30. Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Justice For All
DS, Capcom, Gamepage.
Alec: I haven't played this yet, but I hate it on principle because John Walker giggles like a schoolgirl whenever it's mentioned. I find this creepy.
John: Here's what I want to say about the Phoenix Wright games: They are the happiest games in existence. There may not be the most involved puzzles, and certainly the court sequences are farcical in terms of structure, but they just never stop making me grin like an idiot. And that's a rare treat, and one that deserves special recognition. The joyfully silly relationship between Nick and Maya is even better in this sequel, her delight at being at the circus even surpassing her excitement at meeting the Steel Samurai. And then this is made more wonderful by Pearl, and her conviction that the two of them must be in love. Wonderful characters and daft scenarios make Justice For All like getting a big, warm hug, for hours and hours and hours.
James: I'd still like to congratulate John Walker for the best review strapline this year ('Order! Order! Order it right now!'). I'll admit, I'd have just come up with something trite like 'Two Wrights don't make a wrong.' I tip my hat.
Simon: Yes, I love the characters, the scenarios, the writing, the stories, the interface and the animations. But the second game in the Western released line-up is so much weaker than the first - its puzzles' tougher difficulty created not through elegant logic but through wider, less-clear choice and weaker sign-posting. I understand why it's here but I think everybody's over-compensating a little just because the characters, the scenario, the writing, the stories, the interface and the animations are so good. As a game it's tragically far less successful.
29. Hitman: Blood Money
Multi, Io, Gamepage.
Kristan: Now, here's a game I didn't expect to love, but, in fact, it has turned Hitman into one of my personal favourite gaming series. Another game that puts choice front and centre in terms of the experience, it's sometimes hard to even know what this game is. Is it stealth? Action? Shooter? Adventure? Puzzle game? All of the above? Whatever, it's wonderfully executed, and one of those games you can keep on coming back to and trying it in different ways. In fact, probably the things that stands out about it and makes it unique among modern games is the slow burning realisation that actually knowing how each level works gives you more incentive to try things differently. Whereas most games work on the principle of surprise and unravelling the story, Blood Money is the game that keeps on giving as you try and plot the perfect path through each playground set piece.
Alec: Exploding a Jacuzzi full of Playboy bunnies was possibly my proudest accomplishment of the year. AND IN THE GAME.
28. Splinter Cell: Double Agent
Xbox 360, Ubisoft, Gamepage.
Kristan: Not strictly the next-gen update it could have been, but a significant stepping stone for a series that was in danger of becoming stuck in its ways. In every way that matters, Double Agent was undoubtedly the most exciting, most adventurous episode in the series, with an excellent storyline, and more emphasis on real stealth thank to great design that motivated you to play it properly. Like all the Tom Clancy games, the multiplayer was also well worth checking out, and proof that Ubisoft really knows what it's doing online these days. Not everyone's cuppa, sure, but, for me, so far ahead of every other stealth game in gameplay terms, I don't even know why people feel motivated to argue about it anymore.
James: Fair's fair, but after this one I think we're sliding down the slippery slope of diminishing returns. Prove me wrong, Ubisoft.
27. Tony Hawk's Project 8
Xbox 360, Neversoft, Gamepage.
James: Then again, if Splinter Cell is heading for a possible quality slide, we said the same thing about Pro Skater 4 and look what's happened here. Prove me wrong, Neversoft. Oh, you did. Four games later, but you did.
Tom: That kingfisher flipboard monkery or whatever it's called (John will describe it better) is the most exciting single gameplay upgrade all year. It's like when they added mouselook to FPS games: suddenly I cared again. Also, the Xbox 360 version's hilarious Havok physics catastrophes are quite something.
John: Bloody hell, the top 10 is in the top 30? I give up. This is without question a top 10 game of the year, and one of the most significant games in years. The point I wonder if I didn't make strongly enough in my review is the astonishing importance of Neversoft's Nail The Trick mode. Everyone seems to have reached a point of tolerance with button mashing. Take a Pro Skater game from early in the series, or any arcade fighting game in existence, and generally smooshing the buttons will produce killer moves. It wasn't really skill, but it looked damn cool, and that felt like enough. Not any more. The transition of control onto the player for performing the most intricate of maneuvers was so exquisitely executed. No longer are you pressing X to trigger the code that tells the character to flip the board, but instead you are flipping the board. You push down with an analogue-stick-shaped leg, and the board revolves accordingly. Kick the back up with your toe, and around it goes. It brings you closer to the game, making the interaction more visceral and versatile - more connected to you. It's a significant achievement in gaming, and it's one that leaves button-mashing games feeling hollow and dated.
Luke: Oh Tony, what did they do to you? Fart jokes and Jackass-style pranks might have got in the way of true skating over the last few years but this back-to-basics skater is an absolute beauty. Also, Nail The Trick is the best new element in a game this year. Fact.
Kieron: Seriously, if you couldn't tell from his entry, Walker never bloody shuts up about this. I just have trouble bringing myself to play any game which has a "8" after its title.
26. Rockstar Games presents Table Tennis
Xbox 360, Rockstar San Diego, Gameplay.
Tom: A sports game that doesn't need a sequel. Ridiculously good fun, and proof (as if proof were actually needed at this point) that Rockstar's only crime is spending so much development capital on endless GTA sequels. More new stuff!
Ellie: I won an Xbox 360 playing this game, which means it will always have a place in my affections. But also, it's great fun, has more depth than you might think, and reminds me of my first ever console, which only played Pong. Because that's how old I am.
Oli: I came runner-up in a Rockstar tournament and won a very, very nice bottle of champagne, which I drank on my birthday. This is not the only reason I like this game, but it's an important one.
Tom: Are you two shagging or something?
Simon: A brilliant game for ten minutes: forgettable, broken and paddle-thin for a lifetime after that. Watch Ping Pong instead.