In May 2017, I went to my local retro video game store and decided to purchase an original Xbox. I had one during its initial run but traded in the console for an Xbox 360. Despite having an Xbox One X and a 4K TV, the desire to revisit some of my favorite Xbox games grew stronger. I’ll never forget rollerblading and tagging walls in Jet Set Radio Future, exploring the Star Wars universe in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and shooting down enemy planes with friends in Crimson Skies: High Road To Revenge. There were so many fun games on the console; Armed & Dangerous, Conker: Live and Reloaded, Genma Onimusha, and Shenmue 2. Buying the original Xbox again was a no-brainer, but the added cost of revisiting the past took its toll. Having to purchase additional wires to plug in the console to a 4K TV became tedious, and the constant need to rearrange my setup after running out of HDMI ports was a hassle. I ended up putting the console in my closet but then suddenly, Microsoft revealed that original Xbox games would be available through backwards compatibility. At that moment, Microsoft permanently changed the console market as we know it.
Backwards compatibility is something I never used in the past. Revisiting games from previous generations didn’t make sense to me because I purchased a new console to play current video games. After months of rejecting the notion of backwards compatibility, my friends pressured me to jump back into Dark Souls. From the moment I booted up From Software’s masterpiece, I was hooked. I couldn’t stop playing games from the past. Things only got “worse” when Catherine, Lost Odyssey and Dead Space, three of my favorite games from the last generation became playable on Xbox One. I love having my whole collection of Xbox games on one console. While Microsoft falls behind in certain aspects, the company leads the way in preserving the past. Simply put, Xbox One is the console which acts as a gateway to other generations. What consoles currently offer what Xbox is giving players? Switch owners (like myself) have been wishing for virtual console, and Sony fans have PlayStation Now (a streaming service that I’ve tried) but not true backwards compatibility. Despite some of Microsoft’s shortcomings (including the lack of first-party exclusives), backwards compatibility is a home run.
Microsoft has been killing it with the games they’ve brought to the program. Looking at the current list of available games; there are some personal favorites and some that I’ve never played before. For nostalgic reasons, I purchased Conker: Live and Reloaded, Hunter: The Reckoning, Crimson Skies: High Road To Revenge, Jade Empire, and Blinx: The Time Sweeper. Additionally, I purchased games I never had the chance to experience when they launched. These games include Bloodrayne 2, Breakdown, Black, and Panzer Dragoon Orta. Not only did backwards compatibility open a time capsule to a great generation, but the backwards compatibility team also tweaked the games to have some surprising 4K flair.
Take a gander at the Conker: Live and Reloaded screenshot above. The game launched in 2005. If you didn’t know Conker: Live and Reloaded was 13 years old, it would be understandable to confuse it for a modern game. Crackdown and Mirror’s Edge also have Xbox One X enhancements that further improve on their already impressive art styles. Microsoft could have simply ported these games over, but instead, the team went one step further and touched up these games so well. Microsoft is essentially remastering original Xbox games with the power of the Xbox One X. It’s a shock going into the “my games and apps” tab on my console, only to see Xbox One X Enhanced next to these classics.
This console generation will, unfortunately, be forgotten because of one major feature a lot of modern games have; online-only requirements. One of my favorite games this generation is the excellent Overwatch. I don’t doubt that there will be a sequel down the road. But with all sequels, it’s always great to go back and play an earlier installment now and then. I do this constantly with the Halo franchise. What happens when the Overwatch servers inevitably shut down at some point in time? Overwatch will be unplayable. A game that will most likely be a part of gaming history can never be revisited. It sucks, and I’m concerned about the future of my favorite hobby.
What Microsoft is doing with backwards compatibility (between Xbox and Xbox 360) is preserving video game history. Without past generations, most video games would never exist. New games learn from the old, and attempt to improve on existing formulas. For example, if Killswitch didn’t exist, Gears of War would not have revitalized the cover system found in third-person shooters.
Backwards compatibility serves a bigger purpose now. I used to think Microsoft only wanted to put Xbox and Xbox 360 games on the Xbox One as a way for owners to play more video games. It seemed like an excellent solution to make up for the lack of exclusives currently on the platform. While I don’t deny that this could be the case, Microsoft has doubled down on backwards compatibility and had done something almost unheard of. The company is releasing classic games and making them look like a game from 2018. Retro games often look dated, but because of Microsoft’s commitment, backwards compatible games are looking better than ever. The result of their work on the program shows because “nearly 1 billion hours on games in our Xbox One Backward Compatibility library.” Microsoft’s ace in the hole is backwards compatibility, and they are significantly ahead of Sony and Nintendo in that department. While I think Microsoft can learn a lot from Nintendo and Sony when it comes to releasing first-party games, there is a lot those companies can learn from Microsoft. Backwards compatibility is here to stay, and I wonder how long it will be until we see a lot of the Xbox and Xbox 360 library make their way to the Xbox One. If Microsoft can somehow add most games that have been on the company’s consoles to Xbox One, it will definitely be a something revolutionary.