$100 on Live Arcade
1. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved
This is a spinoff game! It was originally a minigame in Project Gotham Racing 2. This is a must-have; Microsoft should really include a key for it with every 360. It feels like the classic arcade version of a logarithmic plot: a) things are okay to start, b) they gradually get more hectic, and then c) suddenly you can’t believe you’re still alive, and bam! d) You’re dead. The period between c) and d) gives you a visceral rush; you feel like your instincts are working faster than your eyes.
2. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
This game is not a 10-minute pick-up-and-play sort, but rather a platform RPG that was well ahead of its time, and well worth playing now. Will keep you busy for hours.
It plays Doom. So yeah, you can get Doom on just about any device nowadays. Still though, a long single player campaign that you can do co-op locally or on live, and online multiplayer. And you’re playing a piece of history.
4. Pac-Man Championship Edition
Awesome. I’m not just saying that. It’s designed by the original Pac-Man designer, Toru Iwatani, and the changes from the orignal are few but perfect – like master strokes.
5. Alien Hominid
A beautiful hand-drawn 2-D shooter from an indie developer, this game is packed with entertainment and features (minigames in a $10 arcade download!). I don’t like the amount of repetition required to take down the level 1 boss, but other than that this game macks.
6. Assault Heroes
Modern version of a top-down shooter, in jeeps with different, upgradable gun types. Lots of fun, and good for co-op games.
7. Prince of Persia
Like Pac-Man: CE, a perfect modernization of a classic. It’s still hard as hell, but the addition of checkpoints makes it a lot more palatable. Looks beautiful, too.
8. Band of Bugs
Bite-size tactical gameplay. It’s a turn-based strategy game along the lines of Final Fantasy Tactics. Given that real-time strategy games don’t work so well on console controllers (despite what you might have heard), the only choice for strategy gaming is turn-based, and the 360 has NONE OF THEM except for games on live: this, or the card game ports (Catan and Carcassonne). Single player will last you maybe 4-5 hours, after which I can only presume it makes a good game to play against your pals.
9. Marble Madness
Looks pretty stupid at first, but has a good blend of puzzle and twitch. Fun on live in groups.
10. Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3
I sleep well at night knowing I have a classic fighting game waiting for me should I ever want to pick it up.
Honorable Mention: Double Dragon, Contra, Catan, Outpost Kaloki X. I haven’t played Wik & the Fable of Souls yet, but it sounds like that’s original and well-made. I also haven’t mentioned the amazing Hexic HD from the creator of Tetris, since it comes free with every 360.