E3 2017 is right around the corner, and I’m mentally preparing myself for the excitement. Like last year, expect one post discussing the press conferences and another post discussing the games that caught my attention. Not that I’ll be there, fortunately.
In the meantime, I write about my favorite games of 2004. It’s not as exciting as seeing future games, though.
So strong was Grand Theft Auto’s influence that MechAssault 2 tossed in the ability to leave your mech and a hijack the enemy, which worked out better than I’m giving it credit for. Naturally, hijacking works great against AI opponents that’re naturally designed to allow you to hijack them, but I recall having difficulty pulling off the task in multiplayer. I suppose being a temporary distraction did help my team a smidgen, but it was a little demoralizing to fail so often. At least I had single-player, even if the actual campaign was so forgettable that I can’t remember a thing from it.
A strange game that takes place entirely in first-person, Breakdown doesn’t nail the execution thanks to shooting and driving that feels a few steps backwards from what Halo accomplished a few years prior. Hand-to-hand combat works better, but tougher enemies proved a hassle because it wasn’t always easy to determine when you’re within punching distance before getting punched yourself. The story is ambitious and confusing (almost by design, I think), but Breakdown is a flawed creation that I’d love to have remade in more capable hands.
Dropping Diablo-style dungeon exploring for a card game wasn’t the greatest idea for Episode 3, but I still defend C.A.R.D. Revolution as a better game than it has any right to be. Is that praise? Players join one of two factions — the government-backed Heroside or the anti-government Darkside, ensuring that whichever side you pick, you’re stuck with a stupid name for your group. Anyway, C.A.R.D. Revolution was fun, but with Sega unwilling to released Phantasy Star Online 2 in the Western world, I don’t expect a return to this gameplay anytime soon.
I lack the same love for the original Metal Gear Solid that many do, so I never found The Twin Snakes as sacrilegious as the internet does. I agree that first-person aiming makes the game too easy, but what annoys me is the complaints about cutscenes. For all the shit that The Twin Snakes gets for Snake jumping off a missile, Metal Gear has done equally stupid things before and since. Examples include Liquid’s arm controlling Ocelot, the President grabbing Raiden’s crotch, and whatever that Mount Rushmore thing in MGS4 was. Controlling bees, which I mention below, is also pretty dumb. Not on the same level, but still.
Forget that San Andreas is hideous. Forget that people look vaguely like melted Lego, especially thanks to their bowl-like hands. Forget that the shooting still sucked. Instead, focus on how massive San Andreas felt with three cities to explore and nature to drive through. Remember that CJ is still Grand Theft Auto’s best protagonist, which is sadly a rather low bar. Regardless, San Andreas made quite the impression on me, partially because of the awesome soundtrack.
I played plenty of the campaign and online multiplayer, yet it’s the glitches and exploits that I remember when it comes to Halo 2. Mere seconds after the second level of the campaign begins, you’re able to use grenades to escape the level entirely or jump across rooftops to avoid firefights. A similar exploit is possible in the level Quarantine Zone, although there’s little outside of snow and, after a certain point, invisible land. Regardless, I loved stepping backstage and looking at aspects of the level that we’re never meant to see. The rest of the game is decent, too.
Half-Life 2 is a decent game with okay shooting and painfully simple physics puzzles, but it oozes atmosphere and it’s loaded with great moments. I loved walking through City 17 or racing through the canals with a helicopter flying overhead to tackling the Citadel. In other words, Half-Life 2 is a wonderful adventure that shouldn’t be judged entirely on what it doesn’t do great. It’s a pity that Valve effectively abandoned the property before concluding the story, but it’s a complaint that I’ll return to a few times as I touch upon the two episodes.
After playing through Pokémon Gold multiple times, I was done. Crystal failed to entice and Ruby/Sapphire appeared like a step backwards, but I was open to replaying the original Red and Blue with spiffier graphics. FireRed brought me back to the franchise via nostalgia, and I haven’t left since. The ironic thing is that everything that pushed me away from Ruby/Sapphire — no day/night cycle, plain graphics — continued in FireRed, but maybe being a remake changed my expectations. Or the power of nostalgia is too strong.
When I say that Snake Eater is my favorite Metal Gear game, I’m really referring to the re-released Subsistance. Still, the original incarnation is a wonderful adventure of Big Boss tossed into the jungles of the former Soviet Union as a rookie, betrayed by his mentor, and ultimately becomes her killer. The story feels like a one-off, lacking the insanity that came with Metal Gear Solid 2 and feeling far more grounded despite still being fairly insane (one of the earliest bosses fights by controlling bees).
The original Metroid isn’t unplayable, but– Actually, scratch that. The original Metroid should be considered unplayable since Zero Mission took the NES version and bettered it in every possible way. Simply adding a much-needed map would’ve been enough, but Nintendo updated the presentation and added an entire new area where Samus sans her Power Suit must sneak past enemies to find a more powerful Power Suit. Okay, that sounds silly, but it’s a rather awesome change of pace and wonderful surprise. And once that’s done, the NES Metroid unlocks for you to play for five minutes and never touch again.
Zero Mission is an easy choice for 2004 Game of the Year. It’s one of the top Metroid games, and definitely the second best 2D Metroid after Super Metroid. Whether it surpasses Metroid Prime is a question that I don’t have an answer for. They’re both exceptional and classic titles.
Donkey Konga // Nintendo GameCube
Before I took drumsticks to colored pads in Rock Band, I got my taste of something sort of similar (but not really) to drumming by hitting bongos with my hands in Donkey Konga. You also clapped, which a microphone picked up. It worked well enough, but the selection of songs was weird. “We Will Rock You” by Queen and “All the Small Things” by Blink-182 sat alongside the themes for the Pokemon and Kirby cartoons. There’s also the Mario and Zelda themes, DK Rap ripped from Smash Bros. Melee, and Johannes Brahms’ “Hungarian Dance”. The European and Japanese versions feature different songs, too.
Feel the Magic: XY/XX // Nintendo DS
Ah, that wonderful handful of months after a new console launches that developers experiment and release oddball games that wouldn’t otherwise likely see the light of day. Feel the Magic is one such game, centered around a guy’s attempts to court a woman he’s fallen for, so obviously you’d spend your time removing crabs from her back and launching people at a fleeing vehicle. The gameplay is similar to WarioWare, and the game features a similar insanity. Feel the Magic eventually saw a sequel that I don’t think anyone remembers.
Grand Theft Auto Advance // Game Boy Advance
So desperate I was for a handheld GTA that I bought Grand Theft Auto on Game Boy Advance, billed as a prequel to GTA3. Viewed from a top-down perspective, GTA Advance shares more with the original two installments than the 3D games, which shouldn’t be a huge surprise given the limitations of the hardware it’s using. Liberty City barely resembles the GTA3 incarnation, and the story comes across a tad too much like fan-fiction.
Metroid Prime Hunters: First Hunt // Nintendo DS
First Hunt is basically a tech demo bundled with the Nintendo DS. Because aiming and shooting both required the touch screen, it became too easy to accidentally shift your view while firing at the brain-dead enemies hovering around the small arena. Still, despite the limited content (remember: tech demo), seeing a 3D first-person shooter on the DS was impressive. Of course, it still looked like shit compared to what PlayStation Portable pumped out, but whatever.
Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy // PlayStation 2
At this point, real-time physics was still uncharted territory. Half-Life 2 made a huge splash thanks to the Gravity Gun, but Psi-Ops allowed players to grab enemies and fling them around with your mind. If memory serves, the rest of Psi-Ops was a generic third-person shooter with a silly story, but what fun flinging enemies around was. Four years later, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed offered a similar glee as players used the Force to fling stormtroopers into other stormtroopers.
Tales of Symphonia // Nintendo GameCube
As one of a few JRPGs released on the starving GameCube, Tales of Symphonia was considered somewhat of a prize thanks to charming character designs and a hectic battle system that appeared similar to Smash Bros. It’s such a pity that I found Symphonia so damn boring. The characters were little more than anime cliches, and combat was tedious. I lost interest shortly after reaching a desert town and dropped the franchise (save a brief flirtation with Tales of the Abyss).
September 4, 2017: Removed a redundant “still.”