At E3 2017 Microsoft announced that original Xbox games will soon be playable on Xbox One. Backwards compatibility will be added on a title-by-title basis, as was previously the case for Xbox 360 games, and Xbox head Phil Spencer has even repeated the rather dubious promise that OG Xbox games will “look and play better” on the Xbone.
But what old games do we want? Which ones are even worth playing in our modern space age of pumpkin lattes and Elon Musk? Here’s 10 of the most unique and interesting titles on the original Xbox — games that were either exclusive to the console or have rarely been imitated since. (And before you ask, Halo isn’t on there because it was remastered for Xbox One just recently. The same goes for Phantom Dust.)
Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge
This game was a bit of a pioneer for Xbox Live, and hopefully its excellent online multiplayer functions will be replicated on Xbox One. But the main reason it’s so good is its setting — an alternative 1930s where the United States has broken up into rival countries, and air pirates rule the skies in souped-up biplanes with powerful weaponry. Taking down an enormous airship bristling with anti-aircraft guns or swooping through the caverns of an enormous underground pirate lair is exactly as fun as it sounds.
What did BioWare do before Mass Effect ? Well, for a start they made this one-off RPG where martial arts stand in for lasers. It was hard to decide whether to include Jade Empire or Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic on this list — both of these BioWare Xbox RPGs are equally excellent. But whereas KOTOR became a series, Jade Empire stands almost alone as a martial-arts RPG. Like KOTOR, the story is top notch, and it uses a similar light path/dark path morality system to excellent effect.
One bit I always remember in this game was stumbling across a brothel in a forest. A drunken lord was offering to pay for the services of the ladies in residence, and I wondered whether he’d notice the difference if I just put my male character in a dress. One fade to black later, and I found myself considerably richer. Fable is full of these sorts of bizarre high jinks, along with ladles of ribald British humour - a welcome change from more po-faced RPGs.
Jet Set Radio Future
In a future where freedom of expression is banned, it’s up to gangs of rollerblading kids to graffiti the walls… of… freedom? Or something like that. The story isn’t important, what matters is that skating and rail-grinding around future Tokyo is a blast, and there’s really been nothing like this game since. The graffiti controls are simplified from the Dreamcast original, and the visuals have a slightly darker tone than the previous entry in the series, but the cel-shaded graphics still look outstanding today. And the soundtrack is one of the best ever to grace a video game.
Metal Arms: Glitch in the System
Long before Mario threw his cap at a dinosaur, a little robot called Glitch was possessing enemies left, right and centre, with suitably amusing results. Metal Arms features a war between good and bad on a robot-dominated world, and in addition to possessing baddies, the hero Glitch has a huge arsenal of imaginative weaponry at his disposal. It’s rock hard in places, but Metal Arms is still a delightfully imaginative and characterful game all these years later.
Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse
You’re probably sick of zombie games after all these years - but there still aren’t too many where you actually PLAY as the zombie. Running around eating people’s brains makes a welcome change from gunning down the undead. Set in an alternative 1950s with robots and hover cars, the game sees Stubbs, a travelling salesman who was murdered by his girlfriend’s father, back from the dead and looking for revenge. And brains.
Earth Defense Force meets Vanquish meets Nikolai Tesla is probably the best description I can come up with for this third-person shooter. Set in an alternative 1906, the world has become fantastically advanced thanks to a mysterious and powerful substance called ‘Halley’s Core’, which was delivered to Earth by Halley’s Comet in 1835. The designers call the aesthetic ‘elec-punk’, and the gameworld is packed with all sorts of wonderful retro-style contraptions powered by elastic-trickery. But mostly it’s about shooting giant insects (à la EDF ) and looking cool while boosting all over the shop (à la Vanquish ). It’s also incredibly difficult.
Otogi: Myth of Demons
Before FromSoftware released Demon’s Souls, they made this: a game about beating up demons and freeing souls. I’m starting to see a pattern here. Still, unlike the Souls games, Otogi is a little on the easy side, and the hacking and slashing can get a little repetitive. Yet the dash function makes it frantically fast and fluid, and there are loads of wonderfully weird looking enemies - the graphics really pushed the OG Xbox hard. Plus it has a brilliantly eerie and atmospheric soundtrack.
Kung Fu Chaos
You know Ninja Theory? The studio behind the hair ‘em up Heavenly Sword and emo Dante in DmC: Devil May Cry? Well in 2003 they were called Just Add Monsters, and Kung Fu Chaos was their first game. Each level is a film set, and you’re tasking with pummelling your way through wave after wave of extras dressed as ninjas as the scenery collapses around you and, well, chaos ensues, all in the name of making a martial-arts B movie. It’s brilliant fun, and all the more so if you can get four players together.
Panzer Dragoon Orta
The on-rails shooter is an unfashionable genre these days, even if Farpoint and Rez Infinite have given it a recent VR revival. But Panzer Dragoon Orta, the culmination of the Panzer Dragoon series, marks the genre’s zenith thanks to its silky graphics and excellent story. In fact, the game still looks pretty fantastic even today. It’s a fairly short experience, but it plays like a dream, and the harder difficulty modes are no pushover.
We know that Crimson Skies will be be the first game to receive the backwards-compatibility treatment, but there’s no guarantee that the rest of the games on this list will be made playable on Xbox One. Still, if they're going to chase this dragon, then Spencer and co. really should make it a priority to focus on quality over quantity.
Feature image: Wikimedia