*Three weeks until the new consoles arrive*
We’ve got a slow week, folks. I mean, there’s new Pokemon content, so it’s not like we’re left with nothing, but still, no major new releases make this a week you can likely catch up on the back catalog or add some more cash to the PS5/Series S/X fund. In notable title news, the PS2’s North American 20 year anniversary is this week, so maybe you scroll down to that and read over my extensive discussion on all of the launch titles for that system. It took me several days to play through all of the games and do the write up on them; please clap.
Pokemon Sword and Shield: The Crown Tundra (Switch) – Releases Oct. 22nd
Set in a snowy tundra that is loosely based on Scotland, players will explore this free roaming wild area in search of legendary Pokemon that they can enslave and force into gladiatorial battles for the amusement of others. It’s a kids game!
Amnesia: Rebirth (PC/PS4) – Releases Oct. 20th
Just in time for Halloween, Frictional Games Amnesia series is getting another entry. This psychological horror game tasks you with solving puzzles while staying hidden from horrifying creatures that want to wear your head like a hat, and speak in tongues like an alley cat, cradle you in their lap, until you die alone.
Gonner 2 (Switch) – Releases Oct. 22nd (Other platforms TBD)
The first Gonner was an early Switch title that kind of flew under the radar. Those who picked it up, however, found a competent little roguelike shooter with deep replay value. The sequel looks like more of the same, which isn’t a bad thing to me.
The Red Lantern (PC – Epic Games Store/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Oct. 22nd
“Walking simulators” sometimes get a bad rap, but they’re sometimes nice palate cleansers if you’ve been finding yourself in a button mashing shooter for a long stretch of time. Their slow pace, and generally interesting stories are, basically, interactive television. The Red Lantern looks promising, and aside from telling a story while you walk through the wilderness, it also features survival game elements that will test your mettle, and features 100 different encounters to experience.
Transformers: Battlegrounds (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Oct. 23rd
Last week, 80’s kids got a G.I. Joe video game, and this week their nostalgia trip continues with a brand new Transformers game. Featuring XCOM style turn based grid combat, players will be able to control several of their favorite Autobots, including Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, and Grimlock, as they protect the Allspark from Perplexo and the evil Dilutitrons.
Doom Eternal: The Ancient Gods Part 1 (PC/PS4/Xbox One) – Releases Oct. 20th
When Doom Eternal released it had two things going against it, Animal Crossing New Horizons and the beginning of our long COVID lockdown. I played it, got through about four hours of it, and kind of hated everything about it. However, I’m just one guy, no one cares what I think, so the team at ID Software went ahead with their plans for an expansion, despite my many protests outside their offices. “No more parkour, we want to shoot more“, I cried, but my words fell on deaf ears.
Two Point Hospital: Culture Shock (PC) – Releases Oct. 20th
Remember Two Point Hospital, the spiritual successor to Theme Hospital? Sure you do, stop shaking your head “no”. In this latest expansion, players will be able to create the hospital/movie studio of their dreams, because why not!
Hyperbrawl Tournament (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Oct. 20th
Outpost Delta (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Oct. 20th
Tool Boy (Switch) – Releases Oct. 22nd (PC “coming soon”)
Pumpkin Jack (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Oct. 23rd
Supermarket Shriek (PC/PS4/Switch) – Releases Oct. 23rd
Notable Releases from 10, 20 and 30 years ago:
Rock Band 3 (PS3/DS/Wii/Xbox 360) – Released Oct. 26th, 2010: Wiki Link
Super Meat Boy (Xbox 360) – Released Oct. 20th, 2010: Wiki Link
It’s one of our rare notable double features. From ten years ago we have Harmonix’s final numbered entry in the Rock Band franchise for sixth generation consoles, and the debut of an indie hero with Super Meat Boy.
By the end of 2009, possibly even 2008, the rhythm game genre was in a free fall. Gone were the days of massive sales numbers for titles like Guitar Hero III, which sold $830 million worth of plastic guitars to the world. Instead, Rock Band 3 would only sell 1.2 million units in just under five years, a number that the previous entry, Rock Band 2, sold in just 2008 alone. Knowing that interest in the rhythm genre was waning, and with Activision announcing that Guitar Hero was going on hiatus, Harmonix knew they had to do something to try and re-invigorate public interest. Their plan consisted of four things, a robust set of online features to engage players over a longer period of time, the addition of multiple singers who could harmonize with one another on separate tracks, a brand new keyboard peripheral, as well as two new “real” guitars, which led to the addition of the final new item, “pro mode”. A standard game of Rock Band 3 would play just like all the others, with players matching up with colored gems on the screen using their guitar, drums, or keyboard. In pro mode, players would be required to match an almost perfect recreation of the songs notes, making full use of all the keys on the keyboard and having perfect finger placement and string picking on one of the two brand new pro guitars, a plastic button version and a fully functional stringed Fender Squire Stratocaster. It was an ambition move to help push the genre, and franchise, towards actual musical legitimacy, but none of it really mattered. With the pro guitars going for way too much, and the keyboard failing to interest most players, Rock Band 3 was a title for the hardcore fan only. From a critical standpoint it is the highlight of the numbered series, and is clearly the strongest entry in the series, even if the songs aren’t as memorable as the offerings in the first two games. The library didn’t really matter, though, because Harmonix did a good job making sure that previous titles could be exported into your current game’s library (for the most part), and their online store was massive, boasting well over 2,000 songs from 250 different artists, meaning your night of fake plastic band fun could be totally different than another players, based on musical tastes. Again, sales for the title were dismal, with on 7,400 units sold across all platforms in the first two days of release. With a reception this poor, it’s any wonder that Harmonix were able to keep the DLC flowing for three more years. The poor reception caused Viacom to sell the company, with Mad Catz purchasing them, but this would ultimately cause Mad Catz to go out of business, but Harmonix would survive on the success of another franchise we’ll get to shortly, a Kinect game called Dance Central.
While Rock Band and the rhythm game genre were falling out of favor, the indie game boom started by Braid and others was continuing to grow year over year. Going back a couple of years to 2008, artist and game designer Edmund McMillen, along with a programming partner named Jonathan McEntee, released a flash game on the website New Grounds called Meat Boy. Featuring similar gameplay to its successor, the game was a big hit on the website and got the attention of both Nintendo and Microsoft who were both looking for new content to sell on their digital storefronts. McMillen initially wanted to create a sequel to one of his earlier games Gish or Aether, it was his work with a different programmer, Tommy Refenes, that made him decide to move forward with a sequel to Meat Boy. With a deep love for classic NES titles like Ghost ‘n Goblins, Mega Man, and Super Mario Bros., McMillen and Refenes got to work on creating a brutal, old school platformer that was easy to learn, but hard to master. With quick respawn times, players could fail and fail and fail as many times as they wanted, trying out different strategies and experimenting with platforming in a way that they hadn’t really been given a chance to before. If you’re unfamiliar with the game, players take on the role of the titular Meat Boy on his quest to rescue his girlfriend Bandage Girl from the evil Dr. Fetus. With buzzsaws, spiked pits and other hazards out there, players must run, jump, and slide down walls in order to reach the end of each of the over 300 stages. It requires patience, skill, and a bit of luck, to complete the game, but doing so is incredibly rewarding, both for the absurd story that unfolds over the course of the game, and of course that sense of pride you get in completing a difficult task. The game’s development and release were full of challenges and pitfalls, most notably seen in the 2012 documentary film Indie Game: The Movie, and at one point it almost looked like the game wasn’t going to come out. Feeling the financial burden, as well as the immense stress, of being a two person operation, McMillen and Refenes took a chance on being part of Microsoft’s Fall GameFest promotion through Xbox Live. The move would lead to a short Xbox 360 exclusivity, and would also push the two men to their limits, both physically and mentally. When the game finally arrived on November 20th, 2010, it was grossly underpromoted by Microsoft who felt they had a dud on their hands (despite a highly positive reception at PAX in September of 2010); they were wrong. Vastly outselling all of the other titles in the Fall GameFest, when Super Meat Boy came to Steam a month later it was heavily promoted on their storefront, being hailed as one of the most anticipated PC releases of the year. Critics and players loved the game, giving it high scores across every outlet, and selling over 140,000 copies on Xbox 360 by the end of the year. By the end of 2011 the game had sold 600,000 copies, and by the end of 2012 they had crossed the 1 million mark. Even though they showed early interest, it would take six years for the game to eventually come to a Nintendo console, the Wii U, before arriving on the Switch in 2018. A sequel is currently in the works called Super Meat Boy Forever and it slated for release on PC sometime in 2021, however series creator Edmund McMillen has been confirmed to have no involvement with it. Indie games, and retro inspired titles, have only continued to grow in popularity over the years, becoming a major part of the gaming landscape with no signs of stopping anytime soon.
PlayStation 2 – Released Oct. 26th, 2000: Wiki Link
Sony’s gamble on entering the video game industry in 1995 with the PlayStation was a bold move that paid off in spades. Many other companies had tried to take on Nintendo and their domination of the home video game market and had failed spectacularly. Sega was another exception, but by the end of the 90’s they were starting to look weak, and despite releasing a top notch system with the Dreamcast, it had a major piracy problem that was just starting to show it’s ugly head. With consumer confidence low in Sega, and Nintendo and newcomer Microsoft’s consoles still one year away, Sony was poised to continue their upward trajectory with the release of the PlayStation 2. Boasting a, for the time, sleek and modern design, the PS2 looked like a sophisticated piece of hardware for your entertainment center, ditching the top loading disc flap of the PSX and Dreamcast, and opting for a mechanical slide out tray; tres sophistique. Another interesting design feature was the ability to place the console in a vertical orientation, letting it tower above your other consoles, or slot neatly next to your television in a world where entertainment devices were becoming more and more common in the home. As far as the guts of the machine, it ran on a proprietary chip called “The Emotion Engine”, which allowed for high end graphics and sound that were supposed to be leaps above anything else in the market. Perhaps one of the major selling points of the system, aside from the new games, was that the PS2 could also play DVD’s, the brand new home video format that was sweeping the nation. While VHS tapes were still commonplace in retail shops and video rental stores, DVD’s were quickly growing in popularity due to their superior sound and video quality over cassettes. With a retail price of $299.99 USD, and most DVD players costing between $200 and $500 dollars, consumers saw major value in the PS2, and it was probably most people’s first DVD player. Add to all of this a near 100% backwards compatibility with PSX software, and you had one hell of a deal for consumers at a relatively low price, but what about the games? Yes…what about the games…
With a staggering 28 launch titles in North America, the PS2 came out the gate with, what appeared to be, an impressive library. With major franchises like Tekken, Dead or Alive, Ridge Racer, Street Fighter, Madden, and Armored Core, all debuting with the console, the PS2 was looking good for returning players. Add to this a slate of titles from EA, Koei, From Software, Take Two, THQ, and Rockstar Games, just to name a few, and you had a very, VERY, broad slate of titles to choose from at day one. There’s a lot to talk about, so to keep my sanity I am going to break them up by genre or company, sound good? Okay, good, let’s start with the fighting games. With two ports, Tekken Tag Tournament and Dead or Alive 2, and one original, Street Fighter EX3, the fighting genre had the PS2 showcasing some of its best graphics. While I absolutely love Tekken Tag Tournament, DOA2 Hardcore is just so fast and fun to play. Its lush backgrounds and destructible environments draw you in, and its fast paced story mode is perfect for an afternoon of Mt. Dew and high kicking. Regardless, either one would have been perfect to play when having a few friends over for drinks. Street Fighter EX3 is just okay…were you expecting more?
Despite having a hit franchise in Grand Theft Auto, Rockstar Games was still fairly young as a company, yet they still managed to have four PS2 launch titles. With their groundbreaking GTA III still one year away, you can see its seeds in at least two of their PS2 launch titles, Smuggler’s Run and Midnight Club. Both games centered on driving as their main mechanic, and both featured you playing as a dubious character who had their foot on the wrong side of the law. Neither game is particularly well fleshed out, and they seem more like tech demo’s than full games, but the lesson’s learned here are likely what helped GTA III reach its full potential. While mini-games wouldn’t really become a common thing in Grand Theft Auto games until San Andreas, Rockstar might have used their title Q-Ball: Billiards Master as a test run, or at the very least, remembered that they built a billiards game and added it to San Andreas as a neat bonus. Surprisingly, Q-Ball is actually one of the best games in the entire PS2 launch lineup, boasting solid controls, beautiful graphics, and realistic physics. As for their fourth title, Surfing H3O…FUCK THAT GAME. I’ve played some terrible games in my life, and Surfing H3O is right up there with the worst of them. With overly complicated controls, the game seemed like it was trying to cater to the realistic extreme sports crowd just a little too much and it, pun intended, wiped out. Is it any coincidence that the protagonist in GTA III couldn’t swim? Think about it.
When it came to the mass market, it wasn’t just the DVD player that sold them on the PS2, it was also the inclusion of one of the most popular game franchises of all time, Madden. While the Sega Dreamcast boasted impressive visuals with NFL 2K, using that title in store kiosks to drive sales, that franchise didn’t carry the prestige or brand recognition as EA’s nearly 12 year old franchise. Despite the blurry image above, Madden 2001 has some of the very best visuals on the PS2, with (for the time) very detailed character models and movements that had players really feel like they were, to borrow a phrase from their tagline, in the game. This wasn’t the only sports title EA released for the PS2 at launch, also coming out with NHL 2001 and snowboarding game SSX. Not to be outdone by Madden, NHL 2001 had just as impressive graphics and movement, with a robust suite of features, it was a great title for old and new hockey fans, alike. Seeing the success of Tony Hawk, EA Sports dipped their toe into the extreme sports genre with SSX, an arcade style snowboarding title that was a mix between a racing game and a “cool trix” point fest. Again, the graphics were very impressive for the era and helped show off the power of the PS2. While these three sports titles represented some of he finest graphics on the PS2, their entry in the action genre was another story. Called X-Squad, this dud feels like a PSX game that was told to move to the next console mid development. Featuring piss poor controls, hideously ugly graphics, and laughable voice acting, it was one of the many misfires in the PS2 launch lineup.
Before From Software were the prestigious, worldwide powerhouse they are today, they were a small studio with a cult following. With their RPG series King’s Field, and their mech combat series Armored Core, From Software came out the gate on the PS2 with three major titles. First up is Armored Core 2, the fourth game in the series, it was well received by critics for its graphics, but lost points due to its poor controls, a problem that will plague all of their launch titles. The next two titles, Eternal Ring and Evergrace are action/RPG games that will feel a bit familiar to fans of the Souls games. Taking a cue from King’s Field, Eternal Ring is a first person RPG that harkens back to the days of Wizardry and A Bard’s Tale. The game isn’t quite as difficult as later Souls games, or even King’s Field, but it can be unforgiving at times, with save points spread out by great distances and water hazards that can instantly kill you. Like Armored Core (and several, SEVERAL other PS2 games), the controls in this game are a fucking nightmare, some of the worst I’ve ever encountered, and I’ve played Surfing H3O. Their next RPG, Evergrace, controls much, much better, but it has incredibly dull environments that make playing through this game a major bore. With a third person view, this game edges its toe much closer to Dark Souls than Eternal Ring. With difficult, tedious boss fights, peon grunts that can kill you in a couple hits, and a robust weapon/magic/armor system, you can see a lot of the things that would eventually make it into the Souls games. I’m not going to say that Evergrace is nearly as good as those, but if you’re a fan of the series it wouldn’t hurt to go back and give it a look just to see where the ideas came from.
Of course no console would be complete without some shooters, particularly FPS titles which were, and still are, one of the most popular genres of the era. Released a year earlier on the PC, Epic Games Unreal Tournament was a somewhat odd choice for a launch title on a system that couldn’t connect to the internet (at least not initially). With dark, muddy graphics, it’s one of the worst looking launch titles on the PS2, but at least you could play with up to four players…with a multitap. While Unreal offered little in the way of a quality single player experience, Free Radical’s launch title Timesplitters was more than willing to make up for it. With a team of former Rare employees behind the development, the game bore a striking resemblance to Goldeneye and Perfect Dark, and is seen as a sort of spiritual successor to those games. It garnered rave reviews from critics but was only seen as a modest sleeper hit, however word of mouth would increase its notoriety and it eventually go on to spawn two sequels. For arcade shooter fans there was Silent Scope, an almost too faithful adaptation of the popular sniper game. While having time limits and short burst gameplay makes sense in the arcades, that style doesn’t translate to the home console very well, making this game much more frustrating than it needed to be. If I’m paying $40 – $50 for a game, I damn sure want to be able to play through the entire thing. I shouldn’t have to sit there and try to keep a timer filled in order to progress, that’s stupid, you have my money, let me fucking play the game. Anyway, it at least looked nice, and it did have some endless shooting modes, but the main story was locked behind archaic arcade gameplay mechanics. Finally, there was another mech combat game that came out, GunGriffon Blaze, that was published by well known localization company Working Designs. While the combat feels really fresh and fun, the controls bring the whole thing down. With a completely unintuitive use of the thumbsticks, this game was so difficult to control that I, no joke, almost threw up from motion sickness. If there was a way to play this with modern controls I would have been in love with it, but unfortunately it’s stuck in the old ways.
EA wasn’t the only company to release sports titles for the PS2, there were others in the launch lineup, some of which are actually pretty good. We’ll start with the best first, the two racing games. While Rockstar had two decent driving games with Midnight Club and Smuggler’s Run, Namco also had two great titles of their own. With the latest entry in their Ridge Racer series, part V, the PS2 got a solid arcade style racer that I would have sunk tons of hours into back in the year 2000 if I had money. If motorcycles were more your thing, the first entry in their MotoGP series was just as fun as Ridge Racer V, if a bit harder to control. British developer Rage Software released Wild Wild Racing, an off-road themed game that got average reviews and was quickly forgotten about by everyone. For more arcade sports fun, players could pick up a boxing game or a golf game. Following the success of Ready 2 Rumble Boxing, Midway’s San Diego team got to work on a sequel that would be ready for the highly anticipated PS2 launch (it also came out for the Dreamcast and Nintendo 64). Featuring an assortment of wacky, and offensively stereotypical, characters, the game is fun enough, but falls apart pretty quickly. It is notorious for its secret characters which featured Shaq, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Michael Jackson who did all his own motion capture and voice work. Moving on, similar to titles like Mario Golf and Hot Shots Golf, Japanese developer T&E Soft’s Swing Away Golf was a so-so affair that failed to ignite the gaming world on fire, but did eventually lead to a follow-up called Disney Golf. Finally, if you were looking for more realistic sports that weren’t done by EA, ESPN had two titles for you, International Track and Field and X-Games Snowboarding. Both were panned as being impeccably dull with, you guessed it, poor controls.
Finally we come to the RPG/simulation games, starting off with two big, BIG, offerings from Koei. First up is Dynasty Warriors 2, a sequel to the PSX title in name only. While the original Dynasty Warriors was a fighting game, part 2 turned it into the button mashing, “musou” style game we all know today. While the number of enemies on screen isn’t nearly as many as you would see now, it was still an impressive amount, making this one of the more, seemingly, technologically advanced titles in the PS2 launch lineup. Their other title, Kessen, edged closer to ROTK and Nobunaga’s Ambition, with players taking part in the historical battles between the Tokugawa clan and the Toyotomi clan. Producer, and current Koei CEO, Kou Shibuwasa (real name Yoichi Erikawa), stated that he felt video games were a better medium than film to capture these battles, and then filled his game with a ton of elaborate short movies. This game is really lackluster in terms of fun, however the cutscenes are gorgeous, and were one of the major selling points of the PS2, with footage from this game being used to tout the power of the emotion engine. For RPG fans, aside from the two From Software offerings, there was Volition’s Summoner and Shade, Inc.’s Orphen: Scion of Sorcery. Both of these titles are pretty major snooze fests that, unsurprisingly, control like dog shit. However, both titles had their fans and did modestly well. Summoner, while being notoriously terrible, is also well know for having an easter egg that featured its characters performing the Dead Alewives “Dungeons and Dragons” skit. Finally, Sony’s ONLY contribution to the PS2’s launch lineup was the puzzle/fire works simulation game Fantavision. As this was the only SCE developed game, it received major hype and push from Sony, likely leading more than a few people to pick it up and promptly say, “What the fuck did I just buy“. Your enjoyment of this title rests solely on your attitude towards puzzle games but, even still, it’s just a game that is, here we go again, brought down by terrible controls.
Despite a somewhat lackluster launch lineup, the PS2 would eventually go on to get some of the greatest video games of all time added to its library. Sony’s decision to use DVD technology, support backwards compatibility, and have a varied library that appealed to both casual players and hardcore gamers, helped make it the best selling video game console of all time, with over 155 million units sold around the world. It was so popular that, like the NES, it was still selling systems and software well after the release of its follow-up console, and in fact, Sony was still offering repair services for the console until 2018. Chances are you, or someone you know, had a PS2, and probably still has it in their house somewhere, either hooked up or in a box. I’m looking forward to talking about some of the great games that released for the system in the coming years, it’s going to be fun!
Sid Meier’s Railroad Tycoon (PC) – Released 1990: Wiki Link
Having primarily worked in the flight simulator genre for the first part of his career, legendary developer Sid Meier had a hit in 1987 with his goods trading simulator Pirates!. In his effort to craft a worthy follow-up, Meier decided to make a game about a different kind of pirate, the Capitalist, namely railroad barons (or tycoons). With a choice of starting in the Western U.S., North Eastern U.S., Great Britain, or Continental Europe, players would set up a train station and begin their journey towards either a vast fortune or crippling debt. The map, which is hideously ugly by today’s standards, was seen as a world of limitless potential to PC players in 1990. In a nutshell, Railroad Tycoon requires players to build railway stations in various cities on the map. Each city produces various goods for export and is in need of other various goods for import, so deciding where to start and where to go is crucial for your success. Aside from goods, players can also have their trains transport mail as well as take passengers on trips. With a handful of AI opponents, players must not only make smart financial decisions, but ensure that they have desirable routes and a well maintained fleet of trains. Critical reception to the game was through the roof, gaining high praise from all of the major PC gaming publications of the day, and was called the best game of the year by both Computer Gaming World and Strategy Plus. The game was so well loved that after only one year on the market it was named one of the top 50 PC games of all time by PC Format, the fourth best PC game of all time in 1995 by PC Gamer US, and the 41st best PC game of all time in 1996 by Computer Gaming World. If Pirates! and Railroad Tycoon were the only two games that Sid Meier made he’d still be considered one of the all time great developers, but he wasn’t done yet, because in 1991 he would follow Railroad Tycoon with the game that would make him not just one of the greatest, but an outright legend. See you in September of 2021 when we discuss Civilization.
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