Hello all and welcome to This Month in Retro! Today, I’ll be taking you back to November of 2002, which is a fairly normal month in terms of happenings and game releases, but in some ways also quite an impactful one! Probably not so much in terms of acquisitions and closings, as it took me some time to realize what these companies were about. Take-Two Interactive acquired Angel Studios and was renamed to Rockstar San Diego, which were mostly popular for the Midnight Club series. Crawfish Interactive Ltd. closed their doors, who were mostly working on handheld ports of console games such as Cruis’n Exotica and Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, while a new company under the name Nude Maker Co. was born. I uh, don’t really want to go into detail as to what they make as you can probably assume it by their name, but they were credited on both Infinite Space for the Nintendo DS and Ghostwire: Tokyo so… good for them!
This would also be the month where the third generation of Pokémon was born! …Albeit only in Japan. Japan-only games this month were also very scarce, hence why this edition of This Month in Retro will only cover the western side. I mean, aside from some random garbage, the only real title of interest this month was Tales of Destiny 2, which would be tough to talk about in the first place because to my knowledge, no finished fan translation exists yet. But as a treat… I will be talking about a Nintendo GameCube game today. I normally would ignore systems we do not support yet, but a title released this month is a bit too big to just ignore. You’ll have to continue reading to find out which title!
Aside from that, you know how it goes! I’ve searched the internet for all sorts of releases this month, compiled their sales figures and reception (Metacritic for critic review scores), and finally talk about an achievement set if applicable. So without further ado, let’s get to it!
This month marked the birth of one of PlayStation’s biggest exclusives ever. Having already worked on the Spyro the Dragon series prior, Insomniac used that experience to create…
|Ratchet & Clank (PlayStation 2)|
|Release dates||NA: November 6, 2002
PAL: November 8, 2002
|Average score||88%, 43 critic reviews|
Released this month as a new multimedia franchise is Ratchet & Clank, Insomniac’s original IP that would be closely tied to the PlayStation brand. With Spyro the Dragon falling under the rights of Universal, Insomniac wanted something that could truly be called their own. Is has been a concept long in the works, with Ratchet originally starting as a space-traveling reptile, with them eventually landing on a feline-like creature accompanied by a robot. This title also sparkled the interest of fellow PlayStation developer Naughty Dog, where the two would exchange technologies and improvements with each other, resulting in the engine being mostly developed by Insomniac with some important renderers made by Naughty Dog. November 2002 rolls around and we finally get to experience their vision: a space-traveling duo, landing on a bunch of unique planets and collecting a wide assortment of weapons to stop an evil business tycoon. While Ratchet & Clank is certainly a collect-a-thon platformer first and foremost, what makes this series particularly interesting is its emphasis on gun play. When I said that they would be collecting a wide assortment of weapons, I truly meant it; Ratchet has such a massive arsenal in his possession that combat becomes very fun and diverse. Bombs, a vacuum gun, the game’s own take on the BFG with the R.Y.N.O., there is a lot to choose from here. The reception for the game was overwhelmingly positive, being praises mostly for its gameplay and graphics while only really receiving a few negative points on the story side. Players are very much in agreement, which isn’t too surprising given how massive this franchise has become since then. The series currently has 17 games, including a re-imagining of the very first game with the movie that came out in 2016 for the PlayStation 4. The latest game was released in 2021 with still the same high amounts of positive reception, ensuring this Lombax and robot duo won’t be leaving us for a while.
And with it being one of the most-played sets on the PlayStation 2, it’s unsurprising to see our community loves the game as well. And fortunately for them, we have an excellent set by developers Fridge, Gollawiz, and zizom. It is everything you would want from a set like this, having your regular progression, collectables, and a wide variety of interesting challenges with each weapon. These achievements have all been made to get as much out of the game as you can while working towards the golden weapons, as the unlimited bolt exploit is banned for good reason.
So then you might be asking yourself… what happened to Spyro? You very likely weren’t asking that as we all know what awful fate was in store for our favourite dragon.
|Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly (PlayStation 2)|
|Release dates||NA: November 5, 2002
PAL: November 29, 2002
|Sales||1,970,000 (+710,000 on Gamecube)|
|Average score||56%, 20 critic reviews|
While Insomniac would celebrate their release a day after, Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly would see anything but success–unless we count the sales numbers since it’s still Spyro after all. With two separate studios working on the game, this was intended to be a continuation to the original trilogy of games with it moving away from PlayStation exclusivity. In that sense, the game isn’t much different from the original games in terms of structure: go through a variety of levels, collect every gem inside, and rescue a particular species throughout the game, this time being the titular dragonflies. What is new to this game is the inclusion of different elemental breaths, with the Bubble Breath also being a necessity to capture the dragonflies which were scattered by returning villain Ripto. So for us Spyro fans, it all sounds pretty good and what we are used to right? That is true… if it didn’t end up being a rushed game. Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly is another case of a game being rushed out to meet holiday deadlines, and is one of the worst victims of the era because of it. The game is extremely slow, there are framerate issues, and worst of all: it’s riddled with bugs everywhere. One even allows you to beat the game in a minute or two, and is very easy to perform. Not to mention the various control issues and yeah, it’s no surprise that this game was nominated for the worst Gamecube game of the year. Not only were both critics- and players extremely negative, but even Insomniac’s president Ted Price was astonished by this travesty. In the end though, while many people would like to pretend this game doesn’t exist and hope for it to be replaced with a new fourth title like Crash Bandicoot, there are also enough people who consider it just average. Fortunately (or, depending on who you ask, unfortunately) this wouldn’t mark the end of the Spyro the Dragon games to come as the franchise would go on for a while longer, with the original trilogy being remastered only a few years back. We are still very desperate for a new game though…
Admittedly… I haven’t actually played this game yet! I really should as I love the original trilogy, and fortunately we have a RetroAchievements set to make that decision a bit easier for me. Besides the usual progression, developer Excessiveiser has introduced a ton of challenges to make your playthrough more interesting, like beating levels without gliding or time trials on the speedways. Looking at the game wall for the page, it looks like people don’t really mind the game as much as it is made out to be, so maybe I’ll be in for a fun experience after all!
You know what? This is such a fun month in terms of coincidental releases and such, let’s mix it up today! Introducing a short intersection where I talk about weird multi-releases, be it in the same franchise or, well, a “rip-off”. First up:
|Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Game Boy Color)|
|Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Game Boy Advance)|
|Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (PlayStation)|
|Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (PlayStation 2)|
|Release dates||WW: November 15, 2002|
|Sales||9,000,000 across all platforms|
The Harry Potter franchise is no stranger to releasing on every platform, but the interesting thing about these games is that they are all completely different from each other! The Game Boy Color version is the most different from them, being a full-blown RPG of all things. The PlayStation version follows up the prequel well by retaining most of its elements, remaining an action-adventure title with a bunch of minigames. I’m sure it also has our favourite PS1 Hagrid hidden in there somewhere. The PlayStation 2 title also follows the action-adventure genre, just more expanded since it’s on more advanced hardware after all. Finally, there is the Game Boy Advance version which is mostly based on the PlayStation 2 version, just isometric. For Harry Potter fans, these all seem like worthwhile entries with each of course following the plot of the movie. I must admit that I only ever watched the first Harry Potter movie so I’m a bit behind, but the series and games have admittedly always interested me. Best of all, every single entry has a set! I’m not really going to go in-depth about every set, but they look to be much beloved by fans given their high play count.
If you think four completely different releases of a single IP in a single month is interesting, then you haven’t seen this yet!
|Disney Sports: Basketball (Game Boy Advance)|
|Disney Sports: Soccer (Game Boy Advance)|
|Disney Sports: Football (Game Boy Advance)|
|Disney Sports: Skateboarding (Game Boy Advance)|
|Release dates||Too many|
|Sales||All ranging within 20,000-70,000|
That’s an easy way for me to knock out sports titles; I don’t even have to go in-depth about them! Score for Nepiki! But yeah, I’m not sure exactly what happened, but someone at Konami decided it was a brilliant idea to launch four separate games in the same month, at least in North America. I don’t think it did as well for them as they had hoped given that most people can’t really afford four separate full-priced games in one month, but it sure is ambitious. Heck, there are even two more games in the “Disney Sports” series that released only a few months later. As for what we are talking about today however… well, it’s each sport with Disney characters closely related to either Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck, with a few others like the Big Bad Wolf also being present. Play the sports in a slightly more cartoonish variation to appeal to the kids, and that’s these games in a nutshell. The reviews for them were pretty mediocre but hey, if you like these sports and you like Disney, it may be worth it to check out. As of writing, only Disney Sports: Basketball has a set with a surprisingly low player count and no masteries yet. This is your chance!
All right, let’s do one more. Remember the “rip-off” I mentioned earlier?
|Frogger’s Adventures 2: The Lost Wand (Game Boy Advance)|
|Zapper: One Wicked Cricket! (Game Boy Advance)|
|Zapper: One Wicked Cricket! (PlayStation 2)|
|Frogger’s Adventures 2|
|Release dates||NA: November 05, 2002
EU: February 28, 2003
JP: June 06, 2003
|Release dates||NA: November 03, 2002 (PS2) and November 05, 2002 (GBA)
EU: March 14, 2003
|Sales||160,000 (PS2) and 140,000 (GBA)|
|Average score||56% (PS2) and 58% (GBA)|
Okay so these technically are unrelated… but come on, we all know what Zapper is inspired by. And I just find it extremely funny that they released both Frogger’s Adventures 2: The Lost Wand and the Game Boy Advance version of Zapper: One Wicked Cricket! on the same day, literally how could you even time that out of 365 days. And I’m not saying rip-off to be mean necessarily, but that’s is really what the game is. It follows the gameplay almost toe-for-toe, meaning that by describing one game you pretty much get an idea of what the other does, gimmicks and structure aside. So yeah, pretty much everyone is familiar with Frogger so let’s use that as a base. After the original arcade games where you play as a frog crossing the road, the developers decided to make them into more grand adventures featuring multiple levels where Frogger hops through one square at a time. The differences in gimmicks really is that Frogger has a tongue, and Zapper can zap. The original did get the better end of the stick in both the reception- and sales department at least, with it also being the only one currently having a set on RetroAchievements.
Alright, back to our regular agenda. This month would also see a few retro revivals, such as Rygar: The Legendary Adventure and Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance. I really wanted to talk about both since they are positive evolutions of the IP, but there are only so many games I can talk about today. I figured I would go with what can be argued as the most interesting revival, which is…
|Shinobi (PlayStation 2)|
|Release dates||NA: November 12, 2002
JP: December 05, 2002
PAL: May 15, 2003
|Average score||71%, 33 critic reviews|
Could have arguably thrown another coincidental release in here as The Revenge of Shinobi for Game Boy Advance also released this month, but I want to talk in-depth about Shinobi, not that game. Originally planned for the Dreamcast, this 3D fast-paced hack-and-slash tasks master ninja Hotsuma to defeat the powerful sorcerer Hiruko, the cause of his clan’s death and an evil world destroyer dude man. Fortunately he’s well-equipped for the job, as he can use ninja magic, shurikens, and a powerful sword that feeds on souls. He needs to be quick though, as this sword is a literal double-edged sword; if he doesn’t kill enemies fast enough, the sword desires his soul instead. That also means that instead of the stealth-based gameplay that was common during this time, this game takes on more of an action-adventure style. Hotsuma goes through a total of eight levels, each ending with a boss battle. The fast-paced non-stop gameplay was very much appreciated by critics and players alike, with the game overall receiving a positive reception. The critics specifically were more critical on the high difficulty, which is funny because it’s always the critics that mention it. The only negative that does come up frequently is the presentation of the levels themselves, which is a shame because it otherwise is a very stylish game with the long blood-red scarf that keeps following our protagonist. If that doesn’t matter to you though, you’ll be in for a fun arcadey experience! The game did well enough to receive a sequel called Nightshade, which also has a set on RetroAchievements. The series itself is… well, it’s one of Sega’s retro IPs alright; not dead but also certainly not used anymore.
The game’s set is packed with challenges! Developer timenoe went all out to make sure every section of a level is approached in every way imaginable, like killing every enemy, killing the boss in one hit, without taking damage, and on all difficulties. You will be playing these levels over, and over, and over again until you are the true ninja master yourself. And if you feel you are as good as Hotsuma himself, there is also a subset to consider which raises the difficulty even higher!
It’s time for the final two games, and it’s such a nice way to close up this month considering how fluent it has been so far, with releases that are closely related to another. So what are we waiting for? It’s time for…
|Metroid Fusion (Game Boy Advance)|
|Release dates||NA: November 17, 2002
PAL: November 22, 2002
JP: February 14, 2003
|Average score||92%, 44 critic reviews|
Metroid Fusion is the fourth mainline entry in the series, taking place after _Super Metroid. At the time, it was easily the most different game in the series we’ve seen so far, as this one delved deeper into the somewhat horror aspect of the series. It certainly still has an open-ended world to explore, but it’s slightly more linear due to its emphasis on the story. Our protagonist Samus Aran is exploring the surface of planet SR388, where she is attacked by parasitic organisms that caused her to lose consciousness and crash. Her central nervous system was infected, which she somewhat recovers from thanks to a Metroid vaccine… but that’s only the beginning. The parasites called X are able to take on the physical appearance of their host, with one now resembling a dead husk in Samus’ armour. That’s where the horror aspect comes in, as Samus has to explore this open-ended world while at occassions being chased by the indestructible parasite. Aside from the slightly more linear gameplay and the ability to use X parasites to Samus’ advantage, the core gameplay is exactly what you expect; find upgrades and secrets, use those to explore more of the densely-packed world with multiple regions. And unsurprisingly from this franchise, critics and players loved it. It received universal acclaim and has won multiple awards in 2002, marking it as one of the best games from the year, on the handheld, and in the series. In classic Nintendo fashion it took until 2021 for an actual follow-up that was not a remake but hey, it sure delivered!
Interesting for this game is that there are actually two achievement sets! There is the default set which focuses on everything the western release has to offer, from progression to no-damage bosses and other challenges that affect the ending. The subset focuses on the Japanese version, which has additional difficulty modes that also each come with their own endings. This set also covers the entire game, so it’s up to your which version you prefer to play. The subset does have some juicy RetroPoints though if you are into that!
But you know what’s better than Metroid? Metroid. Remember when I teased that I would talk about a GameCube game earlier?
|Metroid Prime (GameCube)|
|Release dates||NA: November 18, 2002
JP: February 28, 2003
EU: March 21, 2003
|Average score||97%, 44 critic reviews|
Normally I would avoid talking about systems we don’t support. And please do not take this as a sign that GameCube is coming soon, because neither I nor others will give you that answer. But come on, this is the literal perfect way to end off this month’s edition! How could I not talk about one of the most critically acclaimed games… ever? Metroid Prime is the series’ first endeavor into the 3D realms, transitioning the action-adventure gameplay well into a new perspective. Despite being in first person and having a slightly higher emphasis on the shooting gameplay, there is still puzzle solving to be done for secrets, as well as platform jumping. As usual, finding new power-ups will let her access new areas on the world of Tallon IV, where she is on the hunt for twelve Chozo Artifacts to open the path to the Phazon meteor impact crater. So yeah, it’s quite literally a 3D Metroidvania. As mentioned before, it is one of the most critically acclaimed games period, with it being the most nominated game of the 6th Annual Interactive Achievement Awards as well as winning a ton of Game of the Year awards from other publications. Even years after release it still appears on multiple lists of best games, with it gaining a remaster at the beginning of this year that, unsurprisingly, was also very well received. It would be followed up by two sequels and multiple spin-offs, with a fourth game being in production. It isn’t exactly going too well though, with the entire development starting over from scratch due to it not meeting the standards Nintendo was hoping for. Hopefully that means whatever they are cooking is going to blow us all away!
Other interesting western releases this month
Games with achievement sets
|Dragon Ball Z: Budokai (PlayStation 2)|
|Lord of the Rings, The: The Two Towers (Game Boy Advance)|
|Monster Rancher Advance 2 (Game Boy Advance)|
|Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance (PlayStation 2)|
|Super Monkey Ball Jr. (Game Boy Advance)|
Games without achievement sets
|ATV Offroad Fury 2 (PlayStation 2)|
|Gauntlet: Dark Legacy (Game Boy Advance)|
|Haven: Call of the King (PlayStation 2)|
|Rygar: The Legendary Adventure (PlayStation 2)|
|SpongeBob SquarePants: Revenge of the Flying Dutchman (PlayStation 2)*|
* Set is claimed
Man I absolutely loved writing for this month. It was such an interesting one in terms of multiple releases within the same franchise or genre, that I hope I’m able to do something like this more often. Who knows, maybe I can shift up the articles a bit by putting multiple genres together! But that’s something future Nepiki has to worry about.
Unfortunately no Japanese side this month, but the western side has us more than pleased. Even the games I didn’t talk about, including games I didn’t even list above, has a ton of interesting experiences. Such a packed month that I couldn’t even talk about Rygar, and that kind of hurts. Obviously it’s no surprise what game did the best this month, as I had to make an exception to talk about it in the first place. Probably won’t be a common occurrence but hey, you never know. Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly is probably one of the worst games I’ve talked about today, but there were some other contenders on the list of games I didn’t talk about so I’m hesitant to call it the worst of the month. Definitely the one that hurts the most as a Spyro fan though.
We’ll go back in time for the next edition again, though I am yet unsure as to what year. The one I had in mind looks kind of lame so I need to think on it a bit more. But that’s something you’ll find out… next time! See you then!
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