All this week in Multiplayer, I present my list of 2006's 10 greatest gaming moments, in the order I discovered them, a pair at a time. These moments don't make the games that contain them the best of the year, but they each provide enough of a thrill that I recommend you try to experience them yourselves.
Multiplayer: Greatest Gaming Moments Of 2006, Part Five
'Wii Sports' rocks even harder with elbow room, and you won't believe what Ecko's game will have you saying.
The 66-pin Strike: "Wii Sports" (Nintendo Wii)
For a full year the Wii offered the promise of controllable mayhem. Nintendo's new console would finally harness the arm swings and controllers hoists of old into practical game-controlling motion.
Like so many others, I enjoyed swinging the Wii remote like a tennis racket in "Wii Sports" tennis. And I found the "Zelda" sword swings viscerally satisfying in the game's rare moments of horse-mounted combat: my left hand using the Wii nunchuck to steadily guide the horse while my right hand flailed away in an attempt to slash colliding enemy riders. All that felt good.
"Wii Sports" bowling felt good too. I could hold the remote in my left hand, vertically at first, then swing back as my on-screen character rushed the lane. As I would swing forward, he'd bowl the ball. Occasionally that would result in a 10-pin strike. That all felt good too.
But then I found something really special. "Wii Sports" features training modes, including a bowling game called "Power Moves." In it, the player has to bowl for 10 frames, knocking down more pins each time. First you need to knock down 10, then 15, then 21 and so on. I tried this at my parent's house over Thanksgiving, where there was room to stand back from the TV and really swing hard. I kept hitting spares all the way up to frame eight at which point the Wii set up a triangle of 66 pins. I would feel it in my shoulder later, so I know I did this: I reared back and swung with more force than I have ever bowled a ball in my life. My digital bowler struck the lead pin of the 66, and all came tumbling down.
That felt like what the Wii is supposed to be. It felt great.
Bomb the Bridge: Marc Ecko's Getting Up (PS2)
Marc Ecko always said his first video game would be about graffiti culture. He always said it would teach the controversial artform's true values. Early in the game, however, the lead character you control, Trane, is just what's called a toy. You barely know the controls and he barely knows how to write on walls. He does small pieces, mostly self-indulgent.
But then, as you're learning new moves, Trane gets an earful from older graf writer who tells him that if he really wants to write, then first he needs to learn how to read. Trane learns some new pieces and gets political, tagging walls with warnings about police states and suppression of speech, all painted by your pressing of the controller's buttons. It's at that point that a game marred with some clunky controls and an old-school obsession with unnecessary and intrusive fistfights also becomes a rare piece of interactive entertainment: One where the words you trigger matter as much as the fists you throw.
And so, what starts off feeling crass and maybe not as smooth to play as it should be turns into an adventure of Public Enemy-type fight-the-power righteousness.
Late in the game you find yourself atop a bridge leading into the game's thinly veiled version of New York City. It's night time. You have really fought your way, brawling, leaping and screaming at the controller to get to the top. And when you're at the highest point, you hook a grappling point and rappel down the side. A helicopter's blades beat in the background; a spotlight tries to find you. You start dropping down the side of the bridge's massive tower, spray-painting the biggest wakeup call the city has ever seen in bright orange letters. If the spotlight finds you, the helicopter sprays machine-gun bullets. Meanwhile, Pharoahe Monch's voice booms out on the game's soundtrack. He raps political, shouting "And you know I'm the mother-f----n' fire-starta/ Piss on the Constitution and burn the Magna Carta!" And you might think: "Nas said hip-hop is dead. But here's its spirit — right here."
It may not be your politics, but it's undoubtedly powerful. The game has something to say, and it got you to say it.
— Stephen Totilo
Multiplayer: Greatest Gaming Moments Of 2006, Part Four
Toilet paper, gold bricks graduate 'Bully' and 'Lego Star Wars II' to list.
The toilet-paper toss: "Bully" (PS2)
The yearlong media firestorm about "Bully" implied the game would focus on school violence. As developer Rockstar Games revealed more details, the informed coverage indicated that the game would be a little closer to a high school comedy, something like "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" or "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." Then came the game previews and reviews, when it was discovered that "Bully" offers the chance to get in fistfights and food fights, to go to class, and to goof off racing bicycles and tripping people with bags of marbles. And you can make the hero, Jimmy Hopkins, kiss with girls. After the game was released, people discovered he can smooch some boys too.
None of that, however, intrigued me as much as a moment I experienced in the game's third chapter. I had taken a break from helping one of the greaser kids get over his cheating girlfriend. I'd gone to school and agreed to throw a firecracker in the men's bathroom toilet, and was walking away from the restroom triumphantly when a voice called out. It was a guy. He was asking for "T.P." It was coming from a closed stall. He wanted me to sneak into the janitor's closet and grab him a roll of paper. I did and returned. I switched to first-person view, and — instead of using that famous camera angle for shooting someone — I lobbed the toilet paper over the door. Mission complete.
I'd never done that before in a video game, and I can't say I even wondered if I ever would. Leave it to "Bully," a game designed at the edge of social acceptability, to join "24: The Game" this year in stretching the range of actions that can be fun to play.
The 60-brick bonus: "Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy" (PS2, GameCube, Xbox 360)
You watch a movie. You love it. Some day you watch it again, and all you need to enjoy it that second time is for it to hold up.
Gamers have long demanded more because games have long offered more. The original "Zelda" gave players remixed dungeons when played a second time through. The "Metal Gear Solid" games offered extra outfits. The "Ratchet and Clank"s gave you new weapons.
I was never terribly excited about these incentives. They didn't feel like sufficient reason to trek through a several-hour adventure all over again. So revisiting the levels of "Lego Star Wars II" offered a pleasant surprise. While blasting through them I discovered that certain feats could earn me gold Lego bricks. Finding 60 of the game's 99 total bricks would grant me some sort of surprise. Eventually I got the 60. By that time, I had logged more than 20 hours in the game and explored most of the game's nooks and crannies. And that's when I suspected that no game so thoroughly explored could possibly offer a sufficient reward for that effort. After all, I'd fought through "GoldenEye" years ago on the hardest setting and gotten an entire new level for my troubles, and that hadn't been worth it. I was skeptical.
I was also wrong. The 60-brick bonus, a new non-"Star Wars" level that I hesitate to fully spoil, presented not just an entire new area in the game but one where the fundamental balance of "Lego Star Wars" was tweaked for maximum reward. Hard work brought the bonus, and the bonus delivered the easiest, yet most chaotic and jam-packed of levels in which to play. Certainly that was better than getting a new set of clothes. It's the only late-game bonus I've ever recommended people bother to obtain.
— Stephen Totilo
Multiplayer: Greatest Gaming Moments Of 2006, Part Three
'Sound Voyager,' 'Defcon' provide two more of this year's most memorable moments.
The sound of victory: "Sound Voyager" (Game Boy Advance)
In the summer, I imported an experimental Game Boy Advance game called "Sound Voyager," which I'd heard wasn't even designed for gamers to look at while playing. Rumored to be one of the only audio video games ever made, I had to investigate.
The day I got it, I ran it in my Game Boy Micro with headphones plugged in. The game's main mode requires the player to listen for really short, looping musical riffs. One sound at a time plays in your ears, off to the left or right. Players need to tap a corresponding button on the GBA to align themselves with the sound. As they attempt that, the sound gets louder, which means it's getting closer, like a truck heading toward the intersection you're standing in. The goal is to be in that sound's lane and not let it pass by. Intercepting the sound catches it, makes it loop at its full volume and causes the next faint riff to sound off in the distance. Ultimately, you want to catch enough riffs to build a full song. Bear in mind that none of that involves looking at the GBA's screen, which just displays a blinking field of lights. You play this game by ear.
I still remember the first time I made a song in "Sound Voyager." I did it with my eyes closed. I beat a video game level without looking at it. Forget the Wii; that's the wildest experience I've had with a game all year.
The video game blues: "Defcon" (PC)
There are great sad paintings, great sad songs and great sad movies. But until I played Introversion's nuclear war strategy game "Defcon" this year, I had never played a game that — in a good way — bummed me out (see "GameFile: Crying Over 'Elite Beat Agents'; Wii, PS3 Not Quite Ready & More").
"Defcon" lets you play general in some unnamed government bunker, in charge of your country and allies' warheads and an unwinnable nuclear war. The game is illustrated primarily in dark blue; its sounds are soft; its sound effects hauntingly spare (a cough here, some typing there). The detonation of each city triggers a soft rumbling noise, a momentary disc of light and a cold display of type tallying the millions more dead.
If a game's fun can be measured by the desire to play it again, "Defcon" measures up. The strategy involved in the war is truly engaging. And yet your first nuclear strike, if it's anything like the one experienced by myself or other players I've talked to about the game, will be a moment of sadness. That was a stirring surprise in an age of games that have supposedly desensitized all but the most rabid emotions.
Once a week Multiplayer provides a Stock Report that should give you a sense of what actually is streaming into the office and how companies are trying to grab our attention:
The Stock Report:
» Number of games at MTV HQ: 208 (several games given to charity or co-workers)
» Last three games that arrived: "Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops" (PSP), "Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin" (Nintendo DS), "Fight Night Round 3" (PS3)
» Last system to arrive: PS3
» Last swag: "Castlevania" timeline poster (confirming that "Castlevania Harmony of Dissonance" took place in 1748 and "Castlevania II: Simon's Quest" in 1698, among other pertinent details)
— Stephen Totilo
Multiplayer: Greatest Gaming Moments Of 2006, Part Two
'24,' 'Half-Life 2: Episode One' provide two more of this year's most memorable moments.
Jack Bauer goes on tour: "24: The Game" (PS2)
Before TV's "24" premiered five years ago, most programs that needed to show action just cut to the car chase — or fistfight or other combustible moment. The creators of "24" didn't have the luxury: Their show had to eke excitement out of every waking minute of an entire day. Early into the development of the "24" video game, the designers at Sony's Cambridge Studio realized they weren't going to follow that same strict real-time clock, but they still took influence from the show's ability to make drama out of dreariness.
That led to Jack Bauer going on tour in a whole new way. "24: The Game" includes the driving and shooting missions you would expect, but it also includes an episode that requires Jack to join a tour group getting a look at a government agency building. The mission begins with Jack joining the group and continues with Jack following along. When the guide stops and begins to describe a sight, Jack can duck away and do some plot-required snooping. But then he has to join the tour again. It's all start-and-stop, stroll-along-and-duck-away. It's also one of the most ordinary activities offered in a video game this year, yet a refreshingly original gameplay experience. Maybe more games, to feel more extraordinary, will similarly tap into the ordinary.
Dog throws the car: "Half-Life 2: Episode One" (PC)
Gaming snobs have a mantra: It's the gameplay, not the graphics. In other words, it's what you do, not what you see. I agree with this, but "Half-Life 2: Episode One" presented a noninteractive moment that provides an exception to that rule.
Early in the first-person shooter — within minutes of starting it — players will encounter a seemingly unsurpassable chasm that they need to pass. The player-controlled hero Gordon Freeman can't fly or jump very far. His companion, Alyx, can do no better. But their robot ally, a gorilla-shaped behemoth called Dog, gestures that he has an idea. You're expected to walk your way into the driver's seat of a dilapidated car. Alyx gets in the other front seat, while Dog picks up the car and throws you to the other side.
You have no control of the throw, you can't escape the car when Dog's toss goes awry, and you start plummeting. But you can look around the whole time. That's because, since the first "Half-Life" game, developer Valve decided that players should be free to swivel their view even during otherwise noninteractive set pieces. So consider Dog's toss as a quick roller-coaster ride. You can gaze back. You can gawk. You just can't put on the brakes. It's an early thrill and a fun thing not to be in control of.
The in-game developer's commentary reveals that the whole moment wasn't even supposed to make it into the game. But it was too much fun to leave out. It's the most exciting nonplayable moment I experienced in a game all year.
— Stephen Totilo
Multiplayer: The 10 Greatest Gaming Moments Of 2006, Part One
List begins with exhilarating discoveries in 'Chibi-Robo,' 'Pursuit Force.'
Tea Time With Mrs. Sanderson: "Chibi-Robo" (GameCube)
During the first few months of 2006, the Nintendo GameCube stumbled into the twilight, offering a few awkward goodbyes. One was a forgettable military pinball game called "Odama," the other the odd "Chibi-Robo," the adventures of an action-figure-size household helper robot with an electrical cord as a tail. I expected "Chibi-Robo" to be light and quirky, maybe fun. The game's main draw seemed to be cleaning and exploring the relatively giant house of his owners, the Sanderson family, as if it were a "Zelda"-style dungeon full of puzzles and lurking enemies.
But what wound up drawing me in was the Sanderson family drama. Dad lost his job. Mom was struggling to pay the bills and ready to force her husband to sleep on the couch. Their daughter now refused to speak to anyone, and lost herself in coloring books and frog toys.
The Sandersons were giants compared to little Chibi-Robo. Their problems — as mundane as they were — were even harder to engage. I knew how to kill giant dragons in games, but I had no idea how I could help the Sandersons. A few hours into the game, Mrs. Sanderson plopped herself down at the kitchen table, utterly despondent. Chibi-Robo could use a toothbrush to clean dirty paw prints off the linoleum floor and had a blaster to zap away encroaching spiders, but to help Mrs. Sanderson I had to climb the robot to the top of the table and traverse a pile of unpaid bills. I heaved a sugar cube into Mrs. Sanderson's tea, hauled a spoon to her so she could stir. This made her a little happier. I got some points. And on I went, prouder than if I had just slew a rampaging beast.
"Mario" Meets "Spy Hunter" With One Giant Leap: "Pursuit Force" (PSP)
In 1992, Nintendo's designers combined the spirit of "Mario" games with the mechanics of racing games and came up with the combative driving classic "Super Mario Kart." But what if instead of invincibility stars and turtle-shell kicks they had imported Mario's signature move: jumping?
It took 14 years for that question to be answered with "Pursuit Force," a rare, wholly original game from Sony for the PSP. The game pits the player as a super-cop in repeated hot pursuit of colorful, comical criminal gangs. The main gimmick is that your super-cop can get in a high-speed car chase, then climb out of his seat and leap onto any other vehicle on the road with a Mario-size hop. And he can do something Mario would never do: open fire — mid-jump — on the car and driver he's leaping to via slow-mo "Matrix"-style.
The "Pursuit Force" high-speed jump is one of the wildest and most exhilarating actions available in a game this year. It was fun too when it showed up again closer to the year's end in an Xbox 360 game called "Just Cause."
To read about last year's top 10 gaming moments, check out "The Year In Video Games: 2005's Greatest Gaming Moments."
— Stephen Totilo
About this column: The average gamer doesn't have the time or cash to experience one-tenth of the games that come out every week. Collectively, the MTV News team does — and then some. With games streaming into the office each day, we see a lot, we play a lot and we remember a lot. We want to tell you what we're playing and what's worth caring about it, and we'll do it every day at MTV News: Multiplayer. To follow the column daily, bookmark multiplayer.mtv.com.