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

Chris I's Top Five Picks of 2006

5. Viva Pinata! (Xbox 360)
Publisher: Microsoft Games   Developer: Rare

Talk about coming out of left field. About a week prior to this game's release, it was probably the last on my shopping list just because of the sheer amount of content hitting in November alone, especially for the 360 with Gears of War right next to it. Picking it up later on overwhelming hype alone, I was pleasantly surprised by the depth and fun offered by a bunch of little pinatas. While it certainly won't linger in your mind for long time, Viva should hold you over until the next onslaught of A-list 360 titles in January, and it wouldn't be a bad choice to pick up for the inevitable 2007 summer drought.

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

To the surprise of no one, Squenix blew us all away once again with the latest in the long-running (and almost always bitchin') Final Fantasy series. It felt great to say goodbye to the disconnected random battles and ATB system of old-- FFXII feels more like a single-player MMO than anything, with more depth and actual gameplay than ever before. Sure, the characters aren't the series' most intriguing, but the world is. Expansive and engaging, Final Fantasy XII is easily the best RPG of 2007.

3. Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops (PSP)
Publisher: Konami   Developer: Konami

Surprising that a PSP game would be the most solid and well-constructed game of the year. Just what does that mean? Everything in the game carries a certain weight and reality-- it's a feeling hard to describe, but you'll immediately recognize it when you pick MPO up. The entire Metal Gear experience has finally been effectively portable-ized, with quick, mission-based gameplay and beautiful animated comic panels to convey the story. Really, Metal Gear Solid has never been so engaging. If you have one of those struggling black Sony paperweights, you must pick this up.


2. Okami (PS2)
Publisher: Capcom   Developer: Clover Studio

Let's face it: Nintendo's Twilight Princess is a great game-- Nintendo did a great job providing the Wii with a killer launch title-- but it all just feels so familiar. Slice the grass to get rupees, go through the same old dungeons and temples... Haven't we been doing this since, like, forever? Okami switches up the original concept of a 3D Zelda by combining great gameplay, old Japanese legends, and incredible artistic merit. If you're looking for proof that a videogame can be a work of art, you don't need to go any further. Okami is a graphical tour-de-force that not only refines the "Zelda" experience and what a videogame can look like, but the adventure genre as a whole.


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

Delivering on its enormous hype, Gears of War is by far my 2006 Game of the Year. The graphics are the best to ever grace a videogame (could I get more obvious?) and the gameplay is no slouch either. Multiplayer delivers as well, with lagless co-op (this should be in every game of this genre, period) and excellent multiplayer. A team ranked mode would be a welcome addition, but the game does everything else so well that it's hard to bring it down simply because of that. Gears of War is the only game that you need in your Xbox 360 collection.

2006 Overview

Despite a torturous summer drought thanks to the delay of numerous titles (Lumines Live!, I'm looking at you), 2006 turned out to be a decent year just for the sheer amount of quality content coming from major franchises and new Ips. Final Fantasy XII, Kingdom Hearts II, and MPO, just to name a few, each continue a legacy, and combined with hot new properties such as Okami and Dead Rising, the year wasn't half bad. I didn't finish half the games I wanted to, although I did play my fair share of all the big titles (and a few smaller ones). There were a few disappointments-- Final Fantasy III, while a great game (I bought it in Japanese and English), failed to deliver on its "greatest DS RPG" hype, and Prey could have been so much more. Also, let's not forget that next gen is finally here, which is as much of a curse as it is a blessing-- here's to seeing if I have enough money to support this expensive hobby next year.

2007 Outlook

Virtua Fighter 5. Metal Gear Solid 4. Halo 3. Assassin's Creed Gears of War kicked officially kicked off next-gen gaming, and 2007's line-up shows no signs of faltering.

James's Top Five Picks of 2006

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

The happiest game on earth is also a brilliant platformer filled with more secrets and hidden goodies in one of its incredibly stylish levels than most games pack into an entire world. Despite the simple controls that use only three of the PSP's buttons, there's a surprising amount of technique in manipulating the singing mass of bouncy happiness that is a 'Roco. 40 levels with lots of replay value kept LocoRoco spinning in my PSP for months after it came out, and I didn't stop playing until I found all three hidden MuiMui and 20 'Roco in each area.


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

After years of mediocrity I was ready to write off the Final Fantasy series as something best left to nostalgia, but Final Fantasy XII is one of the best games in the series, much less this year. The new action-style combat, designed to feel like an MMORPG, works surprisingly well in the Final Fantasy formula, and is fun and addictive to boot. It supports a story that's much more down-to-earth than the last several Final Fantasy games, and though it's somewhat complex with the politics it still manages to give clear reasons as to why this group of characters is working together and what they're working towards. A compelling story plus a fun combat system equals a much-needed and welcome rebirth for Final Fantasy.

3. Chibi Robo (PC)
Publisher: Nintendo   Developer: Skip

And here we run into the arbitrary nature of "Best of..." lists. Technically, just about everything on this list (and many games that didn't make the cut) is a better game than Chibi Robo, but that completely ignores just how much I enjoyed this game and its world. Chibi Robo is a robot only a few inches tall, running around a house doing chores such as picking up trash, scrubbing the floors, trying to revive the dead robot in the cellar, solving the mystery of the sick aliens, and trying to keep the family from tearing itself apart. Chibi Robo's cute stylings cover up some surprisingly dark subject matter, including divorce, death, loss, and even suicide. Sunshine and happiness does tend to win in the end, but it's going to take a lot of platforming exploration and adventure-game style item usage to get there.

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

Zombies are the cockroaches of the gaming world. They get into everything, usually when the lights are off, and no matter how many you kill there will always be more. Unlike roaches, killing zombies is a ton of fun, especially when you've got a mall full of merchandise at your disposal. Whether it's tooling around the ridiculously huge Willamette Mall dressed in Frank West's standard work outfit while wielding a bowling ball, perfect for staving in zombie skulls, or dressed up in the snappiest duds available from the high-end stores while brandishing a katana, there's no end to the way the hideous undead can be dispatched. The story, set over the course of three days, is a perfect excuse to wade through a never-ending sea of ambulatory corpses, all while rescuing survivors and sorting out what exactly happened to bring this much destruction to the town of Willamette. Honestly though, any game that lets me chainsaw, lawn mower, bludgeon, bash, disembowel, impale, singe, and otherwise desecrate the undead is fine by me.

1. Elite Beat Agents (Nintendo DS)
Publisher: Nintendo   Developer: Inis

A bizarre choice for #1? You betcha! But it's my list, and I love me some music games. I bought EBA's Japanese prequel, Osu! Tatake! Ouendan! this summer and rocketed straight into the American version without missing a beat. Tapping circles in time to pop hits doesn't really sound all that exciting, but the combination of goofy humor, some very good versions of songs that would cause me to take an axe to whatever radio had the misfortune to play them in my vicinity is far more fun than it should be. And while EBA seems like a game of rote memorization, with each song having the exact same pattern every time you play, there's a large chunk of skill required in order to succeed at the hardest difficulty level. More beats appearing faster would seem to just need a few more rounds of practice to memorize, but the speed and precision necessary to hit the smaller dots isn't an instinctive thing. This was driven home when, after a week off from playing, I tried to dive back into the deep end of the game and found my reflexes and accuracy had lost just enough edge that sections I'd considered easy no longer were. The combination of music, skill, and a scoring system that encourages replay after replay all combine to make a game I'll be playing and enjoying for years

2006 Overview

2006 was amazing, no two ways around it. Narrowing it down to five games just isn't possible, so the above list should be viewed as "Year's Top 5 Right Now" rather than anything definitive. Guitar Hero 2, Metal Gear Solid 3 Subsistence, Bully, Okami, Oblivion, New Super Mario Brothers, God Hand, Zelda, and much more didn't make the list, and not one of them isn't deserving of a spot.

Games aside, 2006 ushered in a huge pile of change for the gaming industry. The Xbox 360 got over its launch and settled in to being a great system, and developers got to work delivering either truly next-gen content for it or completely upgraded versions of current-gen games. On the other hand, Xbox Live Arcade languished for far too long, but the end of the year brought in some new content that showed off what the concept is capable of.

Resisting change was the PS2, which just kept hosting grade-A title after grade-A title. While fall saw the launch of PS3, it's going to be a while yet before Sony's shiny new (expensive!) system supplants their old standby, no matter how poorly the PS2 visuals fare in comparison.

It was Nintendo that really went for broke on the concept of change, though, with the release of the Wii. Blowing off the graphics race entirely, the Wii's controller and games instantly became the hot Christmas item, spearheaded by Zelda and the family-friendly Wii Sports pack-in. The general-audience appeal of Wii Sports really can't be understated, as moms across the country wanted "one more go" on Nintendo's little white box. More than just a grab at the family market, Wii also hosted the aforementioned Zelda in addition to Trauma Center, Elebits, and Excite Truck. There are very few system launches with four games worth buying within the first month, but on top of all that the Wii's Virtual Console brought in a few keepers as well. While somewhat overpriced, the ability to finally be able to play TurboGrafx games (and Gunstar Heroes!) on a proper tv screen again is a very welcome feature.

The games industry is more than just gaming, though, and change swept through every part of it. E3 is dead, buried, and gone, despite next year's press event that has the same name. 2007 promises several attempts at taking the E3 crown by new events, but it's too early yet to know if any of them will ever have the same impact as the giant media circus that drew so many mixed emotions from the gaming industry. Also gone is Clover Studios, dead just as they released two of their best games. Still around,however, is Jack Thompson, although he's on a rapid course to self-destruction thanks to the antics pulled trying to prevent the excellent T-rated Bully from hitting shelves. Also in the "no change" section is the continued unconstitutionality of every single law passed restricting sales of M-rated games, no matter what kind of hand-wringing those wanting to reign in this devil-medium engage in. It's not going to stop the usual suspects from trying again, though, so in 2007 and on it's something to keep pay attention to.

2007 Outlook

Real world aside, 2007 should be just as good as '06. If the PS1 is any indication, the PS2 lineup should be filled with all sorts of neat oddball stuff as Sony starts to pay more attention to the new hardware. Hopefully, that means that the PS3 will start having a games lineup to justify its price tag, but the jury is still out on that one. The 360, on the other hand, is already showing major promise with both high profile titles like the inevitable Halo 3 later in the year and more obscure gems such as Earth Defense Force X this spring. The wild card is the Wii, with publishers scrambling to get up to speed with its unexpected success and funky new control method, and not much announced outside of Nintendo's offerings spaced through the year. On more solid ground are the handhelds, but I'll admit to being a bit worried about the PSP. It had a very solid year with a good variety of high-quality games, but the backlash from its first very boring year is still around. Strong and steady, the DS spanked it into submission this year, and the (deserved) death of the UMD format didn't help any. Going into spring, the PSP is going to have a tough time fighting a new Pokemon and Zelda: Phantom Hourglass with... um... Gurumin and Oblivion? Thankfully, keeping the system alive is Sony's problem. My problem is finding the cash and time to play all the great stuff I expect to see this year, but it's one I welcome with open arms. Bring it, 2007! I'm ready.

Hit the next page to read George's and Joseph's picks...

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