Earlier this month Microsoft pushed out the largest UI overhaul in the Xbox One’s short life. Some of the changes were much needed and while new features were added, a few were removed such as the gesture controls that rarely worked while using Kinect. Along with the fairly large update came the ability to play Xbox 360 titles. A new feature that’s given even greater significance considering that this month marks the 10th anniversary of the launch of Xbox 360. Now, don’t get too excited. While this is a much needed and welcomed addition to the Xbox One’s set of features, it’s not complete. Xbox 360 backward compatibility is being handled through emulation which means that the Xbox One isn’t running these games natively. The Xbox 360 ran original Xbox titles thorough emulation as well but that emulation was spotty and mixed. Many games, notably Fable and Jade Empire, were extremely choppy.
In addition to that, the pace at which Xbox titles were made available on Xbox 360 was extremely slow due to the fact that emulating each game presented a whole host of unique challenges. The Xbox 360 emulator on Xbox One on the other hand is impeccable. Games run just as they did on Xbox 360 and are fully compatible with the new console’s features like live streaming and video capture. It’s no exaggeration to say that playing 360 games on your Xbox One is actually a superior experience. Not all of the Xbox 360’s library is available from day one and it’s unlikely that every game will ever be available but the first one hundred titles include heavy hitters that defined the console like Fallout 3 and Gears of War. Five of those hundred games stood out to me as titles I think all Xbox One owners should either revisit or play for the first time.
Probably the most played game on this list Mass Effect has gone on to become one of EA biggest original franchises but it’s easy to forget that the first title in this beloved trilogy didn’t have the same cultural cache as its sequels. Personally, Mass Effect is a milestone game in the life of the Xbox 360. As a massive Bioware fan I bought an Xbox 360 not long after launch due to the promise of the then first party exclusive Mass Effect, a promise that wasn’t fulfilled until November of 2007. I do believe that its successors surpassed it in most aspects but the original Mass Effect truly is a prerequisite for the second and third. The original Mass Effect is special, it introduces us to a fantastic new universe with engaging and memorable characters that are enjoyable to spend time with. No moment feels like a waste of time in this game and each decision feels like it has weight even though many felt they didn’t by the end of ME3. Mass Effect still holds up and is essential to truly appreciate the trilogy.
Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts
What can I say about this game other than the fact that it’s seriously underrated. Go anywhere on the internet and all you’ll find about Nuts and Bolts is a hatewave of loathing and fanboy rage. Nuts & Bolts, like Starfox Adventures before it, unjustly suffers from the expectations of long time series fans. On some level, it’s understandable. You wait nearly ten years for a sequel to Banjo-Tooie, a 3D action platformer, and you get something completely different involving obstacle challenges and building vehicles, it’s bound to miff a quite a few. In reality, if you were mature enough to give Nuts & Bolts a chance you’ll find a fantastic game filled with creative challenges, great visuals and a deep and engaging vehicle creation toolset. It was worth taking a chance on when it first came out and if you didn’t, you’ve got another chance to do so now. Best of all, Nuts & Bolts, along with every other console Banjo title, can be had for $30 as a part of Rare Replay.
Viva Pinata & Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise
I’m going to cheat here and put both Viva Pinata games as one. While I recommend Trouble in Paradise because it’s an expansion on the core concepts of the first, either one is great. Viva Pinata was a special game when it first came, there wasn’t anything quite like it and there still isn’t. Many critics of Rare claim the studio hasn’t done anything noteworthy since its “divorce” from Nintendo but, like almost the entirety of the Xbox 360 install base, they are criminally ignoring these hidden and often forgotten gems. Viva puts you in the role of a gardener tasked with attracting living pinata animals to your yard. Each pinata species requires a different type of ecosystem in order to attract and some pinata are more difficult to attract than others. For example, Chippopotamus, the hippopotamus pinata, requires at least 50% of your lot to be underwater. Attracting rarer pinata rewards the player with more money and prestige once that pinata is sent to a party where they’ll be eviscerated by candy-lust driven eight year olds. Don’t worry though, it will be returned intact and at a higher level. You can also breed your pinata once you have a male and female of the same species and have meet special mating requirements. It’s one of those games that starts slow but with enough investment sucks you into its fairly demanding gameplay. You’re not just managing a lifeless garden but and entire small ecosystem, filled with its own food chain and delicate environmental factors. Viva melds the gotta catch em’ all addiction of Pokemon with the involved management of Sim City. It’s fun and backwards compatibility will give even more people a chance to experience this special and charming title. Like Banjo-Kazooie Nuts & Bolts, both Viva Pinata titles can be found as a part of Rare Replay.
Beyond Good & Evil HD
Originally released on Xbox, GameCube and PlayStation 2, Beyond Good & Evil is a critical darling that just failed to light the sales charts. With great characters, beautiful art design, an engaging story and a top notch Zelda-style action adventure gameplay it’s hard to understand why this great game just didn’t get its fair shake. Back in 2011, Ubisoft released an updated HD version of the game which is now backwards compatible on Xbox One. BG&E HD (damn that a lot of letters) looks much better than its already pretty source. New textures, widescreen presentation and crisp HD visuals look great because the original art holds up so well. The planet Hillys, where the game is set, is filled with interesting things to do and see and has its own unique look and wildlife. The protagonist, Jade, is endearing and her relationships with the supporting cast are meaningful. Beyond Good & Evil is definitely worth revisiting or diving into for the first time and it’s one game I’m definitely excited about playing on my Xbox One.
Pac-Man Championship Edition
It’s the best Pac-Man game ever made. Championship Edition takes the classic Pac-Man formula and super charges it with the caffeinated hyperactivity of modern sensibility. Think of the original Pac-Man but in widescreen, flashing colours and at five times the speed. Championship Edition is the perfect backward compatibility game because it delivers the perfect shot of the nostalgia of the “last-gen” in a quick bite-sized piece. There’s no story, no pretense, just a constant need to beat the high score. It’s a video game in its purest most primitive essence and it’s fantastic for that very reason.