By: Chris Hodges, editor-in-chief
In honor of the 15th anniversary of Microsoft’s first foray into the console business, I’ve decided to do another one of my “true exclusives” lists for the system. I define a true exclusive as a game that is only on that system–it wasn’t ported to or from another console or PC (not even a digital version), and it hasn’t been remade in any way. The only exception is that some of these games are playable on Xbox 360 via backwards compatibility, but that doesn’t really count as being ported. Otherwise, these 15 games live entirely on the original Xbox.
Just to make sure this list isn’t out of date in six months, I excluded games that have remakes in the works, which includes Phantom Dust and Voodoo Vince–in case anyone felt those should’ve been included and are wondering why they weren’t.
[*Denotes a game that is supported for play on Xbox 360. However, as Xbox playability often has technical issues–sometimes severe–on Xbox 360, and some games are compatible in some regions but not others, research before buying any of these games for or playing any of these games on an Xbox 360 system. Here is a source that lists some of the known issues with these games.]
#15 – Kung Fu Chaos
Back before Ninja Theory’s breakout hit Heavenly Sword–and when they were still known as Just Add Monsters–the developer’s debut game was this fun Power Stone-style fighter. The action itself is a bit shallow, but the stars of the show are the environments themselves, a variety of dynamic and destructible movie sets that keep you on your toes. While the multiplayer modes are enjoyable and are a great way to kill an evening, the single-player mode is actually the best part of the game, interestingly enough. “Ninja Challenge” has you go through not only a succession of battles but also some really novel minigames. If you like beat-em-ups and the vibe of cheesy 70s martial arts flicks, Kung Fu Chaos is definitely worth your time.
#14 – Amped 2*
It wasn’t long before the SSX series established itself as the premiere snowboarding experience of the sixth console generation, especially once it went multiplatform with SSX Tricky. However, for those that liked their snowboarding games just a little less exaggerated and more grounded in reality, Amped 2 was a great alternative. It also featured real snowboard pros rather than only having an aggressively hip fictional cast like SSX. Unfortunately, the franchise would try to emulate SSX for the third installment for Xbox 360, losing much of what made it unique in the first place. Amped 2 remains among the best of the more realistic snowboarding games ever made.
#13 – Buffy the Vampire Slayer*
When you think about video games based on live-action television shows, you tend to picture quick cash-in garbage like the 2000 Buffy the Vampire Slayer game for Game Boy Color. But once in awhile, one comes out that is a pleasant surprise, like the 2002 Buffy the Vampire Slayer game for Xbox. This Buffy is a terrific beat-em-up with some of the most satisfying melee combat ever seen in a video game, whether you’re using Buffy’s formidable punches and kicks or one of the weapons she’s picked up from the environment. Those that played the developer’s 2003 Indiana Jones game already know just how good the team is at 3D combat. Fans of the show will obviously get the most out of the game, but anyone who just appreciates a well-made action game can enjoy it as well.
[Editor’s note: This is a different (and better) game than Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Chaos Bleeds for Xbox, GameCube, and PS2.]
#12 – Midtown Madness 3
A console-only sequel to a previously PC-only series is the kind of thing that wouldn’t have happened before Microsoft joined the console world. Midtown Madness initially made a name for itself as being one of the first big open-world racing games, and while the genre had more competition by the time part 3 hit, it still deserved its place next to the likes of more popular games like Midnight Club. While it was generally considered a bit of a step down from the previous two games–likely due to the original developer having moved on to Midnight Club, coincidentally–Madness 3 is still a solid point-to-point racing game, especially in its fun multiplayer modes that go beyond standard racing and feel more like FPS multiplayer modes than what you typically find in a racing game (Capture the Gold, Hunter, and Stayaway being the highlights).
#11 – Dead or Alive 3*
Arguably the final installment in the Dead or Alive series to be a fighting game with voluptuous women rather than a fighting game about voluptuous women (though this is definitely where that transition began), DOA3 toned down the juggle combos and the power of the counter moves to make for an admittedly “easier” experience than previous games–but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Casual fighting game fans have largely felt left behind by the genre in recent years, having to instead revisit game like DOA3 in order to actually enjoy fighting games without needing to put 50 hours into studying their many technical nuances. It didn’t reinvent the fighting game wheel, but it’s an incredibly well-crafted game and the last title in the series that didn’t force you to keep your finger hovering over the pause button in case your mom/wife/girlfriend/kids walked in.
#10 – Brute Force*
Brute Force got a lot of flak when it was released, largely because pre-release gameplay footage showed a much deeper squad-based tactical combat and characters that each had unique abilities that were essential to success. Much of this was eventually abandoned in favor of a more straightforward shoot-em-up where there the characters’ unique traits could be more or less ignored. While that backlash wasn’t completely unjustified, those that stuck with the game anyway and got over being misled by its trailers found an extremely enjoyable third-person shooter, especially in co-op mode. In a post-No Man’s Sky and Aliens: Colonial Marines world, the “broken promises” of games like Brute Force and The Bouncer that got us all worked up at the time seem pretty quaint by comparison, don’t they?
#9 – Breakdown*
In the current gaming landscape where VR is (trying to be) a thing, a game that takes place entirely from a first-person perspective–even the cutscenes–doesn’t seem all that novel. But in 2004 when Breakdown was released, almost nobody had done it, especially not outside of FPSs. Being about hand-to-hand combat rather than just shooting made Breakdown‘s perspective even more unique. The story is a bit silly, but the presentation is completely engrossing in a way that seeing a game from standard camera angles rather than the protagonists’ own eyes can never be. And sure, Mirror’s Edge would eventually blow away Breakdown in terms of first-person action and movement. But Breakdown is still a journey worth taking for anyone interested in this type of game and who can look past some dated design.
#8 – Unreal Championship 2: The Liandri Conflict*
While Unreal Championship for Xbox was mostly an enhanced port of Unreal Tournament 2003, the sequel was completely its own thing. This was the first time that Epic Games really went full-bore on third-person action–and all-in on a console game–which of course would soon be the entire basis for their blockbuster Gears of War franchise. It was also the first time that melee combat played a major role in an Unreal game, with the third-person perspective being used to better-utilize characters’ advanced melee attacks. Subsequent Unreal games–PC and console versions–eschewed all of this and brought the series back to primarily gun-based action, leaving this the franchise’s only major creative left-turn.
#7 – MechAssault
MechAssault could’ve merely been a “decent” game and it still would’ve been a huge hit, as it was one of the first games to feature online multiplayer over Xbox Live. Luckily, rather than simply coasting on the novelty of being one of the first major multiplayer console games, MechAssault was an excellent mech-based action game in and of itself, with impressively destructible environments, fast-paced gameplay, and a dynamic mission-based structure, all while remaining more streamlined and accessible than many similar games. And best of all, split-screen multiplayer support was also included–remember when Xbox games still bothered to do that?–so you and your friends can still have a blast with this great title even though its original servers have long since been shut down.
#6 – Jet Set Radio Future*
When Sega first announced the end of the Dreamcast and went third-party, they spread their franchises out among the remaining three console makers, including then-newcomer Microsoft. Xbox was treated to the sequel to one of Sega’s most beloved Dreamcast games when Jet Set Radio Future came to the big block box. Not surprisingly, Future is absolutely gorgeous, with the Xbox’s extra horsepower making the franchise’s cel-shaded world pop like never before. The rigid time limits of the original were largely removed in favor of more open-ended mission solving in a huge, interconnected world. Not everyone liked that Future depicted a darker, more Dystopian world than its predecessor, and the soundtrack wasn’t as good, but those were mostly nitpicks against a great sequel to a great game.
#5 – Forza Motorsport*
Gran Turismo had largely been the uncontested king of console racing sims since its first installment seven years earlier, but Forza was the first game to really gain ground in the genre. It brought along all of the realism and attention to detail of GT while also being less impenetrable, as GT had become infamous for being a little inaccessible to anyone other than major gear heads. Forza was willing to teach players how to drive properly, with on-screen arrows and prompts, and it had a little more personality than the largely sterile GT games. While the two series will never exist on the same console so it’s always going to be a matter of whether you’re an Xbox or PlayStation fan which game you “prefer,” the fact remains that Forza is the better choice for those who want a realistic sim but also want to actually be taught how to play one.
#4 – Steel Battalion
Who is going to pay $200 for a single game and its one-game controller? Apparently a lot of people, as Steel Battalion quickly sold out after its release and became a sought-after collector’s item almost immediately. At around 40 buttons, SB‘s controller is one of the most complex control input methods ever created for a game, and learning how to use it wasn’t for the impatient. But those who put in the time (and of course, the money) found that it all wasn’t just for novelty’s sake, as the controller made the mech-based game–which was great in and of itself–extremely engrossing. While franchises like Zone of the Enders sought to streamline mech action and make it fast-paced and accessible during this time, SB was stubbornly more of a “mech sim,” and although it wasn’t for everyone, it was heaven for those whom it was made.
#3 – Panzer Dragoon Orta*
Another of Xbox’s Sega scores was Panzer Dragoon Orta, the sequel to a mostly Saturn-exclusive franchise and a return to that series’ more shooter-focused roots after the RPG detour of Saga. PD was one of the best-looking franchises on the Saturn, and Orta continued that tradition by being among the best-looking Xbox games (all the more impressive given its competition). To call it one of the best rail shooters of all time isn’t high enough praise–it’s one of the best shooters of all time, period. It’s also incredibly difficult, but it’s such a fun and beautiful game that you’ll keep coming back for more no matter how many times you see the Game Over screen. Throw in an unlockable version of Panzer Dragoon II and you have an incredible package that deserves to be on the shelf of everyone who owns an Xbox.
#2 – Project Gotham Racing 2
The spiritual successor series to Metropolis Street Racer, Gotham really came into its own with this excellent second installment, one of the best arcade-style racing games ever made. Earning “Kudos” points for doing tough and dangerous maneuvers while driving, and using those to advance and purchase upgrades, almost brought an RPG-like element to the genre, and gave actual purpose to skilled driving beyond just looking cool. PGR2 also brought us a little game called Geometry Wars as just a fun bonus unlockable that some people ended up playing more than the PGR2 itself–and would eventually become its own separate franchise. Remember how everyone was all bummed out when Bizarre Creations shut down? If you didn’t know what the mourning was all about, you obviously never played this game.
#1 – Otogi: Myth of Demons
Otogi and its fantastic sequel had something many Xbox games lacked: a soul. With painstaking details usually relegated to epic RPGs, Otogi had its protagonist slashing his way through an ancient Japanese nightmare, leveling up along the way and allowing him to return to previously beaten areas to further dominate his enemies. The game also featured some of the most impressive destructible environments of all time, and even wove that into the game itself, making it necessary rather than just a striking visual trick (and striking, this game certainly is). Otogi has incredible art direction, virtually flawless controls, a great camera, and one of the most addictive (and rewarding) combat systems ever seen in a game of this type. Some people wrote it off as merely being Xbox’s answer to Devil May Cry, but while the unfortunately low-selling game never fully developed into a franchise, I say the two Otogi games are better than even the best two DMC games. It’s great that the Xbox has two phenomenal action games to call its “own” as every system deserves a few essential exclusives, but at the same time, this is a series that deserved to live on beyond a relatively short-lived console.
Be sure to check out my other “true exclusive” lists and other lists I’ve done with a similar theme:
- The 15 Best TRUE Genesis Exclusives
- The 15 Best TRUE PlaySation 2 Exclusives
- Five Franchises That Lived and Died Entirely on PlayStation 2
- The Five Best PSP-Exclusive Games That Are Still UMD-Only