The sixth console generation is an interesting one. Sega’s last console lived in this period, as did Microsoft’s first. Sony followed up their uber-successful PlayStation, and Nintendo brought us the Gamecube. Let’s talk about it!
The new millennium brought with it some great video game hardware. Developers were finally understanding what was needed from 3D gaming. Multi-buttoned controllers were now the norm, allowing for more complex game mechanics.
I suppose I’ll talk first about the Dreamcast, of which I’ve had the least experience, having missed out entirely on Sega’s previous Saturn. A friend sold me his old Dreamcast along with a carrier bag full of copied discs, a few originals, and a boot disc that allowed the copies to run. Considering that at the time I’d not really experienced the newest generation of consoles, this was a very exciting time. The graphical updates over the PlayStation and N64 were clearly evident and, as with their previous consoles, Sega used the opportunity to bring the best arcade games home – Crazy Taxi, House of the Dead, Street Fighter III, Marvel Vs Capcom and Virtua Tennis are all games I enjoyed.
Then there were the home releases. Sonic Adventure, Shenmue, Jet Set Radio, Rez, Chu Chu Rocket and Space Channel 5. Good times. The one game I played more than any other, by many hours, was Phantasy Star Online. Back in the days of 56kbps dialup and paying per minute, I had my own phone line installed in my bedroom and spent far too much of my money on the game! I also bought myself a Dreamcast keyboard to make chatting easier. It was my first ever taste of online play, and it was very enjoyable. Probably because no one had a headset.
Then came the PlayStation 2. I bought mine a few months after release from WHSmiths in Rickmansworth. I remember carrying the humongous box home on my bike, desperately excited to get it open! The one game I remember getting with it was Extermination, a sort of Resident Evil kind of game with (at the time) incredible graphics and atmosphere. Of course everyone knows the hits on the PS2, but the real standouts for me over the coming years were Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 (a massive upgrade on the PlayStation version), Dave Mirra BMX 2, Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, and Gran Turismo 4. I played dozens of other games, but these really stood out to me as the best experiences I had. The console also allowed full backwards compatibility with PlayStation discs, and I spent a lot of time finish games I’d started on that console, including Final Fantasy 8 and 9.
The PSTwo (slim) model sits alongside the PSOne as my favourite ever console redesigns, taking the original hardware flavour and condensing it into something quite sweet.
Nintendo’s GameCube came along at some point a year or two later. I’d largely been unimpressed by the N64 (I enjoyed playing it when visiting friends but the games were too expensive and only a few of them particularly attracted me) so I went into the Gamecube with some caution. And I was glad I did!
Their fourth console, Nintendo basically got everything right with this one. Everything that mattered to me anyway. The controller was comfortable, the A and B buttons in particular made a lot of sense and the twin joysticks were easy to use and positioned well. The joint analogue and digital triggers also functioned well in the few games they were used – to great effect in Super Mario Sunshine, which was my first game in the machine.
Bright and colourful as you’d expect from the Super Mario series, Sunshine came so close to perfecting the formula set down by Super Mario 64 before it, let down only by the occasional annoyance of controlling FLUDD, and the perpetual annoyance of his voice. It wasn’t as annoying as Tails in Sonic Adventure, but close. My favourite levels took FLUDD away and left Mario to navigate a shifting stage on pure skill alone.
Other standouts were the mighty Metroid Prime (though I didn’t get into the sequel), Mario Kart Double Dash, The Legend of Zelda Wind Waker, Wario Wares, F-Zero GX (a Sega game on a Nintendo console???), Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, and the fantastic Resident Evil REmake.
The most hours I sunk into any game on the ‘cube was probably Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour. The style didn’t quite sit comfortably with the main series, but the golfing was solid enough, relaxing, and surprisingly deep. It was a great way to pass an evening whilst listening to some music.
All that’s left then is…. Xbox! Wow. So, I had a holiday with my friends in 2003 to Newquay. Besides all the expected good times, we spent a good amount of time in the arcades, where I discovered House of the Dead 3, with its fun shotgun controllers. It was sometimes frustrating to play, as the massive screen was near the door of the arcade, and the sun would shine directly on it for several hours at a time. I always intended to go back to it in the evening, but we had other things going on once the sun went down.
I got home, and found myself in Gamestation looking at Xbox bundles. One available included Metal Gear Solid 2 (I’d previously enjoyed the first one) and House of the Dead 3! With a lightgun! It was clearly an omen, and so that day I went home with my fourth console of the 6th generation.
There was something truly special about the Xbox, compared to its cousins. Microsoft famously poured everything into making the console faster and more powerful than anything else, which basically meant everything looked better. Around the same time I also bought my first (and actually my only) surround sound system, which coupled nicely with the Xbox’s optical digital output. I also enjoyed the Duke controller, though the smaller S certainly felt like an upgrade.
I only had the console for a couple of years before trading it for a 360 soon after launch (wrongly told by Gamestation staff that the 360 would play all my Xbox games), but in those months I had some great experiences with The Grand Theft Autos (nicely upgraded from their PS2 versions), Rainbow Six 3 (online again with a friend, doing Terrorist Hunt), Alien vs Predator Extinction, Oddworld Stranger’s Wrath, Forza Motorsport, Project Gotham Racing, Ninja Gaiden Black, Splinter Cell and Fable. I never really cared for Halo, though more recently I am enjoying the remasters on Xbox One.
Like with the Gamecube, my most played game was Links 2004. I’d play this most evenings with my mate Mike, music on in the background, chatting away through our headsets. Super relaxing, and still quite a solid golf game. I should say I find golf incredibly boring, but video game golf very relaxing and fun.
Special mention goes to Black, a late game in the Generation by Criterion, whose speciality had been racing games. A first person shooter with some truly outstanding graphics, it was ahead of its time and sits technically alongside much of the best generation’s output. It’s available on Xbox One backwards compatibility, and well worth a go.
So. A winner? This is probably the hardest generation of all in which to choose one, as every one of the major consoles was amazing. It was an exciting time to be a gamer. PlayStation 2 had the most games, though like Wii after it, many were shovelware, forgettable. The controller was also not much to write home about when compared to the others. Dreamcast had little impact on me once I had access to its peers, so forget that. Xbox was clearly the most capable machine, designed in every way to make an impression – and the first to provide decent online play, a better DVD player than the PS2, and the ability to rip CDs to play your own music in games including GTA. But alas, my choice is… Gamecube!
Gamecube gave me the most special moments, and like most Nintendo consoles what it lacks in third party support (and generally underpowered hardware) it makes up for with some fine fine games you can’t experience anywhere else. Some of those are my favourites of the era, or of all time. Add the Gameboy Player and you’ve got one console capable of playing many of Nintendo’s finest games. You can’t really go wrong. Oh, and it’s far more portable than the others. If you’re concerned it looks like a toy, get a black one.
So there you have my memories of Generation 6. An exciting generation where 3D gaming proved itself. Find me on twitter to discuss further – @bitlandgaming.