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Five really cool, underappreciated games for the Xbox 360

Five really cool, underappreciated games for the Xbox 360

The Xbox One hits stores this week: Playstation fans got their new hardware last week; you can go to the Xbox One launch party Thursday night at the Park Meadows Microsoft store. And that means the trusty Xbox 360 is in its twilight -- although it ain't over quite yet. In fact, iif history is any guide, the next year will actually see some of the system's best games released before the hardware finally fades away for good. And since people are still buying the system -- 166,000 Xbox 360s were sold in October, according to NPD data -- those people are going to be looking for some games to play. The 360's blockbuster franchises are well-known -- Call of Duty, Halo, Gears of War and so on -- but a layer or two deeper, the system has a reserve of some really cool, underappreciated games. In honor of those new Xbox 360 owners, as well as the longtime fans looking to squeeze a few more months of greatness out of the old system, we've rounded up five of these games, in a variety of categories, to keep you happily entertained with your "outdated" hardware.

See also: PS4 and Xbox One are here (and I don't care)

5) Puzzle Quest

Genre: RPG/Puzzle

Part old-school RPG, part puzzle game and all addictive, Puzzle Quest is one of the best games you've (probably) never heard of. It made a small splash upon its release, but never broke through to mainstream acclaim, despite (or because of) its innovative fusion of disparate elements. In typical role-playing game style, you create a character that's good in fighting, magic or one of several other areas, then use them to complete a quest. The combat is all resolved via an addictive block-matching game, much like Bejeweled, and as you go on you get special tools that allow you to defeat ever more involved puzzles. It's easy to learn and deeply involving, despite relatively simple graphics. Plus, it's just $10 and you can buy it without leaving the couch.

4) Earth Defense Force 2017

Genre: Shooter

When aliens come to Earth and unleash giant ants, giant spiders and killer robots, only the Earth Defense Force can save the planet! If that sounds a lot like a shitty Japanese B-movie, that's because Earth Defense Force 2017 is precisely a shitty Japanese B-movie in video-game form. The animations are stiff, the graphics are somehow great and miserable at the same time, and the game boils down to the endless slaughter of plastic-looking bugs and robots as you destroy cities that look like toy train sets. That's what makes it awesome, though. It's like a playable kaiju movie! For a while, it was damn near impossible to get, but now it's available as a $15 download for your B-movie gaming needs. Word is, a proper sequel is on the way, too. (Skip Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon, an inferior sequel made by a different developer.)

3) All-Pro Football 2K8

Genre: Sports/Football

Until the end of the Xbox/Playstation 2 generation, the NFL allowed multiple gaming companies to make official NFL games. This was good, because it meant that anyone who didn't like Madden had options, especially the incredible 2K series which was more realistic and more fun than Madden. Then the NFL fucked it all up by going with its current one-license model, and it's been Madden or nothing since then. The 2K guys had a genius idea, though: Cut out the NFL and go straight to the greatest players of all time, and thus All-Pro Football 2K8 was born. Sure, you couldn't play as a real NFL team, but that was inconsequential when you had John Elway throwing bombs to Jerry Rice with Walter Payton in the backfield. Sadly, this one never made the jump to downloadable content, so you'll have to dig up a long out-of-print used copy. It's worth the hunt.

2) Viva Pinata

Genre: Family

Microsoft was banking big on Viva Pinata becoming a franchise tentpole, but somehow the candy-colored pinata farming/mating simulator never caught on. Weird, right? In truth, it's actually a fun, engrossing little game with dozens of hours of gameplay. You set up a little garden, which attracts wild pinatas. Feed them some candy and they move in. Get a pair and soon you're breeding them. It's a surprisingly deep and challenging game at points, but in a nice, laidback and breezy way that's perfect for a lazy Sunday wake and bake session, or playing with your kids. Either way. It's also downloadable for just $15.

1) Just Cause 2

Genre: Open-world action game

Yes, Just Cause 2 is hardly obscure, but it did kind of get lost among the bigger, more popular open-world games, like the Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row series. That's a shame, because this game is better than any of them. You heard that right -- this is a better game than GTA5. Don't believe it? Does GTA5 let you travel across the entirety of a southeast Asian country via a physics-defying grappling-hook/parachute combo, destabilizing the government and destroying basically everything in sight? No? Case closed.

Yes, the story mode is a little bare bones, but the fun here is in doing exactly what you want, at all times, and getting rewarded for it. Blowing up government property -- military bases, gas stations, oil rigs -- moves you forward in the game, and you can go anywhere, without restriction, from the moment the game boots up. It's easy to sink in a hundred hours before you know it, and oh-so-rewarding to do so. And as weith most of these games, you can download it for just $15. What are you waiting for?