2006 was 10 years ago. 10 years since HD gaming invaded our lives, 10 years since we were introduced to a group of grizzled space marines we actually liked, and 10 years since a flaming wolf god put fairy-boy Link in his place.
On a personal note, it’s been 10 years since I first stepped foot in Japan as well, making it exactly one third of my life spent in the country. Oh boy…
My, how the years go by so quickly. 2006 marked quite a huge shift in the video game world with the freshman year of the Xbox 360 strengthening through quality releases and the subsequent domination of the AAA western market over the traditional Japanese powerhouses. While the upcoming launch of the Wii would help Nintendo survive this onslaught, the slow-burning PlayStation 3 and increasing focus on the Nintendo DS in Japan allowed this international migration to occur in our living rooms almost overnight.
For the record, we’ve already paid homage to the absolute best game of 2006 in its own separate article.
These are the franchises celebrating 10 year anniversaries in 2006, effectively making them “retro,” I guess. However, never would I think to include this first franchise on a retro list, but here we go!
Gears of War
Yup, Microsoft’s Gears of War turns ten years old this year, although it was still owned by Epic Games at the time it began. This was the breakout title of 2006, eventually becoming the first established new franchise of the 7th console generation and one of the biggest blockbusters on the Xbox 360.
In fact, for many of us, it was the most tempting step into the world of HD gaming, and after the first outing with it, we never looked back.
Gears of War was more than just a mindless shooter with a chainsaw slammed on an assault rifle, though. Epic Games’ first entry in this series excelled in world-building, cranking out a believable setting and empathetic conflict for our four heroes to push through. A world on the brink, a resistance against a hateful enemy, plenty of burned out buildings and a genuine sense of “lived in” science fiction.
That “Mad World” trailer says it all. There is more to this game than mindless violence.
And, dare I say, I liked our four main characters? Marcus and friends weren’t the deepest group of ruffians, but they had a chemistry between them that a lot of copycat space marines simply lack. Anyone remember Haze?
Some might look back at Gears of War as the reason shooters went so serious for a few years, and they wouldn’t be wrong. However, very few that followed in its wake managed to deliver such an all-around rewarding experience.
Where is it now?: Microsoft and The Coalition are currently developing Gears of War 4. Perhaps you’ve heard of it.
I might have over-spoken a little bit on how abruptly Japan was pushed from the console space, especially when it touted another of the main reasons to pick up an Xbox 360. Dead Rising was a revolutionary game from Capcom in that we had never been able to see so many zombies on the screen at one time.
A future Wii port would highlight exactly how important this was to the game’s allure as well.
For as fun as strapping items together and simply hacking away at zombies was at the time, Dead Rising also proved to be a very frustrating game. Such frustrating timed-missions, map memorization, mindless AI allies, and countless ways to complete the game rubbed plenty of gamers the wrong way. Unknown to us, though, we were merely being introduced to a new style of “time-management survival” game that has since taken off in the ten years that this game has haunted our gaming shelves.
No doubt about it, Dead Rising didn’t exactly pull this approach off perfectly, but it did lay it out there.
Capcom also gave us a reason to upgrade our televisions to HD with font that was too small to read in standard definition. Oh, learning curves.
Where is it now?: Capcom has been silent on a Dead Rising 4. The company currently too busy desperately trying to get Resident Evil back on its feet to focus on its “other” zombie franchise.
And speaking of Capcom, we can’t forget its beautiful cel-shaded adventure game, Okami. Yes, this game also came out in 2006 as one of the last titles from Capcom’s short-lived yet widely-respected Clover Studios, and it absolutely rocked the critics.
While I’m not entirely convinced it’s a flawless masterpiece (I give up around the 20 hour mark every time I play), this game took on the greatest challenge of them all when it first released and succeeded where countless many had failed in the past.
It effectively dethroned The Legend of Zelda. Nobody saw it coming, but with the launch of the Wii and all eyes turned toward Twilight Princess, Capcom slipped this title in right before the Wii launched in North America. Twilight Princess and the Wii’ put up record numbers, but a good many players were still too entranced with this mythical Japanese lovefest to fire up an adventure with Link right away.
When the gaming award season rolled around, Okami continued to trounce Nintendo’s latest by snatching up a majority of the action/adventure awards and a few Game of the Year awards along the way.
If only that reception had turned into actual financial results, then Clover Studios might not have closed down.
Where is it now?: Most of Clover Studios still exists as the beloved Platinum Games and still makes excellent games. As for Okami, it sadly only saw a Wii-port that scrubbed the creators’ names from the credits, an HD remaster, and single Nintendo DS sequel before disappearing from our lives. Okami left us far too young.
Did you know that Game Freak makes games that are not from the Pokemon franchise? I know this might be news to some, but in between monster-collecting JRPGs, the studio is actually a pretty solid developer of classic 2D platformers.
Drill Dozer has everything that Super Nintendo-era nerds cherish. Bright colors, fun characters, and unique mechanics that help set it apart from the rest of the platformers out there.
I guess that’s all there really is to say about this one. It’s a personal favorite of mine, and I doubt it would have been as well received if it hadn’t launched into a world where the Nintendo DS was already dominating the sales charts. The backlighting and superior screen helped this game shine where those that launched onto the Game Boy Advance SP couldn’t.
First impressions, they help a lot.
Where is it now?: Sorry, Game Freak is currently up to its neck in the development of Pokemon Sun and Moon. However, ten years before Drill Dozer, Game Freak developed Pulseman, and ten years after, it developed Tembo: The Badass Elephant. Maybe in another ten years, the studio will find time between all these Pokemon games to make another cult-classic platformer.
Another new franchise that deserves a mention from 2006, Saints Row established Volition as a gaming studio that knew how to recognize a winning formula and put its own spin on it. This game sold itself as a Grand Theft Auto clone back when pretty much everyone was making them, but here, its positive reception helped it survive into a sequel.
However, with Grand Theft Auto IV set to be a guaranteed hit and clones not standing any chance, Volition instead took that positive reception and turned out an irreverent sequel that poked fun of the genre instead of merely trying to copy it.
The experiment worked, and four entries later, Saints Row is still making us laugh.
This first game might have played it straighter than its sequels would have you believe, but it just goes to show that sticking to a proven formula isn’t always the key to succeed. Saints Row dared to try something new, and it paid off.
Where is it now?: It’s been a while since Saints Row IV, but rumors are pointing towards a new game soon. In the meantime, DLC has kept the latest game alive, and many are hoping that Grand Theft Auto V got the team’s creative juices flowing again.
”Not Gears of War” shooters
2006 quickly found itself as a breeding pit for shooters looking to capitalize on the success of Halo and Gears of War. There’s no question that a good many of these were quality games, but, likewise, most were forgettable and not worth going back and remembering.
If we’re talking the best of the best, though, Resistance: Fall of Man first launched in 2006, establishing Insomniac Games as a company that could work beyond Ratchet & Clank-style platformers and setting up a fierce rivalry with Gears of War it would eventually lose.
2006 also saw the beginning of Lost Planet, and many people forget that Capcom’s first game was actually a really solid shooter with a lot of great ideas going for it.
Other games from this movement include Prey and this next series, which we all know would go on to bigger, better things.
Who would have guessed that of all the new franchises we see before us, this crummy sandbox game would be the one we’re still playing? The success of Just Cause can be laid entirely at the feet of its sequel, because its predecessor was not a good video game.
Ambitious, huge, loaded with great ideas? Absolutely, just not pulled off properly. Those that loved it and played it thoroughly at the time have fond memories, but not until the sequel did the rest of us get turned on to it.
Still, 2006, Just Cause came into existence. That happened.
Where is it now?: Just Cause 3 can be played on your Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC this very minute. You might need to wait through the excessive load times, though.
We’ll close out with the biggest cult-hit of them all. Okami was not the last of Clover Studios’ works to make it out into the public. That would be this excellent beat ‘em up. God Hand should make it onto any “Essential Games” list, a bucket-list entry for just about anyone interested in games.
We all remember when IGN smothered this game with one of the worst possible scores it could give, and we all remember the retribution its devoted fanbase sought to get afterwards. Almost like it was yesterday.
God Hand is “the best game ever made,” depending on who you ask. No other video game has made third-person beat ‘em up mechanics work so well, and very few games, even the elaborate multi-billion dollar hits of today, provide as much customization to combat as God hand does.
And no game provides as much Japanese irreverence as God Hand. Unfortunately, this is the game which made Capcom pull the plug on Clover Studios, but its legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of those who have played it.
Where is it now?: Strangely, God Hand was one of the first games chosen to highlight the new PS2 Classics library when Sony got it up and running on the PlayStation 3. I’ll just leave the trailer below and let you find out for yourself why you need to play this game.