Most people who are into video games love debating about which console was the best and what was the best of it’s specific generation. And while most video game generations have defined winners, one of them stands as an outlier for which console would be considered the best. And, as you probably guessed from the title, that is the sixth generation of video game consoles. The time that included the Playstation 2, Xbox and Gamecube (and the Dreamcast, but it flopped so hard that SEGA stopped making consoles all together in 2001). But what makes those three consoles so wonderful and what made this generation so special?
A few factors are usually used to determine which console is considered the best of it’s generation. This can include things such as sales figures, exclusive titles and 3rd party support. But now with time as a factor, nostalgia and how much people go back to play those consoles is also something that needs to be considered. And what makes this generation so special is that outside of sales figures, they all have excellent stats in the other categories.
We’ll get this out of the way, the Playstation 2 is the best selling video game console of the sixth generation by an outstandingly large margin. While the Gamecube sold almost 22 million units and Xbox sold 24 million units, the PS2 sold 155 million units. Granted, it was in production for a lot longer than the other two (almost 8 years which is a long time for a console to be in production for), was the only console with backwards compatibility and was also advertised as being a DVD player also when DVD’s started becoming the new movie format which definitely help in it getting a lot of sales. So if we were to just look at sales figures when determining the best consoles, then the PS2 is the clear winner. But that is a stupid margin to go by because with video games, quality is less to do with sales of hardware and more to do with the quality of the games.
To start with the conversation of games, we’ll start with the high selling PS2 and the exclusives on the console. Sony came to play with well loved games like the Jak and Daxter series, the Rachet and Clank series, the Sly Cooper series, Final Fantasy X & X-2, Okami, Guitar Hero, Kingdom Hearts 1 & 2, the Onimusha series, the SOCOM series, Grand Turismo 4, SSX, the Devil May Cry series and (a personal favorite) the WWE Smackdown series of games with Shut Your Mouth being the best and nothing you can say will change my mind on that. And while they were later ported to the Xbox, the PS2 was the home to Grand Theft Auto III, Vice City and San Andreas for a while. Three games which not only shook up the GTA franchise, but completely changed what an open world game should be that every game of that style is still using to this day with minor to no tweaks to the formula. And those aren’t even all of the exclusives, just the more well known ones. I know I’m missing a few games from the exclusives list. But most of them are RPG’s and because I’m not super into them I haven’t played them and can’t comment on how good they are. But even without those, the PS2 is stacked with great exclusives.
The Xbox, Microsoft’s first foray into the console market needed a big exclusive that could also act as the face of the Xbox. A mascot for Microsoft who showed that the Xbox was the console for big boys. That character was not Azurik from Azurik: Rise of Perathia which launched near the start of the console like some people never hoped for. Instead it was Master Chief from Halo which sold (checking my notes here….) 6.43 million copies, which means if you asked 4 Xbox owners, at least one of them had Halo. That was one thing most everyone will agree on is that Xbox really struggled with finding a dedicated mascot franchise that didn’t involve mass alien genocide. Games like Blink the Time Sweeper, Voodoo Vince, Sneakers among others came out in clear attempts to be family friendly mascot games. And while the games ranged from okay to awful, when Xbox put out a more mature game, the results were always better. Games like Crimson Skies, MechAssault, Blood Wake and Oddworld: Munches Odyssey on top of the previously mentioned Halo and its sequel were all good games and great exclusives. Xbox also gave us Steel Battalion, the game that almost cost as much as the actual system because it came bundled with a special controller required to play the game with that had 43 different buttons and pedals to give you the feeling of actually operating a mech. Xbox also was the home to PC games on home consoles as well with Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind being great examples (I know I said I’m not big on RPG’s, but these are massive exceptions because of how fun and engaging they are). But, Xbox has my actual favorite game of the sixth video game generation, Jet Set Radio Future. If you’ve never played it, its an inline skating game where you spray graffiti around a futuristic version of Tokyo. The game uses cel shading and has one of, if not the best video game soundtracks ever. Check it and the other exclusives out.
The Nintendo Gamecube had the advantage of being a Nintendo console, so by default the exclusives are going to be great. It had Super Mario Sunshine, Super Smash Bros Melee, Luigi’s Mansion, Animal Crossing, Pikmin, The Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker, Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, Kirby Air Ride, Mario Kart Double Dash, Metroid Prime and Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door. And those were just the Nintendo published games. There was also Eternal Darkness, the Star Wars: Rogue Squadron series and the initial home to the Resident Evil Remake, Resident Evil 0 and Resident Evil 4 before they all went to every console ever. But it also had Universal Studios Theme Parks Adventure and Pokemon Channel, so not all the games were great. Of all the sixth generation consoles, the Gamecube did have the least amount of exclusives in it’s library. However the ones that it did have were of such high quality that it makes up for a lack of the amount of them.
This console generation is the only one I can think of that had even third party support across all of the major consoles. Most every big game made its way to the three consoles. Game series like Burnout, Medal of Honor, all the big sports games (Madden, NHL, NBA LIve), Mortal Kombat, SSX, Need for Speed, the Lego Series and many more. But the 3rd party games that most people remember from this generation are the licensed ones. Usually licensed video games have a reputation for being less than stellar and thrown together quickly. And not to say that there weren’t those on the consoles, but this generation had some truly great ones. On top of the previously mentioned Lego series of games, there was also The Simpsons: Road Rage and Hit and Run, Spongebob Battle for Bikini Bottom (which is getting the remake treatment this year), the Tony Hawk Series, The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers and Return of the King, Spider-Man 2, The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, Star Wars: Battlefront II (the good one), Marvel vs Capcom II and The Warriors. These consoles have so many great games to play.
But the big thing is how much do people play and collect these games now? I would say yes. Several of these games are starting to creep up in price on third party resell sites. I’m in the middle of a PS2 kick now and trying to find an Xbox or Xbox 360 for not a lot so I can play my copy of Jet Set Radio Future on because my brother has the family Xbox and the game is so good. But not only that, but several game trends hit their strides here and trends were also born on the sixth generation. I’ve previously mentioned that GTA 3 changed open world gaming design for years to come, but online play and downloadable content also started on the Xbox. I remember Halo 2 being the first big game where online console play was a massive selling point for it. 3D platformers and arcade style sports and racing games were at their peak in this generation as well. It seemed like more risks and chances were taken with games in this generation. I don’t think games like Katamari Damacy, Mister Mosquito, Billy Hatcher, and Voodoo Vince would be made today because they’re really freaking weird and there seems to be an emphasis on more realistic weirdness if there is any in games (though some big budget games lately are breaking that mold).
For personal reasons, I would say the PS2 is the better console. But you could honestly make an argument that any of the sixth generation consoles were the best and be right. Each of the big three brought great hardware for the time with games that fully utilized it and was easy enough for 3rd party developers to create some amazing games and bring them to all three consoles when available. It was a perfect storm of factors that made for an exciting and great time to be into video games. So if you can find any of these consoles for not that much and a stack of games for a good price, I’d say get it and have a great few afternoons. And if you’re like me and had one in a box, bust it out and take a trip down memory lane mowing down hoards of enemies in ancient China fighting for the Wei, Shu or Wu dynasties. Or am I the only one who owned a PS2 to do that?