Xbox Live Arcade began its life on Microsoft’s Xbox 360 simply enough. When eager gamers bought up Xbox 360s on launch day (November 22, 2005), they found a free copy of Hexic HD pre-loaded on their hard drives. Of course, it was another launch title that secured the platform’s success. Bizarre’s Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved both gave birth to the twin-stick shooter craze and demanded gamers take Xbox Live Arcade, which started in disc form back on the original Xbox, seriously as a digital games platform. Bizarre’s side project paved the way for the enormous variety of retro revivals, HD remakes, original indie projects, major studio releases, free-to-play games and more that have come to call XBLA home in the years since.
Today, we’re approximately one month away from the launch of the Xbox One, which will signal the end of XBLA as we have come to know it these past eight years. While Microsoft’s Xbox line will continue to be home to myriad low-cost downloadable video games, the XBLA moniker will not make the transition to Xbox One. It’s going down with the figurative (and literal) Xbox 360 boat. So what better time than now to count down the best XBLA games to ever grace the Xbox 360?
It wasn’t easy, but our staff has sorted through all of the best XBLA releases over the years and picked the ones that we feel are the true standout stars of the platform. Check back with us throughout the week as we run down five of Xbox Live Arcade’s top games every night. And don’t forget to head to the comments to let us know how much you love (or hate) our picks.
(Editor’s Note: Voting was conducted in early September. No games released post-Summer of Arcade 2013 were considered eligible.)
10.) 1 vs 100
Ryan Thompson, Contributor — One of the promises of the Xbox 360 console that went largely unfulfilled was the idea that Xbox Live would expand to a point of truly joining together the entire community of players. The truth is that not a lot has changed since players began playing Halo 2 online almost a decade ago: we still join lobbies and play with small groups of people.
1 vs 100 was a grand experiment to address that issue, and, in many ways, the game was far ahead of its time. The game show, which aired live on the Xbox 360, allowed the entire Xbox Live community to play together. One person, selected at random, went up against 100 of his or her peers, with the winning side taking home Xbox Live Points and free games as prizes. The rest of the community of thousands watching the show played along, with each correct answer increasing a player’s chances of being selected for one of the seats in the Mob of 100. Since 1 vs 100‘s cancellation, free-to-play games have become both more standard and more profitable on consoles.
It would be great to see a new experiment like 1 vs 100 play a part in the generation of consoles to come; a game that truly unites the masses, providing a shared experience for everyone.
9.) Battlfield 1943
Brandin Tyrrel, News Editor — When Electronic Arts brought its blockbuster Battlefield series to Xbox Live Arcade in the summer of 2009, the release was, in many ways, the first of its kind. Never before had a massive first-person shooter series specifically targeted the (at the time) smaller downloadable market. Players without the opportunity to run previous versions of the high-end series were finally experiencing the trademark full-scale infantry and vehicular-based battles over land, sea and air. They were suddenly finding themselves in the midst of the Pacific Theater at the height of World War II, with a production value and quality usually reserved for AAA retail titles.
Battlefield 1943‘s release was a landmark event on Xbox Live Arcade, proving that competitive, multiplayer-centric shooters had a place on the platform. Combining infectious squad-based action with the accessibility of the Xbox Marketplace and the great value in its reduced price, Battlefield 1943 was an instant success, and it still maintains a devoted following. It might not have paved the way for future XBLA online-focused shooters, but it proved that this overlooked market was hungry for more.
8.) Shadow Complex
Scott Baker, Contributor — Shadow Complex was the first game on Xbox Live Arcade to show that downloadable games can look like retail games and even surpass some of them in content and production value. But while it was built in cutting-edge Unreal technology, developer Chair’s real goal was to honor Super Metroid, which the studio did with flying colors.
Shadow Complex dropped you in a convoluted labyrinth that was begging to be explored, chock-full of hidden secrets and passageways littered with upgrades. With each pickup, the game evolved with the pickup’s new mechanics and abilities to advance you farther into the maze. Super Metroid fans appreciated the Speed Booster, but other items, like the attach-anywhere Hookshot and build-your-own-terrain Foam Gun, managed to push the game past its inspiration.
Chair also mixed things up with an unprecedented two-and-a-half-dimension shooting mechanic, allowing you to point your gun at enemies in the background for a realistic yet retro combat system. Minimalist players could even “break” the game using only the Foam Gun to cleverly slip by every obstacle. Topped off as it is with premium equipment, level-up bonuses, a secret armory and item-tailored challenge levels, Shadow Complex earns its place on our list as one of the richest experiences on Xbox Live Arcade. And we’re still waiting for the sequel.
Shawn Saris, Contributor – A dark, twisted game that shocked everyone when it was first released, Limbo has gone on to be one of the most well-known XBLA titles to ever exist. For many, it was the title that lured them into the Arcade bubble, an area which had yet to really explode with many popular titles at the time of the game’s release. Limbo stood out far above the crowd because of its unique art style and dark atmosphere. It was a simple game that told a twisted story and never held the player’s hand along the way. Death is a common occurrence in Limbo, with traps and monsters sitting, waiting for the moment they can jump out and end the young protagonist’s journey, and the game’s ending was, in its own dark way, rewarding.
The dark atmosphere, the challenging puzzles and the fear of every boss encounter all helped to turn Limbo into a game that even years later people rank as one of the best XBLA titles to be released. It went on to win dozens of awards, and many reviewers agreed that the game was a masterpiece. Even in the coming age of next-gen technology, many will hold new Arcade games to the high standard set by Limbo.
6.) Mark of the Ninja
Nick Santangelo, Features Editor — Side-scrolling stealth games weren’t a thing before Klei Entertainment made them so, nor were ninja characters that actually acted like ninjas. The industry saw plenty of 3D stealth games prior to Mark of the Ninja; it had previously had no shortage of ninja games; and XBLA alone was already at that point home to a healthy collection of side-scrollers. But a side-scrolling stealth title starring a ninja? Those were in short supply.
Lead Designer Nels Anderson explained to me at PAX Prime 2012 that he and his team members had had no choice but to develop all the rules of 2D stealth on their own. Why? Because there was no one to copy. Amazingly, Klei did more than create a working 2D stealth system — it created the most intuitive stealth system in gaming.
In stark contrast to many stealth games, Mark of the Ninja players are almost always able to deduce whether or not an action will alert guards, and they can develop an appropriate plan of action and feel like something approaching a truly surreptitious ninja as a result. Mark of the Ninja doesn’t just have good stealth gameplay. It has the gold standard for stealth gameplay.
Wondering what the rest of XBLAFans’ picks for Xbox 360?s best Xbox Live Arcade games are? Stop back in tomorrow to see us continue counting down the top 25 games! Meanwhile, take a look at the games that previously made the list: