The first batch of backwards compatible games launches on Xbox One on Thursday, giving players the chance to play 104 titles from the Xbox 360 catalogue on Microsoft’s current-gen console.
Some of these are retail games: the likes of Assassin’s Creed II, Fallout 3, the entire Gears Of War saga and the first Mass Effect (but not the other two, oddly) are in there.
These are well-known titles so chances are you don’t need a hack like me (tired and old or otherwise) to tell you if they’re any good.
However, the vast majority of games on the list are Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) games – titles that were only made available to buy digitally through the Xbox 360’s online storefront. Some are relatively new, others stretch all the way back to the Xbox 360’s launch a decade ago.
If you’re a long-time Xbox 360 owner then these titles will be familiar to you, but if Xbox One is your first Microsoft console – or even if you’ve only had a 360 for the last couple of years – there may be a few that don’t ring a bell.
With that in mind, I’ve put together this list of the 20 XBLA games on the backwards compatible list that I personally consider must-owns. In alphabetical order, mind: I can’t be arsed with any “number 17? It should have been 16 you prick” nonsense.
If you have an Xbox One and you’ve never played these games before, I recommend giving them a bash. And since they’re digital-only and most have been out for a long time, most are pretty bloody cheap: in fact, they’re all a tenner or less.
Alien Hominid HD
(The Behemoth, £6.75 / $9.99)
Based on a Flash game (remember those?) at Newgrounds.com (remember that?), Alien Hominid is a tricky side-scrolling run ‘n’ gun game in the style of Metal Slug and the like. It’s compellingly difficult, has a brilliant sense of humour and is beautifully animated.
Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie
(Rare, £9.99 each / $14.99 each)
There are a bunch of old Rare games on XBLA, and if you buy Rare Replay you’ll get access to all of them. If you aren’t keen on absolute bargains though, you should at least get these two N64 gems. They’re arguably the only two platformers from that era that could challenge Super Mario 64 for entertainment.
(The Behemoth, £9.99 / $14.99)
Another belter from the folks behind Alien Hominid, BattleBlock Theater has a similar artstyle but belongs to a different genre: it’s a 2D platformer. Strip away its charm and what’s left is a perfectly functional game, but nothing more. However, it’s the combination of fantastic music and some of the funniest dialogue you’ll hear in a game that make this worth getting.
Beyond Good & Evil HD
(Ubisoft, £6.75 / $9.99)
There’s a reason why there’s a hardcore following of gamers continuing to eagerly watch Ubisoft in the hope it delivers on its seemingly forgotten promise to make a sequel to Beyond Good And Evil. The 2003 original, presented here with a shiny HD upscale, is a brilliant adventure with a great little photo-taking side-mission.
Call Of Juarez: Gunslinger
(Ubisoft, £9.99 / $14.99)
The first two Call Of Juarez games were middling at best, which is why this third entry in the Wild West FPS series went digital-only. It’s a shame it didn’t get a bigger release because it’s easily the best of the bunch, sporting nifty cel-shaded visuals and using a boastful, embellishing cowboy as a clever way of telling, altering and retelling its plot.
(The Behemoth, £9.99 / $14.99)
It’s those folks at The Behemoth yet again with the third entry on my list. Castle Crashers is easily the best game the studio has released to date, this time applying its crisp visual style to the beat ‘em up genre. A levelling up system ensures longevity, and that trademark Behemoth sense of humour is present and accounted for. Bear in mind, though, that a remastered version is on the Xbox One store for just a couple of quid more.
(Sega, £6.75 / $9.99)
It may be missing its original Bad Religion and The Offspring soundtrack, and its branded locations (KFC, Tower Records etc) may now be generic buildings instead, but Sega’s arcade chauffeur ‘em up is still a great laugh. At first you’ll just have fun trying to get as high a score as possible, but once you master the speed boost and start to learn the optimum path to take, you’ll end up trying to master the thing: that’s where its hidden depth suddenly surfaces.
(Treasure, £6.75 / $9.99)
There’s nothing like a good bullet hell shooter to remind you of your own fleeting mortality, and Ikaruga is one of the best. It’s ridiculously difficult, but not to a level where you feel dying is anything other than your own fault. More importantly, it’s got a brilliant gameplay mechanic with black and white bullets, in which your ship can absorb bullets of the same colour but do greater damage to enemies of a different colour. Plenty of colour-switching and bullet-dodging is the order of the day, then, making it unlike anything else you’ll ever play.
(Ubisoft, £6.75 / $9.99)
Originally a PSP game, Lumines quickly gained a reputation as an addictive little puzzler that used musical beats to trigger chain reactions. This XBLA remake takes the piss a wee bit with downloadable ‘skins’ (levels) but what’s already included should be more than enough to keep you coming – if I may paraphrase the brothers Chemical for a second – back for another one of those block-dropping feats.
Might & Magic: Clash Of Heroes
(Ubisoft, £9.99 / $14.99)
The puzzle RPG genre first gained recognition with the brilliant Puzzle Quest games, but these aren’t on the backwards compatibility list yet. Never mind, because some would argue Clash Of Heroes is even better. At first glance it’s little more than a match-three puzzler clone, but underneath that facade lies a brilliant combat system with a level of tactical flexibility you may not expect. It may still be better suited to handhelds (the DS version is equally brilliant) but it’s still a cracker on your telly.
Ms ‘Splosion Man
(Twisted Pixel Games, £6.75 / $9.99)
The original ‘Splosion Man isn’t up for backwards compatibility yet but this sequel retains much of what made it fantastic. It’s a platformer in which the heroine has a unique power: the ability to explode at will, flinging her into the air. This acts as a jump but takes time to recharge, resulting in a platformer with a slight puzzle element. It’s also one of the most ridiculous games of the last generation, and features a strong contender for the funniest ending ever.
(Metanet Software, £6.75 / $9.99)
PS4 owners were recently treated to the pixel-perfect platforming delights of N++ but its Xbox 360 predecessor is just as compelling. Playing as a tiny ninja, you have to make it to a series of exits while collecting yellow gems to keep your timer topped up. What starts off as a straightforward little platformer soon becomes the stuff of hair-tearing, controller-throwing infuriation as the one-more-go concept is pushed to its limits. Fantastic stuff.
NBA Jam: On Fire Edition
(EA, £9.99 / $14.99)
A downloadable version of EA’s NBA Jam remake (which was originally a Wii exclusive) was supposed to be given away free with NBA Live 11, but when Live 11 was scrapped EA tried to sell NBA Jam as a boxed full price game instead. Naturally, considering it was supposed to be a freebie, it ended up selling the best part of fuck all. EA wisely decided to release an updated version called the On Fire Edition and made it download-only, and if you’re a fan of the original (or just like arcade-style sports games with very few rules) then it’s well worth getting, if only so you can play as Barack Obama and the Beastie Boys.
NiGHTS Into Dreams
(Sega, £6.75 / $9.99)
Sega’s Saturn killer app was released just after Super Mario 64 in Japan, meaning Nintendo’s offering took all the plaudits for making analogue controls the new standard. NiGHTS was doing similarly beautiful things with an analogue stick though: to this day fans remember the joy of performing smooth, swooping loops as they flew through a series of ring-filled stages. Visually it hasn’t aged terribly well, regardless of its new HD sheen, but it’s still a joy to play and racking up massive combos is still as compelling as ever.
Pac-Man Championship Edition DX+
(Bandai Namco, £6.75 / $9.99)
There have been numerous attempts to breathe new life into Pac-Man over the years but Championship Edition DX+ is the one that absolutely nailed it. Turning Pac-Man into a timed score attack is one thing, but completely revamping the game’s mechanics and turning it into more a ghost-baiting game is a stroke of genius. Now the aim is to leg it past as many ghosts as possible to create a long string of them following you, then hit a power pill and create an enormous combo of munching madness. Here’s a video of me playing it so you can see how ridiculous it gets.
The Secret Of Monkey Island 1 & 2: Special Edition
(LucasArts, £6.75 each / $9.99 each)
The point-and-click adventure may be enjoying something of a comeback thanks to Telltale’s noticeably point-free and clickless games, but LucasArts’ Monkey Island games are proof positive that the genre’s classics have aged well too. Both special editions let you switch between the original graphics and swanky new HD visuals at will, but to be honest I prefer the old look. Regardless, whichever you choose the result is a hilarious game that fans continue to quote to this day.
Sega Vintage Collection
(Sega, £6.75 each / $9.99 each)
There are four of these retro collections on the backwards compatibility list (no ToeJam & Earl yet), each featuring three classic Sega games. Alex Kidd & Co offers the most variety with Alex Kidd In Miracle World, Super Hang-On and The Revenge Of Shinobi. Then there’s one with the Golden Axe trilogy and one featuring three Wonder Boy games. While they’re all brilliant though, the best is without a doubt the Streets Of Rage collection, containing three of the finest beat ‘em ups ever made. Indeed, for my money, Streets Of Rage 2 is still the best ever after more than 20 years.
(Chair Entertainment, £9.99 / $14.99)
There were few truly impressive Metroidvania games on the last generation of consoles but Shadow Complex was certainly one of them. At the time of its release it was one of the most expensive games on XBLA but such was its quality that the premium price felt reasonable. It still looks striking six years later and the plot is cracking stuff, even though the writer is a bit of a wanker.
Sonic The Hedgehog 1, 2, 3 and CD
(Sega, £3.39 each / $4.99 each)
If you’re in your late 20s or older, obviously this is a given. If you’re a little younger and maybe missed the Mega Drive era then this is the reason Sonic The Hedgehog became popular, not that Sonic Heroes pish or any of that werehog shite. While it’s generally argued that Sonic 2 and 3 are the best of the bunch (Sonic & Knuckles isn’t backwards compatible yet), I’d recommend you give the less-popular Sonic CD a go, with its interesting time travel mechanic and the introduction of both Metal Sonic and Amy Rose.
Super Meat Boy
(Team Meat, £9.99 / $14.99)
PS4 and Vita owners collectively discovered Super Meat Boy last month when it finally came to Sony systems and was free as part of their PS Plus line-up, but five years prior it made its debut on Xbox 360. Team Meat’s platformer is one of those really difficult ‘one more try’ ones so in that respect it’s nothing new, but it does what it does with such polish that it’s one of the finest examples of the sub-genre.