3 | Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
This retro-inspired brawler is a spectacular love letter to beat-‘em-ups of generations long past. Based on Brian Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel series of the same name, and released to coincide with Edgar Wright’s outstanding feature film adaptation, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World harkens back to the golden age of side-scrolling action games in all their pixelated splendor. Playing as eponymous slacker Scott Pilgrim, grumpy band-mate Kim Pine, “The Talent” Stephen Stills, or manic-pixie-dream-girlfriend Ramona Flowers, you’ll beat and bash legions of baddies native to the mystical lands of Toronto, Canada across seven varied levels. A must-download, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World also features a stellar soundtrack by 8-bit rock band Anamanaguchi, and some surprisingly in-depth RPG elements.
2 | Braid
While lots of conjecture has been made about the story behind Braid, it all boils down to a common plot often told in video games: you're a man against the world, trying to rescue a princess in a far away land.
However, Braid's special twist comes in the form of time manipulation. As you guide leading man "Tim" through world after world, you'll need to "rewind" time to solve puzzles embedded in every level. Sometimes, you'll need to correct an ill-timed jump off an enemy's head, and other times you'll die by falling into a trap. Luckily, even Tim's death can be fixed by simply turning back the clock a few crucial seconds, and the game quickly becomes more puzzle than platformer.
However, as you play through this wonderfully crafted game -- in several cases, literally turning back time to advance past various obstacles -- it eventually comes clear that the simple story isn't what it seems to be. Is Tim really the hero? What exactly is his relationship with the princess? And why can't Tim remember why he has to rescue her?
1 | Castle Crashers
Castle Crashers is wonderful not just because it's a great multiplayer game to play either on the couch with your friends or online, but because it does everything else pretty damn skillfully too. The basic premise is your standard beat-em-up formula -- a tried and true arcade style that's seen plenty of use over the years. The game deftly mixes in RPG elements (not only can you find stronger weapons, but your characters abilities grow the more you play as well), and you can use those beefed up characters to help you level up your friends as well.
Like a Looney Tunes cartoon, the graphics highlight random, scatalogical, and a little over-the-top violence, but the adorable drawings and helpful woodland creatures who assist your titular knights balance out the gore. And the music, an assortment of chiptunes and high-energy tracks, is good enough to listen to on its own.
Castle Crashers brings the beat-em-up into modern times with style, and if you like the work the developers did here, you should check out their first game, Alien Hominid, and be on the lookout for the upcoming BattleBlock Theatre.
This story, "The 15 Best XBLA Games " was originally published by GamePro.