You know how big Halo is today? About 15 years ago, Street Fighter II was arguably bigger. Obviously the console versions were selling millions of copies each year, but the real impact was cultural – every arcade, pizza place, bowling alley, mini golf course and amusement park had at least one (if not more) units raking in fistfuls of quarters. A movie was fast tracked into production, several cartoons sprouted up, plus toys, spin-offs and a burgeoning tournament scene cemented Street Fighter as a genuine phenomenon. Sadly, by 2000, American arcades were gone, and this once unchallenged series faded from the spotlight.
Above: Until this year, that is
After years of vague sequels aimed at diehard fans, Capcom delivered a true follow-up that recaptured the fun and accessibility of Street Fighter II while simultaneously reigniting the tournament crowd (and fighting genre) to new levels of popularity. The buzz was strong, the press reviews were near perfect and the community was flooded with gamers who all remembered the joy of interrupting an uppercut into a dragon punch.
Above: If there’s a tourney near you, do yourself a favor and GO
Simply put, this level of resurgence rarely happens in any medium, and no one could have predicted such an astronomical recovery. Capcom hired the right mix of technical expertise and community-minded planners to pull this franchise back from the brink, and we’re immeasurably pleased with the results.
It’s rare when years of unrequited devotion return to love you back, but Punch-Out!! managed just that. It was a beautiful update, but more importantly it proved that our fond memories of acting out the sweetest science with a bare minimum of buttons didn’t require a rose-tinted interface. Knock your mom off that Balance Board and give it a whirl.
Anyone that decided to pass on Episodes from Liberty City's hard-hitting one-two of bad-tempered biker violence and well-groomed neon anarchy seriously missed out on some of the most fun to be had in 2009. Any Grand Theft Auto fatigue we may have been feeling post-GTA IV swiftly evaporated as both stories - Lost and Damned and Ballad of Gay Tony - effortlessly sucked us back in for more chaos and mayhem in Liberty City.
That Rockstar can *still* keep us completely hooked using the same basic sandbox shooting/driving template as first seen in GTA III eight years ago is testament to the developer's amazing creative talent. For our money, Ballad of Gay Tony actually marks itself out as being one of the highpoints of the entire series, with some of the best, most enjoyable, most outrageous, most shocking moments we've ever had the pleasure of playing. On this evidence, the phrase 'too much of a good thing' really does not apply.
The lombax and his metal sidekick used to be a big deal for PlayStation. But now... not so much. Which is criminal, because while the formula is certainly well worn, it's been a while since we had quite this much fun traversing the galaxy hoovering up bolts.
While some games are happy to use one trick as its main gimmick (like the physics destruction of FlatOut), DiRT 2 uses it more subtly, in a real-life context. If you hit a tyre wall, it comes apart. It doesn't fill the screen with tyres and cover the track – real life doesn't work like that. It's the subtlety that wins it. Not so subtle: our gushing Super Review that awarded the game a 9/10. Check it.
Incredibly, there's something breathtaking everywhere you look. We can't think of one bit that's merely average. Water reflects sun, scenery and cars, while it ripples in 3D. Stone breaks when you hit it, grass flattens under your wheels, squishy tires react to pressure. Telegraph poles can be knocked over, their cables coming down to and reacting to your car as you brush them. Wing mirrors continue to reflect the scenery as they fly through the air after a particularly massive crash. In short, it's amazing.
From the 3D recreation of the famous Cavern Club to the psychedelic scenes of the intro sequence, it's simply perfect. Even the Fab Four's facial hair is chronologically accurate. Good job, as Beatles fans are probably the second-most hawk-eyed scrutinizers of their subject in the world. Right after game fans.