Sony must have been rubbing their grubby little paws with glee, their first foray into the console market had been a rousing success. The original PlayStation had sold over 50 Million units by 1999 and had won the fifth generation console war by soundly trouncing Sega’s Saturn and Nintendo’s N64. However by 1999 the then 5-year-old console was starting to show its age, and Sony would set about releasing its super powered successor.
The PlayStation 2 arrived in Japan on March 4th 2000 (that was my 19th birthday!!) with the North American and European consoles launching in the October and November of the same year. The PS2 had a lot to live up to, Sega had already launched its 128 bit Dreamcast in 1999 and both Nintendo and Microsoft had hinted of their next generation offerings. It was unfortunate then, that the Japanese launch roster was rather disappointing, with only Street Fighter EX3 and Ridge Racer 5 providing solid day one thrills. The European launch was a different story however, with some absolute corkers available from day one.
Fantavision (2000 SCE)
Sony’s unique firework based puzzler, was seen as nothing more than a tech demo to show off the PS2’s impressive lighting effects, however those that have played it will concur that it is an addictive and highly satisfying game. The aim of FantaVision is to string 3 or more fireworks of the same colour together before detonating them into the night sky. Players are awarded points for creating long chains of fireworks, with undetonated flares disappearing after a short while. Additionally players can detonate “Starmines” which upon detonation will reward the player with a letter, collect enough letters to spell out S.T.A.R.M.I.N.E and a bonus round will begin giving the player a plethora of fireworks to detonate, and of course, rack up more points.
FantaVision is an absolutely lovely game, which has almost unlimited replay value, a simple but addictive game which was a fine game to launch alongside Sony’s new console.
Dynasty Warriors 2 (2000 Omega Force/Koei)
Dynasty Warriors 2, the sequel to 1997’s weapon based, one on one fighter, was a departure gameplay wise from its predecessor, taking the series into the now more familiar hack and slash territory. DW2 offered 2 modes of play, Muso Mode, the main story mode where players took control of characters as they fight their way through various battles to unify China. Free mode offered players the opportunity to play through battles previously completed in the Muso Mode.
Like FantaVision, Dynasty Warriors 2 was a showcase of the capabilities of the PlayStation 2, with vast amounts of individual characters on-screen at a time, something that could not have been done on the previous PlayStation hardware. Dynasty Warriors 2 proved to be a worthy addition to the PS2 launch lineup, both showcasing the new console’s power and delivering an enjoyable game at the same time. Subsequent Dynasty Warriors games would improve on the formula, adding more battles and on-screen characters as well as multiplayer modes, making the series ever more popular with gamers and kickstarting a franchise which has seen many sequels and spinoffs over the past 15 years.
Ridge Racer V (2000 Namco)
The 5th installment of Namco’s popular arcade racer launched alongside the PS2 just as the original Ridge Racer had launched with the original “Station” back in 1995. Ridge Racer V featured a number of different game modes including Grand Prix, Time Attack and Free race, the primary mode being Grand Prix. Players could select from 6 different vehicles from the get go, with further vehicles to be unlocked by completing different races (remember kids we didn’t always have to pay for extra items) including Pac-Man and Ghost vehicles.
Gameplay wise, RRV kept true to the arcade style action of the previous games, with power slides and drifting the order of the day and as such the game is as fun as it had ever been. There are 7 tracks for you to bomb around on, and a 2 player mode to keep the replay value high making Ridge Racer V a solid addition to the franchise and well worth a look.
Smuggler’s Run (2000 Angel Studios/Rockstar)
Angel Studios’ (now Rockstar San Diego) 1st game for the PS2 could be seen as a forerunner of sorts to the 3D driving segments of GTA 3. Players take control of a smuggler who uses a variety of different vehicles in order to smuggle assorted cargo through open world landscapes. The game has 3 different modes, Smuggler’s Mission, Turf War and Joyriding. The Smuggler’s mission (career mode) involves successfully carrying the less than legal cargo to its destination, whilst avoiding the police and rival gangs. There are a total of 3 different levels and 34 missions to be completed on the career mode, taking place in desert, forest and snow locales.
The Turf War mode consists of mini games where you must smuggle cargo against rival gangs, and the final Joyriding mode is basically a free roaming, training level where players can get used to the controls without having to worry about enemies etc.
Smuggler’s Run is a decent enough game, which, although a little frustrating and repetitive, has enough good points to warrant repeated plays. Angel Studios/Rockstar San Diego, would go on to create some of the most iconic games on both the PS2 and PS3 including Midnight Club,Red Dead Redemption games and of course GTA5.
Silent Scope (2000 Konami)
Konami’s arcade shooter was originally released in the arcades in 1999 with the pretty impressive home port following on the Dreamcast and Playstation 2 in 2000. The game is an on rails shooter, players ride on a helicopter as they try to take out terrorists with total accuracy. Unfortunately the PS2 version of Silent Scope did not come packaged with the sniper rifle light gun which was the main selling point of the arcade version, and the game definitely loses a lot being played with a control pad.
However the game is still playable and very enjoyable, but it does boggle the mind why Konami would not give light gun support to a game which was obviously made for peripheral.
TimeSplitters (2000 Free Radical Design/Eidos)
Amazing to think, that TimeSplitters was Free Radical’s first game, the 1st person shooter would be the most pleasant surprise and arguably the best of the PS2’s launch titles. TimeSplitters shared some of the same gameplay mechanics with Rare’s GoldenEye and Perfect Dark, due to the game being designed by several of the GoldenEye development team.
The story mode is excellent, with an entertaining time travel mechanic and a choice of 2 different characters for each mission. The story mode can be played either 1 player or 2 player cooperatively, with a total of 9 locations in varying time periods from 1935 to 2035. TimeSplitters, as with all good 1st person shooters, has a multi-player battle mode, and this one is an incredibly fun experience. 4 human controlled players and 10 bots can battle it out individually or in teams and there is even a level editor to further enhance the replay value of the game.
TimeSplitters and its sequels are still excellent fun 15 years later and are well worth getting a few mates round and plug-in the multi-tap for some brilliant 1st person shooty action.
Tekken Tag Tournament (2000 Namco/SCEE)
Namco’s first Tekken game for the PS2 was originally developed as an update kit for Tekken 3, however the PS2 port featured upgraded graphics. Tekken Tag was the first in the series to feature a tag team mechanic, allowing players to select a team of two fighters who could tag in and out at will. There are 21 main characters with a further 18 fighters which can be unlocked throughout the game. There is even a bowling game in the shape of Tekken Bowl which is surprisingly entertaining for a secondary game, with all playable characters having different bowling attributes.
Although Tekken Tag is not canonical in the Tekken series, the game was an entertaining diversion for players who had a two-year wait for Tekken 4.
The full list of PS2 launch titles:
Dynasty Warriors 2
Gradius III and IV
International Superstar Soccer
Orphen: Scion of Sorcery
Ready 2 Rumble Boxing: Round 2
Ridge Racer V
Tekken Tag Tournament
Wild Wild Racing
So in retrospect, the PS2’s European launch games were excellent with some stellar games amongst the 16 strong lineup. Honourable mentions go to Gradius III and IV and SSX as both were excellent fun but what were your favourite launch day titles?