In the same way that Dead or Alive makes my list despite my reservations about its gameplay, sometimes it’s a variety of other factors that contribute to an overall experience as a piece of entertainment and make it memorable – and I think it’s the games we have fondest memories of that largely determine which ones make our individual lists in this feature. The Getaway was a project I didn’t care much for at first, starting out as an early PS2 concept publicised with largely misleading renders (that would go on to become something of a recurring theme when it came to PS3′s unveiling, but that’s another story). Team Soho’s gameplay mix of sandbox shooting, driving and combat was not particularly good nor particularly bad, but the reason I loved the game (as well as its sequel) was that its take on the genre in a London setting is both unique in the games medium, and also executed with admirable style. The characters and acting in the game is easily of GTA IV quality if you ask me, and the dialogue and setting were elements that put a smile on my face as a passionate Soho resident myself. Technically speaking, the realisation of London as a sandbox city in the game was also very impressive at the time. Some people might not think my reasoning here constitutes a great game of the decade per se, but I loved both Getaway titles through to the end credits.
Further Reading: Review (sequel)
Sonic Adventure 2
While modern-era Sonic titles from Sonic Heroes onwards have definitely become worse each time (both 2005′s Shadow and 2006′s Sonic fell short in several areas, and last year’s Unleashed was the worst to date), the Sonic Adventure games were in fact pretty exceptional if you ask me. I guess I could make this entry for both titles combined, considering that the original SA was remade for GameCube well into this decade, but we’ll focus on Dreamcast original Sonic Adventure 2, which is definitely the best 3D Sonic to date. It improved on the ambitious 1998 original while expanding the character elements (even Eggman was playable!) but WITHOUT over-experimenting on the fundamental game formula and concept that later titles went on to misstep with. The original Sonic Adventure 1 was a superb title that was ahead of its time in several respects, and its notable shortcomings were mostly all cleared up in the sequel, which was also a significantly bigger game. I’m not one to defend the Sonic series in a broad sense these days (especially after Unleashed) but its detractors should remember that this game seriously rocked. Next year, the belated return to 2D for the series will, however, hopefully be a welcome development.
Super Monkey Ball
Wahey! The title that first made me realise Sega’s exit from the hardware market was not the end of the world was Super Monkey Ball, a GameCube Japanese launch title that originally debuted in arcades (complete with banana-styled joysticks). Cute monkey in a ball rolls around in a world that you can tilt. That’s it. And it’s awesome. The series has gone on to be one of Sega’s most loved, thanks to its instant appeal, simple controls, memorable mini-games (MONKEY TARGET!) and, for the hardcore gamer, highly challenging expert levels. I’ve not really taken a look at what the series has done lately on the Wii or whatever, but then I don’t care because the original Monkey Ball is enough to earn its place in the decade’s greatest games.
Further Reading: Review (sequel)
Specifically, VF4 (2001), and VF5 (2006). I’m saving my best for last; no other series in all of video games has taken up as much of my time in arcades, been fired up for quick bouts with friends at home, had as much of an impact on my attitudes towards games in general, or as it turned out, been a part of the very direction my life’s taken (VF was largely behind my journey into the games business in the nineties). VF’s the pinnacle of strategic twitch gameplay for me. It’s my favourite series in raw gameplay terms as well as technical innovation. It’s a series that first had me bewitched with the revolutionary arcade original in 1993. By the time VF2 had been out on the Saturn for a while, I thought I was pretty tasty when it came to beating other players. I KNEW NOTHING. I could beat “local” players or arcade owners of reasonable skill with my eyes closed, thanks to the amount of console practise I would invest. But as I “grew up” with the series and sought out the fiercest arcades – eventually meeting, playing among, and learning from some of the world’s best players – I knew I’d never really reach the levels of expert play these guys could demonstrate, but that I’d have a lot of fun trying. VF3 blew my mind, and VF4′s unquestionably the title that took most of my arcade coins this decade. However, it’s the more recent Virtua Fighter 5 that undisputedly marks the series’ most flawless instalment to date. For gamers new to the series, the Xbox 360 version is the best available… outside of Japanese arcades, at least.
Further Reading: VF5 Review, VF4 Review, VF5:R Interview
Happy New Year.