November is typically a busy month for video games, as publishers scramble to release their titles for the holiday buying season. 2002 was no exception. The Xbox and GameCube had hit stores a year earlier, with the PlayStation 2 having been around a while already, and all three consoles were truly hitting their stride. Developers had learned how to work with their architectures, and the 2002 holiday season was shaping up to be an exciting one.
In 2002, I was in high school and didn’t have any disposable income for buying games. Since free-to-play games didn’t really exist back then and digital storefronts hadn’t come into prominence yet, that meant that Christmas and my birthday were two of the only reliable times I would get new games. Back then, my family had a pretty set-in-stone holiday schedule. My sister and I would go to see our father’s side of the family on Christmas Eve, having dinner and opening presents. Then, on Christmas Day, we’d drive out with our mother to see her family out in a neighboring town. That Christmas Day ritual was sometimes nice, but as a kid it could also be excruciating. We wanted to be hanging out with our friends, playing our new games — but we were stuck out in the country, watching the Queen’s Christmas Message with our very British (lovely, but British) family.
In late December 2002, though, a snowstorm tore through my hometown, making it impossible for us to travel out to see my mom’s family. Instead, we stayed at home, watched movies, and, yes, played games. That Christmas, my mom had gotten a little bonus and she showered it on my sister and me. I unwrapped both Metroid Prime and Metroid Fusion, which had been released the month prior. I even got the weird link cable that let you connect the GameCube with a Game Boy Advance, which in this case unlocked the original Metroid game.
Stealth Action & Star Wars — November 2002 in Games
Anyway, back to November 2002 in games. While I was looking forward to playing Metroid Prime, my friends who owned an Xbox were enjoying some of the most formative stealth action games ever released. Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance presented two very different takes on the genre, with the former being a relatively restrained tale of geopolitical intrigue and the latter being, well, Metal Gear. The Xbox also got some big mech titles — you had your pick of the straightforward multiplayer shooter MechAssault and the mech game to end all mech games, Steel Battalion. I never saw that one and its massive dedicated controller until years later at a convention.
Star Wars was in kind of an odd place in 2002. The franchise was definitely back in the public consciousness, with Attack of the Clones having hit theaters that summer. That movie did well enough at the box office, though it was the first Star Wars film to be outgrossed in the year of its release — by both Spider-Man and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Revenge of the Sith wouldn’t come out for another three years, but an avalanche of Star Wars games helped tide fans over. In November 2002, they got both Star Wars: Bounty Hunter, a so-so title for the PS2, and Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, an excellent shooter starring mercenary-turned Jedi-turned mercenary again Kyle Katarn. My friends and I must have played the demo for that game fifty times over, especially once we realized you could use cheats to spawn in different enemies and weapons.
PlayStation 2 owners made out pretty well in November 2002 also. The first Ratchet & Clank game was released, as was the second Dark Cloud — Dark Cloud 2, or Dark Chronicle pretty much everywhere outside of North America. The PlayStation 2 also got a port of Marvel vs. Capcom 2, a couple of remakes of retro classics in Shinobi and Rygar: The Legendary Adventure, and, uh, James Cameron’s Dark Angel, which came out about half a year after the show was cancelled.
Weirdly, November 2002 saw the release of Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance and Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance only a day apart. People were making all kinds of ill-advised alliances back then, I guess. Speaking of ill-advised decisions, BMX XXX — formerly known as Dave Mirra’s BMX XXX before he sued to have his name taken off it — came out that month. If you’re too young to remember it, it was a game where you could have a character ride around on a bike with her tits out. (Unless you were playing it on the PS2, in which case that was censored.) It is now commonly believed that publisher Acclaim added vulgar humor and nudity to try to garner press for what was shaping up to be a terrible game. Well, it worked insofar as I’m talking about it 20 years later, but it didn’t do much for BMX XXX‘s sales.
GameCube owners who were more into retro stuff than I was at the time were able to pick up Sonic Mega Collection, which was a bargain of a package that included all of the Genesis classics as well as some games that were previously unreleased in North America. And while I’d moved on from Pokemon, franchise fans were enjoying the release of Pokemon Ruby & Sapphire, which for a while was seen as one of the low points for the series but has since gone through a bit of a rehabilitation.
Outside of games, November 2002 saw the release of Eminem’s single “Lose Yourself” and the first Harry Potter movie; the first recorded case of SARS in Guangdong Province, China; the premiere of Ina Garten’s cooking show “Barefoot Contessa”; and the signing into law of the Homeland Security Act. So, uh, kind of a mixed bag of a month. At least we got Age of Mythology!