It’s impossible to not look back on the year 2001 without thinking of the 9/11 tragedy. In but a moment, the world was changed forever when United Airlines Flight 93 struck the World Trade Center, taking countless lives and spawning a war that would steal even more.
For many, an escape from the real world came in the form of video games, and 2001 just happened to be one of the best years for the medium. Though Sega would announce that the Dreamcast would be their last piece of hardware early in the year, Sony’s PlayStation 2 would get classics like Grand Theft Auto III, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Silent Hill 2, Ico, and Devil May Cry among many others. During the summer, the Game Boy line would finally get a significant upgrade with the launch of the Game Boy Advance, a portable that could generate Super Nintendo and beyond level visuals. It didn’t hurt that it landed in North America with franchises like Mario, F-Zero and Castlevania out of the gate either.
The headline stealing development came late in the year, however, when Nintendo and new comer to the console space, Microsoft, released new hardware within days of one another in North America. While neither would reach the astronomically high sales figure of the PlayStation 2, both the Xbox and GameCube are still wildly beloved today. Halo: Combat Evolved, a launch title for the Xbox, kickstarted what is easily one of Microsoft’s most important franchises, and the GameCube controller is still the de facto way to enjoy Super Smash Bros.. Support for the controller was even patched into the version of Super Mario Sunshine that was included in Super Mario 3D All-Stars last year.
Of course, both consoles got their fair share of titles inspired by comic book properties, and while they shared many of them with Sony, some managed to find exclusive homes on the Xbox and GameCube. These came in the form of wholly original titles, or simply multiplatform titles that happened to feature content that couldn’t be accessed anywhere else.
AQUAMAN/AQUAMAN: BATTLE FOR ATLANTIS
Nowadays Aquaman has a major motion picture that has grossed over a billion dollars under his belt, but at the turn of the millennium, he was the butt of many a joke and considered one of the lamest superheroes ever created. It was surprising then that defunct publisher TDK Mediactive would secure the character’s video game rights. Even stranger is that they would release the same game across two platforms and give it unique titles: an Xbox version simply called Aquaman with the GameCube offering being awarded the sub-title Battle for Atlantis.
Developed by Lucky Chicken Games, Aquaman, regardless of the platform you play it on, is up there with Superman’s Nintendo 64 outing as one of the blandest superhero games out there. As the title character, you’re mostly swimming around a vast, empty ocean, seeking enemies to fight at which point the camera shifts into an awkwardly controlling one-on-one fighting game of sorts. Aquaman has one over fellow justice league alum, Wonder Woman, in that they have a game to call their own, but when the final product is Battle for Atlantis, maybe it’s better to just enjoy being part of an ensemble.
BATMAN: DARK TOMORROW
We currently can look forward to seeing three, count them three, live-action Batmen in the future, which is a far cry from when the GameCube and Xbox were on the market. Back then, the Dark Knight was a pariah in Hollywood after Batman and Robin poisoned the well until 2005’s Batman Begins came along and reinvented the character for a new generation. Video games, on the other hand, were a different beast altogether when compared to the movie business.
From offerings on the original PlayStation, the Game Boy Color and at-the-time next-gen outings from the likes of Ubisoft, Batman’s interactive appearances didn’t slow down one bit. One of the higher profile titles, at least at its announcement, was Batman: Dark Tomorrow, a game that was unveiled as a GameCube exclusive before receiving an Xbox port and a cancelled version for PlayStation 2.
Developed by Kemco with support from Hot Gen, Batman: Dark Tomorrow’s claim to fame are its high-quality CG cut-scenes. These were more than likely the brainchild of credited director/producer, Yuki Takafumi, who is best known for his work in film and television. It’s a shame then that there isn’t an enjoyable game that goes along with them.
In their series, What Happened, Matt McMuscles took a deep dive into the troubled development of Dark Tomorrow, where they uncovered that the ambitious title was plagued with difficulty from day one. From a team inexperienced with console hardware, so much so they were working on with a Game Boy Advance emulator, to overspending on an orchestral soundtrack and being worked on by teams scattered around the world, Batman: Dark Tomorrow was simply more than an outfit like Kemco could handle. It’s also notorious for featuring an easy to miss point-of-no-return segment that can drastically alter its ending. This comes from a nondescript computer terminal that you must interact with, even though you’re given no hint that you can.
In 2008, Microsoft would publish the Xbox 360 exclusive, Too Human, developed by the now shuttered Silicon Knights. It featured what was toted as an innovative combat system where melee combat was mapped completely to the right analog stick. What many don’t know is that this very same concept was used in the video game tie-in for Blade II.
Developed by Mucky Foot Productions, Blade II missed the theatrical release window of the film it was based on, instead hitting the home video release towards the fall of 2002. Released on both the PlayStation 2 and original Xbox, Blade II is essentially the same game with one key difference: Blade…’s coat. Yes, that’s correct. In what is perhaps one of the strangest piece of console exclusivity, the only way to control Blade wearing his iconic trench coat in Blade II was if you played it on the original Xbox.
One of the reasons to own a Dreamcast at its launch in North America was Soulcalibur, an enhanced port of the arcade game that received 10/10 review scores in publications like Electronic Gaming Monthly. Given that high praise, there was a lot of pressure on Namco, now known as Bandai Namco, to follow it up with something even better. Many would say that the sequel, aptly titled Soulcalibur II, did just that, especially with regards to its home conversions that arrived in the summer of 2003.
Guest characters have become all too common in fighting games, and one of the first titles to do this in a big way was Soulcalibur II. Depending on the console you played it on, you had access to one of three bonus characters. The most popular of these was Link on the Nintendo GameCube, who was joined by Heihachi on PlayStation 2 and finally Todd McFarlane’s Spawn on Xbox, wielding the axe that would become his primary weapon in Spawn: Armageddon later in 2003.
McFarlane was also responsible for designing the character Necrid, and his company, aptly named, McFarlane Toys, also produced action figures based on Soulcalibur II. Among them, of course, was Spawn. Years later, Spawn would eventually break free of the Xbox ecosystem when Soulcalibur II HD Online came to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
Sony presently shares joint custody of sorts with Disney on Spider-Man’s cinematic rights, but the wall-crawling wonder is still very much a major part of their business portfolio. Along with spin-off films like Venom and its sequel, not to mention the upcoming Morbius, you absolutely must be in the PlayStation ecosystem if you’re a fan of the character. On top of Sony publishing award winning Spider-Man games developed by Insomniac, Spider-Man will arrive later this month in Marvel’s Avengers, exclusively on PlayStation 4 and 5.
It’s funny then that when Spider-Man was set to make his cinematic debut in 2002, in a production released by Sony no less, the tie-in game would get exclusive content on one of PlayStation’s competitors: Xbox. Released in 2002 from publisher Activision, who thankfully no longer guide Spider-Man’s video game destiny, Spider-Man, not to be confused with the game of the same name released in 2000, featured levels and a boss fight with Kraven the Hunter that was absent from the other versions. These don’t extend the length of what’s a short game by all that much, but still, if you want the complete Spider-Man (2002) package, you simply must play it on Xbox.
SUPERMAN: THE MAN OF STEEL
Late 2002 saw the release of 2 Superman titles, both from publisher Atari, who seemingly obtained both the animated and comic book video game rights for the Man of Steel. First up was Superman: Shadow of Apokolips for the PlayStation 2 and GameCube based on the cartoon that ran in the late 90s. This was quickly followed by the only game on this list to get the coveted “Only on Xbox” label on its packaging: Superman: The Man of Steel.
Developed by Circus Freak Studios, The Man of Steel follows the Superman: Y2K storyline where a virus constructed by Brainaic has advanced the city of Metropolis to the point where citizens drive flying cars around futuristic looking skyscrapers. This stands in stark contrast to Circus Freak’s depiction of the title character who retains his classic look and talks like he’s straight out of the 50s or 60s.
There are things to like about Superman: The Man of Steel, mainly how it streamlines the character’s powers on the face buttons and matches the color pattern of enemies to their weakness. Missions often have frustratingly small time windows though, and you never get a sense that Superman is flying as fast as a speeding bullet, even as a visible streak is shown on screen behind him. For a studio that had only this and one other game below their belt, it’s an admirable effort, but it also could’ve used a bit more fine tuning before it landed.