to progress through puzzle platforming segments. The game looks and feels incredible with a unique stylized paint job that make it stand out as instantly recognizable. The game’s difficulty is paced wonderfully, and the story is deeply thought provoking. This game stands the test of time as an excellent example of game design. It remains a game I wish I could play for the first time again. Just one more time.
Andrew Crews contributed heavily to this post.