System Swan Songs

With the pending demise of the Wii and The Last Story’s upcoming release, we’ve been reminiscing about the releases once-mighty systems spent their last days with. The Wii finds itself in an interesting position because it started out and gained great fame as a casual system and yet its final releases are two RPGs that only die-hards will support. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane to look at the games released in the waning days of consoles.

The original Xbox went out with a roster full of forgettable stuff like True Crime: Streets of New York, 25 to Life and the Family Guy game at the very end, but did have noteworthy releases in the form of the Burger King games that were 360-compatible. Its last great game was Burnout Revenge, while the last year had strong games in Otogi 2 and Knights of the Old Republic II to fall back on. It’s hard to believe that it was succeeded by the 360 only four years after its debut, and yet here we are nearing the seventh year of that system.

The PS2 ended things in pretty grand fashion with Yakuza 2 and God of War II delivering excellent and lengthy experiences, even though it did have some sports games as the technical final games, people will largely associate the end of the PS2 with GoW II, which despite nearly six years of time passing since its release, still stands out from many games due to its sheer scale.

The PlayStation had an interesting ending because while it did have the usual assortment of shovelware, it also featured a pretty surprising $10 price point for many brand-new games at that time. While that did lead to some crap coming out, it allowed good sleeper games like Top Shop and Spin Jam to see the light of day and have such a low price that people would be willing to take a chance on different games who would otherwise avoid them.

Looking at Sega, the Dreamcast’s super-short lifespan makes it really tempting to just list every major great game the system had here, but to be fair, Sonic Adventure 2 was the system’s last major game after the announcement of the system’s demise and given that Sonic was involved, it felt like a fitting end to the system. It was one of the few games then to have a limited edition version, with a best-of series soundtrack inside a dark blue box with a gold novelty coin inside. It’s worth noting that Phantasy Star Online was released around the time of the announced end of the DC, and marked the first MMO-styled game on a home console. Going back a little further, the Saturn went out with Burning Rangers, Shining Force III and Panzer Dragoon Saga in the U.S., giving it more high-quality games to play at one time towards the end of its lifespan than at many points during its heyday.

As far as Nintendo goes, while the N64’s last game was Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3, its last major release was Conker’s Bad Fur Day and it felt like a fitting end for the system. Sure, it was full of swearing and in that sense, didn’t fit the system, but a 3D platformer, especially a Rare-crafted one, really was how it should’ve gone out since those were one of the defining genres for the system.

The SNES went out with Super Mario RPG as the last major release before the N64’s launch, and Donkey Kong Country 3 as its last one after it. The former is regarded as one of the greatest RPGs ever made, and even 16 years after its release, it holds up as a fun JRPG that gives you a lot of things to do without taking up a lot of your time. The latter game is definitely the weakest of the DKC trilogy, but actually ages far better than the N64’s own Donkey Kong 64. The Genesis definitely suffered from Sega being spread super-thin as a company with about half a dozen pieces of hardware on the market in the ’95/’96 era. X-Perts sent the system packing in late ’96, but the two Vectorman games in ’95 and ’96 respectively were a far better end to the system, and showed that it could still impress visually despite being the much older system compared to the SNES. Even today, the lighting effects for Vectorman’s blasts and the animation of blasting TVs off their hinges look good, and their solid controls help them play about as well as they look.

The NES had a pretty awesome lineup of games for it long after the SNES came out. Mega Mans 5 and 6 each hit after that point, as did Kirby’s Adventure, and the second Chip n’ Dale’s Rescue Ranger game. While a lot of systems went out with licensed garbage, the NES made out pretty well, and given how old the hardware was by the time the SNES hit, it’s surprising to see just how many really good games it had in the end. It’s also pretty fitting that it went out on some great platformers since that genre helped to define not only that era, but the succeeding one as well.

Going through this piece of gaming history was fun, warming my heart to see that most systems at least got to go out with some pretty good games, even if there weren’t a lot of them to go around.