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[ Writer ] = BAD
[ 05/03/03 ] = 2002 Impressions

For those that actually miss the industry analysis of this site, I have finally mustered up enough courage to tackle the year of 2002. Fear no more; the industry analysis is back, and it's just as rotten as you remember it. Why 2002 analysis in 2003? Well, because time flies. So fast, in fact, that I had forgot to write this earlier. In other words, late or not, I had to get my thoughts and impressions on gaming and the industry of 2002 for the sake of variety on the Internet (and gaming community). Also, apologies if I accidentally may have covered anything from 2001. Anyway, on with the show. Here are my impressions on some of the highlights of 2002.

2002 was a year of change in the game industry. The biggest change was the absence of the expected abundance of arcade titles as seen in the past from Capcom. Different in 2002 than in previous years, Capcom managed to provide a strong lineup of action titles in the industry to somewhat make up for its lack of fighter production. 2002 also showed the mending of the somewhat broken SNK of previous years, as well. Although a few shooters came out here and there, 2002 was generally a disappointment, with two of the key developers (Psikyo and Takumi) almost nonexistent. A few shooters actually saw the light of day in 2002, thanks to Taito, Cave, and Treasure, but more were needed. 2002 saw the long-awaited, pleasant confirmation of the resurrection of classics thanks to brilliant minds at Sega, Tecmo, Capcom, and Konami. 2002 had its fair share of titles (mostly in the action genre), but with the absence of the once-consistent flow of Capcom fighters (2-D and 3-D), as well as the slow recovery phases of a fragmented SNK, 2002 just didn't feel as good as some of the other years in gaming did. Not that 2002 was a bad year in gaming, but 2002 seemed like more of a waiting period to see which developers were going to jump on which of the many hardwares on the market. Just as I had predicted in an earlier articles, Sega's Naomi hardware was still being commonly developed on in 2002 by a number of quality developers (and is still even in 2003). Looking back on 2002, even with some of its great releases, it wasn't a significantly memorable year overall. When compared to previous years (notably 2000) in gaming, I describe 2002 as a subtle year in gaming seen through a veil of fog.

[ Capcom ] = Things Change
After Capcom's unfortunate decision on the development of 2-D fighting games, the company went on with business as usual. Though not nearly as many as in previous years, Capcom actually released a few fighters in 2002; Gundam Federation VS Zeon DX and Capcom VS SNK 2 EO, along with a Japanese release of UFC Tapout 2. While Capcom VS SNK 2 EO wins points because Maki is in the game, the title wins points also because the game's producer answered the cries of angry players everywhere and evened the game out to make it more playable. However, in 2002 I would have taken a release of Street Fighter Alpha 4 or Street Fighter IV any day over another release of another VS title. Don't get me wrong, VS titles are ok, but they can never reach the sheer perfection of any Street Fighter title. As for UFC Tapout 2, I didn't played the game, so I can't really say anything about it, but Gundam DX was great. Gundam DX is still popular in Japanese arcades even into 2003, and for damn good reason. Like other Capcom-branded 3-D arena fighters (Power Stone, Spawn), Gundam DX was a pleasant and fresh gaming experience in 2002. The fights of Gundam DX take place over land, air, and water as enemies attack from every angle with a variety of weapons. With some additions not in the original Gundam title, Gundam DX gave players even more options and playability than before. Also, Gundam DX's mechs and environments are of course beautifully crafted, thanks to the Naomi hardware. Gundam DX's intense mecha fighting is also presented well through overall good design. In fact, Gundam DX sports probably some of the most intricate graphics seen on the Naomi hardware (just watch the intro); the mechs in this game are of almost indescribable detail.

Also, although only on test and eventually taken off the release list, Capcom Fighting All-stars was revealed in 2002. As you can probably guess, I was happier than a pig in shit to see Haggar, Poison and Charlie in 3-D glory via the PlayStation 2/System 246 hardware. On par with the equally- powered Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution, Capcom Fighting All-stars looked fantastic. With big, nicely detailed, vividly-colored character models, the cast of CFAS looked great. Thankfully starring characters from only the Capcom universe, CFAS featured veteran characters like Haggar (Final Fight), Ryu (Street Fighter), Charlie (Street Fighter Alpha), Batsu (Rival Schools), and Strider, as well as a handful of shiny new faces. In addition to Super Moves, Special Moves, and Counters, the game also featured a new technique called "Dramatic Finish," enabling finishing moves to be performed on dazed opponents just before the deciding match ends. CFAS uses the PS2 hardware to create Matrix-style special effects when certain techniques are performed, as well as various lighting effects and smooth animation. Capcom Fighting All-stars looked good, but Capcom supposedly wasn't pleased with the test run and took it off the release schedule (without officially canceling it). There were several rumors that the game was canceled, and although Capcom (thankfully) later said the game wasn't canceled (in 2003), I was still worried about the game's fate. Even now in 2003, I'm really hoping that Capcom doesn't scrap this title, because I've been waiting to kick Ryu's ass with Haggar for a long time...

Unlike 2001, where Capcom gave us the stellar shooting masterpiece Mars Matrix, and the awesome Giga Wing 2, 2002 saw only a re-release of a shooter (rather than a new title). Somewhat due to rarity, in late 2002 Capcom re-released their 1994 CPS-II shooter EcoFighters. A good, fun shooter, but I would have killed to see a sequel to Mars Matrix (or any other Takumi shooter). Even without Takumi though, I would still have liked to see a true follow-up to 19XX, or maybe even a new Mercs (I know, but I can dream) in 2002. Overall a disappointing year for Capcom concerning shooters, seeing how in 2001 they provided fans with some of the best shooting games the genre (and the industry) had ever seen.

For Capcom, 2002 was more a year of action games than fighters. Capcom's best action title of 2002 was Megaman Zero. Taking advantage of the GBA hardware yet again, Capcom started Megaman's new series off with a ear-shattering bang. Megaman Zero is absolutely stunning. With a fresh gameplay system, amazing character design, and great 2-D graphics, MMZ is what I remember 2002 by. I was also a bit surprised to see that for the most part the game was well-received stateside (since every other 32-bit MM entry before it was shit on for one reason or another). Although Capcom has already announced a sequel, I hope they carry this series well into the future. Also on the subject of Megaman is the other 2002 entry, the continuation of the awesome Megaman X series: Megaman X6. MMX6 came out before MMZ, and regardless of the somewhat lukewarm reviews this entry got, the game kicks ass just as much (if not more) than every entry before it. One thing that stood out in MMX6 was the difficulty; with its upper-level difficulty MMX6 appeals pretty much to either fans of the series, or to those who like hard games (no whiners). Built (to last) on the PlayStation hardware, MMX6, just like MMX5, is the perfect example of the beautiful 2-D capabilities of the hardware. For those that thought the PS sucks at 2-D, take a look at Megaman X6. It can't get much better than MMX6 on 32-bit hardware, I'll tell you that. It's a hard call as to which of the 2002 Megaman releases amazed me most; both MMZ and MMX6 are great titles. Feeling not content with having released not one, but two MM titles already in one year, Capcom decided to re-release Megaman & Bass on the GBA. The re-release of Megaman & Bass on the GBA was basically for those who couldn't get a copy of the game upon its first release (like me). How is the re-release? Same as the original; hard as all hell, loads of secrets, and some smart bosses.

Coming from the same brilliant minds that gave you Megaman came the 2002 release of the first 3-D Ghouls & Ghosts game: Maximo! A series that only true fans of Capcom (or gaming) can appreciate, in 2002 the brilliant minds at Capcom gave us the greatness that is Maximo. Seeing Maximo come to the PS2 hardware was especially a sight for the sore eyes of gamers who had thought a new 3-D Ghouls & Ghosts would never see the light of day (after being abruptly canned for the Nintendo 64 years before). With beautiful 3-D environments modeled off the classic backgrounds, boxer shorts, and the classic G&G audio, the designers of Maximo struck a soft spot in the hearts of those who could remember the 16-bit days of past G&G entries. Maximo also contained some of the most unique and coolest character designs not only for 2002 action titles, but of even past 3-D Action titles. Combine the theme of G&G with great character design and classic G&G gameplay in lush 3-D worlds, some heart boxer shorts, and you've got yourself a winner called Maximo. Second only to Megaman Zero, Maximo was Capcom's other action title trump card of 2002; Maximo beats Capcom's past 3-D action titles while topping other 2002 releases in the genre. In the 3-D action game arena, I think Maximo beats Metal Gear Solid 2 Substance and even Capcom's own Onimusha 2. When Capcom released Maximo, I was reminded of how much Capcom still cares about its older fans. I would now like to give Capcom a sincere thanks for giving us this game. Maximo may be second to Megaman Zero, but ultimately the game probably deserves more recognition than any other action game of 2002. Maximo: Ghosts To Glory is awesome. In 2002 Capcom followed Maximo with even more nostalgic goodness by releasing the GBA-powered Ghouls & Ghosts R. Ghouls & Ghosts R looks just as good on the GBA hardware as it did back in its prime on the older hardwares, if not better! With all of the same mayhem, underwear, and insane difficulty as its predecessors, this game was refreshing to see in 2002's bulky lineup of action games. Three Megaman titles and one G&G title in one year gave my wallet one hell of a beating.

With the release of key 3-D action titles like Maximo, Resident Evil, Onimusha 2, Onimusha Genma, and Devil May Cry, Capcom rivaled Konami's established Metal Gear Solid 2 Substance. 2002 saw the monumental release of Resident Evil on Nintendo's GameCube hardware, and although the game was received for the most part, too many assholes were out there saying that this game was exactly the same as the first, original PlayStation hardware-powered Resident Evil. These fuckers knew nothing of the game; what about the Crimson Heads? The difficulty? The puzzles? Despite what was said about this game, it was not just a straight port of the original with better resolution; it doesn't actually progress the story of the series, but it is a new game. If you don't have the GameCube, this is probably the game you should buy it for (if you don't like VS games, that is). Onimusha 2 was a good game, but I'd have to say I was more excited about the release of Onimusha Genma in the series simply because it was everything that was the first game, and more. I also liked the fact that Capcom brought an upgrade of an Onimusha title to the XBox, rather than just straight-porting a title. Onimusha Genma looks nice, and is overall the best action game on the hardware it was built on.

[ SNK ] = Wounded In Battle
After taking somewhat of a breather to regain its composure, although a bit fragmented, SNK thankfully came back from the dead as Playmore/Sun/Eolith to give fans more of what they want: fighters. KOF2002 was released upon the masses, and blew up in Japan. With nearly every arcade in the country having at least one KOF2002 machine, it was pleasant to see that KOF2002 caught on so well in an age where lots of "fans" will only play titles that run in hi-res. KOF2002 got rid of the Striker system, reverting the game back to its roots with simple 1-on-1 3 member team battles. Although Playmore went and put in a ton of characters to choose from, it seems like they forgot to test the game, seeing as how most matches consist of Yashiro, Orochi Yashiro, Orochi Chris, K9999, or Terry match-ups. Quite boring. It would've been good to see KOF2002 a bit better in balance, but just as Capcom's VS games can never reach the perfection of Street Fighter, none of SNK's KOF games can touch SNK's flagship Garou series. Garou: Mark Of The Wolves kills KOF2002 in every aspect; the gameplay, balance, graphics, story, and characters are all better. Nevertheless, I find myself playing KOF2002 because the game is fun (especially when you don't get the same cheap match-ups that seem to be too common). After the immense success of KOF2002, Playmore gave hungry KOF fans almost more than they could chew with the monumental release of KOFEX2 2 days before the new year. Powered by the GBA hardware, KOFEX2 is a masterpiece. An absolute work of art. To get a better idea of how great this game is, read The King Of Fighters EX2 article on this site. Out of Playmore's 2002 releases, KOFEX2 was my favorite.

Answering the call of fans, Playmore was the year fans of the SNK Double Dragon fighter would see a sequel; well, sort of. Rage Of The Dragons actually saw the light of day in 2002, but unfortunately had somewhat of a lukewarm acceptance. With its tag system, and cool moves, Rage Of The Dragons was a fun game to play. The game had some good character artwork, and the animation was comparable to that of the graphical splendor of Garou or The Last Blade 2. Doing their job well, the shooting goodness of Metal Slug 4 came straight from the minds of Playmore and into the hands of gamers. Showing up somewhat unexpectedly in arcades, Metal Slug 4 caught on well with some, while catching barks of "rehash" criticism from others. While I thought Metal Slug 4 was a cool game, with all of the elements that make a great Action (or shooter?) title, I did find myself liking the overall theme of Metal Slug 3 better. I don't consider Metal Slug 4 to be a rehash, and the game is fun, but I just don't hear myself saying "Shit! Look at that!" as often as I did when playing Metal Slug 3. Also, on a another note, Playmore released KOF2000 for the PS2 and DC, finally giving those who didn't have the cash to shell out for an MVS converter (the first time around) a way to play the game. 2002 was a good year for Playmore, considering they resurrected all of what many thought SNK had permanently lost in the whirlwind of financial and license problems of 2000-2001. Hats off to Playmore for not only giving SNK's licenses a home, but for also releasing the games of the licenses in forms similar to that of what we would have probably seen had the original SNK released them. If anyone from Playmore is reading this, I'd like to say hats off to Playmore for a job well done!

[ Sega ] = Still Going Strong
With plenty of development and strong titles, Sega proved that they were still going strong. Titles like Shinobi and Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution, Sega had a year as good as any other. On the hardware side, Sega's Naomi still seemed to be the hardware of choice in 2002, with a consistent flow of popular titles like Gundam DX, Ikaruga, and Guilty Gear XX being developed on it. Even as old as it may seem, Sega's Naomi hardware proved that you don't need the newest, most powerful hardware to develop great games with. With such popular titles being developed on the Naomi/DreamCast hardware, Sega definitely had a good year simply because the titles that utilized the hardware were did very well. The Naomi-powered Guilty Gear XX was considered game of the year in arcades all over Japan, while Gundam DX and Ikaruga had their fair share of players, as well. With its versatility, it's easy to see why developers are still developing for the Naomi hardware in the midst of everything else. In fact, Naomi development has continued even well into 2003! 2002 was an all-around good year for Sega; hardware and games alike. Long live the legacy of the Naomi hardware, and long live Sega.

The two Sega-branded games that especially stood out in 2002 were Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution and Shinobi. Improving more upon an already solid game, VF4E was the upgrade to VF4. With changed stages, costumes, 2 new characters, and new moves, one would easily dismiss it as another fighter suffering from "too many upgrades." Well, in addition to those other things, Sega too the Kumite Mode in VF4 and bulked it up in VF4E. Since I never really talked about the Kumite Mode in VF4 on this site (I should have), for those who need an explanation, VF4E allows players to create a name and profile that can be saved to a card (just as in VF4's Kumite Mode). This card can be used at any machine in the country (sorry, Japan only), and records the player's wins and losses (just as in VF4 Kumite Mode). Sega made VF4E chock-full of even more costumes, accessories, masks, and other items to equip your character with. These items (in cute little red treasure boxes) are won through matches with human opponents or CPU opponents. Also just as in VF4, you can work up to different rankings and such, showing other players your experience level. I had enough time to play VF4E extensively, and I must say it is a wonderful game, indeed. The card system is great, the items are cool, the stages rock, the graphics look nice, and the moves are good, but there seemed to be balance issues. Addressing the balance issues, Sega released VF4E Ver. B, which was supposed to fix balance problems. While the upgrade did fix balance issues in some respects, in others it seemed to make things worse. Before, Akira was abused by everyone, and in VF4E everybody dropped Akira like a bad habit and started using the overpowered Lion, not to mention everybody's favorite drunk in the VF series. While these characters are strong, they can pull just as many cheap-ass ground combos as Akira before he was weakened! Oh man, come on! Maybe it's just me, but the biggest problem with VF4E seems to be the near-impossible to escape ground combos that lurk within the game's balance issues. A good game, nonetheless. Play it.

Yet another resurrection of a great name, Sega gave us the goodness of Shinobi. This PS2-powered knockout is one hell of a game. The new Shinobi is everything that the series has always been; ninjas, slicing, shurikens, and great character design. Using the hardware to create beautifully-crafted characters, cool effects, and good stage design, Shinobi has some nice, smooth visuals. The animation in Shinobi kicks a horse's ass; Shinobi and his enemies run in the darkness, flip from rooftop to rooftop, walk on walls, throw Shurikens, and slash (as well as various other cool shit that ninjas do) with the fluidity you would expect from the PS2 hardware. To compliment the nice visuals, the game also features several different techniques that leave enemies severed in various ways; Shinobi pulls off combos that leave multiple enemies either spraying blood or sliding into halves before they fall to the ground. Shinobi is an absolute fucking bloodbath; sword-swinging action at its height. Awesome. As far as design, I thought that the character design in this entry was better than any other entry in the series; the character design is fucking brilliant. The characters of Shinobi are one of the game's strongest points; Shinobi and his enemies are not only some of the coolest looking ninjas ever designed, but some of the coolest characters to even grace the action genre of video games. The characters, in all of their beautiful, animated grace, are an absolute sight to behold. Now this is character design! What a great game. Hopefully sometime I can get some coverage on this gem to tell more about how cool this game really is. Definitely one of the most memorable releases of 2002.

[ Ascii ] = Quality Control
2002 would have been a better year, that is, if Ascii would have given hungry fans an Ascii Pad FT for the GameCube! No GC Ascii Pad FT? Why Ascii? Why no Capcom custom control hardware for the GameCube? Why? What the hell? At the very least a limited release would have been good. I understand that Ascii ran into some obstacles in 2002, but CVSS2EO players needed Ascii Pads! If not for those who shit on CVSS2EO because of the GC stock controller, then at least for the fans (who bought Ascii Pad control hardware before) a GC Ascii Pad FT should have been released. Please Ascii, in 2003 hear the cries of your fans and put GameCube Ascii Pad control hardware into their hands.

[ Nintendo ] = Pushing On
2002 was a great year for Nintendo hardware, but for games (as always) Nintendo seemed to only break even. Seeing Capcom put CVSS2EO and Resident Evil on Nintendo's GameCube hardware, as well granting us with GameBoy Advance-powered gems like Megaman Zero and Super Ghouls & Ghosts, were a pleasure to see. Resident Evil seemed to have caught on well for the most part, while Sega titles like the enhanced Sonic Adventure 2 Battle and re-releases 18 Wheeler Pro Trucker (the GT3 killer) and Crazy Taxi filled the void. In 2002 the announcements of Namco and Squaresoft's plans on bringing future titles to the GC also helped Nintendo sell hardware. More than the GameCube though, Nintendo's GameBoy Advance was embraced by both developers and players alike, with a steady flow of titles that weren't all shit. A great year for the GBA, and good year for the GC, 2002 hinted more than anything at a much better year for the GameCube in 2003 with strong titles from key players in the developer community. As for Nintendo's hardware, 2002 showed some great sales for the GBA, and some good sales for the GameCube. Although the GameCube couldn't catch up with the PS2 hardware in development or sales, the GameCube still did good nonetheless, with some people saying things like "I like Sony the best, but when it comes time I'll buy a GameCube over an XBox." With that said, at least we know that with people saying things like this, Nintendo is still in the game. Even though I think the PlayStation 2 was the best hardware of 2002, I was also thoroughly pleased with the performance of the GameCube hardware in 2002. I think that 2002 was a year to show what is to come on the GC in the future. Where the PS2 was the place for action gaming in 2002, I think that the GC will most likely take the PS2's spot in the area of action gaming in 2003. Although the GC didn't do as well as the PS2, I think that Nintendo is got a pretty good amount of support from some key developers; hopefully in time these relationships will prove to be strong and give the GC the support it deserves.

Looking absolutely stunning in all its TriForce glory, F-Zero AC and F-Zero GC showed Nintendo fans and non-fans alike that there was more to look forward to on Nintendo's hardware in the future. Also showcased in 2002 was the beautifully-crafted follow-up to Resident Evil; the stunning Resident Evil Zero. Seeing Resident Evil Zero did more than just show how great Capcom still is at designing games; it showed just what Nintendo's GameCube hardware is capable of regardless of what has been said about the hardware's capabilities. Packed full of intricate detail, new characters, and techniques, seeing the beauty Capcom's Resident Evil Zero being powered by Nintendo's GameCube was nothing short of a pleasure. Capcom did a wonderful job with Resident Evil on the GameCube hardware, and Resident Evil Zero was no different.

Nintendo finally brought out two new, long-awaited Metroid titles. While not nearly as disappointing as Super Smash Bros. Melee, Nintendo's Metroid Prime launched the age-old Metroid series into the third dimension (albeit a bit changed). It's too bad this was probably Nintendo's most anticipated game of 2002. I don't hate Metroid Prime, but saying I like the game would be an overstatement; it's just not good, in my opinion, for those who were into the "platformer" action of the previous games in the series. The game just doesn't give you the goodness of the action title it should be; Metroid II and Super Metroid were considered by some to be marvels back in the day, but Metroid Prime is more of a tech-demo than anything. Essentially, my first impressions on Metroid Prime are just that it is boring. Sure, the game looks good, and sure it may be good for a FPS, and that maybe change is good, but the Metroid name stands for more than just scanning everything to death. The game does good at presentation, and the graphics (of course) are good, but as a whole just seems watered-down, relying on novelties too much. Who the fuck wants to spend half of their time scanning shit in an action title, while the other half is spent searching for enemies? Fuck that noise; shelf it and get me Metroid Fusion. Not saying that Nintendo did a bad job on it, I guess I just like Metroid as the action title it should be. Why couldn't Nintendo have made Metroid Prime a 3-D action game like Strider 2 or Contra Shattered Soldier? I think it would have turned out a lot better had this been the route Nintendo would have taken. Or better yet, why didn't they just call it something else? Although I didn't get to play or see much of it, I knew right away upon seeing Metroid Fusion that it was Metroid; monsters, action, running, jumping, shooting, big stages, lots of weapons...and morphing into a ball. This is Metroid. And I'm not even a Metroid fan, I'm just saying that you won't see Metroid Prime in my list of top games.

[ Sony ] = Where's The PS9?
Just as expected, in 2002 Sony's PS2 hardware was still widely developed on while raking in plenty of profit to keep Sony going. With the PS2's steady developer support in 2002, the hardware had its fair share of goods. With the Onimusha series, Devil may Cry, Maximo, Contra, Rygar, and Shinobi, Sony's PS2 hardware was the action title hardware of the year. Chances are, if you're an action gamer, you owned a PS2 in 2002. Anyway, with developers finally unlocking some of the intricacies of the PS2 in 2002, there was overall a much better number of great titles rather than just good ones. As you will read further into this mass of bad grammar and filthy language, I thought that Sony's PS2 hardware was the best of 2002. Although I loved both Nintendo's GC and GBA hardware, and I liked Microsoft's XBox, the bulk of the games I was most surprised with in 2002 were developed on PS2 hardware. Games like Maximo, Contra Shattered Soldier, Shinobi, and Rygar appealed to not only casual gamers or fans of the action genre itself, but longtime fans of classic games as well. In 2002, the PS2 was the hardware for action games. While I am a fan of mostly shooters and fighters, I also like action games as well, and I found the PS2 to have a good staple of action titles in 2002. And while I would have liked to see more fighting games hit the PS2 in 2002, the few shooters that were released here and there were enough to keep me satisfied; it was good just to see that shooters were still alive! 2002 was the year of action gaming on the PS2, and although I like action games, I hope that for the PS2 2003 is the year of the shooter...

[ Takumi ] = One Is Better Than None
Unfortunately, 2002 was not a good year for Takumi. Where we saw the monumental releases of Mars Matrix and Giga Wing 2 in the proceeding years, in 2002 Takumi's only release was Night Raid for the consumer market via a limited PlayStation (or PlayStation 2) release. As the title of this section says, one is better than none, and to even get one shooter from Takumi in 2002 was enough for me to be happy. Although many compare Night Raid to Takumi's most recent efforts (MM, GW2) and pale it in comparison, I think Night raid is a solid 3-D shooter. With Takumi's signature style and great ship design, Night Raid sports a uniquely abstract atmosphere with intense gameplay, an intricate scoring system, cool weapons and techniques, smooth graphics, cool enemies, and one of the best game soundtracks I've ever heard. Definitely a title I'd say is worth going through the trouble (which is what you'll most likely encounter) in getting, Night Raid is for Takumi fans and shooting fans alike. Those who like unique, abstract design in a game will like Night Raid, but for those who have no patience for abstract quality will want to search elsewhere for shooting action. I'd put it as one of the best 3-D vertical shooters of all time. Although it was disappointing to see that Takumi could only release one game in 2002, it was a good release to hold fans over until the next big Takumi releases.

Since the there were no announcements on the horizon after Night Raid was released, I was especially (and still am) concerned about Takumi's future plans. Hopefully, the company isn't dying a slow death due to the economical Japan has been going through as of late; it would be a tragedy to see a company so good leave the industry. I am hoping that Takumi made a bit off Night Raid to at least hold the company together to develop some more titles to keep them going. After the absolute perfection that they gave us with Mars Matrix, it would be saddening to watch them wave good-bye to shooting fans all over the world. I would like not to think about this situation, but seeing how SNK nearly perished after several bouts with financial problems, it can become a common occurrence among smaller game developers like Takumi if the economy doesn't improve. Even Japan's best source for gaming news, Arcadia magazine, questioned the fate of Takumi. Supposedly there are some recent buzz about the staff over at Takumi, so hopefully they picked up someone who can help them create some titles that will bring in enough income to keep the company afloat. Takumi, don't leave us.

[ Cave ] = Rare But Stellar Releases
Not an abnormal practice for Cave to release only one (sometimes 2) title a year, in 2002 DoDonPachi Dai Ou Jou was Cave's one title. Picking up where they left off in the DoDonPachi series, the third DoDonPachi game, DoDonPachi Dai Ou Jou, is a beauty. Having very few flaws in its blistering shooting experience, fans of the shooting genre all over the world took DDPDOJ in with the warm welcome that Cave's shooters usually get. Had to go to great lengths to play this game, but upon experiencing it the first play I realized the trouble was well-worth it. DDPDOJ, just like the previous entries in the series, throws lots and lots of enemies at you...and even more bullets. Cave's shooters usually have the player simultaneously shooting and running for their life, as they avoid the many bullets typical to Cave's own manic shooter formula. With barely anything from Takumi or Psikyo in 2002, Cave filled in the lack of shooting goodness void somewhat nicely in giving fans the enjoyable DDPDOJ. Lots of explosions, lots of bullets, lots of enemies. DoDonPachi Dai Ou Jou is played by manic shooting fans, and feared by everyone else. DDPDOJ draws the line between those who play games, and everyone else. Which side are you on?

[ Psikyo ] = Have You Seen Me?
Known for intense manic shmups like Strikers 1945 II and Gunbird 2 in previous years, unfortunately Psikyo wasn't able to give fans shooters. Not even one. They did, however, manage to release a few Mahjong titles (I think the awesome G-Taste was one) that seem to show up at the most decent of Japanese arcades. This came as a shock, especially since all seemed well at Psikyo; guess all wasn't as well as thought. With the near-absence of Takumi in 2002, the complete absence of Psikyo from the shooter scene was a bit sad. We waited, and waited, and waited, but to no avail Psikyo evidently has internal issues to deal with. Hopefully, solutions to these internal issues have been making enough progress to see at least one shooting game in 2003. Seeing as how Psikyo established themselves as a prominent developer of shooters, it would be very unfortunate to lose such a company. As an end-note on the subject of shooter developers in 2002, I thought it was a somewhat strange coincidence that Takumi and Psikyo just happened to be in questionable status in 2002...

[ Taito ] = Still Makes Shooting Games
I can't say that I got to play a lot of Taito's shooter releases between 2001 and 2002, so I'll just comment briefly on some of the ones that I played a bit. Alongside Ikaruga and DoDonPachi Dai Ou Jou, Taito's Shikigami No Shiro was in most of the popular Japanese arcades in 2002; running on the PlayStation 2 compatible G-Net hardware, the game thankfully came home. While not up with the best of 3-D shooters (GW2, ZG2, R-Type Delta), the game nonetheless kicks just as much ass as other Taito titles of the same genre (RayCrisis, G-Darius, Fire Mustang). With some cool anime characters, lots of bullets, cool-looking explosions, and some odd bosses, Shikigami No Shiro was a fun shooter. In this shooter, I especially liked the point system; seeing the bosses pour out tons of coin power-ups was pretty cool. Also, although I am not sure completely how it works, I thought the password system was a nice addition to see in a vertical shooter. It's in no way a bad shooter, but it failed to captivate me in the way that some of the shooters from 2000 or 2001 did. Nevertheless, I'll be picking this one up in the future so that I can see it in harmony with past Taito goodness like RayCrisis and SuperNova.

And then there was Shikigami No Shiro Evolution...really wish I had a chance to play it.

Not sure what the actual release date was, but I got a chance to play Psyvariar, and it rocked! I think Psyvariar is one of the best shooting titles Taito has ever produced. Made on the same hardware as Shikigami No Shiro, Psyvariar is also a manic shmup that will test your dodging skills. However, the cool thing about Psyvariar is that it rewards you (for lack of a better definition) upon how good you are at dodging bullets. I am not sure if this is any other shooters out there (vertical or horizontal), but until this game I had never played anything with rewards for dodging. I was amazed at how innovative Taito made the scoring system in Psyvariar. Definitely a fun shooter in all respects. Some weren't fond of the visuals, but I thought that the visuals in Psyvariar were good, and while not as good as Ikaruga's or Zero Gunner 2's visuals, Psyvariar still looks nice. More than the actual graphics, however (ships, background, etc.), the most noticeable thing about Psyvariar is the amount of flashing, exploding, and shooting all going on at once. I think I got a sunburn on my face from one round of this game. When you dodge bullets and gain points, the screen erupts into lightning and thunder, more rapidly as you dodge more bullets. Why the hell is a shooter as good as this so rare?! My impressions on Psyvariar might sound ignorant, or be a bit off because I haven't played the game enough, but I do remember one thing: it kicked ass.

XII Stag...only played this once, so I don't have much to say about it except that it seemed a bit slow and that I went down a miserable flaming mess before the end of the first stage.

Taito put forth some noticeable effort in bringing a generous amount of shooters home by supporting development on more than one consumer hardware. Taito did a good job of filling the hungry stomachs of shooter fans everywhere just as they've did in the past by bringing Shikigami No Shiro Evolution (2 versions) to the XBox, Psyvariar Complete to the PS2, and Shikigami No Shiro to both PS2 and XBox. Oh, and I do like the Bust-A-Move games, but I lost track of which ones were last released, so I'll just say that it is good to see they are still continuing their fun series of puzzle games! As always, good job, Taito!

[ Konami ] = Remembers Its Roots
In 2002 Konami remembered their roots and resurrected classic titles of the company's past lore with the release of two Contra titles, as well as the release of Metal Gear Solid 2 Substance. 2002 was an exceptional year for Konami, with the monumental release of Castlevania - Harmony Of Dissonance alongside another entry of Metal Gear. With the revival of Contra and the continuing of Metal Gear, Konami brought two old-school names into 2002 kicking in screaming. With Contra and Metal Gear both in full-blazing 3-D, 2002 was one of my most memorable years of Konami. Contra - Shattered Soldier and Metal Gear Solid 2 Substance is a team that any action game fan couldn't afford to miss out on. Play these two games in the same day (or session) and feel the greatness. If you missed it, hurry up and catch it!

Although Metal Gear Solid 2 was anticipated by nearly the whole planet, and Metal Gear Solid 2 Substance received the same affection, in my opinion Contra - Shattered Soldier was Konami's #1 2002 release. Why? Simple; it's Contra, back to kick ass on all of the other shit 3-D games that have littered the gaming scene since the PS2 hardware was released. Contra - Shattered Soldier features all of the signature elements of the Contra name: great enemy design, cool weapons, good gameplay, and good sounds. Probably the most noticeable aspect of the game is how smooth and polished it looks as the screen erupts in sporadic fire-fights. The (many) bosses come in various fun sizes and are detailed nicely; some even in a somewhat disgusting manner. Also, CSS features clean, smooth running cinematic scenes that look killer and re-create the feeling of the Contra name in full effect. Although CSS received a less-than-desirable welcome of sorts upon hitting the shelves, it's great to see that Contra is back in the present day of gaming to wreak havoc in the action genre once again against new contenders like Maximo, Onimusha 2, and Shinobi (add in any other 3-D action titles). Good stuff. So great to see some of the old names battling it out again. First with Castlevania, and then with Metal Gear Solid, and now with Contra - Shattered Soldier, Konami has made me once again happy to see an old Konami name make it into the world of 3-D action gaming.

Almost a simultaneous release, Contra - Shattered Soldier was accompanied by yet another Contra title: Contra Advance. When Konami made Contra Advance, they wanted to make a Contra game not only as tough as the name suggests (Japanese title was Contra - Hard Spirits), but also a game that contains the best of Contra III - The Alien Wars and Contra - Hard Corps. Did they succeed? Yes. Graphically the game looks good, with the characters and animation from Contra III, as well as enemies from both Contra III and Contra - Hard Corps. Stages are a mixture of what can be said to be the best of Contra III and the best of Contra - Hard Corps; all in one tidy package called Contra Advance. While the levels themselves are of the typical Contra fare we've all come to expect (a dark, torn, industrialized future), the best part about them is that the annoying overhead stages from Contra III were left out. This is one of the reasons I have seen CA counted off for, but I think that Contra III would have been a perfect game had it not been for those wretched overhead stages. Thus, I was happier than a pig in shit to see that they were kept out of Contra Advance. Sure, the overhead stages added some variation to the game, but they were a pain in the ass and ultimately broke the smooth flow of the game. While some argue that the visuals aren't consistent, I say that unless you are a complete stickler on absolutely every part of the graphical presentation, it won't bother you (especially if you're too busy blasting). Well, even if the stages look inconsistent, at least the bullshit overhead stages from Contra III were left out! Contra Advance is not only another good Contra game that delivers run & gun action successfully, but also proof that Konami still cares about the fans that made the developer what it is today. With Contra - Shattered Soldier and Contra Advance released almost side-by-side, Contra fans couldn't be happier. Two Contra titles in one year. Awesome. Thanks Konami.

By far, the most anticipated game of 2001 was Konami's Metal Gear Solid 2 - Sons Of Liberty. In 2002, Konami improved upon the much-acclaimed Metal Gear Solid 2 with a release of Metal Gear Solid 2 Substance in 2002. Although in response to the whining and bitching of EGaMers and GamePros who cried that Snake wasn't playable enough in MGS2, MGS2S was a good action title. While not entirely different, nor a reprinting of MGS2, MGS2S is like Metal Gear Solid VR Missions. Essentially, MGS2S is all of what MGS2 was, and more; hundreds of VR missions and other modes of play, as well as some hidden characters, were added to keep fans happy. I don't know if the fans were, but I was happy with what Konami put in MGS2S. I thought MGS2S was a cool game precisely because it gave fans almost everything they could possibly want in a Metal Gear title. The VR Missions, ranging from stealth to target practice, are fun to play while unlocking MGS2S's many secrets. Aside from VR Missions, Konami added in other play modes as well; my favorite mode, Snake Tales, puts Snake in alternate missions within the theme of the normal game. For lack of a better definition, the Snake Tales mode can be considered to be a few "what if" scenario stages to play. Their themes are essentially what the plot would be like, had things unfolded differently than they did in the normal story. Pretty cool add-ons, I thought. The big thing about MGS2S was the fact that Snake could be played as a lot more than in MGS2S, and there were even some hidden characters to play as in a variety of different missions. In the normal mode there were also some slight tweaks (like different female portraits), but I'm not too sure how much was changed. Also intact and left unchanged is all of the audio splendor of MGS2; from the many explosions and gunshots, to the epic soundtrack, it's all there. While MGS2S was a great game in many aspects, I wasn't a fan of the control. Often I found myself doing things at the most inopportune times, simply because the controls seem a bit too sensitive. Just think of the frustration in trying to pass areas where absolute precision is needed; with controls as sensitive as MGS2S's, these areas become deathtraps. Other than control, and the fact that in MGS2S Snake still has a mullet, I thought MGS2S was a really good game overall. Snake is as rotten as he ever was, there's still lots of cool weapons to use, and the action is all there. A welcome release to the goodness of Konami's 2002 action lineup

Last but not least, Konami turned heads for the fourth time in 2002 with the beautiful Castlevania - Harmony Of Dissonance. Hot on the heels of Castlevania - Circle Of The Moon, Castlevania - Harmony Of Dissonance of course shares the same great theme the series is known for: bringing down the house of hell! Battling the forces of evil has never been better, and CHOD carried on the Castlevania legacy with pride. The most noticeable aspect of the game is its lush, detailed 2-D visuals,which are technological splendor on the GBA hardware; out is the dark, shadowy (but still good!) theme of Castlevania - Circle Of The Moon, and in is the brighter look that Castlevania - Symphony Of The Night. Nicely-detailed backgrounds combined with equally detailed characters and smooth animation make CHOD a pleasure to look at. The visual effects (glowing, etc.) of this Castlevania are also better than in CCOTM, with bigger, clearer, more colorful effects. Goods. Also as in the previous entry are the various choice gothic weaponry affectionately used to bring down the game's monsters. Nothing better than demon-slaying, right? Thankfully this game sold well in the states, and for the most part even the EGaMers liked it! You know it's a good game if they like it, right?

Overall, 2002 was one hell of a year for Konami. The company managed to pump out not one, not two, but four titles that tie in with original Konami titles from the distant past. It was especially great to see that these games, for the most part, appealed mostly to fans rather than EGaMers (that wouldn't have liked the games anyway). Sure, there were no Gradius releases in 2002 from Konami, but they gave us the beginning of the next-generation of Contra! Konami probably profited well from 2002; with the release of Metal Gear Solid 2 Substance, Contra -Shattered Soldier, and Castlevania Harmony Of Dissonance, Konami had income coming from hard-core and casual gamers alike. 2002 was especially good to Konami, and they deserved it.

[ Tecmo ] = Looks To The Past
Just as some of the other players in the industry, Tecmo also revived a title in 2002. That title was Rygar on the PS2. Tecmo took everything that Rygar was back in the days of 2-D, and made it into a pretty good 3-D action title. Having not played the old version of the game that much myself, I have played them enough to say that I think Rygar on the PS2 was well-done. The visuals are the clean, crisp, detailed graphics that you're used to seeing in most Tecmo-branded games; the backgrounds are faithful to the original 2-D Rygar, and the animation is smooth. I was generally pleased with Rygar, but unfortunately didn't get enough time to play it. Yet another classic title to make the jump to 3-D, I didn't play it much, but my first impressions were good.

Of course, no year is complete without a Dead Or Alive title, and DOA3 was Tecmo's biggest release of 2002. Although I didn't like it as much as other entries in the series, DOA3 was for the most part, a good game with some nice additions. Check out my impressions here if you would like to know a bit about the game. Tecmo looked yet again to the past in 2002, with the revelation of a new XBox-powered Ninja Gaiden. Although still in development, seeing yet another classic title resurrected in 2002 was almost too much for me to handle! Criticized for looking "lame" by some, I thought that the Ninja Gaiden title Tecmo showed looked good, but not as good as Sega's Shinobi. Even if the graphics are better, it would be very hard for any other game that focuses on ninjas to surpass the beauty of Sega's bunch in Shinobi. Tecmo's Ninja Gaiden, does, however, sport some large, detailed characters which could really get the game some positive feedback. The game looks cool from the bit that Tecmo had showed us in 2002, but it seemed too early to tell just what the game would turn out like, so I held judgment. Tecmo's Ninja Gaiden looks good, but only time will tell how this game turns out after the long development phase it has been under. I was never a huge fan of the series like many were, and I don't think I would like it nearly as much as Shinobi, but I think Tecmo's new Ninja Gaiden will beat the shit out of Tenchu 3. I'm not going into Ninja Gaiden expecting something groundbreaking, but if Tecmo does what they did on the Naomi/DreamCast with DOA2, then we might be in for a pleasant surprise with Ninja Gaiden on the XBox.

On another note concerning Tecmo, what the fuck is up with Dead Or Alive Extreme Beach Volleyball?! This game has one of the worst fucking soundtracks, ever! Hearing the stupid theme song for this game on every XBox demo kiosk at nearly every software retailer in Japan was just ludicrous. Oh man...come on. Lots of criticism came to this game for the whole volleyball and DOA character mix thing, but I look at this game as a novelty; it's good for collectors, and maybe worth it if you want to take a break from shooting or fighting action (or the boringness of an RPG). It's not that bad that the women of DOA are playing volleyball, I guess. As always, the women move with the fluidness and smoothness that you have been used to seeing from Tecmo. Haven't played it enough to know how the gameplay is, but it looks cool for a change of pace. At least it's not an RPG...

[ Irem ] = What Happened?
If I am not mistaken, there were no Irem shooters in 2002. There was the XBox R-Type rumor, but other than that not much was heard from Irem. What happened? Hopefully 2003 will be a better year for fans of Irem's shooting games...

[ Eighting/Raizing ] = Just What Exactly Does 8ing Mean?
Besides the release of the GameCube/TriForce-powered Bloody Roar Extreme, Eighting/Raizing didn't have much going in 2002. Although I am a fan of the Bloody Roar series, and I was in joy to see Bloody Roar Extreme on the GC, I wanted to see the company develop a new shooter as great as Dimahoo on one of the new hardwares in the industry. If Eighting/Raizing made such a fantastic game like Dimahoo on Capcom's age-old CPSII hardware, just think of what they could do if they made a new shooter (or sequel!) on the TriForce, Naomi 2, System 246, or even the Naomi! I mean, if they already put BRE on the GC hardware, chances are, they have already worked with it enough to develop at least one shooter of high caliber like they did with Dimahoo. Come on Eighting/Raizing, show loyal shooting fans a great shooter on the TriForce!

[ Treasure ] = Is That An Overpriced Silvergun In Your Hand, Or Are You Just Happy To See Me?
The most anticipated shooting game release of 2002 was Treasure's Ikaruga. Often classified as an "unofficial" sequel to the widely acclaimed Radiant Silvergun, Ikaruga had shooting fans waiting to see if it was "going to be as good as Radiant Silvergun." Upon its release, Ikaruga managed to catch-on well not only fans of RS and the genre, but even a few casual gamers as well. In Japan, although the game wasn't at every arcade, for the most part it was at most of the big arcades in popular areas. Combining elements from manic shooting with that of technical shooting, Treasure's Ikaruga managed to mix elements from both of the respective types of shooters with success. With its unique "black & white" shot system, the gameplay of Ikaruga is complex in its simplicity. While I wouldn't call it the best shooting game ever made, I will say that it is a solid shooting experience. Those who liked Radiant Silvergun and Silpheed would like the shooting action in Ikaruga. Just like other Treasure shooting games (Bangaio, Radiant Silvergun), Ikaruga features the distinct Treasure design; just take a look at the player ship, as well as the cool bosses. While I missed the Power-Up systems found in other Naomi shooters like Giga Wing 2 and Zero Gunner 2, the 3-D shooting action of Ikaruga was still fun. Using the Naomi/DreamCast hardware to full its full potential, Ikaruga's visuals are as nice as other 3-D shooters on the hardware (GW2 and ZG2), with awesome backgrounds and rich effects. Not stopping there. Treasure made Ikaruga's special effects look good, as well, with vividly-colored shots curling and flying about as explosions fill the screen. Ikaruga's presentation is also the signature Treasure quality (seen in titles like Sin & Punishment), with a cool intro, some nice illustrations, and an overall sleek look. Good stuff. Just as in past titles like Sin & Punishment and Bangaio, Ikaruga has that design and feeling unique to Treasure.

As for other releases, I don't remember any (wasn't Stretch Panic a 2001 release?), but I could be wrong. There was some good news though; a little while after the release of Ikaruga, Treasure announced they would be developing Ikaruga for the GameCube hardware with extras. Of the included extras Treasure announced was online ranking exclusive to the GC Ikaruga! Awesome. I got Ikaruga, and I'll be getting the GC Ikaruga, as well...

[ Sammy ] = The Guilty Gears Are Turning
With the insane popularity Guilty Gear has received since the release of GGX, Sammy has pushed the Guilty Gear name pretty hard. In 2002, Sammy had given fans the sequel to Guilty Gear X; Guilty Gear XX - The Midnight Carnival. How did it fare? Pretty good. With GGXX in nearly every Japanese arcade, and even imported a bit to the USA, GGXX blew-up; and quick. Spawning various tournaments, cosplay fans, manga, toys, and fan art, GGXX was probably the most popular fighter of 2002. Every time I went to the arcade upon its release, this game had some of the biggest lines I had seen in a while (reminded me a bit of the good 'ol days of SFII). What were my impressions on the game that so far almost everyone has praised? Well, to tell the honest truth, I had few qualms with GGXX. Yet another fighter utilizing Sega's awesome Naomi hardware to create quality visuals, GGXX's characters, stages, and effects all look nice. Of course, being a sequel, Sammy added in some new fighters to battle the old (and each other), some of which look pretty cool; fighters range from the awesome (Dizzy, Testament), to the really strange (Zappa, I-No). While there is some controversy as to what gender some of GGXX's characters fall into, generally the game's characters have a unique design to them. Other additions include new moves for the veteran fighters, tweaked stages with a bit more background animation, and the inclusion of the Burst technique. GGXX features the same fast gameplay of GGX, similar to that of Capcom's Marvel VS Capcom 2.

If there were any flaws in GGXX, most would probably say it would be in the game's balance; some characters, like Johnny and Venom, seem to be levels above the other characters in the game. While the animation of GGXX looks good, and the game seems to have more than GGX, it still looks like some of Capcom or SNK's fighters have more. With the tweaks in gameplay, GGXX's combo system also seems a bit inconsistent as to when you can juggle and when you can't, but that's just my take on the game's system. Also in GGXX were the finishing moves that were in GGX, but for some reason they just didn't capture me like the ones in GGX did. Also, I think I forgot to mention that GGXX's overall design kills that of the previous entries in the series; the game is a pleasure to look at all the way around. Overall, GGXX was a surprise, especially since fighters are becoming rare these days. The game is fun, has some cool characters, and deserves support on the fact alone that Sammy is trying to save the 2-D fighter genre. Before the release of GGXX, but after that of Guilty Gear X Plus, Sammy also released the GBA-powered Guilty Gear X Advance Edition. A good game but not nearly as good as the other Guilty Gear entries, read this site's Guilty Gear X Advance Edition article if you would like to know why. Somewhat of a mixed bag, breaking equal between good and bad points, GGXAE was a good title for GG fans, and an average game for the rest. 2002 was a good year for Sammy, and for Guilty Gear fans, as well as fans of the fighting genre. I like Sammy, they're a good company; in 2002 the only thing I would have liked to see from them was a 2-D fighter not of Guilty Gear lineage. Why? Seeing what Sammy has did with Guilty Gear, just think of what they could probably do with another series of 2-D fighters!

[ Koei ] = An Equal Opportunity Developer
I didn't keep track of Koei's releases too well, so I'll just say that Koei makes some damn fun hack & slash action with their Dynasty Warriors titles. I give Koei a certain amount of respect because although it may be going unnoticed, they are bringing the side-scrolling action gameplay of past titles like Knights Of The Round (Capcom) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Konami) into the world of 3-D. In addition, Koei is also bringing back just the whole feeling of the side-scrolling action genre itself, since it had pretty much faced neglect after Capcom's Battle Circuit faded. With this, Koei is profiting handsomely, as they rightly should! Any company that makes an effort to bring back "dead" genres (side-scrolling action, shooting) deserves to get something good in return for the gamble they are taking in an industry where all that's hailed is 1-Player. Respect to the developers who give us wholesome 2-Player action! The clever ones will know what I mean by this...

Anyway, more respect for Koei just based on the fact that they are supporting development on both the PlayStation 2 and GameCube hardwares simultaneously. For not being considered one of the industry's "key players," what Koei is doing classifies as nothing short of a feat. Keep up the good work, Koei. With all of the Dynasty Warriors goodness released since DW2, I have lots of work to do...

[ Microsoft ] = Could Have Sold More Hardware If Bill Gates Wasn't CEO
Sure, the XBox has a striking resemblance to a VCR, but the system had some good games in 2002! While I can't say that there was anything that had me ready to burst, I can say that there were several good XBox games waiting to be played. Those who pushed aside the association of Bill Gates with the XBox aside long enough were able to play quality like Dead Or Alive 3, Onimusha Genma, Shikigami No Shiro, Shikigami No Shiro Evolution, and Metal Gear Solid 2 Substance. It's not the case that the system is bad, but there's always a newcomer in the industry, and what people have to realize is that Sony was also a newcomer at one time. Game or developer biases are one thing, but hardware biases are shit. In my opinion, hardware biases are impossible to justify for anyone who is a fan of any non-first-party developer (Capcom, SNK, etc.). Anyway, speaking of the fact that the XBox is an American-branded hardware, I think that "gamers" should at least be happy that some of the Japanese developers have actually embraced the hardware and gave it exclusives; more than the similarly American-branded Jaguar had to speak of. With games like Shikigami No Shiro Evolution, Onimusha Genma, and a few others, the hardware had some good exclusives. Of course, Sega's Panzer Dragoon Orta left many in absolute amazement, and with good reason considering the amount of time that went into that game; yet another good release in addition to Sega's wonderful and underrated Gun Valkyrie of the same hardware. There were also a number of fighters announced for 2003 on the hardware; a re-release of Marvel VS Capcom 2, and the later Capcom VS SNK 2 EO with online play. It was good that Microsoft's system got some strong games to keep XBox owners optimistic in the midst of those who had classified the system as a failure even before it came out. And last but not least, in 2002 Sega's confirmation of a consumer release of House Of The Dead 3 for the XBox reassured fans that despite the sale of the hardware, there were still good games coming out for it.

The ironic thing, however, is that Halo was considered to be the hardware's best game in 2002. Oh man. Halo. I can go on for eternity about this shit game; everything about this game sucks. The character design and animation is some of the ugliest, cheapest shit seen in a "next-generation" game of any type. Shit, I've seen dogs squat coals that look more pleasing to the eye than Halo's visuals. The best thing about Halo is the title screen. You'd expect with the sound capabilities of the XBox, Halo's designers would have made the game's audio somewhat of an experience. Wrong. The game has something that can be loosely connected with what we like to call music in other games, but in multi-player the game has none. What the fuck? Let me get this straight; the game of the year for XBox has no background music in multiplayer? They say that it's all the little things that count; it's all of the little problems with Halo that make it one of the worst games I've seen in a while. I don't give a shit if you can ride in vehicles and other novelty bullshit like that, Halo fucking sucks.

[ Namco ] = Same Lame Games
Other than gun games Resident Evil Code: Veronica Gun Survivor and Ninja Assault, Namco put out the same boring shit as they do every year. Ninja Assault and Resident Evil Code: Veronica Gun Survivor weren't bad games, although many thought these games weren't some of Namco's best releases. But then again, does Namco even have best releases? I don't think so. Except for Namco's gun games, everything else they put out is pretty boring, and some of the shit they put out in 2002 I just completely forgot about. Although Time Crisis 2 was decent, it was nothing to run home and tell mom about, to say the least. The lamest 2002 release from Namco, just as in every other year, was another stupid Tekken game. Tekken 4 pranced its way into arcades only to receive shit from not only those who hate the series in the first place (like me), but even by fans of the series. That's pretty bad. Why? Well, in my opinion, Namco knew that Tekken 4 had to have something else to cash in on besides J-Pop hairdos and fancy FMV sequences; that else was the engine of Tecmo's superior Dead Or Alive games. Tekken 4 was considered by many to be a rip-off of the DOA series; so much of a rip-off, in fact, that even one of the men behind Tecmo's Team Ninja had a few things to say about it (check The MadMan's Cafe)! Tekken 4's gameplay was not only sloppily ripped from DOA, but the characters of Tekken 4 were probably some of the most generic designs ever seen in a fighter. Of course, there were some who liked the game, but for the most part, arcades all over got sick of their Tekken 4 machines and replaced them with Tekken Tag (so they could at least stay in business). Getting excited about the Tekken 4 consumer release that followed the initial disappointment of Tekken 4's arcade release was like getting salt poured into an open wound.

And after the roadblock that is Tekken 4, we have Mr. Driller. Can't remember exactly remember the title, but after seeing that Namco went out on the DC with a Mr. Driller title, I won't play any entry of this series (what they did to the DC was wrong). Therefore, I can't say how Namco did with Mr. Driller in 2002, but since I didn't like the game even on the DC, I most likely wouldn't have liked any version in 2002 either. All in all, in 2002 Namco put out some fairly solid gun games; Ninja Assault was pretty cool, RECVGS was alright, and Time Crisis 2 finally came home to those who had been waiting for a consumer release for a very long time. Also worth a mention for 2002 was a PS2 hardware-powered interactive Samurai sword-fighting game Namco released that was actually kind of cool (think it was called something like Mugen). Since I have never really been a big fan of Namco, I would say that in 2002 Namco was average at best.

[ Squaresoft ] = Unfortunately Still Making Games
As in previous years, saying I don't like Squaresoft would be an understatement. Thankfully in 2002 the industry didn't bless Squaresoft with the profit it did in the previous few years. Looks like Squaresoft got what was coming to 'em for the knife they put in Nintendo's back in 1995. Yeah, I didn't forget (fuckers). What goes around comes around.

Moving on, 2002 unfortunately saw the release of Final Fantasy X International. Oh man, as if FFX hadn't been enough already. I wouldn't piss on FFX I to put out a fire. Everything about this game makes me ill; the characters suck, the music sucks, the gameplay is boring, and too much more for me to list. What is it with Squaresoft's games? Why do the characters have to resemble in one way or another movie or J-Pop stars? Cut the J-Pop shit, Square! Who the fuck is that asshole with the stupid hairdo kicking around a spiked-ball? Is this Square trying to cash in on the popularity of Soccer and J-Pop in Japan simultaneously? And what's with that piece of shit cactus? This game is at the height of retarded character design (things aren't looking too well for its cousin FFX-2, either). Let's not forget FFX I features the same boring RPG gameplay that (somehow) put Squaresoft on the map. With its overabundance of pretty lights, fancy hairdos, lame character designs, and popular trends ripped straight out of real life, I couldn't believe this game was considered to be a winner. Just as FFX was the worst game of 2001, FFX I carries on the tradition nicely by being the worst game of 2002. That's my two cents about FFX I.

Let's see, what else? Oh, the fiasco that was the launch of FFXI (eleven). To thank its loyal "fans," Square released the game with faulty online registration numbers, and even a few courtesy problems shortly after. Way to go, guys! If that didn't stink of a fucking rush job, then I don't know what does. As many can probably tell from this article or past articles, I've been fed-up with Square for a long, long time, and when I heard of the problems with FFXI in 2002, I laughed all the fucking way home. That's right. Square's kingdom had finally started to burn. Finally in 2002, Square's dirty business practices had caught up with them.

I guess the 2002 announcement of Square's GameCube development was somewhat of a lukewarm surprise, but seeing what they did to Nintendo before, I wouldn't put it past 'em to fuck Nintendo again. Sure, the contract included an actual Final Fantasy game for the GC, but knowing Square, they'll might still find a way to screw Nintendo over. Well, at least in 2002 we didn't see Square show its ugly mug in the fighting game scene as in past years (remember bullshit Tobal?). Square, please stop making games.

[ Best Hardware ] = PS2
As the DreamCast (Naomi) took 2000, and the GameBoy Advance took 2001, the PS2 hardware took 2002. With an established base built of good first-generation titles (Street Fighter EX3, Silpheed, and Dynasty Warriors 2 to name a few) to compliment the flow of quality titles built on the hardware in 2002 (KOF2000, Shinobi), I almost had no choice but to choose the PS2 as hardware of the year. With so many good (or great) titles being released almost one after another by key developers like Capcom, Konami, and Sega, I could finally say that the PS2 had a year that lived up to the hype of the hardware. Capcom didn't actually go through with their releases of Capcom Fighting All-stars like they had originally planned, but even the showing of this game was a good display of the utilization of Sony's hardware. And although only in Japan, there was also a few good shooters released on the PS2 in 2002 that filled the shooter void well. There's nothing like having some Taito shooter goodness in the comfort of your own home, and just as the PlayStation did with RayForce, RayCrisis, and G. Darius in the past, the PlayStation 2 delivered the same Taito shooting goodness in 2002 with Psyvariar Complete and the established Shikigami No Shiro. Although these were nothing of the shock I was in upon the releases of Mars Matrix and Giga Wing 2, Taito's 2002 shooters were a sight for sore eyes that had saw few of the genre's releases in 2002.

The resurrection of classic names was a huge advantage of the PS2 hardware in 2002. Although 2002 wasn't as good as previous years due to its lack of fighters and shooters, it was good on the other hand to see so many titles from my youth having made a reappearance on the PS2. Seeing Shinobi and Contra powered by today's hardware was just great to see. Of course, titles like Onimusha and Devil May Cry are good, but seeing familiar titles of the distant past was pleasantly refreshing. With a slow trickle of fighters, and a few shooters here and there, 2002 was definitely a year for action games. However, even with the many quality action games that were released in 2002, I wasn't pumped nearly as much as I was in previous years. Before, I was excited about releases like Street Fighter Alpha 3, Plasma Sword, Giga Wing, Mars Matrix, and Fatal Fury - Mark Of The Wolves; although there were of course a few titles that had me interested in 2002, none of them had me as excited as in past years. 2000, especially, was a fantastic year in gaming; in that year, the two best 2-D fighters of all-time were released (Street Fighter Alpha 3 Saikyo Dojo, Vampire Chronicle), and there were some good shooters as well. Not to say only releases of fighters make a year good, but even the shooter releases in 2002 were a bit less compared to previous years.

Still more, some surprising announcements of a few of the future titles on Sony's PlayStation 2 hardware were pleasant (to say the least). The PS2 didn't come out of 2002 unscathed, however, as Nintendo's GBA still held its own fair share of the market in 2002. In fact, it was a very difficult choice to choose the PS2 as the best hardware of 2002, mainly because there were just as many (if not more) great releases that were developed on the GBA hardware. For example, just about every great PS2 release in 2002 was matched by at least one GBA release; some of the titles released even brought new entries of a developer's series to both hardwares at the same time! Now that is what I call hardware utilization. However, this utilization of hardware was born only after the parade of developers came to a steady crawl as to hardware development plans at the beginning of 2002. Thankfully developers made their decisions and gave us some games...

[ 2002 ] = A Look Back
Unlike the lopsided hardware market of 2001, in 2002 the industry had Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft all battling it out for the first time. Also, although those who are reading this stateside may think the DreamCast was dead in 2002, it wasn't; DC releases, although very few, continued all through 2002. Sure, DC releases had no impact really on the new hardwares hard at work in 2002, but the fact that the DC still had releases (Ikaruga, KOF2000) in 2002 deserved proper credit nonetheless. Moving on, the three giants battled it out in 2002. When the smoke settled, as expected, Sony had not only sold more hardware, but had more developers. Though Sony may have "won" in numbers, Nintendo didn't go down without a fight. Nintendo used every bit of its assets to fight Sony's monopoly, pushing the GameCube and GameBoy Advance heavily all throughout 2002. Sony may have claimed victory, but the smile of Sony's CEO can't hide the fact that Nintendo was (and still is) a thorn in Sony's side in 2002. With GameCube releases like Resident Evil 0, Phantasy Star Online, Metroid Prime, and a plethora of great GBA games, Sony and Nintendo were fighting. Again, although Sony's numbers came out on top (as they usually do), if Nintendo was still around in 2002, obviously they were a threat to Sony. The GBA hardware alone almost definitely caught Sony's attention, as units flew off retail shelves at times of key releases. With lots of great titles that matched that of the PS2, Nintendo's GBA hardware wasn't far behind. In 2003, one of the things I would like to see most is increased GameCube/TriForce support of Playmore, Cave, or Konami. It would be especially great to see Cave make DoDonPachi Dai Ou Jou Black Label or Ketsui for the GC if Ikaruga happened to sell well enough to persuade them to do so.

Then you have Microsoft, whose hardware had some good games, yet still didn't stand up to even what critics considered to be the "low figures" of GameCube sales in 2002. Regardless if Microsoft would have made the XBox smaller, or made the controller smaller, people hated the XBox just out of association with Bill Gates. There was nothing they could have done to change people's minds. Although I have nothing against the guy personally (I usually back up my documents on a disk), I'd be rich if I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say that they didn't get an XBox because it was backed by Bill Gates. Reasons are reasons, but that's not a very good one if you ask me; it can't be said that Sony executives aren't of the same business breed as Bill Gates. Anyway, Microsoft fought pretty well, considering who they were up against: the household name of Sony, and the established name of Nintendo. Though numbers don't tell that all was well for XBox sales in 2002, I thought that it wasn't totally a bad year because the XBox did have some good titles here and there. In fact, they actually got some Japanese developers to make games for the hardware, which was outstanding in my book (for American hardware).

Although the system was pretty much only for fans or those who have extra cash, it does have games that warrant purchase of the hardware. In 2002 the XBox, like the GBA, matched the PS2 equally with some hit releases (Onimusha Genma, Shikigami No Shiro, Metal Gear Solid 2 Substance, Silent Hill 2), but still managed to come out with the bottom-end of sales. Too bad, because these were essentially good titles to buy the hardware for. It's hard to say what will happen to the XBox in the future, but hopefully Microsoft doesn't drop it right away for the next project. The system still has potential, but with PS2, GC, and XBox titles all looking graphically similar, it will not be an easy road for Microsoft. Most likely, they will run into the same problems that past hardwares like the 3DO, PC Engine CD, and Neo Geo Pocket Color ran into. Maybe Microsoft can get developers with some pull in the industry to ink them a few titles that will boost XBox sales in the future...

With significantly less fighting games and shooting games than in previous years, 2002 was a bit of a slow year for those interested in the said genres. It was overall disappointing to see that some of my favorite shooter developers that had given shooter fans so much in the past had produced nothing in 2002 (namely Takumi and Psikyo). Well, I guess there was one good thing about the trickle of shooters and fighters in 2002; it gave me lots of time to spend with titles from the past two years that I didn't have time to play before. Nothing lasts forever, but I didn't expect some of the smaller developers to hit rock-bottom like they seemed to in 2002. Disappointing, to say the least. Maybe 2002 was just part of a waiting period for some not-yet-announced releases in 2003? Who knows. Anyway, that was my impressions on the year 2002 in the game industry. As for 2003, let's hope it will be the year of the shooter, and if it's not asking too much, a few fighters would be nice too...