Top 10 XBLA Games Since Launch

Behold: GameZone’s Top 10 XBLA Games since the Xbox 360’s launch in November, 2005. There are plenty of great games that didn’t make the list for one reason or another, but until a port of The Simpsons arcade game arrives, this is our list. It’s interesting to note that the majority of these titles were published by Microsoft.

10. Marvel vs. Capcom 2
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Backbone Entertainment
Release Date: July 29, 2009

Very little needs to be said about Marvel vs. Capcom 2. It was the pinnacle of the Versus series, pitting over 50 characters from the Marvel and Capcom universes against each other in glorious three-on-three tag combat. It was fast, it was colorful, and it allowed you to make a team where Mega Man and Venom could fight side-by-side.

Since XBLA’s inception, it was easily the number one game requested by fans, and Capcom stated early on that they no longer had the license to publish the game. It seemed all was lost, but then the unthinkable happened, and Capcom delivered an XBLA version in 2009. The port was not particularly special due to Backbone’s disappointingly minimalist approach (although not having to find an arcade unit that still works–let alone an arcade–to play with friends all over the world is notable in itself), but Marvel vs. Capcom 2’s existence on XBLA signaled the eventual arrival of other popular coin-op classics, such as Konami’s X-Men. Oh, and it undoubtedly paved the way for the upcoming Marvel vs. Capcom 3, proving that fans can make a difference.

9. Rez HD
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Q Entertainment
Release Date: January 30, 2008

Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s musical rail-shooter demanded up to $100 on eBay before being made readily available on XBLA. The demand was not just due to the limited units Sega produced for the Dreamcast and PlayStation 2 versions, but also because anyone who actually played the game was blown away by the experience. It was that generation’s Panzer Dragoon Saga.

When Q Entertainment finally ported the game to the 360, they set out to make it the definitive version. The enhanced visuals and improved sound quality finally allowed Mizuguchi to realize Rez’s full potential, without the constraint of limited technology. Rez HD also featured the ability to save and watch other players’ replays, a trend that is quite common amongst this list.

8. Shadow Complex
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Chair Entertainment, Epic Games
Release Date: August 19, 2009
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Metroidvania games have been all the rage since Super Metroid and especially Castlevania: The Symphony of the Night perfected the formula. Chair Entertainment’s Xbox 360-exclusive Shadow Complex, running on the Unreal 3.0 Engine, was a direct homage to these games. The near-future setting allowed for weapons and gameplay not yet seen in the genre. Blowing stuff up in a beautiful side-scroller and taking on giant mechs is hard to argue against, but the lack of cooperative multiplayer and spotty controls kept this one from true greatness.

7. Toy Soldiers
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Signal Studios
Release Date: March 3, 2010
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Developers have gotten more and more risky with the RTS genre in recent years, some more successful than others. Signal Studios’ Toy Soldiers definitely falls in the success category, effectively combining tower defense-esque gameplay with third-person, 3D visuals and an overall toy aesthetic that further sets it apart from its competition. Whether you’re ordering troops, controlling turret emplacements, or piloting vehicles, Toy Soldiers dabbles in a little bit of everything. Two excellent DLC packs further increase the game’s value, adding outlandish robot and alien units to the mix.

6. Pinball FX 2
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Zen Studios
Release Date: October 27, 2010
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Aside from Sonic Pinball and Devil’s Crush, Pinball FX 2 is hands-down the best virtual pinball experience available on home consoles. It allows you to pick and choose from 14 (mostly) amazing tables while playing host to a Christmas list of multiplayer and customization features. Even when playing alone, you’re competing against your friends on the leaderboards but also working together to up your Superstar ranking, which unlocks gamer pictures and generally makes you feel awesome. This is a feature I see happening a lot lately, and I like it: the future of single-player games is passive multiplayer. Zen has already shown solid support for the game with Marvel Pinball expansion, sporting four additional tables.

5. Trials HD
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: RedLynx
Release Date: August 12, 2009
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Who could have thought a 2.5D physics-based motorcycle game could be so fun? In Trials HD, keeping your balance is just as important as crossing the finish line quickly, and the intimidating challenge level is countered by a quick checkpoint system. Some stages demand hundreds of retries, and the crazy thing is: people actually do it. If that’s not a testament to how solid the gameplay is, I once died a cheap death in Enslaved that set me back about 60 seconds’ worth of effort and I quit on principle alone. The track creation mode allows players to share their insane creations over Xbox Live, adding considerably to the game’s lifespan. Although Trials HD has stolen the spotlight away from a few other quality racers, Sidhe’s GripShift is also a great find, hidden away in the depths of long forgotten XBLA titles.

4. Braid
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Number None
Release Date: August 6, 2008
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If ever there were an argument to be made for games as art, one only need to point to Braid, the indie that launched a thousand indies. Still debated and discussed to this day, Braid’s mind-bending, time-warping gameplay led up to one of the most jaw-dropping twists in entertainment history. Even creator Jonathan Blow has stated that he will never be able to recreate the once-in-a-lifetime brilliance of Braid.

Number None’s masterpiece is also notable for opening the floodgates for the indie revolution. Steam was immediately overrun with indie titles, while Microsoft focused on a quality over quantity approach with games like Limbo and Super Meat Boy. Major publishers began backing one and two-man projects such as P.B. Winterbottom, introducing the world to plenty of off-beat, imaginative games they would have never even know existed if not for Braid.

3. Pac-Man Championship Edition
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Namco Bandai
Release Date: June 6, 2007

Developed as the final game by Pac-Man creator Toru Iwatani before his retirement, Pac-Man Championship Edition successfully reinvigorated Namco’s iconic yellow puck-on-legs after arguably 25 years without any real innovation. Pac-Man is a timeless classic, no doubt, but Namco’s attempts to broaden their mascot’s horizons through 3D adventures, kart racing games and countless other spin-offs haven’t really done the character any favors.

By returning to his roots and turning on the rave lights, CE breathed much-needed life into the Pac-Brand. What’s more, CE spurred the reinvention of additional retro titles such as Namco’s own Galaga, and continued the tradition with a sequel in the recently released Pac-Man Championship Edition DX. It’s not easy making a 30-year-old game relevant for a modern audience, but a little ingenuity and a lot of techno music goes a long way.

2. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Bizarre Creations
Release Date: November 22, 2005

Geometry Wars, Boom Boom Rocket, Marble Blast Ultra… it’s difficult to choose amongst these three as they all represent roughly the same experience for different people. They were among the first games on XBLA that were pure and simple addiction–though Boom Boom Rocket came later than the others. Still, it was Bizarre Creations’ Geometry Wars that kicked off Xbox Live Arcade altogether and made it a viable platform for original downloadable IPs.

Geometry Wars 2 added many different modes and variations to the formula, as well as offline multiplayer, but the classic didn’t need any of that to be one of the most addictive and engrossing arcade shooters ever made. The game starts out slow, with only a few neon-colored shapes coming after you, but soon the screen is filled with pulsing threats and you’re racing through one tight spot after another like a chase scene in an asteroid field. The longer you stay alive, the higher your multiplier goes, eventually granting millions of points and pushing you one spot closer to the top of the leaderboards.

It’s a practice as old as coin-op video games themselves, and it may seem like nothing special in 2011, but think back to the launch of the Xbox 360 nearly six years ago: Steam did not exist, the App Store was just a glimmer in Apple’s eye, the PlayStation 3 and WiiWare were not even out yet, and downloadable games (as well as achievements, online leaderboards, and in-game chat) were still an undiscovered country for the gaming public at large. Geometry Wars changed all that in a big way, and still manages to be one of the better titles available to this day.

1. (TIE) Outrun Online Arcade / Ikaruga
Publisher: Sega/Treasure
Developer: Sumo Digital/Treasure
Release Date: April 15, 2009/April 9, 2008

No Castle Crashers? No Guardian of the Light?! Blasphemy! Actually, no–the real blasphemy is that those two games, while admittedly good or even great in some instances, launched missing one integral component that almost all of their pre-release hype was built upon: online multiplayer. In Castle Crashers’ case, the online was simply broken; connection issues plagued the game, causing one of the first-ever 1200 Microsoft Point titles to be completely unplayable for certain players.

And playing with the people you want to online is obviously a big deal, as evidenced by the unofficial boycott seen across the internet when Crystal Dynamic’s announced that Guardian of Light would not be launching with the promised online multiplayer. The Behemoth released a patch (which also fixed the save file-eating eboli virus it was infected with) four months later, suspiciously around the time the first batch of DLC was being announced, while CD timed a free update with Lara Croft’s release on the PSN a month later. So neither of those titles will be making this list; you wouldn’t like Santa Claus if he broke into your house and didn’t bring presents, would you?

That brings us to Outrun Online Arcade, and Ikaruga. To be fair, these two games have the advantage of being previously released on other platforms. Outrun 2 SP made its rounds in the arcades, while Outrun 2006: Coast 2 Coast was released on last-gen consoles. Outrun Online Arcade contains elements of both, as well as new features such as the prerequisite achievements, enhanced graphics, and global leaderboards. Ikaruga, previously released on the Dreamcast and then the GameCube, was painstakingly ported to Xbox Live Arcade by its original developer, Treasure. The pitch-perfect port adds online multiplayer and the ability to watch replays from top leaderboard entries, making it the definitive version of what is arguably the greatest bullet-hell masterpiece of our time.

Whether it’s racing or shooting, these two games are the outright manifestation of “arcade”. They are built on simple principles that are easy to learn but difficult to master, and while either game can be completed in a single sitting, you will always see something different each time you play. Perhaps you find a better path or pattern in Ikaruga, or decide to take Route D instead of Route A in Outrun. Perhaps you find a new tactic that allows you to survive for one sequence longer, or increase your total score enough to hit that next rank you’re aiming for. For some of the shorter games available on XBLA, these two are infused with infinite replayability. You can always do better, and due to the superb quality in which they were crafted, you won’t mind “just one more game”, with friends or alone.