Mario, Zelda, Metroid, F-Zero, Donkey Kong. Halo, Gears of War, Fable. Jak & Daxter, Ratchet and Clank, Infamous, Uncharted. What makes a system matter? Raw power, the controller, the games? Honestly it’s all of those things and much more. But what defines a system? If you look back on your favourite system what makes it your favourite? The specs quickly become unimpressive even before a system reaches the end of its lifecycle. Sure the controller makes a lasting impression (although controller evolution has been incredibly slow), but in the end it’s not the system I remember, it’s the games.
That quick list at the top is primarily inspired by my favourite system of all time the SNES. I was a gamer before its debut, but Mario World, Super Metroid, F-Zero and Donkey Kong Country cemented my love of gaming. Beyond those games Final Fantasy II and III, Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana showed me the incredible worlds and stories games were capable of generating. I was (and still am) able to get lost in these worlds for hours. These were places I was eager to visit. Like any great movie or book they created a remarkable escape from the mundane. Vast unique lands with impossible characters and situations were somehow possible. It is these experiences and memories that have given the Super Nintendo its probable lifetime status as my favourite console.
In the number two spot sits the still thriving Xbox 360. Its library of exclusives is perhaps not as extensive as its competitors, but these titles along with the 360’s superb online experience have made this console the foundation of my gaming for the past 7 years. These are games I keep going back to and always find enthralling. Years ago when my 360 was still in its infancy a new title came out that I greeted with skepticism and almost didn’t purchase. Fortunately a friend of mine who had yet to purchase an Xbox 360 strongly encouraged me to pick it up (presumably so he could come over and play it). So, because I was admittedly hungry for some new titles and in all honesty wanted to impress with my friend with my fancy new(ish) console I threw down some student loan money and picked up a copy. That game was Gears of War and it and its sequels are some of the most fun I’ve ever had gaming. Its top notch visuals, while naturally dated by today’s standards, still look awesome and no other game embraces absurd over the top violence with the joy and polish as Gears of War. I recently replayed the trilogy in online coop and it was every bit as glorious as I remember. Slicing through Locusts with my chainsaw tipped lancer never gets old (seriously, never). Plus it gave me a chance to play as Dom and snag a few new achievements while getting to experiencing the game in a new light (I’ll sing the praises of coop gaming another time).
Gears is just one example and I use it because the franchise premiered on 360. Two of my other definitive exclusive franchises started out on the original Xbox. Halo and Fable. Halo blew my mind when I loaded it up on launch day back in 2001. I picked it up at the last minute because I wasn’t sure what to get with my new system and I’d never really been into FPS games before. I am now. I’ve played every installment repeatedly and will undoubtedly play each one again. Then there’s Fable. The over hyped and underrated action RPG that spawned two sequels that would consume two of my winters. I loved the first one, but its sequels are now synonymous with certain times in my life. When Fable 2 came out I was working a job I wasn’t exactly enamoured with and was lonely in a new city. The beautiful land of Albion in Fable 2 helped me get through that time and ward off depression. I put countless hours into Fable 2 and I don’t regret a second of it. I’ve recently replayed it in its entirety and the magic has not faded. Because of rich and mesmerizing games like this the 360 has a solid second place.
It’s third place where things get tricky. There’s a number of consoles I adore and some I go back more than others, but ultimately replay isn’t the deciding factor for me. I don’t often use my PS2 anymore (nevertheless it shall remain connected to my TV for the foreseeable future), but the amount of time I spent with it and the franchises that I first encountered on it make me feel it deserves to be in the top three. It was on this console I first met a smart mouthed Lombax named Ratchet and his brainy robot friend Clank. It was here I met a geek turned tough guy mutant named Jak and his smart mouthed pal Daxter. It was here I guided a lost angelic girl through a daunting castle as Ico. It was here I rode my horse to all corners of an immense land to slay majestic giants (the guilty feeling Shadow of the Colossus generated still haunts me). While I was enamoured with both the Xbox and the GameCube at the time I spent most of my gaming hours in the worlds only available on the PS2. While both of the aforementioned consoles have games that could qualify them for this list the PS2s were so extensive, varied and unexpected that I have to argue for its place in the top three.
When I started writing this article I intended purely to argue the merits of exclusives for a consoles’ justification and found myself going off on a tangent of nostalgia… and that is exactly what exclusives are all about. They create memories and experiences offered nowhere else and in so doing define a console. There existence creates appeal for a console and give us consumers something to yearn for. By the same token they give those of us with their respective systems something to brag about and make other jealous with. While countless cross platform games offer comparable experiences it’s the exclusives that create an overall feeling synonymous with a given console. When I think back of my favourite console it’s not really the console I’m thinking of it’s the experiences it provided. And it’s the exclusives that make that experience unique from all other consoles. When I was a kid there was only one place to play Mario World and I was the kid with the Super Nintendo.