The Essential Xbox Live Arcade List

by Bryan Vore on Apr 21, 2012 at 07:58 AM

PlayStation 3, Wii, iOS, and multiplatform downloadable games have had their shot. Today is all about the Xbox 360.

This week, we've outlined 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. You may recognize this feature from last year, which has now been updated with all the new great titles that have released since.

Today, we’re tackling the first major console game download service that appeared. There are now over 480 games available on the Xbox Live Arcade service, an impressive collection that has been building since the console’s launch in November of 2005. Though a trial version of Xbox Live Arcade actually appeared on the original Xbox, we’ve isolated our list to important games available on the current 360 console.

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 really moved the platform forward and listed them in order of release. It’s also worth noting that we’ve left most games that appeared on multiple consoles off this list (outside of PC and portable versions). They have already been covered on the list of multiplatform titles.

Looking for more of the top DLGs? Check out the rundowns on multiplatform, PlayStation Network, WiiWare, and iOS/Android games.

Thanks to Dan Ryckert for contributing to some of the new entries in this list.

Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved
Bizarre Creations
Release Date:
November, 2005 (Also on PC)

The first Geometry Wars was THE XBLA game to own at the 360's launch. It single-handedly heralded a resurgence of twin stick shooters, boggled the mind with screen-filling neon visuals, and drove gamers into countless late night sessions to beat friends' high scores -- pretty impressive for a former Project Gotham Racing minigame. The sequel improved upon the formula in many ways, but never matched the well of excitement around the original.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1989 Classic Arcade
Konami/Digital Eclipse
Release Date:
March, 2007

When one of the finest brawlers of all time hit XBLA, tons of gamers took notice. This arcade perfect port rekindled TMNT fans' memories and added in online co-op to the dread of foot soldiers everywhere. The game went on to become the top-selling game of 2007 and paved to way for more classic brawlers like Final Fight and X-Men later on. This game has been removed from the service since Konami's rights to TMNT have expired. However, The Simpsons arcade is currently available so don't let it pass you by!

Metanet Software/Slick Entertainment
Release Date:
February, 2008 (Also on PSP and DS)

N+ was one of the first indie games gone good. Developed by Metanet as an extremely challenging free platformer on the web, this totally blown out version showed 360 owners that punishing difficulty can be fun as long as the consequences are low.

A Kingdom for Keflings
Release Date:
November, 2008 (Also on PC)

NinjaBee's lighthearted take on world building offered humor, an addicting progression system, and provided gamers the first chance to actually control their Xbox Avatars. Follow-up A World of Keflings fixed most of the niggling issues in the Keflings formula and is probably the best entry point these days for players looking for a relaxed way to play God with infinitely trusting minions.

The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai
Ska Studios
Release Date:
April, 2009

The Dishwasher was developed nearly single-handedly by one James Silva. The 2D action/platformer was so good that it won XNA's Dream-Build-Play award put on by Microsoft. Even better, it was put out as a full-on XBLA title rather than an indie release. The sequel, The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile, improved on the already great original in every way.

Splosion Man
Twisted Pixel Games
Release Date:
July, 2009

Twisted Pixel's innovative platformer is so good that it's unfortunately been ripped off twice since its release (Explodemon and MaXplosion). You play as a unhinged, highly volatile test subject that explodes his way out of a huge lab. Timing is everything here when it comes to making the perfect jumps, especially in the 2-player co-op mode. The sequel, Ms. Splosion Man, is even better and will appear on iOS soon.

Trials HD
Release Date:
August, 2009

Trials HD combines fun bike tricks with the satisfaction of finally clearing seemingly impossible obstacles. RedLynx's bonafide hit has joined the small and elite club of million-plus sellers of XBLA titles and periodic quality DLC add-ons have kept Trials relevant for years after its release.

Shadow Complex
Chair Entertainment/Epic Games
Release Date:
August, 2009

Shadow Complex fed players starving for traditional 2D Metroid/Castlevania games and delivered in all the right ways, reimagining the genre with impressive Unreal Engine presentation. Under Epic's guidance, Chair has become a top-tier DLG developer that demands attention. Along with its iOS blockbuster franchise, Infinity Blade , the team seems unstoppable for the time being.

Perfect Dark
Rare/4J Studios
Release Date:
March, 2010

Younger gamers may only know the series from the Perfect Dark Zero bummer at the 360's launch, but this 2010 remake of the N64 original reminded everyone what made it great in the first place. This port brought the graphics up to modern standards and added in much-needed dual stick controls and online multiplayer.

Dead Rising 2: Case Zero
Blue Castle Games
Release Date:
August, 2010
The title of best-selling XBLA game of 2010 belongs to Case Zero, with the last count putting it past half a million downloads. Capcom's brilliant prequel allowed fans to try out Dead Rising 2 before it was released for the cheap price of $5. By adding in story elements and allowing players to carry over their progress, Capcom essentially made people happy to pay for a demo. Hopefully, more companies will follow suit in the years to come.

Super Meat Boy
Team Meat
Release Date:
October, 2010 (Also on PC)

Sure, Super Meat Boy scratched a similar killer platformer itch as the earlier N+, but when it's done with such style we just had to clear a spot for it. Poor Meat Boy's gory adventure through an absurd amount of creative stages provided some of the the most challenging moments in modern gaming, but also the most charming.

Pinball FX 2
Zen Studios
Release Date:
October, 2010

Many consider this the best video pinball game of all time. With unmatched physics, table design, and insanely addictive scoring comparisons among players' Xbox Live friends, it's easy to see why. Even if you're not much of a pinball fan, Zen's love letter to the hobby will almost certainly change your mind.

SouthEnd Interactive
Release Date:
November, 2010

SouthEnd's impossibly cute puzzler came out of nowhere to win the hearts of XBLA gamers everywhere. Especially curious fans were able to buy ilomilo through secret channels last year (an official release rolled out later) and sung it's praises to anyone who'd listen. Despite its adorable demeanor, ilomilo's later levels contain some of the most intense brainbenders yet seen.

Runic Games
Release Date:
March, 2011 (Also on PC)

Console gamers looked on with jealousy when Runic's well-done Diablo clone hit PCs in late 2009, but now they can finally get their own taste of Torchlight's dungeon crawling goodness. Games that start out on PC usually suffer when transferring from mouse and keyboard to controllers, but this one came out splendidly. Several class options provide plenty of variety and score leaderboards offer a way to smack talk friends in a genre that usually doesn't offer that opportunity. Unfortunately, there's no co-op this time around, but Runic has already guaranteed the feature in the upcoming sequel.


Developer: Supergiant Games
Release Date: July 2011 (XBLA), August 2011 (PC)

Accompanied by a gravelly-voiced narrator, a young hero awakes to find his world shattered into pieces, and he only has one chance to rebuild it. It's the foundation for one of our favorite adventures in recentyears, combining action/RPG combat and exploration with a constantly engaging storytelling device, since every action you take elicits acomment from the game's omnipresent voiceover. A tour de force in simple design and smart writing, Bastion deserves a play. -- written by Matt Miller



Toy Soldiers: Cold War
Developer: Signal Studios
Release Date: August 17, 2011

Unlike the first game's World War I aesthetic, Signal Studios looked to action movies of the 80s for inspiration for Cold War. Its mix of vehicles and on-foot commandos make for some engaging and tense combat situations, and unit placement makes all the difference. Players can manage the battlefield from an "eye in the sky" perspective, then easily drop down and take the fight to the enemy from the perspective of a ground unit. Its combat variety and new setting make Cold War an improvement on the already-solid original.


Crimson Alliance
Developer: Certain Affinity
Release Date: September 7, 2011

Torchlight was a great dungeon crawler, but it was missing one very important thing: co-op play. Crimson Alliance supports up to four players, but it really hits the sweetspot with three. This way your team can cover all three classes without doubling up. The distinct mercenary, assassin, and wizard, characters encourage multiple playthroughs along with the smart level design. Grab some pals and lose a weekend with this loot-fest.


Guardian Heroes
Developer: Treasure
Release Date: October 12, 2011

This long-lost beat 'em up hadn't been seen since its 1996 release on the beleaguered Sega Saturn. Original developer Treasure came back to handle the update with excellent results. The unique three-plane 2D fighting system shines with optional new graphical upgrades and control options. Plus, the staggering number of branching paths will keep you coming back again and again just to see everything.


Developer: Denki
Release Date: January 25, 2012

Word-based games are all the rage on iOS, which is where Denki first released Quarrel. It eventually made its way to Xbox Live Arcade, and its Risk-meets-Scrabble gameplay made the jump while keeping its quality intact. Each skirmish between spaces presents you and an opponent with a collection of letters, and you're tasked with putting together a high-scoring word out of them. You'll have the advantage if you have more forces on a space than an enemy, as you'll have more letter slots to play with. It's a simple concept, but its execution makes it a blast.



Sine Mora
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Release Date: March 21, 2012

Bullet hell shooters have always featured a high barrier of entry thanks to their screen-filling projectiles, but Grasshopper's Sine Mora makes the genre more accessible by introducing a new mechanic. Instead of a health bar or one-hit kill system, everything operates on a time mechanic. Kill an enemy, and you're rewarded with more time. Get hit by a bullet, and you're docked a few seconds. It's a simple mechanic, but it does wonders for those who tire of getting killed with one shot.


Developer: Polytron
Release Date: April 13, 2012

After a lengthy development process and being featured in Indie Game: The Movie, Polytron's mind-bending platformer finally made its way to Xbox Live Arcade. The game can be beat without much issue if you're not the completionist type, but you'll have to break out the pen and paper and do some serious thinking if you're hoping to find all 64 cubes. With a mix of perspective-based platforming and devious puzzles, Fez is one of the most unique and enjoyable games on XBLA.



Trials Evolution
Developer: RedLynx
Release Date: April 18, 2012

Trials HD won over gamers with its physics-based motorcycle action, but Evolution is true to its name by taking things to the next level. It escapes the warehouse-based stages of the original, replacing them with creative and gorgeous outdoor environments. If you need a break from the maddeningly-difficult later levels, its new customization options and multiplayer modes should do the trick. It's a platformer disguised as a motorcycle game, and it's one of the most polished experiences on Xbox Live Arcade.