fourhman.com weblog feature: Farewell to the PS2 / 23 entries
|Farewell to the PS2|
I'm a PlayStation fan. The little gray PS1 re-awakened my love for video games after I burned out in the Sega Genesis days. I was there on Day One to buy my PS2 and I'll likely be there for my PS3. This ongoing feature is a look at my entire PS2 game library, discussed in the order I purchased each game. I'll go through a couple games every so often and by the time I have finished, the PS3 might actually be a reality.
From Raccoon City to the Thievius Raccoonus.
From Stiver Island to San Andreas.
From the Big Shell to the King of All Cosmos.
This is a look at the franchises that inspired me and the cash-ins that disappointed me, as I Dual Shocked and light gunned and EyeToyed my way through over five years of great gaming.
entry index for Farewell to the PS2
StarSplitter's Run 2|
Monday / 01.02.06 / 02:52PM / Joe
released October 2000, purchased October 2000
Launch days are always filled with crappy sports rehashes and proof-of-concept titles like Fantavision. The early games are all about the graphics push. Smuggler's Run was hyped as being both beautiful and expansive, and even though I generally avoid car games, it sounded good enough to me.
And in the year 2000, it was a revelation. First, it looked great. You could see all sorts of little details on the cars... the engine rumbling under a mangled hood, the smoke pouring from a burnout. And second, you could go anywhere. You didn't have to stay on one boring circular track! The blinders were finally off; I could have fun zipping around a world in whatever stupid, mud-spraying, car-tipping way I liked. If you could summarize the PS2 generation in one word, that word would be exploration.
When I wanted to show off my brand new PS2, this was game I popped in because it was easy to control and conceptually accessible. After a few months, the novelty wore off - it is, after all, merely a car game - but it was an important groundwork-laying game. Open world, multiplayer mode, varied level goals. Smuggler's Run was developed by a smalltime outfit known as Rockstar Games... I wonder if they ever went on to anything else?
Memory Score: not a bad start
released October 2000, purchased October 2000
click here for my review written in November 2000!
By the end of 2000, I was still playing a ton of Unreal Tournament and the like on my PC and I hadn't really played many FPSs on a console. But I was really excited about this one, since it had great reviews and the art style seemed slightly goofy. TimeSplitters's hook revolved around time travel... you could be in an ancient tomb in one level and in the Roaring '20s in the next. That struck me as more interesting than the post-apocalyptic sci-fi junk that was all over FPSs of the day.
And for a while, TimeSplitters was THE console FPS. I remember doing a lot of team multiplayer co-op, particularly the bank vault level. TimeSplitters also had a level editor, which was one of those features that sounds better than it actually is. They did a couple of sequels, but by that time I had already fallen off the FPS bandwagon.
Memory Score: good stuff, but still showed a PS2 pretending to be a PC
released October 2000, purchased November 2000
click here for my review written in January 2001!
You know, these days the Dynasty Warriors franchise is something of a joke, because they keep crapping out barely-upgraded new versions every year like a sports game. But back then, DW2 had a lot of good press... all based on the absurd number of enemies that the game could get onscreen at the same time.
And they weren't kidding. You could run around slicing up Three Kingdoms grunts by the hundreds. Back then, that was pretty impressive.
Plus, DW2 had a kickass ending theme. I beat the game multiple times just to hear the rockin' j-pop credit music.
Memory Score: probably not substantially different from Dynasty Warriors 5
released February 2001, purchased February 2001
OK, I was desperate for a Star Wars game. Everybody was. Unfortunately, what we were all desperate for was a classic trilogy game... and instead we got this as our first next-gen Star Wars experience. Ships we never saw before (I'm sorry, but Naboo ships are stupid looking) and a cast of Expanded Universe losers. This game was purely a holdover until Rogue Squadron came out for the GameCube.
In fact, having that game has obliterated all memory of Starfighter. All I remember is an overdose of Phantom Menace-era imagery, Assara Til, and some lousy audio dubbing throughout.
Memory Score: didn't take long to pass by this one, did it?
At this point, I should mention two games of this era that I sold back for store credit. I rarely, rarely do this. Offhand, I can think of maybe three times I sold games back... I tossed a bunch of old PS1 games back when the PS2 launched, I returned the PC version of Quake 3 because I absolutely hated it, and I sold back Silent Scope and Oni. Silent Scope was a PS2 launch title that I impulse shopped on that fateful Day One. It was terrible, an arcade port that suffered greatly from the lack of a giant coolass sniper gun peripheral. I had high hopes for the other one, Oni (reviewed here!) but it was a mess of a different type and not really worth anybody's time. I certainly wasn't ever going to play it again, so back it went. I don't recall what I bought with my credit.
Next week: a killer demo, another gimmicky FPS, an arcade port, and one of the best multiplayer games of all time!
Red Zone of the Crazy Cookie Faction|
Sunday / 01.08.06 / 10:59PM / Joe
released March 2001, purchased March 2001
click here for my review written in April 2001!
You remember this game for exactly one reason: it came with a demo of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. As I'm sure was the case with most people, I played that demo more than I played Z.O.E.
Not that it was a terrible game - I recall lots of explosions - just a stupidly short one. I was also bitterly let down by the cliffhanger ending, which was either intended to spark a sequel or to get me to buy whatever anime/manga that the Z.O.E. franchise came from/vanished into. Not something I'd play today, just because the flashy graphics have been surpassed and there wasn't enough level or enemy variety.
I bought this for the MGS2 demo. So did you. And that's a game I actually would play today.
Memory Score: really, there was a game included with that demo?
released May 2001, purchased May 2001
|Adventures of Cookie and Cream|
click here for my review written in June 2001!
Here's one you didn't buy. To your everlasting shame.
This game shook the foundations here at fourhman.home. A game like this hitting so early in the PS2 lifecycle gave me high hopes for the future: two-player simultaneous cooperative play that was more than just Final Fight-esque street thug bashing. Five years later, they still don't make enough games like this.
The gimmick was that each player travelled vertically on half of the playing field, flipping switches and pressing buttons that would help the other player continue. Screw around or work against each other and it was game over. The two-player co-op led to some inventive boss fights, and the crazy level design required some serious platforming chops by the game's final stages. It also had great music and some really nice, sharp cutscenes. The only downside was some less-than-accurate controls.
This was such a happy, unique little game, and it remains criminally overlooked. With so many splitscreen deathmatches on the racks, Cookie and Cream was a blast of fresh air.
Memory Score: yes, it was about rabbits
released May 2001, purchased May 2001
I was moderately excited to pick up Crazy Taxi mainly because it was the first Sega game on my PS2. This seems all so quaint now, but for a while there it was 500% weird to see the Sega logo showing up on non-Sega hardware. Crazy Taxi was also the last arcade game I can remember lusting after, and it was a big Dreamcast game... so it was sorta cathartic to finally own it.
And it was still super fun. It was fast and silly and had more advertising than the Today Show. You could play it over and over again, each time pushing it just a little further into that gigantic, circuitous gamemap. That Crazy Box mode sucked ass though.
Crazy Taxi was in arcades since 1999 (and it's probably still in many of them) and enjoyed a brief moment in the spotlight as a Major Games Franchise. There were toys and sequels and releases on every gaming system known to man. And then the clones arrived... but even worse than that, games like GTA started including Crazy Taxi-esque modes as optional sidebar mini-games. The sun has set on Crazy Taxi.
Memory Score: at one time, we thought this was enough for one entire game
released May 2001, purchased May 2001
There's this one part in this oddball FPS where there's a prison breakout and you see revolutionaries running around yelling "Rrrrreeeeed Faction!" It's just stupid enough that I occasionally still quote it today.
It's hard to believe that the world had seen enough FPSs by mid-2001 that Red Faction had to hype itself as "the one with destructible environments." I mean, here we are still drowning in them today, and we don't often hear many good reasons to separate them from one another. That "geo-mod technology" was the main reason I bought Red Faction. It worked sometimes. If you were in a cave, you could blast chunks out of the walls. That's about it.
The theme? Underclass uprising! The motif? Lots of caves, then lots of space stations! The setting? Sci-fi! Red Faction didn't do much differently than other FPSs, but at the time, it was enough. I think it ended with the Death Star exploding.
Memory Score: it majored in Half-Life with a minor in Wood Carving
Next week: a forgotten PS1 hero, another Dreamcast port, the only sport I'll ever buy, and that game that everybody still refers to as a major work of art!
Ico 2002: Code Klonoa X|
Monday / 01.16.06 / 11:30PM / Joe
released July 2001, purchased July 2001
My first PS2 happy mascot platformer (if you don't count Cookie and Cream.) I was a big fan of the first Klonoa game on the PS1... and both of these titles still pop up on Overlooked Gems lists whenever a magazine editor has a page to fill. So it's become a bit of a cliche to even mention the Klonoa series, although it's nowhere near the lip service that follows another game on today's entry.
The thing about the Klonoa games - and I'm just talking the core 2.5D titles, not the GBA games or that Klonoa Volleyball stuff - is that they are really, really good. The worlds are bright and impressive, the bosses measure up to anything found in Mario64 or Sonic Adventure, the timed puzzles require thought and skill.
So why don't you see much of Klonoa? Despite his own dedication to quality, he's just another unlicensed platformer buried in an avalanche of platformers, licensed and unlicensed. It's a good thing they got this game out the door so fast in the PS2 lifecycle, because within another year he would have been personally choked to death by SpongeBob, Crash Bandicoot, and Ty the Tasmanian Tiger.
Memory Score: it goes without saying that he's much more popular in Japan
released August 2001, purchased August 2001
|Resident Evil Code: Veronica X|
I had a serious case of Dreamcast Envy for this one. In fact, I think I only managed to avoid buying a Dreamcast by convincing myself that Code: Veronica was a sidestory and not a true chapter in the Resident Evil saga. And I guess it was, technically... but what's the difference?
So I was all hyped up when they released a PS2 port. They added an X to the title to show you how serious they were about the project.
But here's the truth: I couldn't finish it. I couldn't get past the boss fight against the tyrant dude on the airplane. You're supposed to get him to fall out of the back of the hatch by gradually shoving him towards the end of the plane, but I just couldn't do it... even after trying about a million times.
Code: Veronica was the beginning of the end of the franchise as we knew it. What happened to Resident Evil between 2001 and 2004 was criminal. Although, as we'll see once we hit 2003, I can be more generous than most...
Memory Score: this was the game where I discovered gamefaqs.com
released September 2001, purchased September 2001
Here ya go, folks. The only sport you're going to see on this entire list.
I like video game hockey because it's fast and it's accessible. I don't need to know plays; there's nothing to stop the action. Anything overly simmy - like changing lines - can be automated. The only "sports" component I need to remember are the various penalties... which, as my college friends can tell you, took some time.
This being my first next-gen hockey experience, I even put an honest effort towards playing a full season. (On my PS1 hockey games, I only ever did multiplayer exhibition matches.) I think I got about nine games in and then had the game simulate the rest of the season.
Memory Score: only bought for when friends are over
released September 2001, purchased September 2001
I don't quite remember how it happened, but this became Rhonda's game. I only touched the controller for a little bit at the beginning and a little bit at the end. For once, I was the spectator.
Ico is definitely oversold today. It's a great game, yes. It looked great, it played great. It turned a video game into an emotional experience simply by removing all the traditional video game junk... the meters and clocks and hearts and spoonfed Saturday Morning plots. But did we really need 4+ years afterward of reviewers going on and on about how this game is High Art?
Ico was our bid for legitimacy. Ico was the game that was going to take video games out of the basement and into the museum.
So when nobody bought the damn game, it was like a paradoxical punch in the stomach. The reviewers had to make their calls louder, which only further fragmented the audience (ICO RULEZ! ICO SUX!) and didn't help sales in the slightest. And today, Roger Ebert still says games are not art. Hell, Kojima says games are not art. The needle has barely budged.
Regardless, we really enjoyed Ico. Rhonda had no trouble alternating between fending off the shadow demons and leading Yorda through complicated puzzle rooms. That hand-holding thing just makes the game.
And I love the Save Couch.
Memory Score: I keep saying someday I'LL play this one
Next week: the PS2 celebrates its first year with three games that CHANGED MY LIFE. Plus, Mr. Mosquito.
Mr. Metal Frame Auto 3: Fatal Mosquitos of Liberty|
Wednesday / 01.25.06 / 12:45AM / Joe
released October 2001, purchased October 2001
click here for my review written in February 2002!
The PS1 GTA series was pretty hit or miss in the minds of critics before October 2001. I considered myself a fan... enough to have actually bought the London 1969 expansion disk. So I was already interested by the time those first few screenshots and details started hitting the press. We simply had no idea how huge this game was going to be.
When I played the MGS2 demo back in ZOE, that was the first time I thought "This is what a next-gen game looks like." When I played GTA3 for the first time, I thought "This is what a next-gen game plays like."
It really was astonishing. The size of the world, the open-ended mission structure, the sidequests and Hidden Packages, the voice cast, the mix of crazy driving and hand-to-hand action, the radio stations. The sense of being in a living world.
Sure, some will see nothing more than a reprehensible crime simulator, with cop-killing and hookers and drugs and gangsters. But with a moral decay standard that ranges from MTV to HBO, it just doesn't strike me as the kind of thing to worry about. Society at large is fine with Grand Theft Auto.
GTA has earned every bit of praise, and very little of those accolades are overly concerned with content. This is a damn fine game, and it reinvented a franchise that only got better.
Memory Score: I know more about Liberty City than I do about my own hometown
released November 2001, purchased November 2001
|Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty|
The one big drag to every GTA game is that it means I don't play much of anything else for a couple months. Although I was there for launch day for the much-anticipated MGS2, I didn't get into playing it until January.
It was the ZOE demo that sold me, because I never had a very high opinion of the PS1 Metal Gear Solid. But that demo sold me hard. It looked amazing, it was a hoot to play, and it revealed the edge of a storyline that you just had to experience.
And right from the beginning, you knew it was going to be a ride... with that uberlong movie showing Snake ruining his inviso-suit bungeeing off the bridge, spying on soldiers and Russians and who knows what else, and getting the annual cigarette lecture from Otacon. Right there, the game was telling you what was about to happen: you're getting kickass action, long movie interludes, and a bunch of heavy plot points that may or may not make any sense. If you were still surprised/annoyed by the Raiden switch, the Crazy Colonel sequence, Fission Mailed, the mind-warping finale, and all the other weirdo junk Kojima threw in there... well, you just weren't paying attention when the game started.
This is one of the few storyline-driven games that I've played through multiple times. It's that good.
Memory Score: are you people still going on about Raiden? get over it
released February 2002, purchased February 2002
click here for my review written in March 2002!
I initially heard about Fatal Frame through some brief previews in OPM (which is my main defense of print gaming mags: you're more likely to see info on games you wouldn't normally consider yourself interested in, especially little games like Fatal Frame, simply because you're physically turning pages and you're forced to see everything they cover. Online gaming sites are great, but it's too easy to limit your reading habits to what you already know you're going to like, rather than taking a chance and clicking on info that you've already pre-judged and rejected.) The description mentioned that it was to be a survival horror game with a camera as your only weapon.
A camera? That's exactly the kind of oddball mission statements I look for in my gaming.
I had been burned by Code: Veronica and largely turned off on Silent Hill by this point. So I was looking for a new horror franchise... and the camera hook was all the impetus I needed.
Despite some cosmically bad box art, Fatal Frame became a continual talking point in my PS2 life. I've been back and forth over Resident Evil and Silent Hill (and others) since, and I still haven't found anything that comes close to the Fatal Frame series for genuine terror. It's the camera that does it: you're accustomed to the third-person viewpoint for exploration, but when the game forces you to stare into the eyes of a killer spirit, in first-person, so you can take its picture... well, it's brown trousers time.
And the story? Haunting. It's Alfred Hitchcock telling a love story from beyond the grave, set amid the gory rural legends of traditionalist Japan. And the way it unfolds, in little awful bits and pieces... spectral flashbacks here, lost audiotapes to play there, so much more interactive and engaging that all those diary entries found in RE.
Memory Score: Kirie, poor girl... why did she have to become so attached to this world?
released March 2002, purchased March 2002
Another off-center choice. Mr. Mosquito was part of the Fresh Games label, which was supposed to kickoff a line of alternative, budget-priced niche games. To my recollection, Fresh Games lasted through exactly two releases: Mr. Mosquito and Mad Maestro (a music conductor rhythm game). You see, games like this come out in Japan all the time. Usually, nobody even considers a US/UK release because they're "too Japanese." But the surge of anime hits in the US around this time (Pokemon, Digimon, Dragon Ball Z, etc) opened the doors just a crack to allow some of this stuff to sneak through and hit that thirst for Domo-Kun style weirdness from the Land of the Rising Sun.
And, yes, Mr. Mosquito is quite definitely Japanese. You can't miss it: the whole game takes place inside one very typical Japanese family's house. As the titular mosquito, you have to fly around the dwelling sucking blood from the family members. It's more or less to scale - although the mosquito is highly cartoonized - so each level (focusing on one room and usually one person to attack) has plenty of space to fly around. Generally you have to do something to distract the person, say, by turning on the television, and then position yourself to dive in on the blinking blood points on any exposed skin. Once in injection mode, you twirl the sticks like mad, trying to get as much blood as possible without getting smacked to death once the human figures out what's going on.
Today, you might be able to do this as a 2D website Flash game in the States. But a full-on 3D video game? Never. Only in Japan.
The flying controls were pretty wonky (you'd think an insect would be more maneuverable) and there was lots of trial and error before you hit the blood spot just right... but on sheer concept alone, this was a game worth buying.
And although the Fresh Games concept didn't live to see another fiscal year, there's more than a little of this pro-Japan movement behind the firestorm success of a certain rolling ball title we'll get to in 2004...
Memory Score: everybody needs a few games in their library to dig out just to watch the room go WTF?!
Next week: it's going to be impossible to follow this batch. We'll take a stab at it with a military game, two cartoon games, and the inter-company crossover nobody expected. Are u still rappin' cool?
PaRappa of Honor: Kingdom Rage|
Monday / 01.30.06 / 08:01PM / Joe
released May 2002, purchased May 2002
|Medal of Honor: Frontline|
I enjoyed the original PS1 Medal of Honor. It wasn't a franchise worth obsessing over, but I respected the dramatic vibe and it was a functional-enough FPS. Frontline continued that tradition of acceptably so-so gameplay, but with a huge graphics upgrade.
The thing I remember most about this game isn't the show-stopping D-Day opener, but the weird flayed skin thing you could do to NPCs. If you got a grenade to go off near somebody without killing him, the game would peel back the skin around his mouth and leave a grinning rictus of the kind that early Robert Jordan always went on about. And remember, they'd still be alive, talking to you, with this hideous death metal album cover jawline. Creepy. And since the characters in this game always crooked their heads to stare at you during live cutscenes, it could get really creepy.
I don't think I ever finished this one. I think I just got tired of it. And seeing how the MoH series petered out, I don't know if it was a good series gone lame, or if it was always mediocre and we just never noticed.
Memory Score: good night, Medal of Honor, and all the sequels you see
released January 2002, purchased July 2002
You're talking to a big PaRappa fan. Big enough to have enjoyed UmJammer Lammy on sheer osmosis. Big enough to still have the PaRappa soundtrack in regular rotation on the iPod.
But when the early reviews came in and declared PaRappa 2 a sequel of no equal to the original genre-creating, PlayStation-making masterpiece... well, I'm sorry to say it put me off. I didn't pick this one up until it hit the $20 pile. (Which, looking back, really didn't take that long.)
What killed it for me was the near unanimous assertation that the songs weren't as memorable or catchy as the first one. That's a totally subjective comment... but it turned out to be entirely correct. I can't name a single song from PaRappa 2, but I could sing the whole PaRappa 1 rock opera while drinking a glass of water.
PaRappa 2's catchiness was not helped by its length. When the game is so easy that you can beat it in one night, you're simply not hearing the songs often enough for them to even have a chance to become catchy. Too easy, too forgettable.
Here's my free gift for developers Nana-On-Sha: take PaRappa to the PSP and allow players to download new levels based on Sony's online Connect catalog (or they can give up and partner with iTunes once Connect does the inevitable and dies.) Or import your own MP3s - the damn thing is more of a media player than a game device these days anyway. Figure out how the game can create a rhythm matching game based on beats and tempo, rather than the listen-and-repeat rappin' voice samples. It would be like the cell phone ringtone hysteria, but something that you could only get on a PSP.
Memory Score: PaRappa deserves better than to go out on a low note
released November 2001, received August 2002
Look at the dates here: this poor game came out after the world was done with Crazy Taxi, and, even worse, after the very Crazy Taxi concept was relegated to mini-game status in Grand Theft Auto 3.
So I need to point out that I got this game for free through work.
I guess you have to reluctantly call this game a step up for Simpsons games, but given a baseline of Simpsons Skateboarding and a hundred terrible Game Boy games, there's not much fertile soil from which to grow. I mean, there's plenty of sound bites from the show, and driving around virtual Springfield was fun, briefly. But the simplistic repetition, screwy physics and license abuse turn this into an embarrassment. Of course, two years later Simpsons Hit and Run comes out, which does everything Road Rage does, plus is actually fun. So history isn't likely to treat this one kindly.
I'm sure a lot of these were sold just on the strength of "3D Simpsons Game!!11!", but that 90% were traded back in for store credit.
Memory Score: not quite the worst game ever, but trying
released September 2002, purchased September 2002
click here for my review written in January 2003!
This was such a huge game for me. As a Disney fan, the mash-up of movies and characters was like pulling one emotional ripcord after another. Sure, we've had Disney-based video games since forever, but never one that treated the entire Disney catalog with such seriousness and respect. This was not just a simplistic save-the-princess movie walkthrough; this was a worlds colliding, doom courting, epic struggle against futility and entropy.
Which is, of course, what Square brought to the table. Kingdom Hearts is a duet between the two companies, with Disney instruments set to a Final Fantasy melody. And somehow, they managed to turn the combat into a real time arcade battle, far removed from the typical turn-based RPG stylings.
I can gush about Kingdom Hearts for days, but the game wasn't without problems. The camera would go berserk in battles, some puzzle areas couldn't be solved unless you gave up, real time item management could be rough, and the game's first few hours are quite obviously weaker than the rest. But weighed against the pleasure of a complex story woven with classic Disney properties, I'm willing to overlook quite a bit.
Memory Score: I fought shadow demons alongside Donald and Goofy. Bring on the sequel!
Next week: one of Sony's trinity-of-new-IP games debuts, some hobbits, a superhero who just can't break his way into a decent game, and a PS2 exclusive that isn't even a game at all!
The Document of Apokolips Raccoonus Towers|
Tuesday / 02.07.06 / 10:40PM / Joe
released September 2002, purchased September 2002
|The Document of Metal Gear Solid 2|
I'm riding the MGS fanwagon, sure.
This is mostly a documentary DVD, some short films about the making of Metal Gear Solid 2. Being a big fan of the game, I definitely found the stuff interesting - like the hilarious footage of Kojima and Co. being instructed on how real soldiers clear a room. But, this being a pretty rare concept, I thought it was important to buy it so as to show support for future video game documentaries and explorations. (They're doing a similar DVD as a pre-order bonus for the re-release of Metal Gear Solid 3.)
There's some actual gameplay here, just some sample levels of the VR Mission ilk, but nothing I really glommed onto. Nope, this was a passive purchase. I'm anticipating this will be even more interesting to watch years from now, as video games develop: Imagine watching a "behind the scenes" special about the making of Super Mario Brothers today.
Memory Score: The countermonkey felt he had to warn me that this wasn't a game. Dude.
released September 2002, purchased September 2002
|Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus|
click here for my review written in October 2002!
With PaRappa stuttering, Lara Croft an embarrassment, and Crash Bandicoot hitting the skids, Sony needed some fresh blood. In the fall of 2002, they unveiled three brand new character-driven games, all destined to become major franchises for the PS2. They were Jak and Daxter, Ratchet and Clank, and Sly Cooper.
Sly is easily the least popular of the three, but probably my favorite.
When you compare Sly 1 to Ratchet 1, it's no contest: Sly 1 is so much more memorable. (Move on to game #2 and the gap narrows, because Sly starts to dilute itself while Ratchet piles on the flavor.) Sly's platforming acrobatics were a joy to play, and the art direction was second-to-none. I still have happy flashbacks to that one level that looped around itself as you scaled the exteriors of several interconnected buildings. The game looks great and plays great.
Unfortunately, it was kinda short; it definitely left me wanting more. The sequel came out two years later and - gasp - forced you to play other characters beside Sly, which really killed it for me. Once you've gone Sly, you don't want to waste time with anybody else.
Memory Score: If you're still into games where you collect stuff, this is the one to get.
released September 2002, purchased October 2002
|Superman: Shadow of Apokolips|
click here for my review written in November 2002!
This is a real disappointment. Here's a game where they did all this great work figuring out how to replicate Superman's powers, mapped all sorts of fun abilities all over the Dual Shock, mastered the transition between walking and hovering and flying... and then phoned in a four hour game. Seriously. Four hours.
OK, there's some technical weaknesses. A thin plot, lousy dialogue, and a graphic look that is intended to be streamlined but just looks unfinished. But the controls for Superman himself are begging to be in a fun, complete game. It is fun to fly him around, it's fun to use heat vision and x-ray vision, etc. You just aren't given much game to do it in.
The dealbreaker is that you spend all this time following a trail of "high tech" weaponry that is showing up in Metropolis, you figure out that it is Apokolips tech, you realize (duh) that Luthor is behind it... and then the game takes you to a Stryker's Island breakout where you fight Livewire, Parasite and Metallo... none of whom have anything to do with Darkseid and Luthor. And then credits roll. No confrontation with Luthor, no Boom Tube to Apokolips to toss Parademons into Darkseid's ugly face. Credits. What a super-letdown.
Memory Score: Next time, let's get Superman all the way to Apokolips.
released October 2002, purchased October 2002
|The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers|
Hack and slash movie license game. Not really much to talk about here. It's one of those games where you have all these dopey combo moves you're supposed to learn, but simply hammering the X button works just as well.
It looked okay. Did some cute tricks dissolving from movie footage (which wasn't out yet) to game footage. Actually started out with a fair amount of levels based on Fellowship of the Ring, since all the Fellowship video games sucked. You got kind of a sneak peek at the movie's Ents near the middle of the game, although they're only seen in shadow.
Perhaps the neatest bit is how they treated the game almost like a DVD, with unlockable celebrity interviews and art galleries.
Memory Score: Can you believe there's no multiplayer mode?
Next week: a lombax, my PS2 goes online, very little offroad fury, and the series that can't miss adds motorcycles. Motorcycles!
Navy Seals Clank: Vice Fury 2|
Tuesday / 02.14.06 / 09:31PM / Joe
released October 2002, purchased October 2002
|Grand Theft Auto: Vice City|
This was a hotly anticipated purchase, and for a while, I really didn't think it measured up to the hype. It took me a few months of on-again, off-again play before I seriously got into it. My initial reaction was that it just wasn't new enough, that it was just more of the same GTA3 stuff.
Once I warmed up to it, I think this became my favorite GTA game thus far. The faux 1980s setting casts the game in a high-spirited light. It's more broadly drawn, more cartoonish, than the other two in the series... and I think that helps counterpoint the gangland violence and Scarface-inspired plotline. Vice City also gave the radio stations a massive upgrade: more real music and much longer loops.
Vice City proved that GTA3 was no fluke. And although today GTA is the 800lb gorilla of video game franchises, back then it was nice to see a great game get a great sequel.
Memory Score: But there's no way I'm listening to K-ROCK.
released November 2002, received November 2002
Free from work.
Sucky and boring.
Played it online once.
Ironically, I received another copy when I bought my second PS2, the one that came bundled with the online adapter.
Memory Score: No personality, a million racing games do it better. Only for ATV fans (?)
released November 2002, received November 2002
I remember playing the first Ratchet demo when Mike and Scott were coming over for a Grand Day In. They asked how it was, and I said it was nothing special. I may never have played the actual game had I not received it free from work.
And it turned out to be quite a fun little title. Of course, today it's a franchise behemoth, but then it seemed like a sci-fi Mario clone with guns. Sony did a bang-up job developing this series, which, as I've said, was part of their initiative to invent brand new mascot-based exclusives to help distinguish the PS2.
Still, very Mario64. Later games amped up the weaponry angle (and the sidebar missions), but this one got a lot of play out of jumping platforms and a punishingly short life meter. There was a happy cartharsis to shooting things, but even that seemed like a Sony pastiche on Super Mario Sunshine, which came out a few months prior. They did make main character Ratchet come off as a big jerk... although that personality quirk didn't stick, probably because it was so awkward. This was definitely a prototype; while the Sly series got worse from 1 to 2, Ratchet got better.
Memory Score: Just rising action for game #2.
released August 2002, purchased January 2003
I bought this one solely for the gimmicky technology.
SOCOM has since become a leading name franchise for the PS2, but I tell you, this first outing did very little to impress me. The single-player missions were too trial-and-error. Your partners had trouble following your commands. And, as I found out once I picked up the broadband adapter, the online game was just awfully ugly. Almost unplayably ugly. Not to mention the eternal battle between the players desparately trying to be tactical versus the chatty losers only interested in screaming obscenities into the mic.
I liked the gag of issuing voice orders with the mic, and I loved that they would talk back to me inside the headset. I wish it had worked better, but it was a fun idea. Maybe they fixed it during one of the 16 sequels that came out, but since this one didn't do much for me, I bailed. I'm not a big fan of games that attempt to be so realistic that they squeeze all the fun out of the gameplay... especially when they look as lousy as this one did.
Memory Score: I think I made it to the third mission
Next week: After my online goes Black, I finally catch up on my Dante, buy Metal Gear AGAIN, and travel to that man-made monument to hubris: Stiver Island.
Twisted Devil Disaster Substance|
Tuesday / 02.21.06 / 08:54PM / Joe
released October 2001, purchased January 2003
I had enjoyed the Devil May Cry demo that came packaged along with Resident Evil: Code Veronica... but I didn't pick up the game when it came out. The reasons were threefold: GTA3, followed by MGS2, followed by Fatal Frame. I was busy.
But when DMC2 came out, and everybody said the first one was better anyway, that's when I bought Devil May Cry... as a Greatest Hits selection, no less.
It's definitely a fun game, crazy fast... with some hilarious cutscenes ("Hello, Devil May Cry?") However, I found that my skills couldn't keep pace with the game's punishing curve, so I never finished it. But it was easily worth the $20.
I've always had the feeling that DMC is the franchise that Capcom desperately needs to explode to RE status, but it just keeps missing the bar.
Memory Score: I forget exactly where I stopped, but I think there was a pirate ship involved.
released August 2002, received February 2003
|Twisted Metal Black Online|
I held off on buying the PS2 Online Adapter because the initial game rush just wasn't that interesting. (My Street?!?) So I was rather surprised that the Free Twisted Metal Online promotion was still in force when I finally jumped onboard six months later.
I was glad it did, because this was my favorite online game for a few months, mainly because SOCOM was so terrible. Unfortunately, by the time my pals' PS2s went online, TMBO was no longer available. So I only played this against random PS2 owners... but the nice bit was that it had no voice chat, so you could actually get into the game without all the immature screaming.
Twisted Metal was once a high-class PS1 franchise, until a string of mediocre sequels killed it. Black was the attempt to reinvigorate the brand for the PS2... and it actually worked. Although the gag at the time was that "Black" also referred to the game's working color palette. It was a great deal to give away an online-only version of Black free with your new online adapter... just stupid that it was a limited time mail-in offer. Future online bundles came with ATV Offroad Fury 2, which sucked ass.
Memory Score: An easily enjoyable online experience, but an impossible game to find today.
released February 2003, purchased February 2003
click here for my review written in March 2003!
I first heard about Disaster Report when the Penny Arcade guys talked up the import version they were playing. There's no reason this earthquake adventure game should have made it to the US, but somehow it did. I guess it's survival horror, just without the horror... unless the horror refers to all the suck this game brings.
Luckily for Disaster Report, it's bad enough that it's wonderfully funny. You're Keith Helm, a young reporter whose first day on the job happens to coincide with a massive earthquake. You're headed to Stiver Island, a manmade city floating in the middle of the ocean... and it's now sinking. You have to work your way across the island - often parts of it will simply fall out from under your feet, or buildings will fall and block off old sections, or floodwaters will force you to find alternate routes - while taking care of a lost girl and managing your meager water supply.
It's a great concept (and the game does have some moments that you can't find anywhere else, like a boss fight with little weaponless you against an Apache helicopter!), but there are so many basic gameplay faults. There's awful slowdown, an inventory forging system that is completely unecessary, and an annoying need to make you drink from your water bottles every fifteen feet.
You have to play it, because it's that bad. It's short enough and ridiculous enough that a couple of friends could make a fun evening of it, Mystery Science Theater style.
Memory Score: Hilarious pseudo-serious storyline makes up for half-assed gameplay every time.
released March 2003, purchased March 2003
|Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance|
Yeah, I bought MGS2 again.
This was the Sons of Liberty re-release, with extra modes and bonuses. I actually kinda forget what most of them were. I know I played through the game again, and did the ship portion (Snake's bit) several times.
You'll have to forgive me. I was just coming off of Disaster Report, for crying out loud.
Memory Score: This was pure fanboy indulgence.
Next week: Apes, Amps, Aiming and Assaults!
Ninja Ape Assault 2: Dead Amp|
Monday / 03.06.06 / 09:35PM / Joe
released July 2003, purchased July 2003
click here for my review written in August 2003!
This is an underappreciated title. It's easy to pick up, unashamedly silly, and has plenty of replay value. You're sent into various themed worlds looking for errant monkeys, which you catch by stunning them with a light saber and then scooping them up with a net. The gimmick is that all your weapons are controlled off the right analog stick... which will probably be the first time that you've used the right stick for more than camera control.
There's plenty of unlockables, great voice work, lots of variety... and I still would bet that you won't find more than six people in your lifetime that have heard of it, much less actually bought it. I'm not saying it's the greatest game in the world, but if you're still wasting money on Crash Bandicoot and the small army of licensed mascot platformers... well, it is possible to find fun games among all that drek.
I wonder if the Monkey-With-An-Uzi on the cover did them more harm than good.
Memory Score: It's not a franchise I obsess over, but I know a good game when I play one.
released March 2003, received July 2003
This is the sequel to Frequency, and I received it as "payment" for running a banner ad for a couple of weeks. Happily, it's a good little game. Even has online play.
It's a rhythm game where you essentially build popular music songs as you play each level... the goal being to keep the song sounding as complete as possible. For example, the drums are on one track, the bass on another, and the vocals on a third. You have to switch between all three, continuing to hit the beats, to keep each section playing. When you let yourself fall into the groove, it's plain hypnotic. I'm still in love with the song "Cool Baby."
The game only uses three buttons... but it's three weird ones: L1, R1 and R2. I've often thought they should have come up with some funky custom controller for it.
Memory Score: Is it even possible to make a BAD rhythm game?
released November 2002, purchased August 2003
I needed a light gun, and this game comes packaged with Namco's GunCon2 - the best available for the PS2.
The thing is - and I won't lie, I knew this going in - nobody makes decent light gun games anymore. Which is why I didn't pick up this awful awful title when it first came out... even though Rhonda and I loved playing Point Blank and Elemental Gearbolt with our light guns back on the PS1. There just aren't any worthwhile light gun games out there.
I needed one because of Starsky & Hutch, which we'll get to next time.
Oh, about this game? It sucked.
Memory Score: Dude, the ninjas have guns. Nothing is worse than that.
released June 2003, purchased August 2003
But until Starsky & Hutch came out, I took a chance on this bizarre light gun sidestep from Resident Evil.
And I will tell you that I am the only person you know who liked Dead Aim.
This is actually, like, the sixtieth Resident Evil light gun game but the previous 59 were so bad they didn't make it to the States. So we can probably forgive everybody else for not bothering to invest much into Dead Aim.
I went in expecting not much, and came out reasonably satisified. If you're a wacky peripheral fan, you'll similarly dig it. You use the GunCon2's rear-mounted d-pad to navigate the third person portion, and when you run into zombies, you simply aim at the screen to enter a first-person viewpoint. Then, you shoot like crazy.
Killing zombies with a light gun is nicely straight forward; it gets less intuitive during the few scenes where you happen upon faster baddies. There, you just have to get lucky.
The main evil scientist-turned-mutant-experiment guy (a staple for any Resident Evil game) claimed to be the jerk who first released the virus into Raccoon City, but I don't think the light gun sub-franchise actually counts as RE canon.
Memory Score: It's like Resident Evil meets Speed 2 in more ways than one.
Next week: We go peripheral crazy with three plug-and-play PS2 physical challenges... plus one of the best sequels ever made!
DDRsky & Hutch: Play Commando 2|
Wednesday / 03.22.06 / 10:21PM / Joe
In light of the theoretical PS3 launch date, I'm going to artificially extend the regular Farewell to the PS2 feature. Starting next time, we're going to switch to bimonthly and only cover three games an entry. This should get us into August or later!
released September 2003, purchased September 2003
We enjoyed several DDRs back on the PS1, but I'm not sure why I waited for MAX2 to get one for the PS2. It's not like there is a great deal of change between versions.
This game sparked a serious DDR-as-exercise phase in fourhman.home, to the point that I set up a permanent DDR area in the basement. This series will kick your ass, even on the "low impact" exercise setting. The game tracks your burned calories and such, which looks pretty impressive in rather short order. You might recall the media suddenly realizing that DDR exists about this time, and half-assed stories slugged "a video game that IMPROVES your HEALTH?!?!?1//1/1/!??!?1 WTF!" all over the place.
I'm looking forward to DDR morphing into more of a lifestyle thing, where you can use your own music and regularly download new songs and dances. It could become a huge exercise tool if they would evolve it outside of pure video games.
Favorite track: "Love at First Sight" by Kylie Minogue. Yes, it's in iTunes.
Memory Score: You have to get two dance mats. It's a given.
released September 2003, purchased September 2003
Where did this come from?
I'll tell you where: from the Let's Rip GTA Retro-Style department. Seriously, this came out of nowhere - well before the remake movie hit - and even had a crazy, no-one-is-going-to-do-it-but-Joe peripheral gimmick. And I'm not kidding: this game is totally Classic Starsky & Hutch, with the original actors' likenesses and everything. There's even the gigantic in-game shrine to Huggy Bear, with photos and interviews and bios. I'm guessing he wouldn't sign off on his character's inclusion unless they let him turn the game into his own personal street team.
Anyway, the game is mostly an all-driving GTA, which we used to call Driver. What sets it apart is a 2P mode that allows the use of a light gun... one player drives the car while the other player shoots stuff. This was the whole reason I got the game and a very specific high point in the history of the GunCon2. We had a grand ol' time, although the last few missions became unreasonably hard on the shooter.
Memory Score: There's this hilarious cutscene that makes it look like Starsky and Hutch kiss.
released November 2003, purchased November 2003
|Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando|
Peak of the franchise thus far.
Ups the life counter, lets you upgrade your weaponry, much more sidebar missions, even rewards you for having played the first one. Just off the top of my head, I'm calling this the best action-platformer of this generation. Of course, what's the competition, fucking Sonic Heroes?
I will say that I don't care about the Ratchet Universe much beyond R&C themselves. The punny characters, comedy cliches and cartoon plots feel a little too desperate to me. I especially hate Captain Qwark.
No, this game excels in the environments (distinctive without being overbearing, a tough line to ride) and in the action. When I think about Ratchet & Clank 2 - and I did think about it quite a bit when #3 turned out so average - I always flash back to cracking that energy whip across throngs of swarming little blue puffballs. It was definitely a game that could put you in the zone.
Memory Score: R&C have fully occupied the former Bandicoot center of my brain.
released November 2003, purchased November 2003
Like Nintendo's eReader, the USB EyeToy is a wacky peripheral that arrived on a wave of big promises... and then never really paid out. The history of video games is littered with such technology. EyeToy fared better than most - rumors say it will appear next on the PSP - but it never became a must-have.
Part of the problem is that Sony only released a few EyeToy-exclusive titles (and then packaged most of them with more EyeToys, so if you bought them all you ended up with enough EyeToys to run a home security network) and dragged them out over years. By the time Anti-Grav hit, no one cared anymore. And the US will likely never see Chat, which combined video conferencing with one-on-one games like Chess and Battleship.
The other half of the EyeToy's slow start is this initial Play disk, which forces you through an obnoxious interface (camera usage for the sake of it) to play an vastly uneven set of mini-games. The best ones are a kung fu punching game and a color-matching fireworks game. And even though you can register several players, there's no overall scorekeeping method and no way to declare an end to it. You just keep doing stuff randomly until somebody wonders aloud where the eReader is.
It just wasn't a very enthusiastic start, and probably turned more gamers off than it turned on. The music to Wishi-Washi is pretty hilarious though.
Memory Score: My EyeToy has been used most to play poker.
Next time: Two movie games and a Dreamcast port (they still make those?!)
Return of the Nemo Channel|
Monday / 04.10.06 / 10:55PM / Joe
released November 2003, purchased November 2003
|Space Channel 5: Special Edition|
Back during those four months when the Dreamcast was popular, I wanted this game. Space Channel 5 was the kind of oddball title that seemed to represent Gaming In The New Century. Even though I never owned a Dreamcast - and never played this game - I had some Space Channel 5 magnets on our fridge for years.
So I was pretty excited when this PS2 Special Edition came out, compiling the original game and the never-released-in-the-US sequel. I knew going in that the graphics would be crappy, but I still wanted to pay homage to a brief envy of years past.
Turns out, it's not that great a game. Almost every other rhythm music game out there is better than Space Channel 5, including the PaRappa / UmJammer PS1 games that preceded it. I'll agree that the style is fun - sort of an Austin Powers meets Star Trek on the Laugh-In set vibe - and that the characters are cool... but the gameplay itself is weak. I played it, but I never really enjoyed it.
Memory Score: Space Michael!
released November 2003, purchased November 2003
|The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King|
click here for my review written in December 2003!
Remember the Two Towers game? Add new levels, 2P co-op, and online play.
The 2P stuff was absolutely necessary, and that proved to be the only reason to play it. Mike and I played it all night once and maxed out most of the characters. Since the combat is just X X X triangle over and over again, the game became background noise to a leisurely conversation.
For movie fans (like me!), this game included some stuff that was cut from the theatrical release - like the Mouth of Sauron, whom you get to X X X X over and over again. And again, lots of unlockable interviews and galleries, which was insanely cool back when these movies were new and hot.
Memory Score: Was Gollum playable? I think he's about the only dude left in Middle Earth who wasn't.
released May 2003, purchased November 2003
We had a coupon.
I figured this would be a cutesy happy kids game, diverting enough for a quick playthrough and a cheap price.
But it was really stupidly hard.
Rhonda did a good portion of the game, I did some sections, but it was obvious early on that the weirdass underwater controls and non-intuitive instructions were not helping us enjoy it. Jesus, I've played Classic Game Boy shovelware licensed titles that were more fun than this.
We gave up at some point, when the tedium of moving colored pebbles around the sea floor for the millionth time finally got to us. I don't even remember where that was in the plot. It was after the turtle bit, I know that much.
Memory Score: Honestly. Coupon.
Next time: a new Bemani Revolution begins, an anime game that I'm quite sure no one but me has ever played, and a game that I would marry!
Treasure of the Crimson Butterfly Revolution|
Monday / 05.01.06 / 07:27PM / Joe
released December 2003, purchased December 2003
|Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly|
Easily one of my top five PS2 games. Maybe even top three.
At first glance, I thought FF2 was a little too similar to the first Fatal Frame: lost and confused female adrift in a phantom reality of gruesome traditions designed to keep the gates of hell closed at all costs. But that's sort of the series' baseline, like how Sonic's baseline is to reach the end of the level. How the game presents that concept, and how you survive the telling of it, is where it has a chance to differentiate itself. Crimson Butterfly, with its one-twin-must-kill-the-other strangulation ritual, manages to even out-creep FF1's infamous Blinding Mask.
The storyline of FF2 is horrifying but satisfying. It hits on family, on tradition, on duty, on suffering, on sacrifice. This game will make your soul hurt.
Like no other survival horror series, Fatal Frame has mastered actually being scary. I don't mean shocking or surprising or gory... I mean scary. This is a game that I still remember like it was yesterday.
Memory Score: To this day, I'm still slightly afraid of a quiet jingly bell noise.
released November 2003, purchased January 2004
We had some fun with this one. It's a great idea - have a video game judge your singing ability - but the weak presentation make it seem like it was put together in a month. And I still don't see why the song list caps out at 30 or so... there should be 3x that many songs. Needs more unlockables too.
Make one of these with a downloadable and upgradeable jukebox, and you've got something. These one actually has a menu option for accepting a booster disk of new songs, but, surprise surprise, they never actually delivered on that. Instead, if you want new content, you have to buy a whole new game. Way to avoid the technology.
Memory Score: Rhonda unlocked everything in one day when she was off work and I wasn't.
released February 2004, purchased February 2004
|Lupin the Third: Treasure of the Sorcerer King|
I'm a Lupin fan, so no amount of mediocre reviews could warn me off of this one.
I probably should have heeded them. It's a weird little entry-level Metal Gear with a ton of problems. Lame graphics, a storyline that gives up on making sense halfway through, and lots of good ideas with bad implementation. (The disguise system is remarkably tedious. Dressing as a security guard, for example, also requires that you salute each guard every time they suspect you for a fraud. And since they look at you every three seconds, that means you are saluting every three seconds.)
Still, the voice work was great, the character designs and movements were very true to the anime, and it didn't take very long to beat.
Eventually, you start wondering why Lupin the master thief is facing off against giant mud gargoyles. Luckily, once you hit that point, you're about done.
Memory Score: Something for the fans. And people who like saluting.
Next time: A big franchise online game that completely sucked, an action game that is the best of a rarely seen genre, and a cult favorite that I just could not get into!
Revolver of Darkness: Outbreak|
Monday / 05.15.06 / 11:59PM / Joe
released August 2003, purchased March 2004
|Disgaea: Hour of Darkness|
Picked this up during a personal PS2 drought, based on the glowing recommendations of everyone in the world.
And I just could not take it.
Partially, it was the old school graphics. Visually, this is a PS1 game, and that is no exaggeration. But I could have easily gotten past that - I'll play GBA games on my TV, for crying out loud - if the gameplay itself had gripped me. But I found it painfully and unnecessarily opaque. This is not a game for attracting new fans to the style (it's a tactics game, did I mention that?), it's a deep and muddy reward for people who already like this sort of thing. It just seemed like at every point where they could have made the game fun, they took the fast train to Tedium. Population: a million palette-shifted 2D sprites.
Just not my thing. Could have worked for me as a GBA title, but I felt like such a chump sitting there in front of my giant TV arranging cardboard characters on a grid map and clicking through menus.
I liked the concept - young renegade demon prince battles his way across Hell to be the next Lord of the Underworld. I liked the characters - exploding anime penguins! I liked some story elements - you have to petition the demonic Senate, and if they deny your request you can battle them for it. I just didn't like the gameplay.
Memory Score: And then you level up weapons by going inside them? WTF?
released April 2004, purchased April 2004
This was the worst goddamn game in the world.
I had high expectations for this title. You can laugh, but I trust the Resident Evil series to be awesome. (If you are laughing, you probably haven't played Resident Evil 4: No Subtitle.) And Outbreak was the big online venture. This was a big reason why I took my PS2 online. Even just saying "Resident Evil Online" summoned up a glorious imaginative fun world of candy and lollipops.
Unfortunately, it was to remain imaginary.
There is almost nothing about this game that can redeem it. It is a collection of great ideas melted into slag. Episodic levels that could have focused on the trials of everyday people trying to live through the Raccoon City T-Virus outbreak are demolished by nonsensical audio samples and horrible loading times. Squad-based multiplayer gameplay that could have enlivened the Resident Evil formula is buried under unbalanced characters and terrible loading times. An online exclusive that had the potential to bust the "PS2 online" concept wide open was ballgagged by an inability to communicate with your online partners and disgusting loading times.
I suppose I could have picked up the PS2 hard drive to pare down the horrible, terrible, disgusting, tension-killing, door-animating load times. But even after dropping $100, I still would have had the awful audio, the confusing where-the-f-am-I gameplay, and the hilariously archaic controls.
The cutscenes were pretty sweet though.
Memory Score: Sucked ripe juicy ass. Although I still enjoy imagining "Resident Evil Online."
released May 2004, purchased May 2004
click here for my review written in May 2004!
Maybe I was just coming off a deep blue funk (see above), but I thought this game was terrific.
The Western is a genre that everybody wants but nobody buys. I tend to seek them out, perhaps because of this strange-but-true dichotomy. I recall getting super excited about Gunslinger, a Wild West title that was making the preview rounds before the PS2 even came out. And then Gunslinger disappeared into the foggy mists of vaporware. Happily, Red Dead Revolver rose to take its place, albeit four years later.
RDR delivers. The art direction is unique and detailed. The action tweaks the typical third-person shooter game with Wild West elements (like pistol showdowns and horseback levels.) The splitscreen multiplayer is fast and fun. The environments covers every Wild West film standard in the book. The unlockables are interesting and worth collecting. It was just too short, clocking in at around six hours.
Aside: I found a American-made manga called No Man's Land, which is a Wild West story with horror elements. Sort of Trigun-esque. An anime Deadlands. I'm reading it and thinking, Man, this looks familiar. When I get to the bonus sketchbook pages, it hits me: they copied the environments from Red Dead Revolver. Take a look; it is a blatant swipe job (unless the artist was in fact an RDR resigner, but what are the odds of that?) It casts a shadow on the included comments "I like to draw floorplans and map out buildings even if we don't see them in the manga ... Lots of research and attention to historical detail is required to get it right." Actually, you mean lots of pausing Red Dead Revolver was required to get it right.
Not that RDR was a bastion of originality itself, mind you. Much of the plot is culled from several specific Western movies ("The Quick and the Dead" being the most obvious.) And the soundtrack is composed entirely of classic Spaghetti Western tracks (which is totally cool with me.) But there is a distinction between a loving homage and uncredited tracing.
Memory Score: Will it stand as the best Western game ever?
Next time: A big movie tie-in with limited appeal, the only driving game you'll ever need... and what's this? A sports title?
Prisoner of ESPN Burnout|
Wednesday / 05.31.06 / 11:00PM / Joe
released June 2004, purchased August 2004
|Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban|
There is exactly one reason why I bought this game: EyeToy. This game contains one of the best uses of the EyeToy that anybody ever bothered to make.
Things have improved slightly since that amazing Fall of 2004, but back then there was just about nothing worthwhile on the EyeToy. Interesting gimmick, lousy games. And it had been out for almost a year!
This Harry Potter game - which came with a free ticket to the movie, assuming you cashed it in before the end of July! - managed to out-do every EyeToy-dedicated title to date and in the foreseeable future. How did it achieve this goal: by framing the wacky camera games with a tournament-style scoring system. It's that simple, folks, and yet the makers of EyeToy: Play and the upcoming Sega Superstars managed to miss it.
Fire up the EyeToy portion of the disc and your first act is to get sorted. Yeah, it's random, and yeah, four players are going to get four different Houses... but you can't beat the geeky fanboy awe of seeing yourself standing there with the goddamn Sorting Hat chewing on your hair and spouting Potter poetry. Then you all take turns in a series of mini-games events, scoring points for the big finish. And unlike EyeToy: Play or Sega Superstars, all of these games are fun.
There's a scoring structure; there's a definite end with a crowned champion. That's all we want from any party game, so why did it take a year before somebody got it right? And it was done as an extra feature inside a movie game that wasn't even strictly an EyeToy title. For shame, Sony.
Oh right, the regular game. I actually went back and beat the movie portion during a PS2 dry spell in the summer of '05. It was pretty bad.
Memory Score: Best EyeToy experience ever; the Potter window dressing is a happy bonus.
released September 2004, purchased September 2004
click here for my review written in September 2004!
I can take a car game every now and then, but games like Gran Turismo always make me feel like I'm not getting my $50 worth. I could care less about all the unlockable vehicles and upgrades and repairs and whatever other motorhead minutiae they toss in there. I just want to drive fast cars around crazy fun tracks. I'm an arcade racer; more of a kart game fan.
So when a driving game with realistic cars on the cover shows up, I tend to filter it right out. That's how I've managed to ignore the Burnout series thus far. Somehow, #3 pierced the veil and the arcadey message made it to my innards. This is a car game for people who hate car games.
With an emphasis on blazing speed and insane crashes, Burnout 3 is just an out-and-out joy to play. Where other driving games opt for tedious detail, Burnout 3 just tells you to go smash 15 enemy cars. While avoiding innocent civilian cars! It's perfect, even when the camera bails out on you to go watch an enemy car flip off into a hot dog stand... it's still perfect, plus now it's extravagant.
Load times are completely disgusting, however. And to grind in the pain, the loading screens are painted with embarrassing "hints" like "Did you try USING BOOST?" Aside from opening up more cars, the unlockable elements are all trophy-based and utterly lame.
But that's all largely incidental complaints. Burnout figured out how to turn a smash-'em-up racing game into a full-bore dramatic arcade action game. Kudos.
Memory Score: Bought two songs off the soundtrack.
released September 2004, purchased September 2004
I don't think I played a single game of this offline. This was a thoroughly online purchase, shared by fellow PS2 hockey nuts Mike and Scott. We all bought it and even managed to play fairly regularly for a couple weeks. Just like that old Xbox commercial with the retarded triplets.
This was the year that the entire line of ESPN games debuted at $20, trying to break EA's stranglehold lock on sports. The tactic didn't work, but it meant the three of us each got a brand new online hockey game for slightly more than the cost of one EA brand new online hockey game. (Sort of ironic that I bought this game immediately after buying two EA titles, see above.)
And the major reviews really didn't differentiate much between ESPN and EA hockey. I researched that, believe it, because we were all steadfast EA hockey guys. I think Scott and Mike will back me up: it was largely error-free (had a couple annoying third period crashes, but not many), voice chat was fine, and the experience was much the same as our familiar EA offline games. As in: Mike and Scott make all the plays while I forget what "offsides" means.
So what did you do in the single-player offline mode? I have no idea. Probably played a lot of hockey and unlocked Big Head codes.
Memory Score: First hockey game since September '01. You won't sucker me with a new roster update.
Next time: The crazy month of September 2004 continues with a much-awaited sequel, a new DDR game... and the little game about rolling things up that shocked the world.
Extreme Sly Damacy|
Friday / 07.07.06 / 07:58PM / Joe
released September 2004, purchased September 2004
I have only played this game twice. And not even at home. And not really me.
You see, we've been going to an adoptive families party for the last two years, and we volunteer to bring a PS2 as one of the kids game stations. (WTF? Ninty is 4 teh kiddies!?!/111?!?!1) So far, the top games to set up are the Harry Potter EyeToy stuff and this version of DDR, because it also uses the EyeToy for a bunch of silly minigames.
There's nothing quite like having ten kids all jumping on a dance pad while they watch themselves shaking virtual coconuts off a tree. It's a riot.
Adding the EyeToy stuff to DDR is the biggest addition I've seen in years of DDR games. Unfortunately, at its peak, DDR turned into the Bemani Madden... yearly releases with new songs and not much else. This title was a nice upgrade. Extreme, even.
Memory Score: Everybody always likes the game where you have to feed animals.
released September 2004, purchased September 2004
click here for my review written in December 2004!
I always preferred the understated, classy Sly Cooper to the brash, overt Ratchet and Clank. Smooth, sneaky moves. Innovative boss fights. Well-placed sidebar games. Beautiful, distinct art direction. The Sly sequel tried its damnedest to disabuse me of that notion.
Here's the problem: the secondary characters suck. Sly himself is one of the most fun and best controlling characters in recent memory, and this game continually thinks it would be fun to have you NOT play as him. It is unreasonable punishment to stick the players inside all of these lush environments and then have them play the inelegant, cliched sidekicks.
It was just this reason that put me off of the threequel, which I still haven't picked up. These are great games; but somewhere along the development train, somebody made a decision to offer less Sly. Regrettable.
Memory Score: Lose the band
released September 2004, purchased September 2004
click here for my review written in September 2004!
I first heard of Katamari Damacy in one of the trade mags, either OPM or EGM. There was a single screenshot and a vague description about a game mechanic involving rolling a ball. I was hooked. Figuring the game to be a low-release niche title, I pre-ordered it at EB... and had to spell it ("with a K") to help the clerk find it in their system.
No one knew about this game.
And for about six weeks, lots of us were afraid it would remain that way. Those of us who were there on day one and already very much in love, well, we took to the forums and told all of our friends about it. Every early Katamari owner out there worked to sell this game to all the innocent babes who had never heard of it.
In short order, Katamari Damacy become a worldwide gaming phenomonon.
This is proof that word of mouth works, even in an industry dominated by heavy marketing and me-too! gameplay. This is proof that great gameplay rises to the top, that small, clever designs can be just as well received as massive million-dollar productions, and that "quirky" doesn't have to mean "crappy." This is proof that video gaming is as inclusive and accessible as we want to make it, and that the hard lines dividing sex and age demographics are an illusion. Katamari Damacy is a victory for gaming and for gamers.
Memory Score: Easily the top brand-new property for this generation, on any system.
Next time: A great demo brings me back to a horror franchise, high hopes set me up for a crappy music sequel, and the PS2's biggest name wastes all of its early press talking about how you can make your character fat.
Grand Silent Auto: The Karaoke Room|
Thursday / 08.10.06 / 11:16PM / Joe
released October 2004, purchased October 2004
|Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas|
All the games in today's entry were picked up during a Buy 2 / Get 1 Free sale at Toys R Us. Guess which one was the impulse free game.
I'm pretty much going to agree with X-Play and call San Andreas the Best PS2 Game Ever (and remember, I'm calling this with God of War 2 sight unseen, sarcasm.) It's not the best in graphics. It's not the best in story. It's not the best in innovation or art direction or music. But it is the best in overall gameplay. This is a game to get lost within.
With the previous GTA games, I've already mentioned the easy addiction of the free-world sandbox, the multitude of sidebar games, and the effortless combination of driving and on-ground action. San Andreas takes everything prior and doubles it... with a genuinely gigantic environment that somehow remains detailed and alive without a single loading pause. You can't think of this game without marveling at the diversity of locale, from mean streets to redwood forest to casino-bloated deserts. Not to mention the absurd levels of character customization. Or the undocumented two-player modes.
Sure, you can quibble about the low-poly models, the subjective music soundtracks, the still-wonked aiming controls... but nothing on the racks brings as much game - with as much variety - for your money as San Andreas. This series comes with a lot of crushing hype and unfavorable media, but it has f'ing earned it.
After playing GTA3, back when the series was just one awesome game, my only request was more of everything. San Andreas delivered.
Memory Score: Flying still sucks.
released September 2004, purchased October 2004
I liked the first Silent Hill, but I skipped on the second and third installments. What I saw from the previews and demos was a series bent on descending into self-parody. It wasn't horror any longer, it was just goofy. There's a difference between something being actually scary (cough, *Fatal Frame*) and something just going for special effects visual shock value, and that's where I saw Silent Hill heading. Maybe I'm misjudging messrs. 2 and 3, but if I did, it's only due to what the official trailers showed me.
So I wasn't expecting much when I fired up the Silent Hill 4 demo. Probably more bloody rusted metal and bad-high-school-art stitched-flesh zombies.
And then the demo stuck me in an apartment where you could look out the window and watch a fairly convincing street animate on for hours.
What SH4: The Room accomplished was offer an unbeatable horror game hook: why am I stuck inside a non-descript bachelor apartment and how in the hell are they making a game out of this. The answer lies in having the game play out inside your character's dreams, but it gets far more complicated than that.
Rather than becoming mired in ancient death cults and enigmatic oracle witches and some of the more usual trappings of the genre, SH4 is largely about your reluctant efforts at retracing the steps of a local serial killer thought long dead. Between each dreamscape, you are indeed locked inside your single-bedroom apartment... which is handled in an appropriately claustrophobic first-person view. One of the game's themes is voyeurism, and The Room does an excellent job of turning that into an interactive gameplay mechanic.
Classic Resident Evil is cheesy B-movie fun. Modern Resident Evil is fast FPS-styled action. Fatal Frame is subtle atmosphere and well-told story. But what Silent Hill does best is awful. Some truly awful stuff happens in this game, like the audio-only scene at the pet store. Or the circular prison built for housing children. Or the all-too-real personalities of the apartment complex.
It's still a Silent Hill game - so there's the requisite assortment of slimy, pulpy maggot monsters, and the accompanying clumsy controls and camera, sigh. But this is a game that I wish would have been played by more than just franchise fanboys, because it reached out beyond being simply Game #4. I'll always take psychological horror over straight gore horror, and The Room runs nicely on about 60-40.
Memory Score: My god, the pet store.
released July 2004, purchased October 2004
We really enjoyed the original Karaoke Revolution and wished they had developed the expansion disk concept. But I'm sure some study told Konami that stamping out complete $40 games would sell better than multiple $15 song upgrade disks. I'm thinking this is a line best suited for an online delivery system.
This was the "Why Not" third wheel in the TRU sale.
And it is, unfortunately, nearly the exact same game with new songs. Which I consider unfair at the full price. The singing gameplay is still cool, but it sucks to see the same character models doing the same motion capture over the same backgrounds.
To make matters worse, the song list is far worse than the original. So, in the end, we barely played this one. The timing of the purchase sucked as well, because I had like a million new games to play between September and December 2004, so a lackluster rehash title wasn't going to get much action.
Memory Score: It's time to get real artists involved with this thing and drop the pathetic soundalikes.
Next time: Another uneven EyeToy release, a major sequel that I hated on, and the one PS2 game I've played online more than any other.
Up Your Poker Stars|
Monday / 11.13.06 / 08:57PM / Joe
released November 2004, purchased November 2004
From the Justify Your Accessory Department.
One year after the EyeToy's release, I don't think anybody had yet figured out what to do with it. This is another Play-style minigame collection, but again lacks any kind of tournament feature. How can a half-assed EA movie tie-in title figure this out, but two (and more!) EyeToy-focused games miss the obvious point. The way these dopey games handle multiplayer is the modern day equivalent of playing two man Mario Bros by handing the controller back and forth. Terrible.
On the positive side, the year between Play and Sega Superstars shows off in polish... not to mention the incredible Sega fan-service. Each game is based on a classic Sega title, from Virtua Fighter to Sonic to NiGHTS. Even freaking Billy hatcher is in there. None of them are very good, but the company reverence is fun. Just in case there's any Sega fans still out there.
Memory Score: Best one: Puyo Pop
released November 2004, purchased November 2004
|Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal|
click here for my review written in March 2005!
Completely phoned in.
This is what happens when your dev team realizes that they can't beat the awesomeness of the previous game, but they have to crap out another sequel in time for the holiday shopping season.
Almost nothing in this game rises above the bar set by Going Commando. It's all very same-y. That's not all bad, as I said in my review, this series does more on a bad day than most games ever achieve. But it still ranks as a huge disappointment. Ratchet & Clank was a franchise that I came to love, and this sequel-sequel pretty much ruined it for me. The whole time I'm playing it, I'm thinking "jeez, why am I doing this again." The magic is gone.
But said magic was replaced with an online mode, which I (predictably) did not care for. Unbalanced, spastic, and already dominated by obnoxious pros by the time I got to it. The only cool thing was the ability to do online multiplayer split-screen. So, like, you can have two people play together on one TV and still go online.
Memory Score: And like that, a franchise is buggered
released November 2004, purchased December 2004
Speaking of EyeToy AND online play, here's my Best PS2 Online Game Ever. Me, Mike and Scott went through quite a time where we played this every week, connecting two states and three cats.
WCP hit right in the middle of the big Hold 'Em boom, and after plenty of bad advice (remember, I thought Resident Evil Outbreak was going to be the killer app), this was the game that enabled me to talk my buddies into online PS2 and in-home wireless networks. Finally! I'm sure they think it was worth the setup. EMBARRASSED SMILEY
More often than not, the whole thing worked... WiFi + PS2 + EyeToy + headset mics. Which always surprised us.
Shame that the game is almost unbearably ugly and amateurish. Still, for online multiplayer poker, all you really need is a robot to track cards. And it did.
We should get back into this one.
Memory Score: "He's not intimidated... this is his game: heads-up poker!"
Next time: a sleeper hit based on a movie license, a sequel based on a sleeper hit, and a new-franchise hit based on goring up ancient mythology... that made me sleepy.
We Love God of Star Wars|
Friday / 12.29.06 / 12:21AM / Joe
released March 2005, purchased March 2005
click here for my review written in May 2005!
After years of the LEGO games being pretty much edutainment garbage and the Star Wars games showing up with far more misses than hits, somehow a combination of the two became the year's sleeper hit. The power of positive buzz.
This game hits on a lot of important notes: simple controls, great chibi look, easy drop-in/drop-out multiplayer, and a fantastic use of license (TWO licenses, incredibly). This is the kind of thing I'll fall for every time, particularly when it comes to co-op games, which are blindingly rare. You have to hope that LEGO Star Wars' sales opened the doors for other clever and accessible multiplayer titles... you know, where it isn't just frag this and explode that. Great little game.
The flip side is that LEGO Star Wars has some serious flaws, all of which were overlooked by critics. If the game had not delivered such an overall fun and silly experience, it would have been slammed facefirst in somebody's empty cement in-ground pool for the floaty camera and confusing multiplayer glitches.
Memory Score: Best use of the Prequel Trilogy ever
released March 2005, purchased June2005
click here for my review written in August 2005!
What it does, it does well: Intense, fast combat with impressive waning-PS2-era graphics. But it aspires to nothing greater, even if it continually receives credit for such.
The story is barely there and depressingly predictable. The character designs are like something scribbled on an art school dropout's notebook. The "deep" combat relies on button combos that you'll never bother to master. There's only three boss fights and a rather small list of enemy characters.
There's this terribly childish feel to the entire package... the buckets of blood, the nearly-naked women, the tribal tattoos and spiked armor. It's the game that you would have made in 10th grade study hall, if only you had a sweet development deal with Sony of America. And when you watch the DVD-style behind-the-scenes extras on the disk, you'll find that you are indeed seeing a bunch of guys who never mentally made it out of high school.
God of War's chief addition to the gaming universe is producer David Jaffe, who, prior to doing God of War, made the first few Twisted Metal games. (Makes sense. That was cars + gore, and this is public domain IP + gore.) And nothing else. Jaffe has since been lifted up as a gaming demigod, despite his paltry spike-laden resume, where his every drunken ramble is lauded by Sony as a message from the future. Jaffe is classically unprepared for his godhood; he lacks the media savvy of a Fils-Aimes, the geeky exuberance of a Miyamoto, or even the earnest chutzpah of a Major Nelson. He's self-hating, paranoid and conflicted, disgusted by his profession and burned out after a mere handful of games. And I think he knows it... so when he does red-faced interviews from the Playboy Mansion grotto, and whines on his weblog about what he hates about the industry, he knows he's in over his head and has just stopped caring. But Sony was desperate for a superstar of their own, preferably American and ugly, so Jaffe was pushed out over the cliff.
A certain section of the audience goes for that... seeing Jaffe as this troubled auteur, willing to dis the evil master for his art. Unfortunately, Jaffe's art has yet to be seen. His vision, as yet revealed, amounts to the KISS costume closet. God of War is sturdy and sparkly, but it is all surface.
Memory Score: Not interested in the sequel at all
released September 2005, purchased September 2005
This was pretty quick to call out a follow-up to 2004's critical darling, Katamari Damacy, but we'll friggin' take it.
There was a real danger that Namco would bone this and deliver a sequel that felt lifeless. After all, the ending of the first game made it pretty clear that there wasn't much you could do to top it. But WLK delivered, matching (and besting, in most cases) the amazing soundtrack and offering some much-needed goal variety to the levels, while still maintaining the ridiculous worldview and bizarre pop-Japan imagery.
The game's story is sublimely meta-textual... creator Keita Takahashi did not want to make another Katamari game, but was pressured by Namco to take the lead. So WLK becomes a game about how much better the first one was, even as it itself adds to the legend.
You can definitely place this one on the Gotta Have It list for the PS2.
And even though Takahashi has since officially walked away from Katamari (the lackluster PSP edition was made without his involvement), I hope like hell that Namco brings this game into the new generation. We need more games like this, even if it's just more Katamari games.
Memory Score: No eternal levels!?!?!!?
Next time: two completely different games from the same guy show up in the same month, both from franchises I adore... and I finally jump into Big Boss's shoes.
Trapt Tormented Subsistence|
Tuesday / 02.06.07 / 11:01PM / Joe
released November 2005, purchased November 2005
click here for my review written in March 2006!
I loved the Deception series back on the PS1. Brilliant stuff. The series consisted of three PS1 games released over a relatively short span of time, so as the PS2 era plodded to a natural denuemont, I was increasingly surprised that the franchise seemed to be dead.
After a five year absence, Deception returned in 2005, reinvented in name - if not in gameplay - as Trapt. Silly name. Probably would have been okay with it if it had been "Trapt" from the start, but "Deception" is soooo much cooler. I'm positive we can blame marketing for that one.
But who to blame for the fact that Trapt is little more than an expansion pack for the PS1 versions? They did absolutely nothing to bring this wonderful series into the next generation. Same artificial limitations on trap inventory. Same no-effort movies and death-scene-cutaways. Same ugly castle interiors. After so long of a wait, Trapt just barely manages to avoid insulting existing fans.
It's still ridiculously fun, in a PS1-nostalgia kind of way. Can you ever get tired of launching jerks into spiked platforms? And since it has been a good long time since I enjoyed a Deception game, I can almost give it a pass for looking and acting like a PS2 launch title. But it remains a letdown. It seems clear that Trapt did not spend much time in development, and was probably just done on weekends while the same team was doing their real work on the Fatal Frame games.
Memory Score: Where are the TMD?
released November 2005, purchased November 2005
|Fatal Frame 3: The Tormented|
After two games that, apart from general theming, had nothing to do with each other, this third installment unexpectedly managed to tie the entire series together. I won't say it answered all the questions, but it did provide enough connections to keep the fanbase nicely roused.
With the camera-as-weapon dynamic pretty much perfected in Crimson Butterfly, The Tormented concentrated on multiple playable characters with differentiated abilities (a departure from the previous games, unless you count the brief sections of FF2 where you control Mayu). The other big change was the idea that the game proper was something to be encountered only in a dreamworld... which explained why Tormented could crossover with the other two. This led to a more traditional video gamey design that almost makes the game feel like it is divided into "levels," since main character Rei wakes up at key intervals, earning a (usually) restful break in her modern-day home.
I consider Crimson Butterfly the best of the trilogy, but Tormented is still a great play. I know that nobody truly believes it when a reviewer says that Game X actually frightened him or her... but with these games, you'd better believe it.
This is video gaming's premiere horror franchise, and one of the PS2's defining moments. (1 and 2 were later ported to Xbox, but Tormented remains a PS2 exclusive.)
Memory Score: sleep, priestess, lie in peace...
released March 2006, purchased March 2006
|Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence|
click here for my review written in May 2006!
Scroll up and you'll see that I went after just every piece of MGS2 released in the US. But I managed to miss the debut of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater... largely because it came out in the shadow of San Andreas. I wagered that Konami would do a collector's edition re-release sometime later - as they had with Sons of Liberty - so I held out for that. I was right.
Subsistence - which is a reference to Snake Eater's weirdo gameplay addition of eating local flora and fauna for health-ups - was a helluva deal. Snake Eater + online play + minigames + extras + a compiled "movie" of Snake Eater's cutscenes. I even sprung for the mega-ultra-supreme edition with a bonus DVD with a short MGS retrospective documentary. All for less than the original price of Snake Eater by itself!
Although the storyline is far below the Twin Peaksian standard of Sons of Liberty, MGS3 is still a sequel/prequel worthy of the name. Kojima just owns this, and I have no reason not to adore every scrap of rumor surrounding MGS4. The online aspect of Subsistence was short-lived; a collector's edition game simply isn't going to generate the buzz of a full online multiplayer game. I spent more time playing the MSX-emulated versions of the original Metal Gear games.
And I loved loved loved the movie disc. Yeah, it's not exactly a gripping four hours (boy, could it have used some editing!), but every storyline-driven game ought to include something like this.
Memory Score: oh, but the "field surgery" part was pretty crappy
Next time: Sora escapes from the GBA, the peripheral game that made us all forget DDR, and an overlooked horror title that's DOA.
Siren Hearts Hero|
Friday / 03.16.07 / 06:28PM / Joe
released March 2006, purchased May 2006
I can't recall for the life of me why I waited two months before buying KH2. Must have still been busy playing Trapt.
Kingdom Hearts 2 upgraded the series by streamlining the gameplay, phoning in the plot, and adding a handful of really oddball movie choices (Pirates of the Caribbean? Tron?) Obviously I was really chuffed by the former, intrigued by the latter, and disappointed by the bit in the middle.
It's great to get better gameplay. The item and ability management was much smoother, and the Gummi Ship portions rocked the freakin' casbah. After the drubbing the Gummi Ship got in the first game, it's clear the KH team took that as a challenge. It's a worthwhile game in its own right.
More disappointing was the story. Initially, it's a cumbersome extension of the first game and the GBA sequel, Chains of Memories... so it feels very deep and RPG-like. Once Sora and his pals really get into it, the story takes a backseat as they just trot from world to world declaring to solve everybody's problems, be they related to the encroaching Heartless or not. It's repetitive and silly. And by the time you pick up the main thread later on, you've forgotten everything you probably didn't understand in the first place, so the revelations in the endgame fall flat.
And, of course, Kingdom Hearts 2 is another one of those games that packs in tons of sidequests and exploration but demands that you fit it all in before triggering the final boss battle. I'll never understand that line of thinking.
As far as the new worlds go, adding Lion King, Mulan, and Steamboat Willie was pure gold. Tron was interesting, definitely visually cool, but all other attempts at reviving the movie have been met with failure, so it reeks of mis-managed corporate synergy. Pirates of the Caribbean may be the most brutally obvious marketing choice... shoehorned into the game based solely on contemporary whims, regardless of how odd it feels compared to the rest of the game. Imagine if Eddie Murphy's Haunted Mansion movie had been a Hollywood blockbuster; you can bet it would have ended up in Kingdom Hearts. Disney is that shameless.
Memory Score: Don't miss the great secret stuff after the credits.
released November 2005, purchased August 2006
I hedged on buying Guitar Hero for months. I've certainly played rhythm games before, so the gameplay was likely to be no shocker. I have more single-use peripherals laying around than anyone could possibly need, so a giant fake guitar wasn't exactly dreamy. And then there's the song list, which contains far too much truly terrible music.
But I'm very susceptible to cultural movements, and Guitar Hero is currently the do-no-wrong gaming darling. So when I saw the original package on a slight discount at Sam's Club, I decided that was the time to act.
And I don't regret it for an instant, even if some of the music is embarrassingly bad.
This is a breakthrough game, as pleasingly tactile and as compellingly aural as DDR but without the dance mats' imposing barrier to entry. It's great for parties, it's great for non-gamers, it's great for the hardcore. Like the Wii, this is the kind of thing that forces you to pay attention to it. It's a head-turner. As a gaming pro, you can't believe they pulled it off... and as a novice, you can't believe that such a wonder even exists.
I'll never play much higher than the early hard levels, and that's okay. It's still fun to replay the few songs that I really enjoy, over and over again every time. Getting 100% on Ziggy Stardust on Medium is enough reward for me.
Memory Score: Future versions need quieter plastic guitar parts.
released April 2004, purchased August 2006
This was a super-sale impulse buy. $8, I believe. I remembered this getting lousy reviews, but I dig the survival horror, so why not.
Odd little game. I only got about a third of the way through because it is stupid hard.
It's a really cool idea, sort of a Pulp Fiction non-linear approach to storytelling, with several groups of characters exploring a town full of not-zombie zombies. Where it breaks down is in execution... the characters have almost no defense and the baddies can kill with one shot, so it's not any definition of fun I've ever used.
The general idea is that the zombies all have set patrol patterns, and you're supposed to "sight-jack" them one at a time to find out what they see so you can make an effort to not be where they are looking. It is just as complicated as it sounds. It's very much a you-better-be-perfect-or-else kind of game, and I have a fantastically limited tolerance for that.
I should YouTube the first level sometime, because it is freaking hilarious.
Memory Score: The characters all have real actor faces, which looks nicely creepy.
Next time: Rockstar's final PS2 masterpiece, a Nintendo-esque peripheral game, and the good trilogy.
Star Drum Bully Master|
Tuesday / 06.12.07 / 11:30PM / Joe
released September 2006, purchased September 2006
LEGO Star Wars 2 was just as good as LEGO Star Wars 1. But also just as bad.
I mean, they didn't fix a damn thing. The co-op camera still actively works against you, often stranding players in infinite-falls or forcing unexpected dropouts. Plus, one player can "push" the camera along, dragging the other player whether they want to move or not. It's a mess, and after all the generous buzz the Crappy Trilogy Version received, it sucks bantha poodoo that nobody bothered to polish up the Awesome Trilogy Version... because they knew it would sell anyway. (I wish I'd've snapped a picture of it, but during one level the Minikit counter went nuts and it showed a final tally of 11 out of 10.)
It's even more annoying that the bugs weren't fixed because the game is, otherwise, superb. The conflation of the chibi-LEGO worldview and the Star Wars mythos is unavoidably compelling... and not that nobody tried to make Cute Star Wars happen before (**Super Bombad Racing**), but this particular package works because both licenses work. Somebody somewhere sure deserves a cookie for this, but they don't get another one until they get it 100% right.
Memory Score: Two player racing in the first scene of New Hope, using hidden cars found during a convoluted sidequest. AWESOME.
released October 2006, purchased October 2006
Click here for my review, written in January 2007.
Thinking back, I love how scared we all were of this one.
My god, it's a school shooting simulator! It's a bullying simulator! It's Grand Theft Auto with children! You're going to be able to have sex with baby hookers and then kill them!
And it wasn't. Instead, it was a sarcastic riff on 1950s/60s teen movies, with a strong emphasis on the terrible things kids do to each other as they divide into groups by choice or by being ostracized... very much like Animal House or Revenge of the Nerds.
The main focus of the game is ending bullying, not performing it... as star Jimmy Hopkins bounces from one clique to the next, teaching them to stop acting like dicks. Yes, usually through violence, but nothing more violent than a slingshot, a trash can lid, or good old fashioned fists. You can't even drive a car in this game.
The great debate is whether or not this is Bully as originally intentioned by Rockstar, or if they watered a more violent concept down to avoid planting a very intentional industry landmine. I don't believe I've ever seen a straight answer, but Bully's sometimes-weird script and overall character arc for Jimmy leads me to believe that something was altered in midstream.
I have to give Bully a gigantic recommendation, mainly because it permutes the finest elements of Grand Theft Auto gameplay into a very new, very focused world... and especially if you're part of the group that finds GTA either too distasteful or too overwhelming. Whatever your opinion of Rockstar, they have this act down.
Memory Score: That incredible bassline when you step outside.
released October 2004, purchased October 2006
I found this on clearance for under $15 and even though I had already worn thin on Donkey Konga, I had to buy it. There's a Katamari song on there, man!
Taiko Drum Master feels like a creepy alternate universe Nintendo game. Instead of DK, Cranky Kong, and banana chickens, you have anthropomorphized drums (and drumsticks!), bipedal wolves, and glassy-eyed children in festival clothes. Donkey Konga came out first (in the US anyway), but both games were created by Namco so it's easy to see why they are virtually identical in everything except window dressing.
The drum itself is harder to play than the DK Bongos (FANBOI!!1!!!), but the game's presentation is much nicer. Namco's home-grown characters, weird as they may be, are much more fun and appealing than Nintendo's Donkey Kong Country sub-universe. Plus, Taiko Drum Master has the Dragon Ball Z theme in there, not to mention the aforementioned Katamari track.
At this point, you know there's never going to be anything else that supports the Taiko drum controller (as if you would have expected otherwise, even in '04), so any kind of closeout price on this one is a fair deal. Fun, silly game.
Memory Score: "Even though I was scolded for not washing my hands, I still feel happy."
Next time: A game that killed a company, a game that killed my PS2-phat, and a game that killed all hope of self-respect. The end is nigh for the PS2!
Karaokami Lip Revolution|
Thursday / 09.20.07 / 09:01PM / Joe
released January 2007, received February 2007
|Karaoke Revolution Presents American Idol|
Hard to believe it took this long for an American Idol-branded karaoke game to show up.
And, being over three years after the first Karaoke Revolution game, this means we're up to some very full-featured titles. Good song list, a microphone instead of a headset (duh!), plenty of unlockables, and an eerie face-mapping application that puts your head in the game.
The American Idol aspect is a nice fit; judges Randy and Simon critique your performance. The Idol scheme really helps this feel like a real event, even if the judges' comments are only tangentially related to your singing. It's even more fun in multiplayer where you can actually stage your own American Idol sing-off (just without voting from the audience at home).
This is a fine capper to the series... albeit for a franchise that is likely DOA these days thanks to Sony's own SingStar and the upcoming karaoke+music monster Rock Band.
Memory Score: Laura?
released February 2007, purchased February 2007
Definitely one of those games that I had to have, no matter how it would turn out.
This little-known game was just barely released in the US, becoming an EB budget exclusive after years of almost total abandonment. It's an adventure game (very point-and-click in feel, actually) where you have to perform errands and talk to people until you find the right moment to kiss them. Oh yeah.
It's a subtle kind of nuts. Very Japanese, but not in the colorful, over the top style of Katamari or No One Can Stop Mr. Domino. It's subdued and charming, full of memorable characters and bizarre story fragments.
It is also unfairly, tragically, monstrously hard.
It is impossible to tackle Chulip without a guide of some sort. You just can't. The puzzles (most of which involve a lot of waiting around during day/night cycles) just can not be parsed by humans. It's not even possible in the cheap old RPG way of "I'll just level up like crazy and then defeat the boss." It's just complete nonsense from start to finish, and you need the patience of a saint to muddle through it. I died from going down a slide at the playground, for crying out loud.
That's not to say it's a bad game, or that it isn't a rewarding experience. It just is not the kind of game where you can expect to logic out solutions. You can't even expect the game to provide gentle hints. Swallow your pride and have a guide at the ready.
Memory Score: And it won't play on older PS2s, so don't bother unless you have a slimline.
released September 2006, purchased March 2007
I had every intention of getting Okami when it came out, but I was pretty jammed up at the time (Bully, LEGO Star Wars II, Wild World and Killer 7!) I figured it would be good, but I also figured it could wait.
And then the game sold so poorly (especially in Japan) that the studio that created (Clover Studio, previously known for the Viewtiful Joe series) was shut down completely. So no, you probably can't wait too long because I doubt they printed a million billion of these.
I probably don't need to heartily endorse Okami because everybody else did. It's a sure-fire Best of PS2 contender, but nobody bought it. I don't get it. Was it the wolf-as-main-character? Was it the Wind Waker-ish visuals? Was it the lack of established IP? Was it marketing's early emphasis on the sumi-e brushwork? Was it too Japanese for even the Japanese? What the hell went wrong here?
This is a lengthy, worthwhile, high-quality experience. It is an indictment on PS2 owners that it just squeaks in as the 100th best selling game of 2006, ranking behind such luminaries as Happy Feet and Superman Returns. And you can't blame the press, because, to a man, they were all behind this game. No, this is a marketing failure and an audience failure. Gamers are notorious for creating word-of-mouth successes... I just can't understand what happened to let this one slip by.
Memory Score: Buy it. The stylized art means Okami could have legs even when set against new-gen games.
Next time: it's cheap game catch-up time!
Dawn of 24: The Fury|
Sunday / 01.20.08 / 07:19PM / Joe
released February 2006, received May 2006
This was sent to the office one day, so the bright idea was hatched that we should all get together and play it.
Taking turns, we made it through Hour Nine and then gave up when none of us could "LOSE THE TAIL!" Although we put in a second evening's effort a few weeks later - and did in fact LOSE THE TAIL - our opinion of the game being slightly better than good dog shit did not change.
I mean, it tries. The story is original (but is it canon?)... the actors were all super excited to be involved, judging from the PR-alicious commentary videos. There is a nice variety of levels, from regular ol' third-person shooting to regular ol' third person stealth to regular ol' third person driving to regular ol' psycho interrogating, but none of it is particularly well done. The best you can say is that the game's stinkiness largely does not interfere with your ability to complete it. Even though we never did because we got bored.
Memory Score: LOSE THE TAIL.
released September 2005, purchased June 2007
|Genji: Dawn of the Samurai|
I picked this up for $10, a few months before I bought a PS3. I'm sure I got $10 out of it.
The worst part was, I went from Okami to this. Although Genji is probably a fine, serviceable, deep-enough experience, not many games could stand to follow up Okami.
I never finished Genji, but I should have. It's very pretty for a PS2 game. It is sort of strange amalgam of RPG talk-and-search with Dynasty Warriors-esque action combat levels connecting all of the towns. You get to power up your dudes, collect trinkets for special attacks, etc etc. Once your guy gets a ton of special energy built up, you can unleash an uber-killing mode that lets you dice through a pile of enemies in a showstopping chain sequence. That's about the ballgame.
Sony has tried to turn Genji into a genuine franchise, but the results have been less than spectacular.
Memory Score: Amahagane!
released September 2006, purchased July 2007
"Oh, how bad could it be?" I wondered. This was another $10 grab, but this one isn't worth the tenner.
Obviously crafted early in the PS2's life but then shipped to America only after the anime grew legs, Mamodo Fury is one ugly, confusing, unplayable game. I would hope that somebody, somewhere, has achieved a better Zatch Bell game than this.
I like the Zatch Bell concept. I think the manga is surprisingly weighty and well-written. It's a neat riff on Pokemon with a Battle Royale flavor. This game, however, sucks.
Offensive in design, Mamodo Fury has some of the absolute worst menu screens ever devised. Offensive in gameplay, Mamodo Fury's levels consist of repetitive, impossible battles with charged attacks that rarely work. Offensive in presentation, Mamodo Fury's battlefields are of PS1 quality, with barebones graphics that would look crappy on a DS. Were this 2001, we'd have our excuse.
This is a textbook example of a license raped, an elderly game sold as new to unsuspecting fans.
Memory Score: Fun loading screens though.
Next time: the final tally!
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