Those in retail will tell you that Christmas is nearly upon us, but the reality is that it's approaching us like an asthmatic bunny with a leg blown off, and there are several large hills in its way. There are, however, a handful of relatively top-notch titles scooting past it and out the door in this peculiar middleground between the deserted displays of August and the swollen shelves of October and November.
Our top pick for this week is EA Sports BIG's latest extreme sports title, SHOX. It's an incredibly simply arcade rally racing game based on the tenets of SSX, but like BIG's previous games it clutches tightly onto you and offers nothing more or less than fun. You won't sit there worshipping perfect pixels, but if you do invest in this particular chunk of Tricky's legacy, you should at least enjoy yourself. We'll have our review up later this morning.
Elsewhere on our shopping list, Sega/Infogrames' stupidly tardy Beach Spikers is allegedly appearing today. No copies on our desks yet, but that's what they're telling us. The critics have been kind to this one, highlighting the camera and controls as potential pitfalls, but rewarding it for its consistently varied and entertaining gameplay. Our expectations of Virtua Tennis with semi-naked women and larger balls have apparently been met, although the Cube can't quite capture the essence of a lady like brother Xbox.
GameBoy Advance owners have plenty to look forward to this year, if ports are what appeals, anyway. New and ingenious properties are, as ever, fairly thin on the ground, unless you fancy Barbie Groovy Games or Frogger Adventure: A Great Quest, but old school 2D platform and action fans will be delighted to see Mega Man Zero and Super Ghouls 'n' Ghosts available on the 'Boy today. Both are practically pixel-perfect conversions with a bit of love, care and tweaking.
Xbox and PC owners are the ones who really lose out this week, although those waiting for the PC version of Prisoner of War can finally nip out and buy that. Sadly though, the highlight of the Xbox's week seems to be Blade 2 from Activision, and we've heard very bad things about it. Shadow of Memories from Konami is a safer bet - it's a third-person oddity in which you try to prevent your own death. Nothing new there, you might say, but the whole adventure unfolds rather more like an Hercule Poirot novel than Monkey Island.
Having mopped up the rest, our bucket reeks of WWE. Today marks the release of WWE Wrestlemania X8 on the Cube and WWE RAW on the Xbox. Both are perfectly reasonable wrestling games with a bit more plot to them than Smackdown, but neither has the panache of THQ's principle pro-wrestling franchise, and it's only a few weeks off now. Elsewhere, there's one gem to be had on the PS2 in the shape of Jak & Daxter on Platinum. One of our favourite platform games on the PS2, and now for only 20 bob. Got to be worth having.
New Releases - PS2 Armored Core 2: Another Age Blade 2Crashed Ferrari F355 Challenge Gravity Games - Bike: street.vert.dirt Legion: The Legend of Excaliber Jak & Daxter: PlatinumSHOX Stitch: Experiment 626 Taz WantedCubeBeach SpikersTetris WorldsToxic GrindTurok EvolutionWWE Wrestlemania X8XboxBlade 2 Fila World Tour Tennis Gravity Games - Bike: street.vert.dirt Loons: The Fight for FameMadden NFL 2003Shadow of MemoriesTaz Wanted WWE RAW PCBeam Breakers Fila World Tour Tennis Madden NFL 2003Prisoner of War Soccer Manager Stronghold: CrusaderTaz WantedGBA ATV Quad Power Racing Barbie Groovy Game Disney's Magical QuestFrogger Adventure: The Great QuestMega Man Zero Super Ghouls 'n' Ghosts Who Wants to be a Millionaire Advance PSX Lilo & Stitch: Trouble in Paradise Related Feature - UK Release Date List