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.)
20.) State of Decay
Matthew Smail, Contributor — Featuring a solid 10 to 20-hour-long campaign, a fun and engaging storyline and a range of deep and rewarding gameplay mechanics, State of Decay is considered by some to be a better game than many boxed AAA zombie titles. Arriving as it did in 2013 (during what is essentially the Xbox 360’s twilight year) State of Decay has certainly proven one thing: digital delivery of serious gaming content not related to Minecraft can be both commercially and critically successful on the Xbox 360.
Although State of Decay uses a few familiar features (a large open world, third-person shooting/fighting mechanics and a lot of zombies), these elements are not actually what makes the experience so enjoyable. Studio Undead Labs worked a gutsy permadeath mechanic, an excellent resource management system and an unusual approach to character progression into its game, and each of these features is more or less unique across the whole of XBLA. Together with the overall wealth of content which State of Decay offers, these things combine to make the game an absolute must-have for any hardcore XBLA fan.
19.) Super Meat Boy
John Laster, Editor-in-Chief — Super Meat Boy merges crass humor, classic homages, elegant level design and the masterful introduction of new mechanics into one meaty package, earning it its place among the other great titles on this list. Flirting with extreme difficulty in a way few console games dare, Super Meat Boy barrels forward headfirst like a frog into rush-hour traffic.
The game’s difficulty is balanced out by incredibly precise controls that leave the controller wanting to throw players after mistakes are made. With numerous levels, unlockable cameos from other elite indie studios in the form of playable characters and hidden dark worlds, this game is no morsel but a true game feast. Mistakes will be made and meat will be blended as players strive to complete this “Grade-A” platformer.
18.) Monday Night Combat
Nick Santangelo, Features Editor — “Why is it so bright in here?”
That was the question I found myself asking after wrapping one particularly memorable match of Monday Night Combat. A glance over to the clock revealed the answer: it was now 7:30 a.m., which was about 10 hours after I had started playing Uber Entertainment’s addictive MOBA with a party of friends the night before. With this realization came another one: my girlfriend at the time’s complaints that I was keeping her up all night were probably valid. Whoops.
But that was Monday Night Combat for you. It had a habit of making players lose track of time while struggling to destroy the other team’s Money Ball and simultaneously protecting their own from destruction. Along the way you’d build towers, spawn bots and upgrade your character’s powers, with the usual character class mix of sniper, medic, heavy etc. being available to you. That description fits just about any MOBA, but something about Monday Night’s tight combat, reliance on teamwork and general absurdity made it impossible to say no whenever someone asked “One more?”
Sadly, Uber was unable to keep the XBLA version updated — a reality it blames Microsoft for — but boy was it ever fun while it lasted.
17.) Gotham City Impostors
Alex Esten, Contributor — Gotham City Impostors is one of the wackiest, tackiest, absurd-iest takes on class-based team deathmatching in recent memory. The premise is Mystery Men meets The Dark Knight with a healthy dose of comedic lunacy. The game dumps players on each side of a ludicrous fight between the Bats and the Jokerz, all wannabe heroes and villains, respectively, for round and objective-based mayhem.
However, they lack the deep pockets of Bruce Wayne and the vicious, murderous ingenuity of the Joker. As a result, weapons, gadgets, traps and costumes are all hodge-podged together. Equipment is fashioned out of pipes, office supplies, landscaping tools, hoses, bottles and so on. Characters look like a garish DC Halloween party gone horribly wrong, with expansive customization options leading to some truly nightmarish outfit combinations. The gameplay is standard FPS fare gone insane thanks to gliders, spring shoes, roller skates, grappling hooks and odor-sniffers, as well as a number of brilliant unlockable perks.
It can be frustrating at times, but Gotham City Impostors is a love letter to the fans who scrawl a Batman logo on a paper plate and tape it onto their chests. It’s quite literally the amateur hour after happy hour.
16.) Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light
Jared Miller, Contributor — If I told you one of XBLA’s best games is a dual-stick-shooter-inspired action game, would you guess I was describing Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light?
At some point in the last decade, Tomb Raider games started to feel stale. But despite the series’ troubles, Lara Croft remained the shining example of a kick-butt female action hero. Crystal Dynamics must have picked up on the series’ staleness after the release of 2008’s Tomb Raider: Underworld, because the next game was anything but the same.
Launched during XBLA’s Summer of Arcade 2010, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light detached the titular hero’s name from the Tomb Raider franchise to highlight her over all else. Breaking from the third-person adventure game mold, Guardian set itself apart by focusing on arcade-like action, an isometric camera and a top-notch co-op experience. One player controlled Lara while the other guided Totec — an ancient Aztec spirit and the titular guardian. Though Guardian of Light was initially launched with local-only multiplayer, Crystal Dynamics eventually patched in online multiplayer, removing any reasonable excuse not to play the game.
I didn’t find the story to be particularly inspired, but the fast-paced action and well-balanced puzzles more than made up for that shortcoming. Unlike the puzzles in past Tomb Raider games, those in Guardian never broke from the action for too long, and they still managed to offer nice challenges. Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is a great way to scratch a co-op or single-player itch before the Xbox One arrives.
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 other games to have made the list: