2004 was overall a very good year…but it was a little tumultuous for its first few months. I was confused, that I was. You see, I wanted so badly to be in a relationship. It took me way too long to figure out who I wanted to try to ask out. I had been shot down three times by now, and the fear of rejection was pretty high. The early months of 2004 was me puzzling and debating over that kind of mental torture. Who gave off the best vibes about liking me back? The real sticking point about that question was that Grace was interested in me. She made her own difficult approaches to get me to go out with her to see a movie or something twice in that chaos, and due to me being a big dumb idiot, I declined. XD I regret absolutely nothing about my life with Grace beyond that bit of gloriously blind stupidity. However, she said the other day when I mentioned that to her that it had worked out just fine, and I don’t disagree. I just wish I was able to be with her earlier.
Anyway! After a trip to Ashland, Oregon with the drama club, I finally realized that Grace liked me too and we agreed to meet to discuss my (quite crappy) poetry the following weekend. That turned into something beyond either of our expectations and with it came the realization that we were suddenly a “thing”. Unfortunately, her sister and her boyfriend were sent out to “rescue” her, so we couldn’t spend the whole night together. Once that was cleared up, we officially began dating a couple of days later. It was a little rocky, because we both were new at this dating thing and had our own preconceptions of what it all meant. However, it all panned out and we got engaged a year later, on the day of our first “date”. But that’s next year! I’ll continue on with that next time.
School wise, I started taking journalism that year, which I really liked. I spent a year and a half editing the college paper, and that helped springboard my interest back into English. Drama was my major to that point, but I didn’t feel that I wanted to do that forever as a career. It is a lot of fun, but it puts a lot of strain and attention onto you that I didn’t want to deal with. With the journalism major essentially eradicated, I went with English, which was a lot of fun. I had a couple of teachers that clashed with me one way or another, but the majority of my classes were awesome and worth the time. It helped build the desire to write that I have now.
I don’t think I picked up anything new or exciting in 2004 system wise. My DS was bought in 2005. Gaming had a pretty solid year, though. Not as marvelous as 2003, but a pretty good year regardless.
A complete remake of the original Metroid. It updated Samus’ arsenal with some tricks from Super Metroid, Metroid Fusion and some new abilities, redid the level design to make it more like the later games, and threw in a whole new section after you beat Mother Brain. Beyond a couple of missteps, this was a great way of reinventing a classic.
Sensational music, a fantastic cast, an engaging battle system and mostly impressive visuals power the Gamecube’s best original RPG.
Sly Cooper returns to steal more loot from a new host of bad guys, all in the hopes of collecting the pieces of his nemesis, Clockwork. His pals Bentley and Murray join the playable roster, and the three make for a rewarding gameplay experience.
Despite being somewhat crippled in its design due to the GBA requirement to play multiplayer, Four Swords Adventures is a surprisingly good installment in the franchise. It is radically different from the other Zelda titles, but it retains plenty of the charm and puzzle-solving the series is known for. Underrated.
In my opinion, the best game of 2004 was…
Sly 2: Band of Thieves (PS2, Sony/Sucker Punch)
To be written.
Worst Game of the Year: Super Mario 64 DS (DS, Nintendo)
If you ever want to know how not to port a classic, Mario 64 DS is a great place to start your argument. It does a few things well, like adding in Luigi, Wario and Yoshi to the playable roster, packing in more levels and stars to find, and improving the visuals. However, they dropped the ball completely with the controls, and that is what made Mario 64 so special. The touch screen does not replace a true analog stick, and its vain attempts to replicate that kind of performance becomes nearly intolerable once you hit the harder levels. Precision and accuracy are big components to Mario 64, and the wobbly, loose mimicry Nintendo attempted to shoehorn fail miserably at that. Second, the touch screen controls did not take left-handed players into consideration. I had a terrible time seeing around my hand to check on my progress, and oftentimes this kind of distraction would be fatal. Third, the consoling digital pad option is even worse. For me, this game was unplayable past a certain point, and considering how much I love Mario 64, that’s more than enough reason for me to hand this dubious honor out to its DS port.
Contender: Prince of Persia: Warrior Within (GC, UBI Soft)
Surprise of the Year: Cave Story (PC, Studio Pixel)
Cave Story is an amazing indie game, as full-fledged and feature-packed as any commercial release from the 80′s and 90′s. Pixel did a wonderful job with Quote’s controls, the tight level design, the inventive enemies, and the spot-on music. It’s hard to believe one man made such a delightful gem.
Contender: Second Sight (GC, Codemasters/Free Radical)
Disappointment of the Year: Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PS2, Rockstar/Rockstar North)
I don’t knock GTA:SA for what it was trying to do. It’s a solid sandbox experience, and it’s fun doing incredibly stupid things for quite a long while. However, I was disappointed with how clunky the key components of the game felt. The gunplay would be adequate if the auto-aim cooperated with the player. It tends to not. The driving needed just a touch more tightening to make it engaging, but steering lacks the precision I think it should require. Many people loved the game, and I don’t think they’re wrong, but I couldn’t join them. It’s just too sloppy feeling and player-unfriendly for me to get into it more than as a novelty.
Contender: Prince of Persia: Warrior Within (GC, UBI Soft)
Best New Hero: Bentley (Sly 2: Band of Thieves, PS2, Sony/Sucker Punch)
Bentley made an appearance in the original Sly, but here he became a playable ally. He is such a great spin on the nerdy type of character. He overdoes his plans, overexplains his instructions, and gets genuinely flustered when Sly or Murray don’t (or can’t) follow along with his thoughts. His voice acting is ideally matched to his script, and his cloak-dagger approach to spying is a novel shift from Sly’s stealth and Murray’s pugilist styles. All and all, Bentley is just plain awesome, and is the second best reason to get into the Sly series (Sly is the first, obviously…although I do like Murray a lot, too!).
Contender: Lloyd Irving (Tales of Symphonia, GC, Namco)
Best New Heroine: Presea Combatir (Tales of Symphonia, GC, Namco)
This was a tough call for me. I like Sheena and Presea an awful lot, and the primary reason I’m going with Presea is that her motif is more unique. Sheena is a busty ninja summoner who questions herself and her talents throughout the game, coming to grips with her magic and building up some self-esteem along the way. She is a great character that I really like, despite her cleavage being a visual emphasis and her path following a more traditional progression.
Presea, meanwhile, is an amnesiac berserker child who is arguably the strongest fighter in the game. The amnesiac angle can be considered cliche, but I thought Namco presented it in a rather fresh way. Presea was an experiment, and the cruelty she suffered has rendered her untrusting and generally silent. It takes Lloyd and the rest of the gang time to earn her trust, and you discover how horribly fucked up her young life has been along the way. Putting her into your roster grants you a ferocious melee fighter, a position women don’t tend to hold in RPG’s (Ayla from Chrono Trigger is one of the other examples that leap to mind). Her design is pretty cool; seeing a small child clad in armor gauntlets and boots running around the field in a black dress and pink pigtails slicing foes in twine with an enormous ax is pretty damn awesome if you ask me.
In short, Tales delivered two solid heroines into my life, but Presea’s design and story arc were ultimately more memorable than Sheena’s.
Contender: Sheena Fujibayashi (Tales of Symphonia, GC, Namco)
Best New Villain: Dmitri Lousteau (Sly 2: Band of Thieves, PS2, Sony/Sucker Punch)
Dmitri was a fantastic addition to the Sly Cooper universe. His goofy mannerisms, funny quotes (“cracker box!”) and overall slick design blend together to make him really stand out, and his voice actor nailed the personality Sucker Punch was striving for. He’s a hoot to interact with, that he is. He’s not that great of a villain, to be honest (he gets taken down very early in Sly 2, and then switches sides for Sly 3), but he exceeds as a wonderful character regardless of his finicky villainy.
Contender: Dark Samus (Metroid Prime 2 Echoes, GC, Nintendo/Retro Studios)
Best New Enemy: Waterwraith (Pikmin 2, GC, Nintendo)
Man, this turned out to be a creepy addition to the Pikmin universe. Its design reminds me of those chunky yet smooth human-esque fertility figures you see in import stores, but has a twisted edge to it. It served as the final boss in the first part of Pikmin 2, proving to be impervious to any of your attacks. It crushed your Pikmin with its massive stone rollers if you got in its way. It made bizarre noises, randomly plopped itself in the stage prior to its final showdown, and had its own theme, a rarity in Pikmin. Clearly it was meant to be ominous! Once you reach the final floor, you get access to Purple Pikmin, who can convert its body from water into a solid, letting your other Pikmin finally attack it. Once weakened, the rollers shatter and the Waterwraith freaks the hell out, running away from you in a truly strange and surreal manner. All and all, a weird, freaky and excellent foe.
Contender: The Controls (Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas :p)
Worst New Character: Shahdee (Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, GC, UBI Soft)
I don’t like female characters who rely on sex appeal as their sole reason of existence. Shahdee is a prime example of this sexist focus of design. The very first thing you see is her very carefully rendered CG ass, barely covered with any sort of clothing save a metal thong and two small metal rings on the upper parts of her bum, surrounding her hips. Her front isn’t any better, with her breasts dangling out of her skimpy metal armor and her torso completely exposed, leaving a sliver of silver covering her crotch. This is impractical character clothing design at its worst, plucked from the most generic of fantasy-fueled cliches. To make things even more sad, her personality is fairly nondescript. She relies on some minor villain-style tropes to serve her purpose as a foil for the Prince, and then she’s suddenly dead and gone. A complete waste, that she was, and a primary reason Warrior Within failed to recapture the magic from Sands of Time. Character designers: do NOT duplicate this design!
Contender: Ridley Robot (Metroid: Zero Mission, GBA, Nintendo)
Best Box Art: Pikmin 2 (GC, Nintendo)
Borrowed from an Artistic Discussion:
Nintendo’s excellent use of clay models made Pikmin 2′s cover stand out. This is an eye-catching action scene, with everything you need to know about Pikmin 2. New Pikmin? Louie? New monsters? 2 players? All covered in one fell swoop. The use of the lilypad as a raft is clever, too, showing how small our plucky heroes and their adversaries are. All of Pikmin 2′s ad work was fantastic, and this is a shining example of it.
Contender: Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures (GC, Nintendo)
Worst Box Art: Grand Theft Auto (GBA, Rockstar)
…(where to start?)
I know Grant Theft Auto is a big name, one of the largest brands in gaming these days. That does not excuse this pointless box design. The logo alone can not scream box art excellence. The gray background does not showcase what this GTA is about. It almost seems like Rockstar didn’t even hire a graphic designer for this one, and used the Gamestop “coming soon! No art yet!” promotional concept to its advantage. Boring as hell.
Contender: In the Groove (PS2, RedOctane/ROXOR)
Best Song: Dmitri’s Nightclub (Peter McConnell, Sly 2: Band of Thieves, PS2, Sony/Sucker Punch)
Borrowed from a Song Highlights:
Dmitri’s theme is so perfect for his character it’s ridiculous. Excellent use of voice samples and a cutting beat make this a go-to happy-inducer for me.
Contender: Like a Glint of Light (Motoi Sakuraba, Shusaku Uchiyama, Tales of Symphonia, GC, Namco)
Best Soundtrack: Tales of Symphonia (Motoi Sakuraba, Shusaku Uchiyama, GC, Namco)
On the whole, Symphonia’s soundtrack is really well done. It has a few duds and some uninspired pieces, but the majority of the music is well composed, with some of it being exceptionally crafted. Unsatisfied Desire is grim, tense and very menacing. Dry Trail is very atmospheric and matches the mountain cliffs it’s backing. Like a Glint of Light is high-energy battle music at its finest. The title theme is gentle, building into a fine salvo of epic sound. And there’s much more quality than those tracks to be found here. It’s a soundtrack I’m glad to have a physical copy of.
Contender: Sid Meier’s Pirates! (Mark Cromer, Michael Curran, PC, Infogrames/Firaxis Games)
Worst Song: Title Theme (Lawrence Schwedler, Mario Vs. Donkey Kong, GBA, Nintendo/Nintendo Software Technology)
An atrocious medley of classic Nintendo themes mashed together with poor instrumentation and a off-key melody. Mario Vs. Donkey Kong is fortunate to be skating off with only one bad award, considering how poor I felt it was, but it definitely earned this one. Ouch.
Contender: I Stand Alone (Godsmack, Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, GC, UBI Soft)
Best Voice Acting: Kevin Miller as Sly Cooper (Sly 2: A Band of Thieves, PS2, Sony/Sucker Punch)
Man, Kevin Miller does such a good job voicing Sly. His performance is perfect. He gets every emotion down pat, makes each line believable, springs off of his fellow actor’s lines like a champ, and creates a very real, wonderful character that I love playing as. Kudos!
Contender: Andrew Lawson as John Vattic (Second Sight, GC, Codemasters/Free Radical)
Worst Voice Acting: Robin Atkin Downes as The Prince (Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, GC, UBI Soft)
Sands of Time had a fantastic performance from Yuri Lowenthal as the Prince, but Warrior Within shed his involvement for its sinister-styled sequel, and cast Downes to replace him. Downes is competent from what I watched in this trailer, but he lacks Lowenthal’s depth. Every line pouring from this darker Prince’s mouth is wooden, lacking the emotion Lowenthal was able to put into the earlier, livelier Prince. The writing is worse, too, which doesn’t help. Sorry, Downes. I’ve heard you elsewhere, and you’ve done good work, but you followed up a majestic performance here with a lackluster one, and I can’t overlook that.
Contender: Whoever played Nigel Beaverhausen in Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 (GC, Activision/Neversoft)