The 23 best XBLA games

The best Xbox Live Arcade games, according to us

From addicting puzzle games like Peggle to Epic Games' exceptional 2D shooter Shadow Complex, we provide a comprehensive list of over twenty great video games available on Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade service.

Since launching in 2004, Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade has amassed a library of almost 300 titles available for download. Of course, not all of these XBLA games are worth purchasing, but there are a lot of games that definitely are. We've sifted through the entire catalogue of video games on the Xbox Live Marketplace, to handpick the twenty-three best games you should check out. It's also important to note that this is not a list ranked in order of quality, but is organized alphabetically.

A Kingdom for Keflings

1_XBLA_Games

Genre: Strategy

Cost: 800 Microsoft Points

Metacritic Rating: 78

Like Viva Pinata before it, A Kingdom for Keflings appears -- at least on the surface -- as a stripped down, simplistic strategy game. But what developer NinjaBee actually delivers is a charming, endlessly-addicting title that takes an original approach to the city-building subgenre of games. You can drop your Xbox Live Avatars into the game's medieval world, build a sprawling city for them, and then battle for precious resources either alone or with up to three friends over Xbox Live. While the game suffers from a few performance issues, A Kingdom of Keflings is a welcome and serene escape from real life that's recommended for fans of SimCity and Black & White.

Battlefield 1943

2_XBLA_Games

Genre: Shooter

Cost: 1200 Microsoft Points

Metacritic Rating: 83

EA's Battlefield 1943 is a downloadable, online-only FPS, but it's just as polished as a lot of shooters on store shelves. Developed by DICE, Battlefield 1943 mixes online multiplayer mayhem with vehicles and destructible environments afforded by the Frostbite Engine which powers retail heavy-hitter Battlefield: Bad Company. You can engage is some truly massive skirmishes in Battlefield 1943 -- we're talking blisteringly-intense 24-player online matches. And if running around on foot isn't your thing, you can also control jeeps, tanks, or just call in air support to rain fire down on your enemies from the sky. A testament to Battlefield 1943's success is the recent announcement that the game is the fastest-selling XBLA game to reach one million sales.

Braid

3_XBLA_Games

Genre: Puzzle/Platformer

Cost: 1200 Microsoft Points

Metacritic Rating: 93

Winning the "Innovation in Game Design" award at the 2006 Independent Games Festival, Braid is one of the most celebrated games on Xbox Live Arcade. Simply put: Braid stands out as a beautifully drawn, original puzzle-adventure that follows the story of Tim who must attempt to rescue a princess from an evil monster. Each of the game's time-controlling levels must be completed in a very specific fashion -- which can drive you a bit crazy -- but this indie-darling is worth the price of admission. Gorgeous landscapes and a somewhat harrowing conclusion are not only part of its charm, but major aspects of the game's success.

Castle Crashers

4_XBLA_Games

Genre: Action

Cost: 1200 Microsoft Points

Metacritic Rating: 82

Even though Castle Crashers had some issues initially, which included delays and spotty online play at launch, it's still one of the best co-op video games available on Xbox Live Arcade. A fast-paced, beat-em-up with fantastic art direction, hilarious characters and settings, The Behemoth's Castle Crashers is one of the most played titles on Xbox Live for good reasons. It's also a surprisingly long experience for a downloadable title, making the 1200 Microsoft Point price much easier to digest.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

5_XBLA_Games

Genre: Action

Cost: 800 Microsoft Points

Metacritic Rating: 89

While some might argue that Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is little more than a slightly made-over version of a 13-year-old title, it truly is one of the most satisfying action games available on Xbox Live Arcade. Awakened from a self-induced sleep, Alucard, the half-vampire son of Dracula sets off to investigate the entity of chaos that is The Castlevania. Filled with hours of adventure, multiple endings, and a moody musical score, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is a steal at this price. It's not only an incredible journey throughout, Castlevania: SoTN influenced countless other titles -- including Shadow Complex -- and is hands-down one of the finest entries in the Castlevania series.

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Catan

6_XBLA_Games

Genre: Strategy

Cost: 800 Microsoft Points

Metacritic Rating: [[xref:http://www.metacritic.com/games/platforms/xbox360/settlersofcatan?q=catan|81|81]

Who knew that a classic German board game could look so good and offer as much fun as Catan does on the Xbox 360? While Catan can be incredibly fun, it can also get quite challenging. Big Huge Games founder Brian Reynolds has said that "you can teach someone to play [Catan] in minutes and then spend years trying to master it." In Catan, you select a historic leader and then do your best to strategically outwit the competition for resources and land ownership. You can play it against the finely tuned computer A.I. or go online. It won't offer you the same high level of action as other strategy games, but Catan is still highly recommended for strategy game fans.

Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2

7_XBLA_Games

Genre: Multi-directional Shooter

Cost: 800 Microsoft Points

Metacritic Rating: 90

Widely believed to be the franchise that kick-started the popularity of Xbox Live Arcade, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 takes a near-perfect formula and somehow improves it. At its core, Geometry Wars 2 is the simplest of games: Survive intense waves of attacking enemies--that's it. The Xbox Live Arcade platform has a seemingly endless supply of dual-joystick shooters under its belt, and even if you're tired of the genre, Geometry Wars 2 does a fantastic job of making the genre feel fresh again. Besides reigniting our passion of leaderboard superiority that followed up throughout real-world arcades, Geometry Wars 2 offers some of the most fun to be had on XBLA for $10. You can also pick up the original Geometry Wars on XBLA for half that price.

Gunstar Heroes

8_XBLA_Games

Genre: Shooter

Cost: 400 Microsoft Points

Metacritic Rating: 79

Rather than remake this classic side-scrolling shooter for the HD age, Sega thankfully released Gunstar Heroes as fans remembered it. Other shooters sometimes try to emulate its non-stop, frantic action, but Gunstar Heroes still maintains a place in our heart. And, for those on a tight budget, it's a cheap addition to your Xbox Live Arcade library, running you the equivalent of a mere $5. Just make sure to pad your controller because you might end up throwing it on more than one occasion; completing Gunstar Heroes is no piece of cake.

Ikaruga

9_XBLA_Games

Genre: Shooter

Cost: 800 Microsoft Points

Metacritic Rating: 87

Perhaps one of the most intense Dreamcast games ever made, Ikaruga has found its way on many platforms including GameCube, arcades, and Xbox Live Arcade. Ikaruga defines the phrase "Bullet Hell," and while it's viciously difficult, it also offers a ton of replay value. It might sound silly to hear that a game with only five levels deserves your hard earned Microsoft Space Bucks, but you'll actually end up spending a lot of time replaying those levels over and over again in order to survive. And when you do, the hell you just went through makes Ikaruga's completion that much more satisfying.

Marvel vs. Capcom 2

10_XBLA_Games

Genre: Fighting

Cost: 1200 Microsoft Points

Metacritic Rating: 82

While original versions of Marvel vs. Capcom 2 encouraged players to unlock a host of new characters, the Xbox Live Arcade version's focus is on competitive play. All 70+ characters are available right away, giving online fighting fans a slew of choices to mix and match fighters in order to create their own team up. While we're still fans of the original Marvel vs. Capcom 2, this new version affords players the possibility to play a game that is no longer readily available, unless you're willing to pay an arm and a leg for a Dreamcast, PS2 or Xbox version of it. It may not scratch that progression reward itch, but it's one of the fastest and most fun fighting experiences available today.

The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom

11_XBLA_Games

Genre: Puzzle/Platformer

Cost: 800 Microsoft Points

Metacritic Rating: 83

P.B. Winterbottom is a stocky man with a penchant for delicious baked goods. After chasing a pastry through his town, Winterbottom accidentally jumps through space and time, replicating himself ad infinitum. Unabashed by his misfortune, the top-hat sporting gentleman -- along with his seemingly never-ending stream of clones -- set off on an adventure to collect all the stray pies in the land to whet his insatiable appetite. P.B. Winterbottom is a stylish, black and white game inspired by silent films and developed by a team befitting of their moniker, The Odd Gentlemen. It's also one of the most charming, challenging and quirky puzzle games available on Xbox Live Arcade.

N+

12_XBLA_Games

Genre: Puzzle/Platformer

Cost: 800 Microsoft Points

Metacritic Rating: 83

It might sound like a difficult proposition to ask gamers to pay for a game that originated as a free-to-play Flash title, but N+ pulls it off. The concept of the physics-based platform/puzzler is simple: Make it to the exit of each level. But the game is hardly simplistic. Pixel-sized enemies haunt you at every corner waiting to decimate your stick-figure character and drive you insane with frustration. Multiplayer in N+ also allows two players to work together to make it through obstacles, which is definitely a rewarding experience.

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Peggle

13_XBLA_Games

Genre: Puzzle

Cost: 800 Microsoft Points

Metacritic Rating: 89

Some have compared Peggle addiction to that of substance abuse. Of course, real substance abuse is no laughing matter, but Peggle does have the ability to melt away hours, leaving relationships ruined in its wake. Inspired by the Japanese game pachinko, Peggle is a casual game that has burst through the classification and latched onto every group of gamers. There's something to be said for a title that can draw in hardcore gamers and grandmothers alike, but Peggle does just that. The XBLA version also includes various multiplayer modes where those aforementioned hardcore gamers and grandmothers can throw down in epic online battles.

Portal: Still Alive

14_XBLA_Games

Genre: First-person Puzzle

Cost: 1200 Microsoft Points

Metacritic Rating: 90

If you don't have Half-Life: The Orange Box in your collection, you can download Portal: Still Alive on Xbox Live Arcade for a few dollars less than the cost of the full Half-Life compilation. Still Alive comes with the original mind-bending first-person puzzle game with a heaping serving of additional content: fourteen new challenges that were based on Portal: The Flash Version. With the recent announcement of Portal 2 coming later this year, now's a good time to prepare for the sequel.

Rez HD

15_XBLA_Games

Genre: Shooter

Cost: 800 Microsoft Points

Metacritic Rating: 89

Originally released on PlayStation 2 and Dreamcast, Rez HD is an Xbox Live Arcade-exclusive remastered version of the popular on-rails shooter. When it first hit stores in Japan, Rez was released with one of the most bizarre peripherals we've seen: The "trance vibrator." Thankfully (or maybe not?) Q Entertainment's XBLA version ditches the extra and delivers what shooter fans really want: a gorgeous remake of its addicting shooter. Rez still holds up today with its distinct visuals and pulsating electronic music that the player manipulates by playing the game and destroying enemies.

Sam & Max Save the World

16_XBLA_Games

Genre: Adventure

Cost: 1600 Microsoft Points

Metacritic Rating: 74

Hilarious, challenging and a great value: Sam & Max Save the World offers Xbox 360 owners the complete first season of the Telltale-developed series in one package. The game features six episodes that follow the adventures of two private investigators who also happen to be a pair of anthropomorphic animals: Sam is a canine who wears a suit and fedora and Max is an unidentifiable relative of the rabbit family who wears absolutely nothing. The 1600 Microsoft Point price tag might seem steep, but the bundle includes hours of content, and once you complete this series, season two is also available for purchase on Xbox Live Arcade. Give Sam & Max Save the World a shot and you'll likely understand why the series has received such high praise from critics, and why Telltale is considered one of the masters of the adventure genre.

Shadow Complex

17_XBLA_Games

Genre: Shooter

Cost: 1200 Microsoft Points

Metacritic Rating: 88

Borrowing elements from some of gaming's most beloved side-scrolling action franchises including Contra, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Super Metroid, Epic's Shadow Complex is one of the finest Xbox Live Arcade-exclusive titles available today. The game is presented in "2.5 D," where you move around in two-dimensional levels with highly-detailed 3D backgrounds and enemies. Shadow Complex's critical and commercial success can be attributed to the creative minds involved in the XBLA project, which include Gears of War creator Cliff Bleszinski as design consultant, comic book writer Peter David as scriptwriter, and award-winning science fiction author Orson Scott Card who licensed his Empire series for the game's universe and plot.

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'Splosion Man

18_XBLA_Games

Genre: Platformer

Cost: 800 Microsoft Points

Metacritic Rating: 84

In Twisted Pixel's quirky Xbox Live Arcade-exclusive hit, you play as a lab experiment gone horribly wrong, whose molecular body is made up of explosions. In order to solve puzzles, avoid scientists, and trigger events in the game you must make yourself explode (or "splode"). 'Splosion Man's premise is absurd, but it's a video game that you really need to play for yourself to fully appreciate its simple, but highly effective style and charm. The game also gives you a lot bang for your buck as it packs on a whopping 50 levels to play through and four-player co-op support.

Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix

19_XBLA_Games

Genre: Fighting

Cost: 1200 Microsoft Points

Metacritic Rating: 88

Ridiculously long name aside, Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix is a return to form for Capcom's famed fighting series. Before bringing the franchise back to its roots with Street Fighter IV, SSFIITHDR takes the best elements of the timeless Street Fighter II series and remixes it with fresh music and a gorgeous HD look. Apart from dealing with a slew of "rage-quitters," Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix is a fantastic online title that to this day still has a loyal following.

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition

20_XBLA_Games

Genre: Adventure

Cost: 800 Microsoft Points

Metacritic Rating: 88

If you never got the chance to play LucasArts' The Secret of Monkey Island when it was originally released in 1990 -- back when the developer was known as LucasFilm Games -- you can now experience the classic adventure on Xbox Live Arcade. Following the story of wannabe pirate Guybrush Threepwood, the XBLA version of the original Monkey Island game features all-new HD visuals, which give the game a modern look without spoiling the charm and humor of the original. And for fans who prefer the look of the classic game, they can swap the updated graphics out for the original game with the simple press of a button.

Toy Soldiers

21_XBLA_Games

Genre: Action/Strategy

Cost: 1200 Microsoft Points

Metacritic Rating: 81

Signal Studios' recently released Toy Soldiers puts you in command of an army of miniaturized, World War I era toy soldiers as you declare war on the enemy. Despite the fact that the game's model battlefields are located inside a child's bedroom, the game actually has a gritty, realistic vibe complete with smoke effects and exploding soldiers. One of the highlights aside from Toy Soldier's great graphics is the wealth of unit types you have at your disposal in addition to basic infantry, which include tanks, snipers, airplanes, mortars and even zeppelins. With a robust campaign offering more than twenty missions and multiplayer support, Xbox 360 owners should absolutely give Toy Soldiers a try.

Trials HD

22_XBLA_Games

Genre: Racing/Puzzle

Cost: 1200 Microsoft Points

Metacritic Rating: 86

Trials HD is a game that can get so punishingly difficult at times that you may feel tempted to just give up; but that's also what makes it such a rush to play. Trials HD blends elements of racing, puzzle-solving, and Evel Knievel-esque action in an experience where every split-second decision you make counts. As a motorcyclist, you must race through tracks, pulling off stunts such as launching your bike off giant ramps and into burning rings. The real trick of this modern take on ExciteBike is avoiding wrecking both you and your vehicle on deadly obstacles that often come out of nowhere. The game's physics-based engine -- which determines how your motorcycle moves and reacts to the terrain at high speed -- is really what makes Trials HD such a thrilling experience.

Uno

23_XBLA_Games

Genre: Card Game

Cost: 400 Microsoft Points

Metacritic Rating: 81

It's hard to believe that a forty-year-old card game of all things would gain the tremendous popularity that Uno has on Microsoft's Xbox 360. A big part of why Uno works so well on the Xbox 360 is the fact that the developer didn't try to reinvent the card game into something it's not. In Uno, players must match either the color or number of the top exposed card in the pile, with the ultimate goal of getting rid of all the cards in their possession. If you're lucky enough to have one in your hand, you can also plop down a Wild Card Draw Four, which will allow you to change the card pile to any color you desire as well as force the next player to draw four more cards. For those who enjoy the classic Uno card game, they shouldn't think twice about checking out this flawless translation available on XBLA.