It was a momentous moment when Microsoft announced back in 2015 that backwards compatibility was coming to Xbox One, not only because it never seemed like a possibility before then, but also because it showed that Phil Spencer and his Xbox team were committed to the idea of making classic Xbox games playable on modern consoles.
However, you might not be aware that the Xbox 360 also offers a form of backwards compatibility with original Xbox games, and the key difference is that it includes support for many titles that have never made it to the modern backwards compatibility program on Xbox One, Series X and Series S, including some much-requested ones.
So, how does it work? There's nothing to it really, all you need is an Xbox 360, a hard drive for the console and at least one supported original Xbox game. The hard drive bit is a potential stumbling block for some, and it's required as the emulation profile for each game has to be stored on that drive - you can't just use a USB stick in its place.
At first glance, it's pretty simple - you put the disc in (or load up the digital game) and it boots instantly. Unlike modern consoles, the Xbox 360 does actually use the disc to play these titles, so you can hear it whirring away when you're in the middle of a game. And as I said before, the key thing here is that you can play so many games that aren't playable on modern systems — in fact, there are 461 compatible Xbox games for Xbox 360 according to Wikipedia, whereas only 63 original Xbox games are playable on Xbox One, Series X and Series S.
Let me give you an example of what I use it for. Burnout 3 is one of my favourite racing games of all time, and it works great on Xbox 360. Tony Hawk's Underground could be described as the best Tony Hawk game to date, and again that title is supported on 360. Jet Set Radio Future, The Lord of the Rings, The Simpsons: Hit & Run — these games are all playable on Xbox 360, and all you need to do is own the disc in order to play them.
Unlike the emulation on Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S, you're not downloading a "new" version of these older games to run on your Xbox 360. The team seemingly didn't have to worry about licensing, or contacting developers and publishers, when developing backwards compatibility for the console, and that means there's a lot more freedom in terms of the library of games on offer. However, that does come with a downside.
Sure, the Xbox 360 has support for 461 original Xbox games, but the functionality can be a bit hit and miss. Just because a game is supported, it doesn't mean it's actually going to run perfectly. Take 2002 Xbox exclusive WWE Raw for example, which slows to an absolute crawl in the menus, and the same applies when multiple characters are on screen. Super Monkey Ball Deluxe is great for certain mini-games (like Monkey Target), but will just crash or glitch out in games like Monkey Soccer. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is definitely functional, but the dialogue isn't processed correctly and characters end up speaking over each other.
Modern Xbox systems might only have support for 63 original Xbox games, but those games have each received a significant amount of hand-crafted care to make them run and look much better with no issues whatsoever. In comparison, playing old games on Xbox 360 is more of a gamble, where you end up buying a game on the list with the knowledge that you may run into any number of issues, and that's just the way it has to be.
You might question why you'd want to use an Xbox 360 for backwards compatibility in 2022 when you could just buy an original Xbox and play those games properly instead, and it's a fair point. But, for people like me who don't want to add yet another (chunky) console to their setup and only occasionally dabble in the world of classic Xbox games these days, the 360 is a great way to casually enjoy some retro titles, albeit with a few bugs mixed in.
Despite the occasional glitches, I'm really thankful that the Xbox team put significant effort into implementing a backwards compatibility solution for the Xbox 360 almost 20 years ago, as while it's not as focused as the one Phil Spencer and his team cooked up in 2015, it's undoubtedly an impressive achievement, and much more flexible in terms of original Xbox support... as long as you're willing to put up with a few chinks in its armour.
If you've got an Xbox 360 hooked up (or sitting in the attic) and you want to enjoy some classic Xbox games, maybe give it a try. I'd never really thought about it until a couple of years ago, and now I'm really enjoying building quite the substantial library of original Xbox games.
Have you tried backwards compatibility on Xbox 360? Let us know down in the comments below.