September 9th, 1999 – one of the two most memorable gaming dates I’ve experienced (Mortal Monday for Mortal Kombat in the early 90′s was the other one.) The Sega Dreamcast launched on that date, which began quite an interesting generation of games. The Sega Dreamcast was underpowered compared to the Xbox, PlayStation 2 and even Gamecube that were all on the horizon, yet produced a myriad of exceptional titles that shouldn’t be passed up. Thanks to a series of factors, including the lack of key third party support, the Dreamcast was phased out and only left the Nintendo Gamecube, Microsoft Xbox and Sony PlayStation 2 to occupy gamers in the US.
While the Sega Dreamcast is one of, if not possibly my all-time favorite gaming console, it only produced five titles for this console generation that fit my top 25 list. The quality overall of the titles selected could almost be the strongest out of any generation I have experienced, especially with no singular dominance in genres present. Lats take a look at my Top 25 128-bit Games:
05. Tony Hawk’s Underground (PS2)
The peak of the franchise for me, Tony Hawk Underground was everything that made the series addicting, with a sense of exploration and open world nature to the gameplay thrown in. The storyline becomes a bit goofy as time passes, but the core gameplay was as satisfying as ever, minus the driving and on foot parts. THUG excelled online as well, though unfortunately that option is long gone. What remains is still the peak of the genre and the last Tony Hawk game anyone should touch,
Why no one dabbled in a full fledged Star Wars RPG before Knights of the Old Republic, I don’t know. Regardless, this was probably the best way to launch that idea. With a storyline that takes numerous twists and turns, not once does it feel like the pace slows down. Instead, there’s always fascinating exposition going on, or some involving combat happening. The combat especially was a sight to behold, giving either a complete hands on, or near hands off approach. If you could only play one pure RPG from this generation, Knights of the Old Republic has to be it.
03. Champions of Norrath (PS2)
The number of hours I lost with Champions of Norrath can only be described as “astronomical.” An action RPG crafted by the same developers who worked on Baldurs Gate: Dark Alliance and its sequel, Champions of Norrath was just about the most perfect blend of experience grinding, loot whoring and replay value that’s ever been created. One reason why there was a wealth of replay value had to do with the fact that beating the game unlocked a higher set of levels that you can play that character through, which yielded better loot and more challenges. Best of all? You didn’t have to have any kind of history with the Everquest MMORPG on the PC to understand and appreciate all that Champions of Norrath had to offer. The best the genre has seen on a console, and still holds up amazingly well years later, even without online multiplayer support.
San Andreas was more or less a statement to every sandbox game to come out after it. It was a statement that boldly read “top this!” After all these years, I come back to San Andreas and discover areas and locations I have never seen before. Fans of the series complained that there was too much real estate to travel through, bu that was one of the selling points for me. It felt like a legitimate, living, breathing world, with dead space to explore that only augmented the notion that this was supposed to be a humongous game world to explore. Even if the story takes a few nutty turns throughout, the number of side missions, wardrobe customization, houses to own, fitness to maintain and so on, put Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas on a pedestal high above any game within the genre, both past and present.
Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike has been an off and on obsession with me for well over a dozen years now. The slightly sped up timing and poor fighting game pad featured on the Sega Dreamcast didn’t appease me much, but when the Xbox released Street Fighter Anniversary, with Hyper Street Fighter II and online multiplayer included, regardless of the controller, I was hooked hard. 3rd Strike still remains the most technical fighter I’ve played, where mind games, timing and spacing play a bigger role than ever. For the most part, the online play was smooth, unlike the 3rd Strike Online Xbox Live Arcade release from last year. Even the Hyper Street Fighter II addition was enjoyable in its own right, mixing together each version of each character from each of the Street Fighter II titles (kind of like what Vampire Chronicles for Matching Service did). The thing that held my interest for years though was the online, and offline portions of Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike in this Street Fighter Anniversary package. It’s a shame that I still dip back to this version if I want to play offline solo or multiplayer, since the 3rd Strike Online release still isn’t up to snuff, but in any case, if you can track a copy of Street Fighter Anniversary down (PS2 or Xbox) you owe it to yourself to add it to your collection.