The 10 Most Important Games of Last Generation
The last generation of consoles is one that has been around for over 7 years now, and is actually still going strong with the PS2 displaying ridiculous staying power. Maybe it’s me getting older and more jaded, but I feel like we will never see a future group of consoles push gaming as far as the “128-bit” era did, at least until we reach virtual reality or some sort of Existenz-type console. But you could say that about every generation of consoles. It’s the law of diminishing returns. Nevertheless, since the turn of the century 3D graphics have truly come into their own, game worlds have expanded beyond what any kid could have imagined a decade before, online gaming hit consoles for good, and the entire industry grew more profitable than Hollywood.
From the premature death of the Dreamcast, to the juggernaut that is the PS2, to the battle for second-place between the Xbox and Gamecube, gamers had more legitimately great consoles and games to spend their money on than ever before. I really wish I had a digital camera so I could take a picture of all of the consoles piled on top of each other. Google Image Search has failed me.
But enough about the consoles and my lack of a visual aid – this is about the games, which will be ordered chronologically by their release, even though ranking them would be interesting…
At least in America, Soul Calibur is one of the games that launched with the Sega Dreamcast to usher in the new 128-bit (I miss the days when bits defined a group of consoles) generation. It delivered 3D, weapon-based combat at an ultra-fluid, mind-blowing 60 frames-per-second that blew the fuck out of every game that had come before it. It improved on the arcade version in every aspect and set a new standard for home console graphics. I couldn’t believe my eyes the first time I saw Kilik spinning his bo around his body smoothly and realistically. After playing a match in Soul Calibur, I needed a Dreamcast. (Luckily, I was a spoiled only child.) The astonishing leap in graphics that Soul Calibur brought has not been matched since. And it wasn’t just the graphics – the fact that the fighting revolved around weapons that ranged from a massive battle-axe, to a samurai sword, to claws on a ambiguously gay demon made for some of the most fun I’ve had gaming in the past decade. Along with Virtua Tennis (another Dreamcast masterpiece), I can honestly say it’s one of the games that everyone instantly falls in love with. A person can button-mash and pull off amazing moves, yet there’s enough in the game to master to satisfy all but the most hardcore of fighting game enthusiasts (read: Virtua Fighter lovers). Even though it was a launch game, Soul Calibur remains the greatest game to grace the Dreamcast and a game that served to revitalize the fighting genre.
Every list needs a controversial entry. But whether you love it or hate it, there can be no debate that Yu Suzuki created a game like no other that came before it. Once again, the Dreamcast set a new standard in graphics, but Shenmue also created a living, breathing world (even if it was full of godawful voice acting). Some still vehemently state their hatred for the game and its boring tendencies, while others loved the freedom within the amazing game world, the mish-mash of multiple game genres, and the story. Obviously, I fall into the latter group, but I can admit that there were definitely a few tedious parts and that the fighting aspect could have been handled better. Nevertheless, the game just sucked me and I loved all the different things one could do within the game. You could play old-school Sega arcade games Space Harrier and Hang-On, gamble, practice your martial-art skills, talk to not just all the generic people on the street, but numerous unique characters littered throughout the world, and tons of stuff I can’t even remember. Two of the other defining aspects of the game are the time and weather system that served to make the game world feel even more authentic and the QTE (Quick Timer Event) sequences that allowed the player to participate in interactive cutscenes. While Shenmue was not the first game to employ this technique, it assuredly made it popular, as it has since been used in action games such as Resident Evil 4 and the God of War series.
Devil May Cry
Early PS2 games haven’t aged exceptionally gracefully, and that screenshot shows it, but Devil May Cry still rocks (even though DMC3 is inarguably the peak of the series). Back in 2001, this game must have been a revelation (unfortunately, I only recently got around to playing the series). It was the birth of the truly awesome 3D action genre. What started out as another installment of the Resident Evil franchise turned into a very different beast – one where the player is not just trying to survive, he’s attempting to kick as much ass as possible. The seamless transition between blade and firearm was a stroke of genius that allowed Dante to kill more effectively than any gaming character that had come before him. Some were turned off by the difficulty, but Devil May Cry just symbolized a return to the trial-and-error of many 2D action games of old. As any Mega Man fan knows, it only added to the feeling of accomplishment when you finally beat a tough boss. But when it came to the countless regular enemies throughout the game, it had never been more fun to totally rip apart enemies with dual handguns.
Grand Theft Auto III
THE game of the generation. There can be no debate that GTA3 was the most important, most influential console game of this decade. It took the freedom of Shenmue to a new, unbelievably fun, unabashedly violent level. Liberty City was the coolest game world ever created and the amount of carnage that could be achieved was ground-breaking. Of course, the appeal of the game appeared to be the violence to many concerned parents (and it undoubtedly was for many young kids), but I really feel like it was the sheer amount of things one could do in the game that made it such a massive phenomenon. To counteract the fact that a player could kill as many people as he wanted, upon entering a taxi or any sort of public service vehicle, the player could take on the corresponding job. So even within a game known for its over-the-top cartoonish violence, one can become a ambulance driver or firefighter. How awesome is that? The whole game was just so damn cool. The radio stations were extremely well-made, there were tons of fake cars, tons of side jobs, and a bunch of a weapons to wreck havoc with. Amazingly enough, there was actually a fairly decent story within the game, even though it wasn’t necessary; an obscene amount of fun could be had without ever going through the missions. The game provided a throwback to when games were just fun romps and as a result became the biggest word-of-mouth hit in a decade.
The Goldeneye of last generation. And just like the ground-breaking N64 classic, it had its share of detractors, mostly coming from the PC gaming sect or just RPG-loving japafags who either wanted another reason to bash the Xbox or actually didn’t enjoy it (I don’t know which one is worse). But they had a point, as the simple fact remains that the Xbox would’ve been dead in the water without this amazingly fun FPS. If it weren’t for Microsoft purchasing Bungie to get this game on their upstart console, we might not have the Xbox 360 right now. My friends and I stayed up all night playing multiplayer the first time we laid our hands on the Xbox controller. The wonderful dual-analog controls were numerous cuts above anything that had ever been on a console before. We didn’t want to leave the house. It’s an experience that lasted for years for millions of gamers across America. I remember hearing about Halo LAN parties even after the sequel had come out. GameSpy created a way for Xbox gamers to play Halo online against each other. The game became a phenomenon that led to the massive hype (and subsequent disappointment) around Halo 2.
Super Smash Bros. Melee
Not quite a launch title for the Gamecube, but anything that comes out before the first Christmas for a console might as well be. It was Nintendo’s answer to Halo, as it was an extremely fun 4-player game, but it was nowhere as essential to Gamecube’s success(?). Nevertheless, it took everything about the N64 version and supersized, perfected, and fanboy-stamped it. The amount of fan service and nostalgia in Super Smash Bros. Melee could make any person that grew up with Nintendo giddy: 25 playable characters that ranged from icons like Mario and Link to old, little-known creations like Mr. Game and Watch and Ice Climbers, 29 stages covering almost every Nintendo franchise, an insane amount of weapons, and even 290 virtual trophies of Nintendo characters and objects ranging Nintendo’s entire videogame-making history. Maybe my friends and I burnt ourselves out on Halo, and maybe the sequel soured us a bit, but SSBM has had more longevity, as I still pop it in and play it with friends every once in a while. There’s just too much fun and randomness to be had. As a result, the franchise is now arguably Nintendo’s biggest, as SSBM was Gamecube’s biggest seller. Not bad for a game that is a object of scorn for many fighting game fans.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Every gamer knows where he or she was when the now infamous Spaceworld 2001 video was shown. Link was a cartoon. What the fuck had Nintendo done to Zelda? This was supposed to be their key franchise and yet they took a massive risk with it – and paid dearly for it. The Gamecube never shed its kiddie image – Resident Evil 4 came too late – and Nintendo once again lost in the market-share battle to a first-timer in the console industry. But the funny thing is that The Wind Waker turned out to be an absolutely great, beautiful game, whose graphical style will no doubt stand the test of time more gracefully than that of The Ocarina of Time 2: Twilight Princess (some would argue it looks better now). Even though it’s almost impossible to die in combat, and the “Triforce Hunt” at the end of the game is frequently cited as one of the most annoying things in a recent game, the game is still loved by the vast majority of gamers. The story was a step above anything that had been seen in a Zelda game before, and the boss battles were pretty damn awesome for the most part. Nintendo knew what they were doing with the unique art style and truly made a game that embraced it – it’s just a shame that much of the mainstream gaming world shunned it from the very start.
I know I referred to Halo 2 as a disappointment before, so it seems pretty contradictory for it to have a place on this list, but its effect on the online gaming community cannot be understated. Xbox Live doubled in subscribers over the first year of Halo 2‘s release, and over a half-billion games of it have been played on Xbox Live. The Xbox truly served its rightful place as a Halo-box. The disappointment stemmed from the single-player campaign that failed to live up to the ridiculous hype, and the fact that it didn’t even feature the war-torn level that had been shown earlier at E3 to start up the hype train. The game was supposed to be about protecting Earth, but that turned out to pretty much be a lie and some people didn’t like switching to a Covenant Elite (seemed like an MGS move). And of course, the abrupt ending pissed off just about every gamer. Yet, the online multiplayer aspect of the game continues to go strong. The matchmaking system, while it has its faults, is still arguably the best on Xbox Live. Halo 2 truly brought online gaming to the forefront on consoles.
Shadow of the Colossus
This is really the 10th choice of the list. I had a few contenders, but I chose Shadow of the Colossus for Mupepe (you’re welcome). But really, the more and more I thought about it, this is a game that will serve as an example for years to come and deserves to be on this list. I was a bit hesitant because I know ICO was its spiritual predecessor and some gamers still prefer it, but I’ve never played it myself. On the other hand, I’ve played SOTC and I enjoyed it – even with the erratic camera, unique control scheme, and chugging framerate. I got accustomed to the controls and eventually embraced them, and the horrific framerate – in my opinion at least – only served to accentuate the cinematic feel of the game. I will never forget the moment I first encountered the first colossus. It was mind-blowingly huge. More amazingly, I actually felt bad when I killed it. It was the first tinge of guilt I had ever felt playing a game. SOTC is basically the complete opposite of a game like GTA3 in almost every possible way. I could kill a million pedestrians in the latter and not bat an eye (actually, I would be laughing), while in the former, killing one of the colossi would feel like killing an innocent creature, albeit a massive one. But perhaps the most outstanding part of SOTC is the aesthetic aspect; between the beautiful visuals and the fantastic orchestral soundtrack, the game is possibly the closest gaming has come to an interactive work of art. And the ending – I’m almost embarrassed to say – actually tugged at my heartstrings. No game has ever done that.
Ever notice how there’s now a whole section of rhythm and music games at stores like Best Buy nowadays? This is because of one game, and one game only – Guitar Hero. Dance Dance Revolution became a pretty big hit before it, but its success was mostly constrained to the arcade scene along with Asian kids and extremely hardcore gamers who wish they were Asian. Guitar Hero completely rocked the video game industry in 2005. With a 5-button controller guitar complete with strum and whammy bars, the game took America by storm. People of all ages fell in love with the game that allowed you to play classic songs ranging from “More Than A Feeling” to “Crossroads” to recent hits like “Cochise” and “No One Knows”. No more air guitar for the untalented and impatient among us. Within hours, anyone could play the game halfway decently and have fun ripping through the awesome tracklist (which was not surpassed in the sequel, by the way). Even the most self-conscious of the human race would fall victim to the awesomeness of Guitar Hero. And more surprisingly, even guitar and bass players ate up the game as well. Quite simply, Guitar Hero was some of the most fun last generation had to offer.
Metroid Prime – One of my favorite games of last generation. It brought the Metroid franchise into 3D better than almost anyone could have imagined. The visor made the first-person perspective more immersive than its ever been, and the boss battles were some of the most inventive of last generation.
Ninja Gaiden / Ninja Gaiden Black – Served as the Devil May Cry for Xbox. A truly awesome game that still has gamers arguing over whether it, DMC3, or God of War is the ultimate action game of the generation.
Burnout 2 – Truly served as the breakout game for the franchise that has become the most popular arcade racing series in gaming. Insane speed and spectacular crashes – what more could you want?
SSX – The start of the best franchise EA actually created last generation and served as the must-have launch title (fuck Madden) for the PS2 in America.
Resident Evil 4 – The rebirth of a franchise. Killing zombies was never this fun, and never looked this amazing either. Just a phenomenal, epic action game that pushed the limit of the Gamecube’s graphical power.
God of War 2 – I haven’t even played it yet, but from all accounts it kicks even more ass than its predecessor, which was already fuck awesome. The fact that it was just released on PS2 only cements that console’s status as a unstoppable force that will continue to sell well into next year.