November means Christmas! To retailers at least, who are flogging their wares as quickly and as desperately as possible. That means lots of games, like these ones. Here:

10 Years Ago This Month: November 2005

Xbox-360-Counter-Top-Store-Display-Dummy-Console-Flip-Cards-Launch-CG6108

The world was dragged kicking and screaming into the last generation this month as Microsoft brought us their 360. Available in three different configurations with no, 20 GB and super luxurious 120 GB hard drives, it was a minor minefield for consumers that previously only had one launch SKU to deal with. Then there was the fact that the system wasn’t wifi ready out of the box, but even with that cost being cut, MS were taking a 126 USD loss on average for every unit sold at launch at 299-499. That number would grow when the infamous red rings of death began to strike in 2006, but for now consumers seemed happy to buy into the next gen, and Microsoft would make hay over the next year before competitors brought their systems to market.

18 games were available at launch physically, with some significant releases launching on the downloadable XBox Live Arcade marketplace (Hexic HD was pre installed on units, and Geometry Wars was arguably the best launch game on the system). Alongside the normal annualized sports games and Need For Speed, we had PC ports (last month’s Call of Duty 2, the clunky but ambitious westerner Gun and the mediocre Quake 4), arcade racers (mainline Ridge Racer‘s sole appearance on XBox in its sixth iteration, and the tremendous Project Gotham Racing 3), a licensed game (Peter Jackson’s King Kong, which due to its darker colour palette on PC and 360, actually looked better on older systems), a pair of Rare titles (Kameo, which showed its age having transitioned from being a GameCube game to original XBox, to 360, and the pretty dire Perfect Dark Zero)
and Monolith/Sega’s Condemned: Criminal Origins, an ambitious first person thriller game that despite some clunky game design was a terrifically tense game of investigation and creepy exploration from the FEAR dev. It wasn’t a blow away launch lineup, but a strong first year unopposed in the marketplace would help win western hearts and minds this gen.

Between Geometry Wars and PGR 3, Bizarre Creations brought the quality at 360's launch.

Between Geometry Wars and PGR 3, Bizarre Creations brought the quality at 360’s launch.

Of course, there was plenty on other systems this month. As we gear up for EA’s new take on Star Wars Battlefront in 2015, Battlefront 2 was on PC and (now) old consoles in 2005. Its addition of space battles to the multiplayer action helped make it beloved by fans, and give the slimmer seeming (albeit gorgeous) new version a difficult act to follow. Of course, after the poor prequels, Star Wars itself has to overcome some cynicism and mainly seems to have done pre-release. You could get The Movies and make your own limited take on the franchise this month too, if you wanted, and while Lionhead’s sim was a bit disjointed, it earned a strong crowd before the era of games that fully embraced user generated content, or the dawning of YouTube, both things that would have buoyed the game had it been released a few years later.

On the annual sequels front, there was one impressive step and one continuing decline. After a dismal effort in 2004, Yuke’s and THQ put in a fine effort with WWE Smackdown versus Raw 2006. The game provided an overhaul to pacing, removed the previous year’s preponderence of minigames and also built in a fun GM mode that allowed you to book TV shows and manage contracts.

On the other hand was Sega’s annual Sonic the Hedgehog disaster. The annual tradition of bad Sonic games indeed stretches back for well over a decade, and this year saw the creative genius of introducing an all black sinister emo Sonic, called Shadow, shooting guns.

Mario Kart DS was yet another highlight of an amazing close to 2005 for the DS

Mario Kart DS was yet another highlight of an amazing close to 2005 for the DS

Nintendo’s mascots fared better this month with a pair of DS titles. Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time was a follow up to the plumbing siblings’ GBA role playing effort, and while it wasn’t quite as specially tailored to its hardware as the later Bowser’s Inside Story, it was still a fresh, funny and accessible RPG.

Mario Kart DS would be even better remembered. A fine return to form after the mediocre Double Dash on GameCube, MK DS saw improved track design, and the new draw of online play to the series, though this would be broken somewhat by the famous ‘snaking’ exploit of cheering the game’s drift system to get endless speed boosts.

20 Years Ago This Month: November 1995

As Sega and Sony’s new consoles were now firmly on shelves and in homes, Nintendo seemed lost in the conversation, especially as the Virtual Boy was already looking like a lost cause at this point. While hardware was ready, development delays put a stop to the now Nintendo 64 releasing in ’95, instead making a summer 1996 release the plan.

super-mario-64-n64-ingame-31869Eager to stay in the conversation, Nintendo rented out Makuhari Messe for a Shoshinkai exhibition this month, a chance for consumers to get their hands on the unique and newly revealed analogue controller, and play the limited line-up of games. That limited line-up included Super Mario 64, of course, so concerns about the N64 games roster depth were forgotten somewhat if not allayed completely.

In the meantime, we had the second SNES installment of a series that had originally been built with the N64 in mind. Donkey Kong Country 2 saw Kong himself (who, if you’re proficient in Kong lore, was actually the original Donkey Kong Jr.) in peril, and Diddy and sister Dixie rush off to rescue him. It still sounded good, still looked good in a pre-rendered, looks-a-bit-rubbish-today-really way, and still played….. Ok. The Kong family line meanwhile was growing more bloated than a wrestling stable, and would have to take a break after the following year’s third version.

loadedOn PlayStation, things had a decidedly western bent, with a pair of decent offerings from the UK and US. Gremlin’s Loaded was a blood and guts heavy top down shooter with a strong soundtrack and impressive lighting for the time. In 1995, it felt a little old fashioned, an Alien Breed throwback in the days of polygons taking over. It would have had a better chance today as a twin stick game, but Loaded was pretty much forgotten.

TwistedMetalGameplayTwisted Metal had longer legs as a franchise, David Jaffe’s game sparking a mini genre of vehicular combat titles that you could even say had influence on games like Rocket League this year, even if that game was a little less heavy on the manslaughter. Its split screen multiplayer was a hit, and while the game and genre would play itself out reasonably quickly, this was important in cementing the PlayStation brand, especially in America.

30 Years Ago This Month: November 1985

little-computer-people_2

1985 had already seen its fair share of landmark releases, but this month saw some titles that were incredibly influential, if less widely talked about today than the likes of Mario.

The 8 bits this month saw the release of Little Computer People. David Crane’s latest game for Activision was more of an interactive toy than anything; a little randomly generated animated guy would move into a house on the screen and just go about his day, with your contact limited to sending letters, offering presents, suggesting activities to watch him do, or a little poker minigame. Still, the AI routine was quite ambitious for the time, and there’s no doubt that LCP played a heavy role in influencing Will Wright and The Sims 15 years later.

Also on 8 bit micros was Archer Maclean’s International Karate. Taking formative fighting games like Karate Champ as inspiration, this was a remarkably deep title unlike anything else on the platforms it appeared on. A seminal home fighting game, IK would be improved upon in the 16 bit era with IK+, a game most fondly remembered for a cheat allowing the player to press T and have their opponent’s trousers fall down.

In the arcade was Capcom’s Gunsmoke. Renamed Gun.Smoke in the west to get around confusion with the TV show, this was a top down shooter with an interesting approach. You had different fire buttons to shoot diagonally to the right and left, giving your character the sudden movement that gave your character the feel of an old west gunslinger. While clearly driven by the same tech as Commando earlier in the year, this felt different enough to be enjoyable.

Portopia was a seminal Japanese adventure, now on FC.

Portopia was a seminal Japanese adventure, now on FC.

Finally on Famicom was the console conversion of Chunsoft’s 1983 adventure game Portopia. This was significant for being the first of its type on the FC, and with its real world serial murder setting, focus on clue finding and exploration, was diametrically opposite to most of the arcade centric quick fixes that had been common on the platform. It felt hugely ambitious on Nintendo’s system, and has its own sense of flair as you occasionally moved through spaces in first person sequences. Portopia in general was hugely influential, and not just for a host of similar games in the genre for the FC. It inspired any number of Japanese adventure games and visual novels and their creators, from the Ace Attourney team to Hideo Kojima who (allegedly) baked segments of Portopia code into the lens flare of MGS5.