When it comes to Microsoft’s Xbox brand the first thought in people’s minds right now may be ‘they have no games’, but it wasn’t always such a struggle to think of titles that defined the system. Before the company began to overly rely on the likes of Halo, Gears, Fable, and Forza to an annoying degree, they actually did pursue a catalog of variety and excellent gaming experiences were born from these endeavors. Sadly, many of them have gone the way of the Dodo bird never to be seen again. In this series of articles we will give examples of Xbox franchises that lay dormant, but really deserve another chance to help give the Xbox brand a true identity that stands out.
These titles include open world dogfights, mini-game party bonanzas, racing at break-neck speeds, and just creative ideas that haven’t really been done before or after. There’s also a few mascot titles and older classics that only Microsoft has the power and legal rights to revive at this time. These games are listed in no particular order and they aren’t all ‘for everyone’ but that’s what makes their diversity a great thing and I’m sure everyone can name at least a few they’d like to see happen. In terms of branding it would certainly be better for Microsoft to have more mid-tier productions than to be associated with a lack of games!
Last Active: 2003 / FASA Studio & Microsoft Game Studios
Back when open-world wasn’t a dirty word, Crimson Skies delivered one of the most unique experiences heavily associated with the Xbox brand by a small but passionate cult following. This title gave a sense of freedom in a living world that hasn’t quite been replicated in the arcade flight category since. Hand crafted missions are melded well with the open air piracy action of stealing new vehicles for yourself, and an alternative reality filled with steampunk themes and an America split into smaller opposing countries.
While only selling just under a million copies (870,000) during a time period when that was considered more than enough, the success of the title was appropriate to its niche offerings. Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge is the perfect combination of fun gameplay and bravery from the developers to make something that feels unique. Fun factor and gameplay were clearly put first, but the overall package has been a legendary experience.
To this day it is regarded by fans and gaming historians as one of the most important and quality games for the original Xbox, despite having a somewhat underground profile. It was also reviewed to high praise, leading us to be unsure why it didn’t continue to receive attention from Microsoft Game Studios. That was certainly a missed opportunity, and we hope this franchise can be re-imagined in a way that accurately re-captures its magic.
Last Active: 2003 / Digital Anvil & Microsoft Game Studios
A squad-based third person shooter which was, like many original Xbox titles, ahead of its time for the console gaming market. In the single player campaign you control an unlikely squad of elite agents each with their own specialty. Tex is your average bicep sporting hero labelled a weapons expert while Hawk provides a contrast in the female form and bringing stealth to the battlefield. Brutus was a reptilian alien with the humanoid figure and can regenerate his health, he’s also the fastest creature in the squad. Flint is a cybernetic creation who can auto-target enemies or make use of her robotic nature to make near-perfect sniper shots.
Beyond switching between characters, issuing tactical commands, and leveraging the specialties of squad members against the weaknesses of opponents, some aspects praised by press at the time of the game’s release include well-made enemy AI, realistic physics (for the time), good weapon variety, and fun gun fights. Microsoft does seem to have a thing for reptilian beings in their games, which makes us sad that Scalebound ended up cancelled. Some aspects that were criticized include a lack of a character development, weak plot, and failure to accomplish some of its unique ambitions.
Hype leading up to release was big, and a lot was promised for the title. That being said, most people forget that Brute Force was actually a success among reviewers, and sadly most people forget the game existed overall. Brute Force broke records for the original Xbox system during a time when it was still a new platform coming to life but had a lot of momentum and excitement behind it within the gaming community. In the long run it managed to sell just under a million copies (830,000). This could easily be a good franchise helping to lend a unique identity to the Xbox brand once again, if given the proper attention from Microsoft Game Studios.
Last Active: 2007 / Hudson Soft & Microsoft Game Studios
Sometimes looked at as the only worthy competitor to the Mario Party series, Fuzion Frenzy first released on the original Xbox in November 2001 as a launch title. A sequel came out in 2007 for the Xbox 360 but received very bad reviews mainly criticizing a commentator shouting (this could be turned off), and the fact that the game was dragged out rather than quick and easy to get into like the original. Fuzion Frenzy 2 was also not available for digital download upon initial release which is said to have hurt its sales.
As for the first Fuzion Frenzy, this fun pack of 22 zones and 45 mini-games played through in a different order each time with corresponding points systems varying depending on the type of match being played was a surprise for many. Friends and families could gather around their brand new Xbox and play on-screen at the same time in what was essentially a tournament of very fun mini-games that were notably unique at the time of release. While some were critical of the first Fuzion Frenzy title, most press found it to be a solid entry in the Xbox launch lineup. A demo released for the game with Halo and increased player awareness which led to more sales and very happy customers.
As far as the hardcore Xbox fans, many people still play this today and are a bit sad that there’s nothing quite like it on the market. The original sold 1.2 million copies while the Xbox 360 sold just 170,000 units. Business-wise it makes sense why Microsoft lost trust in Hudson Soft but whether they issue that developer a second chance or not we certainly wish to see the franchise come back to life with the first Fuzion Frenzy used as a holy bible of what makes the Xbox party gaming brand fun.
In our next entry we will look into more unique games that helped give the Xbox brand its own flavor in a world where the PlayStation 2 was taking the world by storm alongside well defined PC and Nintendo markets. Thank you for taking this journey back into the Xbox library of dormant IP with us. There’s great hope for the next half of a decade to be a time when we can see Microsoft putting investment back into their lineup.
At this year’s Xbox E3 2018 showing it was announced that in addition to a new set of consoles, Microsoft will also be doubling down on investing in new ideas. These articles will attempt to point out that while the well has been a bit dry as of late, Xbox does have its own style of games which have spawned many unique titles we hope to see more of in the future.