20 of the best forgotten Xbox gems

By Luke Albigés,
We've been on quite the history tour this month, and as our 20 defining Xbox moments series comes to a close, we've still got more classic Xbox love to share. Today, we'll be looking back at some of the overlooked, forgotten, or unsung Xbox classics from yesteryear. We've tried to limit the list to games that were either exclusive to an Xbox platform or at least usually associated with one, and in some cases it's not so much that nobody knows about the game today, rather that we're unlikely to see it make a return any time soon for one reason or another. With the preamble out of the way, let's get into the games...

Quantum Redshift

When Microsoft wanted a counter-play to Sony's WipEout series — the futuristic racer that proved instrumental in helping PlayStation make gaming 'cool' — who better to turn to than a team that used to work on WipEout? Curly Monsters was a six-man studio made up of former Psygnosis devs, but sadly, Quantum Redshift would be its second and final game. That's no reflection on its quality, mind... it's a superb racer, just one that was pretty much sent out to die. Quantum Redshift reviewed well, but got precious little marketing, and Microsoft, having paid for the game to be made, took packaging into its own hands with a frankly awful cover that art director Neil Thompson openly branded "a piece of s**t" speaking to Eurogamer back in 2012. Curly Monsters was originally contracted for two Xbox games, although Microsoft apparently walked away from the deal after Quantum Redshift didn't take off as hoped, dashing our hopes for a sequel to this fantastic racer and shuttering the studio in the process.

Boom Boom Rocket

Considering Bizarre Creations was best known for its world-class racing games, its catalogue sure does have a bunch of one-off wonders in there. From cartoon shooter Fur Fighters to the arcade action of The Club, the studio proved time and again that it wasn't just racers that it could produce to a fantastic standard. This simple (in concept, at least) firework-themed rhythm-action game was a blast, with jazzed-up versions of classical greats and chaotic note charts that would send your hands racing all over the controller as the pace picked up. Despite a limited track list, Boom Boom Rocket is a great time, especially when facing off against a skilled opponent in the local multiplayer Endurance mode, where the song gets faster as you complete 'laps' of it and things quickly get pretty intense. It's not exactly an easy completion and, as an original Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) release, only has 200G up for grabs, but it's playable via backwards compatibility if you fancy a spot of challenging musical magic.

Phantom Crash

Genki's arena combat gem Phantom Crash was an early original Xbox release, with the 2002 oddity allowing players to fully customise the mechs they took into battle. It's presented as a futuristic sport of sorts — much like in the more recent PS VR exclusive, RIGS Mechanized Combat League — and has a quirky sense of character and style that helped Phantom Crash stand out from similar games, such as the more straight-laced Armored Core series. Like Bizarre Creations, Genki was better known for its arcade racers, which goes some way towards explaining the breakneck pace of this great little mech shooter. A sequel, S.L.A.I.: Steel Lancer Arena International, released exclusively for PS2 three years later, but both games have been long lost to history, which is a real shame.

Panzer Dragoon Orta

We spoke at some length about Sega's involvement in the early days of Xbox in our Xbox20 feature series, and Panzer Dragoon was just one of the Japanese publisher's big series that would find its way exclusively onto the Microsoft console. Orta was a brand new entry into the cult franchise, making great use of the hardware to deliver a beautifully crisp stylised fantasy setting and snappy arcade-style shooting, which was declared by many at the time to be the pinnacle of this kind of on-rails action. Now almost 20 years old itself, Orta remains the latest new game in the series, although we did see a spiritual successor of sorts in Xbox One launch title, Crimson Dragon. Which, sadly, was sort of terrible. Still, MegaPixel put out a faithful remake of the original Saturn game late last year (with the sequel due before the end of this year), so between those and Orta being back-compat, it's not like we have a shortage of pretty dragon-riding shooters...

A Kingdom for Keflings

NinjaBee was somewhat prolific in the early XBLA era, frequently popping up on the service with some quirky new release or another. Of those, laid-back town-building game A Kingdom for Keflings was a definite highlight, and not just thanks to its super-chill soundtrack. Wandering around as a giant and helping the villagers proved such a nice change of pace, and was doubly neat as you could even play as your own Xbox Avatar when the New Xbox Experience update rolled out. This sedate sim proved popular enough to spawn a sequel a couple of years laters, and while it was pretty much just more of the same, A World of Keflings was also really good. But then it all went quiet on the Keflings front, and it seemed the series was done. While there hasn't been a follow-up on Xbox, we at least saw VR title A Handful of Keflings pop up in 2018, so it's good to know that NinjaBee hasn't given up on the little folks after all.

Metal Wolf Chaos

This one comes with the caveat "until very recently," but still deserves a spot here due to the quirky mech shooter being the rarest of beasts: a Japan-exclusive original Xbox game, and one which remained that way for the best part of 15 years. Before Devolver put out the remastered version, Metal Wolf Chaos XD, in 2019, this over-the-top mech shooter was a cult classic, if an extremely expensive one. The bonkers story sees you play as the US president, taking the fight to terrorists in your ludicrously overgeared mech. With dumb dialogue to match the nonsense narrative (think early Resident Evil or House of the Dead), Metal Wolf Chaos is a laugh riot, which isn't something you can really say about most FromSoftware games.

‘Splosion Man

Everybody loves doughnuts... there's a nice little earworm for you if you played this anarchic platformer back in the day. Twisted Pixel is another team that was extremely active in its heyday, putting out four great XBLA games and Kinect retail title The Gunstringer over the course of just two years. This great run led to Microsoft acquiring the studio in 2011, although after the disappointing Xbox One launch title LocoCycle and not much else, Twisted Pixel left the Xbox family in 2015 and now focuses exclusively on VR games. This wacky game sees our titular hero leaping and 'sploding around the Big Science labs, and features both tricky platforming and some light puzzles as you hurtle around causing chaos. Particularly entertaining was the multiplayer mode, with ingenious level design forcing players to ricochet off one another in coordinated explosive parkour displays. As the team now focuses on more involved VR experiences, it seems unlikely that we'll be seeing 'Splosion Man (or his other half) again any time soon...

Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth

This first-person horror game was a really pleasant surprise (well, an intentionally unpleasant one, really) when it arrived towards the end of the original Xbox generation, as developer Headfirst didn't exactly have a glowing track record — several cancelled projects and the poor Simon the Sorcerer 3D were all the Adventure Soft follow-up had to show at the time, and this ambitious title seemed rather wide of its point-and-click wheelhouse. Despite being somewhat clunky (again, by design, to an extent), this retelling of Lovecraft's The Shadow Over Innsmouth absolutely nailed the bleak tone and oppressive atmosphere the mythos is known for, and Dark Corners of the Earth remains one of the best Cthulhu-based video games to this day. Excitingly, Headfirst had several promising follow-ups and companion titles in the works, but none would ever see light of day — the studio went into administration mere months after the game launched.

Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders

I've always had a lot of time for Phantagram's mash-up of large-scale RTS battles, hack-and-slash action, and RPG-esque character progression, and while it might not have set the world on fire, the Korean fantasy combat game remains one of my favourites from that generation. It was always fascinating to see battles break out from a distance, then to zoom in and take direct control of a hero to try and help turn the tide — the two individual gameplay styles had been done to death by the time this arrived in 2004, but combining them in real time just made for one of those 'why has nobody done this before?' moments that don't come around all that often. Phantagram came out with a sequel the following year, with Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes feeling rather more like an expansion than a brand new game, and being the last on Xbox to employ this interesting hybrid approach. 360 follow-up Circle of Doom was a pure hack-and-slash game and really suffered for it, and while true successor Kingdom Under Fire II was announced way back in 2008 with a console release planned for 2009, it would spend the next decade in development hell, shedding most of its target platforms along the way and only making it to PC in 2019. The Crusaders did get a PC remaster last year, and given that other titles from that era (like the Bloodrayne games) have seen the same treatment and later come to Xbox, there's still hope that I'll get to see my boy Rupert again. Oh yeah, everyone has really daft names, too. It's great.

Blinx 2: Masters of Time and Space

Most people know about Blinx — Microsoft's failed attempt to get a friendly Xbox mascot in the vein of Mario or Sonic — but I'm always surprised by how few people seem to know that it got a sequel. While the original was a fairly simple 3D platformer with a time-bending mechanic that made ingenious use of the Xbox's hard drive to allow real-time manipulation of the flow of time in a level, Masters of Time and Space is... well, it's really weird. Gameplay is split into two parts, with the Time Sweepers exploring open environments and problem-solving with those same time mechanics from the original, while the Tom Tom Gang (biker pigs, obviously) sections are more like stealth shooters as you try to run interference with the cats, for some reason. Blinx himself barely even shows up... you instead use your own custom cats and pigs during gameplay, with the star of the show only turning up (alongside a host of others) in cutscenes and dialogue. Of which there is a lot — this game loves the sound of its own voice. It's interesting how much of a shift this is from the original both in terms of gameplay and tone, and while I'm not sure it's for the better, it's certainly a different experience and one I found oddly enjoyable.

Steel Battalion

Steel Battalion was perhaps the very definition of niche when it launched for Xbox in 2002 — a mech sim with its own bespoke (and massive) cockpit controller including sticks, levers, buttons, switches, dials, pedals, and even an eject button that you had to use to prevent your save file being wiped if your mech got taken out. This unwieldy custom controller was naturally only made in limited numbers and that made it both expensive and rare, so I'd wager a good amount of people reading this will have never known the embarrassment of losing billions of pretend dollars' worth of mech tech after accidentally hitting the button for the wipers rather than the fire extinguisher. Remarkably, Steel Battalion did actually get a sequel that same generation, with Line of Contact being an online-only offering that let enthusiasts use that expensive peripheral to compete with mech-heads around the world. The cult legacy of the brand also gave Capcom a launchpad for a Kinect-based follow-up in 2012's Heavy Armor, but the shift to vague motion control didn't end well. The game got absolutely panned for controls that were barely fit for purpose — Steel Battalion was always a better experience than it was a game, in all honesty, so taking away the fun of dozen of buttons and levers only to replace it with abstract, non-functioning gestures was a recipe for disaster that likely means this series is on the scrapheap forever.

The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai

Ska Studios came up out of the Xbox Live Indie Games (XBLIG) scene, with The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai being the one-man team's first 'proper' release on the store after an early version picked up top honours in the first ever Dream-Build-Play contest to win a $10,000 prize and an XBLA publishing deal for the full game. In what we now know as Ska's signature style, Dead Samurai is a gritty 2D hack-and-slash game that takes cues from character action games like Devil May Cry, rewarding fast-paced, stylish combat and brutal executions. 2011 sequel Vampire Smile would improve just about every aspect but seems just a little more well-known, hence why we settled on the original for this list. Billy's gigantic robot was right — Ska is not dead, and the success of recent games like Salt & Sanctuary just shows this tiny team going from strength to strength. You love to see it.

Voodoo Vince

Tom asked, nay demanded that this make the cut, so I'll let him explain why: "Voodoo Vince inhaled his first breath of life in 2003, when the moronic henchman duo Jeb and Fingers covered him in zombie dust on the OG Xbox. For those of you too young to have enjoyed Vince’s exploits, the game takes you on a platforming journey to rescue Madam Charmaine from the diabolical Kosmo the Inscrutable. The journey takes us all over New Orleans, battling it out with Piggy Banks of Doom, gas pumps, and skeletal dinosaurs by using Vince’s voodoo powers. It was remastered in 2017 by Beep Games for Xbox One and PC, and still offers the same humorous, wacky, and absurd adventure — but it looks even better! Honestly, Voodoo Vince really is a hidden gem, which is a shame because the little zombie dust-huffing, pin-pricked doll deserves another outing… it’s not too late, Beep Games."

Lost Odyssey

This one is here not as some kind of obscure game you've never heard of, but as potentially 'one that got away' for Microsoft. Courting Mistwalker — an RPG-centric studio headed up by Final Fantasy legend Hironobu Sakaguchi — was a masterstroke, giving MS a leg-up in a field where it had no experience or expertise and leading to some great 360 exclusives in Blue Dragon and this, arguably the stronger of the two JRPGs. But after Lost Odyssey, Mistwalker was gone, turning its attention to Nintendo platforms and later mobile when this could have been the perfect studio to fill a gaping hole in Microsoft's portfolio on an ongoing basis. We'll never know exactly what happened behind closed doors, but this — or indeed Blue Dragon — could be a popular series up to its fourth or fifth releases by this point, and I always wonder why that early blast of two high-profile JRPGs was such a flash in the pan, especially considering MS still doesn't have any first-party teams in that space to this day. File this one as forgotten by Microsoft, rather than players.

The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay

Back in 2004, movie licenses were bad. That was the rule, that was law, and exceptions were extremely rare. Hopes weren't exactly high, then, for a relatively green Starbreeze to buck that trend, but oh, what a feat of trend-bucking occurred. That's precisely what makes Escape From Butcher Bay our next port of call here, with this first-person adventure surprising many with its tight gameplay and incredible visuals for the time. Although cutscenes, conversations, and certain gameplay elements would pull the camera back to see Vin Diesel reprising his role, the first-person perspective of general gameplay proved a far cry from the usual celeb-pandering of which licensed games like this were usually guilty. If you weren't around at the time, you might not realise that Escape From Butcher Bay is, unlike the vast majority of ties-ins/cash-ins of the era, actually really good. You might also not know that 360 follow-up Assault on Dark Athena came with a remake of the OG Xbox game, although sadly it's not backwards compatible and the stupidly grindy multiplayer achievements make it something a lot of folks probably wouldn't be happy to put on their tags anyway. Still, Vin for the win. Something something family.

1 vs. 100

This was included on the shortlist long before news broke earlier this month about a potential revival, but I think it deserves a spot all the same. You see, if I was to try and explain to someone new to Xbox gaming that a highlight of the 360 era was playing an online version of a TV game show, they'd probably think I was a pretty simple fellow. But it was. And maybe I am. Whatever. 1 vs. 100 was one of those 'you had to be there' moments, so players who missed out on it would likely struggle to understand why the MMO trivia game is so fondly remembered by those who got to experience it during the fairly brief two-season window that it was active. Until we hear something more about this rumoured comeback, I think it's certainly fair to call it 'forgotten' as well, if again on the Microsoft side rather than by the quizzers who would love to see it return. It was lauded as such a big deal at the time, only to quickly fall out of favour as new trends replaced it, and I do wonder how a modern version would even work with today's tighter gambling laws when people in some US states weren't even eligible for prizes the first time around.

Top Spin

Between the likes of the Links games, Sega's newly-homeless sports series, and some motorsport titles like Climax's ace MotoGP games (and another we may or may not discuss imminently), Microsoft started out on pretty decent footing with sports games — one area in which other platform holders don't really excel aside from the odd (usually arcade-style) release. So when it published Top Spin in 2003 under the XSN Sports label, it added yet another string to its racket, potentially setting up a console-exclusive line of tennis games to add another differentiator between Xbox and the competition, if one eerily similar to Sega's own Virtua journey. Alas, that was not to be. Good as Top Spin was, that only attracted the attention of other publishers, with 2K later picking up the franchise and the subsequent regular releases outpacing the popularity of the sport until the series was milked into non-existence by the release of the fourth game in 2011. The market apparently simply wasn't (and probably still isn't) there for tennis games on that kind of turnaround, and the promising series likely isn't coming back any time soon.

Dance Central

This one fell on Kinect's sword a long time ago, but recent news of Harmonix being bought out by Epic means the chances of us ever seeing a new Dance Central game on Xbox are now slim-to-none. It's a genuine shame, too, as Dance Central was a rare dancing game that actually properly tracked and gave feedback on full-body movement. As mentioned in our fall of Kinect entry in the defining Xbox moments series, that initial wave of success for Kinect saw Microsoft lean into the add-on a little too heavily, with four Dance Central games in five years burning out consumers in the exact same way that peripheral-based music games had done. Harmonix did actually put out a new VR version of Dance Central after that Kinect honeymoon period was over, so it'll be interesting to see if Epic maybe does let the team out of the Fortnite dungeon one day to continue the series...

RalliSport Challenge

DICE wasn't always a Battlefield factory, having risen to power off the back of some kick-ass 16-bit pinball games (of all things), and the Swedish team was still very much in its variety phase back when this exclusive landed in the early days of Xbox. It was a technological tour de force, showing off what Microsoft's first console could do and with its exclusive nature suggesting that this kind of graphical fidelity wouldn't be found elsewhere in the console sphere. Which, to be fair, wasn't entirely inaccurate. The 2004 sequel would go on to right some of the wrongs of the original game, such as introducing a cockpit camera, but releasing a racing game in the same year as Burnout 3 and OutRun 2 would be a test for even the greatest developer, and DICE drew a line under the series there as its Battlefield march began.

Every Extend Extra Extreme

I loved E4 back in the day, and its journey is almost as interesting as its premise. Every Extend started life as a PC puzzle-shooter made as kind of a love letter to the games of Rez creator, Tetsuya Mizuguchi. Well, Mizuguchi would later pick up on this, with his firm Q Entertainment getting on board for the subsequent PSP and 360 revisions of the game. E4 — Every Extend Extra Extreme — would be the last of these, and while it arguably took the concept of blowing things up to trigger chains a little far and made things too easy, it remains one of my favourite XBLA titles purely because of how utterly nonsense it is. It's not going to be toppling Rez any time soon, but the influence was clear.

That'll do it for this rundown of forgotten Xbox gems, but if you've got some of your own, drop them in that handy box down there. That's what it's for. What Xbox classics do you miss? Anything here you'd forgotten about? Use your words below!
Luke Albigés
Written by Luke Albigés
Luke runs the TA news team, contributing where he can primarily with reviews and other long-form features — crafts he has honed across two decades of print and online gaming media experience, having worked with the likes of gamesTM, Eurogamer, Play, Retro Gamer, Edge, and many more. He loves all things Monster Hunter, enjoys a good D&D session, and has played way too much Destiny.
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