Thursday, January 13, 2011

12 Months, Sixty Dollars and a PS2: Year in Review

So a year has passed and the PS2 project has come to a close.  If you've been playing along with me at home, then you know we've had an interesting year of highs and lows, great games and some real headshakers.  So I felt it only appropriate that we spend a few moments here at the end of the project to take a look back at the journey as a whole and see if we have learned anything.

This whole project began with a simple observation: amongst the myriad of games on the shelf at my favorite second hand (Must Have Music and More, shameless plug!), were a lot of Playstation 2 games stamped with the lowly price of $4.95.  And I'm not talking outdated sports games like Madden NFL 05, I mean actual games that appear to have had a legitimate release and at least some life before they found their way into the lower caste of second hand games.  It was a game not in this project, Pryzm: the Last Unicorn, that sparked this entire thing off.  For $5 the game ending up being a huge value and despite its somewhat bizarre plot it was a great deal of fun.  And that got me to thinking, that if a game as much fun as Pryzm is sitting out there for $5 at the local second hand, who knows what other diamonds in the rough might also be lurking on the shelf.

The project started off on a good foot with Brave: The Search for Spirit Dancer, a fun little platformer that would be great for younger players and still has enough teeth for seasoned gamers.  Brave would give me hope that this entire adventure was going to be worth the whopping $60 I had agreed to invest.  And that hope with pay off several times over the course of the year.  Amongst the incredible gems I discovered are absolutely amazing games like Red Ninja, Gladius and Scooby-Doo: Night of 100 Frights.  These three games exemplify just how lucky you can get when you cast your net into the $5 ocean.  All three games are worth far more than their five dollar price tag and could easily give many contemporary games a run for their money.  Red Ninja, you will recall, is a spectacular stealth platformer that casts you in the role of a scantily clan female Ninja out for revenge against those left her for dead.  The gameplay is smooth, the level design is complex, and the challenge is high.  I look forward to more adventures with Kuranei in the future!  On the other end of the spectrum is Gladius, a deep and involved tactical battle simulation game that pits you as a Roman Gladiator or Barbarian Warlord leading your battle school against rival schools in tournaments across the land.  Gladius is the kind of game you can spend days and days playing and only scratch the surface of all it has to offer.  A real thinking game, this is another I look forward to devoting more time to.  Finally, Scooby-Doo: Night of a 100 Frights harkens back to the days of great platformers like Mario and Donkey Kong Country.  The perfect blend of fun game play and smartly executed nostalgic thematic elements, Scooby-Doo is a welcome addition to my PS2 library.

But the year wasn't all value and good times.  There were some pretty low points as well.  I can't say that I was overjoyed when playing Alfa Romeo Racing Italiano, One Piece: Pirate's Carnival, or Godzilla Unleashed.  These three games perfectly demonstrate the reason why the $5 game exists.  Had I paid retail price for any of these piles when they were first released, I am pretty sure I would have written their respective companies and demanded full refunds.  Alfa Romeo Racing Italiano purported itself to be a racing RPG, but was so hard to control and lacked any real fun factor, that I never really got a chance to see if it could deliver on its promises.  On the other hand, One Piece: Pirate's Carnival, was plenty playable, however, exactly what i was playing was consistently up for grabs.  In an attempt to replicate the fun of games like Mario Party, One Piece layers manga themes over a fairly standard board game concept.  The failure comes from the incomprehensible anime characters and themes that are forced upon the game.  While the game is clearly intended for fans of the anime, I do not think that having a target audience should limit the ability for anyone to have fun with it.  Sadly in One Piece's case, it does.  From the playable, but incomprehensible, to the nearly unplayable, we find Godzilla Unleashed.  What should have been a fun monster mash-em-up is completely stifled by sluggish, uninspired controls that foster an environment of boredom rather than thrills.  If the Ultimate Nullifier were activated against these three games, no one would ever be the worse for it.  If you see them on the shelf, run, don't walk, away.
The rest of the lot are pretty general fare.  Nothing absolutely terribly, but nothing you couldn't live without.  That being said, when you consider that most of these games probably retailed for upwards of fifty dollars, getting any of them for ten percent of their original price is a pretty good deal.

All in all, this was a very interesting project and I think that on the whole it was worth the risk of sixty American dollars to net seven or eight decent games for a system that only recently stopped game production.  In an age of rapidly and cheaply produced shovelware, it can be hard to risk thirty dollars or more on a new game for a modern system, particularly if you are like me and eschew much of the reviews available in print and online (just don't trust a lot of them for a variety of reasons).  If anything, this project proves that due to the accelerated transitional nature of the contemporary video game market and culture, a little bit of patience can net you some pretty damn good games for significantly less than you might pay for them new, particularly if you are not picky about used games in the second hand market.

It has been a very interesting year and I hope you have had as much fun playing along at home as I have had plumbing the depths of the second hand shelves!  Suffice to say, our journey will not completely end here.  True, our PS2 quest has come to a close, both the year and the money has been exhausted, but from the ashes of this experiment comes the next great adventure!  If there are this many great games floating around out there for the PS2, just how many might be out there for the Gameboy Advance?  Much like the PS2, the GBA boasts a vast library of titles, and much like the PS2, the Gameboy Advance was wildly poplar in its day.  The result is a dearth of games now being collected in the bins and on the shelves of second hands everywhere as the Nintendo DS has supplanted its predecessor.  You realize what this means of course...

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