The Year in Review 2006 Feature - The Next Level

The Year in Review 2006

A look back at our definitive picks of last year.

Article by TNL Staff (Email)
January 10th 2007, 04:30PM

Andrew's Top Five Picks of 2006

5. Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories (PS2)
Publisher: NIS America   Developer: Nippon Ichi Software

My most anticipated game of the year turned out to be the perfect new model for the SRPG genre. NIS took an already outstanding niche title and cranked up the quality. Though it's still far from the hi-res 2D powerhouse it could be (let's hope NIS will get there on the PlayStation 3), Disgaea 2 contains some of the most addicting combat and character development you will find on any console. Did I mention there are pirates? There's enough extra content to make your head explode. Even with 100 hours under your belt, there will be more to accomplish.

4. Gears of War (Xbox 360)
Publisher: Epic Games   Developer: Microsoft Games

I hate FPS games. I love Gears of War. I know it's not technically an FPS, but it is the perfect hybrid for fans and those who would rather eat nails than play them. Probably one of the most exciting gaming experiences I've had all year was being able to play co-op with a friend. They talk about Web 2.0 and blogs and this and that, but Gears is the reason I love technology. I can chat with a friend, listen to the music I like, while jumping online to play one of the most addicting and gorgeous action games we will likely see for a while. If you own an Xbox, then this game is a must. If you don't, then what are you waiting for? Probably one of the first games in a long time that I would give the title “system seller” to.

3. Dead Rising (Xbox 360)
Publisher: Capcom   Developer: Capcom

I know, I know. Gears may technically be a better game than Dead Rising, but I have a special place in my heart for zombies and Dead Rising is the oddest most insane game I could recommend for zombie lovers. You basically have 72 hours to take pictures of mayhem; kill tens of thousands of zombies using chainsaws, shower heads, soda cans, machine guns, benches, toy weapons, and more; all while dealing with time-based cases and psychopaths occupying every nook and cranny of the Willamette Park View Mall. Put it this way: if the thought of playing a game where you can wake up in only your boxer shorts because you were knocked out and kidnapped by crazed cultists wearing raincoats and masks both intrigues and frightens you, then this is your game. If not, did I mention that you can fully accessorize hero Frank West in all kinds of groovy outfits and earn bizarre achievements such as running through a crowd of zombies with a parasol?


2. Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin (Nintendo DS)
Publisher: Konami   Developer: Konami

Many fans prefer the older style of Castlevania games to the new, more anime-influenced style. I am not one of them. I loved Dawn of Sorrow and I love, even more, Portrait (mostly because it removed the obnoxious stylus use). Other great additions: a wi-fi co-op mode and a store option where you can sell your items to other players. A two-character system, complete with team attacks, works amazingly well and provides the extra customization to warrant many, many playthroughs (especially since there are more playable characters to unlock). If Final Fantasy XII hadn't come along this year, Portrait of Ruin would get my top nod, and that's saying a lot considering all the excellent games we saw this year.


1. Final Fantasy XII (PS2)
Publisher: Square Enix   Developer: Square Enix

Where do I even start? I have never been a huge fan of the series, even though I am an RPG nut. I played the obligatory VII and spent many months on the SNES with III, and Tactics filled an early SRPG void for me; but overall, I've found more interest in other series out there, that is until this monster hit my PlayStation 2. Final Fantasy XII is a game that truly does everything right. All it needs is better visuals (thankfully there is at least a widescreen mode, but following Valkyrie Profile 2, I was a bit disappointed). The story is solid and the action is great. Sure it mimics MMOs, but it does it well. The gambit system has basically turned me off of every wanting to do traditional turned-based combat again. Why should I have to worry about curing poison or healing once a character reaches 20 percent life, when I can simply program my allies to do it automatically? Many may feel like they are automating too much and relinquishing control to the A.I. Not so! You're getting rid of the tedious stuff and leaving room to manually handle all the more important things. Selecting spells, switching weapons and characters on the fly, and even switching gambits mid-combat are all useful and necessary manual tasks in Final Fantasy XII. It's been a stellar year for Square Enix in my book, though it will be hard for the developers to outdo this effort.

2006 Overview

I loved gaming this year. Thanks to the DS and Xbox Live, we are at a really good place where there is hope for 2D to continue to thrive. And though I never used to admit it, those are good places for them. Sure I'd love to see some HD 2D stuff, but that is less likely, so at least we know there is supreme quality by way of titles such as Dead Rising and Gears of War. With the huge backlog of games out there: classic games on both the Xbox and Wii (and we haven't even seen what the PlayStation 3 will do yet); retro compilations coming out cheap and great quality (Capcom Classics 2 comes to mind); and new stuff that is finally proving its next gen status, who wouldn't want to be a gamer right now? There were so many titles I wanted in the list, but just couldn't justify. I loved Valkyrie Profile 2 and its 2D structure with gorgeous 3D visuals. I spent countless hours playing the follow-up to Capcom's butchered Devil Kings. Sengoku Basara 2 is a must play import and destroys Ninety-Nine Nights in every way. Disgaea 2 had a close competitor in the SRPG circuit from a little title on the Gameboy Advance called Yggdra Union. Actually Atlus hooked us up with Summon Night 1 and 2, both fun little RPGs for the Gameboy Advance as well. And even though I still love the DS more than the PSP, great titles such as Every Extend Extra and Lumines 2 keep the puzzle addict in my house more than covered. Yeah it was a great year for gaming!

2007 Outlook

Obviously the Wii and PlayStation 3 will find bigger markets in 2007, but I want to see what will happen to the niche PlayStation 2 developers. Will NIS and Atlus find solid footing on the PlayStation 3 or will they jump to Xbox Live perhaps for the 2D content? Will NIS support the DS and will they release a solid PSP game reflective of their quality console titles?

As each console carves out its own segment, how will the 360 and PlayStation 3 differentiate each other? We've seen so far that the 360 is offering a truly integrated experience: talk to friends while listening to custom music while playing online with people all over the world. Pause and send an invite or email, jump over and download an HD movie or the latest Live Arcade release (Castle Crashers and Symphony of the Night!!!). I don't know how I ever lived as a gamer without the 360, so it's going to take a lot to top this experience. Though I'd definitely love to see some solid RPGs find their way to the 360.

The outlook for 2007 is excellent. We have 3 consoles (and 2 great handhelds) that are able to do things I'd never have been able to imagine 10 years ago and it keeps getting better. Think of all the classic games out there begging for online multiplayer support? Sure I miss the arcade experience, but being able to sit in my favorite chair and play friends all over the world in my favorite games, well what more could I ask for?


Alex's Top Five Picks of 2006

5. LocoRoco (PSP)
Publisher: SCEA   Developer: SCEI

It takes only a few minutes to go through a level, but each one hides so many secret passages and items that if I finish without putting in some quality exploration time I have unsatisfactorily missed out on a lot. Too much, in fact. Now this doesn't come as a surprise. Sony gave us a level to play at E3 and I spent a solid evening locked in our hotel room, getting used to the physics before finishing the level. Then I played again finish with all 20 blobs intact. Then it was to find the secrets and finish with every bauble collected (hundreds!). And whenever a level is completed 100%, the player is challenged to a time attack. So I played that, too. I wasn't bored, I just adored the hell out of it, and each level is more or less as good as that one. You really could call it the perfect handheld game.

But we don't live in cosmic hotel rooms where time and physics have no application. In the real world, who has the time and energy for 40 levels of such perfection?


4. Dead Rising (Xbox 360)
Publisher: Capcom   Developer: Capcom

In Resident Evil 4, Capcom's zombie masterpiece, you play Leon, an American yahoo running through a foreign land, fighting an enemy he doesn't truly understand. I sat on the edge of my seat, not because it was too tense, but because I was waiting for somebody to drop the proverbial bomb. And Leon eventually does, calling the situation “terrorism.” At least, in RE 4, it's done with some self-effacing: the bad guy sneers at how that's such a popular word nowadays. “Terrorism” and its permutations are established as worthless buzzwords in Resident Evil, but the DHS agents in Dead Rising obnoxiously use it as accusation at least seven times, all without irony. Even our average guy hero uses it, and that's when you understand the America being portrayed here: a shell shocked nation, incapable of realizing horror without resorting to their little mindless descriptions of bad intentions.

3. Counterclockwise (PC)
Publisher: N/A   Developer: 16x16

Counterclockwise is the sort of game so virtually perfect you almost wish you hadn't downloaded it. It encompasses the giddy experience of finding that diamond in the digital rough, but afterwards you feel guilty if you don't work hard enough to spread the word of its existence. Part of the 2006 Retro Remakes competition, Counterclockwise is a remake of a ZX Spectrum title, Knot in 3D. In turn, Ki3D was inspired by the light cycle sequences in Tron. Remember those? You must have, they're the things people remember most vividly from Tron, frequently with the fortunate side-effect of forgetting the remaining dreadful 90 minutes. In Counterclockwise, you're still in control of futuristic vehicles that leave solid walls in their wakes. But in addition to forward, left, and right, you can now travel up and down. Each stage can host up to ten CPU opponents, and after very little playing time, it's like navigating around a network of rainbow pipes compressed into a tight cube.

2. Wii Sports (Wii)
Publisher: Nintendo   Developer: Nintendo

What I'm afraid is that Wii Sports is exactly the kind of thing Nintendo excels at: great ideas, capitalized once, that fizzle out when they get distracted (see: eReader, Virtual Boy, Power Glove, Game Boy Advance connectivity, etc). All the five games are great, and they come with fun training modes and a fitness age that continues Nintendo's current obsession to quantify your life and how fearful of death you should be. Love Wii Sports and how wonderfully it capitalizes on the console's whee! factor. This may be your only chance.

1. Gears of War (Xbox 360)
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios   Developer: Epic Games

The rapport that develops between steroid-built guys in Gears of War is what really drives it home. As Marcus and his squad march through the seared earth, scripted events are triggered and the fellers engage in pat conversations and dialogue. A lot of it is great macho claptrap, all swearing and vulgarities, like a drawn-out, badass version of Starship Troopers. Especially memorable is the grizzled Marcus, a hilarious, frightening mix of Jack Bauer and a pissed-off Eeyore. There's bitchy regret in all he says, lamenting the bloody future that's spreading out before him. If he picks up the fallen's dog tags that are scattered throughout the stages, he'll occasionally deliver succinct, affecting and scorched elegies. War is hell and hell is fun, video games argue. And in Gears of War, it can be noble.

2006 Overview

2006 met expectations, which is probably less that my hopes are dropping or developers are getting better than it is a comment on media saturation. Usually, I'll try to go completely silent on anything that's coming out, but with your consoles themselves a mouthpiece for companies and corporations, that gets a little difficult. Some things I didn't really care to know ahead of time, though there were two instances where this new-fangled technology helped out: the early trailer for Dead Rising had me write it off as trash. The demo converted me. And I may remember forever when I first saw Gears of War multiplayer footage, duly noting how mind-blowing it looked. But seeing the roadie run in action is something that just turns your stomach and kills your heart at how technology can make something so disgusting, so violent, and so beautiful.

2007 Outlook

For 2007, I'm not thinking past January: Lost Planet should tide me over until whenever the hell Blue Dragon comes out. If not, the PC indie game is doing nicely, while XBLA looks to punch more butt this year. And, damn it, I'm looking forward to getting further ripped-off at the hands of Nintendo; soon Dungeon Explorer will be mine and whatever else I find on Virtual Console that I'm too lazy to emulate.


Hit the next page to read Chris I and James's picks...

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