One of the more baffling reveals of last year's E3 was the announcement of a Phantom Dust remake/sequel. As you might be aware, that hasn't gone so well - the forgotten card-based fighter is stranded in development purgatory right now. But it speaks to an interesting little fact about Microsoft's history - the original Xbox is home to a large number of equally obscure games that could have potential if properly revived.
Being largely unknown gives them the cache of a new IP, but with an in-built audience of die-hard fans from the first time around. Outside of boring business stuff, this kind of thing is just fun - watching talented devs forced to work with pieces they've been given could lead to some fascinating experiments. Here are some digital jigsaws waiting to be reassembled.
Breakdown is a largely forgotten game that's pretty special in its own way. It's one of the earliest first-person games to focus more on melee combat than gunplay. It also has another hook: the camera always moves to reflect the main character's point of view. Get punched in the face, and the camera jerks to the side. Eat a hamburger, and you'll see your arm move in and out of your peripheral vision. Vomit that hamburger back up into a toilet, and, well, it looks like you're actually vomiting into a toilet. Point is, Breakdown makes an earnest attempt at elevating first-person immersion.
You know GTA V's first-person mode? You can draw a line straight from this to Rockstar's newest experiment - and anyone's who's flinched at just how hard a punch seems to connect in that game will see the potential here. Even by today's standards, Breakdown is impressive in its realistic use of camera movement, and a melee combat-centric reboot could easily develop a following.
Take high-speed, combo-driven snowboarding gameplay and add a batshit-insane story that features a scrapbook-obsessed snow goddess and a character named Weinerboy, and you have Amped 3. The best entry in the extreme snowboarding trilogy, Amped 3 is packed with oddball humor and challenging gameplay, and is a perfect example of the direction the series should adhere to if it were to be brought back on the Xbox One.
As for its viability? Well, extreme sports games aren't nearly as ubiquitous as they were in the late '90s and early 2000s, which would make a new snowboarding game stand out on its own - as would its charming-as-hell personality. Stick it alongside the new Tony Hawk and you've got yourself a nostalgia double-header.
Crimson Skies is a flight sim set in an alternate World War II - which sounds like it could be an Air Force partner to Wolfenstein's infantry. Instead, this is a pulp adventure inspired by the likes of Indiana Jones. Trading any semblance of realism - or even alternate history sci-fi - for arcade aerial action and planes that looked like rickety X-Wings, it's unlike anything else before or since.
Flight sims and their ilk have dropped off the radar over the last few years, but this is the ideal arcade B-game - bright and breezy, but married to a core of solid shooting and a surprisingly rich lore that's since been abandoned. In a world where Star Wars Battlefront and Destiny eschewed space combat sections, this'd scratch the itch.
How many boat combat games let you hit an enemy ship with a torpedo, use the resulting wave as a ramp, launch over said enemy ship, and turn in mid air to blast it into pieces before landing back in the water? I mean, I can't actually name another boat combat game right now, but the point stands - only one: Blood Wake.
This action-boating game was developed for the sole purpose of showcasing the original Xbox's water physics capabilities - we'd expect a bit more experimentation this time around, but the appeal of a sea-borne destruction derby is, judging by my excitement at the idea, timeless.
Blinx: The Timesweeper
Blinx' sassy demeanor and time-bending capabilities stole the hearts and minds of at least a handful of people on the original Xbox - enough for them to make a sequel, anyway. We haven't heard anything from the tabby with a 'tude since 2004, but I believe the world is ready for a return of the world's favourite (by default) time cat.
I see two possibilities here - you go for the full Yooka-Laylee treatment and bask in the nostalgia of a proper mascot platformer, or we head down the Conker's Bad Fur Day road and reinvent Blinx as a total asshole who can age his cuddly adversaries to death in gruesome, Last Crusade style. Come to think of it, just go with the latter.
Brute Force is an over-the-top, multiplayer squad shooter that isn't afraid to let its silly side shine. Case in point: You run around shooting at bipedal alligators (occasionally with your own bipedal alligator). Its goofy sense of humor and arcade gunplay could make it a standout contender if it were brought back from the dead.
Campaign-based squad shooters are something of a lost art these days - whether this was a straight rehash, or embraced some modern techniques (procedurally generated maps and characters, perhaps), the time is right. Online co-op's as stable as it's ever been, and couch co-op's making a comeback.
Before Bioware got that massive EA bucket-full-o'-cash, it made Jade Empire - an odd little action-RPG that took place in a mythical version of feudal China. Inspired by Chinese Wuxia martial arts flicks, Jade Empire is a completely different beast from Bioware's previous hit Knights of the Old Republic, and future RPGs like Dragon Age or Mass Effect.
It has all the standard Bioware tentpoles - morality meters, branching narratives - but how you do battle is what makes Jade Empire so unique. Combat is an interesting mishmash of hand-to-hand action, acrobatic kung fu moves, and super-powered energy blasts that would make Goku and co. jealous. With a vibrant color scheme and inventive environments, an Xbox One sequel would look absolutely gorgeous.
Nothing to do with Crimson Skies (or Crimson Dragon for that matter - why doesn't someone just use the word "red" for once?), Crimson Sea is a game that gets less credit than it deserves. Concerning the plight of a forcibly conscripted private detective, it splits up RPG-action sequences with narrative sections set aboard a ship.
Think of it as proto-Mass Effect; a sprawling sci-fi shooter with RPG elements and a heavy focus on character work. Considering just how popular that particular sub-genre of games is right now, it's a bankable prospect for a committed developer. We just need to pry Koei away from endless Warriors spin-offs first...
If you're not familiar with Starbreeze Studios' very first game, you can think of it as sort of a fast-paced Dark Souls (so, er, Bloodborne). It's an interminably difficult, third-person, high-fantasy action-RPG - you may have heard all of those elements being used in conjunction with the phrase "best game of all time" in recent years.
Hell, let Starbreeze themselves (or successful splinter cell, MachineGames) make it - the game had a canned sequel in the works, and there's no better motivation to do make something great than proving to the money men that you were right all along.
Gunvalkyrie was cool. An "elec-punk" alternate history game set in a world where the British Empire simply never stopped Empire-ing, it's a twitchy shooter skill-test. Like all proper shooters - some people hated it. That only adds to the mystique.
As stylish as its control system was unusual (it was originally designed to be played with a controller and a lightgun), it's the kind of game that rewarded mastery. In an industry where difficult games have become their own sub-genre, I can only see that going down well with the right people.
Many mech games, like Steel Battalion and its confusing-as-hell dashboard-sized controller, focus on what it would be like to actually pilot a mech. MechAssault, on the other hand, is an arcade-y shooter that happens to take place in a mech. It's exhilarating to run around, stomping on buildings and infantry while turning larger enemies into smoking metal chunks with homing rockets. Basically, it's a mech game without the faff.
Given that most people seemed to prefer Titanfall for its heavier half, I'd say there's a market for some knockabout fun in a walking tank, even if it's as the kind of free-to-play diversion that you find yourself coming back to in between longer stints on other games.
There was a time when Microsoft published a whole bunch of sports titles under its XSN (Xbox Sports Network) banner, but that day has long passed - probably because it was easier for them to promote EA and 2K's games without having to make their own. It's unfortunate, because many of Microsoft's first-party sports titles were actually really good - and their golf series Links was among the best.
It's a tricky time - The Golf Club sunk without a trace, and EA's own return to the PGA series is around the corner - but competition is always welcome. Bring a modern take on the royal and ancient game and you could be onto a winner.
Otogi and its sequel have a number of things going for them: For one, they were developed by the never-more-fashionable From Software (the creator of Dark Souls); they have exciting, well-tuned character-action gameplay (think Devil May Cry); and they have excellent, dark stories that fans appreciate for their incorporation of Japanese mythology.
There's been an uncharacteristic lack of new character-action games on Xbox One - let alone any stylish, fast-paced, Japanese (by which I mean "good") ones. A franchise like this - with an established style and devoted following - could potentially be a hit. Bring it to the table alongside Scalebound and Xbox One could become the place for Platinum-grade action material.
The second mech game on this list earns its place by having a very different focus from others of its kind. Phantom Crash is a mech game that's all about stealth. It's also a mech game about a sport. Your vehicle is both fragile and equipped with a handful of stealthy tools, like active camo, which lets you duck into a corner and stay out of sight while recharging your weapons.
But, this being a sport, your opponents have the same abilities, lending this a more tactical aspect. You're not outgunning them, you're outmaneuvering them. It fits into the more-or-less level playing fields of the MOBA revolution - not a bad place to be if you're looking for immediate success these days.
Quantum Redshift is effectively Microsoft's version of Wipeout: an insanely fast-paced, futuristic racer with anti-gravity "cars" that still looks suspiciously good for an original Xbox title. Its developers tried to spin it with a little bit of its own flavor, adding some humanity to proceedings with actual characters to get to know.
Considering neither Sony or Nintendo seem to have any particular interest in bringing their future-racers to their latest consoles, this is exactly the time to steal a march on them and release what fans are clamouring for.
Blast from the past
Those are the most obscure franchises that Microsoft definitely needs to dust off for next-gen upgrades. What would you like to see resurrected? Let me know in the comments!