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
 

George's Top Five Picks of 2006

5. New Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo DS)
Publisher: Nintendo   Developer: Nintendo


If I were Princess Toadstool, I'd hire another bodyguard. Mario may know how to fix a leak in the John, but when it comes to safeguarding babes, he's got a lot to learn. New Super Mario Brothers proves the more things change, the more they stay the same. The old-school gameplay combined with new power-ups and touch screen capabilities created the ultimate come back for the 2D platform. On top of all that deliciousness, it's on a portable. ‘Nuff said.
 

4. Guitar Hero II (PS2)
Publisher: Red Octane   Developer: Harmonix


 
The first Guitar Hero makes the air guitar obsolete. Guitar Hero II throws it into extinction. Much like a great film, the sequel to a game needs to be equally entertaining and go a bit deeper. Aspiring musicians and gamers alike were given just that when Guitar Hero II hit the stage. A broader track listing and some helpful new modes add a lot of replay value to a game that's already got a good thing going. Red Octane would have to be crazy not to keep this series going. Let's hope they take more suggestions next time. Foreigner should be recognized as the 70s super group they've always been.
 

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


 
It was two years late, but worth the wait. God I hate it when I rhyme. Whether the homage to George Lucas was intentional or not is still unclear, but Industrial Light and Magic has got nothing on Square Enix when it comes to effects. That sad part is, the effects aren't even the best part. Playing through a Final Fantasy game is like reading a great book. Sometimes you just can't wait to turn the next page to see what happens. Unfortunately, you have to read at a third grade level to make any progress, or at least carry plenty of phoenix downs.

 

2. Bully (PS2)
Publisher: Rockstar Games   Developer: Rockstar Vancouver


 
All the suppressed memories of my wonder years seemed to have reenacted themselves in Bully. Somewhat resembling Steve Urkel didn't help me any more than the reputation that preceded Billy Hopkins when he arrived at Bullworth Academy. Rockstar took gamers to school. If it were possible to count the number of Rockstar's games on one hand, Bully would be the middle finger rudely extended toward the attorneys and uneducated mass media.

 

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

 
When the Xbox 360 was on its deathbed, Gears of War became the heart that kept pumping blood through its veins. Most games developers (like Charles Barkley in the 4th quarter) talk a lot of trash before they even perform. There have been far too many games claiming to be the “Halo killer” and wound up getting stomped under Master Chief's boot before even firing their first shot. Epic Games somehow held true to their word, and ironically never said a word about making Bungie their bitch. .


2006 Overview

The fact that I had to think for longer than 30 seconds about what games made the cut means 2006 was a bit too lax on releasing great titles. More killer apps came out on the Super Nintendo than on the 360 this year.

2007 Outlook

With all three next-gen systems on the loose, 2007 is the perfect breeding ground for competition. My gaming sense is tingling, and it's telling me some impressive games are on the horizon. As predicted, the Wii is blowing the PS3 out of the water. How many old people did you see playing Resistance as apposed to Wii Sports? Don't count on that changing any time in the next 12 months. Xbox Live will probably remain undefeated in the online gaming community. The only strong hits it would take would be from Sony's free online service, but let's be honest. More people would rather pay for a great meal, than eat free crap.





Joesph's Top Five Picks of 2006

5. Guitar Hero II (PS2)
Publisher: Red Octane   Developer: Harmonix


This sequel to last year's shredding phenomenon wisely dropped right before the Wii became the "look stupid while you play" party machine to beat. Guitar Hero II is Sony's act-the-fool game, one that is at its most fun with a group of friends ready to windmill, thrash, and even pluck imaginary bass strings like absolute maniacs. The track list is as eclectic as ever, and Harmonix thankfully listened to the pleas of their weary fans and added an effective training mode and heftier multiplayer. This is a title I might actually consider buying all over again when it hits the 360 (which might also be the only time in recorded human history that the prospect of microtransactions sounds remotely appealing).
 

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


 
Fess up, Capcom, this game's not really Japanese, is it? Alright, liars, I'll take your word for it, but you sure nailed the American mall zombies aesthetic, right down to the most insignificant of imperiled shoppers. To be honest, I didn't see the full genius of Dead Rising until I started the game over with a slightly beefier character. It was then that I soaked in the fun and value of each replay, whether the recurring run-throughs were completely necessary or just a way to earn some of the more ridiculous achievements. The visuals are impressive, not in the level of overall detail, but in the smooth and slick atmosphere that rarely chugs under the pressure of thousands of flesh-eaters. This was the first game that really made me feel like I was playing something special that only the 360 was bringing to the table.
 

3. New Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo DS)
Publisher: Nintendo   Developer: Nintendo


 
Here's an obvious entry, right? I almost put Yoshi's Island DS on the list. Seriously. But I think this release is much more significant in the long run. Here we have the first true 2D Mario platformer in 15 years, gracefully reminding the world who the top dog of the genre is and always has been. The gameplay worked as a hybrid of the original Super Mario Bros. and SMB 3, while adding in a few new twists here and there. Most importantly, the magic was still there in all its glory. This is an experience worth savoring; one meant to be slowly sipped on over a period of time rather than chugging it down like disagreeable swill. Who knows when we'll get another?
 

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


 
Wow. Someone (that isn't Nintendo) out-Nintendoed... Nintendo. Okami was a delicious Zelda-like treat that offered more than just exceptional art design. It managed to be one of the most rich and creative adventure games in recent memory. Sure, it's a bit long for what it is, and it has more than its fair share of pacing issues, but the good outweighs the bad by a few metric tons. Did I already mention how beautiful it is? It bears repeating. It's buy-every-artbook-you-can-find beautiful. I hope the new year sees even more companies taking risks on original IPs like this.
 

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

 
I'm sure this is the billionth year-in-review list to feature this as the champion. Regardless, I can't deny the impact that it had on my unevenly distributed gaming schedule in 2006. Despite having consistent problems with ranked matches, even on the much-hyped Emergence Day, nothing quite equalled the fun of trading grenades and vicious chainsaw bayonet attacks with friends over Xbox Live. I think there was a single player game in there, as well; that was pretty awesome. Roll it all up in a well-decorated cake of unprecedented console visuals and you've got enough next gen fun to make you almost forget that two new systems just came out.



2006 Overview

Microsoft's magical achievement machine completely devoured me this year. I didn't get a chance to pick it up at launch, and I faced the 360 Drought of '06 (also known as The Great Depression) with teeth-gritting determination. The Live service blossomed even further into something that should be copied and built upon by its competitors. The game library could still use some diversification, but I've had a blast with everything from Saints Row to Rainbow Six: Vegas, even if they didn't make my top five.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to be fully knighted into the future of gaming with November's launch systems. The Wii eludes me to this day, hiding in the shadows in some cruel game of hide and seek in which I always play the bumbling pursuer. As for the PS3, I'd like to see something come out, aside from maybe Resistance: Fall of Man, that I have a six hundred clam interest in playing. Hopefully it won't be too long, because I think I felt the PS2's dying breaths start to ooze out as I knocked out some expert tracks in Guitar Hero II.

Don't get me started on the DS. Nintendo's handheld domination is set to seize some form of dictatorial control over all of Planet Earth if it continues down its current path (which it will). It seemed like the DS was dropping more news bombs in the daily gaming blogs than I could keep up with, but that may have just been repeated fallout from the Dragon Quest IX nuke. Even though I didn't travel once this year, I had my hands glued to my clunky old-style DS more than ever before. No one's going to be unplugging their TVs in favor of a nomadic portable gaming lifestyle anytime soon, but its impact expanded a great deal.

2007 Outlook

First off, let me get this bit of excitement off of my chest: Lost Planet is going to be amazing. I absolutely can't wait to play the full game, and I think that, aside from the whole "Farewell, Clover" deal, Capcom is going to continue to be on a roll in the new year. As much as I believe Sony gets collectively aroused by shooting themselves in the foot, I'd like to see the PS3 start to come into its own in 2007, just like Microsoft's sophomore console did. I also hope Nintendo can work out a steady release schedule for A-plus games, because I would hate to see their innovation squandered by an electronic desert that's fairly typical of the big N.

I'm even looking forward to playing RPGs this year! That is, if Blue Dragon makes it stateside before I start composing my Best of 2007 list. I passed on FFXII, but Mistwalker's whimsical epic looks too good to miss. Other than that, I plan to go ahead and prepare a slew of mercy pleas to deliver to our inevitable portable Nintendo overlord. I won't be swept up in its river of victims!



Hit the next page to read John's picks...


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