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(This week's new releases.) Lots of games, but only a handful you'll want to get excited about.

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Image credit: Eurogamer

When it comes to buying games for other people, it's usually elderly grandmothers who get the most stick. We're not sure what the luckless octogenarians did to earn such distinction - which sees them regularly implicated in the purchase of less than seminal videogames on birthdays and during the festive season - but short of buying DRIV3R and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines in some sort of shameful discount bundle, they'd have to go some way to top the exploits of a friend of mine's mother, who recently distinguished herself by not only failing to buy the right thing for her 20 year-old son, but managing to grasp the wrong end of the stick so firmly and with such dire consequences that my luckless chum is not only out on his arse but also separated from his girlfriend of six months into the bargain on account of his reaction.

It all kicked off on Wednesday. My chum, a long-time fan of Pro Evolution Soccer, rang me up to ask if it was true that certain shops had broken the street date and started selling Konami's latest football simulation a couple of days early. I said that was roughly what I'd heard. This, it's fair to say, excited him. When I spoke to him again yesterday, however, he was still no closer to owning it. Having hung up and danced around his living room excitedly for about four and a half seconds, he realised that he was in no position to go out that day, and instead called his mother, who duly agreed to buy it on her way back home from work in the evening. My friend was, he tells me, waiting eagerly on the porch when she rolled up, his ever-patient better half planted on the step next to him bound in the best fake fur a student loan can buy. Mother pulls up. She produces a bag. Mate grabs bag and races into the lounge, while mother and girlfriend exchange pleasantries and chuckles on the doorstep.

Then there was the howling. The sort of bloodcurdling noise that only a man in the throes of absolute, genuine horror can produce. We're not talking about the adolescent yelp that greets the death of a pet, nor the sort of agony reserved for final notices and credit card statements with "Balance now due" written on them. What we're dealing with here is the sound of a young man realising, a good half an hour after all the shops have shut, that his hapless mother has managed to misinterpret his phoned instructions by the sort of margin that a Paul Scholes drive normally misses the woodwork from 30 yards out. Mother and girlfriend rush in, and a somewhat heated conversation ensues. At this point, my friend tells me, as he stood there clutching what was undeniably a plastic bag filled with child's sweets in novelty dispensers, his mother uttered the immortal words: "I thought you said you wanted the latest PEZ."

We'll not dwell. Obviously this week's biggest release is Pro Evolution Soccer 4, and, judging by Konami's excitable press release, there ought to be more than enough copies on the shelves for people who do know what they're after. And having played the thing to death over the past week, we can say it's a massive improvement over Pro Evo 3. Disappointingly for the importing crowd, it can't be more than a few lines of code removed from this summer's Japanese release Winning Eleven 8, which means there's a touch of slowdown and a number of key transfers aren't reflected (Rooney's still at Everton and there's no Luis Garcia or Xabi Alonso at Liverpool, for example), but on the whole the myriad improvements in every department make for a faster, more dynamic and less predictable game, which achieves a greater degree of spectacle than before. The only question for PES fans is whether or not to wait for next month's Xbox version featuring online play...

Cube fans have no such quandary of course, as they'll have to make do with FIFA 2005 in the football stakes - not a terrible thing judging by the critical response, but disappointing nonetheless. And yet it's still a good week for Nintendo's many followers. On the domestic front, drumming rhythm-action game Donkey Konga finally appears on store shelves for a reasonable asking price, and although it's certainly not going to outlast the likes of Monkey Ball and Samba de Amigo in the party-promoting stakes, it's still one to consider - and, to fall back on an earlier theme, you wouldn't be too upset if your Gran bought it for you...

However you'd probably prefer her to have visited her nearest importer and coughed up the cash necessary for Paper Mario 2 (or Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, to give it its full title), which appeared in the USA this week. It's not due out over here for another month, and if the Japanese version we've been playing is anything to go by then it's the sort of RPG treat that we haven't seen since the phenomenal and oft-underrated Mario & Luigi: SuperStar Saga on the Game Boy Advance.

Elsewhere, PS2 owners enjoy most of the rest of the spoils. Codemasters' PS2 Online enabled version of TOCA Race Driver 2 is out at last, featuring more tracks and cars than its critically acclaimed Xbox counterpart, and barring a catastrophe it ought to be the best online racer available on Sony's console this year - particularly, as the UK publisher has been gleefully pointing to critics, since Sony's Gran Turismo 4 ditched its online options in order to make it out before the end of 2004. Then there's NBA Ballers from Midway, which has been receiving respectable notices, and McFarlane's Evil Prophecy, which has probably been receiving, well, death threats - judging by the consensus on GameRankings.

We also ought to point out that Paper Mario is joined on US retailers' shelves by BloodRayne 2 and Leisure Suit Larry this week - two games connected, as we feel sure some of you are bound to point out, by the lurid propensities of their respective protagonists. Rayne, who'll be on the big screen soon too, recently appeared topless in Playboy, in a rendering that's unlikely to titillate but is still bound to drive quite a few forums potty, and Larry is just a philandering reprobate in general. Another thing they have in common is that both games have been quite happily received.

Finally, we feel bound to point out for the benefit of those readers enjoying more advanced years - and indeed our own biz dev guru Patrick Garratt - that Ubisoft's Dukes of Hazzard game is out this week. No idea what it's like, but anybody to whom the words General Lee represent more than a vague Takeshi's Castle reference is bound to conclude that it is, to use a word that our ailing, PES-pursuing chum no longer permits us to utter, decidedly 'sweet'.

  • PAL Releases
  • Atlantis Evolution (PC)
  • Club Football 2005 (PS2)
  • Counter Punch (GBA)
  • Digimon Rumble Arena 2 (PS2, Xbox, Cube)
  • Donkey Konga (Cube)
  • Dungeon Lords (PC)
  • Madden NFL 2005 (PC)
  • McFarlane Evil Prophecy (PS2)
  • My Little Pony: Best Friends Ball (PC)
  • NBA Ballers (PS2)
  • Pro Evolution Soccer 4 (PS2)
  • Robotech: Invasion (PS2, Xbox)
  • Sacred - Plus (PC)
  • Street Jam (GBA)
  • Sudden Strike: Resource War (PC)
  • The Dukes of Hazzard: Return of the General Lee (PS2, Xbox)
  • TOCA Race Driver 2: The Ultimate Racing Simulator (PS2)
  • Who Wants To Be A Millionaire: 2nd Edition (GBA)
  • Wildlife Park Gold (PC)
  • Yeti Sports Deluxe (PSX)

  • Key US Releases
  • BloodRayne 2 (PS2, Xbox)
  • Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders (Xbox)
  • Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude (PS2, Xbox, PC)
  • Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door (Cube)

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