Friday Flashback Five: Week of April 06, 2003

Presenting another new feature—the Friday Flashback Five.  Every Friday, we’ll take a look at five video games that debuted this week in history, and we’ll discuss what effect they may or may not have had on us.  This week, we’ll set the Wayback Machine for the week of April Sixth, back in ‘Oh-Three.

Quite a few games came out, some of which kept their franchise going, some of which didn’t.  Let’s start off this list, which is compiled in no particular order, with…

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell
Specifically, the GameCube finally got it.  To this day, Nintendo has a stereotype of being more about the “cutesy” games, and it was no less prevalent back then.  That’s not an entirely deserved image, of course; yes, the Nintendo consoles have usually had more “cutesy” games than the other consoles, but not by as much as one may think.  It had four Splinter Cell, for one thing.

That wasn’t the only franchise one may call “not strictly for kids” that appeared on the GameCube.  The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction appeared (though not its spiritual successor, the one based on the Edward Norton movie), and while it was a bit cartoon-y in its violence, it still was rather violent.  Then you have the Resident Evil series, and stand-alone titles like Hitman 2: Silent Assassin or GUN.

The GameCube was more than Mario, and titles like Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell helped prove it.

Midnight Club II
Rockstar Games, Inc.’s answer to the Need for Speed series was the Midnight Club series.  Following the popularity of the first entry, they published Midnight Club II.  Like its predecessor (and many successors), it offered a few little differences from the Need for Speed franchise—different physics (more toward the arcade-y end of the spectrum), the unique sense of humor that Rockstar as a company is known for, and real cities to zoom around in.

Midnight Club II also proved that the success of the first wasn’t a fluke, that Rockstar could make a successful racing franchise to compete with other racing games.  After the success of the Grand Theft Auto franchise, it looked like they could excel at any genre they touched.  Going by the sheer number of games they developed and/or published, that view may not be too far off.

Burnout 2: Point of Impact
The Burnout franchise took a different route than most other racing titles.  Most racers, you took your car from point A to point B, or however many laps around a track, and in the process tried to not crash.  Criterion Studios decided to turn that on its head by making crashing a core game play strategy.  The more offensively you drive, the better it works out for you, and you get rewarded with fantastic explosions if you should get one of your opponents to eat wall.

Similar to Midnight Club II, Burnout 2 proved that its predecessor’s success wasn’t an accident.  Burnout 2 took everything the first game did and did them better—bigger explosions, faster game play, and more.  It proved that the racing genre was large enough to allow for nearly any kind of player—including the ones who wanted to make their opponents fly nose-first into an on-coming truck.

Crazy Taxi: Catch a Ride
When the first Crazy Taxi came out, it was an odd one.  It’s not really a racer, though you do generally have to get from point A to point B as quickly as you can.  The physics were like something a child of the ‘Sixties would have come up with when, ah, partaking of one of the more famous aspects of the decade.  The music was upbeat, pumping.  It all coalesced into a weird but undeniably fun game.

It debuted in the arcade and was soon seen on the Dreamcast, where it was a hit.  Naturally enough, sequels were created and spread about the consoles and hand-held systems.  Catch a Ride was developed for the GameBoy Advance—but Catch a Ride proved to be too advanced for the hand-held.  Developer Graphic State tried to go for a three-dimensional world, but ended up using sprites for most objects—your car, pedestrians, and so on.  Add to that the incredibly small draw distance, lack of fine control, no easy way to find fares that aren’t directly on your screen, and more—it wasn’t well-received.

They tried, though.  That’s the thing—they tried.  It wasn’t until recently that hand-held systems became closer to being as powerful as their “big brothers”.  (The primary exception is the Sega Nomad, but that—didn’t go so well.) They tried, and in that attempt showed us a glimpse of the future.

Final Fantasy Origins
To say that the Final Fantasy franchise is popular is an understatement of intense severity.  There’s a reason for this—from the game play mechanics to the stories, the first ten games offered something new and different for everyone.  Though started as a way to rival the popularity of the Dragon Quest series, Final Fantasy soon came into its own and captured gamers around the world.

Final Fantasy Origins was more than just a repackaging of the first two games—the sound and graphics have been updated, which wasn’t as surprising.  Though the original “feel” was kept, it was updated to more of an S.N.E.S.-style, which was pleasant.  Interestingly, and surprisingly, there were a few full-motion video cut-scenes added, as well as cut-scenes done in the original style of graphics.

On the whole, the stories of the first two games were fleshed out some, mildly restructured, and brought more in-line with the tone and feel of the later games.  How well that worked, or whether it should have been done in the first place, is up to the individual gamer to decide.  Ultimately, however, it introduced the first game to younger gamers, and brought Final Fantasy II, which had before then not been seen in North America, to Final Fantasy fans for the first time.  They simultaneously brought new fans into the “fold”, and added new things for the fans who had been with the series for a while, which makes them two of the few “repackaged” games to be so successful.


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