While this generation has received its share of noteworthy releases, there are some gameplay experiences that, for all intents and purposes, have been lost to the video game ages. Luckily, in an admirable preservation-friendly decision, Sony started a PS2 on PS4 line of re-releases back in 2015. These reissued titles have been retrofitted with 1080p up-rendering, trophies, Shareplay, and also Remote Play (for all you fellow Vita owners—I know you're out there). Quite a few obvious choices have since been made available, like the Grand Theft Auto trio and Max Payne, but what follows is a list of some of the more interesting selections, a short list for gamers seeking experiences that may lie beyond the current scope of the 8th generation.
Ape Escape 2
To say there’s been a dearth of quality 3D platformers this generation would be a gross understatement. A staple of the 32-bit and 64-bit eras, the genre has since gone relatively dormant, with the exception of anomalies like the quality Ratchet and Clank remaster and Playtonic’s upcoming Yooka-Laylee. The PS2 years, however, were overflowing with varied examples of the genre, not the least of which being the singularly simian Ape Escape 2. Its premise is perfectly simple: Capture all the monkeys before they take over the world. The catch? They’ve all been outfitted with special intelligence-boosting helmets and have decided that getting caught isn’t on the agenda. This sequel to the PSone classic retains much of what made the original great, like unique dual analog controls, bright and colorful visuals, and tons of cool gadgets to use, including an RC car and the elegantly titled Bananarang. Sure, the story is goofy and some of the cheerful music borders on grating at times, but there are tons of unlockables to earn and each of the large, open environments is a blast to explore. Sony’s 2002 release represents a kind of game that just doesn’t come around too often anymore, and thus remains highly recommended for anyone looking to quench their ongoing 3D platformer thirst.
PaRappa the Rapper 2
It’s quite strange to think that the last time the Rodney Greenblat-designed, two dimensional rapping dog made a proper appearance was back in 2012’s PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. But even stranger is that, since PaRappa 2 released in 2001, fans haven’t received any comparable titles from other developers. Perhaps it’s because when it comes to rhythm games, PaRappa exists on his own bizarre, surrealist stage. Case in point: The sequel follows the anthropomorphic MC on a thoroughly odd adventure, one that revolves around noodles (yes, noodles), afros, a disgruntled burger joint worker, a shrink ray, and PaRappa’s persistent attempts to prove to his love interest Sunny Funny (who happens to be a talking flower) that he’s not a kid anymore, but rather a real man. Gameplay-wise, it sticks to the same tried and true Simon Says button prompting as the first title, and while it’s relatively short and the individual tunes aren’t nearly as catchy as the PSone original’s, it’s still a wacky and unique trip worth taking. Also of note is the cameo by UmJammer Lammy and her band Milkcan, a nice reference for longtime Nana-OnSha followers. And remember, if there’s ever any doubt, the solution is simple: You gotta believe!
War of the Monsters
Given the current graphical horsepower that’s sitting at developers fingertips, it’s a true wonder why—with the exception of a lackluster Godzilla PS4 game, Attack on Titan, and maybe Evolve if we’re being generous—there hasn’t been a proper giant monster title for this generation. And so we must travel back to 2003 for a genuine example, one from extinct studio Incog Entertainment, the talented team behind Twisted Metal Black and the online Warhawk reboot. Equal parts Rampage, King of the Monsters and Virtual On, War of the Monsters is an arcade brawler that pays strong homage to the classic B-grade sci-fi and killer creature drive-in flicks from the 1950s. Fighters can choose from all manner of movie monsters, including a giant mutated praying mantis, an evil robot, an impressive King Kong stand-in, or even an electrified eyeball. Players then proceed to battle across destructible cityscapes and nuclear power plants, using hapless vehicles (and each other) as projectile fodder. The controls are a tad outdated, but the action is fast, the destruction is satisfying, and the Pacific Rim cool factor is through the roof. Add to that a two player mode with a dynamic split screen similar to TT Games’ Lego titles and plenty of unlockable monster skins (a la Overwatch), arenas, and modes, and you have an excellent, casual fighting game that almost anyone can jump into and enjoy. Now if we could only get a reissue of Incog’s equally brilliant Downhill Domination.
The Mark of Kri
As this 2002 release by Sony’s San Diego studio proves, looks can be deceiving. One would be hard-pressed to find a current title that so lovingly marries Dreamworks Animation-style aesthetics and a level of gratuitous gore that Ed Boon could most surely be proud of. At its core, The Mark of Kri is an action adventure that puts players in control of Rau and his raven companion Kuzo as they rid ruins and jungles of bandits and thieves. The game boasts a unique targeting system, plenty of stylized combos to master, tasteful stealth segments, and even a bird-scouting mechanic, but it’s in the over-the-top finishing moves that the game truly shines. Decapitations, dismemberment and impalings are par for the course here and, considering the innocuous graphical stylings, make for quite the interesting juxtaposition. The difficulty can be a bit uneven at times, and the violence may be offputting for certain unsuspecting gamers, but the Polynesian-inspired journey is one well worth taking for those wanting a little Mortal Kombat in their Moana. The sequel, Rise of the Kasai, is also available as a PS2 to PS4 title.
Okage: Shadow King
Recent years have given rise to massive, sprawling and delightfully complex RPGs like The Witcher III and Skyrim, and while those titles have their specific appeal, it’s sometimes nice to play something that isn’t so, well, overwhelming. Okage: Shadow King is a title that wouldn’t feel out of place on the PSone or Saturn, as it smacks of simpler times when a roleplaying game didn’t need a towering budget and an endless open world to be satisfying. This lighthearted 2001 release tells the story of a young boy whose shadow manages to become commandeered by the Evil King Stan, an entity that desperately wants to be feared but has a hell of a time convincing people of his true malevolence. The translation is somewhat lacking and makes for some awkward dialog, but it only adds to the quaint charm, as does some vaguely Tim Burton-esque character design. Between its turn-based combat and traditional structure, Okage harkens back to the wave of late-90s RPGs, in which the main directive was typically and relatively straightforward: Save the townspeople. Save at the inn. Save the world. And it was good.
Before Tim Schafer and Double Fine studios doled out candy in Costume Quest and rocked heavy metal in Brutal Legend, they took a swing at what can only be described as Camp Nowhere meets Stranger Things in 2005’s Psychonauts. The adventure-platformer stars mind power prodigy and circus escapee Raz (voiced by Richard Horvitz, the voice of Kaos in the Skylanders games) during his stay at Camp Whispering Rock, a retreat for kids gifted in the telekinetic, psychic and clairvoyant arts. The whole ordeal plays out like a witty summer film, with smart, funny writing and memorable characters, not the least of which include tin foil hat-wearing Dogen, a boy who is suffering from paranoid squirrel delusions (or is he?). While training to become a spy, Raz explores the psyches and mental landscapes of various afflicted characters, like the conspiracy-minded Milkman and an actor with bipolar illness, all the while collecting emotional baggage, figments, and bits of mental health. It’s weird, it’s hilarious, and even today, it still stands as one of the most creative games ever developed. There’s really nothing like it on current hardware.