PS2: 12 Games of Christmas

I'm not dead!

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.

Okami

banzai

Banzai!

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

fantasy

Sniff sniff.

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?

Lumines Plus

lumines

It's stopped raining outside, possibly.

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

guitar

With Robocop on drums. You'll see.

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.

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