The Bluffer's Guide To PS2 Cult Classics
With the PS2 on sale for just over a hundred quid now, many gamers are finally going to give in and buy one at long last. With so much to choose from we thought we'd remind you of a less obvious selection of the format's hidden gems...
It always happens eventually. Console debuts at £299.99, the hardcore early adopter rushes out and buys it, sales drop off. Forced to pep things up, within the first nine months or so a chunk is lopped off, and maybe just over a year or so later it's a hundred notes cheaper. By the next Christmas, maybe £159.99, then £129.99, and finally hits that magic mass market sweet spot of £99. Yesterday was that day when the current generation finally became bargain basement fodder in preparation for the Christmas season, and the new dawn in two year's time.
Although it's happening roughly at the same time, the PS2 has taken three months shy of four years, or 45 months, to creep down to this level (although Sony's official suggested retail price is £104.99, most retailers will end up taking the margin hit and sell at £99.99). This is a long time in the world of consoles - especially when you realise that Sony has sold well over seven million PS2s in the UK. At this rate it'll be the first ten million selling console in the world's third largest gaming territory.
The Xbox, meanwhile, has tumbled to the sub hundred quid mark in just 29 months - a lot longer than some predicted, with Microsoft understood to have been ready to reluctantly hit that price point last autumn, but held firm once it realised Sony wasn't going to cut its price after all. Although it's not been a vintage period for the games industry as a whole (apart from jolly old EA), both firms have made decent progress in a period lacking the blockbuster releases that characterised the landscape a two or three years ago.
But we're not here for the blockbusters. Oh no. We're what you might deem the rag and bonemen of gaming, picking up the discarded chaff that others deemed unworthy. The titles that marketing types and PR peeps up and down the land couldn't work out how to sell, that didn't seem to fit the trends. The stuff that even the specialist magazines didn't see coming, and weren't that bothered when they passed them by. Did you see the front cover splashes of the world's first review? The retailers are guilty too. Guilty of shrugging their apathetic shoulders at quality titles (some from the biggest names in the land) with names that didn't feature a movie licence, or weren't the sequel to a top ten smash. These are the games destined to be forgotten.
Except we, and many other like-minded souls, don't want that to happen. It's not that we delight in plucking out obscurities per se; think of it as our tribute to the hard work that went unrewarded. Years of respective development team's lives injected into games that never sold. Some of the teams that worked on some of the games we're about to list actually went bust as a result. But hey. They've probably got gainful employment working on the new Jaws game, or Scarface.
The PS2 has the obvious advantage of having an installed base around five times bigger than the Xbox, plus has been around for 18 months longer than the Microsoft box - hence our list is a little longer. On the other hand, tracking down some of these games will require patience and dedication - most stores won't hold a large stock of older titles, and many of these have never been officially released on a budget label. God only knows why.
Hey big spender...
Possibly the most famously brilliant cult classic of all time, Sony's wonderfully atmospheric action-adventure seemingly came out of nowhere upon its US release at the back end of 2001. Word of mouth among the gaming community spread like wildfire, and, famously, when asked for a review copy at the time, Sony's PR chief in the UK had never even heard of it. The chances of its European release being a success seemed fairly slim, given its invisibility among the press and, duly, its end of March 2002 PAL release came and went with a whimper. With Sony seemingly unwilling to back it with any kind of PR or marketing campaign for whatever reason, it sold all its paltry allocation of 25,000 units and was never seen at retail again. Not impossible to find, but expect to pay around £40 on eBay. This is simply one game above all else that any self-respecting PS2 owner should have in their collection. As close to a work of art in gaming terms as there has ever been.
Klonoa 2: Lunatea's Veil
Again, released in Europe via Sony's deal with Namco, this superb pseudo 2D/3D platform title was completely overlooked by all and sundry upon its release in mid-2001 at a time when there were no decent platform games on the system whatsoever. Its lack of profile wasn't helped by being the sequel to an equally obscure and equally brilliant PSone title, and again it was greeted with a sea of apathy at all promotional levels. What chance did it stand? For those of a kleptomanical bent that love crazed Japanese visuals, bonkers soundtracks and relentlessly fun gameplay, track this one down. Much rarer than ICO, sold half as many, and therefore well worth picking up if you can ever find it.
Project Zero 1 and 2
Yet another under-appreciated Japanese developed title, this time from Tecmo, Project Zero's arrival in the late summer of 2002 wasn't helped by the fact that its publisher in Europe was Wanadoo, who had never had a hit. With low profile PR (just 10 review copies were available, we were told, so we had to buy it to review it at all) it never stood a chance of being picked up by magazines, and those that did ran largely positive reviews, but in the latter sections of their mags. Its chances were also hindered by a, cough, zero marketing budget and a lack of stock. The 20 or so thousand copies that did make it onto UK shelves were quickly snapped up, and finding it these days is likely to involve more luck than judgement. Can be picked up on auction sites for under a tenner, and isn't old enough to be that hard to find yet. Its sequel arrived to similarly low key fanfare this Spring, this time via Ubisoft. Tragically, it didn't chart. Both are excellent, scary, and exceptionally well designed. Buy them both if you're remotely interested in narrative based horror titles - arguably the best around.
Search for Project Zero on eBay.
Another Sony classic finds its way into our selection (what are you playing at, guys?), although this time comes from the US developer Sucker Punch. Outside of the original Jak & Daxter it's hard to think of too many other platformers we've had as much fun with, and while at first glance appears to be somewhat kid-oriented, there lurks a wonderfully designed title well worth tracking down, and it can be picked up for less than a tenner. Its release date of mid January 2003 didn't exactly help it (with post-Christmas sales pushing everything else off the shelves), but neither did an exceptionally low profile campaign, and retail indifference either. A sequel is due for release in October and is previewed here. Let's hope this one does better...
Search for Sly Raccoon on eBay.
SOS: The Final Escape
Another Japanese cult classic, published in the UK by Agetec, who we had never heard of before, and haven't since. Publicity was zero, marketing was never even part of the plan. The premise is excellent - you're in the middle of an Earthquake zone and basically need to get the hell out of each disastrous scenario before it all goes pear-shaped. Clunky animation and hilarious voiceovers detract from an otherwise compelling action adventure that's a rare slice of originality these days. Tracking it down in the high street will be nigh on impossible - but give it a try. Online it's going for just over a tenner, so won't break the bank.
Search for SOS: The Final Escape on eBay.
Disgaea: Hour Of Darkness
In what's rapidly turning into a celebration of Japanese rarities, KOEI recently put out this reportedly brilliant turn based RPG, but thus far it has failed to even vaguely trouble the charts. Some rate this as one of the finest exponents of the genre, and our Rob even gave it a mighty 9/10 recently, which is saying something. Shouldn't be too hard to find, but given that it's still quite new, don't expect to get it that cheap.
This is a beautiful game. One of the very first titles released on the PS2 (in May 2001) in Europe, its Pilotwings-style gameplay was sadly overlooked as most people bitched about draw distance issue. But Pat loved it. "You get fully lost in it, and the music is incredible. Like soaring, Hollywood stuff. You had to fly between islands looking for pieces of a map. The flight model used the pad brilliantly, and the missions were ace (fly over a train to refuel, stay in the wind currents to reach the next stage before running out of fuel, land on the aircraft carrier, etc)." Needless to say, most of us have forgotten about it. Only just over 20,000 copies shipped. All of them sold. We suggest those that missed out track this Sony first party effort down. It's rare, but those selling are happy to take less than a tenner...
Search for Sky Odyssey on eBay.
One of the most uniquely stylish PS2 games ever conceived, this first-party launch title failed to capture the imagination of the launch crowd with its off the wall firework exploding gameplay, and few stores bothered to stock it. Possibly one of the rarest PS2 games around these days, with rumours of less than 5,000 units shipped. Most gamers will happily part with this for just a couple of quid, and for a slice of unique originality, that's too good a bargain to turn down.
Search for Fantavision on eBay.
Where would an elitist chat about obscure cultish games be without a reference to Rez? Also released during the dying days of the Dreamcast in January 2002, this Sega published title was, for slightly complex European implosion reasons, handled by Sony. As a game, it was the re-imagining of Space Harrier, having done way too many class A drugs and re-emerged as an exoskeletal trance warrior who feels the groove by pointing his targeting reticule at oncoming matter. It's still the most out-there shoot 'em up experience ever, and with its soundtrack that builds and pulses to match the visuals while the joypad merrily throbs the backbeat in your hands, you'll feel like you're on drugs, even though clearly you're just playing the most bonkers game ever. Another game that anyone with a soul has to own. Sales figures of less than 5000 in the UK don't bode well for being able to track it down easily, but if you do see it, don't hesitate. Expect to pay between £15 and £20, so it's no ICO, but it's certainly worth it.
Well looky here. One of the special breed of cult classics - an EA flop! Released in the late summer of 2002, this arcade rally title - coded in reportedly six months by EA's in-house team in Chertsey - was uncharacteristically released into the market with zero fanfare on EA Sport's BIG label, and managed to sell about fifty times less than FIFA did that year. Its flimsy relationship with real rallying made the sim heads turn their noses up at it, but as far as instantly gratifying racing games go, it's a fine game with plenty going for it - fantastic visuals, and a unique boost system that has you racing like a psycho between checkpoints. If you see it cheap, you won't be disappointed, and judging by online auction sites, you could get it for under a fiver.
Another brave Sony first party series to hit the PS2 exclusively over the past two years, both completely bombed, failing to scrape it even to the Top 200 best selling full priced releases of their respective release years. But why on earth such obviously superb examples of rhythm action fail to register at all remains something of a mystery. They're like Tempest for the dub generation, and although some of the track choices were questionable, the games themselves were excellently conceived - to the extent that even music you didn't like proved addictive given the FreQ treatment. In truth, at £40 they were way overpriced for what they were, but at bargain basement prices you could do a lot worse. With less than a few thousand owners of this game, we couldn't even track it down on auction sites, apart from the US version...
Criterion may be better known for Burnout these days, but it also tried it on with the extreme sports genre for a while, with Trickstyle on the Dreamcast, and latterly Airblade for Sony. Both titles reviewed well, but Airblade's futuristic Tony Hawk's gameplay wasn't enough for gamers hooked on the real thing, and only just outsold the legendarily badly selling ICO. But to be fair to Criterion, it came up with a fine game that looks great, has excellent controls and is fondly remembered by some of us at EG. You'll easily track it down online, and if you can find it for under a tenner it's well worth a punt.
Maximo and Maximo Vs The Army Of Zin
Both of Capcom's efforts to revive the Ghosts & Goblins franchise have failed to excite gamers into believing that tough hackandslash platforming kleptomania is worth shelling out for. Some, plainly, just found the first one too hard and never bothered with the second - perhaps accounting for its failure to trouble the charts on its February release this year; an unjust fate for what is evidently a quality game that deserved much better.
Search for the Maximo titles on eBay.
Puzzle games just don't seem to cut it with technology obsessed gamers these days, and, despite Capcom's wonderfully designed sequel to Devil Dice picking up some decent reviews and being sold from day one at under twenty quid, it appears destined to remain a title fondly remembered by the few. If rolling exploding dice sounds like your thing, or the best puzzle game for many years sounds like your thing, check it out! It's not an easy game to find, so take your chances well.
Gregory Horror Show
Yet another Capcom PS2 exclusive that slipped utterly through the net, despite its sensibly priced £20 tag. This bonkers, off the wall cast of slightly perverted cartoon characters moulded nicely into a quirky take on survival horror. The puzzles didn't always appear to be completely logical, and relied more on trial and error 'right place, right time' gameplay, but it had a charm all of its own, and deserves a better fate than a few thousand sales and the current indifference it enjoys at the moment. Pick it up for less than a tenner and it's a steal.
Search for Gregory Horror Show on eBay.
Designed by the warped mind behind Silent Hill, Sony's supremely scary Forbidden Siren was an unexpectedly original take on the increasingly predictable survival horror genre, featuring the ability to 'sight jack' into your foes minds to see where they're looking. It's not perfect, by any means, but its use of time lines to unravel a mystery and the sense of sheer terror it instils makes it stand out as one of the most memorable gaming experiences this genre has ever produced. At full price it was a questionable purchase, but you should easily track this down for under £20 already, and given its poor sales, this could quickly become a sought after rarity.
Search for Forbidden Siren on eBay.
War Of The Monsters
Yet another great first party obscurity from Sony, which put out this cracking monster beat 'em up in the early part of last year to little fanfare, and predictably it didn't even chart. In fact, less than 10,000 copies found their way into UK homes - partly because of its limited release, and partly because no one really even knew about it. Shame. Check it out. £15 seems like the going rate.
Search for War of the Monsters on eBay.
Possibly the most bizarre game ever made, and unsurpringly by Treasure - never ones to follow convention. We can't even neatly explain what it is that you do in this game, having had our minds utterly warped by the sight of women wandering around with breasts that made them unable to walk properly. Nurse! Probably one of the rarest games ever released on the PS2 in Europe, so if you see it, buy it. Current prices suggest it's under valued at the moment.
The Mark Of Kri
Underrated, says Tom. Stealth based, accidentally enjoyable by virtue of its gory counter attack move despite its eventually repetitive combat system. If Disney made Manhunt, it would probably end up looking like this. In fact, if anybody had noticed it existed when it was first released, we'd probably have seen the Ban These Evil Games headline a couple of years earlier. Definitely well worth a tenner of anyone's cash. We'd pay for the gruesome sound effects and the hand-drawn load screens, which were gradually animated before springing to life to become the actual game visuals, without giving it half a thought.
Search for The Mark of Kri on eBay.
If you were deliberately looking for crazy Japanese games, this would probably be top of your wanted list. Play as a blood-sucking mosquito, flying around the house tormenting your hosts, and avoid their desperate swats. Eidos more or less set up an entire label for games like this, called Fresh Games. Trouble was, no one really bought them, apart from about 4,000 hardy souls. Should be tough to find, but is eminently worth it for a few quid.
Search for Mr Moskeeto on eBay.
Kuri Kuri Mix
More crazed Japanese nonsense, and one of the most original games on the PS2. Control two characters at once, with each stick of the Dual Shock, and try and get them past obstacles - or, play it co-op. From Software did it, Empire published it. Literally no-one bought it. It never even made the year end Top 200. A few people are selling it, but they don't want much for it. Take advantage of their generosity.
Money Well Spent
With that, you ought to be at least a few quid lighter, but don't blow your wad too soon, because we'll be back tomorrow with a list of equally significant Xbox bargains for you to consider in the run-up to next Friday's £99 price drop.
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