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Archive for Sunday, December 15, 2002

Gift ideas to soothe the savage gamer

December 15, 2002

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They're bigger than Hollywood, and they're on more Christmas lists than ever before.

Video games are on everyone's list this year. From kids to adults, portable to home console, there are many options for every type of gamer. In the end, the best video game systems will prevail not because they have better hardware or play DVDs, but because they have great games that are extremely fun to play.

There are lots of great games this holiday season on all systems. If you are still shopping for only one game system, this guide will help you decide what to look for.

GAMECUBE (Nintendo)

Overall Score: A

Cost: $149.95

Online enabled? Yes

Games: 180+

HDTV Capable?: Yes

Pros: Cheaper, better exclusive software, widest audience range, fast load times, powerful graphics processor based on original IBM and ATI technology, intuitive controller.

Cons: Doesn't play DVDs

The most versatile system this year, when it comes to games, is the Nintendo Gamecube. From mature, atmospheric gameplay to mindless fun that makes you feel like a kid again, Nintendo shows its range this holiday season. Once touted as a company only for kids, Nintendo shattered those stereotypes for Gamecube with exclusives like "Resident Evil 0," "Eternal Darkness" and "Metroid Prime." Plus, there are a handful of great third-party mature games as well. Anyone who still thinks that Nintendo only makes games for kids hasn't been awake for the past three years. You can find holiday bundles that come with a free game at your local discount store. Here are the top five Gamecube games not to miss this season:

⢠"Metroid Prime" by Retro Studios, Rated: T, First Person, Adventure, Graphics: A+, Sound: A, Gameplay: A+, Overall (not an average): A

This game is truly ahead of its time. You won't get this kind of atmosphere or fun factor anywhere else for a few years. Take the role of Samus Aran, a bounty hunter seeking to discover what went wrong on the planet Tallon IV. There are no load times and no "levels." It's just one huge seamless world that sucks you in and never lets go. All the weapons, suits and visors you collect along the way are vitally important to discovering the story and completing the game. It's beautiful to look at, listen to and play. With lots of sci-fi action and many secrets to find, it's easily the best game this holiday season for every type of gamer.

⢠"Resident Evil Zero" by Capcom, Rated: M, Adventure, Graphics: A+, Sound: A, Gameplay: B-, Overall: A-

The prequel to the long-running horror/suspense franchise boasts the best graphics seen on any console. Plenty of weapons, intelligent puzzles, action and thematic elements will please fans of the series. The outdated control scheme can be detracting, but long-time fans will be used to it.

⢠"Eternal Darkness" by Silicon Knights, Rated: M, Adventure, Graphics: A, Sound: A+, Gameplay: A, Overall: A

This sleeper hit drew many comparisons to "Resident Evil," but it's very different. You play as 13 different characters during a span of 2000 years in different countries, figuring out how to beat the evil that has plagued the lineage of the main heroine, Alexandra Roivas. In addition to a health and magic meter, you also have a sanity meter. When your sanity goes down, the game starts playing tricks on you. It's the first game to actually play the player.

⢠"Super Mario Sunshine" by Nintendo, Rated: E, Action/Platform, Graphics: B-, Sound: A-, Gameplay: A, Overall: A-

If you liked "Super Mario 64," you will love this game. Mario now has a water pack and must defeat enemies in classic and new Mario style in search of the impostor Mario who has framed him on his vacation. Although the levels do not have the variety of the Marios of old, new gameplay elements will keep most gamers occupied for many hours.

⢠"Super Monkey Ball 2" by Sega, Rated: E, Puzzle/Action, Graphics: B, Sound: B, Gameplay: A, Overall: A

This is the best multiplayer/party game on any system. The simple controls make it easy for anyone to pick it up immediately. You are a monkey in a ball trying to roll your way through more than 200 levels of obstacles to reach your goal. Imagine the classic "Marble Madness" in 3D with monkeys and you have this game. Team up with three other people and have competitions in the mini-games, such as racing, boating, boxing, golf, tennis, bowling and more.

XBOX (Microsoft)

Overall Score: B-

Cost: $199.99

Online enabled? Yes

Games: 130+

HDTV Capable?: Yes

Pros: Holiday bundle comes with two games, powerful graphics processor, plays DVDs (with optional remote), hard drive for endless memory saves, strong online gaming via "Xbox Live."

Cons: Lack of strong exclusive games really hurts, currently many hiccups in connectivity online, DVD playback is marginal.

Microsoft's first video game machine shocked the U.S. with strong initial sales largely due to "Halo," arguably the best first-person shooter on a home console. But that was a year ago, and due to the lack of Xbox-only knockout titles, the Xbox largely has been dubbed "The âÂÂ'Halo' machine." Even though the hardware is selling consistently, the software is not. But this holiday season, Microsoft is packaging two games, "Sega GT" and "Jet Set Radio Future," with every Xbox to attract more sales, even though Microsoft is losing more than $200 with every Xbox purchase. But with recent games that promise a great online experience coupled with their "Xbox Live" peripheral, Microsoft hopes to prove that they are a true contender. Here are some Xbox-only games that are worth buying this season:

⢠"Splinter Cell" by UBI Soft, Rated: T, Action/Adventure, Graphics: A, Sound: A, Gameplay: B, Overall: A-

Not since "Metal Gear Solid 2" has a game incorporated stealth and action in such an accessible way. You are Sam Fisher, a secret operative of the NSA's Third Echelon. Crawl, jump, hide and shoot your way to prevent cyber-terrorists from initiating World War III. It's a relatively short game, but a great ride along the way.

⢠"Mechassault" by Day 1, Rated: T, Action/Shooter, Graphics: B+, Sound: B, Gameplay: A, Overall: B+

If you though the "Mechwarrior" series was a bit too complicated, "Mechassault" makes it easier for anyone to enjoy a mech game. Climb into a 40-ton walking tank as 31st century mechs square off in a wild contest of action and strategy. Download free mechs, maps and more with Xbox Live. Tons of fast-paced, run-and-gun action make this a holiday winner.

⢠"Shenmue 2" by AM2, Rated: T, RPG/Adventure, Graphics: B-, Sound: B, Gameplay: A-, Overall: B

If you like fighting and role-playing games and wonder what would happen if the genres were fused, then this is a must-buy. "Shenmue 2" picks up where its predecessor left off. Ryo, the hero, is in Hong Kong following the trail of Lan Di, the man who killed his father.

⢠"Blinx" by Artoon, Rated: E, Action/Platform, Graphics: A-, Sound: C+, Gameplay: B+, Overall: B

Blinx is a cat destined to fix glitches in time. With a device called the "Time Sweeper," Blinx battles enemies in the hope of rescuing a princess. The difference is that you must rewind, pause and fast-forward the game with the Time Sweeper in order to figure out certain puzzles necessary to complete the game. It's a great twist on the platform genre.

⢠"Halo" by Bungie, Rated: M, First-Person Shooter, Graphics: A, Sound: A+, Gameplay: A, Overall: A

One year later, this is still the best game on the Xbox. Play as Master Chief and search out the mysteries of the ring-shaped planet, "Halo." This first-person shooter puts games like "Unreal" and "Doom" to shame because of how immersive the environments are and how realistic the physics of the character's movement are. Although the multiplayer modes are not as deep as "Goldeneye," they are as much fun to play. If you want the best first-person shooter for the next-generation systems, you must buy this game.

PLAYSTATION 2 (Sony)

Overall Score: A

Cost: $199.99

Online enabled? Yes

Games: 300+

HDTV Capable?: Limited

Pros: Huge game library, can play Playstation One games, pays local stores to display more games than Xbox or Gamecube, plays DVDs (with optional remote.)

Cons: DVD playback marginal, many accessories are hard to find, only two controller ports standard.

The Playstation two debuted two years ago to a much higher demand than supply. The console sold for as much as $1,300 on eBay in its first month of release. The following year, PS2 owners weren't given any games worth playing. This problem was solved last Christmas with a slew of great titles, and this year is no different. Although the processing power is showing its age when compared to the graphical prowess of some Gamecube and Xbox games, it does not hinder the fact that the games are still fun to play. This season, don't miss these games:

⢠"Ratchet & Clank" by Insomniac Games, Rated: T, Action/Platform, Graphics: A, Sound: A-, Gameplay: A, Overall: A

There are so many gadgets and weapons to collect to blow up everything in your way that you can have hours of fun. The great thing about this game, however, is how focused the gameplay is on completing objectives, courting all of the cool weapons you pick up along the way. This is the best Playstation 2 game this season by far, pushing the graphics and sound engine farther than most games on this system.

⢠"Kingdom Hearts" by Squaresoft, Rated: E, RPG, Graphics: A-, Sound: A-, Gameplay: B, Overall: A-

If you mix the "Final Fantasy" series with Disney characters, you have "Kingdom Hearts." It may seem as though both worlds are mutually exclusive, but what results is an enjoyable role-playing experience with a trip down a cartoon memory lane. The environments are straight out of Disney cartoons, but the role-playing elements remain solid throughout.

⢠"Shinobi" by Overworks, Rated: M, Action, Graphics: B-, Sound: B+, Gameplay: A, Overall: A-

Sega's most revered action franchise returns. As the hero Hotsuma, you must run up walls, use magic and various weapons to fend off demons and the dead. Although the game is frustratingly hard at times, it is also very rewarding for the dedicated action gamer.

⢠"Maximo" by Capcom, Rated: T, Action/Platform, Graphics: B+, Sound: B+, Gameplay: A-, Overall: B+

Staying with the remake of old franchises, Capcom's "Ghosts 'N Goblins" gets a 3D Playstation 2 makeover. Maximo, the noble knight, returns home to find his kingdom in shambles. He must destroy Achille, his arch nemesis and, you guessed it, rescue the princess. It plays and feels like its predecessor. It's another great mindless hack-and-slash-'em-up for all types of gamers.

⢠"Grand Theft Auto: Vice City" by Rockstar North, Rated: M, Action, Graphics: C+, Sound: B+, Gameplay: B, Overall: B

"Grand Theft Auto: Vice City" takes you back to the '80s, the decade that brought you Tears for Fears and Back to the Future. People looking for the basics of "Grand Theft Auto 3" with more weapons and vehicles need look no further. There is nothing too original here, but the appeal is in its seemingly endless world where you can jack any vehicle, obtain any weapon and do anything and everything that you'd get jailed for in real life. It's definitely not for kids. So parents, it is your responsibility to explore other options.

GAME BOY ADVANCE (Nintendo)

Overall Score: A

Cost: 69.99

Online enabled? Future

Games: 500+

HDTV Capable?: Future

Pros: Cheap, small, portable, great battery life, compatible with all old Game Boy games.

Cons: Screen needs a lot of light.

Years ago, when Sega and Atari developed their handheld systems to compete with the original grayscale Game Boy, they figured that their color screens would easily knock Game Boy out as the best handheld system. Nintendo's philosophy of "content first, glitter second" paid off when all its competitors discontinued their color handheld systems. Now, Nintendo has developed the most powerful color handheld system with a processor slightly stronger than the original Playstation. The low battery consumption and huge library of games make it perfect for any gamer on the go. The Game Boy Advance resurrects some Super Nintendo classics this season along with some brand new versions of classic franchises:

⢠"Metroid Fusion" by Nintendo, Rated: E, Sci-Fi Action, Overall: A

It's a brand new, side-scrolling quest for Samus Aran, taking place right before the events of "Metroid Prime." Smart puzzles, lots of action, faithful to the franchise and portable.

⢠"Zelda: A Link to the Past" by Nintendo, Rated: E, Quest,

Overall: A+

It's the same awesome game from the Super Nintendo title of the same name. It also boasts a deep new multiplayer mode never attempted before in a quest game.

⢠"Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance" by Konami, Rated: T, Action, Overall: A

Those that liked "Castlevania: Symphony of the Night" on the original Playstation must pick up this one. It's better, bigger and the bosses have never been meaner.

⢠"Contra: Advance" by Konami, Rated: T, Action, Overall: A-

This is the Super Nintendo's "Contra 3: The Alien Wars" gone portable. It has two levels from the old Sega Genesis version as well. It's just as good as it was 10 years ago.

⢠E-Reader by Nintendo, Overall: A-.

This is a new peripheral for the Game Boy Advance. Just plug it into your Game Boy Advance, slide in an e-reader card and transfer entire games and other information right to your Game Boy Advance. The game cards are only $3 to $4, and you can trade them like baseball cards.

GAMES ON ALL SYSTEMS

No matter what system you buy, you can play these great games:

⢠"Madden NFL 2003" by EA Sports, Rated: E, Sports, Overall: A

The best football video game series keeps on improving with a deep NFL franchise mode and all new Madden challenges.

Create your own plays, formations and teams. A must-have for all NFL fans.

⢠"Mortal Kombat 5" by Midway, Rated: M, Fighting, Overall: A-

This is the biggest surprise of the season. Abandoning the tired "Mortal Kombat" fighting engine, the fifth installment of the series plays more like "Soul Calibur" or "Tekken," but each

character has three switchable fighting styles.

⢠"Tony Hawk 4" by Activision, Rated: T, Extreme Sports, Overall: A-

The Tony Hawk franchise has set the standard for smooth controls and over-the-top fun. This year's installment adds online play with bigger worlds. You can't go wrong.

⢠"Harry Potter: Chamber of Secrets" by EA Games, Rated: E, Adventure, Overall: B+

One of the very few movie-to-game conversions that actually works and is a blast to play. If you liked "Zelda: Ocarina of Time" on the Nintendo 64, then this game is for you. It's not as deep, but it's almost as fun.

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