Here we are then! The end of the road marked "2003". Technically there are a few more days to go, but unless Jim Morrison rides naked past our window in a flaming chariot pulled by a flock of Dodos heralding the launch of some new game franchise, we're sticking to brandy, mince pies and a big pile of games marked "To be completed."
Before that though, there's the issue of our Christmas bonuses. You'd think, given all the hard work we put in around here, all the psychotic loons we're forced to endure on an average working day, and all the T3s and Crouching Tigers that we have to sit and play, that the boss would have crisp banknotes stacked to the very ceiling ready and waiting for us on our final morn... And to a certain extent you'd be right! Literally a handful of banknotes, it turns out. In fact, he had £40 available per person, and the instruction that we treat ourselves to something gamey. Then write about it. Or don't come back next year!
So today we're all sitting merrily at our desks contemplating our purchases, weighing up the pros and cons of those RC Mario Kart racers, scratching our heads over Everglide precision mouse surfaces and, in Rob's case, trying to convince everybody that anime DVDs are games-related. ".hack had an anime DVD in it!" he yells, eyes bulging hopefully. A collective sigh bounces round the office. So then, after a lot of soul-searching and hard thinking [hard drinking in my casesh -Ed], here's an extremely subjective rundown of what we'd like to see in our stockings this Christmas - and why.
Virtua Tennis 2 (PS2, £19.99. Or Dreamcast if you can find it - it's even better!)
No-one's ever come up with a better reason to own a multi-tap, and Sega's long-overdue port of the Dreamcast classic is the kind of game I'd hug everyone in the room for if it ended up in my Christmas stocking. Not only has it got one of the most scarily addictive single player campaign modes ever devised, but the multiplayer modes are to die for. While FIFA, Pro Evo and the like all support multiplayer action, there's an inherent problem - you're always toggling between players and never quite sure who you're going to control next. In VT2, it's you and you alone whacking the ball back and forth; tormenting your disbelieving mates with measured lobs and unreturnable serves. If it felt any more realistic I think I'd take up the game for a living - I'm that good at it! Whether singles, doubles or against the computer, this is one of those all-time classics that is unlikely to be usurped... unless Sega and Hitmaker get off their arses and make a follow up with online play... can you imagine it? Top Spin on this!
He's also after...
Grand Theft Auto III (PS2 Platinum, £19.99)
Single player value for money doesn't come any better than this unsurpassed piece of coding genius. Never before has a game seemed so full of possibilities, with almost flawless execution, a sense of style, attitude, poise and the rare ability to totally unite gamers behind what is easily the most influential game of modern times. Arguably even better in terms of actual city design than the quick-fire "sequel" Vice City, and vastly more important in terms of its groundbreaking impact among an - until then - fairly sterile PS2 line up, the game continues to sell more than 90 per cent of new releases even two years after its launch. I'm actually looking forward to the Xbox launch in a couple of weeks' time so I can finally play through it to completion - something I've shamefully never gotten around to on the PS2. With games like this around, it's a wonder why other publishers even bother to compete. It's almost embarrassing.
Anything left? Enough for a go on the coin-flicking machine at the pier.
Tom's hoping for a visit from...
Mario Kart: Double Dash!! (GameCube, £39.99)
Christmas time at my place is a family affair. It's the one time of the year when we're all brought together to celebrate something only a couple of us believe in by watching TV specials, gorging ourselves on Chocolate Orange and generally basking in our mutual greed. Given that we're all bloated and weary of our many pleasures by the day's end then, a copy of Mario Kart seems like the ideal tonic - a frenzied feast of multiplayer that anybody with two thumbs can play to a decent standard within minutes. On a day when we all quickly get fed up of one another, a green shell feels like the perfect vessel to channel my aggression - and my kid sister's no doubt tragic combination of karters the perfect target. There are many great games out this Christmas, but this one is ripest for curing those Boxing Day blues - and a better idea than a round of frostbitten Pitch n' Putt, which is what I ended up doing last year...
Anything left? Enough for a lick of a Chomp.
Daren's lusting after...
Dance:UK (PSone, £19.99) and Dance:UK dance mat (PS2/PSX, £19.99)
Recently my wife bought EyeToy: Play for our PS2. This has been received very well by both my five year-old daughter and my sixteen month-old son, as both of them can entertain themselves without the worry of which button to press. Sticking with the theme of games that can be played without recourse to handheld controllers and button pressing, I'd buy Dance:UK in PSone flavour (for cost reasons) and an appropriate mat to accompany the game. Not only will this appeal to Indiana since she can play just by doing what she already does given any opportunity, but I'm reliably informed by my mate Lee that console dance games are a great excuse for some aerobic exercise, thus helpful in shifting the extra pounds that I'll no doubt be piling on over the Christmas period. Dance:UK even boasts a dedicated "aerobics mode" that allows players to see how much energy they're burning. The perfect gift, one might say. Fun and good for my health to boot. Glow sticks not included.
Anything left? Enough to con a foolish five year-old out of a king's ransom in chocolate money.
Martin's lucky to get anything at all...
Animal Crossing plush toys and treats (GameCube, £40 easily)
Forty quid's worth of free money? I'd blow the lot on Animal Crossing toys on eBay. The pressure and tension that normally permeates throughout my household during the holiday season is enough to drive even the most festive of spirits to, well, spirits, actually. So I figure the best way to cancel out all the stress and irritation is to do anything I can to transport myself - body and mind - to a charming Animal Crossing town that I have crafted in my mind; all those plush dolls, action figures and toy scenery should provide me with just enough visual representations of actually being there to do so. If not, the soft toys are the perfect size and softness to act as non-lethal projectile weaponry for when your temper gets the better of you during a furious bout of festive Jenga.
Failing that (bloody eBay snipers)... I could always just blow about £35.75 on importing the PAL version of the game from Australia and say goodbye to the family until the new year, because that's what'll happen as I slowly break all my real-world ties to live a pleasant cartoon existence amongst a (usually) friendly bunch of animal villagers, tending to my garden, sending and receiving gifts, running the odd errand... Bliss. Anybody feel like sending me a copy of NES Balloon Fight for Xmas? The name's Winston and I live in Yoinks. Ta. Merry Christmas!
Anything left? £4.25 - enough for a king-size box of crackers!
Rob has a king-size stocking waiting for...
Final Fantasy XI (PC, £36 on import)
Forty pounds to spend on videogames? What a dilemma! Although the UK's stores are filled with fantastic games this Christmas, it's the import shops that have been calling to me, with the siren cries of FFX-2, Disgaea and R: Racing Evolution ringing in my ears each time I walk past my local import-stocking indie. Damn their eyes. So what I really need this Christmas is something that'll stop me from spending vast wodges of wonga on expensive imports - and in a fighting fire with fire move, I've elected to spend £36 of my allocation on a copy of Final Fantasy XI (PC). Not only will the vast number of hours of gameplay I'll get from this stunning online RPG help to salve my cravings for other purchases, but sojourns in the world of Vana'diel may even fill that lengthy gap between Christmas and New Year where you wonder why, exactly, you choose to spend this much uninterrupted time with your family each year. This leaves me with the princely sum of £4, with which I shall buy a jar of that rather delicious Cadburys High Lights instant hot chocolate, and a couple of nice packets of biscuits, which will, along with a selection of sandwiches all of which feature bread, turkey and stuffing in a variety of configurations, help to see me through the cold nights of massively multiplaying. Yum.
Anything left? Nope. Bastard.
Ronan wants Euros, not pounds. Oh, and...
Chrono Trigger OSV (40)
Well, for a start, £40 wouldn't get me very far in Ireland. So the first thing I'd do is pop down to my local bank and get it changed into real money. By my estimations, that'd get me... oh... about 56.94 euros. Those spare cents are a bit of a bugger, so I think they'd have to be spent on 94 yellow jellybeans. I'd plant them in my garden (if I had one) and wait for them to grow into a forest of sweet delights. There'd be no need for games then, would there!? Erm, right. As for the other 56 euro, well, that'd have to go towards buying a product I've long desired, but never been able to justify splashing the cash on. A product that's intrinsically linked to a game, but not a game itself. I'm talking about the Chrono Trigger OSV. For anyone who hasn't heard of the game (may Lavos have mercy on your soul), Chrono Trigger is a mid-90s Square RPG that is widely recognised as having one of the best game soundtracks ever. In my humble opinion, it is the best [better than FFVI?! -Tom]. Yet despite this, I still haven't gotten around to buying the OSV, which I want to do even though my PC at home is filled with MP3s of it. I suppose the idea of paying 40 euro for a CD just didn't cut it with me. However, recent months have changed my mind. For some reason, the game's Frog Theme has taken over my mind. I'm whistling it inanely at every turn - when I'm happy, it becomes my anthem of joy; when I'm sad, it becomes my aria of... erm... sorrow. I've even gone so far as to learn the song (among others from the game) on a keyboard I otherwise can't play. It's also the ringtone on my phone. So, as you can see, I've clearly gone mad. Aside from that, though, I really should banish this strange, rather pitiful moment in my life to the past - by buying the OSV and being done with it. Of course, that still leaves around 16 euro. Then again, that's a lot of jellybeans.
Anything left? Enough for a pile of jellybeans and a slap-up dinner with Siobhan from the Bureau de Change.
Finally, all Mark wants for Christmas is Tom to shut up
I like a quiet Christmas where I can drink scotch and go to bed after lunch, safe in the knowledge that I'll only get disturbed if someone is needed to massacre a turkey. So I'd buy £40 worth of soundproofing mat and wrap it around Tom Bramwell's head. That way when, 60 miles across the country, he decides to take Jak II, SSX Tricky, Prince of Persia, Pro Evolution Soccer 3 or any of his other beloved anger management simulations for a spin, there is absolutely no way I could possibly hear him scream "YOU F***ING C***" or "How the F*** was I F***ING meant to see that F***ING platform you F***ING C***!?"
If not soundproofing mat, I'd get a copy of ICO and make everybody sit around and watch while I played it. Then I'd cry at the end because it would be over and I wouldn't know what to do with myself. I'd really wonder "what it was all about" and why I cared so much about Christmas when there's little kids like ICO in the world, trying to get out of castle prisons. They don't ask for that shit! They're only 12 years old!
Anything left? Mark's sanity, hopefully.
In the end though, we'd all like...
...to go out and get completely sloshed this evening. Merry Christmas everyone, and a Happy New Year! We look forward to seeing you all again on January 2nd, 2004.