The original Xbox didn't manage to secure an enormous volume of titles compared to the PS2... but like the Dreamcast before it, the quality of its exclusives are absolutely spectacular. Many displaced SEGA franchises and several brand new experiences found a new home on Microsoft's fledgling 'arthouse' console, but the likes of Halo CE and Project Gotham soon erased them from our memories.
Allow me, therefore, to take you on a pretentious trip down memory lane- to when owning an original Xbox actually granted us access to some of the best niche games ever coded rather than rehashed sequels and multiplatform melange.
In the three days that this article has sat, unloved, in our pending folder, no less than two of these games have now been given spiritual sequels. It seems that there is a God... and apparently, he rather fancies Kinect as his control input mechanism of choice.
5: Steel Battalion
Steel Batallion is a Mech simulation that takes the “simulation” aspect very seriously. Every aspect of your massive walking tank could be tweaked, manipulated or otherwise operated by your skilled hands... and one of the most beautiful/ludicrous peripherals ever conceived.
At the time, people scoffed at the notion of shelling out a couple of hundred quid for a game and its peripheral... but the success of Guitar Hero and even ludicrous special editions indicates that consumer habits have seriously shifted over the years. The decline of the plastic peripheral market and global economy may have reverted our tastes back to the frugality of yesteryear... but many of us still dream of a sequel.
4: Panzer Dragoon Orta
Panzer Dragoon was one of the Saturn's classic franchises, but rail shooters soon fell from grace in favour of more advanced game experiences. However, Panzer Dragoon returned us to Giraud's beautiful and bizarre world of destroyed beauty and an insane ecology dominated by genetically-engineered war machines. The graphics are still impressive today; and both the story and visual impact are quite unlike anything else on the market.
Full-price rail shooters are still seen as taboo in these harsh financial climes... but the success of similar games (such as AfterBurner Climax ) on PSN and XBLA suggest that the time is absolutely right for a downloadable sequel or reimagining. Fingers crossed.
3: Phantom Crash
Most mech sims take a po-faced approach to war, with plenty of stern voice acting, gutted cities and gunmetal grey to go around. Phantom Crash took an entirely different tack, however, pitting trendy Japanese teens against each other in a slick mechanised bloodsport set in familiar Tokyo locations. Combat was genuinely fast, stylish and pumped full of adrenaline- but the traditional dull context was replaced by quirky animé cutscenes and genuinely thought-provoking stories of social segregation and redemption.
Mechs are awesome. This much is obvious. But Phantom Crash showed us that they could be fashionable as well.
2: Otogi: Myth of Demons
Raikoh is not your stereotypical game protagonist- and Otogi is an action game unlike any other. The silent and stylish undead assassin has been summoned to slaughter the demon hordes and redeem his honour- and can use a range of airborne abilities to ensure that he rarely touches the ground. And use an enormous selection of unlockable weapons to devastating effect.
What sets Otogi apart from any other action game is its unique sense of style and Zen serenity. Sure, the object was to kill loads of demons with big swords- but there isn't a single blaring guitar or vulgar one liner to be found. The atmosphere was cool, calm and genuinely refreshing; utilising copious cherry blossoms, profound silence and the haunting strains of period Japanese instruments that cut sharper than any sword. Even the menus were watercolour masterpieces with background music that still brings a tear to my eye at the vaguest recollection.
Pretentious? Yes, a little. But Otogi's mix of brutal airborne action and subtle tranquillity is sorely missed.
1: Jet Set Radio Future
Jet Set Radio (or Jet Grind Radio for absolute purists) was one of the key reasons to own a Dreamcast, and is considered by many to be one of the finest games ever made. However, the franchise soon shacked up with Microsoft after the Dreamcast went under… and despite the unusual partnership, Jet Set Radio future improved on the original in absolutely every respect. The quirky cell-shaded presentation and groovy foot-stomping soundtrack still remained intact, but JSRF removed the restrictive time limits and small arenas in favour of expansive open-world exploration. The massive verticality of each stage allowed players to experiment with jumps and grinds at ridiculous altitudes, and actively encouraged us to climb anything we could see. The cell-shaded graphics lend the game a timeless quality that still looks sharp and stylish today.
All five of these classic games are crying out for a next-gen sequel, but none more so than Jet Set Radio Future. The mix of gameplay styles, breakneck racing and laid-back exploration would definitely thrill a new generation of gamers today (making a mint in the process)... and we hope that more publishers look to the original Xbox for inspiration and revivals in the future.
Have a classic Xbox exclusive that you want to bring to our attention? Drop us a line and make your case in the comments!