If there has been one big surprise of this generation, it’s the maturation of Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network titles over the course of each system’s life that started out with tiny arcade-style games and has grown into bigger experiences that can stand toe-to-toe with many retail games out there.
Though you may think that Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network as a concept on consoles was a completely new thing, but Xbox Live Arcade actually debuted last generation on the original Xbox as a mysterious disc of unknown origins that gave you access to this weird digital marketplace that featured Namco arcade titles at some ridiculous prices for what was being offered at the time. Of course, the arrival of the Xbox 360 gave Microsoft a chance to rethink that idea by making this digital marketplace a core part of the operating system so that you could purchase games and DLC without the added complication of a starup disc. At the launch of the Xbox 360 and PS3, both services focused on smaller games and arcade titles that would be a better fit for 20 GB hard drives and tiny memory cards for $9.99 or less, which served its purpose for a while before quickly growing beyond the initial scope of these services as games like Braid, Wipeout HD, flOw, and Castle Crashers showed that these services could offer so much more.
Fast forward to today and you’ll see games like Minecraft as system sellers for the Xbox 360 and games like The Walking Dead and Journey winning many, many Game of the Year awards. The stigma of being exclusively available for Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network was shattered and put digitally distributed games on the same level. Despite that, I surveyed our staffers to find out their most favorite digital games of this generation. Why not have everything on one list? Because we want to celebrate more of favorite physical and digital games with their own lists so that we can give them both the proper respect and recognition.
Onto the list, we’re featuring 25 of our most favorite digital games from the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii. As for exclusives, Xbox Live Arcade exclusives top the list with eight titles, PlayStation Network has five exclusives, and WiiWare has just one. Q-Games is the only developer to have more than one title on this list with two games. The Walking Dead received the most votes with three votes.
Without further ado, here are SmashPad’s Digital Games of the Generation, ordered by release date:
“If you had an Xbox 360 at launch, this is likely the first game you downloaded from Xbox Live Arcade. 8 years later and it still holds up.” – Filippo Dinolfo
“Great arcade games don’t go away, they just evolve. Pac Man CE is a fine example of how a reboot can be done well.” – Filippo
“Labeled as just a Geometry Wars clone by the ignorant, this Amiga remake was much more than what it seemed with stunning visuals and deep mechanics as you try to survive hordes of enemies and asteroids in a unique mix of Asteroids and SmashTV.” – Chris Selogy
“Q-Games burst onto the PSN scene with this great tower defense game that was beautiful, challenging, and rewarding to make it one of the best tower defense games of this generation.” – Chris
“Q-Games followed up Monsters with a platformer that had a fantastic art direction, a unique way to navigate the environment like a miniature Spider-Man, and a lack of hesitation to change the mechanics of how each new level works to keep you on your toes.” – Chris
“Braid’s gameplay is pretty similar to finding the big coins in the sidescrolling Mario titles, but a great art direction and music helped set itself apart.” – Danreb Victorio
“It’s kind of hard to find another title that blended creativity, strategy, and dexterity so seamlessly.” – Danreb
“David Sirlin’s drastic overhaul of a fighting legend wasn’t without its missteps, but it was still a very effective restoration that some still hold in higher regard than the following year’s Street Fighter IV.” – Patrick Mifflin
“Splosion Man delights in the stupidity of its main character, its mechanics, and the dumb story that it tells that it was hard to not push through its hardest levels to experience one of the best endings of any game this generation. The Donut Song is one of my most favorite things from this generation.” – Chris
“When I first played Trials, it kicked my ass. It’s a game that really rewards you for putting in the effort to play it.” – Filippo
“Chair Entertainment put their mark on the industry with their modern Super Metroid clone that shows why that style of game is still an amazing experience when done right. It’s a shame that Infinity Blade has done so well that there’s very little chance that we’ll see a Shadow Complex 2 this generation or next.” – Chris
“With a great blend of game mechanics and production value, Defense Grid is the most fun I’ve had with a Tower Defense game. Ever.” – Filippo
“Plants vs. Zombies is a great tower defense game that features a ton of content and addictive new ways to change up the formula with its mini-games and survival modes. There’s a reason why I’ve played through the campaign dozens of times on nearly every single platform that PopCap has released it on over the past five years.” – Chris
“Updating a classic is hard. Thankfully, Taito managed to fuse retro sensibilities with modern conventions into a completely addicting package.” – Filippo
“It may have somewhat clunky controls, but it doesn’t detract from the gameplay too much. Torchlight is a ton of fun.” – Filippo
“Capybara has made a few great PSN/XBLA titles this generation, but their strategy RPG/puzzle hybrid is easily their best and most addictive game so far. Ubisoft needs to push for a sequel so I can stop buying new versions of this game to play through that great campaign one more time.” – Chris
“Supergiant’s beautiful action RPG not only transcends a lot of conventional notions about how much meat a digital title can have on its proverbial bones, this masterpiece also takes us back to a time when differences between Japanese and western game design weren’t so pronounced, or even all that noticable, for that matter.” – Patrick
NBA Jam: On Fire Edition – PSN, XBLA
“Although NBA Jam was reintroduced to the world in the form of a Wii game that spawned digital ports on 360 and PS3, it was the On-Fire Edition that really went the extra mile to truly preserve the spirit of arcade Basketball. Acclaim tried this once before (with horrific results), but EA went in with the right idea, sticking to 2-on-2 anything-goes gameplay, unencumbered by the more in-depth expectations usually weighing on console sports titles.” – Patrick
Journey – PSN
“thatgamecompany stepped up their game to follow up Flower with a beautiful game that manages to tell a deeply personal story without any text or dialogue. The co-op added to the game’s success as complete strangers became the best of friends that were willing to risk their lives to work together over the course of this journey, but the most powerful message comes at the end when you realize your best friend was actually eight people like XxXTacoKilla420XxX.” – Chris
“The Pinball Arcade faithfully recreates classic pinball tables with surprising accuracy. If you like to play the silver ball, download The Pinball Arcade.” – Filippo
“Telltale Games has taken the point-and-click genre to new heights with a game that devotes players to its characters in both humane and inhumane ways.” – Danreb
“The great PC sandbox construction game received an amazing port to the Xbox 360 by 4J Studios that made it easy for newcomers to get into with great controls, post-launch support, and the same sense of satisfaction you finish an elaborate new fortress to further protect you from the neverending mobs that roam the darkness at night.” – Chris
“It wasn’t the fully-loaded retail release that fans of the series had been clamoring for all along, but Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown will be just fine with its status as the deepest and most balanced fighting game to date.” – Patrick
“It’s hard to believe that the original THPS formula was used more than a decade ago. THPSHD brought the game back to its roots in HD and combined pretty much everything that made the series fun.” – Danreb
“Graphics don’t matter. No game manages to point that out as well as Thomas Was Alone.” – Filippo
If you’ve made it to the end of this feature, thank you so much for checking this out. Feel free to check out our Physical Games of the Generation feature if you have yet to do so.