PSOne Classics. Virtual Console. Hell, even Sega Mega Drive and Genesis Classics (with the “on Steam” modifier). These phrases instill an immediate positive response. Legacy gaming software is important and necessary in many ways. But for some reason, I feel a pang of indifference whenever it comes to the Xbox brand. It’s not all the time, mind. There are key games in the Xbox 360 library you can’t get anywhere else, especially in the JRPG realm. But as we approach the official launch of original Xbox backwards compatibility on the Xbox One, I can’t help but feel like this portion of the program is time and resources that could have been better used elsewhere.
Just look at the launch lineup for the original Xbox games added to the Xbox Games on Demand service. We’re getting Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Crimson Skies, Grabbed by the Ghoulies, Dead to Rights, King of Fighters: NEOWAVE, Fusion Frenzy, Ninja Gaiden: Black, Bloodrayne II, Psychonauts, Red Faction II, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Pirates and Black. This is not a list that inspires confidence in this branch of the backwards compatibility service.
This is not a list of bad games. Let’s not veer too far into Hot Take territory. But these are not, for the most part, games you can’t get anywhere else. Many of the better games on the list are available elsewhere and in a more malleable format, even. After all, the Xbox brand was not associated with a ton of must-have exclusives back in the day. (Kind of like now, right?) The game most folks are actually excited to jump in and play is Knights of the Old Republic, and you can get that for two bucks on Steam most times of the year.
Of this initial list of 13 games, only three of them were exclusive to the Xbox: Crimson Skies, Fusion Frenzy, and Grabbed by the Ghoulies. Ghoulies, even, was already available as part of the Rare Replay collection, something anyone interested in that game will already have. Fusion Frenzy was never a notable piece of software. So that leaves Crimson Skies, which is admittedly a fine game. Everything else is available on other platforms or is not worth saving, particularly Dead to Rights, which is essentially shovelware.
I’m self-contradicting myself a bit. Preserving games in a historical sense is important all-around. These games being available aren’t hurting anything, and certainly the cost of the Xbox-exclusive first party games is not taking away from anything else. But it feels more like chest-puffing than a meaningful move to preserve games. There are plenty of games still in need that were actually great on other platforms that have been lost to time. This is a move that seems nice on paper, but I worry lacking sales for games nobody really cares much about may justify moving on to something else sooner than planned.
I was super hyped when games like Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey were finally added to 360’s list of backwards-compatible games. These are excellent titles that will never show up anywhere other than Xbox platforms and absolutely deserved to not squander on dated hardware. So many Xbox Live Arcade games that deserve to survive the test of time are also available, with many others still in need of revival. Meanwhile, Dead to Rights is sitting there taking up space. It’s weird how these things work out sometimes.
Not every game or piece of art is a masterpiece or cult classic, but that doesn’t mean they deserve to dissolve into nothing. I understand that. But I can’t help but side-eye this offering a little bit. It’s a bunch of games that are either mediocre or available elsewhere in better, more survivable fashion. I look at that list of games and don’t see anything that really stands out as “Xbox” in a brand sense either. It’s odd to not see Halo 2 for example, especially since the rest of the series was recently added to the 360 list despite the Master Chief Collection being a thing. But one game doesn’t make a brand either. And a lack of any Sega games also stands out as odd, considering how many unique titles that partnership brought the platform. I’m sure these will eventually show up, but I can’t help but look at the debut like I looked at a bargain bin in the mid-late 2000s and be disappointed.