The 10 best Xbox 360 exclusive games

7 – Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved (2005)

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Okay, so this series sorta debuted on the original Xbox as a minigame hidden in Project Gotham 2’s garage, but the influence that Geometry Wars had as a standalone downloadable game exclusive to Xbox Live Arcade is undeniable. When the Xbox 360 launched, the idea of buying a console game that didn’t come on a disc was completely foreign (the underwhelming debut of Xbox Live Arcade on the original Xbox probably didn’t help). That concept changed almost instantaneously on the 360’s launch day thanks to one game; Joust. Just kidding, it was all Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved’s doing, thanks to the simple-yet-addictive gameplay, unique old-school visual style, and the super-cheap $5 price tag. In an era where Steam was just starting to rise, GWRE’s success cannot be understated.

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Geometry Wars wasn’t done innovating with its first standalone release, as Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 was chosen to kick off a sorely missed Xbox 360 annual tradition; the Summer of Arcade. Back in the day when Microsoft was attracting indies instead of alienating them, Xbox Live Arcade would debut 4-5 new games every year riding off the hype of E3. Even though the price tag was now double, the near-perfect arcade charms of Retro Evolved 2 was the perfect anchor for a legendary lineup that included Braid, Castle Crashers, and Bionic Commando Rearmed all within a span of 35 days. Between the two Xbox 360 games, Geometry Wars made twin-stick shooters a blockbuster genre, legitimized console downloads, and started the annual block of can’t-miss indie hits. Not bad for a $5 space shooter. – Dave

 

6 – Castle Crashers (2008)

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While Geometry Wars helped kick off XBLA, Castle Crashers was the big hit first Summer of Arcade promotion and proved the online service could be more than a storefront filled with small, digital titles. For several months, Crashers’ 4-player co-op and setpiece-laden levels were the toast of the town, offering a colorful, humorous, and downright delightful beat ’em up romp.

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It’s kind of hard to imagine in 2015, but back in ’08 the idea of an online 4-player brawler was still kind of fresh for console players. Being able to invite friends to a game and chat while juggling gorgeous sprites across the screen was fun on its own, but then add all the cute / crude goofiness and unlockable abilities and man, this was an easy game to get friends to buy.

Like a few other titles on this list, Castle Crashers did eventually make its way to other platforms. But for that summer, it (and Braid) were definitely an important part of the 360’s lineup. – Brett

 

5 – Crackdown (2007)

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In a pre-GTA IV, pre-superhero saturated world, Crackdown felt like the ultimate sandbox experience. Not only could you drive across a huge city and cause all kinds of explosive mayhem, you could also leap across rooftops and hurl cars at bad guys from 100 feet in the air. As far as 2007 was concerned, this was pretty close to a “best of both worlds” scenario – a wide open sandbox PLUS a Superman simulator.

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This is also the first 360 game I stayed up all night playing. Ol’ Bearhat and I chatted on XBL while grinding through missions, helping each other with Achievements, powering up our agents… next thing we knew, the sun was up and there was still so much game to experiment with. Granted, the story and the actual content of some of the missions fell flat, but damn if it wasn’t fun regardless.

Crackdown 2 sorta fizzled, and who knows if part three will rekindle things, but most of spring 2007 was spent excitedly driving monster trucks up the side of buildings. Oh, it also acted as a Trojan horse for the Halo 3 beta, but luckily the game stood on its own merits. – Brett

4 – Forza (series)

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When the original Forza Motorsport launched in 2005, Gran Turismo was 14k Gold King Homer, a massive, jewel encrusted edifice laughing at the rest of the racing genre; it was also fat, complacent, and a little delusional. But just like King Bart vs. Goliath II, Forza was gunning for the big guy.

Developed by Microsoft’s internal Turn 10 Studios, Forza had clearly studied Gran Turismo from top to bottom, as it attempted to recreate the core experience of GT, but with wider appeal. The handling physics were more forgiving, but still strict enough to appeal to sim racers, while the tighter camera and corny-yet-rockin Junkie XL (of Mad Max Fury Road fame) remix soundtrack were direct counters to Gran Turismo’s infamous Brunch Jazz and static gameplay.

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While the PS2’s vastly superior install base ensured GT would remain the immediate sales king, Forza would continue to improve, blossoming during the 360 era and eventually eclipsing its rival with Forza 4. By that time, Forza had become “the” console driving experience, putting to rest any thought of them being just another Crazy Vaclav-like startup. – Grimm

And finally, our top three picks!

20 thoughts on “The 10 best Xbox 360 exclusive games

  1. I still stand by my opinion that the first Mass Effect is a pretty mediocre game. The combat is positively ass, the quests stink, and it very much still is a broken mess. 2 is perfect, and 3 is a thing that happened, but 1 is meh at best. It’s also one of the several not-so-exclusives on the list, so blah. It’s squatting on Ace Combat 6’s spot is all I’m saying.

    1. In my opinion the original Mass Effect is the best of the three. All of your criticisms are valid but it’s the only one where I felt like I was actually part of the universe and nothing beats landing on a new planet in the Mako and simply looking up at what’s in the sky. When I go back and play through the trilogy on occasion it’s because I want to replay 1 and simply play the others because I’m already started.

      1. You weren’t lobbying for the one with the Razgriz and Puddle ‘O’ Mud were you? One of my favorite moments with you boys.

  2. I played a hell of a lot of Crackdown for a long time after it came out. I had such high hopes for that as a franchise, and here’s to the idea that Crackdown 3 could live up to my post-Crackdown 1 desires.

    I think my personal favourite on this list would have to be Mass Effect though. While I definitely got into Gears of War, being a big fan of Star Wars/ Trek made me predisposed to enjoying ME, and it was really the first RPG I dug my teeth into (despite playing stuff like KOTOR). It really felt like a “next gen” game back then. I’m glad I got in pretty close to the ground floor (I picked it up in early 2008) and was able to experience that whole trilogy as it unfolded. Hopefully Andromeda can bring me back to the awe I felt in those days (even though ME2 is still my favourite).

    1. Yeah I too played many hours of Crackdown. I think Crackdown 3 is gonna be amazing. With chaotic destruction, with that mighty cloud mmmmm, Red Faction would be jealous about! Shit, now that I think about it, I have Crackdown 2 still in shrinkwrap sonewheres.

  3. How did you miss BioShock and Shadow Complex? Either could replace dance central (haha), but I won’t lie, I own that as well. 😉

    1. We did have Shadow Complex in there, but felt both Crashers and Geometry Wars were ultimately bigger “deals.” That said, I really liked SC. Bioshock was also in the running but it debuted on PC simultaneously so that kinda brought it down.

  4. Nice list! I kinda forgot what was so good about the 360 since it’s been a looong time since I’ve booted mine up. I did enjoy most of what I played of Lost Odyssey, it would be a good number 11…or 15. I still remember it only due to how weird it is that a JRPG with a soundtrack by Nobuo Uematsu is a 360 exclusive.

  5. If we’re talking exclusives, it blows my mind how many Square Enix jrpg’s there were at the very beginning that were exclusive. (Okay… so like, three, but still!)

    None of them made any waves in the mass market, but Lost Odyssey is one of my favorite 360 games.

    There are also a weirdly large number of Cave shooters exclusive as well. But I can’t really argue for them in place of Geometry Wars especially – once again – in the eyes of the general consumer.

  6. You’re gonna laugh but Hexic HD should be on here. I still play it to this day and I’m pretty damn good. Love making black pearles or manipulating the board to get to that nerve racking ticking bomb! Since it came pre-installed on my Xbox 360 Pro’s HDD, hmm I guess you could call it the 360’s best F2P game.

    Oh OK list talk, I knew Mass Effect was gonna be on here (I swear to god it changed who I am today, an amazing series – killing off everyone in ME2; shudders), along with Gears (I picked up the system right before Gears came out as I was following its development for some time) but I never thought I’d be playing more Viva Pinata, now more than ever with Rare Replay on Xbox One. God that game is like chicken soup, always makes you happy and warms the soul. Yyyaaaaaaahhh!

  7. Yup, pretty much agree with all of this except the (series) on Gears. I love the first Gears, it has a “Saving Private Ryan” foot-soldier in a larger war feel that really works, Gears 2 got stupid as hell pretty much immediately and crescendoed with Marcus Fenix riding a Brumac (is that the right name for the giant tank-gun hairless gorilla?) cause I guess he’s the Master Chief now…? Yeah that blew. The first Gears literally sold me on the console and I regretted the second game the day I bought it and have never returned to the series.

    ME 1 is grand and maybe my favorite of the series. Yes to Geometry Wars, Castle Crashing and OHMYGODDAMNIT did I spend a few years of college earning a degree in smoking weed and playing FORZA. Rented the running around in the snow anime game and had a good time, never touched the multiplayer though. I really didn’t like Dead Rising, I’m in the Brett completion-ist camp. Viva P is magical.

  8. “And while the game did have its fair share of bugs” Goddamn tell me about it. I had so many random glitches during playing and ultimately never finished ME1 because of a game-breaking bug that overwrote my save and had me trapped in a lift (elevator for the Americans) forever!
    Gears definitely deserves the top spot though. It literally changed the landscape of 3rd person shooters, and was the first ‘meathead’ story about war I actually cared about. RIP resonator

  9. Lost Odyssey is the only game I think need a to be on this list. Easily one of my favorite games, and it had a lot to offer both in terms of combat and story. Seriously underrated.

  10. Halo Reach should have been on this list. The scale of the combat easily trumps Mass Effect and having a prequel story in game form was great. Also I didn’t like Dead Rising at all. Technical achievement aside, that game was a chore to play.

  11. I picked up my 360 to play gears and mass effect, and even when me 2 and 3 came to PS3, I stuck to my 360 for the series. Bioshock was also almost a system seller for me, but they announced it for PS3 before I had saved up.

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