Feature

The Essential Multiplatform Downloadable Game List

by Matt Miller on Apr 19, 2012 at 10:45 AM

Our essential multiplatform DLG list examines the games you can play no matter what console you play on. 

This week, we’re outlining some of the best games across the life of the major console download services. With an eye towards including the important early games on the service as well as the latest and greatest hits, our goal is to provide you with a comprehensive survey of the essential titles on any given downloadable platform. We've updated our list from last year, adding a whole new page of titles that have come out since we first published our selections. To read the newest additions, just click to the final page of this article.

For this list, if you can purchase the game on some combination of PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade, and/or WiiWare, we’ve included it on this list. In some cases, these games also appear as retail products, which we’ve noted where appropriate. If it only shows up on one of the home consoles, or the only other way to play is on PC, look for your game of choice on one of the lists later this week. We've already posted updated lists for PlayStation Network and WiiWare.

Take a look at our picks, and share your own in the comments below. With so many great games, it’s impossible to name all the titles worth playing. Instead, we’ve stuck with those that moved the downloadable game scene forward. Our choices are presented chronologically, based on the first system upon which they released.



Uno
Developer:
Carbonated Games (XBLA)/Gameloft
Release Date:
May 2006 (XBLA), November 2008 (iOS), October 2009 (PSN), December 2009 (DSiWare), January 2010 (WiiWare)
Format:
PSN, XBLA, WiiWare, DSiWare, iOS

We can hear the foul cries from here. Uno? What’s that doing on this list? Take a step back, and recall that the popular card game was one of the earliest downloadable console games to successfully court the more casual gaming crowd. In fact, it was the very first XBLA game to cross the million-download threshold. More importantly than its popularity, Uno’s video game adaptation was a smart, well-designed adaptation. The Xbox Live Arcade version, in particular, has received numerous updates, broadening its appeal and supporting the extensive player base. Bring a group of hardcore gaming buddies together, and Uno probably isn’t going to be the first thing on the screen. But bring the family together at Thanksgiving, and Uno will be a surefire hit.



Peggle
Developer:
PopCap Games
Release Date:
February 2007 (PC), March 2009 (XBLA), May 2009 (iOS), November 2009 (PSN)
Format:
PSN, XBLA, PC, iOS

Anyone who has played a decent amount of Peggle is familiar with the experience of introducing it to someone new. Almost without exception, the newbie stares incredulously at the bouncing ball, and wonders aloud why in the world you’d want to play something so simplistic. And then they start to play, and they understand the charm. Peggle is the poster child for the “Keep it simple, stupid” school of game design. It mixes elements of pachinko, pinball, and the flashy colors and graphics that characterize all PopCap games. Despite the ease with which players can start playing, layers of strategy and challenge blossom over time. That and a whole a lot of luck are the key to Peggle’s fun as well as its success.



Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords
Developer:
Infinite Interactive
Release Date:
March 2007 (DS, PSP), October 2007 (XBLA, PC), November 2007 (Wii), October 2008 (PSN)
Format:
PSN, XBLA, Wii, PSP, DS, PC

Take the color matching of Bejeweled and layer it with familiar RPG tropes, and you get Puzzle Quest, a time-consuming and entertaining ride that came at just the right time to succeed. Infinite Interactive recognized the way that the simple match-three gameplay could be translated into a role-playing experience. By doing so, the team assured the sort of long-term commitment that kept players coming back for dozens of hours of leveling up, monster slaying, and loot collection.



Pac-Man Championship Edition
Developer:
Namco Bandai Games
Release Date:
June 2007 (XBLA), December  2009 (iOS), February 2011 (PSN)
Format:
PSN, XBLA, iOS

While technically a multiplatform release, Pac-Man Championship Edition made its big splash on XBLA. The game did the impossible; take one of the oldest formulas in the video game world and make it fresh again. Adding time limits, thumping music, and clever board design, Pac-Man CE brought players back to the little yellow chomper in droves. The only thing that could beat it was upping the ante; its sequel, Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, was even better. If you’ve dismissed either game out of hand as another random Pac-Man re-issue, you’re missing out.



Bionic Commando Rearmed
Developer:
GRIN
Release Date:
August 2008
Format:
PSN, XBLA, PC

Bionic Commando is one of the most lauded NES games, so it should come as little surprise that this well-done remake was such a success when it released to downloadable platforms in 2008. Updating both graphics and gameplay, Rearmed manages to remain faithful to the original game and makes it better at the same time. Strong enemy AI, great controls, and perfect use of the titular bionic arm assure that players no longer have to dig out their old Nintendos to play this great title.



Braid
Developer:
Number None, Inc
Release Date:
August 2008 (XBLA), April 2009 (PC), May 2009 (Mac), November 2009 (PSN)
Format:
PSN, XBLA, PC, Mac

Braid was a revelation when it first released on XBLA in the latter half of 2008. A post-modern, existential exploration of the human condition, Braid also has some of the smartest and most challenging puzzle design in years. Playing with the idea of time and how we perceive it, Braid had players following the journey of a man named Tim as he traced a path through his own memories. An easy place to point in the discussion of games as art, Braid remains a must-play game for anyone curious about the potential of the independent game scene.



Castle Crashers
Developer:
The Behemoth
Release Date:
August 2008 (XBLA), August 2010 (PSN)
Format:
PSN, XBLA

Whether you love its humorous fantasy styling, the cooperative brawling, or the whimsical but bloody art style, Castle Crashers has a little something for everyone. Proving that the old school of beat-em-ups could be updated for modern gamers, Castle Crashers keeps players coming back for more, even after beating the game multiple times. At its release in August of 2008 on XBLA, the game had an ambition and scope that was beyond most games that had come before it on the service, paving the way for more complex games in the coming years. For fun, simple, engaging combat with your buddies, it’s a hard game to beat.

Mega Man 9
Developer:
Capcom/Inti Creates
Release Date:
September 2008

Format:
PSN, XBLA, WiiWare, Mobile

Plenty of classic games have seen revivals on downloadable platforms, but few have been as faithful to the source material as Mega Man 9. Capcom’s blue bomber in his classic form had been absent from the gaming scene for well over a decade when Mega Man 9 arrived – a brand new installment of the series complete with 8-bit graphics and accompanying sound and music. The developers even included a mode to emulate NES processing power, making onscreen sprites flicker when too many showed up. The devotion to nostalgia alongside brutal difficulty balancing makes Mega Man 9 a favorite among old school gamers. The game was so well received that the series received another sequel a couple of years later.



Super Street Fighter II HD Remix
Developer:
Backbone Entertainment
Release Date:
November 2008
Format:
PSN, XBLA

Fighting game fans rejoiced when HD Remix hit the scene in 2008, just a few months in advance of the release of Street Fighter IV. While that title was busy reviving the fighting game scene on retail shelves, Super Street Fighter II HD Remix quietly resurrected the excitement of the original hit arcade fighter. Fantastic remixed music from OverClocked Remix, overhauled art by UDON Entertainment, and a faithful adaptation of the source game and its gameplay make HD Remix a great choice for fans who want the classic experience with an updated look and feel. Updated balance and small tweaks to gameplay make this a great way to play the classic game for newbies and pros alike.



Plants vs. Zombies
Developer:
PopCap Games
Release Date:
May 2009 (PC), February 2010 (iOS), September 2010 (Xbox Live Arcade), January 2011 (DS), February 2011 (PSN)
Format:
PSN, XBLA, Nintendo DS, PC, iOS

Who knew a game about cutesy plants and lumbering zombies would become one of the great gaming phenomena in recent years? PopCap makes an art of perfect game balancing, and it shows in this stellar variation on the tower defense formula. Players lay down plants across the yard that viciously defend against the oncoming hordes of undead. Look no further than the huge list of available platforms to perceive the broad appeal of the game, which managed to capture the hardest core players right beside the most casual. As a model for reaching out to all sorts of players, Plants vs. Zombies is a masterpiece. More importantly, it is enormously fun for almost anyone who picks it up.



Battlefield 1943
Developer:
EA Digital Illusions
Release Date:
July 2009 (XBLA), July 2009 (PSN)
Format:
PSN, XBLA

There aren’t many full fledged FPS games available for download on consoles, and none that can compete with the polish and exceptional quality of Battlefield 1943. The online multiplayer shooter has up to 24 players throwing down across the Pacific Theater of World War II. Selling faster than any game in Xbox Live Arcade’s history, the game proved that high-end hardcore shooters could find an audience even without a disc version. In an interesting twist, EA challenged its users to hit 43 million kills in one of its game modes before unlocking additional features. The Live Arcade crowd managed the trick in less than a week.



The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition
Developer:
LucasArts
Release Date:
July 2009 (XBLA, PC), April 2010 (PSN)
Format:
PSN, XBLA, PC

One of the great PC adventure games of the 90s received a complete graphical overhaul in 2009 thanks to the minds at LucasArts. While all of the great jokes and clever puzzles remained intact, the updated interface and graphics assured the game was highly playable even for a modern audience. The game's coolest feature? A button press could switch the visuals back and forth from the old style to the new in a split second. Brilliant!



Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light
Developer:
Crystal Dynamics
Release Date:
August 2010
Format:
PSN, XBLA, PC

Proving that established current franchises can find new life in the downloadable game scene, Lara Croft surprised the gaming world with great gunplay, fun exploration, and a devotion to the Lara Croft concept, all in a brand new gameplay style. Players control Lara from a fixed-camera 3D view as she explores ruins and defeats mythical monsters. Play cooperatively, and new companion Totec is along for the ride. Guardian of Light was a great game in its own right, filled with secret discoveries and gorgeous visuals. But the real importance of the game lies in its treatment of a character from an existing property. If you’re a developer looking for how to bring a major gaming franchise into the DLG scene, Guardian of Light is the model to follow.



Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Developer:
Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft Chengdu
Release Date:
August 2010
Format:
PSN, XBLA

Scott Pilgrim deserves credit for taking a big movie release and finding a way to do a great game treatment in the DLG space. Beyond that, Scott Pilgrim is just a good time. Like Castle Crashers before it, Scott Pilgrim combined an evocative art style with old-school arcade beat-em-up action. Character leveling and unlockable abilities and characters give the game replay value. But the constant flow of nods to classic games like Double Dragon, Golden Axe, and TMNT remind players where this sort of game came from. Simple, fun, and an appropriate adaptation of its source material, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is worth a look even if you never read the comics or saw the movie.



Hard Corps Uprising
Developer:
Arc System Works
Release Date:
February 2011 (XBLA), March 2011 (PSN)
Format:
PSN, XBLA

It doesn’t have Contra in the title, but don’t let that fool you. Hard Corps Uprising takes a lesser known part of the Contra fiction, blows it out, and delivers a brand new action game in the style of the Konami game many of us grew up with. Uprising’s biggest innovation is the inclusion of an upgrade mechanic. Repeated play and high scores give points that can be spent on more lives, better weapons, and expanded move sets. Invest enough time and energy, and your soldier becomes a powerhouse. Run and gun to your heart’s content; Uprising proves that Contra and its ilk are here to stay.

Joe Danger
Developer: Hello Games
Release: June 2010 (PSN), December 2011 (XBLA)
Format: PSN, XBLA

Although it may look like a cartoony Excitebike at first glance, Joe Danger is as much of a platformer as it is a racing game. Like Trials HD, Joe Danger tasks the player with navigating intricate obstacle courses on the back of a motorcycle while watching the clock and maintaining your balance. However, Joe Danger takes the formula to absurd new heights, with a Tony Hawk-style trick system that will have you stringing together insane combos as you spin, flip, and hurl yourself through each level. A comprehensive track editor allows you to make your own courses to challenge your friends, but if designing levels isn't your thing, the core game has plenty of challenges to keep you busy.

Limbo
Developer: Playdead
Release Date: July 2010 (XBLA), July 2011 (PSN), Mac (December 2011), PC (January 2012)
Format: PSN, XBLA, PC, Mac

A stark black and white background of glowing light and dark shadow frame the mysterious world of Limbo. Telling the tale of a young boy in search for his missing sister, Limbo's striking visuals and sparse but haunting audio design make the game incredibly immersive. Tack on some brilliant puzzles, harrowing chases, and true moments of discovery, and the game is more than worth the asking price.



Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes HD
Developer: Capybara Games
Release Date: April 2011
Format: PSN, XBLA

For players who loved Puzzle Quest, might we recommend another excellent puzzle/RPG? Might & Might: Clash of Heroes originally released to Nintendo DS in December 2009, but Capybara went back and lovingly crafted a new visual treatment to release for console download. The result is pretty familiar fantasy storytelling, but an engaging match-three combat system that remains challenging and engaging for hours.



From Dust
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
Release Date: July 2011 (XBLA), August 2011 (PSN), September 2011 (PC)
Format: PSN, XBLA, PC

Eric Chahi's intriguing strategy game sets itself apart by putting you in control of the natural forces surrounding a village of settlers, though you have little direct control over the actions of the people. Playing in an enormous sandbox with the fate of an entire culture and society in the balance, From Dust is gorgeous to look at, and even more fun to play.



Trine 2
Developer: Frozenbyte
Release Date: December 2011
Format: PSN, XBLA, Windows, Mac, Linux

One of the most innovative and beautiful puzzle games on the market, Trine 2 also happens to be one of the most fun to play with friends. Focusing on cooperative play between three unique characters who each bring their own abilities to the mission, Trine 2 is a rich fantasy filled with vibrant color, chuckle-worthy humor, and smart design.



I Am Alive
Developer: Ubisoft Shanghai
Release Date: March 2012 (XBLA), April 2012 (PSN)
Format: PSN, XBLA

The scariest thing is feeling powerless. That's the theme that drives the excitement and tension of I Am Alive, a unique twist on survival/horror that has a man navigating a disaster-strewn city in search of his missing family. With limited resources and ever-present danger from survivors and the surrounding environment, the game proves that using your wits can be just as fun and thrilling as a gun, assuming the game manages to make you believe you're in real danger at every turn.



Skullgirls
Developer: Autumn Games
Release Date: April 2012
Format: PSN, XBLA

It's rare that a worthwhile new fighting game franchise arrives on the scene, and nearly unheard of that it shows up as a download title. However, that's exactly what happened with Skullgirls, a tournament quality fighter filled with bodacious anime-inspired girls, creative move sets, and tight, responsive controls. It's well worth a look for players ready for something new in the world of games that focus on beating up your opponent.

Check back tomorrow when we’ll have a brand new Essentials list chronicling the best in mobile gaming.