In a response to many requests, I’m starting a new series covering the best modern 2D games for newer consoles. What’s especially interesting about modern 2D games is that not all of them use old-school sprites or hand-drawn art. Some of them actually use 3D graphics for all of the visuals, but keep the gameplay in a 2D perspective. Because there are a number of excellent 2D games for this system, I’m making a cut-off point of 1998 as the earliest year of original release for a game to included in this list of “modern” 2D games. I have a separate listing of all the Gamecube Retro Compilations if you are interested in older games.
Instead of stressing myself out trying to writeup a summary of each of these games, I’m citing some quotes from my favorite reviews of each of the featured games. I invite you to click on the review link to read the full reviews for the games that grab your attention. Enjoy!
Adventure / RPG
Paper Mario: Thousand Year Door
” Once people got the original Paper Mario in their hands, it was hard not to fall in love with its vibrant color scheme, slick artwork, and undeniable charm. The Thousand Year Door continues that tradition from every angle.The game’s great use of color and animation make it a prime candidate for showing off your Cube in 480p. The art style is classic Nintendo chic, from the environments to the characters’ design, and is so consistent that you could pretty much imagine what to expect from the entire game after looking at a few screens. What’s been improved upon even more since the original is the convincing charm lain out by the first game. Mario’s animations are very detailed and expressive, specifically when he’s pulling off his special moves (like squeezing through cracks or turning into a paper airplane). In general, this new Paper Mario title does a much better job than the first did of consistently taking advantage of the fact that the entire universe is supposed to be made of paper…
Paper Mario is, in nearly every sense, a streamlined role-playing experience. The game casts you in the role of Mario and it tells a very light-hearted, but steadily unraveling story. But the mechanics are as simple as they possibly could be while still maintaining the spirit of a turn-based RPG. The game only asks you to keep a few stats in your head at a time—namely Mario’s hit points, flower points, and badge points, which are used for health, special moves, and equipping badges (which are used to modify Mario’s abilities), respectively. However, just as much as it steers clear of a lot of the nitty gritty found in hardcore RPGs, it also adds refreshing elements that make it much more accessible to the average gamer who might not have the patience or dedication to steamroll through a traditional role-playing title.”
Nintendojo’s Review of Paper Mario: Thousand Year Door
Find Paper Mario: Thousand Year Door : (eBay / Amazon)
Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures
“It took two great companies to come together to make The Four Swords. Capcom and Nintendo teamed up to make a multiplayer Zelda game. Originally this was a bonus Game Boy Advance game that was included in the Link to the Past cartridge. However, many people didn’t take advantage of the Four Swords. Two years later The Legend of Zelda: The Four Swords Plus gets a number of additions and becomes a full fledged Gamecube title. Not just a standard Gamecube title, but a game that exemplifies what exactly Game Boy Advance connectivity can do…
The graphics in The Legend of Zelda: The Four Swords owe a lot to A Link to the Past. Many of the sprites were taken directly from a Link to the Past. While the sprite based graphics pale into comparison to the high level of animation in the Wind Waker, the graphics have a certain style to them. The retro style of the characters, levels and enemies translates perfectly to the Game Boy Advance. So when you’re entering into the GBA there is no loss in translation. The graphics also allow for many objects to be moving around on screen without slowdown. Four characters throwing boomerangs, thirty enemies running around and force pieces falling from the sky can all happen without a hint of slowdown. There are some Gamecube effects like the crisp explosion graphics, reflective water and shiny sword charges. The only time when the graphics have a problem is when you’re looking at them up close. You can see a pixilated edge, which isn’t as clean as you’d expect from the Gamecube. However, this is minor since you’ll be mainly looking at the characters from a panned out camera…
For the people that doubted GBA connectivity after seeing Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, The Legend of Zelda: The Four Swords Plus is here to prove that GBA connectivity can enhance gameplay. Nintendo has also put in effort so you can enjoy this excellent title without having a Game Boy Advance. This is because Four Swords Plus is a great game without the use of connectivity. The level design is excellent and the puzzle solving feels fresh since you have four players. Playing through Hyrule Adventure, is like playing through any other Zelda game with slightly more puzzle solving. If you do have a GBA you’re in for more of a treat. Because The Legend of Zelda: The Four Swords plus doubles as a party game due to the battle mode, Tingle’s mini games and the Tetra’s tracker mode.”
Siliconera’s Review of Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures
Find The Legend of Zelda: The Four Swords: (eBay / Amazon)
Run N Gun
“ The setup is a simple one and matches the side-scrolling plots of yesteryear, including more up-to-date sidescrollers like Viewtiful Joe 2 or the Metal Slug series. Alien Hominid easily matches the frenetic twitch play of the best side-scrolling shoot ‘em ups. Although Alien Hominid occasionally has use of an energy shield, it’s the traditional “one hit and you’re dead” mechanism that makes for much challenge and allows you to hone your swearing. Once you understand fully the abilities of Alien Hominid (e.g. burrowing underground for short periods, riding the shoulders of FBI agents then biting their heads off, jacking vehicles, the advantages of two-player, etc.) the action becomes more varied but it’s still high-intensity twitch gameplay (with controls that allow you to keep up).
Besides the non-stop action, the aspect that will suck you in is Alien Hominid’s style which seems to combine elements from The Simpsons (bold, solid colors), the old Calvin & Hobbes comic strip (whacked character designs) and a third element that feels familiar but that I haven’t been able to identify. (Though Alien Hominid lifts aspects of the Metal Slug series, including the slashing sound effect, that’s not the third element.) It’s great fun to just watch someone else play. The environments are varied and mid-level and end-stage bosses are huge. Incoming bullets can be completely obscured with the amount of carnage on-screen, but once you get in “the zone” avoiding enemy fire and anticipating enemy movements becomes easier.
Considering Alien Hominid’s humble beginnings as a web-based flash game, the game we get here is as good or better than most side-scrolling shoot ‘em ups in recent memory. It shamelessly lifts elements from other titles in the genre but that doesn’t make it any less original (yeah, that makes sense) or less fun.
The Armchair Empire’s Review of Alien Hominid
Find Alien Hominid: (eBay / Amazon)
Mega Man X Collection
“Although I love all Mega Man action games, Capcom’s compilation of the main series annoyed me with its goofy controls and technical problems. With the spin-off Mega Man X (MMX) series now anthologized, Capcom has returned with a much better effort. Every game in Mega Man X Collection has customizable controls, and the ports are virtually flawless. In fact, the PlayStation games (MMX 4-6) have much shorter load times on GameCube, so you could say that they’ve actually been upgraded.
All of these games are best played with the D-pad, so if you are serious about Mega Man, I highly recommend Hori’s Digital Controller for GameCube. (As of this writing, it’s out of stock at our import partner, Lik-Sang, so check around at other import stores.) In addition to its big D-pad, the Hori controller has a more convenient Z-button for activating Giga Attacks.
So, given that the ports are well done, how good are the games themselves? In general, the SNES games (MMX 1-3) are tighter and more fun than the PSone games (MMX 4-6). The best (and rarest) game of the lot is MMX 3, an epic technical masterpiece that is arguably one of the best SNES titles of all time. An original copy of MMX 3 usually sells for what this entire compilation costs. It should be a huge draw for any fan of the series. It has excellent graphics and special effects, killer music, clever level designs, the most upgrades to find, and for the first time, you can play as Zero, Mega Man X’s mysterious friend. ”
NintendoWorldReport’s Review of Mega Man X Collection
Find Megaman X Collection: (eBay / Amazon)
” To really appreciate Ikaruga, one must understand how the game works. There are no pick-ups, no power-ups, and not a single fairy in the whole game. Instead Ikaruga uses a single fire button and a Homing Laser button. There are two types of enemies and enemy fire: dark and light — no more, no less. A third button switches the ship from dark to light. When the ship is “dark,” it can absorb dark projectiles but is susceptible to light projectiles, and vise versa. This is the gameplay mechanic that’s borrowed from Silhouette Mirage…
To really make it through the game requires a different way of thinking. It’s almost like mentally “blocking out” projectiles that correspond with the ship and avoiding the opposite color. The idea of switching is easy, but doing it on the fly is another matter and requires practice. There’s a certain satisfaction in being able to simultaneously fire and switch back and forth while avoiding enemy ships and structures…
A bit confusing at times, Ikaruga isn’t the traditional shooter. It’s not the type of game that can be played without devoting 100-percent of one’s mental strength to deal with the trials within. Similar to rhythm-action games, it’s definitely not the type of game that is played during a conversation.
Functionally gorgeous — that’s one way to put the visuals in Ikaruga. Treasure faced an interesting predicament when it designed a shooter based on colors. Mass confusion and frustration would set in if the background, enemies, and particle systems were anything but two specific colors. So we won’t see any uber-bright colors or backgrounds in this shooter. What we will see are a lot of hi-tech and industrial looking structures and backgrounds. In its defense, Ikaruga does feature some stage themes to break up the absence of any real color.”
IGN’s Review of Ikaruga
Find Ikaruga: (eBay / Amazon)
Shikigami No Shiro II (Japan Only)
“So what makes Castle Shikigami 2 so good? In most respects, it’s just a run of the mill shooter. But what it does, it does well. Enemies large and small fly on screen and your job is to dodge their bullets and blow them up. There are seven different characters to pick from. Each has a unique standard shot as well as two optional charge shots (you can select one). Tapping the fire button unleashes the standard shot attack, while holding the button activates the charge shot, which the game refers to as a “Shikigami.” Shikigami attacks can often home in on and lock onto enemies, but the downside is that they very often leave you unprotected from excess enemies, as well as the soft bullets that your normal weapon can simply neutralize. Like any good shmup, you can also unleash a “bomb” by pressing the X button.
And so it goes, for ten levels or until you expend 3 lives and 3 continues. In each level, you’ll fly up the screen dodging bullets and shooting minor enemies until you reach a mid-boss. Then you’ll do it again to reach the level-boss. Bosses tend to have multiple forms and transformations, which is always a bonus. They’re also psychotically well armed. In the vast pantheon of shooters, this one falls into the “bullet hell” category… which means that the screen is constantly packed with bullets and lasers…
The ride is certainly pleasing to the senses. At first glance, Castle Shikigami 2 looks like any other old school vertical scrolling shmup–with ship sprites and bullets overlaid over scrolling backdrops. Look closer though and you’ll see that those cities and forests aren’t hand drawn, but are instead photorealistic concoctions made from polygons and high-resolution image elements. You’ll also notice a free flowing river in one level, and moving car traffic on a freeway in another. Meanwhile, the ship sprites and bullets are made out of 2D and 3D elements, but the kicker there is that they’re also highly animated. Your own character’s arms and legs will kick out and sway as you shoot and fly around, and enemies will twirl around and show off their little flaps and engines as they try and catch up with you. There’s some slow down here and there, but that’s understandable given how many bullets are often on screen. Not bad for a 3D shooter designed for old Naomi/Dreamcast hardware.”
PSXextreme’s Review of Shikigami No Shiro II (PS2)
Find Shikigami No Shiro II: (eBay)
“Like many modern shmups, Chaos Field rewards those who examine and explore the possibilities of the game system, rather than simply blasting away. As you explore, you will find that Milestone have produced a very intricate game of dualities. Departing from what you might expect, each Phase in the game comprises only timed boss attacks, with no lead-up. The fundamental task is to maintain a combo meter, which acts as a score multiplier, for an unrelenting series of these boss encounters…
Visually, Chaos Field manages to impress, despite some seriously ropey textures, mainly by creating its own style. There is something slightly askew about the oversized craft, enemies, and bullets (and the genuinely inventive, unusual backdrop designs) that appeals. Put it next to a more celebrated shmup, however, and it will seem less polished – it is certainly functional, but possesses a certain charm. Adding to the charm, the music is of a very high standard. Chaos Field features a series of quality high-speed trance tunes, which suit the game perfectly.
While the game throws a brutal amount of harm at you from the very beginning, it avoids frustrating too much by offering so many choices of attack and defence. This naturally leads the player to learn the game system, and settle into their own style of play. Chaos Field also offers a choice of pilot to suit your method; Hal who is balanced, Ifumi who is the most manoeuvrable, and Jinn, the most powerful. There is a very long, rather than steep, learning curve too, as new techniques are explored, learnt, and shared. For example, in some instances it may be worth sacrificing a shield, which gains you half the meta stock gauge, but finding the right use of this technique, by balancing the loss with points, will take time to accomplish.”
NTSC-uk’s Review of Chaos Field
Find Chaos Field: (eBay / Amazon)
Hudson Selection Vol. 2: Star Soldier (eBay)
Radio Allergy (eBay)
See Also: Gamecube Shmup Library
Viewtiful Joe & Viewtiful Joe 2
” Joe starts out with basic moves but later is taught VFX moves by Captain Blue. VFX moves let Joe slow down time, fight at mach speed, or zoom in on himself to distract enemies. The VFX powers hatch a variety of different gameplay styles that are as intuitive as they are fun to use. The slow power lets you beat up bad guys in a slow-mo fashion that’s been seen in every action flick. The punches/kicks echo off the enemies’ body and Joe can spot minor details like parts flying off a pummeled robots’ body. Mach Speed lets Joe punch/kick with blazing speed. Beat up a row of enemies and Joe will catch fire, lighting nearby enemies ablaze as well. The zoom power focuses the camera on Joe to dazzle enemies and leave them in awe of his superhero greatness. In the mode Joe can punch bewildered enemies, perform a circle kick, and drill jump towards the sky or pounce down on enemies.
What makes VJ so great is that each VFX power isn’t just for show but is integral to the gameplay. For enemies that shoot bullets, Joe can slow down time to see the bullet and punch it back towards an enemy. Mach speed can speed up a fan-based propeller so Joe can reach a higher platform. And moves specific to the zoom function need to be performed to get Joe passed certain obstacles…
Classic 2D gameplay is the core of VJ’s mechanics. Every movement is snappy, instant, and combos are remarkably fluid with each punch/kick connecting with ease. Viewtiful Joe’s visuals are an amazing concoction of cel-shading and trademark artwork reminiscent of American and Japanese comic books. The bold outlines represent more American style art, while Viewtiful Joe’s muscular yet highly acrobatic movement is all Japanese. The blend is impeccably unique and fun to watch. The voice acting is top-notch as is every smack, shot, and stun sound effect.
VJ is quite a challenge. Each level consists of many areas and a few bosses. But as with all great games with each play you learn something new that will let you proceed a little further or make it right to the next level.
Viewtiful Joe is a stunning example of how creativity can blend seamlessly with gameplay without sacrificing one or the other. The top-notch gameplay coupled with out of this world superhero stunts is the freshest take on a classic side-scrolling action seen in years. ”
Gaming Age’s Review of Viewtiful Joe
Find Viewtiful Joe Series: (eBay / Amazon)
Capcom vs. SNK 2 EO
“Capcom vs. SNK 2: EO is an excellent 2D fighting game. It boasts a truly massive roster of all the favorite Capcom and SNK licensed characters (over 44 in total) and each and every one of them has been lovingly re-created to match the earlier PlayStation 2 and Dreamcast versions of the game. The sheer depth of the fighting system along with its myriad of different fighting modes (known as Grooves) produces near infinite replayability and longevity.
Capcom vs. SNK 2: EO features a ton of different gameplay modes, colorful sprite-based fighters, cool 3D locales, and pumping techno-fuelled tunes — just like an excellent arcade beat-em-up should. You can opt to hone your fighting prowess in the training mode and you can even edit the colors of your fighters in the … wait for it … color edit mode. Vs. mode and survival mode are staples, as is the arcade mode (probably where most of the action will take place.) Before you get to dive into the action however, you are required to select one of two control schemes (known as ISMs).
The first is GC-ISM which is an attempt to simplify the art of performing special moves by mapping them to the GameCube’s C-Stick. This was expressly implemented with the intent of letting novice players bust out hard-to-pull-off moves with little or no effort. Auto-blocking also features in this “GameCube exclusive” mode. The second is AC-ISM, which represents the usual arcade control configuration for a fighting game of this nature — e.g. a six-button layout. For most seasoned players, the AC-ISM will be the mode of choice, but ultimately, given the GameCube controllers stiff little D-Pad and extremely awkward six-button configuration, playing Capcom vs. SNK 2: EO quickly becomes nothing more than an exercise in frustration. This is the point where the huge flaw now becomes apparent.
Sure, you could play the game with the easy controls turned on, but anyone who’s played 2D fighting games will feel as though all of the skill involved has gone. Timing special moves, setting up combos, and indeed, the very core of the gameplay has been irreparably wounded. It simply doesn’t feel right.”
Gamespy’s Review of Capcom vs SNK 2: EO
Find Capcom vs SNK 2 EO: (eBay / Amazon)
Puzzle / Maze
“Pac-Man Vs’s gameplay is very similar to the original game, however, this time one person uses the GBA to control Pac-Man, while the other three people play as the ghosts (using the controllers). Pac-Man tries to get points by eating fruit, pellets, and power pellets(which turn the ghosts blue and Pac-Man can then eat them), while avoiding the three ghosts.
The ghost that captures Pac-Man will get to play as Pac-Man, and the two people will have to switch the GBA and controller around. Now the new person will try to get as many points as possible before getting caught and give up the GBA. This whole thing works quite well, and it’s pretty easy to understand once you start playing it.
The players in the role of ghosts must coordinate their efforts to track down Pac-Man. The only helpful hint is the color trail that briefly appears in Pac-Man’s wake. Cooperation among the ghosts is crucial and can create a great sense of cooperation and teamwork as one ghost player may figure out where Pac-Man is and yell over to the other ghosts to urge them to team up on him.
The twist is that as soon as Pac-Man is captured, the team of ghosts changes and then two of the ghosts are trying to hunt down a player that they were just cooperating with a minute ago. This goes on until the end of the game, so it is a great rollercoaster of gameplay emotions. Usually there is one player that is a little more skilled than the others. So there can be quite a bond between the lesser players to take the dominant player down. Such love fills the room at this point.”
Racketboy’s Review of Pac-Man Vs.
Find Pac-Man VS: (eBay / Amazon)
Puyo Pop Fever
“Puyo Pop Fever is simply a very solid entry into Sega’s puzzler series to date. It is also in many ways the evolution of the franchise. The object of the game remains as simple as ever, which means that anyone – young or old – can pick up and play it. Like Tetris, players manipulate puzzle pieces, called Puyos, to form columns or rows of the same color. Match four or more of the same color and the entire connected row will disappear and any Puyos on top will fall down like a crumbling building. This is where most of the strategy, not to mention challenge and satisfaction, come in. It’s easy to match four blocks to eliminate rows, but it’s much more difficult to string together a domino effect-like chain where several additional rows are eliminated as blocks topple.
When rows are eliminated, nuisance Puyos are transferred over to the play screen of the challenger – human or artificial intelligence depending on your preference. This mechanic keeps the battles intense and also raises the level of enjoyment for each player. After all, it’s fun to win, but it’s just as fun to cause your opponent to lose.
In previous Puyo games, each Puyo piece consisted of only two blocks, but in Fever the Puyos come pre-assembled in as many as four pieces, many of them a jigsaw of different colors. This seemingly unimportant change adds a welcomed layer of depth when matching columns, for it makes possible new means of performing chains and combos. The game can be played in this simple fashion and novices will be none the wiser. But pros can try for Fever Mode by stringing together as many chains as possible. Fever Mode is all-new to this year’s game and it’s intense. Here, rows of Puyos are assembled and waiting for the final couple of puzzle pieces to set off a massive chain reaction. It’s up to you to solve the puzzle. If you can fill in the gaps correctly in the time limit allowed, you can inflict massive amounts of nuisance Puyos onto your opponent’s screen and usually the damage is irreversible.
Puyo Pop Fever is best played with a friend in two-player mode. In fact, it would have been even better with a four-player mode, which it sorely lacks. But the single-player experience is no slouch either. You can try your hand at the classic Puyo Pop or Fever (both with various degrees of difficulty), and you can practice forever in Endless Puyo Pop. The challenge gets more difficult as you progress. ”
IGN’s Review of Puyo Pop Fever
Find Puyo Pop Fever: (eBay / Amazon)
“If you’ve played any previous Bust-A-Move games, you’ve played Bust-A-Move 3000. You’re presented with a rectangular playing field that is filled with different-colored bubbles. You launch randomly colored balls from the bottom of the field in an attempt to attach them to bubbles of the same color. Once three bubbles of the same color are touching, they pop, and you repeat this process until the field is clear of all bubbles. While Bust-A-Move 3 and 4 both brought a few new gimmicks to this formula, such as conveyor-belt walls and special bubbles, Bust-A-Move 3000 is simply more of the same. The controls remain the same, and the shoddy implementation of analog control will likely have you using the D pad to aim, since you get more precision with digital control. While previous versions of Bust-A-Move featured an overload of gameplay modes to keep puzzle junkies happy, this game is incredibly stripped down. Since it has just three modes of play–single-player, against the computer, and two-player versus–Bust-A-Move 3000 doesn’t even come close to the standard set by previous Bust-A-Move games.
To its credit, the Bust-A-Move trademark graphical stylings are in full effect, with no shortage of bright, happy characters drawn in an anime-inspired fashion. It looks about as good as a Bust-A-Move game ever has, with sharp 2D graphics and a healthy amount of visual splendor. This clean, 2D presentation is probably why Ubi Soft opted to turn Super Bust-A-Move into Bust-A-Move 3000, instead of porting the more-recent Super Bust-A-Move 2, which featured some ugly 3D character models, as well as a preternaturally stupid story mode. The soundtrack and sound effects are almost identical to those found in the original NeoGeo version and every version thereafter. GameCube puzzle freaks who have had their fill of the Monkey Ball games will probably be pleased that a Bust-A-Move game has finally arrived on the GameCube, even though it’s a straight port of a two-and-a-half-year-old PlayStation 2 game. Ultimately, the biggest strength of Bust-A-Move 3000 is not its own inherent quality, but rather the distinct dearth of quality puzzle games on the GameCube. ”
Gamespot’s Review of Bust-A-Move 3000
Find Bust-A-Move 3000: (eBay / Amazon)
Nintendo Puzzle Collection (eBay)
The Gameboy Advance Player
If you really enjoy your Gamecube and 2D games, you may want to look into picking up a Gameboy Player. For around $40, this little device plugs snuggly into the bottom of your Cube and adds a lot of gaming functionality for Old-School fans.
There are tons of great games that will fill in the 2D gaps of the standard Gamecube lineup. If you want puzzle games, the Dr. Mario/Puzzle League combo cart is an excellent choice, and action platformer fans will find lots of great choices like Metroid Fusion, Castlevania, Astro Boy, Omega Factor, or the new Legend of Spyro: Eternal Night. If you need some recommendations on how to build your GBA library up, take a look at The Cheapest GBA Games Worth Your Time and The Best Undiscovered GBA Games. I’m also planning on publishing a new GBA feature next week that you should enjoy…
In addition to being able to play your standard GBA games, the Gameboy Advance Player may also come in handy if you are interested in doing retro party games for either Pac-Man Vs. or even Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventure (if you have a lot of hardware). As shown in this Pac-Man Vs. demonstration, instead of having to use an actual Gameboy Advance for the external screen and controller, you have another TV and Gamecube with a GBA Player hooked up to the primary Gamecube. Obviously, this isn’t practical for most people, but the option is there if you want it 🙂
Find Game Boy Player: (eBay / Amazon)