40 Trackmania Sunrise
PC / Digital Jesters / Nadeo
9/10 (Tom), Game page
Jim: Racing games aren't just about coalescent paint, you know.
John: You know that advert with all the bouncy balls going down the hill? This is that in game form.
Tom: I like this because I can tune in and out. There's so much to do, and some bits are about nuanced performances, some are about figuring things out, some are about persistence. It's like a musical instrument that you can play really, really well. Oh, and all of it makes you go wow; it's one of the few games I bothered to play on Kristan's enormous television before he made me homeless (unrelated), and it deserved that. It also deserved more people to go out and buy it. Did you?
Kieron: There's a certain sort of person who claims that, when people are being a little snooty about things like Project Gotham Racing 3, that we shouldn't expect anything more from a racing game than what's already been done. These sort of people I hope grow an enormous facial canker with resists all forms of surgery or treatment and eventually mutates into the enormous legends "I really should have bought Trackmania Sunrise in order to have my expectations and horizons broadened, except I didn't as I am a fool". And it'll pulsate too.
39 Ridge Racer
PSP / Sony / Namco
9/10 (Tom), Game page
Kieron: We sure do like those games we already own on a different format, don't we? Mrk 2.
George: Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. This is Ridge Racer done right. I got this back in June with my US PSP and it just seemed like it was made for it. Which of course it was. But you get what I mean. The perfect game to show off a new bit of kit, just as it's always been and a magnificent return to form.
Tom: My favourite Ridge Racer since Type 4. It could do with dropping 30 frames every second to give it a more visceral edge - the main problem I have with it is that it's too slick. There's so much to play through in this though - any Ridge fan will happily plug away at it for weeks, and the unlockable cars, increased sense of speed and lovely tracks culled from years of Ridge Racing make for something very special.
38 Virtua Tennis World Tour
PSP / SEGA / SUMO Digital
9/10 (Kristan), Game page
Kristan: The arrival of the Dreamcast classic on the PSP got me through what was the quietest summer for games in living memory. Essentially a direct port of VT2 with a new roster of players, it may have been a slightly unimaginative retread of a four-year-old title, but the chance to play the best tennis game ever made on a handheld was a masterstroke by SEGA. The chance to be reminded about just how spot-on the controls are and how perfectly pitched the opposition is made this every bit as entertaining as it was first time around. What's even better was the game's bite-sized suitability for on-the-road play, the wireless multiplayer mode, and the array of hugely addictive mini-games that go towards building up your career. Rarely have I ever actually been grateful for my friends arriving late.
Hey, I just levelled up my serve waiting for you to read this.
37 Advance Wars: Dual Strike
DS / Nintendo / Intelligent Systems
9/10 (Nicola Six), Game page
Kristan: Turn-based wargaming is hardly the most glamorous genre around these days, but frankly you don't know what you're missing. Intelligent Systems' previous GBA efforts are among the best titles Nintendo has ever released for the wee handheld, and the latest is arguably the best yet, adding more maps, new modes, a (slightly superfluous) touch-screen interface, a sort of tag-team approach to your CO (commanding officer) powers, wireless play and more.
Like a less spoddy version of chess, the premise is simple but incredibly absorbing, with the basic idea to suss out how to weaken and eventually defeat your enemy. Played out over a top-down map, it's one of those games that have never visually progressed beyond its 16-bit days, but it doesn't need to. Using a charmingly silly cartoonish approach to the beardy subject of war, it's simply one of those games that gets its hooks into you and refuses to let go.
Martin: It's just a brilliantly balanced, tremendously fun turn-based strategy, elevated to new heights by the two screens and stylus. This is the kind of game the DS was born to bring us.
John: I want Nell back! Sure, it's a fantastic game, and it thankfully resets the difficulty for morons like me who found AW2 far too hard from the start, but Nell's rubbish younger sister will not do! Nell will be my bride.
36 Call of Duty 2
PC, Xbox 360 / Activision / Infinity Ward
8/10 (Kristan), Game page
Kristan: Or Medal of Honor 7 as it should be more accurately titled, Infinity Ward has a better handle on how to make a cinematic WWII shooter than anyone, and its latest version is unquestionable the best yet. In some senses, it's the finest example of a balls-out FPS ever seen, with one breathtaking set-piece after the other, all designed in a satisfying bite-sized fashion that makes it the sort of game everyone can experience right to the end.
On the other hand, all 27 levels are a little on the short side, making it the sort of game you'll rip through on even the hardest difficulty settings. Also, the revamped recharging health system makes it feel like you're playing the game on infinite lives, and as a whole the game still sticks to the familiar design template that Frontline delivered four years ago. Still - on the PC at least - the decent multiplayer modes help extend the lifespan, and for many this is as good as it gets in the FPS field.
Tom: Smoking causes winning of World War II.
35 Soul Calibur III
PS2 / Namco / Namco
8/10 (Kristan), Game page
Kristan: A thing of beauty, again. Namco's uncanny knack of delivering beat-'em-ups that everyone can play means games like this stay relevant a decade on from the height of their popularity. In a sense, the genre's become as much of a curiosity as the 2d shooter, but every now and then one comes along to remind you how much fun they can be. With the strangely under-appreciated Chronicles of the Sword mode like an entirely separate game in itself, the whole package has a vast amount of entertainment packed into it. A few balancing niggles and bugs have irritated the uber-hardcore, but for the rest of us, this is another wondrous release to inflame those old RSI war wounds.
34 Everybody's Golf
PSP / Sony / Sony
8/10 (Kristan), Game page
Kieron: Is that disgrammatical?
George: Another must-have PSP title. Bizarrely, I hate real golf, but I've always been a fan of the anime style golf games. This just looks good, uses a classic control system anyone can pick up and glues you to the PSP. Shame it doesn't have a two-player single-machine mode though.
Kristan: Somewhat overlooked in the initial PSP launch, Sony's unglamorous golfing title turned out to be one of the best-suited to the handheld, with a wonderfully addictive, simple set of mechanics and devious courses that stood up to the demands of bite-sized play. Seemingly based around the unreleased (in Europe) third in the series, it was a great way of reintroducing the much-missed series to the European audience and helped remind everyone that, actually, there's much more to golf games than licensed players and real-life courses. Give us big-headed players, silly cartoon jibes and simple, refined controls, a good set of courses and swift loading times any day.
It's the Virtua Tennis of the Golf world, which is to say pick up and play genius.
John: I understand this title to read 'Everybody Is Golf', and have taken it as a philosophical claim which I am attempting to live out by seeing the world as a giant crazy golf course, and all the idiot humans as obstacles off which to bounce golf balls.
33 Peter Jackson's King Kong
PS2, Xbox, Cube, PC, Xbox 360 / Ubisoft / Ubisoft
9/10 (Kristan), 8/10 (Tom) / Game page
Kristan: Putting Michel Ancel in charge of a 'game of the movie' gave King Kong a decent chance of actually being a bit good; the fact that even Peter Jackson wanted an involvement hints that the days of cash-in rubbish may finally be over. But it was a lot more than 'a bit good', being one of the most unpretentiously entertaining mass market games of the entire year.
Combining a convincing narrative flow with often terrifying first-person exchanges with giant dinosaurs was something I, personally, never tired of. The brutal third-person Kong exchanges may have been pretty simple, button mashing affairs, but their sheer pad-gripping intensity contributed to making this game videogames greatest ever thrill ride. Who needs Alton Towers when you can rip a T-Rex's face open and see Kong scream in rage in FULL SUPER CLOSE-UP. Sometimes I wish I was ten again and could play a game so determined to entertain at every turn. Anyone who claims this is the typical film-based fodder wants their head examining.
Tom: Small point to clear up: I like this slightly less than Kristan does, but I do think the 360 version was the best. So, you know, I agree with most of that, but let's not wank ourselves into a frenzy just because there's no health-bar. [Steady - Ed].
Simon: Have movie tie-in games really got so bad that we welcome even the most average adaptation as the pinnacle of the form. Terrible.
Kristan: Blimey. Which game were you playing?
Kieron: A frustrating, often brilliant game. Not frustrating in play, but in talking about it. As much as it's interesting, it's a game that I found myself recommending more than I could strictly mark it. While I'd personally lean for a high-7 low-8 mark, it's something anyone interested in the emotional possibilities of the scripted FPS in a populist fashion really should play. Hell - before playing it I had no interest in the retro-retread of the dawn of SFX cinema, but afterwards I planned to see it. There's an almost painterly sense of design in how some of the tableau are constructed - Anne standing in the light beside a sleeping Kong, the first appearance of the Brontosaur herd and poor doomed Kong hanging off the Empire States building as the sun goes down, the noise of propeller plains rising. Add to the simple but effective survivalist mechanisms - holding a spear ready until the last-second throw or tricking the biosystem into eating each other rather than you - and it's a genuinely memorable FPS. And that's more than almost any of its competitors managed.
You may notice I haven't mentioned any of the Kong sections. You may surmise why.
32 Boiling Point
PC / Atari / Deep Shadows
3/10 (Kieron), 9/10 (Kieron), 8/10 (Kieron) - sigh, that guy! / Game page
Jim: Snakes can't bite me when I'm lying down. A hot girl watches impassively as I murder the guards - she's sunbathing in the moonlight. An old man packing hand grenades in the market. A guerrilla starts a conversation with the voice of a gruff thug and finishes with the polite voice of a young woman. It's broken, but beautiful. It's simultaneously a surrealist adventure of what happens when games go mad, and one of the most ambitious open-ended simulations of all time.
Kieron: There's always a pleasure in being right, and the three-score review of Boiling Point was the only real way for me to measure my affections for this broken, beautiful game. And - y'know - it's always nice to imagine the parasites over at Metacritics scratching their heads confusedly for a few seconds. It certainly lead to the most fun arguments of the year between gamers - as opposed to WoW/Guild Wars which just lead to the most arguments between gamers this year. Jim's argument - which I believe he'll probably paraphrase nearby - that you shouldn't treat it as being broken, but just accept that you're in a world where occasionally suitcases levitate and laugh at all the surrealism is particularly worthwhile. It's phenomenally shoddy. It's bravely overambitious. And if you were a highly trained soldier sent to a South American valley to recover your daughter during the same period the laws of physics just rewrote themselves unexpectedly, I'd imagine it'll be very much like this.
Also the patch list was in the top-5 funniest things I've read this year. Edited highlights:
- fixed: the snake wasn't able to bite you while you were crawling;
- fixed: size of the moon;
- fixed: posters in bar vanish as you turn away from them;
- fixed: dog does not cast shadows;
- fixed: a metal clanking sound plays, if the user's character stabs the curtains;
- fixed: jaguar floats across screen at treetop level;
- fixed: npc die on contact with grenades, and not from the actual explosion;
To quote Planetary, it's a strange world. Let's keep it that way.
31 Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance
Cube / Nintendo / Intelligent Systems
8/10 (Tom), Game page
Tom: Effectively the same again, but they still know how to do lovable characters, and I still love it despite its increasingly obvious flaws. One of the rare occasions that I wanted more cut-scenes rather than less.
Kristan: Why is my girlfriend's so utterly obsessed with Intelligent Systems' games? This is literally all she plays, and has no interest in any other game at all. Bonkers.