Metroid Prime (GC)
Eight years after Super Metroid, the series makes its long-awaited return, this time in 3D. It was a controversial decision - fans were wary of a diluted Metroid experience and a fear of going three dimensional just for the sake of it. Fans were able to rest easy, however, as Metroid Prime went on to claim perfect and near perfect scores while becoming an equally big commercial success.
Personal Highlight:For all the qualities that made it game of the year, the thing I remember most is seeing a couple friends of mine get way, way too worked up for Metroid Prime's release. Maybe because I've never been more than a casual Metroid fan I didn't understand, but the hype for this one was huge.
Other Notable Releases in 2002: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (PS2): The 80s-themed follow-up captured the decade to a tee, while improving on GTA III in every way. Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos (PC) tries to break get out of the rut of the genre by adding in hero characters. Super Mario Sunshine (GC) serves as Super Mario 64's successor on the GameCube.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (Xbox)
I apologize in advance for the number of BioWare RPGs that will be on this countdown. But, it's games like KOTOR that make it impossible to leave them off. Making an RPG from the Star Wars franchise is a daunting task, and having to deal with a lot of lofty expectations from a passionate fanbase, but BioWare hit a homerun. An epic story, open gameplay, a diverse cast of characters to be recruited to your team, and a plethora of moral decisions that moved your Jedi from Light or Dark Side-inclined made for an amazing combination. If that weren't enough, KOTOR opened up an entire time period of Star Wars Expanded Universe to be explored that fans actually cared about.
Personal Highlight: I've probably played this game through once every couple years since its release. And no matter how many times I play it, HK-47 stands out as one of the best and funniest video game characters of all time. Even when I'm trying to play a light sided Jedi I'll find a way to convince myself that the slightly underpowered and extremely evil HK-47 makes sense to bring with on my planet side adventures.
I may be the only person to remember this little gem, but Amplitude and its predecessor Frequency (developed by Harmonix), have a lot to do with the success of the music/rhythm game genre. The scrolling notes, licensed music from famous artists, power-ups and score multipliers are all staples of current Harmonix-inspired games. Plus, this is the game that introduced me to Freezepop for which I will always be grateful.
Personal Highlight: The songs: "Cherry Lips" by Garbage, "Baseline" by Quarashi, "Shades of Blue" by Chris Child, and "Everyone Says Hi" by David Bowie. Just writing this makes me want to find my Amplitude disk and see how bad my skills have eroded.