Holiday Seasons in Retrospective: 2006

Holiday Season; that busy, crazy and sometimes unbearable time of year where everything just become frenzy, and humanity tries desperately to sell you their goods. The worst thing is that you can’t help but join the cheesy feelings and wait for the not-so-silent night to receive a bunch of quality software pieces (unless you have a crappy cheap uncle).

In any case, we ask: which one of the recent holiday seasons has been the best one? Which one has offered the best gaming collection?. Every week we’ll analyze all the Christmas seasons, starting from 2005, in order to remember all those fond memories these particular days produce, and the games/consoles we should have played.


The year of the Revolution

The world’s at war. Console war, that is. Year 2006 marked the beginning of a new era, full of HD graphics, achievements, lazy Cell-processor developers, Marcus Fenix and a motion control revolution. This year will be forever remembered as the first time Sony wasn’t just obliterating the competition, Microsoft was making an cute effort for attracting the younger audience, and Nintendo demonstrated playing was effectively believing.

After months of being touted as a console so powerful, it made the explosion at Hiroshima feel like a tickle, the PS3 got finally released. At an incredibly high price, little quality software to choose from, and a couple of problems with Blu-ray playback; Sony’s console had a surprisingly slow start. Sure, fanboys waited hours in line to get one on launch day, but the rest of humanity were already busy with their Xbox 360s or waiting to get a Wii for christmas. Besides, with high profile games like Heavenly Sword and Warhawk getting delayed to 2007, PS3 early gamers had to settle with Ridge Racer 7, Fight Night Round 3 and of course, Resistance: Fall of Man which was clearly the only game that showed what Sony’s console was capable of.

In Microsoft’s front everything was sugar and rainbows. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was finally released for the console and it quickly became the best gaem evah!… ok, not really, but along with Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter and Dead Rising, really helped drive sales of the console through the year. When christmas came, everything was settled; Marcus Fenix was to make his glorious debut on the gaming scene and strengthen the Xbox 360 as the console of choice for the hardcore. Gears of Wars was a critical and financial success; it helped Microsoft’s console battle the upcoming console competition, showing the world the PS3 was not the only graphic powerhouse around, and that Halo was not the only successful first-party franchise in the console’s library. 2006’s holidays were also remembered by the first real effort by Microsoft to cater a younger audience. That effort came in the form of Viva Piñata, a kids (and not so kids) game with incredibly high production values, beautiful graphics and a very smart gameplay. Being probably Rare’s finest creation since it was acquired by Microsoft, Viva Piñata became an instant classic, even if didn’t sell as good as it should have. Other notable games were the amazing Rainbow Six: Vegas (whose superior version was found on the 360) and F.E.A.R., both featuring unbelievable visuals, tight gameplay and robust multiplayer.

But the life of the party was, surprisingly, Nintendo. With its so-called “revolution”, the house that Mario built took the world by surprise, became an instant phenomenon and delivered quality software while proving the world they were being serious about their focus on innovation over raw power. Despite what you might think, the Wii was a stroke of genius; it was essentially 2001 technology with new make-up, bluetooth and a not-so-accurate motion controller, sold at a MSRP more than twice the production cost. By catering an audience previously ignored by competitors, and delivering a plethora of pick-up-and-play casual games, the little white console became a true revolution, and it changed the gaming landscape forever. Gamers who were lucky enough to grab a Wii in time for christmas, got the opportunity to play the long-awaited The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, which was a great Zelda iteration that only suffered from a little excess of hype and some weird motion controls. Some critics previewing the game stated Twilight Princess made look Ocarina of Time like a mini game, which was completely untrue, eventually hurting the final game by setting the expectations so high. Besides Zelda, there were a lot of good games to entertain yourself. Games like Elebits, Rayman Ravin’ Rabbids and Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz were honest efforts to show the uniqueness of the system, in a fun and innovative package. Other games like Trauma Center: Second Opinion and Marvel Ultimate Alliance, while being good games on their own, were just adaptations to take advantage of a hot console’s launch line-up. Finally there was the case of Red Steel, one of the first and most ambitious games to be unveiled, which showed a lot of promise but ended up being just a mediocre shooter with a great soundtrack and an incredibly terrible story.

In terms of handheld systems, despite both the PSP and the DS having strong years, they had equally discreet holiday seasons, with only the incredible Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops and the innovative Elite Beat Agents being worth mentioning. Just as worthless were most of the releases for last-generation consoles. The original Xbox and GameCube were pretty much dead, except Nintendo’s little lunchbox had the benefit of a Zelda release (which was in fact, the last game released for that console). The Playsation 2, on the other hand, had an unbelievably amazing year, and even with the inevitable arrival of its successor, the PS2 managed to have two heavy hitters right in time for the holidays: the really undeserved bomb Okami and one of the most beautiful games so far, Final Fantasy XII.

Conclusion: This was a really busy christmas, with a lot of offerings that deserved to be played, so it was the perfect time to quit your job and dedicate entirely to quality videogames (quitting social life in the process). From the polygon heavy Gears of War, to the beautiful land of Hyrule, to the artistically inspiring Okami; 2006 was a great year to be a gamer.

2006’s Game of the Year

Okami. Ironic isn’t it? The advent of fancy next-generation hardware didn’t prevent independent, visionary, passionate and ambitious developers to create something beautiful and truly unique. Okami was, for its time, an almost perfect game; it blended classic Zelda gameplay with ancient japanese folcklore and some mechanics so innovative, they screamed for a Wii port (which eventually came). It’s too bad the game didn’t sell, and its developers were dissolved.

So, this pretty much wraps up all the good things 2006’s holiday season had to offer. Do you think I missed some detail or game? Feel free to speak your mind in the comment section.

Note: The Game of the Year stated in this article has been chosen according to a trend followed by the industry that year. It must be noted that Game of the Year nominations are ultimately subjective perceptions made by equally subjective individuals. This one is not meant to be any different so feel free to differ with the author’s subjective statements.

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