I've talked about doing a piece like this for awhile, but it's time to make it a reality. This list of games contains titles that I've been actively seeking and haven't been able to find or haven't been able to afford. Although there are more games than these out there that I'm hoping to add in the coming weeks and months, it's sad to report that I've picked clean many of the local retailers that still carry PlayStation 2 (PS2) titles… so this list may ultimately end up being more of a wishlist than anything, especially considering my lack of employment.
Collecting these games is important to me for a variety of reasons. It's my way of rebellion against some of the anti-consumer tactics that the console gaming industry has chosen to employ over the course of the last few years. Much of my growth as a writer and reviewer came during the PS2 era, so there are also emotional and nostalgic connections to the platform. It's also a fun and relatively inexpensive hobby; while there are certainly some pricey titles still on the market, many games can be had for less than a third of the asking price for current new software. It's also been comparatively easier to collect PS2 titles as opposed to older platforms, like the original PlayStation, Dreamcast, or other consoles. I'd love to start collections for those too, at some point, but my focus right now lies with the PS2.
And now… my PS2 Most Wanted List, in no particular order:
- .hack series: While I do own four of the seven titles across both the original and G.U. series, I'd love to own all of these. It's hard to explain what it is about the .hack games that draw me in, especially since MMOs have never really been a strong suit of mine. Perhaps it's the story, or the way it was presented. Perhaps it's because I like the combat system, although I think I'm in the minority. Maybe it's the smaller things, like gradual unlocks, almost like a small achievement system, that the Book of 1000 showcased. In any event, owning all of these would equate to hours of gameplay and would be a feather in my cap. If I could find all of them with cases and manuals—including the originals that came with DVDs—it would be pretty unbelievable. (Again: Wishlist.)
- Mister Mosquito: Yes, really. Why? It's a quirky game, and as someone who holds games like Incredible Crisis and Irritating Stick in high regard, I think pretty highly of this game, too. My friends over at Game Informer did a Replay piece on it (and, by the way, if you bookmark Replay's hub page to catch all of the episodes, you won't regret it) and it got me to thinking about the game even more. It's a shame that we don't get a lot of games like this released anymore; the Fresh Games label (within Eidos) didn't last long, but it gave us not only Mister Mosquito, but Mad Maestro, Legaia 2, and R-Type Final. I own two of these, and Mister Mosquito is a third that I'd love to own. Plus, it's kind of like a flying game… not, it's not Ace Combat (what is?), but it's still a blast to play.
- Persona 3 & Persona 4: I was so close to owning these, back when I was working retail. I had them on hold for my next paycheck, but when the order came down that my store was no longer carrying PS2 games and that they had to be shipped out, I lost them… and wasn't able to find them in my travels recently. These are different RPGs, not that the Final Fantasy games on the PS2 were bad… but these two games had their own identities. They were darker, focused on relationships a bit more than many other RPGs, and the difficulty was challenging without being cheap. I played a bit of each and enjoyed the experience; any collection that has these is instantly pretty damned good.
- NHL Hitz series: I'll admit it… I am a hockey nut. I can't skate worth a damn and would probably whiff on 95 out of 100 slapshots, but NHL games have always captivated the virtual athlete in me. With the NHL Hitz series, Midway successfully combined arcade-style gameplay with hockey in a way that I hadn't seen since NHL Open Ice (also a Midway game) back in the 1990s. Checking players through the glass was expected. Plenty of goals wee the norm. Games were always back & forth. Best of all, these games were playable by anybody. I would've dropped tokens into an NHL Hitz machine, had they existed, but these games brought the arcade experience home without ever having a coin-op to draw from.
- Katamari Damacy: Another game from the quirky pile, Katamari Damacy hooked me the first time I played it. The music was strangely awesome. The controls were easy to learn. The gameplay itself was a simple concept in just rolling over as many object as possible. The combination of everything just worked in this instance, and really hasn't been duplicated since. We Love Katamari is still a great game (although it capitalizes on fan service while the first game is genuinely new), but there's an unquestionable draw to how the Katamari craze really began.
- Gauntlet: Dark Legacy: One of the last few coin-op conversions before Midway really distanced itself from arcades, Gauntlet: Dark Legacy was billed as an expansion to the Gauntlet Legends coin-op, and was a fun hack & slash game that focused much more on the action and less on exploration… which is a different path than Snowblind Studios followed for Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance. The action can get a little tedious at times, but when you consider that the source material is an arcade game that relied on extra tokens to lengthen the experience, it's understandable. It's no different than playing beat-'em-ups like Konami's X-Men: The Arcade Game or Capcom's Final Fight; it's not about the substance and length… it's about the arcade experience, and Gauntlet: Dark Legacy delivers this in spades with extra content. As much as I love Snowblind's action RPG efforts, Gauntlet: Dark Legacy will always be one of my favorite games in the genre.
- Capcom Classics Collection: Volume 2: The first of two coin-op compilation discs on the list, this disc has a great mixture of well-known arcade games to go with a few under-the-radar gems. The original Street Fighter arcade game makes an appearance here, and while it's nowhere near as tight an experience as the later games in the franchise, it's still a milestone and several characters would go on to appear in Street Fighter sequels in the years that followed. The loser's concession speech at the end of fights—complete with a voice that sounds like Elmer Fudd on muscle relaxers– has always been a fond memory of mine. The King of Dragons and Knights of the Round were two enjoyable beat-'em-ups with fantasy overtones. Then we see the lesser-known titles, like Side Arms and Quiz & Dragons, which are certainly worth discovering for any arcade gaming fan who might have missed them. Add the little extras and bonuses that Capcom threw in for fans, and this compilation is one of the better ones available for the PS2—and one that I wish I had.
- Gradius III & IV and Gradius V: Yeah, good luck finding these. It's unfortunate that Konami has put Gradius on the backburner, because I could envision a current-gen Gradius—or even a Life Force sequel—doing pretty well. The good news is that Konami delivered these two titles during the PS2 lifespan and both are musts for your collection if you're a fan of the "shmup" genre. Gradius III & IV is nice as a compilation; it took me back to 1991 with Gradius III (which was a Super Nintendo launch title) and then introduced me to Gradius IV, which I had never seen before. Gradius V was a all-new PS2 game and the involvement of Treasure as a development partner helped to make it one of the best games in the series. It's a beautiful game with loads of challenge, and that's about all that any fan of this genre can ask.
- Zone of the Enders series: I remember when Zone of the Enders first launched back in 2001… all that most people cared about was that it came with a playable demo for Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. The general sentiment was something to the effect of, "Did you hear that the Metal Gear demo comes with a game?" The series really didn't get much attention until the sequel hit two years later, and then people took notice of the mech-driven world that Hideo Kojima had created. The style and character designs are something to behold, and there's a considerable story going on behind all of the action. Nods to the Vic Viper from Gradius are a nice touch to Konami fans, as well. Although The 2nd Runner is the better game, collectors should have both… and not just for the Metal Gear demo.
- Midway Arcade Treasures 3: You've probably noticed a bit of a pattern in reading this list, now that it's almost complete. It's possible that I may have a bit of an affinity towards Midway. I have good reasons, though; the company was responsible for some of my favorite arcade games. This compilation disc is geared towards racing (See what I did there?), and offers some great ones. Hydro Thunder, for me, is all about the experience. I'm not great at it, but it's a thrill ride. Dramatic music, thumping sounds, white-knuckle racing, and a variety of secrets make it one of the better racing coin-ops that I have played. Super Off-Road is an example of an arcade game that I didn't appreciate until well after its run of popularity. I loosely compare it to Super Sprint or Championship Sprint, but in an off-road setting with a few added wrinkles to set it apart. The other big game from this compilation is San Francisco Rush 2049, which was one of the best Dreamcast games available and the version that Midway ported over this disc. I was more of a fan of the Cruis'n games, but the Rush series has its own appeal and it's worth rediscovering. I could've done without S.T.U.N. Runner on this compilation, but all in all, it's a solid slate of racing goodness.
So… there you have it. The next step in the collection process will be to share my full list of PS2 games with you, and I'm still taking suggestions on databases. IGN seems to be the leading candidate, so unless I get some other ideas, I hope to start the task of listing all of my games. I hope that you enjoyed reading a bit of my insight as to why I've rekindled my affection for the PS2 platform, as well as my notes about each of the games on my list. Feel free to reply or comment with some of your Most Wanted games… no matter what platform they're on. Let's compare notes!