The “Get To Know” line of articles are built to get a better impression of what I love/hate, and why, through a more direct means. While my tastes have been quite unconventional to the “norm” we’ve seen, I feel as if it’d be beneficial to run a series of articles that go into what I adore, and deplore, about gaming, and why.
Lets go over home consoles for a bit.
While the very first gaming system I called my own was a Nintendo Entertainment System in the early 90’s, I had more than enough playtime with my dad’s ColecoVision, Atari 2600 and the Commodore 64. Throughout the years, I’ve owned nearly every major gaming console to be released, sans the absurdly expensive (Panasonic 3DO), absurdly obscure (Phillip’s CD-i) and ones with just absurdly crafted controllers (Atari Jaguar). While I may have sold off some of the consoles I acquired throughout the years (Sega Saturn), there are a myriad I’ve kept, and absolutely refuse to ever let go of.
With the Nintendo Switch’s release nearly a year ago, and how head-over-heels in love I am with the thing, I thought it would be a good time to go over my five all-time favorite home consoles. These are strictly limited to home consoles, not handhelds (like the 3DS, PSP, etc) or PC-type units (Commodore 64, which would have easily made this list had I gave flexibility to this), and if a system has backwards compatibility, that will not factor into why I chose it. It definitely wasn’t easy to put this list together, sans the number one spot, and no, the Nintendo Switch hasn’t earned its spot on this list just yet (though it does blur the lines between home console and portable). Regardless, lets take a look at the five home consoles I love the most:
(if anyone asks, the Nintendo 64 was a very close 7th place)
Honorable Mention: PlayStation 2
I’d be remiss if this wonder console didn’t land on this list in some form. Even though it isn’t in my top five, the PlayStation 2 may have the one library that has the most games I’ve enjoyed. I could probably spend an hour going over every single title that I fell in love with. The console didn’t have as much of an emotional impact as the top five did. You can’t go wrong with a library of titles that includes mega hits such as God of War, the three mainline Grand Theft Auto titles, Final Fantasy X, and more, as well as the more hidden gems such as Champions of Norrath, Rogue Galaxy, Suikoden 3-5 + Tactics, and many more. It was an absolutely stacked library, with a plethora of all-time greats.
5 – Nintendo Entertainment System
Notable favorites: Super Mario Bros. 3, Mega Man 3, River City Ransom, Double Dragon, StarTropics, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, Batman, TMNT 2: The Arcade Game, Little Nemo: The Dream Master, Mega Man 2, Super Mario Bros. 2, Bubble Bobble, Little Samson, Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse, Final Fantasy, Chip ‘n Dale’s Rescue Rangers
The NES was my first love. It was during a time when scant knowledge of each game was the norm, and the rise of gaming magazines wouldn’t be as dominant until the succeeding generation. The advancements of the NES over the ColecoVision was staggering. The visual quality was leap years forward, the controller revolutionized how we play video games today, audio samplings were vastly matured. Most of all, with the more controlled release of third party titles, there were far fewer duds when compared to the mountains of shovelware that the Atari 2600 had.
A number of gaming companies blossomed on the NES, from Taito to Capcom, and continue on to this day. Countless historical franchises were birthed during this era, such as The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Mega Man, and so on, with a number of other franchise appearing on Nintendo’s 8 bit console, such as Metal Gear, Castlevania and Double Dragon.
As big of a retro gamer as I am, I had to have this one on the list for sure. Its library is robust, filled with gaming’s finest, as well as a number of hidden gems. The rise of the console RPG had its humble roots here, while the ever-famous platformer thrived on the console. Nintendo set the bar, and proved that the home console gaming market was still a viable one, if promoted properly and supported with care. It was my very first console to call my own, during a time when imagination ran wild with what could be coming next, and trying to figure out if games were good from their box arts, or if friends in the 4th grade played them. It was a magical and mysterious time to be a gamer, and what games ended up being successful on the NES, ended up being what a majority of gamers would consider “all-time greats”.
4 – Super Nintendo
Notable Favorites: Final Fantasy III/VI, Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario World 2, Super Metroid, The Legend of Zelda: a Link to the Past, TMNT IV: Turtles in Time, Secret of Mana, Super Mario RPG, Super Castlevania IV, Chrono Trigger, Knights of the Round, Donkey Kong Country, NBA Jam: Tournament Edition, Super Street Fighter II
Nintendo’s super follow up to the massively successful Nintendo Entertainment System, build upon what Nintendo had previously laid out, and expanded almost tenfold. While platformers continued to be a dominant genre, the role-playing game started to find its identity on home consoles. Squaresoft, now Square Enix, helped usher in a new era of gaming with its massive, involving titles. From Final Fantasy II/IV to Chrono Trigger to Secret of Mana, a whole new world open to gamers, and it’s one that has captured the hears of so many.
Stepping away from the RPG genre, there were smash hits and all-time greats that were a part of the SNES library. Super Metroid remains one of the less than a handful of games I’ve ever played that I view as just about flawless. Yoshi’s Island was a departure from the Mario norm in many ways, and is easily the greatest 2D platformer I’ve ever played. Arcade ports such as TMNT IV: Turtles in Time and Knights of the Round translated exceptionally well onto the 16 bit console, while groundbreaking titles like Star Fox wowed players (though it has aged horribly).
It was an evolution on many levels. My love for gaming strengthened considerably thanks to the Super Nintendo, as well as the rise of gaming magazines like Nintendo Power, which only heightened my anticipation for some of the blockbusters that came down the pipe. The Super Nintendo gave me a more powerful platform to fall deep in love with the RPG genre, as well as fill a lot of time during the summer with repeatedly replayed masterpieces like Super Metroid, which pushed me to explore every nook and cranny to get a 100% rating.
3 – Microsoft Xbox 360
Notable favorites: Mass Effect Trilogy, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Borderlands 2, Homefront, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, Guitar Hero Metallica, Dead Rising, Culdcept Saga, Grand Theft Auto V, Mega Man 10, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game, Lost Odyssey, Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas, The Orange Box, Burnout Paradise
The first Microsoft console was one that I felt didn’t get the appreciation and respect that it earned. While the PlayStation 2 had its own online service, Microsoft’s more robust infrastructure allowed for more to be done in a cleaner manner, such as DLC, chatting, etc. Its library was also severely underrated. When the Xbox 360 was released, not only did it really bring the console online experience together in a stable and copious manner, but it also had an overall library that really spoke to me.
Though I didn’t very much care for its exclusives (never cared for Halo, Gears of War was okay, Forza wasn’t for me), the stability of many third party titles when compared to the PlayStation 3, and other non first party console exclusives were what sold me on the Xbox 360. While Lost Odyssey had its quirks, it felt as close to a Final Fantasy title as anything ever had (for good reasons). The Mass Effect Trilogy remains my all-time favorite series of games. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim devoured all of my free time (and the Switch incarnation has sapped away many hours I shouldn’t have been spending playing video games). Dead Rising was like nothing I had ever seen previously.
Xbox Live Arcade really opened up the world of gaming as well, with a multitude of smaller games from third party developers, classic arcade hits, indie sensations, as well as widen the downloadable content overall. With an online structure that had far, far less downtime and pitfalls than PSN (which, ATM, now seems like they’ve role reversed), the Xbox 360 was such a powerhouse console. From spending hours playing Modern Warfare with co-workers, to trying to get every achievement in certain games I played, the Xbox 360 left an impact on my gaming life, and is a console I enjoy dipping back to. And yes, I had to purchase a second console when the first stopped working (oddly enough, not due to the red ring of death).
2 – Sony PlayStation
Notable Favorites: Suikoden, Resident Evil, Final Fantasy IX, PaRappa the Rapper, Resident Evil 2, Street Fighter Alpha 3, Vagrant Story, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Twisted Metal 2, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Star Ocean: The Second Story, Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete, Final Fantasy Tactics
What could have been the Nintendo CD turned into a gaming juggernaut. The Sony PlayStation was the console many never thought would have achieved the amount of success it has; not even a tenth of it. With other multimedia brands entering the console market and failing miserably (Phillips, Panasonic), it seemed almost a no-brainer that Sony would be able to pull off any kind of success. Boy, was that not the case.
Second only to the PS2 (and by the slimmest of margins) in terms of the sheer number of breakout hits and memorable experiences, the PlayStation’s library was crazy stacked. You wanted some solid sports games? The Madden NFL franchise flourished (and IMO, peaked) on the console. Love fighting games? While the Sega Saturn was king, Street Fighter Alpha 3 was a rock solid port. RPG’s? Holy Toledo, you had your pick, from Suikoden 1 + 2 to Final Fantasy VII-IX to Xenogears to Chrono Cross to Persona to Star Ocean: The Second Story to Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete, and so on. Space shooters? Colony Wars and Wing Commander 3 + 4. You name the genre, you have a countless selection of high quality experiences.
While the NES more or less set the controls standards with its direction pad, Sony’s Dual Shock controller helped to define 3D gaming experiences with a much more proper way of manipulating character controls in conjunction with camera controls. The steady move from games sticking to a 2D plane and sprites helped usher in the 3D gaming world, as well as polygonal implementation. Looking back, the Sony PlayStation really opened the doors on some many fronts. The number of titles that left an indelible impression on my life, are almost countless. All the franchised that debuted on the console, and are still going to this day. Outside the NES, I think the PlayStation, post crash, left the biggest impact on gaming, and to many gamers lives.
1 – Sega Dreamcast
Notable Favorites: Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, Crazy Taxi, Resident Evil: Code Veronica, Space Channel 5, Garou: Mark of the Wolves, Sonic Adventure, Marvel vs Capcom 2, NFL 2K, Dynamite Cop, Cannon Spike, Rayman 2, Virtua Tennis, Phantasy Star Online, Record of Lodoss War, Dead or Alive 2. Giant Gram
The Sega Dreamcast doesn’t have as many amazing experiences when compared to the other four entries. For all intended purposes, the Dreamcast was a flop, even though its brilliant 9/9/99 campaign and early sales were strong. The controller lacked on buttons and a second analog stick, while its memory unit always drained the batteries so fast that powering the console up would produce that infamous “beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep” that emanated from it. Games were on a GDROM, which were basically double the storage space of a CDROM, yet was easily pirated. So what makes the Dreamcast my favorite console?
A few factors come into play. First, while the number of games I fell in love with are not as plentiful as the NES or SNES, those games were some of the most replayed titles ever. I’d waste days just circling around in Crazy Taxi, even though I was complete trash at it. Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike saw its first console release on the Dreamcast, and even though there were some anomalies that had been added or changed (game speed felt a tick faster, some unblockables were altered), it literally saved me hundreds of dollars since I didn’t have to go to my job to play the arcade unit, or to Chinatown Fair. Marvel vs Capcom 2 was bliss, and I actually enjoyed using the Dreamcast controller with it. Those were a few games I put down inordinate amounts of time on per week.
The overall library had hidden gems out the wazoo. Cannon Spike was a Capcom title that deserves to be re-released, or revisted. Record of Lodoss Wars was a then thrilling console Diablo clone. Garou: Mark of the Wolves was brilliant, which its Just Defend system that felt akin to 3rd Strike‘s parry system, only backwards. Giant Gram wasn’t as impactful as WWF No Mercy on the Nintendo 64, but looked as close to a Japanese wrestling program as anything had at that time.
Maybe the most significant impact the Dreamcast left on me was due to my first job working at a mom & pop video game store. It was a small, welcoming shop, with the employees all becoming very close friends. We were all anticipating the release of the Dreamcast, spent hours upon hours in conversation about how Blue Stinger looked awesome (wow, were we wrong), how Sonic Adventure looked like the future of 3D platforming (which it wasn’t, but it was enjoyable for its time nonetheless), we even thought that Crazy Taxi would be one of the consoles best games ever (and, IMO, it ended up being so). It united co-workers as friends even more so than anything had before. Most of us stuck to playing Starcraft and StarSiege online with and against each other when it came to gaming together, but we also had a blast demoing and playing all the Dreamcast games in the shop that we purchased.
The Dreamcast died too soon. While it did launch with some archaic concepts that were quickly decimated by Sony’s more powerful and DVD media based PlayStation 2, Sega’s final console still meant more to me than any other console (and still does) thanks to its more personal impact. The library of titles helped as well, especially with the number of arcade perfect (and in certain situations, better-than-arcade perfect) releases. Had Electronic Arts and Square lent their support to the Dreamcast, who knows how much longer it would have lasted, even with the three consoles that came after it, with vastly more powerful innards.
Thankfully Sega’s post Dreamcast life has not been a bust, especially with the thoroughly enjoyable Yakuza franchise. No one ever thought Sega would become a third party player, but after the pointless 32X release, followed by a botched Sega Saturn release, and the ultimate failure of the Dreamcast to take off, I’m glad they are still kicking.
No matter what anyone says about Sega, no matter how better an overall library some consoles may have, the Dreamcast will always hold a special place in my heart.