Psychonauts is clever. It's also laugh-out-loud funny. Talking to a game's supporting cast normally consists of button-mashing through conversations as quickly as possible, but shooting the breeze with Psychonauts' adorably, impishly quirky bunch of misfits is an absolute joy, thanks to the comic brilliance of the dialogue.
Besides the entertaining psychobabble, the disturbed mindscapes that make up the levels are utterly original and blindingly fun to outsmart. Psychonauts is food for your brain as well as lubrication for your laugh valve. If you like sampling great games that failed to make any kind of impact in the charts, make sure you check out Psychonauts.
4. Ninja Gaiden
One of the most hotly anticipated games in the history of the Xbox, Ninja Gaiden lived up to the lofty expectations that developer Team Ninja's Dead or Alive fighting-and-cheesecake series could never quite match. From the first second you slipped the disc into the Xbox the game was brutally intense, with punishing difficulty; your only option was to get good at it, and fast. The reward was being able to play one of the most engrossing action-adventure games ever.
While the main focus is the speedy ninja combat, clever level design with light Zelda-like touches and still-gorgeous graphics bolster the action. The developers' heritage with fighting games allowed them to offer the most complex yet smooth character control in an action game yet, and mastering ninja Ryu's moves remains an addictive odyssey for hardcore players.
3. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Set 1,000 years before the Star Wars films, Knights of the Old Republic gives you the chance to explore a galaxy torn between the Republic and the Empire-like Sith. As an amnesiac Jedi with a major secret, you travel from planet to planet, righting wrongs (or wronging them even further), gathering followers, and busting out the crazy Force powers in all-or-nothing lightsaber battles.
KOTOR is awesome on every level: an engaging storyline, characters you actually care about, and turn-based battles that move so fast they feel more like real-time hack-and-slash. Even the branching conversations are fascinating, which is great, because you'll spend a lot of time just navigating your way through them. Add a ton of side quests, cool outfits, upgradeable Dark and Light Force powers, and a smattering of never-before-revealed Star Wars trivia, and you have an RPG masterpiece that put to shame anything else bearing the Star Wars logo.
2. Halo: Combat Evolved
Halo overwhelmed us when it first arrived... and not just because of the massive Microsoft marketing push. The sci-fi shooter simply excels in so many categories that it's hard to know where to begin the praise. There are, of course, the big things. The action is spectacular, constant, and a breeze to master. At the time, Halo's control scheme was the most intuitive a console FPS had ever seen. More impressively, the deep and engrossing story feels like an organic part of the gameplay experience, never overshadowing or taking a back seat to the battles. The visuals proved what the Xbox was capable of technically in 2001 and the music proved what it was capable of artistically.
Then there are the little things, seemingly insignificant at first but actually crucial elements of what make Halo so special. Hearing the surrounding Marines react to your heroics as they fight and seeing miniature space vessels make their way across the atmosphere above you all contribute to a fully realized, living universe that still captivates players to this day.
1. Halo 2
The original Halo may have single-handedly sold the majority of Xbox consoles, but its sequel was the game that truly defined the big black box. The action was improved. New features like dual weapon wielding, vehicle jacking, and access to the all-powerful, all-badass energy sword twist the gameplay in just the right places. The plot was better. The revelation that you got to play as a Covenant soldier takes the story in an unexpectedly complex and morally ambiguous direction. And of course, the graphics were enhanced.
But Halo 2's multiplayer is what will forever be remembered. Taking the already wildly popular 16-player matches out of the system-linked college houses and unleashing them upon the entire world over Xbox Live is what made the Halo franchise the phenomenon it is today... and that it will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Xbox was the first video game console to define online multiplayer and Halo 2 was its iconic masterpiece.