PC gamers have been used to downloading entire games via the Internet for quite some time now (and by that we mean legal downloads, not the leaks of games that pirates and hackers seem to crave out there) but offering downloadable games for consoles is still a new trend. While Nintendo and Sony have offered a number of games for download when they launched the PS3 and Wii consoles it's still a mixed bag. The Wii's Virtual Console service wins for sheer number of new games per week, but all of them are simply ports of previously released NES, SNES, N64, Sega Genesis and TurboGrafx16 titles with nothing added; no new features, no online multiplayer, and no graphical enhancements. No original titles are offered for the Virtual Console either (although we keep hearing that will change eventually).
Sony's PS3 downloadable offerings are better; they offer some PS1 games for download and some classic game ports of titles like Qbert and Joust. There are a few original titles available from the Playstation Store such as Blast Factor, Calling All Cars and flOw, the latter of which got a lot of mainstream media coverage from places like the Wall Street Journal but is mostly just an interactive screen saver. While some of the games do offer online multiplayer, only a few of the games offer PS3 owners free downloadable demos and those demos are separate downloads; if you want to pay for the full game you have to get it via another download.
There is no question that Xbox 360 owners have the best small game download service around with Xbox Live Arcade. The service was originally launched with the original Xbox a year before the Xbox 360 started to ship to stores but the service really came into its own with Microsoft's next console as the company offered up ports of classic games, more recent games that were also released for the PC and other platforms and totally original titles. Indeed one original game, Bizarre Creations's 2D arcade shooter Geometry Wars Evolved quickly became the poster boy for the entire Xbox Live Arcade service. Ports of classic got graphical enhancements and sometimes some additional modes and features like online multiplayer. Some original titles used the power of the Xbox 360 hardware to make their games look terrific compared to other downloadable offerings. All Xbox Live Arcade games contain Achievement Points for people to add to their Xbox 360 Gamertag.
Best of all, every Xbox Live Arcade game have free demo versions that were basically the full game with most of the features locked out. If you like a game and want to buy the full version there's no need to download another game; the purchase simply unlocks the demo game you already have on your hard drive or Xbox 360 memory unit. While we wish Microsoft would either simplify their Microsoft Points service so people could understand the value of their downloadable games (400 points = $5 and doesn't make much sense to us; why not 500 points = $5?) or do like Sony does and offer a electronic wallet with real money values, the truth is Xbox Live Arcade blows away what the PS3 and Wii offers for downloadable games. Microsoft is also offering game developers, both professional and amateur, a way to create their own Xbox Live Arcade games with the XNA Game Studio Express development tools.
If you have just bought a Xbox 360 console or have one but haven't yet gotten the courage to download a few Xbox Live Arcade games, don't fret. I've decided to give you my personal picks for the top 10 current games available for the service. This list should be considered a starting point; your list may vary depending on whether you like original games more than classic ports or vice versa. Of course, you can always download free demos of all of the games to try them out for yourself. One game we will not mention in our list is the recently released 2D side scrolling space shooter Aegis Wing. It's actually a great game, created by a number of Microsoft interns, but it's free to download so you should just go ahead and grab the game right now.
With the intros out of the way let's look at my picks for the top 10 current games on Xbox Live Arcade: