Ah, the holidays. Whether you celebrate with a tree, a manger, a dradle, kinara candles or a Festivus pole, you can be pretty sure of two things. One: You're going to have to buy stuff for other people whether you like them or not. And two: it's not a total waste because you're going to get some loot in return as well.
This process isn't inherently right or wrong, but we all know it has the potential to be a whole lot of either. So, GamesRadar is here to help you make sure you fall on the right side of that equation. Knowing what to put on your own list will help you right now, and knowing what to get for the other gamers in your life? That can reap payback benefits for years to come.
We'll start with the Nintendo Wii, which has been the hottest system this year and looks to remain that way as long as it enables everyone from soccer moms to grandparents to feel remotely as trendy, modern, and tech-saavy as their kids. Sadly, there's a metric crapton of terrible games for the Wii. But there are also a small handful that truly rock. Thus, no other list in this feature is so easy to make, yet so important to have.
Above: Super Mario Galaxy
Here's the best game...
...So that everyone can jump in:
Guitar Hero III
You know what it takes to start loving Guitar Hero III? The ability to tell red, yellow, blue, green and orange apart from one another. That is all. Once you can do that, you can strap on a bitchin' six-string and charm an entire stadium of people into worshipping your every move. Sound good? Yes, yes it does.
Rayman Raving Rabbids 2
When mini-games are wacky, twisted and maybe a little sadistic, it makes it more fun for everyone.
...In case you've been in a coma and missed this whole year:
Super Mario Galaxy
Here's the scenario: the most physically athletic chubby plumber in history gets all interstellar, zipping from one planet to the next stomping on plant monsters, grabbing stars, and capturing space rabbits. And also our newly-warmed hearts. Don't quibble; just love it.
Metroid Prime 3
We complain a lot about the Wii controls, but they work perfectly here. Not much evolution from the first two Primes, but a very solid first-person shooter nonetheless.
...For the online obsessed:
Medal of Honor Heroes 2
While we're all blathering on about Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, this WWII blaster shows up with shooterific controls and support for 32 players. It's like being unexpectedly shot in the face, but with yummy meatballs and sauce instead of searing, brain-destroying hot lead.
Mario Strikers Charged
You know what makes arcade-style soccer better? Online play and the ability to catch on fire. Trust us.
...For those with infinite free time:
Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn
There isn't a huge market for fantasy-style strategy role-playing games, but there should be. Honestly, if stores that sell only fishing lures or M&Ms can be successful, surely we can support at least one giant RPG store. Maybe in Vegas? Anyhow, it's a big story and a huge time sink, but if you're into swords and magic and spearing bad guys from atop your winged horse, you're going to play Fire Emblem relentlessly until the next Ren fair and beyond.
Pokemon Battle Revolution
Don't let the cuteness of Pokemon fool you - this is brutal turn-based battle between the various branches of the animal, plant, mineral and machine kingdoms.
Above: NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams
...Looking to embark upon their first adventure:
Super Paper Mario
It's so sugary-cute it will give you cavities - always brush - but with that comes a charm that can seduce even the most unwilling, hard-hearted gamer. And the constant switching between 2D and 3D actually feels as natural as it does intriguing. If you see this game played and don't come to love it, go to the hospital because you are a cyborg and you need a real heart to replace your cold, artificial one.
Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
This captivating adventure has a talking skull, a monkey, and more odd Wii Remote contortions than its criminally random title has letters. What's not to love?
...For the gamer who has everything:
NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams
You know that dream you have? Not the dirty one or the scary one, but the one in which you're flying and everything is colorful and festive and comfortable even though it's weird. This is the game of that dream. It’s like a Cirque Du Soleil show on your Wii, with you as the main character: a flying, purple-clad jester.
Trauma Center: New Blood
Okay, technically, if you've played everything you might have played the first Wii Trauma Center game. But if not, this emergency surgery sim is wonderful. Play it. STAT! (See what we did, there?)
The 360 has really come into its own this year, and nearly every must-play game of 2007 has a 360 version. We'll save the detailed accolades for our Platinum Chalice awards later this month, but for now, here are the best ways to put smiles on the faces of the green-tinted gamers in your life.
By the way, you'll notice we don't have Halo 3 anywhere on here - we're just going to go ahead and assume every 360 owner has that one already. In fact, you probably bought the game, drank the soda pop, ate the Burger King meal and found yourself in the emergency room after you got drunk cheering for the Halo 3 NASCAR and insisted upon trying to cram that replica Master Chief helmet from the collector's edition onto your head.
Here's the best game...
…For the gamer with substance:
Much has been said about this game's amazing graphics and its one-of-a-kind, '60s-era underwater city setting. Much has been said about its combat, which has you learning to cast firebolts, spew lightning, and send swarms of bees erupting from your own body toward diving suit-clad hulks and genetic freaks. Much has been said about its masterful story, which feels real and relevant despite the fantasy setting. And it’s all true. This isn't a game; it's an experience.
Not content to simply make the best Star Wars games in the galaxy, developer BioWare crafts its own sci-fi universe, then turns the player loose in it as a galactic Secret Service agent with big guns and a super-baddie to bring down.
…For the gamer who loves empowering peripherals:
Rock Band (drums, guitar, mic)
Just about the only way to make the Guitar Hero games better is to grab three more rockers and start a whole damn band. The guitar can't hold a candle to the GHIII axe, but with the addition of a great, if hellishly loud, drum kit and microphone, this is the closest four people can get to being rock stars without knocking up models and developing a heroin addiction. It's brilliant.
Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation (with flight stick)
A fast car is nice. But when you slam the throttle of a supersonic F-16 and shove a missile up another jet’s tailpipe, blowing it out of the sky, you’re playing with a whole new class of toys.
…For the gamer sick of shooters:
Life in the Middle East in the year 600 AD didn't sound all that great to us at first - you know, poverty, rats, the dudes from the Crusades constantly turning up and waving their swords at you. However, what if you could spend that life as a sort of robe-clad cross between a ninja, a pirate and Spider-Man, always free-running and stabbing holes in evil men? It turns out, that sweetens the pot quite a bit.
Forget the hokey, generic fantasy storyline. This is Bejeweled with the one thing it lacked: a point. You'll match rows of colored gems for hours upon hours because that freaking two-headed ogre has it coming. The bastard.
…For the young and innocent:
We had two thoughts immediately upon seeing this glorious Japanese-style fantasy RPG for the first time. One was, "Wow! Those graphics are so artistic, so colorful, so beautiful." The second was, "Hey, that harmless looking coconut just turned into a very big, very mean tree and stomped on that dude's head.” And we were hooked. Despite the violent dispositions of the native flora and fauna, it's nearly impossible not to get swept up in Eternal Sonata's charisma and unabashed enthusiasm.
What's that? You like colorful and enthusiastic but you'd rather not hit magic fish and bats in the face for 30 hours to get it? Look no further than this quirky story about a tiny character who rolls up giant, sticky balls of lovable odditude.
...For pure multiplayer heaven besides Halo 3:
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Love the multiplayer in Halo 3 all you like - we do. But for a monstrously compelling change of pace, trade in the space guns and magic healing armor for the grittier, more realistic equipment of today's elite soldiers. Multiplayer in CoD 4 looks gorgeous, moves swiftly - one shot can kill you, and you respawn almost instantly to seek revenge - and is expertly balanced. You won't find a more nail-bitingly nerve-wracking multiplayer game this year.
Team Fortress 2 (in Orange Box)
Cartoonish visuals can't conceal the strong bones of a class-based shooter that has been polished by literally years of development time and play-testing. Kill the Medics first.
For the gamer who's seen it all:
It’s rare for an Xbox LIVE Arcade title to pull us under (by the way, just grab a LIVE points card instead of looking for this in a box), but this team-based multiplayer shooter is special. It happens in a flat, 2D plane and it’s all underwater. So you’ve got the familiar battles over respawn points, but the four classes all involve submarines and divers squirting around the ocean toting various levels of artillery. It looks lovely too, but forget it if you’re still rocking a standard definition TV – units and bullets are so small you won’t be able to see a thing.
Based on a classic German board game where players compete to build cities and roads across a picturesque medieval countryside, Carcassonne is easy to pick up, but difficult to master. Playing on Xbox LIVE may not be quite as engaging as playing the analog version face-to-face with your friends, but on the plus side, no one has to bear the tedium of keeping score (adding up all the farms at the end can be a killer).
Now that Sony's latest tool of global domination is tagged with the price it should have had all along - and developers are learning what to do with it - the PS3 could finally start giving the Wii and 360 some decent competition. It's about time too, because we were getting tired of making stupid jokes about it being the most expensive waffle iron we'd ever seen. Especially because the waffles it makes totally suck and we're really more into pop tarts anyway.
See? Stupid joke.
Above: Rock Band
Anyhow, here's the best game...
…For the musically inclined:
We've written about Rock Band before in this very story, but it's one of the best games on ANY system, so here it is again. You'll want four players to really get the full impact, but the feeling you get when drummer, guitarist, singer and bassist are all connecting and making the crowd go wild can only be described as euphoria. Rock Band is expensive, but worth it.
Guitar Hero III
The fantasy is confined to only two players and you can't be the singer or drummer, but it feels almost as good, and you don't have to practice scales daily for 15 years to get there.
…For the person you want to spend $10 on without looking like a cheapskate:
PAIN (PSN Network)
Sure it's convenient, but admit it: cash is a cop-out gift that generally says, "I care so much for you that I couldn't be bothered to find out what you like." The solution? Give someone a lousy ten bucks with a note that says, "Buy PAIN on the PlayStation Network. It's just a person and a giant slingshot-thing that sends them crashing into buildings, cars, and exploding mailboxes, but it's hilarious." Then you'll seem like a brilliant slacker with a great-yet-juvenile sense of humor - kinda like the guys on Jackass.
Think the 2D, two-stick shooter is tacky and dead? Play this captivating blaster, which blends the shooting with music and slick, slightly abstract visuals. It has so much style you'll wish you could hang it on the wall.
…For the online commando:
Call of Duty 4
Another game that we've mentioned before. Let's recap anyhow: CoD 4 multiplayer is fantastic. You've played most of these game modes before: deathmatch, capturing and defending power points, planting or defusing bombs. But they've never been this grungy, this intense, and this completely balanced. They've probably never looked this good either - the developers think the PS3 version has even better graphics than the eye-popping 360 version.
You know how to tell when a game's developers focused on multiplayer? When they literally threw out the single-player mode. You know how to tell if it's fun? When we rave on about crazy aerial dogfights punctuated by on-foot gunplay.
…For the visually inclined (read: graphics whores):
Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction
The series that practically defined action games on PS2 with its light-hearted characters and huge arsenal of explosive weaponry arrives on PS3. It plays about the same - with the addition of disco-dancing enemies and penguins - but great balls of ninjas on fire, is it pretty. It looks like the best movie Pixar hasn't yet made, with colors that burst out of the screen and explosions big enough to give a supernova an inferiority complex.
We understand why we can't look away from the lithe, panty-flashing babe with the sword on a chain and inhumanly long hair. It's that way we can't look away from the grotesque enemies either that proves how gorgeous this hack-and-slashing adventure is.
Above: Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
…For the story-focused:
Originally, we looked down on the not-so-secret twist in this game: you're not actually a brutal, gracefully efficient killer in 600 AD - you're a dude in more-or-less present day, hooked up to a machine. However, as the pieces begin to fall together and you learn more and more about just what's going on, it all starts to work. And the way that you stab a TON of dudes in the neck along the way makes the trip much more tolerable.
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
He may lack Indiana Jones' hat and Lara Croft's physical charms, but lead character Nathan Drake is a ton of fun to hang around, and his globe-trotting adventure makes for a great fireside tale.
…For the gamer who's seen it all:
Portal (The Orange Box)
Words can't do this, the first First Person Puzzler we can think of, justice. You have a gun that shoots holes. You then use these holes to walk through walls, leap across chasms, climb platforms, and even turn switches or drop heavy things onto robots. It only lasts a few hours, but the puzzling will bend your head in a way no other game ever has even before the crazy story kicks in. Plus, it comes with four other games: Half-Life 2, two HL2 expansions, and Team Fortress 2. Amazing.
Eye of Judgment
Stop using that EyeToy camera to slapfight cartoon ninjas. Instead, use it to scan trading cards, thereby unleashing fearsome 3D models of mythical creatures and steampunk battle gear and waging RPG war. Hey, Magic the Gathering? Sony called. You're antique.
PC gamers have got to be getting tired of hearing about how great consoles are. It's been all "Mario this" and "Halo that" for ages. Here's a tip for this holiday: Whenever a console person starts dangling their whatever-they-think-is-cool in your face, just ask them if they've seen Crysis. Then, when they stammer out that their "cutting-edge" console can't handle retina-searing visuals like that until the game has been graphically dumbed-down quite a bit, point at them and laugh hysterically until tears start pouring out of both your eyes and theirs.
Above: Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Here's the best game:
…For hardware junkies who love flexing their rigs:
There are lots of “must-play” games, but Crysis is the biggest “must-SEE” of the year. Taking place mostly in a lush jungle setting, Crysis is the first game ever to have people in our office pointing excitedly at plants. "Look at that philodendron! Check out the fronds on that fern! Consoles can't do foliage like this!" And if you're not a big botanist, think of it this way: if the random scenery looks this good, how fantastic do you think aliens, guns, soldiers and your nanosuit-powered superbadass are going to look tearing it all to shreds? It takes a beefy machine to run in all its glory, but if you've got the horse, this game is the carriage that'll have all the ladies beggin' for a ride. So to speak.
With something like 14 kinds of water effect and exquisite detail, this story of a decaying undersea megalopolis will bring a salty tear to the eye of any lover of graphical splendor.
…For the trigger happy multiplayer master:
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Yep, it's déjà-vu all over again because we're recommending this genre-defining online shooter for PC as well. Buy it for yourself because it's fantastic, and if anyone tells you they don’t think it's all that great, buy them a copy as well. Why? Because you'll both prove them wrong and also leave them no excuse not to get online, where you can then enjoy sniping, stabbing, grenading and otherwise repeat-a-killing their stupid asses all over the place.
Team Fortress 2 (Orange Box)
Did you hear the one about the Toy Story-looking team shooter with widely varied classes and gameplay as finely tuned as Elton John's piano? The punch line is that it's awesome.
…For MMO players who've finally tired of World of Warcraft:
Lord of the Rings Online
So, you've spent so much time in Azeroth that you can count it in actual, real-world years and you reckon you've put someone at Blizzard's kid through middle school? Why not head over to Middle-earth and hit some orcs in the ugly box with a big, ol' axe? Then have your character play a little song about how badass you are. No, really. Do that.
You know the thing WoW doesn't really have? Big, nasty ray guns, like the ones in this sci-fi MMORPG from the guy who created one of the most revered RPG series of all time. It was called Ultima.
…For the desktop general:
World in Conflict
Like the brilliantly cheesy '80s flick Red Dawn, this medium-scale real-time strategy game imagines what would happen if a hostile, communist USSR took over the US. In the movie, it ended up with Patrick Swayze, Lea Thompson, Jennifer Gray, Charlie Sheen and C Thomas Howell all escaping high school, becoming guerilla resistance fighters, and mostly dying. In the game, it ends up with fast-paced, town-scale RTS warfare that looks so good you almost don't want to use the tactical nuke on it (but you totally do).
Existing on a grander scale than most other RTS games - the battles cover an entire planet at once - this early '07 sci-fi wargame must not be missed, and recently got an expansion pack: Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance
…For the lone dungeon crawler:
We’re always hearing about how people should have role models. And if we were trapped in this game’s bleak, open-ended fantasy world, full of gray morals and slavering fangs, we’d totally idolize main character Geralt. He’s got a cool scar, he’s tough enough to kill every freakish thing he comes across – and that’s saying a lot – and he gets a ridiculous amount of bedroom time with the ladies considering he looks like an aged corpse after the autopsy. Kinda like Keith Richards, but with armor and magic.
Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer
Hey look! Someone took one of the biggest and best RPGs ever, added two bitching new classes and gave your character the power to eat souls. Where’s our bib? This will be messy.
…For the player who's played it all:
Portal (Orange Box)
What’s the shortest game you’ve ever loved? Portal rings in at just a few hours, but delivers such a uniquely genius mix of brain-teasing puzzle solving, action, atmosphere and yes, even story, that it feels as satisfying as games ten times its length. PC players can even download it separately via Steam, though that makes it pretty tough to fit in the box. Besides, grabbing the hard copy (in the Orange Box) and getting the blissful gaming piledriver of Half-Life 2 and Team Fortress 2 isn’t exactly torture. We should know. It happened to us.
You are a rolling sphere that can change phases to become heavier (metallic) or lighter (gaseous), in a world of tracks, switches, and puzzles. And no, you haven’t seen this before.
Nintendo's great experiment remains exactly that: great. And now it comes in colors like pink, gold, or red/black two-tone, which makes it even easier to find a DS that matches your outfit, wallpaper, or facial tattoos. That's important in today's fashion conscious world.
Above: Contra 4
Here's the best game...
…For the fan of the old-school:
True story: One drunken night back in college, a roomful of guys gathered around a Nintendo picked up a phone book, randomly chose and dialed a number, and asked the bleary-eyed stranger who answered the call what the code was to get more lives in Contra. And he knew.
This story demonstrates two things: someone contributing to this story is freaking old. And also, the Contra series created the only cheat code that has become part of the social consciousness of gaming. None of which has much to do with the fact that this 2D run-and-gun shooter is fun as hell, tough as shoe leather, and gorgeous in that MILF kind of way.
Geometry Wars: Galaxies
Yes, Geometry Wars isn’t exactly antique, but the 360-degree blastathon game mechanics were invented back in 1982, when Robotron: 2084 hit arcades. It controls great on the DS, too.
…In case you missed this entire year:
Pokemon is surprising because it looks all kiddie and cutesy and turns out to be an cool role-playing game with an incredibly deep battle system and hundreds of customizable characters. This latest version is the best looking, adds several additional ways to tweak your critters’ stats, and enables online trading and combat. That way, you can pretend to be soloing so nobody realizes you just got your ass handed to you by an eight year-old girl whose pokemon all wear hair ribbons.
Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
Cartoon GameCube Link returns in a new adventure that puts the touch screen to good use and has the charm and accessibility to grab beginners and veterans alike.
…For the RPG obsessed:
Final Fantasy XII Revenant Wings
We loved Final Fantasy XII, with its bondage gear-clad bunny girls and pirates and monsters. This DS entry drafts some of the main characters and heaves them into an interesting battle system that finds you actually commanding up to five small battalions of fighters, who bang it out in real-time. It’s a definite departure, but it works. And really, telling you readers to buy a Final Fantasy game is kinda like suggesting to Kid Rock that he should pick up some more beer and cocaine. It’s already on the list.
Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker
The colorful, cheery Dragon Quest RPG universe is timeless, and retooling the combat so that you’re collecting and battling teams of monsters (a side-quest in DQ VIII) Pokemon-style is a pretty safe risk.
…For the gamer with a detective streak:
Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations
If you’ve played a Phoenix Wright game before, be aware that this third episode in the loopy courtroom drama ties up the storyline begun in the first two titles. If not, this is your chance to be a lawyer who isn’t hated by all of society. Granted, with all the anime hair, bizarre plot twists, and the occasionally psychic assistant moment, this isn’t a normal courtroom. But it’s better this way because the judge can’t make you wear pants.
A more noir-ish story with a refreshing, sketchbook-looking art style, Hotel Dusk is the perfect game for those overcoat wearing, chain-smoking detective types among us who don’t happen to be super-powerful British warlocks.
…For the gamer old enough to drink:
Dementium: The Ward
Horror and gore are really hard to do on a portable system with graphics blocky enough to make most 3D objects look like legos and a screen small enough that you can easily throw it across the room. That said, Dementium handles the task nicely, turning your DS into a pocket-sized geyser of blood and body parts. Think of those chocolate fountains you see at fancy parties, but without anyone dipping strawberries in them.
Ultimate Mortal Kombat
A very playable remake of Mortal Kombat 3 (the best one) complete with the Tetris/Puzzle Fighter-style Puzzle Kombat mini-game and wi-fi game sharing. Now, where’s that heart that needs ripped out?
…For the gamer who's played it all:
Orcs & Elves
Remember that time your mom bought your sister some sweater or something that was just like one she had in college, so your dad tried to get you to wear his geeky clothes from high school because “they’re coming back into style”? Well, this is similar, except we’re not your dad because we don’t smell like gin Old Spice aftershave and we’re right. The dungeon-crawly Orcs & Elves plays remarkably like an old-school PC RPG, with flaming swords and magic wands and a first-person viewpoint. But that’s so uncommon these days, it feels totally fresh. Besides, how many other games have talking wands and dragon shopkeepers?
Drawn to Life
It would be a typical platform action title, but the fact that you literally draw platforms, guns, and even yourself make this great. It can also be really funny if you can’t draw or if you’re a childish moron who makes everything look like genitals.
You know what home console is still the market leader? The answer involves math, but we're pretty sure it's still the PlayStation 2 - that's right, the deuce. Yes, the newer consoles are prettier and flashier, but until they've sold something like 13 gigazillion units worldwide, they still have to call the PS2 daddy. Play these with pride, believers!
Above: God of War II
Here's the best game...
…For the party gamer:
Guitar Hero III
This series started on PS2, and while the next-gen versions may be prettier, they don’t rock any harder than this one. Yes, you will look like a dork with a plastic guitar slung over your shoulder – deal with it. This game is all about what you look like in the game, and onscreen you will be the biggest rock star on the planet. Fame-wise we mean, not physically. ‘Cause Blackie from WASP is Green Giant tall, like six-foot seven or something, and Chris Holmes was six-foot eleven. In fact he had to quit the band because a plane hit him in the forehead during a concert in Denver.
BUZZ! The Mega-Quiz
Get a group of four or eight players together and the time you spend ridiculing friends and loved ones for not knowing whether Bush Jr is taller than Nixon will create memories that last a lifetime.
…For the action hero:
God of War II
There may be no finer action game in the world than this one. It has lush looks, a satisfying combat system, and an awesome setting full of mythical creatures – which you then proceed to rip in half, carve into meatchunks, or impale on chains you then use to bludgeon their friends to death. It’s more of what made the first game great, with added nudity.
Tomb Raider Anniversary
You can’t go home again. However, you can go spelunking through frozen caves, dinosaur-infested jungles, and lost Egyptian ruins again. Especially if you look this good.
…For the role-player:
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3
If there was ever an RPG series stuck in its goth phase, it would be this turn-based beauty. Most of your time is spent hunting occult monsters in a massive, demon-infested tower. You fight them by using a magical gun to commit some kind of spiritual suicide, by shooting yourself in the head, which summons your own demon form. The rest of your time is spent surviving the real hell: high school.
The majesty and beauty of a Dragon Quest game transplanted into a sci-fi setting with robots, aliens, and pirate ships that sail through space? Yes, please.
…For the nostalgia hound:
Metal Slug Anthology
The Metal Slug games may have the simplest concept in history: run constantly from left to right, and if something gets in your way, either ride it, jump over it, or blast it into a million pieces. But they’re still fantastic thanks to the amusing, hand-drawn art style; the chance to play every game co-operatively with a buddy, and the tendency for things to explode. It also helps that you never know what to expect next: you might find yourself riding a camel with machine cannons in its saddlebags, or turned into an acid-vomiting zombie.
Sega Genesis Collection
We get that old games are graphical throwbacks; but with a lineup of hits including three Phantasy Star RPGs, two Sonic games, Altered Beast, and a previously Japan-only Golden Axe III – this horse may not be pretty, but she won’t tire easily.
Above: The Simpsons Game
…For the animation lover:
The Simpsons Game
Judged purely on its gameplay, this is not a good game. It’s shabby, controls badly and is full of half-baked ideas. However, it’s packed so full of fan-service moments that will have Simpsons fans and/or video game fans grinning – possibly even laughing aloud – that it makes up for its gameplay shortcomings. Homer would probably describe it as an ugly woman who makes the world’s most mouth-watering donuts or something.
It skews a bit young, but this platform-action story of a rat who happens to love food so much he becomes a chef is still one of the best animation-inspired games of this year.
For the gamer who's seen it all:
A 2D Action/RPG hybrid almost like a less jumpy Castlevania, the spellbinding Odin Sphere is about as typical as riding to work on a talking dolphin with butterfly wings and laser beam eyes. The art style that can only be described as amazing. Everything in its world is hand-drawn, exquisitely colored, and moves slightly almost as if a light breeze is always blowing. The source material is Norse mythology, but it’s all been imaginatively reinvented. It’s like a painted manga come to life, and its often tragic, multi-threaded story will tug at your heart just as the graphics assault your eyes with happy-juice.
From the same developer as Odin Sphere and nearly as gorgeous, GrimGrimoire features an even more unlikely form of gameplay: it’s a 2D, real-time strategy game starring fantasy characters like fairies and witches.
You know how some people always laughs at the PSP's "failure" because it isn't selling like gold-plated hot cakes the way the DS does? Those people have small minds and limited vision. Even though it's never going to be the market leader, PSP is still a wonderful game system whose full potential is still waiting to be unlocked. And who knows? These games may be the key. They don't look like keys, but neither did a black mask or crystal rod until we played the Final Fantasy II remake and BAM! Our anti-key prejudices were exploded. So give these titles to the gamer on your list and see if something explodes.
Here's the best game...
…For the fantasy general:
If someone made a strategy RPG about Joan of Arc, but fantasy anime-d it all up with pink hair, magical staves, demons and elves, it probably still wouldn’t be as wacky and satisfying as Jeanne D’Arc (pronounced “John Dark”. At least by us). Throw in customizable characters and a nifty battle system in which characters catch fire a lot, and you have a real winner.
Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions
Yes, it’s a remake. But it’s an enhanced remake of the PSOne megahit Strategy RPG Final Fantasy Tactics, so you want it. You want it very badly. Trust us.
…For the old-school player:
Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles
Maybe you know someone who’s spent the last several years railing on about how hack-and-slash platform actioner Castlevania: Rondo of Blood only came out in Japan. Maybe you know someone who constantly finds ways to mention Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was the best 2D game ever – even when you’re shopping for a Valentine’s gift or talking about whether to bury poor Aunt Melba here or back in the old country. Now, finally, you can shut them both the hell up by dropping this two-game collection into their PSP. Provided you don’t keep it for yourself, you greedy bum.
Metal Slug Anthology
You know all those great things we said about this arcade collection back on the PS2 page? The multiplayer takes a hit, but everything else is still great.
…For the cute - but deadly:
Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters
With his giant eyes and fuzzy ears, Ratchet looks like he could star in a Disney movie – heck, he’s practically a tiger-striped Stitch who’s learned to talk. But together with his endearingly diminutive (usually) robot sidekick Clank, he collects an arsenal that would have Batman, Iron Man, and Marvin the Martian slaughtering each other just for his cast-offs. Then he uses it to atomize about ten thousand bad dudes across the galaxy.
Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure
You should know by now that any little girl who wanders into a dungeon carrying a giant, drill-headed club she shouldn’t even be able to lift is not to be messed with. Buy her damn cookies and get away before she demonstrates to you what “trepanation” means.
For the online commando:
Star Wars Battlefront: Renegade Squadron
Already one of the most compelling online shooters thanks to light sabers, Jedi, and spacecraft, Renegade Squadron ups the ante with more player customization, more spaceships to fly, another great single-player story, and some weird new 16-player multiplayer modes. You think other games are tough? Try capturing the enemy flag when its “home base” position is mounted to Darth Vader’s back (hint: He’d rather not give it to you).
SOCOM US Navy SEALs: Tactical Strike
With only four-player support, you might think this is an easier experience – you’d be wrong, as it only takes one highly-trained soldier to place a hot, high-veolocity metal sphere between your eyes.
Above: Ratchet and Clank: Size Matters
For the lone adventurer:
Syphon Filter: Logan's Shadow
Part stealthy sneaking like a ninja, part roaring gunfire like a Rambo movie, Syphon Filter is a story of top-secret superweapons, double-agents, and lots of heavies getting shot in the face. We know we’ve chosen this as a good pick for lone adventurers, but if you do get social, there’s also not-too-shabby online action for up to eight players.
Silent Hill Origins
If you’ve ever wondered how a town could get so effed up that the dominant life forms are collections of random body parts, here’s your answer: A scary trucker did it.
For the gamer who's seen it all:
Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords
Now either available or planned on pretty much every platform up to and including your toaster, Puzzle Quest starts out as a generic RPG. Then you get into a battle and it turns into Bejeweled – because if you really want to kill something, forget swords and axes – just match colored gems on a grid. But then you decide to fight just one more dude/rat/griffon/whatever, and it’s all over. Well, all except the bit where you suddenly realize it’s 3 AM, your girlfriend is gone and you can’t feel your legs because you’ve been staring at your PSP for the last five hours. Puzzle Quest is not what you expect: it’s way better. And also a unique, life-devouring monster.
Dead Head Fred
Action games are common. Action games starring a film noir-ish detective who can change his brain-in-a-jar head for other heads with different powers? Not so common, but very fun.