We always look forward to Microsoft’s Summer of Arcade program. This four-to-five week block of Xbox Live Arcade kicked off in 2008, and since that time, consistently produced superb titles we play well into the fall and winter. This year is no exception, as 2013's quartet begins this Wednesday with the beautiful platformer Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, followed by Charlie Murder, the HD remake of Flashback and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows in subsequent weeks.
On that note, what better way to celebrate than to look back at games from previous years? Without further ado, here are a dozen of our favorite releases from the program.
Castle Crashers (2008)
The Summer of Arcade started off on the right foot with this trailblazing action game, a loving tribute to the arcade beat-em-ups of old from The Behemoth. With terrific hand-drawn graphics, multiplayer shenanigans online and off, no shortage of jokes – how about that farting deer – and an "All You Can Quaff" mode, we still play Castle Crashers today.
Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes (2009)
"Gonna take you for a ride!" One of Capcom's most iconic crossover brawlers got the high-definition treatment during 2009's Summer of Arcade, and fans ate it up, brawling offline and through Xbox Live with over 55 playable characters. It's not every day you see Mega Man and Wolverine working together.
Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 (2008)
It's funny how some games stick with you. Retro Evolved 2 came out five years ago, introducing six playable modes and online leaderboards. Today, we're fighting for supremacy to see who deserves the top spot in King mode. It's that high level of addiction that makes Retro Evolved 2 one of the best Xbox Live Arcade games to date.
Before heading over to PlayStation 4 with his Witness project, Jonathan Blow made a name for himself with his magical puzzle/platforming game. You're just a poor guy trying to rescue a princess that he put in peril, rewinding time to make things right. With an unforgettable soundtrack and challenging gameplay, Braid soars above the pack.
Dust: An Elysian Tail (2012)
Here's a fun fact about this inspired side-scrolling action game – it was mostly the work of one man. Independent game designer Dean Dodrill spent years working on this game before Microsoft finally gave it the green light for publishing. The wait was worth it, as its resourceful combat and striking hand-drawn visuals make this a must-own.
Limbo isn't an easy game to stomach, as your character, a young boy looking for his sister, will die often while trying to solve puzzles. That said, it's still a game that stands out three years after its release, thanks to moody black-and-white graphics and gameplay that challenges you at every turn. How about the big spider? We still get shivers from that thing.
Supergiant Games is set to achieve success with its next project, the adventure game Transistor. However, you shouldn't forget about the title that put it on the map in the first place – Bastion. With an attractive isometric world to explore and a perfect narrative that follows every step you take, it's a one-of-a-kind experience.
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light (2010)
Before Lara Croft grabbed even more headlines with the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot, she teamed with a mythical warrior to battle evil in the action/shooter Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. This game is good fun for two players, and introduces play tactics that make fine use of Croft's adventurous spirit. Check it out once you're done playing the new game.
Hydro Thunder Hurricane (2010)
Vector Unit tamed the wild waters with this exceptional sequel to Midway's arcade hit, giving you control of several high-powered boats as you brave peril-filled tracks across the globe. Featuring online play and no shortage of challenges – check out those Gauntlet stages – we strongly suggest weathering the storm.
Shadow Complex (2009)
Chair Entertainment is known for its popular Infinity Blade games for mobile devices, but before that, it changed the way we played action games with Shadow Complex. Featuring impressive 2D/3D style gameplay and shooting scenarios galore, it gave Xbox Live subscribers something to cheer for. Sequel, please.
'Splosion Man (2009)
We learned a few things about the demented yet talented minds at Twisted Pixel with 'Splosion Man. Number one, a side-scrolling platformer can still work in this day and age. Number two, turning scientists into steaks was a lot more fun than expected. Number three, everybody loves donuts. Just play this 'splosive game.
Trials HD (2009)
Even though RedLynx took this series to new heights with the release of Trials Evolution in 2012, we can't forget the original that started it all. Trials HD mixed platforming and racing, with you trying your best to pinpoint landings to avoid crashing by the wayside, while also trying to get the best online leaderboard time possible. It's hard as nails, but well worth the effort.