Talking ‘Bout Last Generation PlayStation 2 Is Alive and Kicking Ass

Talking ‘Bout Last Generation PlayStation 2 Is Alive and Kicking Ass
It’s been a banner year for gaming, with the long-awaited Wii and PS3 launches helping propel the biz to a record $12.5 billion in earnings in 2006. But amidst the hoopla came a largely unheralded fact — when the year-end numbers were good and crunched, the biggest-selling home console was not next-gen at all. Nope, the seven-year-old PlayStation 2 continued to beat all comers.

Now, you might say that victory is skewed since the PS2 was selling all year long (though so was the Xbox 360) so let’s just look at December. The PS2 moved 1.4 million units, or roughly three times the number of PS3s, more than twice the Wiis and about 300K more than the 360.

"I literally said ‘Oh my god’ out loud when I saw the December PS2 numbers,” Anita Frazier, an analyst from marketing research firm NPD, told "For that platform to have sold as many units as it did in December up against two new systems in the market was amazing, regardless of the price point.”

In an industry so hell-bent on progress (ever try reselling a game more than a month after release?) what these stats reveal is that gamers aren’t necessarily playing along.

This isn’t an across-the-board phenomenon, of course. The original Xbox is dead as dead, while the GameCube is essentially irrelevant. But the PS2 surged over the holidays with the outstanding software like Bully, Okami, Final Fantasy XII and Guitar Hero 2.

So far, this year is shaping up no different. The rabidly-anticipated two-disc God of War II — set in the aftermath of 2005’s best game and once again starring skull-crushing warlord Kratos — is due later this month on the ancient console because the developers wanted to focus on content, rather than get distracted by the PS3’s advanced innards. Early reviews are already dubbing it a masterpiece, so expect another brutally bloody, visually stunning myth-based blockbuster. Oh, but this time you get to fight the Colossus of Rhodes and fly a flaming Pegasus.

In the meantime, PS2 owners are likely sailing ships through the cosmos in the Star Wars-indebted space pirate epic Rogue Galaxy. Next-gen proselytizers may rightly boast of high-def wow factors, but RG proves the best developers can wrangle impressively cinematic visuals out of the ol’ PS2 processor. Rather than fruitlessly aiming for photo-realism, developer Level-5 (Dark Cloud 2, Dragon Quest VIII) instead created an interactive anime with an absolutely gorgeous hand-drawn look and almost no load-times. The gameplay is in-depth, allowing creation of weapons and abilities as well as strategic control over your travelling companions, and this beast of an action-RPG should last at least 60 hours. Admittedly, it follows a predictable premise —young man leaves oppressed desert planet for adventure on the high seas, er, stars — and while not a living, breathing world like Oblivion, the vast universe of planets are plenty engrossing as you careen towards that final galaxy-saving boss battle.

Throughout the year, more potential PS2 hits are in the pipeline, ranging from RPGs like Square-Enix’s Dawn of Mana and Atlus’ cult Persona 3 to an ‘80s edition of Guitar Hero, karaoke from Britney to My Chemical Romance with SingStar Pop, console versions of PSP hits Lumines and GTA: Vice City Stories, an all-new Burnout and the sequel to Rockstar’s ever-twisted Manhunt.

While it won’t live forever, reports of the PS2’s demise were clearly premature. Unlike its now-obsolete last-gen competitors, publishers still want access to that enormous user base while hardcore gamers enjoy its massive library and casual types cave into the incredibly low price (under $150).

Nintendo has been rightly praised for its recent "blue ocean” strategy to reach out to non-traditional gamers. But with the 110 million PS2s out in the world, and another 11 million expected in the coming year, it kinda seems like Sony already has.