Sorry (not sorry) but it’s true
There is nothing more invigorating for the video game industry than the launch of a new console. It’s the one thing that brings developers, publishers, journalists, and fans together in absolute excitement for what is to come. It’s a cause for celebration as we jump into a new generation of gaming, and an opportunity for developers to launch hot new properties to eager consumers. Call of Duty made its console debut at the launch of the Xbox 360. SSX debuted with the launch of the PlayStation 2. Rabbids got their start with the Wii… okay maybe that’s a bad example.
Actually, the Rabbids still being marketable today is probably a triumph for Ubisoft because that Wii launch had a lot of competition. A lot of it was crap — *cough* Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam *cough* — but it had to stand up against the likes of Wii Sports and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Any game would be buried underneath either of those two titles, which is why it’s amazing we still have Rabbids games today. It’s also why I don’t think nearly enough gamers appreciate the splendidness that is Excite Truck.
The last thing on my mind leading up to the reveal of the Nintendo Wii was the Excite series. I didn’t play Excitebike 64, so the franchise was always this remnant of the NES era Nintendo didn’t care about anymore, like Kid Icarus. But then, out of nowhere, Nintendo brought it back. After watching videos of it out of E3 I knew I had to own it. Once I bought my Wii, it was one of the first three titles I picked up.
It may neither be the prettiest nor the most robust game, but Excite Truck on the Wii is still one of the best racers I’ve ever played. And it was perfect opportunity to show what the Wii was all about. EA brought traditional racing with Need for Speed: Carbon to the launch party, but a traditional racer on a non-traditional system just didn’t make sense at the beginning. The Wii was all about having as much fun as possible, and every track in Excite Truck emphasized fun first. I still remember flying off a jump in my Jeep on Fiji as the world became a blur around me, hitting my turbo just as I land into a small shallow of water to cool my engine and keep me going full speed.
Excite Truck was a game I simply found myself lost in. It’s so easy to learn everything, but getting those first-place finishes across increasingly complicated maps and against incredibly difficult opponents devoured my time. I’m not huge on racing games, but Excite Truck swallowed me whole. I don’t know if we’ll ever see a sequel, but goddamn an HD remaster would be frickin’ sweet on the Switch.
Dynasty Warriors 2 was so underappreciated on PS2, I didn’t even know it existed until months later!
I’ve told this story a few times, but I found it when perusing a Blockbuster (which was a rare occasion, as it was more expensive than the mom and pop store down the street) and the cover art just spoke to me. Dynasty Warriors 2 was a hard sell, as I also hadn’t even heard of the original at the time, which was actually a fighting game. Yes, this was the Musou that started it all, and unbeknownst to me, I was picking up the first in a long, long, long line of brawlers.
A line that will probably outlive us all.
The year is 1995. After a successful launch in Japan late last year, Sony has released its new console, the PlayStation, to the world markets. Everyone was wowed by the new 32bit games and the new 3D games. Wipeout, Battle Arena Toshinden, Jumping Flash, these titles really raised the bar on what players were expecting from their new console. And tucked away with the other launch games (at least in Japan and Europe) was this little number called Gunners Heaven/Rapid Reload.
A perfectly competent shooter, which owed a massive debt to the likes of Gunstar Heroes. the game reviewed well enough and it actually a heck of a lot of fun… but was utterly ignored on release simply because it wasn’t 3D. It was still stuck in the 16-bit design philosophy and, while the game could not be done on older systems, it wasn’t “new” or “eye-catching” enough to sway gamers to buy it over the more technically impressive launch titles. And so, it basically faded into obscurity… until a wave of retro nostalgia hit and 2D games on the 32-bit consoles were re-discovered as they actually aged much better than the early 3D titles.
Me, I was lucky in that I rented out the game at a local Blockbuster when they were still a thing and enjoyed it so much, I went out and bought a copy. It is still with me today!
It’s a shame that the game was forgotten so soon after the release of the PlayStation but at least it gained a new lease of life as those gamers who initially ignored it, start looking back at older games to rediscover gems with the benefits of hindsight.
In the wake of the recent SoulCalibur VI announcements, it’s damn cliche to get all misty-eyed about the coming of what would be Sega’s last console, the Dreamcast, and its sequel to 1996’s Soul Edge. But the fact remains, when I purchased my DC on day one, nothing made me feel like I’d stepped into a whole new world of gaming like Soulcalibur’s amazing (and totally customisable) intro sequence.
I remember being blown away by the game’s sound and vision. The fluidity of the movement, the satisfaction of the combat and All. Those. Options. In the current era, where we pray our fighting games aren’t delivered to us bare-boned, it’s easy to forget just how feature-packed Soulcalibur was and, compared to many fighters today still is.
With an awesome roster, an amazing soundtrack, tons of extra modes, cool ending artwork and even fun Kata demonstrations, Soulcalibur was the first game of the sixth generation to make me envision the bold steps gaming would take into the new millennium. Importantly, the game can still provide as much VS entertainment today as it did back in 1999. Just like its roster of mythical warriors, it has proven timeless.
Occams Electric Toothbrush
There’s a palpable thrill to getting a console at launch. Like a micro-Christmas meets your birthday. The opening of a door to a new world. The next step in the evolution of your gaming experience. Once you boot the system up that first game you pick is of the utmost importance. So, when my friend got his launch day PlayStation 2 and we rushed over to his apartment, the first thing we tried out was Kessen. Turns out it was a very good choice.
For those of you who don’t know Kessen, it’s a real-time tactics game set in feudal Japan. Think Dynasty Warriors but there’s army management. The game had a very cinematic approach, something quite new at the time. And then there were the hats. Really, this is a game about hats. Who has the bigger hat, the more colorful hat? My friends and I had favorite generals based solely on their hats.
There would be two more Kessen games, each raising the bar in terms of combat, tactical choices and of course, hats. In the second game, they introduced elemental magic which involved a scene playing out and you got to watch hundreds of troops die. It was the most satisfying gaming experience since the discovery of tasering a guy until he caught fire in Syphon Filter. I still have my copies of the Kessen series and dream about a day the series returns to consoles in some form. All I ask is that they let you customize your own hat.
This is awkward.
Chris literally just said that Jumping Flash was appreciated at the time, and I don’t want to degrade his opinion on that, but I was there when the game first came out, and it was not what was hot on the streets. Maybe that was different in Japan, where the game got two sequels and a PocketStation spin-off, but here in the good old U.S. of A, Jumping Flash was largely passed over in the circles I ran in, while more “hardcore” fair like Battle Arena Toshinden and Ridge Racer was the talk of the town.
But I see Chris’s point. Jumping Flash did OK here, and we did get at least one of its sequels, but in my book, it’s one of the most fun games in the genre of all time. I’ll take it over Mario 64, any Rare 3D platformer, or even more recent “fuck around in a 3D space games” like Minecraft and GTA V any day of the week. So seeing that the series died back in the 90’s while Minecraft has been around for ten years now and still makes millions of dollars a month, makes Jumping Flash look underappreciated by comparison.
On the other hand, it could be that the game was appreciated the exact right amount, and instead, this is just more evidence that I am fundamentally incompatible with the 3D sandbox genre. Maybe it’s like how I don’t like most romantic comedies or sports movies, but I love Shawn of the Dead and Shaolin Soccer. I get why people like sandbox games, just like why I get why people like sweet, unchallenging stories of fumbling mishaps that end in true love and/or “a big win for the team”, but that stuff just doesn’t scratch any of my itches. Add zombies and/or Stephen Chow kicking a soccer ball so hard that it turns into a flaming panther, and suddenly all my itches are scratched.
It all makes me wonder. could I finally learn to love Legally Blonde if everyone in the movie jumped twenty feet in the air every time they took a step?
Someone, please make an edit of Legally Blonde where this happens so that I can find out!
I love cute things. I love puzzles. I LOVED the board game Mousetrap as a child. So it was pretty obvious that I was going to develop a special attachment to Kororinpa, a lesser-known distant cousin of Super Monkey Ball that was a Wii launch title in Japan.
In Kororinpa, you guide your quaint little marble around courses decorated with nature and dessert themes, among others. It all seems rather harmless until you realise the Wiimote’s sensitivity is set way too high. One slip of the wrist and the entire map can flip on its head, sending your marble careening into the abyss. It might seem a game for poxy casuals, but it can be as punishing as the Mario Kart Wii iteration of Rainbow Road, for sure.
I never finished the game due to its punishing difficulty (come on, guys, I was 14 – and a poxy casual), but I will always remember the first few stages with great fondness. I remember Super Mario Galaxy because it’s one of the best games ever made and has the best score of any game, hands down. I remember Cooking Mama Wii as a perfect example of how porting a handheld game to home consoles can leave you with egg on your face. But I remember Kororinpa as a fun challenge that deserved a lot more recognition than it got on the European market. It felt resigned to the deepest pages of the Argos catalogue, but it was worth more than that.
Are any of you surprised that I would end up going with Ryu ga Gotoku: Ishin? If you know anything about me, it’s that I love Yakuza and there are a couple of Japanese exclusive games that we’ve sadly missed. Ishin was a launch title in Japan, so it makes the cut for this list!
To be quite clear, I haven’t played this title, but I did play quite a bit of Kenzan on PS3 and that is a similar spin-off title. That being said, this title has been completely overlooked and will continue to be since Sega has no plans to localize the entry. There is so much Japanese text that getting a guide is required to even attempt to play this (unless you’re a native Japanese speaker).
I just don’t understand how Sony and Sega saw a bad ass samurai game and decided that was “too Japanese” for us. Maybe it was because the future of Yakuza in the West was still undecided or maybe it has to do with literally how much text there is, but Ishin isn’t likely to see a localization soon. That, alone, makes it one of the most overlooked launch titles ever.
These are some great, underappreciated games that deserved to experienced by as many people as possible. I’m still trying to figure out why Soulcalibur is up there, but maybe it didn’t catch on as well in the UK?