The Best XBLA Games Ever

The independent game developer has gone mainstream. And while the meteoric rise of the little guy marks a huge evolution in the way the average person perceives gaming, it would probably not have happened without the emergence of digital-distribution channels that catered to smaller development studios. XBLA was one of the first of these pioneering services, and to this day stands as one of the best.

Many an upcoming developer is first brought into the public eye via XBLA, which since its inception in 2002 has grown from a fledgling proof of concept into a gamers haven. In lieu of the many spectacular offerings on the service choosing a top 5 list proved a grueling exercise. Now that the smoke has finally cleared, Xbox360cheats is proud to present their choices for XBLA supremacy.

Trials Evolution

Our newest inclusion, Trials Evolution is a marketed improvement over what already amounts to a fantastic game. Featuring sharp, simplistic controls and addictive gameplay, Trials Evolution gracefully handles the often challenging problem of balance by providing players with one of the most seamless transitions from level to level we’ve seen in years. Although the difficulty does eventually become rather punishing, the game adequately trains you to discover the advanced techniques necessary at higher levels on your own. Whether of not you succeed at these higher levels is ultimately up to how much time you devote to playing. But don’t worry – Trials Evolution is designed so that replaying levels is hardly a chore.

Thanks to its intuitive leaderboard system, the fun theoretically never has to end. Never hand-holding, rarely frustrating, Trials Evolution is the quintessential “just one more level” game.

Shadow Complex

Through its highly refined graphics, modern innovations yet classic feel, and open presentation, Shadow Complex silenced naysayers who believed that XBLA was devoid of games that resembled Triple-A products. Although on paper Shadow Complex is little more than a side-scrolling shooter akin to Super Metroid and Contra it’s the juxtaposition of tried-and-true mechanics and excellent level design that propel it above the average game in its genre. And to be fair, a good-old fashioned side-scrolling game is just what the industry needed at the time – especially one that looks so photo-realistic.

For the casual gamer Shadow Complex is a five-hour romp from beginning to end, but because it offers so much in the way of collectibles and weaponry, hardcore gamers will easily find themselves lost in the game for upwards of 20. For approximately one-quarter of what the average Triple-A game costs, I’d say that’s a pretty favorable deal.

The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile

It’s really a shame that this game will appear on more “Great Games You’ve Never Played” lists than Top 5 lists. Conceptualized with great care, Vampire is a highly-stylized realization of a blood splattered nightmare. Although the story is a bit convoluted, what it lacks in coherence it makes up for in execution. All you really need to know is that blood will be shed – in many, many different yet equally gory fashions.

Beyond style, what separates Vampire Smile from the pack is its precise gameplay. Player movement syncs up perfectly with what one would expect, combos can be cancelled halfway through if the need arises and finishing moves are equally satisfying and explosive. It’s still the dark horse entry on our list for sure, but because it manages to so successfully blend a comic-book style with compelling gameplay, its a worthy one nonetheless.


Say what you will about Limbo, just don’t call it typical. Like the more recent masterpiece Journey, Limbo is more about the journey and less about grandiose reveals and character development. In fact, you really don’t learn a single thing about the world and its residents. So then why is Limbo so compelling?

Like so many games on our list, it is style that differentiates Limbo from the average adventure game. Only through recognizing subtle hints can players proceed. The game is devoid of a soundtrack, color and many other standbys of most modern games. Character interactions often leave you with more questions than answers. Almost begging you to come to your own conclusions, the black-and-white color scheme is analogous to a half-blank canvas – the framework is laid down but it is up to you to flesh it out.

Granted, Limbo is a confounding and eerie game that is certainly not for gamers seeking instant gratification.  But if you seek captivating worlds and ambiguous events there is no better.

Castle Crashers

This is almost too easy. Castle Crashers personifies the modern arcade experience so exquisitely that any list devoid of it should be considered fallacy. Intertwined surprisingly sophisticated RPG elements into a beat ’em up setting proves both rewarding and effective, and thanks to a four player co-op mode the game never stops feeling fresh, even long after the initial campaign has been conquered. Upgrades range from random to downright crazy, compelling players to try out a variety of different combinations in which to dispose of their enemies. The cartoony style and lighthearted story is quirky and fun without ever being too cheeky for its own good. In a word, Castle Crashers by The Behemoth is a masterpiece.

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