20. OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast
Multi, Sumo Digital, Gamepage>.
Tom: Kristan's been off work a bit, so I've been organising all this [waves arms around]. One of my solemn duties has been to revisit as many of the top 50 games as possible and see if I feel like commenting on them. Of all the stuff I've tried, this one involved the most faffing (where is my Xbox? where are the cables? where is the annoying end bit that connects the console to the pad cable? where is the disc?), but also the one that lasted me the longest. It just loves being played. It's always picking up after you, holding the door open, making sure everything's as happy as possible. The very opposite of trying to find an Xbox after a house-move.
Kieron: Despite considerable peer pressure, OutRun 2 didn't click with me. Which makes me wonder why on earth the highly similar sequel had me squealing like the girl in the passenger seat when I played it to death. I'll tell you why: because I was a bloody idiot, and it's great. Best racing game since the last great racing game.
Mathew: The purest example of what driving games should be, not what they are. Rather than being a bore-o-simulator mostly about simulating all the details of tarmac and brake ratios, it simulates only the sheer pleasure of jumping in a ludicrously fast sports car that you could never afford and driving faster than is humanly possible. Outrun 2006 does have an occasionally annoying system of unlockables, but it's worth it.
James: I do still get annoyed by that '2', though. Really, what's wrong with a good old-fashioned 'To'. Bah, these young games today. Grumble grumble, etc.
19. Dragon Quest: The Journey of the Cursed King
PS2, Square Enix, Gamepage.
Kieron: Proof, if proof be needed, than console RPGs can have really rubbish titles too.
Dave: Boring but brilliant. So maybe paradoxically brilliant.
Simon: It's fascinating really. Dragon Quest VIII is a lumbering dinosaur of a game. It's everything about RPGs that people who hate RPGs hate - all masked by pretty, cel-shaded white flowers, Akira Toriyama and endless lush hills. It's charming but when did charm hide the vindictiveness of random battles for more than 10 minutes? In its exquisite localisation, it's well spoken - but when did class and professionalism make up for being plain out-of-date? It's a good RPG story but when was a good RPG story any much more than a series of predictable events leading to the same old conclusion? I don't know but, either way, I'm still in love.
James: The best Quest since Police Quest 3.
18. TOCA Race Driver 3
Multi, Codemasters, Gamepage.
Kieron: They're still making TOCA games? How quaint.
Oli: Motorsport done right. It's a little overweight and not every class works, but when they do, TOCA serves up the best technical close racing on any console.
PSP, Sony, Gamepage.
Kieron: I highly enjoyed the mini-furore around whether LocoRoco was racist or not in the gaming blogosphere.
Tom: JOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOIN! Bouncing around, trying to find hidden things without losing anyone. I loved that. Some of the little touches were sublime - like the square blobs overflowing from the end-of-level jam jar. But after a while the charm dried up, and I couldn't be bothered to go back through for the rest of the flowers. Worth playing through once though, definitely. Absolutely beams next to the high-percentage of jagged heartless dross that makes up the PSP back catalogue.
Simon: Katamari's six-year-old just-lost-my-milk-teeth cousin was built from the most perfect palette - shades of colour swatch made blob and given simple, brilliant videogame behaviours that made people who know videogames smile and people who don't quizzical. Playing LocoRoco was like being a kid again, rolling into Green Hill Stage 1, discovering what videogames could be about and the places they could take us. And as for the controversy stirred by hit-hungry bloggers? I finished the game and I'm still not a racist.
Kristan: In a year when the PSP's relevance has steadily declined to the point of alarming fake websites set up by Sony featuring the now-legendary with Cousinpete givin' it street stylee (cringe) we shouldn't forget the beautifully charming LocoRoco. Essentially a cute 2D platform-puzzler with blobs, it worked for the simple reason that it was perfect for bite-sized handheld gaming. Probably more charming than any other game released all year, the squelchy organic visual style and absolutely hilarious songs reminded me of how much mileage there still is in 2D gaming when it's designed with as much soul and artistry as this. If Sony could rewind a few years and not allowed the PSP to become the ultimate shovelware/piracy platform, we could be hugging the PSP to our chests. But instead, it has sat in its little lycra mitten and sobbed itself to sleep. If you were too disillusioned with the PSP to buy LocoRoco at the time, now's your chance - it didn't sell, so it'll probably be really cheap. You'll literally love me to death for recommending it, and you don't get a more cast iron guarantee than that.
Dan: A rare burst of originality for Sony's beleaguered handheld, all the more noticeable for its utter lack of sequelitis or remake fever. Admittedly, there's the suspicion that it's the sort of game you can probably play in Flash online for free, but let's not quibble. Instantly engaging to watch, intuitive to play and loaded with squidgy yellow balls of... stuff. What's not to like? More like this, please.
Luke: Games should make you happy. No game makes me happier than the dangerous cheerful LocoRoco. Gotta love them singing blob things.
16. New Super Mario Bros.
DS, Nintendo, Gamepage.
Kieron: They're still making Super Mario Bros. games? How quaint.
Alec: Included purely because the Goombas jump in time to the music.
James: Mario's penitence for shamefully plastering his mug over any genre that'll have him. It's good to go back to your roots sometimes.
Tom: This grew on me, and occasionally hit the peaks of other Marios - bending the logic of the old games to surprise the player, and create new challenges. But, as with all things, Yoshi's Island did it all just as well if not better ten years ago.
John: Just superb. It's hard to make intelligent analysis of a game that's just so ordinary, and yet so astonishingly good. They put the platforms in the right order again. Those confounded geniuses. The game also marks a point of maturity for the DS, where such a AAA release doesn't even contemplate worrying the touch screen (beyond the separate mini-games). It will be a while before the same sense is applied to the Wii, but it demonstrates that it's likely, and once people are over the novelty, the medium will offer us new all-time classics like NSMB.
Oli: I was expecting either to be bitterly disappointed, or for it to be my favourite game of the last ten years. Neither happened. It's no Super Mario World but then, what is?
15. We Love Katamari
PS2, Namco, Gamepage.
Mathew: We do, oh god we do. From the King of Space's tragic back-story to the endlessly lovable exploits of the prince as he rolls up the world and causes what must be billions of dollars of damage, We Love Katamari might be the closest thing on earth to distilled joy. It was nearly impossible to wrestle the control pad away from my girlfriend, for example.
Kieron: Obviously, We love We Love Katamari. Played to death the week where I moved into the house of fellow Eurogamer freelancer Jim Rossignol. I brought my PS2, but hadn't brought a memory card so we left the game running for days, playing through the game several times due to us occasionally deciding to turn the bally thing off. At its best, had me laughing and pointing at the screen like nothing else.
Alec: Long live the King's pornographic leggings.
Tom: Took much too long to come out, and completely died at retail, this one. That's of course in stark contrast to the States, where both Katamari games were so cultishly popular that stocks were always running low. In the UK, it was also hard to find, but that was because they didn't make many in the first place, and barely anybody cared all that much because nobody had played the first one. Sony's lengthy campaign to ensure nobody here ever buys its stuff from another country, or gets to jump the queue by running imported PS2 games on PAL hardware, means that it never had a chance. Well done, EA, Namco and Sony, for being a pack of useless idiots. (The game? Magnificent.)
James: European otaku (Euraku?) will probably affirm with their dying breath that the first not-out-over-here Katamari Damacy is the best. At least we got a version, and a pretty good one at that. The PSP one's not that bad, either.
Tom: Yes it is.
Oli Welsh: A post-modern game about its own making that would be too clever by half if it wasn't so delightfully simple. Very funny and touching too, and as it happens, better than the original.
14. Canis Canem Edit
PS2, Rockstar Vancouver, Gamepage.
Alec: I went and beat up everyone in the local primary school and then kissed a man after playing this.
Tom: Like Table Tennis, this is proof Rockstar can turn its hand to all sorts. Effectively a rebadged GTA model, it manages to do what all that game's wretched rip-offs have never done all that convincingly, and actually improve on it.
Mathew: When I finished the main story of Canis Canem Edit I felt a real loss; I just wanted Jimmy's story to continue. It might not have been the most well written thing of all time, but Canis Canem Edit's change of setting from the GTA series was its strength; with the classwork, the relationships between high-school cliques and the after-school jobs all highlights of a game that was far more mature than the "Colombine simulator" some had painted it as.
Dan: Memories of trying to make that bicycle leap over the school gate in Bak to Skool came flooding back as the free-roaming GTA template was applied to that other hive of criminality - the high school - with impressive results. A create-a-character option would have nudged it even higher and, for that authentic 1985 ZX Spectrum ambience, I demand that any future sequels allow you to change the teacher's names to Mr Pisscakes McPoostink...
James: Picture it: the Daily Mail on one side with a knee-jerk negative reaction to its school bully premise; games journalists on the other clamouring to justify its story of underdog triumph in a spiteful world. The truth: somewhere in between.
13. Tomb Raider: Legend
Multi, Crystal Dynamics, Gamepage.
Kieron: They're still making Tomb Raider games? How quaint.
James: A little too high in the charts for my liking. She's scrubbed up nice, though.
Tom: It's flawed, but it also completely swept away the memory of Angel of Darkness (not to mention all the other rubbish sequels), while Keeley Hawes is the most convincing Lara they've found yet. Kristan will tell you it's tired and mediocre, I expect; I thought it was the best 3D platformer in ages, and probably the one that married story to gameplay the best of everything since Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.
Kristan: Tom, correctly, surmised that this is probably the best 3D platform action adventure in years. He's right, and Legend is a massive return to form after the dark days of Angel of Darkness, but, to me, it's still only approaching the stunning greatness of the early Lara classics. There's so much potential in this brand it hurts, and deserves to be thought of with the same wide-eyed awe as Zelda. As it is, it's uncomplicated level-by-level fun with too little ambition, piss-easy combat, and poor boss encounters. It deserves to be better, Eidos. Ask me how!
John: And not just a pretty face. But such a pretty face. I've never much fancied Lara, but oddly enough it's the imperfections that made her attractive. Zoom in on her features and you'll see the pockmarks on her skin left by childhood spots, tiny blemishes, flecks around her eyes. Then Hawes' fantastic voice acting and a decent script gave Lara the personality to match. It was quite a makeover in the hands of Crystal Dynamics, the fresh eyes a desperately floundering series needed. For the first time, Lara began to matter. More infrequent deaths meant keeping her alive was more meaningful, and a likeably flawed nature made her worth bothering with. The level design could have been smarter, and the physics puzzles more intelligently applied, but this was without doubt the game that reminded the world why Lara had been popular to begin with, beyond her pendulous tits.
Ellie: This game made me gay for Lara all over again.
12. Half-Life 2: Episode One
PC, Valve, Gamepage.
Tom: Still haven't played this properly. Blame Metal Gear Acid 2. (Seriously.)
James: In terms of level-design, it starts out a little boring: Super-Freeman knocking back countless physics possessed Citadel soldiers offers empowerment without the hard work. When it descends to Earth with a Zombine bump it knows what it is to be Half-Life: inventive set-pieces, a well-wrought horror and sci-fi storyline, the beauty that is Alyx, and intelligent enemies that combine (pun intended - hey, it's Christmas!) together to form a superior semi-sequel to a superb sequel. To top it all, it assured the future of episodic gaming was going to be smooth-sailing. Who'dve thought, eh?
John: The notion of episodic gaming would be a decent one, if only any developer on the planet had noticed they've never, ever released any game on time, ever. As such, the result has mostly been shorter games for cheaper prices, released just as often as the regular ones. But hey what the hell when those games are as remarkable as Episode One. From the opening sequence in the thrown car, to the final escape from the city, it's just non-stop FPS perfection. Alyx is, as has been over-discussed, utterly wonderful and adorable. Each section is exquisitely paced (but for the dire repetition of ferrying civilians across the same path FOUR TIMES IN A ROW). The reversal of weapon order is a genuinely brilliant piece of design. And best of all, it doesn't waste your time with a ludicrous "boss" at the end, rather providing you with increasingly intelligent ways to take out more difficult enemies. Valve is so many leagues ahead of everyone else in the industry that it's getting embarrassing. What the BLOODY HELL Rainbow Six is doing ahead of this in the chart beggars belief. I despair.
Kristan: Sadly Valve didn't deliver on its "one episode every six months" promise, but Episode One was a brave experiment that was worth taking. Almost like the ending of Half-Life 2 that we didn't get, it provided a satisfying five-hour conclusion to one of the greatest first-person shooters ever made. Probably a bit too bite-sized after the epic scope of HL2, and introduced very little in the way of new content, but still, for the money, it was like going to the cinema and enjoying a fat-free blockbuster.
Alec: Every FPS should have been as good as HL2 was by now. But only this is, which is kinda tragic.
11. Rainbow Six Vegas
Multi, Ubisoft, Gamepage.
Kristan: Truly one of the most enjoyable tactical action games ever. Better is execution than GRAW in both single and multiplayer, and every bit as gorgeous to look at. The only slight downside was the story and setting, really. I know it's Vegas, and all, but there are other locations in that mad place than casinos, which is where is all gets a tad silly towards the end. But beyond that, the thing that really clicked for me was the co-op (which, in my humble opinion, dumps on Gears of War in that respect, yet got about one thousandth of the credit or hype), and also the general quality of the online implementation. One of the best reasons to own a 360 as far as I'm concerned, and a real return to form for the series.
James: 'Slots' in nicely. Never played it; I just thought I'd insert a weak casino-based pun into the proceedings. Oh dear, have I gone too far?
Alec: Probably the best co-op game of the year. Involving guns, anyway.
Kieron: I think it's a little confused over actually what it wants to be, but there's much to love in this incarnation of Rainbow Six.