When I was little, before girls and hair, me and my family used to march to a house full of old people and sing songs at them on Christmas Eve. Interesting creatures, full of stories and sticky toffee sweets, and if you played your cards right you might land your very first kiss. Funny smelling places though, like someone kept forgetting to flush the toilet, but then they are old so maybe it is forgiveable. Soap: another withered person smell. The moral is that old things are not useless and ready to be thrown away; my Grandma used to give me stacks of 20 pence pieces when I saw her. Back of the net.
This all leads us rather creakily onto our console at hand, the bunion-touting PlayStation 2. You see, unlike Microsoft, Sony decided to keep its last generation hardware on the shelves and introduce new variations, even redesign it for the New Year. Its continued success has prompted envious public glances from its rival, and prompted Sony to give each of its systems their own identity by cutting backwards compatibility from its the 40GB PS3. Bring it back, bring it back.
Whichever way you look at it you cannot ignore over 120 million worldwide sales and the money it brings in, resulting in multi-platform titles still finding one way or another to include the PS2. All of this obviously makes it a rather eligible candidate for some whopping exclusives, and this late in its life has surprisingly been no exception. You only have to cast an eye over titles like Okami, God of War II and Final Fantasy XII to see this system has a lot still going for it.
What follows, then, is our list of what to pick up this Christmas. You will notice it has entries from games released earlier in the year because some could jolly well not be ignored and its release schedule is thinning a little on the top, although the usual suspects like Pro Evolution Soccer still make a welcome appearance. Hawk-eyed fans should also spot the absence of one or two absolute pearls, such as Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 2 and God Hand. But far from failing to make the grade, these two were left out because we felt they appeared too long ago in the US, and so were replaced by something a little fresher. Well worth looking for if you haven't already, though.
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Howwwwl Clover Studio managed to collapse after producing a masterpiece like Okami is confusing. On the surface is a premise where a wolf becomes imbued with the spirit of an artistic god and has to rid the world of darkness. But delve deeper and its true magnificence begins to shine, a bit like a healthy coat at Crufts. Okami combines every sumptuous detail fans of the Zelda series call familiar, from its puzzles and structure to the buckets of charm in bathes in every morning. Not stopping there, it marries these to a delightful artistic flair and some wonderfully inventive combat.
It stands out in the genre like a wolf howling against the backdrop of a full moon, producing 60 of the most memorable and engrossing hours of gameplay you will ever push two analogue sticks around. Indeed, it's one your legions of house invaders will look on and ogle at this Christmas, before chastising you for spending so much time on it and clogging up their mouths with turkey for distracting you.
Nasty piece of work: Wolf was considered to be the renegade of the British Gladiators, but apparently runs Chipmunks Playground and Cafe in Auckland, New Zealand now.
Final Fantasy XII
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Turkey for Christmas dinner is all fine and dandy, but you know what you are getting and, if cooked by the same chef, what it will taste like. If Final Fantasy XII was a main-event meat dish it would be ham, a taste many were probably not expecting when ravaging its roasted carcass. Gone are the turn-based and random battles, replaced by an MMO-style system where you fight enemies right there and right then, auto-attacking and adhering to your own cool downs while your party members back you up without any help. Its narrative has grown up too, carefully intertwined in a believable cast of characters and sprawling, epic plot.
Underneath it is distinctly a Final Fantasy experience, but one so refreshingly different it stands out as a more pivotal point in its history than the acclaimed seventh instalment. For Square Enix to look around at how its genre is changing and to adapt so magnificently gives us great hope for the future of this renowned series.
Oh no stop I am lost: Roman numerals are confusing. What does CXVII mean?
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Rearranging blocks to make them disappear is one of the oldest and bestest things gaming has invented, and Lumines is one of the newest and bestest ways of enjoying it. Alright, Lumines Plus has been out for a good old while, but you've held out this long and it's a puzzle game you're after to dodge past the Generation Game/Queen's Speech/whatever your uncle's telling you about his life, this will absorb you like magnetic Bounty.
2x2 blocks fall. You direct them so that they wrap themselves around those below. Any 2x2 or larger blocks of one of the two colours will then vanish when a vertical line next sweeps left to right in time to the backing music. So you try and cram lots of blocks in to get more points, or you try to get rid of them all at once to get bonuses, and as the music changes the speeds of blocks and sweeping lines change and variety in tactics as well as challenge are ensured, and the problem of hitting a brick wall of difficulty is side-stepped in a way that probably made all the other falling-blocks puzzlers make 1950s gestures of mild annoyance. Dor!
How many roads must a man walk down? Four.
Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock
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While we've got you on our knee, it's worth telling you Guitar Hero III on PS2 has no online mode and visually lacks a bit of potato. That said, this is still Guitar Hero and the third, honed performance in its continued rhythm-action rock rampage. Inside its metal stomach of joy are more and different songs to thrash along to, a bigger selection of characters to choose from, as well as fancy new bosses like hairy monster Slash.
GH3 also comes with a wireless Kramer guitar for the first time on PS2, which makes it easier to move around ridiculously as the music plays, although you will never be able to sneakily trip your flatmates up as they casually try to obstruct your view from the screen. Not the definitive version perhaps, but one your whole family will want a go on and find out that this computer game lark is very fun after all.
Not quite: Boss character Tom Morello is the 22nd best guitarist in the world according to Rolling Stone. Amazingly Slash is not on the list.
Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria
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That one is shower gel, this here pants, that one is a bottle of whiskey (must thank uncle Frank), and that one is a, oh, er, a, wait, what? Obviously it is the most unconventional role-playing game you should buy, silly. For those unfamiliar, the Profile series is based on a group of Norse gods called Valkyries, who swoop down and appear before brave humans before they die and offer them the chance to fight for the gods. Silmeria is the Valkyrie in question and she has been banned from heaven by Odin for an unspecified offence - probably something to do with low scores. Her new home is the occupied body of Alicia, Princess of Dipan, and together the two embark on a voyage to recruit an army to get back at Odin.
Exploration is presented in gorgeous 2D with battles in 3D. Even the fighting is quirky with a timing system where you punch face buttons to coincide with different character attacks. Get it right and you could trigger chains and special abilities, a necessity for tough encounters. Put its deep, statistical element together with bright splashes of creativity and you have a Japanese role-playing adventure that will leave you glowing longer than the whiskey you bought for you dad.
Ear, ear: Silmeria sounds like similar. Which is nice. Who are you?
SingStar Rock Ballads
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Karaoke is a bit like sushi; the idea is disgusting at first but grows after your first taste, and you have probably eaten raw salmon or belted your vocals out to a song in a club, the shower, or at a concert anyway. Sony knew all this and based its incredibly popular SingStar series on it, pumping out iteration after iteration to hungry crowds craving variety. But lately it has all fallen a bit flat, with forgettable chart songs populating the music selection. Thank god for Rock Ballads.
No backing out from the vocals in these, either you put everything on the line and soar up the ladder to the big notes, or you crash and burn like a timid little mouse. Loser. And when the booze dries up and your friends have deserted you, what stands before you is a superb vocal training exercise that will reward your singing the more you invest in it. Big, ballsy and brilliant.
Will you make me some magic with your own two hands? Well, will you?
Buzz! The Mega Quiz
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Is that Jason Donovan? Yes. Jason Donovan is Buzz, the charismatic quiz game host who is genuinely very funny and the base of some excellent drinking games. Buzz is another unlikely hero, and something you will likely find appalling in principal until you have a buzzer in your hand and are vying for points in a quick fire round. You see, whether in an argument or in front of company, it is only natural for us to prove how much we know. We do it while watching shows on telly, selectively ignoring the hard stuff in favour of some obscure fact we remember from school. Here you are finally in the hot seat and actively slugging it out, telling yourself you will not rise to the bait but failing every time.
There are numerous outings of Buzz, most recently Hollywood. While these are as fiendishly compulsive for the same reasons, the Mega Quiz is the real jewel in the crown, our very special pick. One to delight friends and family with, while even managing to have a little bit of fun yourself. Just don't blame us if it resorts to blows.
Gulp: take a drink each time Buzz insults assistant Rose.
God of War II
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The problem with getting a little over-zealous and swamping your friends in fantastic Christmas presents is that they will expect the same treatment next year. And Sony Santa Monica walked into the same trap with action sequel God of War II. After all, how do you improve on one of the finest PS2 action titles of all time? Well, like this, apparently.
Returning are jaw-dropping visuals out of place on an ageing piece of equipment like the PS2, along with the most compelling blend of hack and slash since Moses asked a bunch of animals onto his boat in return for a steady supply of meat and dairy produce. Er. Never overwhelming but balanced so finely you glide giddily from one atmospheric gore-dripping sequence to another, stopping periodically to best bosses as big as your dad looked when you were little. Every area here boasts improvements on the two year-old original, and only narrowly misses out on top marks because it is essentially the second part to a formula already seen. The prospect of Sony Santa Monica finally getting to grips with the PS3 in its third instalment is mouth-watering.
Not you again: GOW2 marked the second time Harry Hamlin played the role of Perseus, the first being 1981 film Clash of the Titans. Yes.
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Quirky Japanese titles are a forte of the PS2 and a speciality of the most idea-rich developer around at the moment, Vanilla Ware. GrimGrimoire then, shows little regard for convention and flattens real-time strategy into side-scrolling 2D environments, with beautiful hand drawn characters and animation illustrating a witty, well-translated story.
Underneath, however, its core values are familiar; you collect resources to build an army, researching stronger units as you go along. Your strengths lie in coordinating attacks using troops with different movement speeds and abilities, battling overwhelming odds by using that silly old thing some people call a brain. It is a little repetitive and wanting of more variety, but if its core appeals to you then it is a thorough recommendation. Who says you have to play by traditional rules? Exactly; so if you could explain to my boss why I am not wearing any trousers I would appreciate it.
Actually: don't say anything, I shall surprise him instead!
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Having an installed base of 120 million humans means you can take a risk, which is what the RealPlay Range of games is all about. Each is based around its own wacky peripheral, you see. Take Puzzlesphere, a Monkey Ball-like game where you roll around by tilting a silver sphere controller in your hand, pressing a button on top to pump the air brake. Both brilliantly bizarre and strangely addictive.
Others are not initially as impressive, such as a baseless racing wheel with built in accelerometers, or a Pool cue controller that still aims using button input and only gets you involved when you thrust to shoot. I say. Still, with Golf, Tennis and Bowling all in development there should be something to take your fancy and light up your smile as if you were picking a Wiimote up for the first time.
Speaking of Wiimote, In2Games - the bonkers outfit behind the RealPlay series - is creating its own version of the famed Nintendo controller for 360 and PS3. Dubbed Freedom, it is due to be available next year and we're promised will be even better than its rival.
No, nay, never: how are free range eggs ever going to turn a profit? Sorry.
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Ooh, oh, I have been shot and I am precariously high up and might just tumble out of this window onto the flaming wagon below before running around like a giant firework and doing a somersault into the river that has a shark in whose nose I will emerge doing a handstand on as the crowd cheer and scream and maybe throw their knickers at me or roses not fussy. Not even scary. Not for me. I am a stuntman.
What a great idea to make a racing game based around being the ballsy driver you see in films who thunders around rooftops, jumps bridges and hurtles towards oncoming traffic, then. And in this sequel the potential has been realised, with drastically shortened restart times as you try to nail the tricky driving scene for a fussy director, as well as improved visuals and generally tidied-up mechanics. Little in the way of innovation over the first, then, but a better and more enjoyable experience on the whole. If the idea grabs you, and it should, then so should you grab it in return.
Relight my fire: would you really buy tickets to see Take That?
Pro Evolution Soccer 2008
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Thelma and Louise, George and the Jungle, Robson and Jerome, Bangers and Mash, Pro Evolution Soccer and PlayStation 2; couplings so renowned you assume one goes with the other. The series as we know it began here on PS2 back in 2001, and has spawned seven follow-ons in the years since - widely regarded as the leader in the genre up until recently. And even now you may find yourself cooked in a Christmas pudding for suggesting it isn't.
The biggest changes this time were an adaptive AI that learnt your tricks and tactics and changed the way it played to counteract them, hopefully keeping the challenge fresh and preventing you from following a set routine for banging goals in. It is fast, fun and fluid, an improved and revamped version of Pro Evolution Soccer 6. Perhaps more of an incremental update rather than stand-out successor, but worthy of your sporting coins nonetheless - maybe for the last time ever.
Arsenal, Arsenal, Arsenal: Christmas number one? Let's hope so.