Wait a minute- January releases? Isn't this March? Yep, we're a little bit late with this feature (okay, we're a LOT late with this) and now we're playing catch-up, but better late than never, eh? And with Elizabeth (Gaiages) taking a breather from the feature, I've decided to step in and help finish what she started, so giddy up!
Historically, January has been an interesting month for releases because it comes right after a busy holiday season. Especially in recent years, most major AAA games start coming in March after the new year begins, but a few titles actually did release in January here and there. So let's take a trip down Memory Lane and see what the first month of the year held for the industry over the years.
One of our rather low-key years this time around, January 2003 didn't harbor many releases at all, but there were still a few notable games that came out, with perhaps the biggest one being Sim City 4, which was the first game in the series to primarily use a 3D engine to render its visuals. In the end, this fourth installment did quite well for itself, becoming one of the top-selling PC games of that year and garnering review scores that averaged around the mid-80's on Metacritic.
Other Notable Releases: Devil May Cry 2, Panzer Dragoon Orta
Only one true game of note came out in 2004, and it was a remake of one of the most influential games of all time - Metroid: Zero Mission. This GBA classic brought the classic NES original Metroid up to date with brand new graphics, gameplay enhancements, and even a new epilogue mission which saw the first ever appearance of Samus in her Zero Suit. For GBA owners, it was pure bliss, and even to this day is widely debated to be the best handheld entry in the series yet.
Other Notable Releases: Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel
What's this? A year where there was two massive games coming out in the very first month? Believe it - this year's January saw not only the release of a new handheld Zelda title, but also one of the most anticipated games of entire generation - Resident Evil 4. To make things more controversial, it was exclusive to Gamecube at first, and Nintendo fans got their sweet, sweet comeuppance with this massive exclusive which made PS2 owners wrench with jealousy.
At least for a little while. After Capcom decided that the game did not fall under their exclusivity agreement with Nintendo, Resident Evil 4 was ported to the PS2 and released in October later that year, and with extra content to boot. It was subsequently ported to pretty much every non-handheld platform in existence afterward (no joke), and in fact an HD version just released for Steam recently. But it's all for good reason - Resident Evil 4 is widely considered to be the best game in the entire series, even above Resident Evil 5 and the more recently released (and controversial) Resident Evil 6.
Other Notable Releases: The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
2006... oh boy, where do we start. For the first time in a while, this year started off with no new releases during January. Zero, zip, zilch, nada. But despite that fact, some interesting developments DID happen. Arguably the biggest bit of news during the month this year was that Nintendo announced the DS Lite, which would go on to become the de-facto version of the handheld during the DS generation (more so than even the DSi and DSi XL.)
In other news, this was the month that Activision (or more accurately Vivendi, Activision's parent company at the time) acquired High Moon Studios (developers of the recent Transformers Cybertron series of games and last year's Deadpool), and Take 2 acquired Irrational Games, Ken Levine's studio which is most famous for creating the System Shock and Bioshock series. There were also rumors that Cisco was interested in buying Nintendo, though nothing panned out in the end. Finally, Sony was reported to be developing an "Xbox Live-killer" that we all now know as PSN. It doesn't quite live up to that 'description' nowadays, but it does give Microsoft a run for their money with their well-received PlayStation Plus program.
Other Notable Releases: Nothing!
If you know your gaming, and you know it well, you'll remember that 2007 was essentially the holy grail of video gaming-dom. It's actually ridiculous how many good games came out that year, and January was no exception. While there were plenty of big games, arguably the biggest release wasn't an actual standalone game but an expansion of one of the biggest games in existence at that point - World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade.
Why was it a big deal? It was the first major expansion for the Blizzard MMORPG, and players were hungry for new content, so much that the expansion sold through 2.4 million copies on the first day alone. In addition to a new story campaign, the level cap being raised to 70, new PvP enhancements, and a whole new planet with all-new quests, items, dungeons, raids and more, The Burning Crusade also introduced two new playable races: The Draenei and the Blood Elves. It was one of the best received expansions ever for the game, garnering an average of 91 on both Metacritic and Gamerankings.
Other Notable Releases: WarioWare: Smooth Moves, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice For All, Rogue Galaxy, Lost Planet: Extreme Condition
If you thought 2007 was a good year for January releases, 2008 was ecstatic with them. In fact, there were two extremely notable games that released that month, though I'll focus on the one that I believed had a larger cultural impact on the industry for certain reasons. That game was No More Heroes.
It wasn't Suda51's first title by any means, but No More Heroes was for many gamers their first taste of Grasshopper Manufacture's wild and crazy antics. Starring a young punk named Travis Touchdown, the game featured a great visual style, unorthodox gameplay, and crude humor to boot. The game cemented itself as one of the Wii's best third-party titles and would go on to receive a sequel a few years later as well.
Other Notable Releases: Burnout Paradise, Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice, Rune Factory 2: A Fantasy Harvest Moon, Advance Wars: Days of Ruin
After a great 2007 and excellent 2008, January 2009 was a bit more low-key in terms of big releases. There were ports of Saints Row 2 and Mirror's Edge for PC, but those had released in the Fall of the previous year for consoles already. The most notable title releasing then was likely Skate 2, the sequel to the game that gave Tony Hawk's Pro Skater franchise a run for its money a couple of years earlier. Building on some of the design it started in the first game, Skate 2 managed to score some impressive reviews, averaging around the mid-80's on Metacritic and Gamerankings.
Other Notable Releases: Lord of the Rings: Conquest, Star Ocean: Second Evolution, DJ Max Fever
This year saw one of the biggest release months ever for January with the likes of Darksiders, Bayonetta, No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars and more all releasing in close proximity to each other. However, you better believe there was no bigger game on peoples' radars than the Bioware-developed bruiser known as Mass Effect 2.
The first Mass Effect was generally well-received by many fans, but Mass Effect 2 took things to a whole new level with its increasingly action-oriented gameplay, deep story, engaging characters, and abundance of personalized choice-based design. It all resulted in what many consider to be the best Mass Effect game yet.
Other Notable Releases: Bayonetta, Darksiders, No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars, MAG
Keeping up the momentum from 2010, January 2011 had a few big heavies of its own in its release lineup, but the biggest was probably LittleBigPlanet 2, Media Molecule's smash successor to one of the biggest games of 2009. Though there was a lot that was similar to the first game, LBP2 offered a wider array of options to create your own levels and worlds. The tools were so powerful, in fact, that many could create their own actual games with them, with one person creating a top-down Zelda-inspired game, another recreating a limited version of Final Fantasy VII, and more.
Other Notable Releases: Dead Space 2, DC Universe Online, Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, Kingdom Hearts: Re:coded
January 2012 was another bustling month of release activity, and this time it was Square Enix's time to shine with the release of Final Fantasy XIII-2. It was the JRPG giant's chance to rectify some of the faults that made the game's predecessor unbearable for many, and though it did, many critics agreed that the game was still a bit lackluster when compared to numbered Final Fantasy entries of yesteryear, especially in regards to its story. But Square Enix was not one to falter so quickly; they announced yet another a FFXIII sequel later that year, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, though it wouldn't release until February 2014.
Other Notable Releases: Soul Calibur V
All in all, January has been a pretty decent month for releases, bar one or two years. In fact, it's probably not too far behind the Fall months in terms of importance of games releasing, possibly only being bested by March, which can often rival October and November's release list. Which is a good thing, right? After a holiday lull in December, what better way to get back on the bandwagon with new releases than with games released in January?
What were your favorite games that released in the month of January over the years? Let us know below!