PSP / Ubisoft / Q Entertainment
9/10 (Tom), Game page
Martin: Puzzle gaming at its most hypnotic.
Kristan: Still waiting for an opportunity to see what all the fuss is about... Now I have a working PSP again (having broken mine rather tragically), I might just do that.
Tom: 999,999/10. One of the only games I've played this century that made me want to retrace that initial two hours of play to get back to where I'd fouled up. The way that you start to notice more and more about the patterns and how to exploit them is bewitching. It starts off simple - "oh, that's how you manage to always deal with those ones" - and then gets more and more elaborate. At one point, I banished all my previous techniques and started using the delete-all-one-colour jewels exclusively. Then I tried the other modes. Then I played it against other people. Virtually the only thing I'd buy a PSP to play. Which I did, incidentally.
Kieron: This finally clicked on a late night train from London to Bristol. It was the exact point where the game reached the point where previously I'd decided I was in an unwinnable position. This time, with the skills I gathered, I fought on. No speed dropping now, just starring at the grid of squares before me and a constant attempt to reprocess them into a reality where I didn't lose the game. The deep concentration was so intense, it felt as if my skull was unfolding, then expanding across the carriage and my individual fleshy-brain parts were slowly revolving in space. Fifteen minutes or so later, I finally lost, but that deep-groove voodoo gaming is rare enough. For that, Lumines should be cherished.
14 Mario & Luigi: Lost in Time
DS / Nintendo / Alphadream
9/10 (John), Game page
John: 27 hours 17 minutes. Now, I might have got in a bit of a pickle this year ranting about a game being only an hour long, but this is vindication. The DS, plagued for its first year by not having a game that lasted more than ten minutes, suddenly blossomed into life with a flurry of wonderful titles. And none more wonderful than Partners In Time. While not as egregiously frame-breaking as Superstar Saga, this second Alphadream experiment in the Mario universe focuses on the complexities of motivation and character. While being one of the funniest games of the year. It was a sophisticated decision to eschew the touch-screen, but embrace the shape and design of the DS, and it pays off in this extremely long and amazingly detailed thing of utter happiness and joy.
Tom: I'm not bitter about John reviewing this. Well, maybe a WHOLE TON.
13 World of Warcraft
PC, Mac / Blizzard / Blizzard
8/10 (Kieron), Game page
John: I hate World of Warcraft. It's rubbish, ok. The quests are tedious, the levelling is all messed up, the aggro is appalling, and the steeds are grotesquely overpriced. Queuing to kill respawning bads is possibly the lowest ebb of my gaming year. It's a horrible, terrible game. And I've probably spent over 100 hours playing it. WHICH ONLY MAKES ME MORE CROSS. How dare it trick me like this? Forcing me to play it for entire weekends, not going out or eating or answering the phone? HOW DARE IT? And why in the name of hell am I patching it to play again? ARGH!
Jim: Six months. Wasted. Six months! I could have written that book about psychic warfare, or learned to speak Japanese. There's something regrettable about all that time pumped into Warcraft, but then again I find myself diving for kelp along the gentle shore and writing notes about the possibilities of ambient gaming...
Tom: What's this then?
Kristan: One to play if everyone else stops making games, otherwise I'll continue to pretend evil life-sapping MMOs don't exist. It's called survival. These games are drugs, do not sponsor their activities.
Kieron: If I'm surrounded by the WoW massive whining about liking World of Warcraft, it should be at least noted that I enjoyed Guild Wars unreservedly.
If I'm surrounded by the WoW massive just celebrating it, it should be noted that I've had to put up with them whining about it all year.
Sorry. Us games writers are terrible bitchy fanboys sometimes.
12 Battlefield 2
PC / EA / DICE
9/10 (Kieron), Game page
George: A great sequel, improved in nearly every way. The squad system works particularly well. Alas my internet connection sucks for fast-paced games like this so I'd end up killing everyone by crashing a heli into the ground during a lag spike. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
Jim: Battlefield 2 has been the late-night game of choice for almost everyone I know. Log on and play until you're definitely going to fall asleep on your keyboard the next morning - the intensity of the combat, framed by incredible weave of concussive sonics and painterly maps, has kept me awake for days at time. Also, the squad concept makes intelligent teamwork possible even on public servers, which is something of a revelation. I hate helicopters though, which is why Special Ops was a bit more interesting - it pulled in the focus of the game to the core infantry game, which is where things are most satisfying.
Kristan: Man I suck at this game.
Kieron: While the single-player FPS languished, Battlefield 2 continued to push the online play even further. Perhaps lacking a little of the outright craziness of the original Battlefield, but the new-focus on small-squad co-operation immediately made this feel like a completely different game. And, generally speaking, a better one. From desperately running across open ground to resuscitate my squad leader while playing as my usually suicidal medic, to cowering in a ditch whispering over the voice-communication as a tank rolled past to tying down the centre of a map by circling in a Blackhalk, an old school mate flying the thing and me on the gattling gun, this have originated some of my favourite memories of gaming for the year.
11 We Love Katamari
PS2 / Namco / Namco
9/10 (Tom), 9/10 (Rob), Game page
Martin: Indeed we do. Bonkers in its most one-more-go loveliness.
Kieron: Just a load of balls? Yes, but in a good way.
Kristan: Shame the sequel doesn't really build on the first one in any meaningful sense, but most Europeans won't realise that - in which case it's damned well near the game of the year. All games should be this crazy by law.
Tom: Shame you're UTTERLY INSANE more like! Given that Katamari Damacy more or less ate itself by the end, discovering that We Love Katamari bettered itself by going one step further and actually eating itself was tremendous. It has better levels, better music and better HATS. It's the happiest game I've ever played, which is amazing when you consider that the bloke who made it didn't even want to. I think you could quite possibly write about it all day every day for a month and still find new compliments to pay it. Summing it up in a paragraph seems unfair.
So I'll do two. Some treasured memories: discovering that just as there are two movement speeds on the map, there are two accompanying beat-box speeds; the first time I did the sumo level; deciding to forego the objectives in the snowman level and just roll up absolutely everything instead; rolling around in pitch black; wearing a giraffe; the island race level; feeding my save data into the roll-up-the-sun level, and then spending six hours trying to come up with better Katamari Damacy save data so that I would have a better roll-up-the-sun level; playing the final level for six hours non-stop and still feeling a bit awkward about ending it; every single thing the King does. Oh, and just looking at it on the shelf, right now; doing that alone makes me happy.
Simon: The game that should, could and would, if given the chance and advertising budget, bring videogames to a much wider audience. Which is impressive, for a storyline poured straight from the leaking ears of an overdosed hippy.