Y’all should know at this point that Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and its sequel are my favorite games of all time. However I won’t be including them on this list. I’ve already written about my love for KOTOR and plan to do so again. I love it so much that it just transcends the category of Xbox Originals I miss the most. I think it would just overshadow the intent of this post, which is to bring to light some classic games I played on the original Xbox that have since fallen into the amorphous shadows of nostalgia. I was ten years old when I got my Xbox, and fourteen when I left it behind for a 360. The games I played in that four year period are too often forgotten, and today I’d like to celebrate them with you.
- Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc
The Great Escape was the defining game of my childhood, and became an unhealthy obsession for me when I was nine years old. The sequel, Hoodlum Havoc, never left me quite as breathless, but it was still an enjoyable experience. It was the first game I got for the console, and to celebrate its arrival I had two of my best friends come over after school to watch me play it for the first time. I remember thinking that the game felt slightly more whacky this time around. The Hoodlums felt less interesting than the Robo-Pirates. The game did, however, freak me out a little bit. There was something about the recurring patchwork aesthetic just didn’t sit right with me, and the level where Count Razoff chases you around the mansion with an elephant gun gave me actual nightmares.
Favorite Level: Clearleaf Forest. This one felt straight out of a fairy tale- I loved the bright skies, the leafy atmosphere, and the gargantuan mushrooms. I specifically remember being blown away by the graphics as you approach Clearleaf Stadium.
- Simpsons: Hit & Run
While everyone else my age was beating hookers to death with double-ended dildos, I was at home playing video games. More specifically, I was exploring Springfield in Simpsons: Hit & Run. I’ve always been a Simpsons fan and I adored this beautiful game straight away. I loved seeing all the locations rendered in a colorful, interactive open world. The idea of an open world game was completely novel to me at the time. I especially remember liking the sound the game made when you collected coins.
Favorite Level: Level 1. In this level you play as Homer as he investigates black vans and wasp cameras in the suburbs. This was my favorite area because it felt so bright and wholesome, as well as featuring several memorable locations such as the nuclear power plant.
- The Hobbit
This is a game typical of this list and why I decided to write it. I loved it, but always forget about it. I wasn’t familiar with the storyline of The Hobbit, so the game’s fidelity to the book wasn’t an issue for me. It was a linear, 3D, action-adventure platform game, which- before my discovery of The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion at the age of fourteen- was my go-to genre. I loved the gameplay, the visuals, and the cinematics, so this title will always hold a special place in my heart.
Favorite Level: A Warm Welcome. This level is set in Laketown, and I’ll always remember it for its cozy- yet spooky- atmosphere as you use your stealth skills to uncover a conspiracy in the soft glow of the boardwalk torches and the light of tavern windows. It made me wish there could be a whole game based around sneaking around a floating city.
- Azurik: Rise of Perathia
I always felt bad for never completing this game, but I eventually gave up because I didn’t know what to do or where to go. I remember feeling the game wasn’t very intuitive, and I had no investment in the plot. However, that might have had something to do with me plugging the headphones of my new CD player into my ears and listening to The Rasmus album Dead Letters as I played. This game makes the list because its world was just so damn imaginative. I will always remember this game as a feast for the eyes.
Favorite Level: The Water Realm. I remember getting lost and swimming so far that I reached the edge of the ocean, which was a giant waterfall to nowhere, like you see in those antiquated drawings of a flat Earth.
- Lord of the Rings: Third Age
This game was just hands-down awesome, and completely unlike anything I have played before or since. I loved that it took place in Middle Earth, but was its own original story, and the environments felt new and interesting, instead of being an exact replica of the sets in the movies. It felt like you were in the world of Middle Earth and exploring it for yourself. Now that I look back on it, it was a really bold direction in which to take such a beloved franchise- and the kind, that, sadly would probably never get made in today’s focus-group-tested, unadventurous, profit-driven, mass-market-appeal, live service apocalypse.
Favorite Level: Eregion. This is the one I remember most, making my way towards Moria through a forest that gives way to mountains.
- Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy
This is one of my favorite games of all time. It’s definitely in my top 5. I loved everything about this game because it was letting me live out my own self-insert Star Wars fantasy. The combat was incredible, and I really like how the game was broken up into little missions, each one of them unique and beautifully rendered. I really felt like this game was all about being a Jedi- starting off as a naïve padawan, progressing through training, going on missions, and working to become a Knight. The Jedi Temple was kind of like Hogwarts. You had your wise teachers and jealous classmates. It was a blast.
Favorite Level: Dosuun. In this level you’re sent to a grassy planet to investigate reports of cult activity, only to get imprisoned by an Imperial commander who wants to use you as his play-thing. You escape from your cell and play the whole level without your lightsaber, using only blasters.
- Jade Empire
My brother got this game while I was playing KOTOR. It’s less renowned than its cousin, but swap the Star Wars aesthetic for Chinese mythology and it’s basically the same game. These two games exemplified the golden age of Bioware. The writing in Jade Empire is Bioware at their absolute, unparalleled best, the soundtrack is superb, and the world is rich with unbridled imagination.
Favorite Level: Heaven. I was enchanted by the bipedal elephants that lived in the clouds.
- Otogi 2: Immortal Warriors
Last, but certainly not least, is Otogi 2. This is the game that inspired this list in the first place. A title that absolutely sent my imagination into a frenzy back in the day, that critics generally agree is a good game, but which is mostly forgotten by history. Despite its critical success, Otogi 2 just didn’t sell very well. I played both 1 & 2 but I’m putting Immortal Warriors here because I remember it better. The combat in this game was immensely satisfying- a hack-and-slash with a fully destructible environment made by the same developer that later went on to make Dark Souls. I loved how dark this game was compared to everything else I had played at this point, and this was reflected in the chilling, melancholy, Japanese soundtrack. I also liked how before each mission there would be a little introduction paragraph to get you scared about the demons that awaited you.
Favorite Level: Lotus Pond. This one I remember most vividly. A grassy lair where you have to assassinate Chitou– leader of the demon spiders.
Thanks for reading! What games make your nostalgia list? Let me know in the comments!