Special: MGS2? Never played it. GT4? Never played it. San Andreas? Never played it?
No matter how many polys it could push or how emotional the engine was supposed to be, with the success of the PlayStation, the PS2 became the platform of the people. And it's because of this huge user base that the PS2 has became the home for almost all of the weird, different and just plain old fashioned games in this generation. After five years it's easy to look at the Metal Gear Solids and the Gran Turismos and the Grand Theft Autos and say that you've been there and done that with all the PS2 has to offer. But if you dig a little deeper into that weird pile of games no one seems to touch at your local game store you're bound to pick up something interesting.
What's truly amazing about the PS2 is that genres that we all thought were dead are alive and kicking on the PS2. Today's niche titles are yesterday's big hit genres (it could happen to you first person shooter fans!). Take, for example, the side scrolling platform game. Normally, this is the province of your GBA or your DS, but it does not have to be. Klonoa 2: Lunatea's Veil
brought the cuddly side scrolling "mascot" game to the PS2 in style in 2001. It looked a little like a mutant cross between Sonic and Crash Bandicoot, but in the four years since I have yet to see a more colorful game come down the pike. It was a simple platformer, borrowing concepts from Donkey Kong Country and Mario along the way as well, but it was obviously put together with a lot of love for the genre. It's a shame, but it's really the only one we'd get on the PS2.
Now if you take a look at the side scrolling platformer's big brother, the side scrolling platform shooter, you'll find plenty to like. When I say "side scrolling platform shooter", besides thinking it's a mouthful, you should think of the Contra series. After being demoralized on the PSone with a pair of sad 3D games, Konami turned back the clock and put out Contra: Shattered Soldier
. There wasn't much in Contra: Shattered Soldier that we hadn't already seen before. But that was the point. Shattered Soldier was one big homage to all the Contra games that came before. The flying mosquitoes, the flame thrower, the giant aliens that have evolved beyond humanity in such a way that they have toxic vomit. That's how you make a video game. It was beautiful and a true gift from the gaming gods. I was on such a high after playing it that Konami was even able to slip the series into 3D again with Neo Contra
. Even with the switch to 3D, I don't think Neo Contra sold very many copies. But if it's the last one then I can at least fade away knowing the series went out with a one-two bang.
Although I don't think side scrolling platform shooters will be going anywhere if Alien Hominid
has anything to say about it. Created by an independent studio comprised of a dozen guys known as The Behemoth, Alien Hominid is their big sloppy wet kiss to fans of Contra, Saturday morning cartoons and Commies. The game has a hand drawn art style that just pops on the PS2. It sounds stupid I know, but just take a look at the giant Commie Flying Death Machine and tell me there's a better word to describe it. The Behemoth hasn't done much of anything since this 2004 title, but constant rumors say they're onto something big. I can't wait to find out what that something could be.
And even though it was a huge hit, it might be important to mention Destroy All Humans!
in this space because it also pulled the alien invasion card with fantastically funny results. Niche or not, it was the funniest game I have played in, well, ever.
If you're still in the need for some shooting, there's always the king of the current generation space shooter, Treasure's Ikaruga
for the GameCube. Whoops. This is the PS2 birthday celebration isn't it? What I meant to say was Gradius V
, also developed by Treasure. Gradius V is a continuation of the great Gradius series and the space dogfighting has never been more intense or more accessible. Dodging laser blasts while you return in your tiny spacecraft is how I would spend my afternoons as a youth. And it's great to know I still. Gradius V is also the closest thing we may ever see to a spiritual sequel to Ikaruga. If you've played both, you can see that they are very similar.
I guess, when it comes right down to it, crazy shooters have managed to find a much needed home on the PS2. Take for example Tetsuya Mizuguchi's music-shooter hybrid Rez
. Or rather, attempt to take it for an example as it's original press run was a little on the limited side and a lot of gamers couldn't find it in stores after it's release. So Sega turned out a second printing last year at a nice $20 budget price? and it's still impossible to find. I've never actually seen it in a game store and I've never gotten the chance to play. This is the very definition of niche and one day I have to break down and just drag a copy off of eBay.
Something slightly less niche (and least in availability anyway) but more niche in content (a mosquito simulator) is Mister Mosquito
. Mister Mosquito caused plenty of waves in 2002. Not sales waves mind you, but plenty of gamers were buzzing about the fact that someone was putting out a game where you played as a mosquito and your goal was to suck the blood of Japanese schoolgirls. Oh yeah, you read that right. Your mosquito controlled like a jet fighter in the Ace Combat series and it was definitely new ground as far as video game scenarios went. A sequel was later released only in Japan. Too niche for America indeed.
Back on terra firma, some people have decided to ask ?Where have all the beat ?em ups gone?? Personally, I think they mutated into the Grand Theft Auto series, but that's an editorial for another time. But filling the beat ?em up niche is Viewtiful Joe
. The Viewtiful one began life on the GameCube and beat his way through a ton of side scrolling levels to rescue his girlfriend Sylvia from the clutches of monsters from inside the movies. He eventually pulled the same time bending acrobatics on the PS2 and is responsible for the shattering of two of my controllers and one of my thumbs.
For something a little less taxing on the fingertips you might want to seek out Culdcept
. Culdcept can only be described in one way. Or maybe I'm just lazy. Either way, it's Magic the Gathering meets Monopoly and it's quite possibly the most fun I've had with an RPG on the PS2 (although that would be discounting La Pucelle, which isn't weird enough for this list, but there it is). The graphics are crude, the card battling mechanics are confusing and complex, the story is strongarmed into the game with ridiculous force (and with ridiculous results). But Culdcept is addictive and
frustrating and is also responsible for a few broken controllers.
If you've been following the gaming world lately, you may have heard of the latest addition to the niche canon, Indigo Prophecy
. A mix of old adventure and a new form of ?interactive cinema?, for Indigo Prophecy it's all about the story. The game's unique two stick control scheme and twisting, turning storyline put gamers in something they've never really seen before. It's being called the first real detective game and it's on my radar for the future because I haven't been able to pull myself away from the recently released?
We Love Katamari
and it's prequel Katamari Damacy
. The game that's been referred to as the garbage rolling game, that game with the big ball and who spiked my PS2 with acid? It is without a doubt the most original and incredible thing to come out of the PS2's history; niche, mainstream or other. A game so weird that even the Japanese wouldn't have it (the game sold more copies in the USA than in the land of the rising sun).
The Katamaris have it all. A unique art style that looks like a cross between Legos and a kid first learning how to take 3D shapes and build people with them made it stand out. An easy to pick up control scheme (no buttons, just use the analog sticks to ?drive?!) makes it accessible to everybody. And it stars one of the greatest characters to ever emerge from a video game: The King of All Cosmos. The fantastically flamboyant King originally destroyed the stars in a drunken rage, so he sends his son to clean up after him by rolling giant Katamaris of junk to recreate the stars. This is after he tangled with beatniks, hippies and ruffians in his youth and shot laser beams out of his eyes in anger. He gets all the best lines and always puts his best package forward. He is self-righteous and self-important and the owner of one kickin' soundtrack.
Yes, the music. Katamari Damacy has music that will make even the most hardened man smile and giggle with delight. Spanning all sorts of different genres, the music makes the ridiculous mood even more perfect. But it's what you hear over the music that is also music to my ears. As your Katamari gets bigger and bigger you'll suck up people, buildings and even Rodan. But the people in this light hearted, colorful game built for the whole family scream and scream as they are rolled up into the Katamari. Then they are shuffled off to their deaths when the junk ball is compacted by the King into gas and matter and shoved into the sky. This is all done to the beat of a crooner channeling Frank Sinatra serenading the player that he will ?roll you up into my life.? Yes Mr. Lecter, I can still hear the screaming.
I'm sure someone will argue with me over the inclusion of the Katamaris because they sold so many copies and are known by almost everyone. But any game that features dancing red pandas and singing bovines cannot
be considered normal. And that's why niche games will always be in demand; whether we sit down to play our PS2s or our PS Tens. So I'll happily take my seat on the road off the beaten path. These are my blockbusters and they have made the PlayStation 2's five years my home sweet home.