Q: 2002 sucks.
A: No argument.
Q: These are your favorite games of 2002?
A: I already agreed that 2002 sucked.
Q: What about Ratchet & Clank, Sly Cooper, and SOCOM? Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 and Grandia II? The Resident Evil remake?
A: I haven’t played any of those.
Q: What the hell?
A: I know.
Sonic Adventure 2: Battle // GameCube
You don’t have to tell me that Sonic Adventure 2 isn’t a great game, but the GameCube port made the list (if barely) because it’s my first real experience with Sonic the Hedgehog. A disappointing place to start, but it’s easy to forget that there was a time where the majority of people liked the Sonic Adventure games, including me. So, yes, Sonic Adventure 2 makes the list because of nostalgia. And because of the soundtrack, which makes me simultaneously cringe and grin.
Activision Anthology // PlayStation 2
Activision Anthology — a collection of 45+ Atari 2800 games by Activision, along with defunct developers Absolute Entertainment and Imagic — was a learning experience. My so-called gaming career started with the Super Nintendo, so more than a handful of the games in this compilation aren’t terribly enjoyable, but most were mildly interesting. Some, including the top-down boxing game, er, Boxing, remained genuinely fun. And I’d be remiss not to mention that Activision Anthology was my first instance of hearing “The Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats. My friends and I found it rather hilarious.
Unreal Championship // Xbox
I spent a stupid amount of time playing Deathmatch against the idiot AI crawling around the stages, a fact that I’m almost ashamed of. Had I realized how little time I’d have to play games as an adult, I would’ve devoted more time to thinning the backlog than the countless hours/matches in Unreal Championship. I could’ve played a worse game, of course; maybe Blinx: The Time Sweeper? Still, Unreal Championship never felt particularly ambitious, but a single FPS was perfect for listening to music.
MechAssault // Xbox
“You enjoy blowing shit up, right? Who doesn’t? So blow shit up in a massive bipedal mech roughly the size of a multi-level buildings. Speaking of which, don’t feel guilty about leveling countless buildings. We know that 9/11 happened only a year ago, but you’re one of the good guys in MechAssault. You were aiming at other BattleMechs, anyway. Or if you’d rather, jump online with Microsoft’s new Xbox Live service and shoot at people using the same circle strafe technique as everyone else. Just enjoy it now because online gaming culture devolves into racial slurs.”
Yep, MechAssault practically sells itself.
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell // Xbox
Splinter Cell arrived at exactly the right time, taking advantage of the Xbox’s hardware power to demonstrate real-time lighting that allowed Sam Fisher to melt into shadows and hide from enemies. More importantly, it was everything that Metal Gear Solid 2 wasn’t, offering a more realistic world without assaulting the player with verbose cutscenes. It was such a refreshing approach to stealth that we ignored the forgettable story and how enemies hitting the alarm three times immediately ended the mission.
Super Mario Sunshine // GameCube
Because I skipped Super Mario 64, Sunshine became my first experience with Mario in 3D. So while many look down at Sunshine for the FLUDD mechanic or a tad too much story (that entire courtroom scene, as short as it is, would never be included in a modern Mario), I was blown away at Mario smoothly running and jumping around three-dimensional stages, something everyone else already experienced six years prior. And, y’know, that FLUDD mechanic fed into a weird clean freak tendency that I was unaware that I had.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City // PlayStation 2
Vice City improved little of Grand Theft Auto III’s faults — shooting still sucks, enemy AI still dumb as rocks — but it nailed the aesthetics. The city of Vice City is a neon-lit hellhole surrounded by ocean, fueled by drugs and ambitious killers, quite fitting for Tommy Vercetti’s revenge/rags-to-riches story. However, Vice City isn’t anywhere as groundbreaking as its predecessor or ambitious as San Andreas, putting the game in a weird place where much of its appeal is because of the world and music instead of the gameplay. Okay, the gameplay was still great.
Super Mario World: Super Mario Advance 2 // Game Boy Advance
I wouldn’t normally include a Super Nintendo game that I previously wrote about, but Super Mario World on GBA is worth including. This version adds little details, but nothing exceptional beyond the addition of the original Mario Bros. arcade game (included with every Super Mario Advance game) and the downgraded soundtrack. The SNES original is still superior, but this GBA version is great for portability alone. Grab the inevitable Switch version when it’s available.
Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario Advance 3 // Game Boy Advance
Another SNES-to-GBA port, but you’re also looking at my favorite game ever. Of course it’d make the cut. This version is inferior to the Super Nintendo original, unable to accurately replicate the phenomenal soundtrack and certain graphical tricks, but since Nintendo is unable or unwilling to give us the SNES game, this is a decent alternative. Not the best option, but hardly as bad as certain critics make it out to be. And, of course, it comes with Mario Bros., if you’re into that sort of thing.
Metroid Prime // GameCube
It’s ironic that Metroid Prime is remembered fondly while the Japan-developed Metroid: Other M is the game languishing in the stocks of public opinion. Everyone expected Prime to get the reception that Other M received, and why not? First-Person Metroid developed by an untested Texas-based developer still sounds weird, but Retro Studios brought Samus Aran into 3D in spectacular fashion. It’s a moody adventure with at-the-time phenomenal graphics and a non-pervasive story that eager players can discover by scanning the environment.
The unusual controls are occasionally cumbersome, but otherwise do the job. Had it lacked the Chozo Artifact hunt towards the end (which is thankfully not as bad as Zelda: The Wind Waker’s Triforce hunt), Metroid Prime would be damn near perfect. The Wii port is equally good, although I’d kill for an HD port.
Driver 2 Advance // Game Boy Advance
Game Boy Advance was never designed for 3D games, but that never stopped some developers from trying. Driver 2 Advance is a hideous, featuring a three-dimensional, open-world city that unrealistically warps and stretches in a way reminiscent of the worst PS1 games. The game technically includes two cities, Miami and Chicago, but they’re graphically identical, which is to say they’re created of the same handful of tall building textures and the occasional forest texture, ensuring that you’ll never know where you are.
And all that wouldn’t be as horrible if the driving wasn’t so damn slippery, but vehicles slide as if the cities were created on a massive ice rink. It doesn’t take long before your vehicles accumulates damage and starts smoking, or attracts the police because it’s impossible to keep from crashing. Driver 2 Advance is a historical curiosity for the Game Boy Advance, but nothing more.
Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem // GameCube
Remember Silicon Knights prior to imploding in 2014 following a handful of public blunders? Before X-Men: Destiny was pull from shelves, and before the failed lawsuit against Epic Games? There was a time when Silicon Knights looked to become something special, and it’s entirely because of Eternal Darkness, the Nintendo-published survival/horror title that started on Nintendo 64 before transitioning to the GameCube.
What everyone remembers about Eternal Darkness are the sanity effects, which happens whenever a character’s Sanity meter drops too low. Examples include their limbs exploding, blood dripping from the walls, and accidentally firing while reloading a gun. More notably, some sanity effects are directed towards the player, including the screen going black, being told that the demo is over, or saying that save files were corrupted. Nefarious stuff.
Kingdom Hearts // PlayStation 2
Remember when everyone summarized Kingdom Hearts as “Final Fantasy-meets-Disney”? The franchise went into such a weird, convoluted place in the 15 years since the original game that it’s seemingly impossible to summarize the overarching story, but the first Kingdom Hearts hints of the mania to come, including that old chestnut of revealing that someone’s been pulling the strings behind-the-scenes. I never finished Kingdom Hearts, and Laser Time’s 2016 playthrough of the HD version convinced me never to try.
Lunar Legend // Game Boy Advance
Although maybe not as unorthodox a decision as porting Driver 2 to GBA, bringing Lunar: The Silver Star to Nintendo’s handheld is unusual given that the animated cutscenes and voice acting are memorable components of the game. Lunar Legend contains none of that, and perhaps stranger, the battle system was simplified and had aspects unique to Lunar removed. Worse yet, the dialogue is dry for a Lunar game thanks to Ubisoft handling the translation instead of Working Designs.
At least the graphics are an improvement, I guess. Judged on its own merits, Lunar Legend isn’t a bad game, but it can’t compare to the PS1 remake Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete. And it’s far more playable than Driver 2 Advance.