Make what you will of my inane ramblings
Fri, 27 October 2006
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Buttonhole's friends at Realgamer sent me a lovely little device for the PlayStation 2 called Max Drive (which I shall discuss in more detail towards the end of this article). That cool little gadget actually wound up breathing some new life into some of my favourite PS2 titles. In turn, it got me thinking about the PlayStation 2 in general and all the good times I have had with the system. Since the PS2 has now reached the later stages of its lifespan, I figured this would be a fine time to take a look back at the old girl and reflect on some of the fun she's provided me with.
"You're all a bunch of f*#kin' slaves!" In the beginning, there was great anger and much resentment.
The PlayStation 2 had a harder time than any console usually would, in winning me over and gaining my affection. I actually had an Xbox and Gamecube before I finally purchased my PS2. For quite some time, I basically didn't want to like the system. I'll kick things off here by attempting to explain my reasons for that.
Before the PS2 was launched, I owned a Sega Dreamcast (and I still do, incidentally). I was playing a whole bunch of wonderful games on my DC and loving every minute of it. Some of my gamer friends (like Mugwai) were doing the same. But many other folks I tried to talk to about it seemingly wanted to refuse to even acknowledge the Dreamcast's existence.
At any given opportunity, I'd start raving, to anyone I thought might listen, about all the sweet DC games - Sonic Adventure, Crazy Taxi, Jet Grind Radio, Ecco the Dolphin, Power Stone, Shenmue, Soul Calibre etc. - that had been rocking my world. The response people would usually give me was something like, "Yeah those DC games seem pretty cool, but I'm saving my money and waiting for the PlayStation 2. It's going to be way more powerful and have better graphics. And it can play DVDs!"
And wait they did. Still, even without those people showing any interest, the Dreamcast's sales started out extremely strong, in both the US and Japan. But once that PS2 hit the shelves, all the Sony sheep flocked to it and pretty soon the poor DC got left in the dust.
|Casualties of war |
This was despite the fact that, at launch - and for quite a while afterwards - there wasn't a single PS2 game that was better than, or even as good as, any of the Dreamcast's A-list titles. Even graphically, the initial line-up of software for the "way more powerful" PS2 was not as impressive as the best looking DC games.
Geeks like me are prone to getting on our high horse and taking something of an elitist attitude towards our chosen obsessions. The basic mentality behind it is, because we devote more attention to this stuff, we automatically assume we know better. We understand these things better than all those "mainstream" people, who just blindly follow what they are told to like, or whatever is most popular. The thing about that is...In a sense we truly do know better, simply because we care more. But that doesn't mean everyone else must be wrong for liking what they like. In fact, sometimes creating something that is appealing to a great many can be harder than making something that only a niche group of avid fans will be able to appreciate.
Anyway, that "geeky elitism" thing was partially what I was feeling when it came to the PlayStation 2. From my skewed perspective, it was a system that sold like crazy, based mainly just on hype & the cool - or (apparently) more socially acceptable, at least - Sony brand name. The "hardcore gamer" part of my brain considered it an outrage that the Dreamcast was left to die before its time, due to people being too ignorant to recognise how damn good it was.
Meanwhile, the PlayStation 2 continued to sell like hotcakes, even though, at the start of its life; it was little more than the world's most expensive DVD player (not even a very good one at that). And I never did figure out what the f*#k an "emotion engine" actually is.
Of course, there were many other factors to all this. For one thing, Sony deserves credit for building a brand people felt comfortable putting their faith into. They did an outstanding job (despite plenty of scepticism from many in the games industry and press) of making their very first home console - the original PlayStation (aka PSOne, or PSX) - an incredibly successful system. It is truly remarkable that Sony was able to hit a homerun with their very first attempt to get into the console market. It wasn't just due to hype either: there's really no doubt that, right from launch, the PSX was home to an enormous array of quality software.
Sega, on the other hand, had an exceedingly damaged reputation by the time they launched the Dreamcast. Belief in Sega's reliability had diminished significantly, after they'd produced a string of commercial flops and, a result, left their customers abandoned with unsupported hardware. Sega had also, by this stage, become relatively lacklustre in terms of effectively promoting their products (sad really, given how great they were at advertising during the 16-Bit era: a huge part of what made the Mega Drive/Genesis such a big hit).
In stark contrast, Sony really handled the PS1 & 2's marketing impeccably. They knew exactly who they most wanted to target and usually found great ways to do it.
I remember, when I bought my first PSX system; it came with a PlayStation cap and T-shirt. Both looked way less dorky than most game-related attire/merchandise of the time. I even saw fully grown "normal" people wearing those caps and shirts in public, without seeming the least bit embarrassed (again, a pretty rare thing in those days).
|I think this is what Prince once changed his name to |
By comparison, it was highly unlikely you'd see folks (other than a few hardcore gamers, perhaps) decked out in a Sega Saturn T-shirt. Or, how about an N64 shirt? I can't imagine anybody chosing to wear one of those! Most likely, the only people seen adorned in something displaying that chunky, ugly arse 'N' logo would've been those employed by Ninty. Or people who'd lost a bet of some kind.
Nevertheless, many people clearly reckoned the PS logo looked quite cool. It has since become an extremely recognisable symbol that's still being used today. Mind you, the same could be said of the swastika. My point is, though, that Sony managed to not only get people to purchase their PlayStation (which was priced at over $700 at launch in Australia) but also happily walk around freely advertising their product for them! That shows some ingenious branding skills.
Anyhow...as I was saying; to my mind, the PlayStation 2 (during its early days) represented hype over substance & seemed to cater more to the the sort of people who just blindly follow trends. For some time I basically blamed the PS2 and its earliest fans for causing the premature death of my beloved Dreamcast (which, I felt, deserved so much more respect). In retrospect, I must admit that was pretty silly of me. But, now and then, it can be difficult to maintain a reasonable degree of logical thinking, when it comes to the things you're especially passionate about.
If you can't beat them, join them. A man must learn to accept the inevitable.
I held off for about as long as I could. I had my Xbox and was digging many fine games on that. I also had my Gamecube and (being a huge Ninty fanboy) there were/are a few gems on that platform I'd consider essential to own. By now though, it had become blatantly obvious to me that - if I really wanted to stay true to my desire to play as wide a range of quality games as possible - I was going to have to bite the bullet and purchase a PS2. Besides, I had gotten back to writing game reviews here & there for various places and the percentage of review copy titles sent out for PS2 by far outweighed those for any other format (combined!).
By now, along with remaining the most popular console on the market, the PlayStation 2 had really come into its own as far as software quality. It became home to a plethora of truly excellent games, in pretty much every genre. So I picked up my silver PS2 (unfortunately for me, the sleeker slimline model hadn't been released yet) and got my hands on some of the games I most wanted to play on it. Unlike at launch, there were so many great games for the console by now that I considered its immense popularity to be fully warranted. Hell, maybe the blind faith shown by early PS2 adopters was not so blind after all.
Anyway, from that time on, I've become as big of a PlayStation 2 fan as anyone. Since launching Buttonhole (and getting all our supporters on board), I have been fortunate enough to receive a huge number of fantastic PS2 games to play and review. As a result, now I can't imagine how any keen gamer could not want to own one!
Pound for Pound...The Greatest of all Time?
So, in regards to the PS2, I went from a fighter to a lover (and, just in case you're wondering, I'm equally comfortable and highly skilled in either of those roles). I've been thinking, of late, about all the games I've played throughout my life. You know - wistfully recalling all of the ones I loved best, as game enthusiasts tend to do (generally speaking, we gamers are a highly retrospective breed). In doing so, I came to an entirely unexpected conclusion: The PlayStation 2 could now very well be my favourite game console of all time.
How does one decide which console they love the most? With things of this nature, it is always tough to decide on a single favourite. I try to base my pick by considering which system I've spent the most time with, and obviously that would include which has the largest amount of great titles. My decision will often still vary, just depending on what mood I'm in.
Technically, I'd probably have to say PC (yeah, I know that's not actually a console) is my preferred format, due mainly to the wonders of emulation - which means I can use it to play nearly any classic game ROMs.
|The now former champion of my world? |
But that PC answer just feels a bit like cheating to me. So, leaving that option out of the equation, my most common choice has usually been the SNES. The 16-Bit era is a favourite of mine and, to this day, I still play a shitload of Mega Drive and Super Nintendo titles.
These days, though, I am starting to believe the PS2 has earned pole position on my list. And, if it is not all the way at the top, it is definitely damn close. There have just been so many awesome PS2 games that have kept me happily using the system for countless hours.
"Don't throw the past away. You might need it some rainy day." Everything old is new again, thanks to the Max Drive (and Realgamer).
Some months ago, the fine folks at Realgamer sent me this sweet little gizmo called Max Drive and, as I said at the beginning of this article, it has breathed some new life into many of my favourite PS2 games. Essentially the Max Drive is just a fancy memory card, but it really is much cooler and more useful than that may sound. For a more detailed description, you can read Realgamer's Max Drive product information page by clicking here.
Since the PlayStation 2 doesn't have a hard drive (though you can get unofficial external HDs for it - but those suckers sure aren't cheap) the Max Drive's ability to hold up to 10 times the amount of info as a regular memory card (in "crushed" form - which basically works the same way as the commonly used "zipped" file format) is, alone, enough to make it quite a handy thing to have. But it is the Max Drive's USB compatibility that really makes it shine - as that allows you to access downloadable "game saves" straight from the internet.
You could use the Max Drive purely to download saved games as a way of "cheating" - to get to the end of a game you've been unable to beat (or just plain don't have enough time to play all the way through). That's not what I mainly use mine for though. There are some much more interesting ways these game saves can be beneficial in adding to a game's lifespan. I'll give you a couple of examples:
|Rocks almost as much as Max Power |
Sonic Mega Collection Plus is a superb compilation. As a big Sonic fan, I load this one up often, as it conveniently provides access to a number of my favourites, all in the one place. I was always annoyed that I was unable to get Comix Zone (which is a freakin' sweet game!) unlocked, as the way I read it was to be accessed simply didn't work for me. Well, now I have it unlocked, thanks a funky game save via Max Drive.
As well as that, the freak who made this save has gone and unlocked EVERYTHING in the collection; finished every single game on the disc 100% perfectly (with all the gems collected etc.). I just don't have enough time to do that sort of thing now days, so I am really grateful to make some use of those who do! It means that now I can select any level to play on Knuckles in Sonic 3 (if I just want a quick bash of a particular one), play as Super Sonic in Sonic 2, view all the bonus art and so forth.
Smackdown Vs. Raw 2006 is a corker of a wrestling game. Using the Max Drive has ensured that I can continue enjoying it, right up until the upcoming next instalment comes out (which is now very soon!). Some creative fans, apparently also with much more time on their hands than me, have created whole rosters of wrestlers, based on real ones, using the game's CAW (Create a Wrestler) tools. Some folks really put a lot of effort into getting the looks and moves of their characters as accurate as possible. Using Max Drive, in a matter of seconds you can download a game save that instantly adds the entire TNA roster, a whole bunch of extra "legends" (or any of the dozens of other creations people have cooked up), to your game.
Not only that, but there are some hidden characters in Smackdown vs. Raw that, for some reason, wound up being left out of the final code - Tazz, Jerry Lawler, Vince McMahon and a few others. You can still makes these characters playable, but only if you have a "cheat code" type of device, like the Action Replay. However, if you download a save with these bonus wrestlers on it to your Max Drive, you can then use them without needing any codes.
That is another notable feature of the Max Drive, actually: It sort of doubles as a cheat code device, due to allowing you to use saves that have such codes activated.
|I believe it is always good to be able to play as this guy in a wrestling game |
I think you get the idea, though I should also mention that the Max Drive is especially helpful with massive games, like GTA: San Andreas, or Dragon Quest (and most RPGs). I prefer to play through the games "properly", on my own, first. But, unless you have a whole heap of time to spare, there's just no way to really see every single part of all these huge games, with all their extras and so forth.
If you want to quickly access new or hidden areas, explore an RPG with the characters leveled up in ways/classes you've not yet tried and so on, downloading game saves with the Max Drive is definitely a good way to go.
"Don't look back in anger, I heard you say..."
So basically the Max Drive allows you to do the kind of things that are now becoming the norm. PC gamers have long enjoyed downloadable content and consoles, such as the Xbox 360, are now also incorporating more and more of these kinds of features.
Since the PlayStation 2 has what I now consider to be one of the most outstanding libraries of titles ever assembled for a single format, I'd gladly recommend just about anything that might extend the machine's lifespan. At $49.95 the Max Drive provides a relatively cheap and easy way of pumping some more life into your PS2 collection.
Thankfully, using the Max Drive is very simple and straightforward. As this is beginning to sound like something of an infomercial, I'll not keep crapping on about it much more. Suffice it to say, if you have a PC with a USB port, you should be able to follow the instructions included with the device and have it all working without any trouble. You'll have no trouble finding good saves either, whether via their online database, or from websites like Gamefaqs (please don't click that link; those magnificent bastards already get more than enough hits).
For a limited time, if you order the Max Drive from Realgamer it also comes with a beautiful set of steak knives. Not really. (I am very sorry that I had to actually point out that I was making a joke here, which I know should be glaringly obvious. But otherwise you always run the risk of copping one or two dopey buggers that can't figure these things out. If it is just me who has to wear it, no worries - but I just don't want Realgamer getting any emails from some dipshit asking why his steak knives haven't shown up yet).
The console may not have "had me at hello", but these days I'm only too happy to say this: Long live the mighty PlayStation 2! It is also worth keeping in mind that all your PS2 gear should still be useable with the PlayStation 3, thanks to its backwards compatibility.
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