Preserving the past is an important endeavour in the world of gaming because many classic video games, much like seminal books and films, have the ability to withstand the test of time. No one really thinks of classic or retro gaming when it comes to the Xbox brand, because compared to its competition it is still the new kid on the block, having made its debut in 2001. Not that 20 odd years isn’t a long time, it’s just the Xbox can’t claim the same rich history like Nintendo for example.
With lines of exclusivity being blurred and retro games being more popular among nostalgic diehards than ever before, Xbox has seen its fair share of retro remasters and compilations over the years. 2019 was a strong one for Xbox One with some brilliantly curated retro compilations each coming with a range of bonus content and welcome quality of life improvements. Here are our five picks for the best remastered compilations for Xbox One.
5. Castlevania Anniversary Collection
People often forget how, for the longest time, the Xbox 360 was home to a rather exclusive Castlevania: Symphony of the Night release on Xbox Live Arcade. Before it was a brilliant edition of Castlevania: Curse of Darkness which noticeably looked and performed better on Xbox than it did on PS2. Of course, most Xbox gamers would be well acquainted with the Lords of Shadow spin-off. Castlevania Anniversary Collection may not have featured the more popular “Metroidvania” entries, but it was still a comprehensive compilation of all the seminal (i.e. pre-Symphony of the Night) Castlevania games which most gamers need to be better acquainted with.
The compilation features the classic NES games, and most would be surprised at how well the original 1988 debut title holds up in this day and age, both in its gameplay and level design. The sublime Super Castlevania IV is also featured here; an excellent masterclass of 16-bit action platforming that many still fail to replicate. Also notable is the inclusion of the SEGA Mega Drive exclusive, Castlevania: Bloodlines, which marked the very first time the title was ported to any other platform.
A few Game Boy oddities are thrown in for good measure, but overall this is a brilliant introduction to the origins of Castlevania long before the Metroidvania design took over. In fact, some may prefer the testing 2D action platforming of the original series more than the open world sensibilities of the later. The lack of Symphony of the Night or any of the subsequent games isn’t an issue at all, but the omission of Rondo of Blood is definitely a glaring one.
4. Disney Classic Games: Aladdin and The Lion King
Aladdin and The Lion King – two of the most iconic Disney films and video games which defined the childhood of many.
Disney have slowly been publishing their classic catalogue over the years, most notably the DuckTales remaster, but this is the compilation many have been dreaming of and it delivers in spades. Most will remember how big a deal both these games were during the day, and in the first instance it is a relief that it wasn’t a case of rose-tinted childhood nostalgia as both Aladdin and The Lion King still stand strong as solid 16-bit platformers.
Before you even get a chance to get into the Disney Classic Games: Aladdin and The Lion King on Xbox One you will likely spend hours simply digesting all the museum materials which include design documents, concept art, music and a large selection of in-depth interviews on the creation process behind these games. The insights from these interviews are fascinating as this was a time when licensed properties were given attention to detail, and in the case of The Lion King the game was being developed alongside the production of the film itself. These extras alone are worth the price of admission, and especially cool if Aladdin and The Lion King were an important part of your childhood.
As for the games, they have been ported beautifully, complete with welcome features such as save states and being able to watch the game play itself until you’re ready to jump in. All of us are going to be skipping the second level of The Lion King for sure!
3. The Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition Pack
The role-playing genre as a whole will forever be in debt to Dungeons & Dragons, and by extension RPGs as a video game genre owe a great deal to this premier fantasy epic.
2019 saw a series of remastered collections of classic Dungeons & Dragons RPGs, and you can’t go wrong with any of them. But none command the same awe and respect as Baldur’s Gate. The enhanced edition pack contains both games with all expansions intact, and then some. As far as value propositions in gaming go, The Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition Pack offers an ocean-sized adventure and all comfortably optimised for Xbox One and its controller.
Baldur’s Gate was ahead of its time – in fact some of its ideas and gameplay mechanics still remain ahead of modern role-playing epics. It is truly a gigantic quest in the literal sense, which explains why it took so long for the game to finally appear on console in 2019.
As an RPG fan you really can’t go wrong here, especially when the addictive pacing melts away hours without notice. With Baldur’s Gate 3 currently in development (good chance it will be on Series X) this is a great time to jump into what is arguably the greatest Dungeons & Dragons video game.
2. SNK 40th Anniversary Collection
Originally a Nintendo Switch exclusive before heading to PlayStation 4, Xbox One would eventually get this better-late-than-never port in 2019, and boy are we glad. If you’re a 30-40 something year old gamer with vague memories of playing a video game about tanks, soldiers, spaceships and whatever else, then chances are you were playing one of the arcade classics featured in SNK 40th Anniversary Collection.
This is as comprehensive a compilation you could ask for when it comes to classic SNK. While the developer is now mostly known for its excellent fighting games during the ‘90s and beyond, SNK 40th Anniversary Collection showcases a magical era when the developer was leading the charge in arcade gaming. Most of these games are set during war with soldiers, tanks, jets and the like, but there are few imaginative efforts which would be a sign of greater things to come, most notably Psycho Soldier and its iconic theme songs.
On Xbox One this collection comes with all of the titles, including ones released subsequently as free DLC on prior platforms. The museum mode has comprehensive timelines and other material to digest, coming all together in a package which serves as one of the standards of retro compilations and remasters.
1. Contra Anniversary Collection
There was once a time when Contra as a series commanded the same AAA action game respect which games like Gears of War and Call of Duty do now, and Contra Anniversary Collection perfectly encapsulates the absolute prime of Konami’s legendary franchise. Long before Metal Gear became the focal point of Konami’s big budget efforts, it was Contra that would put the company on the global gaming map.
Contra Anniversary Collection leaves very little to be desired because it has the absolute essential games of the series, and multiple variations too. Aside from the original arcade versions it also includes the various console editions, many of which play better than what was originally envisioned for the arcade. What’s especially cool is that PAL gamers get to experience their version of the Contra franchise, the robot-centric Probotector, but this time running at a much higher framerate than what old PAL televisions were capable of.
Granted, these games are brutal in their difficulty but the inclusion of Japanese variants of each of the main titles allows for a balanced and logically-paced difficulty curve.
Konami may not be the apple of anyone’s eye at the moment, but their recent string of anniversary collections, especially Contra Anniversary Collection, is a great reminder and celebration of some of the greatest action video games ever conceived.
So there we have it – the last year or so has been a great one in terms of retro remasters and compilations for Xbox One. But what have been your favourites? You can let us know by dropping into the comments.