Last month I went back in time and fondly remembered all of the bangers that came with my PS3 on the Christmas morning of 2008. It was a magical time for a little gamer like me, but now we’re turning back the clock even further to the generation that preceded it.
The PS2 was also bought from a family friend for pennies, and I still remember my parents smuggling a pre-owned PS2 through the living room with a copy of Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4. I noticed and the surprise was totally ruined, but I was still so damn hyped.
We’ve got a healthy selection of absolute bangers to get through, so let’s get started. Keep in mind that these games don’t cover the console’s entire lifecycle, and thus some gems will be absent, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love them.
Final Fantasy 10
So many of the games exclusive to PS2 were ahead of their time. It was an era before photorealistic visuals, developers still experimenting with 3D worlds as they came to figure out what worked and what didn’t. Final Fantasy 10 was a profound step forward for the series, and made everything that came before it feel archaic, even if we still loved them.
Characters had voices for the first time, while environments were vast and packed with obscene amounts of detail without ever slacking on worthwhile storytelling. The combat system was incredible too, even if younger Jade got stuck countless times on bosses her older brother had to help with. The game has aged incredibly, all because it combined a classic JRPG formula with modern technology to create something masterful.
Silent Hill 2
My parents didn’t give a fuck about age ratings. They would stop me from watching certain films, but games were still an unknown medium, and thus weren’t capable of influencing me in the same way. Tell that to Silent Hill 2, which did some terrible things to my brain at the ripe old age of eight. This game was (and still is) a morbid nightmare of psychological scares and grotesque creature designs made to unsettle. Its atmosphere is unrivalled, with the subversive storytelling and thick fog that permeates the entire town making you feel lost in a hell of your own making. It cemented my love for the series, and gave me a greater appreciation for survival horror that is still going strong.
Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc
My dad didn’t pay child support or ever come to see us, but he did buy me a handful of PS2 games for Christmas to celebrate the console’s arrival. He might not love me, but at least he’s a certified gamer. Hoodlum Havoc was one of those games, and to many the last great game from the Ubisoft mascot until Origins and Legends over a decade later. It was amazing fun as a kid, and I still remember the adverts all over television ahead of its release that had me begging to have it for christmas. I got my wish, and this game still stands the test of time.
Score: 8/10 (5/10 for my Dad though)
SpongeBob Squarepants: Battle for Bikini Bottom
Having since been remastered for modern consoles, Battle for Bikini Bottom was one of the best licensed platformers of its time, acting as a benchmark for the animated sponge and his array of undersea homies. I loved this game as a kid, and still love it now, but it showed me how much crisper and more experimental platformers could be on more powerful hardware, and even today reminds me of a time in the genre’s life when it had so much more to offer.
Considering I didn’t ask my mum to buy half of these games, she has some killer taste. Ico and Silent Hill 2 waiting under the tree on the same morning? What a day. I have to admit though, this game sorta went over my head back then, and I didn’t pick it back up until I played Shadow of the Colossus years later and began to see what all the fuss was about.
Nowadays I love it, and came to admire its beautiful simplicity and subtle approach to storytelling that, back then, was mind-blowing. Nobody does it like Fumito Ueda.
Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy
Back when I first played Jak and Daxter I wasn’t even aware it was from the same team that brought us Crash Bandicoot. I (fortunately) wasn’t a games journo back then, and played games for pure enjoyment instead of mining them for content to appease the SEO gods. It was a simpler time, and The Precursor Legacy remains my favourite in the series because it pushed forward the platformer genre without overcomplicating things. The sequels did just that, and kept kicking my ass because I was bad at them.
Tekken Tag Tournament
This was a PS2 launch title that really showed what the console could do. It sported arcade quality visuals and took a beloved franchise before tipping it on its head. Tekken Tag Tournament remains a dense, satisfying, and stylish entry in the series that, so many still remember fondly, and I’m not surprised in the slightest. Future games and the sequel to this very title have long surpassed it, but there’s a brilliance to the first that I still admire.
Dynasty Warriors 2
I forget how much fog there used to be in Ancient China. You couldn’t see two feet in front of you as a battalion of soldiers marches ever closer. Fortunately, you could dispatch them with a single sweep of your spear before marching towards the objective. Dynasty Warriors 2 is an amazing game, and emerged during a time when the musou genre was far from old hat.
If anything, it was a technical showcase for the PS2 and was unlike anything we’d ever seen in terms of scope and scale. There were so many enemies on screen across its massive levels, and its roster of playable characters offered distinct ways to tackle each of them and a huge amount of replay value for a little gamer like me. This one still slaps.
Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4
This game was mad gnarly bro. Epic shreddage.
*Does the cool hand sign with my thumb and my pinky finger*
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