When the Xbox Live Arcade launched on the Xbox 360 in 2006, it ushered in a new era of digital downloads and nostalgia capitalization. The original Xbox Live Arcade launched with a meager six titles, a size limit hovering around 50MB, and its unknown longevity hanging in the balance. Needless to say, the service has come a long way.
The Xbox Live Arcade now boasts more than 600 titles from independent and major game developers alike, ranging in cost from nothing on up (prices frequently change), and capping size limits of more than 2.5GB. Many of them are still the classics we know and love, or re-envisioned versions thereof, along with a formidable host of burgeoning new hits like Castle Crashers and the sandbox phenomenon known as, you know, Minecraft. Unfortunately though, there’s also a copious amount of downright awful titles. No one should have to play a game produced by a company known for its seasoned tortilla chips. No one.
Here are our picks for the best Xbox Live Arcade Games so you can avoid sifting through hoards of egregious titles. They may not be as elaborate, eye-catching or renowned as modern blockbuster classics like Call of Duty and Halo, but they won’t cost you a whopping $60 either. Also, check out our expansive selection of the best Google Chrome games, the best free PC games and the best PSN games if you’re in need of a few more extracurricular activities for your downtime.
DeathSpank — $15
Game designer Ron Gilbert has shown an (often) amusing knack for interactive story telling given his previous work on the first two Monkey Island games and Maniac Mansion. DeathSpank has a similar satirical air about it, throwing players into the role of the game’s protagonist DeathSpank and his unrelenting question for an ancient artifact, but it’s more hack ‘n’ slash than brainteaser. The action RPG is loaded with wit and loot, and savage unicorns, all set against a vividly gorgeous backdrop of 2D and 3D animation. Questing can be rather tedious given its stereotypical formula, but the evolving gameplay and Gilber’s iconic humor keep it all afloat amid the few drab moments.
Crimson Alliance — $15
We aren’t going to lie, Crimson Alliance can be shallow in many respects. Whether it be the uninspired gameplay, the generic three-class system, or its feeble attempt of humor, it comes of as a sub-par knockoff of the more renowned and robust titles currently flooding the market. However whittled down its core may be though, the mere fact the title offers online and local co-op helps add a much-needed social element often lacking in RPG industry. Once connected, four players can simultaneously don the role of either a wizard, assassin or mercenary — each with its own skill set — and traverse the Crimson Empire in search of ways to upgrade their loot and eradicate the armies of darkness. Sound familiar?
Bastion — $15
When Bastion burst on the scene in 2010, the hack-and-slash RPG was noteworthy for its compelling story, awesome narration, and gorgeous hand-painted environments. The game hasn’t changed much since, not that it needs to, allowing players to take on the role of “The Kid” and traverse a floating world edging ever closer to complete oblivion. The crumbling world of Calamity is rich and compelling, loaded with dark secrets and ferocious beasts, and stacked to the brim with a slew of upgradable weapons at your disposal from the get-go. The original score is also one of the most finely-crafted musical journeys of any indie title to date thanks to first-time game composer Darren Korb. Again, dig that narration.
Torchlight — $15
The notion that games must often break new ground in order to be considered great is an unfortunate one — one players must look past in order to truly appreciate Runic Games’ Torchlight. The title sports similar gameplay and the isometric perspective akin to Diablo, but it does so with several refining characteristics and modern twists, carrying the player through a series randomized dungeons beneath an old mining boomtown infatuated with a magical ore known as Ember. The usual RPG classes are all present (i.e. a warrior, mage, and thief), the world details vividly colorful, and there’s enough variation among baddies and loot that it never seems overly redundant. The drawback? It’s only single player.
Castle Crashers — $15
Not only is Castle Crashers one of the best games on the Xbox Live Arcade, it’s also one of the best games on the Xbox 360 period. The side-scrolling game, set in a fantastically absurd medieval world of mysticism and magic, follows four knights on their quest to reclaim a stolen gem and an abundance of princesses from a dark sorcerer hellbent on power and world domination. The plot is simplistic, but the title shines in its character progression, varied game modes and a quirky sense of humor that remains authentic and wildly entertaining from start to finish. It’s challenging, whether playing alone or with up to three others, while offering fresh, cartoonish visuals in the same vain as The Behemoth’s previous title, Alien Hominid.