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13 Reasons to Keep the Original Xbox
By Adam Wallace     |   Posted on November 17, 2014   |   Episode 79 (Show Archive)  

   

Moments before Bill Gates beat a man to death with an Xbox!
On November 15, 2001, Microsoft entered the console race with the original Xbox. At the time, it was a significant gamble. The last successful Western console was the Atari 2600; the more recent attempts (3DO and Jaguar) were monumental failures. However, thanks to strong tech, some forward-thinking ideas, and a little help from a big guy in green power armor, the Xbox held the #2 spot in the sixth generation sandwiched between Sony's PlayStation 2 and Nintendo's GameCube. Now, in honor of its 13th birthday, I am counting down some of the best games the big black box had to offer.

However, this list has a MAJOR catch. Almost half of the original Xbox's library is playable on the Xbox 360, giving less of a reason to keep a space at the TV for the original. So this list is just about those games that did NOT become compatible at any point on the 360. I guarantee that this would be the only "Best of Xbox" list anywhere that will not have a Halo game in it.

Now, along with that huge caveat, there are a couple of other stipulations for this list. One, the game cannot have had an HD re-release on the 360. So, say goodbye to Beyond Good and Evil and The Chronicles of Riddick. Also, I am only allowing one game per franchise. Now, let's begin.

Voodoo Vince

Mascot platformers were never a strong suit for the Xbox brand, but that didn't stop Microsoft from trying here and there. Voodoo Vince was a fun little take on the genre. You play a voodoo doll magically brought to life who goes on a search for his kidnapped master. The visuals and audio are strong, creating a Tim Burton-meets-Mardi Gras vibe that's a joy to explore. The game's hook (hurting yourself to hurt your enemies) works great and carries a sadistic thrill you can't find in the typical Mario game.

Crazy Taxi 3: High Roller

Everyone knows the original Crazy Taxi. Dreamcast owners knew the second game. The third crazy-drifted onto the Xbox, and it's a blast! The Las Vegas-like setting is bright, colorful, and has the best location variety in the series. Further, the cities from the first two games are here as well, making the third game the only Crazy Taxi disc you would ever need.

Sudeki

RPGs were limited on the Xbox unless you were looking for Morrowind or the BioWare games. Sudeki was one of the stand-outs exclusive to the system. The four characters are full of personality, the world has a lot of flair, and the battle engine is one of the most challenging in a console RPG. The quest is relatively short at 20 hours, and the dialog can get a little too goofy. However, it's an enjoyable journey that's well worth taking.

Steel Battalion

Unless you were rich, chances are you didn't get a chance to play this legendary mech-combat game. The massive controller that comes with the game gives you full control over every function of your walking death machine, and the missions are varied and hard as hell. If you can get the Benjamins together to get it from eBay, you would be treated to the most authentic-feeling and hardcore mech game ever made.

GunValkyrie

GunValkyrie is one of the most underrated games on the system. The planets are gorgeous, and the bug-blasting is fun. Mastering your valkyrie's rocket pack to obtain limitless airtime provides a sense of accomplishment rivaling any 360 Achievement. The controls do take time and effort to master, but the thrill that comes from mastering them is worth it.

Otogi 2: Immortal Warriors

Before the reboot of Ninja Gaiden, Otogi provided the definitive hard-as-nails hack-n-slash for the Xbox. It was also one of the only games that took full advantage of the Xbox hardware. Since the locales can be almost completely destroyed, the game saves the state of the level, allowing players to return to fully demolish it later. Both Otogi games are great, but I'm choosing the second one for this list since it provides six different playable characters.

Syberia*

Point-and-click adventures generally stick to PC since they never seem to sell well on the consoles. However, a few greats did go to consoles, most especially Syberia. The plot about a lawyer's quest to find the heir to a toy robot company is well-written. The puzzles make sense and fit well in the context of the game; none of them feel forced or just thrown in. Syberia shows that point-and-click adventures don't have to be annoying or frustrating.

Gladius

Gladius came from that wonderful time when LucasArts actually made games that weren't always based on Star Wars. Gladius is a turn-based strategy-RPG revolving around gladiatorial combat. There are two storylines to choose from, and there are hundreds of gladiators to fill your ranks. The combat employs a unique timed button press mechanic to maximize damage. There's even a fun competitive multiplayer mode!

Castlevania: Curse of Darkness

To say that 3D Castlevania games have been largely disappointing would be a tremendous understatement. However, Curse of Darkness managed to take the best elements from games like Symphony of the Night and transplant them into a 3D world. Also the crafting and familiar systems are brilliantly realized. This is the best 3D Castlevania bar none.

Star Wars - Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast

Few games let you feel like a mercenary and a Jedi bad-ass better than Jedi Knight 2. Taking the role of Kyle Katarn, the game takes you on a tour of the galaxy post-Return of the Jedi. While the first act of the game involves brilliant first-person blaster shoot-outs, the rest of it gives you a lightsaber and an array of Force powers with which to go crazy. Jedi Knight 2 is one of the best Star Wars games of the sixth generation, second only to Knights of the Old Republic.

Deus Ex: Invisible War

Hardcore fans of the first Deus Ex game complained that Invisible War dumbed things down to go to the Xbox, but I don't see that. I just see a brilliant first-person RPG sent in a dystopian future that allows numerous ways to complete objectives. If you want to hack security drones, fine. If you want to blast through with heavy weapons, that's fine, too. If you can ignore slight technical problems like a stuttering frame-rate, there are few games more open and re-playable than this one.

Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30

Taking command of actual soldiers in the 101st Airborne after D-Day, this game has authenticity that goes beyond what the Medal of Honor games provided. The biggest point of brilliance to this one is the use of squad commands. Real-time strategy always had a difficult time with a controller, but this game made issuing commands to your very intelligent squadmates effortless. Even though World War 2 shooters are a dime a dozen these days, the first Brothers in Arms game is still something special.

TimeSplitters: Future Perfect

Coming from many of the same guys behind GoldenEye on the N64, the TimeSplitters games are a couple of the biggest, best, and most diverse shooters ever made. The time periods are well-realized, the armory is almost limitless, and the level-creator is genius. While TimeSplitters 2 is a masterpiece in itself (and also incompatible with the 360), I chose the third game for this spot. The story mode is funnier, and the level-creator allows players to build new single-player missions in addition to deathmatch chambers. Why this game never got the backwards compatibility patch will forever confuse me.
HONORABLE MENTION - Phantasy Star Online: Phantasy Star Online was one of the best RPGs on the Dreamcast and hands-down the best online game on the system. The GameCube version added four-player splitscreen for local play. The Xbox version took the excellent GameCube version and juiced up the visuals while adding voice-chat, making it the definitive version of PSO.

So, why is it just an honorable mention? Well, to boost Xbox Live subscriptions, Microsoft pushed to make Live required for it. Seriously, a player has to log into Live just to reach the main menu even for local play! Since Live had been cut off from the original Xbox, PSO is now just a drink coaster. Shame; were it still playable, PSO would easily be in the top 5 on this list.

UPDATE (December 30, 2016): I have to make a slight alteration to this list. Barely a few months after the list got posted, "Syberia" (which I put in the #7 spot) got an HD re-release on the 360, disqualifying it from the list. As such, just shift everything up a spot, and put "Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath" in the #13 spot. That was a very creative shooter that, for some reason, only got an HD re-release on the PS3. Since the 360 didn't get that treatment, it counts.
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