Video-game consoles are a lot like newspaper reporters, offensive linemen, and aging Hollywood actors: they tend to merit lousy send-offs as their careers hit twilight.
In the past six months, we’ve seen two ugly examples of companies treating their products like Simon Callow treats talentless hacks. After years of ignoring their shiny, happy square in favor of the Game Boy Advance, Nintendo pulled a Seinfeld-sized regift, giving Gamecubers a watered-down version of the Wii’s best launch title, Zelda: Legend of the Twilight Princess. As anyone who’s played it would tell you, it’s a fine, entertaining game, no question — but going multiplatform on your parting gift is sort of like giving the 25-year employee the same gold-plated desk clock as the guy who just started pushing paper in accounting. It’s known in the business as poor form. Or as a baldly opportunistic cash grab. Take your pick.
Microsoft, meanwhile, treated the Xbox like Milton Waddams in Office Space, all but ignoring it through most of its final year of life. The words “A-list software” evaporated from the Xbox lexicon a good six months before the 360 hit stores, as the intervening months were one long and loudly humming death rattle, filled with mostly ho-hum multiplatform releases and EA sports games.
How odd, then, that Sony — which has a horrible track record of supporting its hardware (BetaMax and PSP, anyone?) — should be rewarding its retiring console the gaming equivalent of the keys to a gold-plated Porsche. Or, to be more specific, a ghost-skinned, flame-tattooed mass of anger and unbridled aggression popping out of an action-packed retirement cake. I’m talking about Kratos, the unforgettable star of 2005’s God of War and, now, its new ass-kicking sequel, God of War II.
I was as happy as any Greek mythology-loving geek to see ol’ Bald ‘n’ Angry stick a blade in any thoughts of a mythical sophomore slump. Turns out that God of War II is, just like the first game, a masterful balance of storytelling and ignite-the-screen action. Packed with all the great boss battles the first game lacked (Perseus! Icarus! The Colossus of Rhodes!), God of War II just feels epic, the same way a great summer blockbuster or a great Super Bowl feel epic. Whether you’re shredding chimerae while soaring on a winged horse or obliterating soldiers with 100-hit combo kills, the carnage flows more freely than cheap beer at the Upper Deck. It’s the best — and bloodiest — farewell party a console has ever had.
We probably should have seen this coming. While Sony kept the PS2 fed with a regular diet of platform-exclusive epics, Nintendo never really did a great job of supporting the Gamecube in the first place. With quality third-party titles as rare as an upset in this year’s NCAA tournament, the Gamecube was a much a curiosity as it was a perennial also-ran in the console race. Since our 20-20 hindsight sunglasses are firmly strapped on, we can also look back on the Xbox for what it really was: A big ol’ black and green doorstop that let Microsoft open the door to its eventual online gaming dominance through the Halo franchise and Xbox Live. Like so many other tools, the Xbox quickly served its purpose, and can now be discarded onto the growing pile that already contains Windows 98 and Windows XP.
If you believe expert predictions on the lifespans of the current crop of consoles, it could be another 5-10 years before we see another round of funerals and farewell parties. My advice to Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft? Start planning now, guys. Before all the really good bands and caterers are booked.
Check the official game site for trailers and screenshots.