Fable 2 - Ludwig Kietzmann
Far from the overgrown promises of the first Fable, where we still wait for an acorn to grow into a tree, Fable 2 fully delivers on a simple idea: reward the player no matter what. It sounds like a Molyneux Special, the kind of promise that seems empty and in opposition to the challenge we seek in games, but it really works.
And so Fable 2 becomes this role-playing game where you cant die, but you can lose your good looks. You cant get lost, but you might not find every single, fascinating secret the world of Albion has to offer. You cant truly be defeated, but your reputation might not grow in the way youd hoped. There is always more treasure to find, more enemies to slay in fanciful combat, new magic spells to learn and minor rewards to push you toward eventual victory, even if youre the worst Fable 2 player imaginable. It still doesnt sound like good game design, but soon enough you stop thinking of victory and simply how youre exploring and existing within a vivid world, free from thoughts of winning or losing. Now your choices feel less like bargaining with a game for a good outcome, and more like having a stake in how the land thrives or withers under your will.
Speaking of decisions: Who made the call to restrict this, the best Fable, to just the Xbox 360 after all this time?
Alan Wake - Susan Arendt
Alan Wake is well known (though not nearly well-enough played), so hurrying it onto the backwards compatibility list isnt really about exposing a new audience to the atmospheric adventure from Remedy. Its about delivering, in one nice package, the entire tale - something the original game didnt quite get right. To experience the full story of Alan and his missing wife, Alice, you have to complete not only the main game, but its two follow-up pieces of DLC as well, a fact that put off many players the first time around.
Theres a reason people keep begging Remedy to revisit its tortured writer; the world of Alan Wake is dark and scary and, above all, really interesting. Yeah, the game has some silly product placement and it holds your hand a wee bit too much at times, but overall its presentation is an immensely clever dive into the guilty conscience of a guy with a crippling (and possibly lethal) case of writers block. Its a game that makes you as afraid of things that go bump in the night as you are of the things you say to your loved ones in the middle of an argument. Its both supernatural and very human. So we can forgive a few Energizer logos here and there, right?
Ninja Gaiden 2 - Ashley Reed
The sequel to a game that made players nearly break their controllers in rage (in a long, proud line of games that prompt the same ire), Ninja Gaiden 2 is every bit as tricky as its forbearers, and is so damn difficult that beating it can feel nearly impossible. Yet many of us took that as a challenge instead of a reason to quit, and Ninja Gaiden 2 delivered a powerful journey as our reward.
Sadly the series hasn't held up well in recent years, with Ninja Gaiden 3 and Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z going from bad to downright embarrassing. That makes Ninja Gaiden 2 the last great game in the series (at the moment at least), which only makes the case for making it part of Xbox One's backwards-compatible collection stronger. Keep the best Ninja Gaiden alive in the hearts and hard drives of players, so we remember how good the franchise used to be, and could well be again.
Shadows of the Damned - Sam Prell
If you brushed aside the just-okay third-person shooter mechanics in Shadows of the Damned for a moment, you would find a unique tale of woe, vengeance and redemption, all told with a sense of humor that would make Conker blush. This is a game that gives us a sidekick named "Johnson" who turned into a "Big Boner" gun (he shoots bones, get it?) and a redneck demon who loves strawberries. It also introduces us to dear Garcia. Oh, what can I say about Garcia?
There are video game protagonists, and then there are video game protagonists. Garcia "I'm not sure I can type his nickname without getting into trouble" Hotspur is definitely the latter; a man I would follow into the depths of hell. And did! As rough around the edges as he is, Garcia gets major kudos for his taste in fashion, his love of puns and his relentless pursuit to rescue his beloved. We should all be so lucky to have a little Hotspur in our lives.
Project Gotham Racing 4 - Paul Taylor
You might think that Project Gotham Racing is a racing game, but its really a skill tester fused with a gambling simulator. It just so happens that the wrapper around this machine of pure addiction is one of the most nuanced and perfectly balanced racers in history, and features a circuit list with some of the worlds most iconic locations. Its also the precursor to the incredible Forza Horizon series after Bizarre Creations was shuttered, its development team scattered, with a good number of them joining Playground Games.
Thats a lot to take in. PGRs Kudos rewards system has evolved into Horizons own form of leveling up, which asks you to not only be awesome, but to keep being awesome for as long as possible to multiply your points. Keep your skill-chain going, hit the max multi, earn and repeat or prove your stamina by not letting up for the whole race. Do it by the now-usual methods of drifting, drafting, launching off jumps and keeping your machine at max speed. In PGR4, though, theres little room for error on the tight city circuits, and it takes only a brief, cruel, lapse in concentration to see your hard-earned streak fall away, the multiplier tumbling off the screen like a shooting star thats been snuffed out mid-streak. God knows who owns the PGR licence, but this is a racer that deserves at least one more lap on Xbox One.
Shadow Complex - Connor Sheridan
Despite its near-universal acclaim as a smart and fun evolution of Metroid-style platform adventures, Shadow Complex has yet to receive any kind of port almost six years later. Early Xbox Live Arcade favorites like Super Meat Boy, Braid, and Castle Crashers have gone on to enjoy lasting success across multiple platforms, but there's been no such luck for Shadow Complex probably because developer Chair has been too busy making the equally brilliant (and way more lucrative) Infinity Blade games to worry about it since then.
So Shadow Complex should be made backwards compatible on Xbox One for the sake of cultural preservation alone. But historical significance aside, it's a killer little game about blasting your way through a secret paramilitary installation, collecting new equipment, and levelling up like a freakishly fun hydra of Samus Aran, Alucard, and Bill Rizer. That's gotta be worth something.
Bayonetta - Ashley Reed
Bayonetta has been the subject of much controversy over the years, not limited to hyper-sexual moves of its protagonist, the Wii U-exclusive release of Bayonetta 2, to seriously, are you seeing this outfit? But despite all that, Bayonetta stands as a pinnacle of quality in the gaming world, an air-tight beat 'em up with huge and hugely satisfying battles that made it into an instant classic. Both in art and mechanical execution, it's stood as a strong genre contender, making it a perfect candidate to get some of that backwards compatibility love.
Coming from the same school of over-the-top violence from which Devil May Cry and God of War graduated, Bayonetta gives the genre a sexy twist in more than just the obvious ways. You can destroy your enemies with semi-sexual (but mostly just painful) torture devices, and you do not know true power until you summon a vicious hair-demon and turn a mansion-sized enemy into gorey chunks with a few strong button presses. It's a system that's as gratifying now as it was back then, and going straight to hell alongside the game's gun-heeled heroine would have just as much kick on a brand new console.
Condemned: Criminal Origins - Susan Arendt
It gets waved off as a hobo punching sim, but Condemned is a well-tuned, creepy game that consistently makes smart choices about how to make you feel vulnerable and frightened. First, it takes away the buckets of ammo that youre used to in first-person games, forcing you to rely on melee combat with whatevers close to hand. Second, it lets your opponents pick up whatever youve left behind and use it against you - including that pistol that wasnt worth hanging onto because it had only two bullets in it. Even its collectibles are disturbing; normally scouring levels for hidden trinkets is a distraction, but finding Condemneds dead birds and shards of metal just adds to the overall feeling of unease. It also has one of the flat-out scariest moments in gaming history. Youll never feel quite the same in a department store after playing it.
Not a lot of people got around to playing Condemned; it was a 360 launch title, it was a new IP, and its emphasis on fisticuffs belied its intriguing story and excellent voice acting. What looked like a dumb beat-em-up was actually a sharp detective adventure about a cop trying to clear his name while hunting down a mysterious and exceptionally lethal opponent. There was even some clue-hunting with forensic equipment. Its graphics suffer a bit with the passage of time - Condemned certainly looks like a 360 launch title - but it has more than enough great ideas in it to deserve a second chance.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West - Susan Arendt
Lets be honest about this: the combat in Enslaved is terrible. Its not deep or interesting or even particularly challenging. Its not broken or painful, but its just kind of there and not in any way a thing you would play Enslaved for. But thats ok, because thats not why Enslaved is on this list. Enslaved is on this list because it offers one of the best - perhaps the best - performances in a video game. As hero Monkey, Andy Serkis raises the bar for game acting so high that youd need a rocket to clear it. Seriously, hes that good.
Beyond that, though, Enslaveds vision of a world slowly being reclaimed by nature after an apocalyptic catastrophe is stunning and, in a rare move for games in which youre the star, humbling. It shows that whatever might happen to people, life will go on. Trees will grow as our monuments to our own cleverness rust and decay, flowers will bloom while we grapple with the realization that were not actually the most powerful thing on the planet. On top of all of that, Enslaved also has an outstanding soundtrack and a pretty darn good story. The ending is a bit controversial (I personally enjoyed it), but if you found yourself at all intrigued by Horizons version of a green post-apocalypse, Enslaved is certainly worth playing.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night - Ashley Reed
We already know that Microsoft has a soft spot (in its wallet) for Symphony of the Night, and is willing to go out of its way to accommodate the title in the Xbox library. Back in the days when there was a strict 50MB size limit on all Xbox Live Arcade games, a special exception was made for the 95.32 MB Symphony, with Microsoft confirming the game would be released without cuts. That didn't seem as special after Microsoft raised the cap to 150MB two months later, but that's not the point. The point is that Symphony has something going for it, and now it's even easier to make it available for an up-to-date console, so the process should surely repeat again.
Of course, all that effort was a reaction to fan interest, and given the game's quality, that isn't surprising. The first Castlevania title to utilize RPG-style leveling and a map that could be explored in any order you choose, Symphony makes big, inspired changes to a well-loved franchise and still respects what made it great. The result is the most highly acclaimed Castlevania game to date, and its 2D exploration and fighting is as fun as it's ever been. With that and their shared history, how could Microsoft not awaken Symphony of the Night anew?