Playing the Classics
Everything gets old eventually, and the excitement of any new, exciting game will dwindle to gentler appreciation, unless it’s forgotten entirely. Memories can fade over time but backward compatibility can ensure classic video games remain available, years after their initial release.
Xbox’s commitment to backward compatibility is exciting for me. I don’t stop playing games because they’re not new anymore. That’d be ridiculous. I love replaying games as the years go by. New knowledge and wisdom from life can provide different perspectives and insights in stories and character arcs. New hardware can minimize or even erase loading screens entirely, keeping the immersion going and reducing outside distractions. Xbox has even shown how much better games can look, with a little work thrown in to increase resolutions and framerates, offering an experience even better than the original release could provide on the hardware available at the time.
Xbox Does What Nintendon’t
It’s been disappointing to watch Nintendo and PlayStation disregard the importance of art preservation. The arrival of digital media should have made games more accessible and even more widely available. It unfortunately made sense when games weren’t as available years after their release before the Internet and digital media in games. Publishers would have to create physical copies constantly to ensure the secondhand market couldn’t drive up prices and to ensure both scarcity and artificial scarcity didn’t affect availability of a game.
There’s literally no reason why games shouldn’t be more widely available now. Publishers and platform holders should either invest in and support emulation websites or more generalized preservation sites, like Internet Archive, if they’re not going to make their games available for digital purchase. PlayStation and Nintendo have been involved in video games for over twenty-five and forty years respectively. Decades of video game history are only available in dimly lit corners of the Internet and for no valid reason at all. PlayStation’s closure of the digital storefronts for PSP, Vita, and PlayStation 3 means that access to games published by Sony before November 15th, 2013 (PS4’s US release date) are restricted to people that have already purchased the games. That’s twenty one years worth of games that are just gone. It’s sad to see and I’m desperately hoping the two companies reverse their decisions on how they’re handling their legacies and back catalogs after seeing the success and positive feedback Microsoft has experienced with their support and commitment to backward compatibility.
There are over five hundred games for Xbox Original and Xbox 360 that can be played on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S. Forty-two of them are games from the Xbox Original system’s game catalog and the rest of them are from the newer follow-up system, Xbox 360. Phil Spencer has made it clear that video game preservation is a priority for Xbox, which is great to hear since not only are there a lot of older games worth playing but also everything you’re playing now will eventually be old too. It’s comforting knowing that next week’s new release is something I can play in twenty years on Microsoft’s latest console.
Five hundred plus games is a lot of games and they’re not all incredible. Some of them might not even be worth playing but I’m glad they’re there. My favorite game might be your least favorite, and vice-versa. There are some games though in both catalogs that are absolutely must-play games and that absolutely extends to the older Original Xbox system, too.
Star Wars games
There are seven Xbox Original Star Wars games that are fully backward compatible and all play better than they did on the original hardware. Faster load times, increased resolution, and improved frame rates all make already great games even better.
Star Wars: Battlefront, Star Wars: Battlefront II, Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, Star Wars: Jedi Starfighter, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, and Star Wars: Republic Commando are all absolutely worth the asking price of $10 USD.
We’ve since seen two new Battlefront releases and they’re both really solid experiences, especially the sequel after all of the updates, but the original two games have aged very well. They both feature single-player portions and have local multiplayer. I personally don’t have the patience to try to figure it out but there are ways to play Xbox Original titles online too on dedicated servers with a little bit of work. I may eventually mess with it though because it’d be surreal to play some classic Galactic Conquest in Battlefront with my little brother and some friends.
Jedi Academy is a third-person shooter with lightsaber combat and force powers. There’s a PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch port available (for now) as well but if you have this old disc lying around then you can toss it in whatever Xbox you have and access an improved version without paying anything extra. You can always download it if you’d prefer, too. However you choose to do it, just play this game because it’s great. Jennifer Hale is in it too, which is always a plus.
Jedi Starfighter is a space combat game and those aren’t as much my jam because I get disoriented and die a lot but it sounds like it has its fans from what I’ve read online. My brother was pretty excited when it became backward compatible too. Republic Commando is a very solid first-person shooter with squad-based combat and an enthralling story. I remember people thought it was too short back in the day but I know I’m not the only one looking for shorter experiences these days, in the face of hundred hour releases coming out every month. Knights of the Old Republic and Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords are two of my favorite games. I didn’t have a PS2 but I really didn’t mind that I was missing out on Final Fantasy and whatever was happening in Kingdom Hearts. I had two massive Star Wars RPGs that did more with Fable’s good/evil character alignment promises while also wrapping the system around dark and light side force powers and character stats.
I have put hundreds of hours into these two games over the years and cannot recommend them enough. The stories are filled with meaningful side quests and an interesting main narrative. You can customize your character, choose your powers, obtain better weapons, and even force choke people. Oh, and you can rain down force lightning and kill an entire group of enemies. These games are rad and worth way more than the $10 asking price.
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
The Elder Scrolls is a household name now but it wasn’t the case before Skyrim‘s 2011 release. Yeah, we’re all getting old; Skyrim becomes a retro game this year. But Morrowind was a very good game when it first released, especially considering it was 2002.
It’s not as intuitive as later games in the series but it’s almost better for it. Exploration and figuring out what to do and where to go next can be exciting under the right circumstances and while interacting with engaging systems and satisfying combat. I would definitely recommend keeping a guide handy for this one and picking it up when you need some direction. If I don’t use a guide during Morrowind then I get stuck for too long sometimes and my immersion and patience begin to crumble. It can be a really good experience though and is more than worth the $15 asking price. It’s also available in Xbox Game Pass. You can even play it on your phone through xCloud and use a controller or touch-screen controls. Technology is rad.
Okay I’m going to start with the criticisms most people had with this game when it first released in 2006. It didn’t have multiplayer and was “too short.” Okay, now that you’re done laughing because those aren’t real problems and were just considered problems by some people in 2006, let’s talk about how spectacular Black is.
Developed by Criterion Games, who have since worked on Burnout Paradise, Star Wars Battlefront II, and Battlefield V, Black was developed to “do for shooting what Burnout did for racing.” Those words were from Criterion’s Alex Ward when he was talking about attempting to replicate a sequence from The Matrix for Black.
This game is both a technological showcase and a thrilling experience. The game features sequences with explosions with great sound design with robust detail and quality even when things are quiet and the player is crouched in the grass waiting for the right moment to strike.
Missions are fun and the game was designed with them from the very beginning. They didn’t even really give thought to an overall connected plot until they were nearing the end of development. That may seem like a problem but it’s really not. This game is fun to play and it both looks and sounds incredible while you’re playing it. This was true when it first released on PlayStation 2, Xbox, and Xbox 360. It’s even more true now with increased resolution, framerates, and load times that barely even exist. Black is available to purchase for $10 but is also available in EA Play, which is available on its own and part of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate.
Video games are super cool and it makes me happy to replay classics or check them out for the first time. I had no idea what Black was when it first released. It was buried under new console news and other releases when it first came out on Xbox and PlayStation 2. I didn’t get an Xbox 360 at launch and so it wasn’t on store shelves and I don’t remember seeing it in the Xbox marketplace, at least not at the time. But I got to play this version in 2017, eleven years after its initial release. And I’m glad I did because it was a lot of fun and something I would have missed entirely if it weren’t for backward compatibility.