With the recent news that China will now allow the sale of video game consoles and software for the first time since 2000, there is a lot of opportunity for Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo to market their hardware and games to Chinese gamers. While true console exclusivity is becoming more and more of a rarity, there are plenty of titles that have only ever been released on consoles. As a result, Chinese gamers have some pretty massive holes in their gaming canon to fill. We’ve looked over the past 15 years of game releases and picked out one title from each year that best represent the defining moments of console gaming. It’s just too bad that a good number of these probably won’t make it past China’s stringent content restrictions.
*Please note that it’s difficult to know with certainty all of the games that have or have not been banned in China, so for the purposes of this list, it is assumed that any title is fair game for release.
2001 – Halo: Combat Evolved (Microsoft Xbox)
While it’s true that the original Halo was eventually given a PC port, Halo: Combat Evolved remains synonymous with Microsoft’s Xbox and pretty much defined how first-person shooters should play on consoles. Later entries in the series play better and are richer experiences overall, but you really can’t talk about first-person shooters on consoles without starting with Halo.
2002 – Metroid Prime (Nintendo Gamecube)
It’s incredible to think that a 3D Metroid game has never been available in China, as the first Metroid Prime was released in 2002 and changed the way game designers thought of reinterpreting classic series from the 8 and 16 bit eras (Nintendo of course did something similar back in 1998 with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time). Stepping into the armored boots of bounty hunter Samus Aran in first-person may seem second nature now but back in 2002, it was an unproven concept that had its share of skeptics. Fortunetly, Metroid Prime silenced the critics and stands as one of the best adventure games of all time.
2003 – The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (Nintendo Gamecube, Wii U)
If you were to recommend just one Zelda game to a group of gamers who haven’t played anything new from the franchise in the last 15 years, it would almost certainly have to be The Wind Waker. Stylish and enchantingly designed, there is no other Zelda game like it and it remains an engrossing work of art to this day. The best part is that Chinese gamers have options: they could pick the game up in its original form on the Gamecube or in all of its HD glory on the Wii U, thanks to the remake released in 2013.
2004 – Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal (PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3)
2004 was a fantastic year for gaming. Titles like Half-Life 2, Doom 3, and GTA: San Andreas all made significant strides in game design and have had an enormous impact on the medium to this day. They also all available on PC. When it comes to console exclusives, 2004 wasn’t exactly brimming over with noteworthy titles, but the PS2 exclusive Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal represents one of the purest forms of gaming enjoyment available in any year. The third entry in Insomniac’s long-running franchise also happens to be one of the best in the series, filled to the brim with creativity. Even better, Sony released the game along with the first two Ratchet and Clank titles in an HD package on the PS3 a few years ago, making that the perfect place to start.
2005 – Shadow of the Colossus (PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3)
There’s a reason why The Last Guardian received such an enthusiastic response at this year’s E3 and that’s because of Shadow of the Colossus, the previous title from Team Ico. While their first game, Ico, was a noteworthy release back in 2001, Shadow of the Colossus is a bigger, more important game. There are few games that can match the scope and artistic achievement of SotC; it’s simply one of the most haunting, memorable gaming experiences ever made. Shadow of the Colossus also received the HD remaster treatment alongside Ico on the PS3 a few years ago, resulting in one of the greatest collection of games ever released. If there’s one console game that China absolutely must allow past the censors, it’s this one.
2006 – Okami (Playstation 2, Playstation 3, Nintendo Wii)
Cult-favorite title Okami didn’t receive the love it deserved from the rest of the world, so it might as well be given a chance in China. Revered for its distinct visual design and unique take on the action-adventure genre, Okami is like a watercolor painting come to life. Unfortunately, that didn’t translate to sales success and its developer, Clover Studio, was shut down not long after the game’s release. While its heavy emphasis on Japanese mythology and culture may not go over very well in China, that doesn’t change the fact that Okami is one of the most remarkable console games of the past ten years.
2007 – Super Mario Galaxy (Nintendo Wii)
Despite its commercial success, the Nintendo Wii was severely lacking when it came to great software. The console drowned under piles of “shovelware” and in typical fashion, it was up to Nintendo themselves to provide the system with some quality games. While its sequel is arguably the better game overall, the original Super Mario Galaxy is arguably the most innovative 3D Mario game since Super Mario 64 and is a landmark title that shows what creative powerhouses Nintendo really are. When it comes to 3D platforming experiences, it’s hard to do better than Super Mario Galaxy.
2008 – LittleBigPlanet (PlayStation 3)
Media Molecule’s puzzle platforming game isn’t for everyone, but LittleBigPlanet is largely responsible for jumpstarting the popularity of user-generated content games that continue to eat up a sizable chunk of the global games market, Minecraft being the most prominent example. There have been a number of new entries in the series, but the 2008 original still stands as one of the most innovative games of the 2000s and one of Sony’s best new franchises. Plus, a mascot as adorable as Sackboy would be a hit in any culture.
2009 – Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (PlayStation 3)
When it comes to the PlayStation 3, there is arguably no franchise that defines the console better than Uncharted and the second title, Among Thieves, is the definitive Uncharted experience. Bigger and better than the first game and not as bloated or uneven as 2011’s sequel Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, Among Thieves delivers one of the purest action-adventure experiences in all of gaming. Whether roguish protagonist Nathan Drake is dodging helicopter fire on a moving train or jumping between vehicles on a dangerous mountain pass, Among Thieves never lets off the gas. There’s a reason Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is the most anticipated PS4 game of next year and Chinese players need look no further than Among Thieves to understand why.
2010 – Red Dead Redemption (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)
While it’s a bit of a mystery as to how popular a game focused on the American Wild West would be in a Chinese market, that doesn’t change the fact that Red Dead Redemption is one of the last decade’s greatest games and an absolute knockout open world experience. It’s actually surprising that there is no PC port for this game, as Rockstar has typically migrated their Grand Theft Auto series over eventually. Alas, Red Dead Redemption is a console-only experience, but that just means that Chinese gamers have one more excellent game to purchase alongside their new consoles.
2011 – Gears of War 3 (Xbox 360)
You really can’t go wrong with any of the Gears of War games (except maybe the prequel title Gears of War: Judgment), so as a pound-for-pound summation of what truly defines the series, Gears of War 3 is the standout among the group. Featuring four player co-op in the campaign for the first time, alongside an overwhelming amount of additional content such as the fantastic Horde mode and suite of adversarial multiplayer categories, there’s no other game in the series that offers as much Gears goodness in one package. Of course, Chinese players may want to wait for the upcoming remaster of the first game for Xbox One but seeing as how that’s not available yet, Gears of War 3 is the way to go.
2012 – Journey (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4)
It may come as a surprise to find that the must-play console experience of 2012 wasn’t a big-budget, Triple A title, but a smaller indie game called Journey. While some players were put off by Journey‘s lack of traditional “gameness” — it only runs a few hours long and contains no combat or complex objectives — not since Shadow of the Colossus has there been a game that so thoroughly encapsulates the “games as art” argument. Journey is beautiful and an essential experience for anyone that can value art that makes them think and feel. Given the oppressive nature of their country, Chinese gamers could do much worse than spending a few hours with Journey.
2013 – The Last of Us (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4)
Regardless of platform, The Last of Us is a must-play experience. The best game of 2013 and one of the greatest achievements in narrative design in all of gaming, anyone who hasn’t played through Naughty Dog’s masterwork is truly missing out. It would be a terrible shame if this one doesn’t pass China’s censorship guidelines. If it does, the fine folks of China can see what all of the fuss is about on the PlayStation 3 or with the Remastered Edition on the PS4.
2014 – Super Smash Bros. (Nintendo Wii U)
If any series defines the fun and possibilities of console multiplayer, it’s Nintendo’s mascot fighter Super Smash Bros. China hasn’t had a new game in the series since the Nintendo 64 original way back in 1998, so what better way to show them how far the series has progressed than with last year’s Wii U release, which has quickly become the favorite entry for many fans. A special mention also needs to go to Mario Kart 8, which stands alongside Super Smash Bros. as the best game in the Wii U library.
2015 – Bloodborne
The current year has been extremely light so far on console exclusives, but one that stands out is Bloodborne, a PS4 exclusive developed by the same team responsible for the Dark Souls series. Incredibly difficult and dripping with Gothic style, there’s really no other game quite like Bloodborne, which makes it worth seeking out at the very least. Given that Dark Souls and Dark Souls II were eventually ported over to the PC, it seems likely that Bloodborne will eventually make its way over as well. Until then, there’s really no better console exclusive so far in 2015.