The Best Modern 2D Games on the PS2

Best 2D Games on PS2

In a response to many requests, I’m starting a new series covering the best modern 2D games for newer consoles. Since it is the most common and well-rounded of the modern consoles, I’m starting with the Playstation 2. I also find it an ironic place to start as Sony was has always been protective about having 2D games being on the PS2.

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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.  The PS2, in particular has a nice balance of 2D games in both artistic style and gameplay.  I think any old-school fan will find a number of games on this list that they will enjoy.

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. This allows games like Street Fighter 3 from the Street Fighter Anniversary Collection to be included, while keeping this list from being filled with countless compilations and ports.

I am also mainly focusing on games that had a US release (which usually means a PAL release as well), so they will be the ones that are easiest to find and play. The best imports for each genre will be listed at the end of each section.  I will eventually be making more detailed posts for the more popular genres like shmups and fighters that will cover all the games, old and new, from those respective genres, but this will be the best starting point.

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!

Action/Beatemup

Viewtiful Joe & Viewtiful Joe 2
viewtifuljoe-1“At its heart, Viewtiful Joe is a retro-flavored remix of the beat-em-up and platformer, and each genre’s trappings are present and accounted for: imaginative levels to traverse, waves of mean mutants and powerful bosses to fight, coins to collect, and hidden power-ups to be discovered. However, Capcom has taken these tried and true formulas and catapulted them head first into the 21 Century by infusing its creation with spell-bindingly gorgeous art direction, relentlessly manic energy, and unique gameplay mechanics, effectively redefining the 2D side-scroller and sculpting it into a lean, mean, beautiful machine.

What distinguishes Viewtiful Joe’s gameplay from that of just about any game before it are the super powers you acquire when entering the movie world?abilities that let you slow down and accelerate time… The developers have also brilliantly applied these time-warping effects to the surroundings so that slowing down or accelerating time affects the physics of the environment; this feature becomes instrumental when solving puzzles. Bending time enables you to access previously unreachable platforms by slowing down the propellers that keep them aloft; it also allows drops of water to accumulate enough mass to extinguish flames and ignites bombs by speeding up the air around you until it literally combusts. The challenges are presented in such a way that you’ll have to continually invent new ways to use your powers to progress.”
GamePro’s Review of Viewtiful Joe
Find Viewtiful Joe Series: (eBay / Amazon)

redstar-2 The Red Star
“This is sheer simplistic chutzpah; brassy and single-minded. If we sheepishly look at the back of the box once more, we can see that we’re also quoted as saying The Red Star is “a cross between Streets of Rage and Ikaruga”. Well, thanks. That description certainly makes my job easier, but let me elaborate in a bit more detail.It’s Streets of Rage in the way that this is a scrolling beat ‘em up arcade game (but one that’s just as dependent on guns). Think also Final, Fight or Golden Axe or Die Hard Arcade or countless others of a genre that once used to walk proudly at the top of our affections. The camera will automatically move between top-down and side-on angles depending on the circumstances as you move along a restricted, linear path. As you progress you’re tasked with defeating each sector’s enemies before the game removes the invisible barrier it placed and pushing you on to the next part to repeat. Each class of bad guy has his own particular weakness to melee combat or gunplay. Some have shields impervious to bullets, for instance, requiring you to hack and shoot as you must, what strategy there is obviously there simply to thin the crowds in the most efficient way possible. The controls are competent, and the weaponry suitably effective. Meanwhile, the visuals have a bold, chunky feel to them, giving the fighting some weight. And, while its combo system is pretty sparse, and the melee manoeuvres and gunplay never intertwine in the seamless way that Devil May Cry manages, it’s a lot of fun.

And Ikaruga? That would be the bullet hell sections. Literally every five minutes there’s a boss encounter – usually in the form of a gun emplacement or huge tank – and each is inclined to spit out an insane amounts of deadly glowing bolts as you bob and weave and shoot and shoot. It’s a ground-based shmup to all intents and purposes. But instead of the frustrating impossibility of your regular Smash TV assault, it’s the patterned chaos of your modern Japanese ship shooter, where considered reflexes can find a path of calm between projectiles no matter how many fill up the screen. Each encounter splits up the fighting perfectly, always a challenge but never long enough to be a chore. Separately, the fighting and the shooting are pretty plain, but together they capably complement any lulls in either. I guess we can grudgingly concede that “ingenious” part of the quote here.”
Eurogamer’s Review of The Red Star
Find The Red Star: (eBay / Amazon)

Odin Sphere
odinsphere-1“Odin Sphere is a striking game. One look at the ethereal fantasy world and its cast of astoundingly detailed characters and you’ll want to see more. In fact, the game looks so good that it might take you a while to realize that beneath all that hand-painted artwork is a very basic beat-’em-up. It’s a good beat-’em-up, though, and not just because it looks fantastic. Despite serious performance issues, Odin Sphere successfully brings together gorgeous, stylized visuals and satisfying gameplay in a lengthy and engaging adventure.

The gameplay in Odin Sphere is simplistic, but it’s challenging enough that the game doesn’t seem like a completely mindless brawler. You take control of one of five playable characters and visit the various kingdoms in the world of Erion, typically fighting dozens of enemies and a handful of bosses. Each area is divided into small stages, which are connected in a large web. As a result, there are several paths through each area, so you can go looking for treasure or head straight for the main boss. The stages are flat and are connected at the ends to form a continuous loop. To pass a stage you usually have to kill a set number of enemies or fight a boss. The stages look varied, but the structure and patterns are mostly the same. The design works fairly well, and it’s nice to have the freedom to take several different paths through a level.”
GameSpot’s Review of Odin Sphere
Find Odin Sphere: (eBay / Amazon)

Platformers

Klonoa 2: Lunatea’s Veil
klonoa2-1“The game picks up where the original Klonoa left off, using the same fundamental mechanics and throwing in a couple of new tricks as well. As in Klonoa, you can grab enemies Yoshi-style using your power ring and use the captured enemy to propel yourself higher in the air than a regular jump would propel you, or you can use the enemy as a projectile to throw switches or knock out bad guys or roadblocks. There are a handful of new enemies in Klonoa 2 that grant you special abilities when captured, such as the kiton, which acts as a helicopter of sorts for a short burst, or the boomie, which acts as a timed explosive. Another new element in Klonoa 2 is the inclusion of hoverboard levels, where you maneuver Klonoa down rivers and snow-covered mountains while avoiding obstacles and enemies. These new elements are put to good use, and everything is there for a reason; there’s nothing slapdash about Klonoa 2. The game maintains a nice equilibrium between simple switch-based puzzles, platform jumps, hoverboard levels, and boss fights. Though there are only a few core types of levels in Klonoa 2, they all manage to stay fresh and interesting, thanks to some truly inspired level design and art direction…

Klonoa 2 looks great. A very subtle level of cel shading is put to use on the characters, not for the purpose of making them look out-and-out cartoonlike, as in Jet Grind Radio, but to make them stand out against the expansive, highly detailed 3D backgrounds. The camera generally stays focused on the action, but occasionally you’ll drop off a waterfall or get launched into the air by a cannon, during which time you’ll get a view of the entire level, whose size often put the levels from the Sonic Adventure series to shame. Namco has clearly discovered a lot of what makes the PlayStation 2 tick–excellent particle and lighting effects are evident in almost every level, there is never any slowdown or draw-in, and the infamous PS2 aliasing is kept at bay most of the time. In addition to its great technical qualities, the game has an incredible sense of style. There is a decidedly Japanese feel to the game, in the same way Rayman 2 had a distinctly European feel to it.”
GameSpot’s Review of Klonoa 2: Lunatea’s Veil
Find Klonoa 2: (eBay / Amazon)

Run N Gun

Contra Shattered Soldier
contrashattered-1 “The play mechanics in Contra: Shattered Soldier are 2-D all the way. You can shoot in eight directions, jump, hold your gun at a certain angle while moving or freely move your gun around while standing still. You also have a choice of 3 weapons at all times, with each of them having a power-up shot. This is one of the main differences between this game and the classic games, however it does not take away from the feel of the game at all in my opinion. Also added in the mix is a Hit Rate meter which helps you unlock hidden treats upon completing levels. Certain enemies and boss fights add to the Hit Rate up to 100%. Figuring out what makes up the Hit Rate and living to hit everything will take you a little while to say the least. Why will it take a while? I’m sure you have heard it everywhere and I’ll say it here just to hammer it home. The game is DAMN hard…

The graphics are an awesome surprise in this game. I really didn’t expect them to be as good as they turned out to be. I did not think they would suck, or anything, but I really didn’t expect it to turn out the way it did. What we are treated to are very detailed 3-D polygons of aliens, mechs and vehicles which are either jaw dropping slick looking or just flat out disgusting. Environments are lavishly detailed and even a little interactive for good measure. The sound is also decent, with plenty of explosions and excellent music which really fits the mood of the game.”
Monsters At Play’s Review of Contra Shattered Soldier
Find Contra Shattered Soldier: (eBay / Amazon)

Metal Slug Anthology
metalslug5-1The games still hold up pretty dang well over the last decade, as they display the same kind of breakneck action as titles like Gunstar Heroes, Contra, and Alien Hominid. Players will run though five overall missions – each made up of a few stages within – grabbing uber-powerful firearms, grenades, and jumping into the saddle of extremely odd vehicles (riding a donkey with a machinegun mounted to it comes to mind, as does the uber-powerful battle camel). The goal of course is to defeat the plethora of bad-ass bosses, but along the way players can rescue hostages, take alternate routes (depending on the game), and participate in a ton of mini-challenges. Each of the games is either single player or two-player co-op, and all seven titles are based around the same core mechanic; jump, shoot, grenade.

As a true collection of the Metal Slug series, the PS2 version stands tall above the rest, as it houses the shortest load times, allows for full arcade stick support, and performs at a faster, slicker rate than its PSP and Wii buddies. Menus load quicker, the games run faster (due to a lack of mid-level loading), and the ability to use the control set-up you want is priceless. The games themselves stand up pretty well over the last ten years, though each has more of a low-res look that now accompanies the beautiful 2D animation. There was no clean-up made to the art for the PS2 release, and emulated slowdown occurs where it traditionally did back in late-90’s cabinets, but if you’re looking for one solid collection of each of the seven Metal Slug games you won’t find a better one out there.
IGN’s Review of Metal Slug Anthology
Find Metal Slug Anthology: (eBay / Amazon)

Alien Hominid
alienhominid-1 “Right from the little animation sequence prior to the first level of Alien Hominid, it becomes blindingly obvious that this is going to be a fun little romp. The artwork, as handled by Dan Paladin, is really unique with its cheerful half-scribbled look. The way the characters have a cute, yet silly, yet “uh-oh, this guy looks like trouble” motif, it melds together in a way that makes it hard not to smile while watching what’s happening on screen. What also helps is that despite all of the explosions, the piles of FBI corpses piling up, and nutty laser beam special attacks that may sometimes be simultaneously flashing around the screen, the game never slows down. It just keeps on truckin’, not missing a beat.

This just isn’t just nice to look at, it’s also very fun, if a bit hectic. The action of the game picks up very fast, as the sheer number of enemies attacking increases very quickly. Players will find themselves flailing away on the shoot button to blast down the waves of incoming enemies. However, Alien Hominid doesn’t limit itself to nothing but brain dead blasting, as there are some other clever moves at your little yellow alien’s disposal as well, such as being to dig underground, and yanking enemies down with you as they pass over head, as well as the option to jump on an enemy’s back, then slash off their head. These extra attacks are a welcome addition, as they give the game a little more finesse, avoiding being little more than a mindless shoot ‘em up.”
Armchair Empire’s Review of Alien Hominid
Find Alien Hominid: (eBay / Amazon)

Honorable Mentions:
Neo Contra (eBay / Amazon)
Metal Slug 3 (eBay / Amazon)
Metal Slug 4 & 5 (eBay / Amazon)

Shmups

Gradius V
gradiusv-1“Konami and Treasure have both been doing their part when it comes to preserving 2D gaming… Naturally, these two crazy cats just had to get together and the results are the astounding fifth entry in the Gradius series…

The series stood out because of it’s unique weapon system built around earning “Options.” Some defeated enemies will leave behind orange spheres after they’re blown away. Collecting these spheres will move your weapon gauge one spot to the left. Depending upon which part of the gauge is highlighted, locking in the selected weapon can give you double shots, rear missiles, laser cannons or clone ships known as Options that follow your ship (the famous Vic Viper) and fire weapons identical to yours. Purists will howl that Options have been renamed Multiples for Gradius V.

Treasure couldn’t well enough alone with the name either. They had to change the way Multiples work, so Gradius V features four different special powers for your Multiples. You can manually change the direction they fire in, freeze them in place, space them farther away or closer to your ship or make them spin around your ship. Purists may howl again. Space shooter fans will applaud as this innovation keeps Gradius V exciting…

The graphics are great for a 2D shooter with colorful and lively backgrounds and detailed enemy ships (especially the bosses). The music is very reminiscent of “epic” 16-bit scores like Secret of Mana and Final Fantasy II/III with little hints of Star Wars and 80s pop.”
Gaming Target’s Review of Gradius V
Find Gradius V: (eBay / Amazon)

R-Type Final
rtypefinal-1“As the first (and last) R-Type game on the current generation of systems, Final looks as luscious as you’d expect. The levels feature a truly amazing use of color–one level has you piloting underwater beneath an ice floe and has a wonderfully frigid look, while another sends you into an outer space graveyard filled with starship carcasses and is set against the backdrop of an explosive orange nebula. Your ships’ weapons are similarly dazzling and varied, as are the enemies. Well…perhaps dazzling isn’t the best word to describe the enemies. Most of them are what you’d expect out of a shooter–lots of mechanical menaces, flying robots and ships, and the like. Mostly, you’ll be dodging energy bullets and flying metal appendages, but a few of the enemy designs (especially the bosses) are of a rather, let us say, anatomically inspired nature. The nigh-psychedelic last level even features a bizarre silhouetted animation of a man and a woman “embracing” in the background. Japanese shooters have always been known for a degree of eccentricity, but R-Type Final is a little disturbing in its style. But hey, at least it’s not boring.

Fresh Games, the “indie label” arm of Eidos, is bringing R-Type Final to the US market for a mere 30 bones, which is more than a fair price for the amount of white-knuckle gameplay and visual splendor packed into the game. Though it’s damn near impossible on the higher difficulties, you can go the easy route and have a pretty laid-back shooting experience too, and the huge amount of unlockable content and the interesting bonus features add up to a lot of value for your gaming buck. It’s a shame that Irem has declared the R-Type series finished, but at least R-Type Final is a fitting end.”
GameSpot’s Review of R-Type Final
Find R-Type Final: (eBay / Amazon)

Honorable Mentions:
Shikigami No Shiro II / Castle Shikigami 2 (eBay / Amazon)
Shikigami No Shiro / Mobile Light Force 2 (eBay / Amazon)
Raiden III (eBay / Amazon)
Silpheed: The Lost Planet (eBay / Amazon)

Excellent Imports:
Psyvariar II Ultimate Final (eBay)
Mushihime-sama (eBay)
Ibara (eBay)
Dodonpachi Dai-Oujou (eBay)
XII Stag (eBay)

Fighters

Street Fighter Anniversary Collection
sf3thirdstriker-1Street Fighter Anniversary Collection contains Street Fighter III: Third Strike and Hyper Street Fighter II: The Anniversary Edition, a game that allows you to use characters from all the official SFII titles against one another. While you can’t play, say, SFII: Turbo from beginning to end, you can use a character from that game against one from Super SFII. The look, sound, and feel of whomever you choose will be intact, meaning the earlier version of a fighter will often have fewer moves but may compensate in other ways. For example, the oldest version of Ryu can’t do an Air Hurricane Kick, but he can’t be knocked out of a Dragon Punch the same way his later self can. Original Guile seems especially overpowering at first, even though he’s missing some of his glitchy tricks from the original, but he doesn’t have the super combo his SSFII: Turbo self wields. No more complaining about watered-down favorites – in this collection you can play them all, strong and weak.

Both games are customizable as far as number of rounds per match, difficulty level, and other basics, but as you play Third Strike you will unlock even more options, like toggling throws and air blocks. TS also allows you to choose from among three hyper combos or “Super Arts.” Fighters differ in not only the strength and priority of their moves but in how easy they are to dizzy. Super Arts differ not only in the range they cover and the amount of damage they deal, but in how many can be stored and how fast they can be charged up. When you factor all that in with buffering moves (starting one move as another is being completed), canceling one move into another, passing through projectiles with some Super Arts, the way some Supers stop early if they are blocked, and enhanced “EX” versions of special moves that use up some of the combo meter, you can see that this is a game that demands your full attention. SFII has the basic elements of all this, but Third Strike takes it to the major leagues.”
The Next Level’s Review of Street Fighter Anniversary Collection
Find Street Fighter Anniversary Collection: (eBay / Amazon)

Guilty Gear Series
guiltygearx2-1“Similar to 2001’s Guilty Gear X, this colorful and decidedly Japanese game features a large cast of more than 20 characters, dozens of cool moves and an equal number of weird ones, and traditional mechanics that anyone who’s ever played a fighting game from Capcom or SNK should be able to quickly pick up. Guilty Gear X2 also features several new gameplay modes, improved character balance, and enough depth that fans of previous Guilty Gear games–or fans of 2D fighting games in general–should certainly enjoy it.

Like its predecessor, the game is brought to life with vibrant hand-drawn 2D character sprites and backgrounds, making Guilty Gear X2 look as much like an anime episode as a video game. In fact, the legions of fans of anime series like Dragon Ball Z and Yu-Gi-Oh! really ought to take notice of Guilty Gear X2, which has a similar sort of style and sensibility to it. Meanwhile, the presence of a hard-rocking electronic guitar soundtrack further helps set this game apart, and while the tracks may not sound drastically different from one to the next, it’s great that the designers have given Guilty Gear X2 such a cohesive musical style.”
GameSpot’s Review of Guilty Gear X2
Find Guilty Gear X2: (eBay / Amazon)

King of Fighters XI
kofxi-23-on-3 tag-team brawling is where it’s at, with one of the finest tagging systems yet seen in a fighter. KOF XI comes a-boasting a frankly silly 45+ playable characters. Many of these are unlockable via the Challenge mode, and by beating the game and its horrifyingly cheap mid and final bosses. Three new faces are drafted into the fray (Oswald, Momoko, Elisabeth), whilst some old favourites like Duck King make a welcome return. Save for the omission of series mainstays Chang and Choi, there will be little to upset folks in the selection available here. Better still, PS2 owners have the luxury of some exclusive characters, recognizable bods such as Geese and Robert that appear to have been dragged into the mix in Neo Geo Battle Coliseum form.

Rather than just a plain old swap between characters, XI incorporates a “Quick Shift” and “Save Shift” system, two special forms of tagging that require using segments of your “skill meter”, located above your Super meter…

The King Of Fighters XI is as easy on the eye as any version yet, and benefits from a playability overhaul and the inclusion of a majestic tag battle system. It is as frustratingly difficult to beat as ever, thanks to the joypad-smashingly evil bosses, but remains compulsive and playable. It is, of course, a blast in VS mode. No one is sure where the series is headed next, particularly now that retro compilations of older Neo Geo games and online marketplace versions would seem to be more popular than the newer instalments and indeed the arcade versions themselves. This is a shame, as KOF XI has finally addressed some of the issues that the “fans” have harped on about for years, with Playmore finally delivering the flagship 2D mainstay goods.
NTSC-uk’s Review of Guilty Gear X2
Find King of Fighters XI: (eBay / Amazon)

Marvel vs. Capcom 2
marvelvscapcom2-1 “Marvel vs. Capcom 2 has a whopping 56 characters to play from both universes (half need to be unlocked). Matching up Spider-Man and Jill Valentine from Resident Evil may seem weird, but all the characters play with an equal swiftness to keep matches fast and furious. The vs. series is all about quick super combos and over-the-top specials and Marvel vs. Capcom 2 has plenty of it. Team combos, air combos, crossover attacks, whatever, there’s enough to do in the game to keep you fighting for hours….

The characters are just a tad pixilated and the intricate animations have translated smoothly to the PS2 – not an easy feat. Everything from Anakaris (Darkstalkers mummy) springy jump to Venom’s super slick sludge movements animate with an anime flair that sports style and some good laughs – Jill Valentine sending endless zombie dogs and crows as attacks is hilarious. The 3D backgrounds are full of life and look clean on PS2. 2D purists might baulk at polygon backdrops but it doesn’t detract from all the 2D goodness that’s already packed in the game. The sound is standard and isn’t crystal clear nor distorted. It sort of has the “gets the job done” feel that Capcom vs. SNK 2 had. No load times for character switches keeps action swift. Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is a solid 2D fighter. The PS2 port is an excellent adaptation of a classic fighter.”
Gaming Age’s Review of Marvel vs Capcom 2
Find Marvel vs. Capcom 2: (eBay / Amazon)

Honorable Mentions:
Capcom vs. SNK 2: Mark of the Millennium 2001 (eBay / Amazon)
The King of Fighters 2000/2001 (eBay / Amazon)
The King of Fighters 2002/2003 (eBay / Amazon)
NeoGeo Battle Coliseum (eBay / Amazon)

Excellent Imports:
Garou: Mark of the Wolves (eBay)
Last Blade 1 & 2 (eBay)
Samurai Shodown V (eBay)
Hokuto No Ken (Fist of the North Star) (eBay)
The Rumble Fish (eBay)
Melty Blood: Act Cadenza (eBay)

RPG

Disgaea: Hour of Darkness & Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories
disgaea-1“Disgaea greatly resembles other strategy RPGs. Its isometric perspective, 3D battlefields, and nice-looking 2D characters are clearly reminiscent of most other games of this type, and on first impression, so is the game’s turn-based combat system. However, you’ll soon realize that this game actually plays very differently.
The gameplay itself is, in a word, weird. But here are some more words to better justify that. This is the netherworld, so conventional rules of engagement apparently don’t apply. You can deploy as many as 10 different characters in a single battle, which feels like a lot. Characters can attack with ranged or melee weapons, use special abilities, and cast spells–standard stuff for a strategy RPG. But they can also take part in combo attacks, pick up and throw one another or their enemies, and more. Disgaea uses a pure turn-based system. You always move first, and once everyone in your squad has acted, then your enemies get to go, then back to you, and so on. The turn-based system has some idiosyncrasies that could be considered bugs in a game that weren’t so wacky. For instance, combo attacks may occur when an attacking character has allies adjacent to him or her. So, one strategy is to always have three characters (the maximum) placed adjacent to your attacking character, in order to maximize the chances of a combo. And, once the attack has been executed, you simply “take back” the moves of the adjacent characters, returning them to their original positions–they don’t lose their action for the round by taking part in a combo. Using this trick, you can potentially turn every single attack in a round into a big combo.

That may sound really unbalancing, but the truth is, Disgaea isn’t about fair fights. The game practically defies you to do your worst to upset the odds and turn the tables in your favor. Combat in Disgaea isn’t terribly strategic in the traditional sense. You don’t need to worry about such things as your characters’ initiative relative to their foes, there are only three types of elemental magic and corresponding resistances, and with the right equipment, you don’t need to worry about running out of spell points.”
Gamespot’s Review of Disgaea: Hour of Darkness
Find Disgaea Series: (eBay / Amazon)

Grim Grimoire
grimgrimoire-1“On a gameplay level, Grim Grimoire is an unusual RTS, as the levels are all vertical, and the main focus is on the combat rather than resource management and building. There are four types of magic in the game: Glamour, Necromancy, Sorcery and Alchemy. These magic’s work in a rock-paper-scissor format, meaning one magic is weak to one type, but strong against another, giving the game a more strategic edge. There are three grimoires for each magic type, and as you get them as you progress through the game. Each grimoire can summon a rune which is needed to summon various types of familiars.

Vanillaware really knows how to do 2D graphics. The character portraits are massive and well animated, plus the fact that the portraits showcase breathing really made it striking and lifelike. The sprites are also great with unique designs, good animation, and like the portraits, the sprites also breathe. It’s always nice when artists add these kinds of little touches to make their work more dynamic.”
RPGFan’s Review of Grim Grimoire
Find Grim Grimoire: (eBay / Amazon)

Phantom Brave
phantombrave-1“Nippon Ichi has crafted yet another stunning game with Phantom Brave – accessible, flexible, and as deep as the player wants it to be. It’s got great voice acting, an interesting plot, gorgeous artwork (if presented in a very retro, 2D manner), pretty decent music (albeit not as good as Disgaea’s) and an underlying sense of humour despite the dark twists of the storyline. It’s an RPG with an amazing, innovative battle system, an unconventional hero who doesn’t have spiky blond hair and doesn’t get washed up on a beach with all his memories lost even once, no random encounters and truly rewarding, meaningful progression.

In other words, it’s brilliant – just as Disgaea was brilliant. We can only hope that this time around, a few more punters will recognise that fact and pick up the game, rather than having their eyes glaze over as they reach for the latest hip-hop star endorsed “gritty” crime simulator featuring drive-by shootings of mouthy hoes from chavved-up skateboards instead. What are the chances?
EuroGamer’s Review of Phantom Brave
Find Phantom Brave: (eBay / Amazon)

Honorable Mentions:
La Pucelle Tactics (eBay / Amazon)

Impressive Imports:
Namco X Capcom (eBay)

Puzzle

Puyo Pop Fever (Japan & Europe only)
puyopuyofever-1“If the screenshots look familiar, that’s because Puyo Pop has been around in various incarnations for years and years. The first time I encountered it was actually under the banner of Kirby’s Avalanche on the SNES – basically a re-badged Super Puyo Puyo released with revamped visuals in the USA in order to give it a recognition factor – but you may also have played it on the Neo Geo Pocket Colour, the N-Gage, the Mega-Drive, various Game Boys, the Dreamcast, and plenty more besides.

For better or worse, it’s still largely the same game. For the most part it’s played with two players, at least one human controlled, each trying to form “chains” by rotating and slotting pairs of different coloured blobs into groups of four or more of the same colour as they fall from the top of the screen. Doing so makes said blob groups disappear and dumps “nuisance” blobs on the other player’s screen to upset their efforts. The first person to run out of space loses, either thanks to their opponent’s skill in conjuring chain reactions to fuel larger nuisance dumps, or through their own lack of skill in managing the blobs’ accelerating descent. Chains reactions, by the way, are when one set of blobs disappears allowing those above to join with those below and set off another chain, and mastering chain reactions is absolutely critical to success.

But Puyo Pop Fever obviously has more to it than just vanilla Puyo Pop. For a start there’s the eponymous Fever mode. This basically consists of a sort of power meter that fills up as you build more and more chains – a process accelerated by the use of larger chain reactions – until you’re flipped into a sequence of pre-arranged screens and tasked with slotting the blobs raining down into the optimum position to create as many linked chains as possible. Doing so visits even more misery upon your rattled opponent and, with a bit of quick thinking, can be more than enough to conquer him outright.”
EuroGamer’s Review of Puyo Pop Fever
Find Puyo Pop Fever: (eBay)

Honorable Mentions:
Super Bust-A-Move (eBay / Amazon)
Super Bust-A-Move 2 (eBay / Amazon)
Tetris Worlds (eBay / Amazon)

39 Comments

  1. Great article! Glad you mentioned imports, for I’m a fan of Japanese hidden gems.

  2. Caleb says:

    Very nice list Racketboy.

    I was on the fence about Red Star, but now I think I will have to pick up a copy.

    If anyone is luckly enough to have a gamecube and a PS2 I would suggest that you might consider the gamecube version of Alien Hominid. Easy 4 player and I enjoy the controls better.

    And Racketboy, you don’t slash off head after you jump on an enemy. The cute little alien BITES off their heads.

  3. racketboy says:

    Actually, all the write-ups are quotes from the reviews I cited. Hense the quotation marks and the review publisher link at the end.

  4. dudex77 says:

    I disagree with having the new R-type and Gradius games ahead of Shikigami No Shiro II and Psyviar II but that’s just me, otherwise great list!

  5. Caleb says:

    I gotta take that up with Armchair Empire then.

  6. racketboy says:

    dudex77,
    Psyviar II definitely would have been tops, but it’s a import, so it got stuck on the imports section.

    Shikigami No Shiro II was REALLY close, but for some reason I cut it off to keep the article from getting longer than it already is. Great game, though 🙂

  7. nilcam says:

    Nice list, but now we need a Gamecube list like this – especially when you consider that Viewtiful Joe 1 and 2 were Gamecube games that were ported to PS2 and Puyo Pop Fever was released in the US on Gamecube, but not PS2. Also, Ikaruga.

  8. racketboy says:

    nilcam, Gamecube, XBox, and Dreamcast lists are in the works 🙂

  9. dudex77 says:

    Well as long as it was close to making the list its fine. You really need to make a list of Gamegear game that don’t suck, though it would be quite hard to do.

  10. racketboy says:

    I’ll add it to my list of lists 🙂

  11. MrBoy says:

    Castlevania: Symphony of the Night remains one of the best 2D games, and it was a Playstation game. I would like to see a modern game that good.

  12. executioner says:

    Nice list! the only ones I need to get are Grim Grimoire and Phantom Brave.

    Could the Naruto Narutimate series enter the list? What do you guys think?

  13. racketboy says:

    Naruto could pass as a 2.5D fighter, but I don’t think it ranks that high unless you are a Naruto fan. A standard fighter fan would get more enjoyment out of the ones listed above.

  14. monkeypox says:

    great list. can’t wait to see what you’ve got for the gamecube.

  15. Mike Frisco says:

    What, no Culdcept? That’s a huge omission.

  16. dudex77 says:

    MrBoy try out Aria of Sorrow or Portrait of Ruin you won’t be dissapointed.

  17. RedHedGmr says:

    Excellent list as always Racketboy. I would also suggest Fire Pro Returns (currently import, but soon to be (shockingly) released in the US. Others I would include would be:

    Y’s: The Ark of Napishtim
    Antelier Iris Series
    Ar Tonelico
    Soul Nomad (hell, how about the all NIS games?)
    Espgaluda (jap)
    Radirgy Precious (jap)
    Growlanser Generations
    Duel Savior Destiny (jap)
    Hudson Selection series (jap)
    Homura (jap)
    Shooting Love Trizeal (jap)
    Raging Bless (jap)
    MegaMan x7

    I’m sure I’ve missed a few…the PS2 certainly holds it’s own as a 2d machine, espeically considering all the collections, anthologies, etc of classic 2d games….

  18. Droid party says:

    Thanks Racket this is exactly what I’ve been wanting to see,and ditto to what Monkeypox said.

  19. NioZero says:

    These a really good games… but i don’t thing is really 2d-gamming…. because lot of them have 3d elements…. and so… they are 2.5D

  20. Mr. Something says:

    yeah, definitely missed the Y’s series! although perhaps not the most modern, but Y’s complete (#1+2 together) at least should be in there. if not, ark of napishtim. those are fantastic.

  21. executioner says:

    Gave this list a second look and to my amazement discovered melty blood. This game is great thanks racket. Looking forward to getting phantom brave and rumble fish. I saw on youtube a fighting import game called arcana heart, anybody played it?

  22. racketboy says:

    It’s a shame, but Melty Blood was originally slated to be a Dreamcast release. That’s how I mainly learned about it.

    I haven’t played Arcana Heart, but I’ve heard good things.

  23. the7k says:

    Most excellent list, although I would have to say that for the fighters, Arcana Heart is very awesome and Samurai Showdown 6 is the best one since SS2, with its impressive line-up of EVERY SS character (including bosses) plus a few new ones!

    Also, for RPG, the Super Robot Taisen series, especially SRT Alpha 3 and Original Generations, needs to be up there.

  24. Matt says:

    I’m thinking of buying Odin Sphere. Anyone got anything more to say about the game. Is it just a button basher and how often does the screen stuff up? Is it really worth it just coz it looks so damn good?

  25. racketboy says:

    there has been some discussion on the forum about Odin Sphere. It’s been kinda mixed results. Just do a search for Odin Sphere on there. Thanks for the comment

  26. Rob says:

    An English translation iso patch has been released for Namco X Capcom. Now theres no excuse not to play it.

    Website for patch
    http://transgen.890m.com/?p=43

  27. ArcteOnline says:

    i always choose r-type final as consumed player i cannot forget this game, i’m still playing it with my emulator ^^
    also i liked mega man x 6 a little gambling but stil a.w.e.s.o.m.e!!!

  28. skoal 2009 says:

    I am looking for a namco game put out in 2003 for the PS2.
    The game is The fast and the furious 2003.
    This is not the 2006 tokyo drift game.

  29. Jason Rioux says:

    got red star for $10 last year so time and Viewtiful Joe 1&2 for $10 about four months ago.have most of the list.

  30. ss says:

    Bullshit, where is a Atelier series and Mana Khemia??

  31. proxy says:

    i will definitely add castlevania symphony of the night.
    can anyone send me the (torrent)link of fighters impact on ps1.

  32. hernan says:

    add Hudson adventure island ( ISLANDER WONDER BOY) for PS2

  33. Sorandor says:

    I just feel angry the way he is so bias toward shoot em ups/fighters. There is far more to the ps2 2d scene than this.

    Definitely the sega classics collection is missing. Maybe its the time that it is wrote, which is understandable, but im sure im not alone in wishing more of the other genres had been mentioned, or just recommended, as its often the searching that finds the treasure.

  34. David S says:

    “I just feel angry the way he is so bias toward shoot em ups/fighters. There is far more to the ps2 2d scene than this.

    Definitely the sega classics collection is missing”

    –Start listing what is missing. I’d like to know. Sega classics and all the other classic volumes were left out because they are not considered to be of the ps2 generation.

    I admit, I’m an 88-94 era gamer and I prefer 2-d space shooters, run and gunners, and fighters but the platform section is pretty weak. –I can’t think of any though.