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Destructoid's favorite Xbox 360 games: A warm look back

3:00 PM on 11.21.2013 // Brett Makedonski

Through green-colored glasses

We're almost there. With the release of the Xbox One just a few hours away, the torch will finally be passed, and what we've referred to as "next-generation" for years will simply become "this generation." Exciting times to be a gamer.

Of course, the release of the Xbox One doesn't simply make the Xbox 360 vanish into thin air. Games will still be developed for it for a long time to come, and a lot of people will probably just stick to their 360s for quite a while. That being said, it's undeniable that the focus will squarely shift to what's happening on Xbox One.

But, in a way, that shift can sort of be a tough pill to swallow. A lot of good things came out of the 360's lifespan. Just as we did with the Wii and the PS3, we want to reflect on our personal experiences with the Xbox 360 before setting our sights on Microsoft's new console. These were the Destructoid Staff's favorite Xbox 360 titles:

As much as I love the Halo series, I find it funny that my favorite game of the franchise doesn't involve any of the Spartan IIs. Rather, Halo 3: ODST just follows normal humans up against insurmountable odds. It's all incredibly depressing, too. Friends scattered during the middle of an invasion of one of the last major human homeworlds, an alien race that's forced to work for the Covenant while wearing an explosive vest, and it's all backed by one of the best soundtracks of any game thanks in large part to its haunting jazz focus. 

Yet as depressing as it can be, there's something about it that makes me incredibly happy too. Probably because the game is kind of a mini Firefly reunion of sorts. 

Though the Xbox brand is only rarely associated with Japanese RPGs, Microsoft was able to secure an exclusive on one of the best of this past generation: Mistwalker's Lost Odyssey. Where other series have focused more on building soulless cutscenes with the latest graphics, Lost Odyssey puts a focus on the characters, their relationships, their interactions, and their reactions to the events that unfold. In the beginning, Kaim seems generic, Seth is annoyingly upbeat, and Jansen is a douchebag. As the story progresses, Kaim is shown to be a stoic father, Seth becomes endearing and selfless, and Jansen's womanizing is overcome by his desire to find love. Every character has his or her own arc, and each is memorable.

The story itself is relatively unique, and dreams as a storytelling mechanic are engrossing. The combat is simple but classic. The environments and the enemies are beautiful. While all of those elements come together wonderfully, the true strength in Lost Odyssey is its focus on the characters, and its masterful execution at that. It will forever be an icon for JRPGs done right.

It's interesting living in a time where we get to watch an entertainment medium grow up, mature, and come into its own. It seems that for the longest time, the lion's share of videogames would place emphasis on gameplay elements, and try to coerce a story into the established parameters. It almost always comes off as forced.

Conversely, Alan Wake is the first title I've played that genuinely seems as if it were written as a novel, but made into a videogame instead of put into print. The superb narrative, combined with the absolutely perfect atmospheric tension, makes for an experience that actually feels like a third-person excursion through a Stephen King best-seller. Sure, I'll concede that there were some dodgy bits and the gameplay faltered at times, but I finished Alan Wake optimistic and hopeful that this was the future of story-telling in games.

 Technically speaking, Earth Defense Force 2017 isn't a very good game. Okay, it's kind of terrible. It isn't much to look at. The voicework is cringe-worthy. And it has more than its fair share of technical issues. That said, it's ridiculously entertaining.

Sometimes you just need to blow shit up. And in that respect EDF comes up aces. I've spent an absurd amount of time blasting giant bugs into green goo, shooting giant alien robots to bits, and toppling skyscrapers in comical fashion with rocket launchers and other insane heavy weapons. It may not be perfect, but EDF is just good old fashioned stupid fun. 

Despite the fact that it was a timed exclusive for the Xbox 360, Child of Eden used the Kinect in a mesmerizing way, and felt like a true follow-up to the ever popular Rez. It was one of the few games that just nailed the motion control scheme, without resorting to gimmicks just for the sake of a check-box.

The game is an esoteric tale set to the backdrop of Lumi, the first human being born in space, and a journey through her dreams. Each level is a new memory lived through the nationalized internet called "Eden," as you battle viruses hell-bent on destroying her data by blasting them apart with beams. In short, it was fast, fun, and like Rez, it had an incredible heart-pumping soundtrack.

It's a shame that despite all of the millions of Kinect units Microsoft sold, Child of Eden never really caught on. It could have been a major focal point of the motion device, and best of all -- motion was optional.

Despite the fact I already owned a 360, I'm sure the initial trailer for Mass Effect would have surely swayed me into buying Microsoft's console. I'm a big sci-fi fan and the idea of a BioWare RPG with a space opera setting definitely whet my appetite. When the game arrived, it wasn't without its flaws mainly the shooting mechanics which felt imprecise and at odds with the RPG side of the game. But Mass Effect shot for the stars and came real close to them; a huge universe, compelling story, and a game I've played over and over.

To me, State of Decay was a sleeper hit of this past summer. I had a blast with this game. The mechanics were pretty straight to the point, but the element of having a society in a zombie apocalypse that you managed and helped to survive was enough to keep me playing and checking in daily. Not a lot of titles have taken to this formula, and I felt it was pretty successful in keeping you into either developing your survivors, or killing off characters to find new survivors who provided new skills.

You can't go wrong with a sandbox if you're a person who loves to roam freely without walls, and though the game was an XBLA game, I felt it was a pretty large map to explore. People seemed to overlook this title because it was "another zombie game" and we were all hoping for some sort of multiplayer. However, I must say it was one of the best purchases I've made on my tenure on Xbox Live.

Like that old ex-girlfriend you tend to search for on Facebook, I still check in on "Black Fred" as I named my main character just to make sure he's king of the zombie ass kicking ranch in the settlement we hunkered down in over in the projects. Though I have lost a few of my survivors from prolonging checking in here and there, one thing about this title is I keep coming back to run around drop kicking the undead.

When I can't figure out what I want to play, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 is my go-to. I can spend hours playing round after round of just the Pacifism gameplay mode and the variety of twitchy arcade shooter itches that title can scratch at once is delightful.

What truly elevates Retro Evolved above other arcade titles is the manner in which leaderboards are implemented. Presenting the player with a scoreboard within the mode selection screen which shows where they rank within their friends list was a stroke of utter genius. I have yet to see an application of the feature more capable of compelling a "one more game" mentality.

Say what you will about the modern-day Rare failing to live up to expectations -- we all have by now, surely -- but as far as the Microsoft-owned studio is concerned, we'll always have Viva Piñata. And what a joyful game it is. In reflecting on my fondest Xbox 360 memories, nothing comes close to my time spent perfecting gardens and trying to get those darned piñatas to mate already. Come on, dance for me.

This was one of the few games in the Gamerscore era I just had to one-hundred percent, and for the most part striving for that goal didn't feel like a chore. Forget the achievements -- I was just happy to have a vibrant, laid-back retreat from the shooters that were so prevalent on the console. While the Viva Piñata series never caught on like Animal Crossing, it remains a critical darling and one of my favorite life-simulation titles to this day. In fact, it may even be among my favorite games released in the past decade. Why Rare hasn't gone for a true sequel is beyond me.

The Tempura of the Dead is far from the most well-made exclusive on the Xbox 360, but it's still my favorite. Like I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1NIT!!!!1, it proved just how unpredictable and exciting the Xbox Live Indie Games marketplace could be. At this point it's been choked out by shameless Minecraft clones and other get-rich-quick schemes, but there was a time when XBLIG held the promise of games that were completely unrestrained, trashy, and wild reflections of the developer's personality.  

The Tempura of the Dead is about the Obama-inspired, machine-gun toting, U.S. President Thompson and his blue-haired samurai companion Sugimoto, working hard to rid the nation of an infestation of undead "Germs." Unlike the heroes most zombie apocalypse scenarios, Thompson and Sugimoto care about the living and the dead. For them, protecting the living from the zombies and helping the zombies' souls go to heaven is like killing two birds with one stone. What's the best way to help a zombie's soul to go to heaven, you ask? Remove its head and juggle it with violence until it turns into tempura, of course!

This game represents the opposite of everything the Xbox 360 is known for. It's a single-player action/comedy game filled with cute charm and maybe unintentional typos. Technologically, it could run on a NES. It was created by Samu "8bits Fanatics" Wosada, a one-man Japanese indie studio who'd never worked on a console game before. Worse, he barely speaks any English. In the days of the PS2/Xbox/GameCube, there was no way that he would ever be able to get a game published on Western consoles. Now he's working with Nicalis on creating titles for the PS4, PS Vita, PC, 3DS, and Wii U. If it weren't for the lack of restrictions on XBLIG development, its unlikely that he would have made it to where he is today. I love The Tempura of the Dead for being a simple-but-deep, fun-filled action romp, but in the big picture, it's a lot more than that. It's a symbol of how at its best, the Xbox 360 was able to open the door to console development to everyone. 

The first time I played Gears of War, I abhorred it. Hiding behind cover to stay alive? What is this shit? Holding down a face button to run? How the hell are you supposed to aim?! I had just come off a long stint of PC-only gaming back in late 2006, and my first impression of the future of console shooters left me wishing I had spent my money to fix my PC instead of buying Microsoft's new console and its dumb game.

It wasn't until a few years later that the game finally clicked with me, and once it did, it was all over. I don't know how it happened, but I went from loathing the controls to loving them overnight, and the Lancer -- there's a chainsaw on the bottom of that fucking gun! -- became one of my favorite shooter weapons of all time. The co-op was great and the gameplay was tight and fast. It rewarded players who took the time to master the mechanics, which is something lacking in many of today's games. I even dug the story, the universe, and -- gasp -- the characters, to the point where I was anxious to learn more about the Locust's origins (a desire which sadly never paid off).

Gears 2 and 3 were both great games, but with the exception of Horde (one of my favorite co-op modes of all time), a bit of the magic was lost with each subsequent iteration. For my money, the original Gears of War is one of the best games of the generation on any console, and one that I'm sure I'll be going back to for years to come.

One of my all-time favorite genres, the metroidvania, for the most part went completely neglected this past generation. Batman: Arkham Asylum gave me the feelsies that Symphony of the Night and Super Metroid instilled in me back in the day, but it wasn't quite the same. Thankfully there was Chair Entertainment's Shadow Complex

When the game landed in 2009, it didn't take long to understand why this title smashed Xbox Live records in sales. Visually, the game was breathtaking. The music was fantastic and the story did its part. Say what you will about Orson Scott Card, but his worlds lead to some awesome settings. Most importantly, Shadow Complex embodied everything to love about a metroidvania title. Tons of upgrades, branching paths, and secrets -- this game had it all. To think it was only $15 and it packed more quality than most full-priced games even to this day. 

The only bummer about Shadow Complex is that there isn't a sequel. I don't know how you smash records and then don't follow it up?  Oh wait, you go on to make an even more crazy successful game on the iPhone.

Brett Makedonski, Associate Editor
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