HISTORY OF THE GAME BOY ADVANCE
After making sales records with the GameBoy and GameBoy Color, Nintendo set their sights on development of a newer, more powerful handheld. That handheld would be the GameBoy Advance. It launched in 2001, months before Nintendo’s GameCube launch, at a price of only $99.99 ($134.64 today adjusted for inflation). Launch titles included mostly ports of home console games like Earthworm Jim and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, but did have a couple noteable original titles like Rayman Advance. It had practically no competition during its lifespan as the only other handheld that even came close to decent sales numbers was the failed N-Gage. Being that it was cheap, impressive for the time and had no competition it is no wonder that the GBA sold 81 million units worldwide over its 7 year life span.
The GBA is a 32 bit console and does a great job of emulating the games of the SNES era. A large chunk of its library are basically ports of the best SNES games, which most people were pleased to have. There were a handful of other new and well reviewed titles for the GBA like Advance Wars, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, Golden Sun, Metroid: Zero Mission and Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire. The system was smaller than its predecessor but managed to simultaneously be far more powerful. After a few years Nintendo released a new version called the GameBoy Advance SP which featured a flip up display, much-improved lighting and overall smaller desing. In 2005 they did a second redesign called the GameBoy Micro which was basically the original design but a bit smaller and skinnier.
PERSONAL HISTORY WITH THE GAME BOY ADVANCE
The GBA is my second favorite console (behind the SNES), my favorite handheld. I still remember getting it for Christmas. Levi and I each got one, mine the Arctic White color and Levi’s the original Purple. We got Mario Kart: Super Circuit (still one of the best Mario Karts ever), Super Mario Advance, Rayman Advance and Pokemon Sapphire with them. At that time most of those games were older and thus our parents were able to buy those affordable used copies. I’ve talked in previous posts about taking long monthly drives to Indiana and back, along with my long daily 3 hour round trip bus rides to school, so as you can imagine I got a lot of hours in with my GBA. I oftentimes saved up my farm work money for weeks and then when we visited dad monthly in the big city of Indianapolis I would have him take us to GameStop so I could afford a couple used games. I also replayed all my favorite original GameBoy/Color games, especially Pokemon Red and Silver. I love the console to death and still play it quite often, usually the SP version.
COLLECTING FOR THE GAME BOY ADVANCE
Arguably the best thing about the GBA is its low initial price of system and games. Low cost plus high sales numbers during production equals great news for us collectors! Both the original and SP versions are quite cheap, found regularly under $50 for ones in great shape. The original versions may need some cleaning when you first buy them as gunk tends to form around the crevices near the buttons over time. If you only care about actual performance I definitely recommend getting an SP version instead (as I’ll talk more about in my review next week). Games are quite cheap. I would say the average game I’ve bought was between $10-20, with only a handful being over $20 like the Metroid titles, Minish Cap and Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow. Complete-in-box collectors will have a harder time since GBA was still in the cardboard box era of gaming but you can expect to only see about 200-250% mark-ups off used prices. If you collect for handhelds in any capacity whatsoever you must collect for the GBA.
Poll Winner: KINGDOM HEARTS
Its a common trend that video games that feature movie or cartoon characters turn out to be poor quality, typically due to a rushed development window and because the dev studio has to spend a sizable chunk of their budget solely on acquiring the rights to the character(s). Kingdom Hearts was one of the first games to feature popular film or cartoon established characters but be of superb quality. It weaves an interesting storyline, involves popular Disney characters and has refined action JRPG elements that Square Enix has become known for over the years. Since its release in 2002 Kingdom Hearts has sold 20 million copies and is in the top 10 of PS2 game sales.
Kingdom Hearts is a shining example of how to properly use popular, established characters in your game. It does that in a few different ways. Disney characters are not forced on the player, in fact the player doesn’t control any Disney characters at all during the game. Instead they control Sora, a brand new figure in the Square universe. The Disney characters also are very true to their personality displayed in their respective movie settings, with good integration of popular scenes, landmarks and side characters. Lastly Square Enix nails the integration of Disney characters by using an animated art style that looks similar to what we remember from their films while simultaneously having a Kingdom Hearts feel and style. Kingdom Hearts‘ soundtrack is a good example actually. When visiting Tarzan’s world the tracks that play are not reused tracks from the movie, they’re all original. But they have great use of drums and pacing that properly recaptures the spirit and atmosphere of that movie while still being unique to Kingdom Hearts. The art style is very beautiful and uses a wide color palette and smooth edges. It feels similar to most other Square games of the PS2 era, but the Disney vibe is definitely tangible and utilized well. Like most Square titles, there are a ton of well polished cutscenes that feature spectacular voice acting (Haley Joel Osment is the main character for Christs Sakes!) and lots of dialogue.
The gameplay of Kingdom Hearts is at its base your standard fare of action JRPG. Typical spells like Cure, Fire, Slow, etc are used. There are summons, health bars, mana bars, so on and so forth. It doesn’t do anything new, what it does is use established systems and adds Disney flare to them. What’s great about that is Kingdom Hearts is almost like a “My First Action JRPG” type of game because it gives you the basic mechanics you can expect from other games in the genre in a form that is easy to learn and comprehend. I think that’s a great direction to go with Kingdom Hearts because there were surely several gamers drawn to this game that don’t have extensive histories with JRPGs, solely because of the Disney involvement. Hooking those players on JRPG mechanics and teaching them the basics of them is genius because several of those gamers will be able to now pick up and enjoy the other titles that Square makes.
Combat can feel stale at times, particularly at the beginning of the game, but as Sora learns new combos and techniques things start to open up a bit more. The platforming aspects of the game I found to be fun and a nice brief break from the combat. Bosses are a blast, usually are Disney themed and present unique challenges. Many are memorable and inspired. Fighting the Tiger’s head in the sand from Aladdin and fighting the gigantic mega-powered Ursula from Little Mermaid were great examples as the fun of the combat is also supplemented by the nostalgia aspect of the respective movies. The worlds are extremely well done and each presents new mechanics. The difference between Atlantis and Halloweentown for example are huge. Speaking of Halloweentown it was easily my favorite level. Even though I don’t care much for the movie its inspired from I loved it in Kingdom Hearts because of the addition of spooky costumes for my trio of characters, the art style of the world and the personality of the side characters.
Kingdom Hearts was one of the most beloved video games ever and its for good reason. Square Enix took popular characters and integrated them perfectly into the RPG systems they have mastered over decades of development. This game is a must play for any gamer of any age and fans of any genres. You don’t need to be a fan of Disney or RPGs to enjoy it, but it will certainly help if you are.
Personal Favorite: NBA STREET VOL. 2
EA Sports BIG made a name for themselves in the gaming market as a provider of games that are a less realistic but more fun alternative to sports simulators with gems like NBA Street, FIFA Street and SSX Tricky. In 2003 they released NBA Street Vol. 2 for the Xbox, GameCube and PlayStation 2. The game had decent sales but received excellent reviews for a sports game, with a Metacritic rating of 90%.
NBA Street Vol. 2 has a retro and street level feel in all facets, be it music, art style or dialogue. While the actual character models and textures are your typical size and shape, the clothing of the players, the animations of their movements and the graphitti like lettering are the ways that NBA Street Vol. 2 expresses itself visually. Its soundtrack is killer, with tons of old hip-hop jams like “T.R.O.Y.”, “Get Up” and “Rock the Party”. Actually come to think of it pretty much every EA Sports BIG game had killer soundtracks. Also worth mentioning are the unique tracks that play during certain moments of the game like during gamebreaker modes or during the intros before a game begins. NBA Street Vol. 2‘s dialogue, of both the announcer and the players also does a great job of emitting the street level vibe through use of street slang, basketball slang and PG-13 rated disses.
More important than the way NBA Street Vol. 2 captures the streetball feel though is the game’s actual gameplay. NBA Street Vol. 2 sticks to the formula that made its original title strike gold, but adds plenty more flair, a more advanced story mode and a surprisingly deep and gratifying rewards system. In regards to the latter, as you play through any of NBA Street Vol. 2‘s modes you unlock currency that can be used to unlock various items to use in game ranging from unique streetball characters, actual hall of fame NBA players, their jerseys (if you want to put them on your created player), 90s rap artists and historical streetball courts. Each item can also be unlocked by completing its unique challenge instead, for example ‘finish a pick-up game without being blocked once’. Because these unlocks are actually usable in game and not just cosmetic collectibles, I really went out of my way to unlock each and every one and try them out in-game. ‘Be a Legend’ mode is definitely the best part of NBA Street Vol. 2. You create your player, his size, style and spend a limited number of development points in skill allocations. You will start out with no-name rec league caliber teammates and only be able to play pick-up games at some classic real-life streetball courts. As you win games you will be able to choose one player off the losing squad to join your team, giving you more options for your 3 man game squad. You also get development points to spend on your player and you gain reputation in that area. Eventually with enough rep you can gain invites to tournaments. It is there that you will face more fierce competition and earn much more reputation and better players. Some of these players are over-the-top created characters, some are actual NBA players. Like real life, it is a long but rewarding grind to keep improving your skills and reputation. The picking up of new players and the array of challenges and game types you will complete keeps that game diverse throughout the gamut of ‘Be a Legend’ mode.
Full disclosure: basketball is my favorite sport, hobby and a personal passion. You may think that makes me biased towards basketball games, but it also most definitely makes me more critical on them than any other genre. So when I say NBA Street Vol. 2 is amazing, you can take that claim to the bank. It perfectly captures the action, feel and culture of streetball while still having enough over-the-top action to feel like a video game and not a simulation. To this day NBA Street Vol. 2 and NBA Street Homecourt are my favorite basketball games. This is definitely worth owning for PS2 or Xbox if you’re even remotely interested in streetball.
Never Played: GOD HAND
Capcom has been known to make Japanese arcade style takes on various genres over the years. In 2006 they produced God Hand in collaboration with Clover Studio, a 3rd person beat’ em up with heavy Japanese influence. Clover Studio made several great titles like Viewtiful Joe and Okami, before eventually migrating over to a new studio PlatinumGames. God Hand features Gene, a normal human martial artist who wields one of the “God Hands”, giving him supreme combat power and the ability to combat powerful demons. The game had no sequels, mediocre sales and decent reviews. I had never heard of God Hand until one of the hosts (I can’t remember who now, Daimon maybe?) of IGN’s former hit podcast GameScoop praised it as one of his favorite PS2 games (this was back when IGN was actually full of very informative and entertaining people). I saw it years later at a flea market and decided to add it to the collection. It has sat on the shelf until now though.
Holy shit is this game Japanese to the core. At first glance when gaining control of my character I expected it to be your typical action beat-em-up but I couldn’t be more wrong. First off the controls are quite different. One stick controls Gene’s movement but only in one axis of direction, not like other 3rd person games where your character has full 3D movement at all times. The other stick controls Gene’s combat movement, allowing him to duck, lean in, dodge attacks, prepare an uppercut or guardbreak. Normal buttons control your attacks, in combination with any direction or timing changes you made on the combat stick. The controls took an hour or so to truly get used to but once I did I found myself liking them very much and it was a fun style. Almost all of the combat in God Hand is hand to hand, with occasional use of special attacks or buffs. For instance after building up a meter you can go into God mode which basically just powers up the strength and speed of your punches, nothing exciting. What is really fun though are the special attacks. These special attacks range in function from single enemy focused, Area-of-Effect, linear attacks, stunning attacks, damaging attacks and more. You can use currency to buy more special attacks at the shop in between levels and set-up your arsenal however you desire. That’s one thing about God Hand worth mentioning, the currency. Its picked up by finding it in levels by smashing crates and debris or by defeating enemies. While doing so you will find other various things like tokens that grant you access to your special attacks, tokens that fill your God meter.
Having to pick up various tokens and power-ups adds to the arcade feel, along with the combat animations, the running score (which serves no actual purpose to gameplay) and the heavy handed Japanese humor which is most thoroughly displayed in the awful cutscenes and dialogue between Gene and his companion Olivia. The most Japanese styled part of the game is by far the plot line, which has you fighting off a group of demons who’re trying to resurrect the ancient demon Angra to gain control of the planet. If that isn’t straight out of a bad anime I don’t know what is.
Overall I actually did enjoy God Hand. The combat was different, the animations and style were fun for me as I do enjoy arcade feels to my light-hearted video games. God Hand‘s soundtrack, is great overall with a lot of Western themes added in with Japanese pop vibes, as a lot of God Hand‘s plot happens in an old Western looking setting. In an action game all that truly matters is the gameplay and that is where I really enjoyed God Hand. A clipping issue there or poor resolution here didn’t keep me from enjoying the game’s fun combat, quirky bosses and variety of power-up attacks. The average gamer may not like it, but I can see how a game like this could develop a cult following. Give God Hand a try if it sounds at all interesting to you.
PLAYSTATION 2 REVIEW
What the PS2 lacked in visual appeal it made up for in performance. The system runs exceptionally well for something that was built in 2000, with little disc motor noise and not much stuttering. Slightly scratched games may take a moment to load here or there but games in proper shape run silky smooth. The PS2 is a step above its predecessor and its first competition (the Dreamcast) in all departments. Sound and graphics resolution are as good or better than pretty much all of its competition in the sixth generation. Textures can be a bit blocky at times but that’s usually more the fault of the particular game than the system itself.
Sony had success with the PS1’s DualShock controller design so with the PS2 they figured, if it ain’t broke then don’t fix it. The DualShock 2 is almost identical but added a couple small tweaks: a bit more stiffness to the analog sticks and a slightly lighter frame. It performs spectacularly and holds up well performance wise with time (unlike those pesky N64 or XBox 360 controllers). As mentioned in my history post on the PS2, it has a very impressive library of games, filled with great franchise after franchise. Every kind of genre is represented well, but the PS2 was particularly spectacular with JRPGs and Action Platformers.
With all of these great things I’ve had to say about the system there is one core reason why I think the PS2 became the best selling console in history. It was the first to truly be a Home Entertainment console in all senses of the phrase. Never before could a gaming console play high quality music, movies and games in one small and relatively cheap package. After the PS2 this thought of a gaming console being a complete home entertainment system went from pipe-dream to these days basically being expected from the consumer. In fact when a console doesn’t have modern movie or music functionality it suffers greatly for it in reviews (Wii I’m looking at you) and/or sales (Wii U, where’s the Blu Ray at bro?). It was genius of Sony to go the extra steps in hardware and cost to get DVD technology, which at that time was new and expensive. They would later make a similar great decision with the PS3 and making it Blu-Ray compatible. Overall there is no reason why any self-respecting video game collector would not own a PS2. Its performance, importance in history and low price make it a no-brainer.
HISTORY OF THE PLAYSTATION 2
After an overall successful stint with their first attempt at the console market, Sony started development on a sequel to the PlayStation. In 2000 they released the PlayStation 2 at a price tag of $299 ($413 today adjusted for inflation). There were over 30 launch titles by the time it reached stateside, including some great games like Drum Mania, Midnight Club, Ready 2 Rumble Boxing, Tekken Tag Tournament, Time Splitters and Unreal Tournament. It was the second console of the sixth generation, competing at first with the Sega Dreamcast and then later with the Nintendo GameCube and (its most fierce rival) Microsoft’s XBox. The PS2 has sold well since day one, quickly grabbing the market from the Dreamcast and then managing to hold a slight sales lead throughout pretty much all of the sixth generation of consoles. It sold so well in fact that it was just recently discontinued in 2013, after a very impressive 13 years of production. The PS2 still holds the record as the best selling console of all time with over 155 million units sold.
There were many keys to the PS2’s success. Personally I think the biggest was that it was the first to use CD-ROM and DVD-ROM, allowing for play of music, movies and video games in one console. Another big key is that it was backwards-compatible with the original PlayStation, which again, had sold pretty well and was helping Sony establish a name in the video game scene. Another factor I think helped Sony is that the PS2 sold a lot of units on the back of the Grand Theft Auto franchise. GTA 3, Vice City and San Andreas were some of the biggest games of all-time in terms of hype, sales and reviews and they came to the PS2 first and in advertising were shown with the PlayStation name. Grand Theft Auto quickly became a household name in the 2000’s and still is one of the best selling franchises ever. San Andreas would go on to become the PS2’s best selling game. PS2 had so many great franchises like Grand Theft Auto, Final Fantasy, Devil May Cry, God of War, Kingdom Hearts, Ratchet & Clank and Metal Gear Solid. Its no wonder that the console had such great sales and success.
PERSONAL HISTORY WITH THE PS2
I got a PS2 mid-way through its lifecycle, shortly after the Slim version came out in a discounted bundle with God of War II. We got it for our birthday or Christmas, which is the only times we ever got big things like that. There were so many great games for the system, some of my favorites were God of War, Kingdom Hearts, NBA Street, Vice City, Bully, Final Fantasy X and Shadow of the Colossus. The PS2 was the first time I personally got into JRPGs. I had played a couple here and there but the PS2 was were I really got into them with FFVIII/IX/X, Dragon Quest VIII and especially Kingdom Hearts /2. Kingdom Hearts kind of got me into them and kindled a love for them that has grown with each generation of consoles and franchises. My favorite things about the PS2 was the humongous library, the fact it played DVDs and CDs and that all my friends had one, making borrowing games really easy. Its definitely one of my favorite consoles (top 5 probably) and I can see why most people consider it the best console ever.
COLLECTING FOR THE PS2
The PlayStation 2 is one of the easiest to collect for whether we’re talking console, controllers or games. Its huge sales figures means everyone and their mother bought a PS2, therefore they’re easy to find at yard sales. I recommend the Slim version if you want one that performs well, but if you want the original model for collection sakes it also isn’t too tough to find. Most of its games are found very easily at yard sales, pawn shops, retro gaming stores and in the clearance bin of your local super-markets. The average game will only run you around $5-15. Complete in box is not an issue since the games use plastic DVD cases, which hold up well with time and became the standard for gaming starting with the PS2. I highly recommend collecting for the PS2 due to the ease of it, low prices and its importance in video game history.
Poll Winner: SONIC ADVENTURE
The Saturn had went its entire lifecycle without a Sonic the Hedgehog title, a fact most people consider a large contributing factor to the system’s failure. Sega was not about to let that happen again with the Dreamcast. In 1998 the Sonic team released Sonic Adventure, a full 3D title that has the player controlling not only Sonic, but several other characters in the universe. Sonic Adventure saw fantastic sales but conflicting review scores. The game spawned a direct sequel Sonic Adventure 2 in 2001.
Oh boy, of all the games I’ve reviewed so far Sonic Adventure may be the one that proves to be the worst offender of rose-colored glasses. Nostalgia is the only thing this game really has going for it. Sonic Adventure is a totally free reign 3D game, a bold step for a Sonic game and one that I think is a bad idea. The combination of high speed and free reign over movements is too much for an overhead camera to cover properly, even on today’s consoles. Sonic Adventure‘s camera is atrocious. It constantly got stuck in corners, walls and behind enemies, making some sections almost unplayable. Its full of bugs, mainly characters sliding around without walking and at times clipping into the environment and getting stuck. The graphics were unimpressive, especially coming back to them now. The voice acting was awful, unbearable even at times and is a problem that would actually continue to plague Sonic games for quite a while afterwards in my opinion.
Having multiple characters in the game, each with their own side of the story and own objectives to do is a really cool idea and was a great way to get players interested in new characters within the Sonic universe, but in practice was not done well because most of their stories are either very short or incredibly boring (Big the Cat I’m lookin’ at you buddy). Look don’t get me wrong, Sonic Adventure is a slight step up over Sonic 3D Blast, but its in essence a game full of decent ideas that were poorly executed. Though this 3D outing turned out bad, it did show us the potential Sonic has in a 3D or semi-3D environment and ended up being refined in its sequel Sonic Adventure 2 and in the more recent Sonic Generations.
Sonic Adventure‘s only saving grace, the ONLY thing it has going for it, is of course the soundtrack. What would a Sonic game be without a top notch soundtrack? The scores do a great job of modifying their sound to come off as more believable orchestral instruments, while still maintaining that classic and fun old school sound we loved on the Genesis’ Sonic games.
Sonic Adventure is not a good game to go back and play. If you loved the game as a kid like I did, do yourself a favor, keep those rose-tinted glasses on.
Never Played: MR. DRILLER
Namco had its fair share of hits over its many years in the video game industry. Among those most notable titles like Pac-Man and Tekken was Dig Dug. The game that was going to become Dig Dug 3 ended up becoming what we now know as Mr. Driller. Unlike Dig Dug, Mr. Driller is a puzzle matching game similar to games like Columns and Bejeweled. Mr. Driller came to PlayStation and Dreamcast in 1999 to decent sales and reviews.
I picked up Mr. Driller a long time ago in a small lot of Dreamcast games but until now hadn’t played it. The art style is very Japanese anime influenced, with cute expressions and bright vibrant colors, much like its ancestor Dig Dug which was interestingly enough the first game review I did on this blog. The music also has a lot of J-Pop flavor to it and I felt it suited the game very well. Mr. Driller‘s play style is one I’ve grown to love in my almost 30 years of gaming. Dr. Mario, Tetris and Lumines are personal favorites of the genre. Mr. Driller has a lot of elements those games have but with an interesting twist: you have to control a character who is actually inside of the giant falling blocks to create chains and clear levels. While drilling your way through the levels you must dodge the falling blocks or else be squished. That simple mechanic is enough to make Mr. Driller feel like a genre all of its own and adds an extra layer of difficulty you don’t really experience with other similar games.
At first I was having trouble with the game because I was trying to go slowly and methodically like I’m used to in games like it. But I soon discovered that in Mr. Driller you must learn to love and embrace the speed. You have to get in the zone and into kind of a flow if you want to have any kind of impressive success in Mr. Driller and I really like that aspect of the game.
If you are a fan of timed matching games or puzzle arcade games then Mr. Driller is definitely a must-play. It provides a unique take on the genre and I’m a proud to own this game.