30. Contra 4—DS
The DS’ fun factor is rooted in accessibility, defining “fun” with games that train anything from your brain to your face. Contra 4 defines “fun” with fit-inducing difficulty and gameplay that unashamedly embraces its old-school predecessors. With brilliantly brutal levels, killer boss encounters and a healthy amount of nostalgia, Contra 4 laughs in the face of “casual gaming,” and hearkens back to a day of memorizing enemy attack patterns and twitch reflexes, all in two dimensions. A worthy addition to the revered Contra franchise.
29. Pokemon Diamond/Pearl—DS
Nintendo, Game Freak
The 12-year-old Pokemon franchise continues to be obscenely popular, with the latest entry into the series, Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, together selling 3.6 million units in the US through November, according to the NPD Group. The introduction of online play finally opened up the game, making it easier to trade and battle with other players, in effect making this role-playing game that much more addictive.
Often, people use “crack” as a metaphor for an addictive videogame. But what’s worse than crack? Peggle. At its base, the game is kind of like a higher-velocity Plinko from The Price Is Right, if only Plinko’s pegs disappeared after the lucky contestant’s disc came in contact with them. Peggle is so barebones and simple, it’s made up of only a couple atoms of gameplay. But the resultant substance that arises from that fusion is almost as fit to stuff into a pipe as it is to occupy a hard drive.
27. Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock—multi
Guitar Hero III doesn’t mess too much with the successful Guitar Hero formula, but the continuing cultural impact of the franchise cannot be ignored. The game sold 1.4 million units in the US in its first week, driving the popularity of the game to new heights and garnering a big chunk of mainstream mind share. Boss battles against Slash and Tom Morello, a strong track list and online play make it even harder to put down that funny little plastic guitar.
SCEA, Evolution Studios
Critics dogged MotorStorm for its thin game mode offerings, and rightfully so. But MotorStorm made blasting through mud and dirt more fun than any recent racer, thanks to races with multiple vehicle types, balanced tracks and most of all, physics that were an absolute scream. It’s no wonder that Sony bought up Evolution Studios this year.
25. Skate—Xbox 360, PS3
EA, EA Black Box
Left stick is your body movement. Right stick manipulates your board. Triggers grab you board. Skate is as simple to understand as real skateboarding, but just like real-life, understanding something is a long ways from actually being able to pull it off yourself. That takes practice, and in Skate, the payoff of practice isn’t quantified by some statistic, but in your actual skill with the controller. Sharp graphics combined with organic control and a healthy amount of challenge make Skate a formidable adversary in a genre that sorely needs competition.
24. MLB Power Pros—Wii, PS2
2K Sports, Konami
The biggest mistake a baseball fan can make this year is to write off MLB Power Pros because of its Fisher Price-styled graphics. The game is accessible to newbies, but the plentiful stats, realistic physics, player-specific animations, real MLB rosters and RPG elements are sure to please hardcore gamers and hardcore baseball fans alike. Be happy that Konami and 2K Sports finally brought this franchise Stateside.
23. Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaro’s Treasure—Wii
Like #24 on our list, Zack & Wiki is a deceptively cutesy game with plenty of challenge that more experienced gamers can appreciate. While you do have on-screen characters following your directions via point-and-click mechanics, this game at its heart is a puzzler, and a brilliant one at that. The core of the game’s success is the thoughtful implementation of the Wii Remote. Zack & Wiki avoids the pitfalls of many Wii games by using the motion controller for more than just waggle, and we hope that other developers take note.
When Warhawk was first announced for PS3, many had envisioned a re-imagining of the original Warhawk, which came out on the original PlayStation in 1995. Instead, we got something better than that. Ground and air units go at it in 32-player online battles, creating a great sense of scope across well-designed maps. Nevermind critics who lament the fact that Warhawk is multiplayer-only—connectivity has arrived for consoles.
21. Virtua Fighter 5—PS3, Xbox 360
2/20/07 (PS3); 10/30/07 (Xbox 360)
Does Virtua Fighter 5 revolutionize the franchise, or even introduce much more than VF4? Not really, but what the game does do is once again raise the bar for the series and the fighting genre as a whole. As far as 3D fighters go, the gameplay is second-to-none and deep enough that you’ll always be learning new tactics and techniques. The Xbox 360 version finally introduces online play to the VF series, making it that much easier to find opponents to thrash or be thrashed by.
20. Super Stardust HD—PS3 (PSN)
Super Stardust HD is one of the best—if not the best—PSN games available. Sure, it uses the Robotron control scheme that has been so used and abused across many of these arcadey downloadable offerings. But by keeping the intensity dial high and introducing switchable weapons that have differing degrees of effect on the specific types of incoming asteroids that are threatening a planet below, Super Stardust HD even rivals Geometry Wars, if not completely blasting it out of the galaxy.
19. Supreme Commander—PC
THQ, Gas Powered Games
Supreme Commander is not for the faint of heart, and if it were, it wouldn’t be nearly as good. Gas Powered Games delivered on its promise of a real-time strategy game that has massive scope and unrivaled depth. Battles are epic, and often host simultaneous sub-battles; units vary in size from the players’ giant Armored Command Unit to smaller units like tanks, scouts and the like; tons of units populate the screen; and maps can be enormous. Being able to zoom out from seeing a single unit to a full-screen overhead of one of the game’s huge maps with the flick of a mouse wheel gives players a convincing sense that they really are commanding something of epic proportions.
18. Forza Motorsport 2
The driving genre is coming to the point where you have to wonder what else can be done to make driving games more interesting, particularly in the area of “sim” racers, which are inherently constrained by realism. Forza Motorsport 2 shows what else could be done with the genre, and it’s not about adding more cars (although there are over 300 of them). Forza Motorsport 2’s main contribution is successfully combining accessibility and depth in a genre that often feels forced to pick between the two.
17. Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords—multi
D3, Infinite Interactive
3/20/07 (DS, PSP); 10/10/07 (PC, XBLA); 10/30/07 (PS2); Wii (11/30/07)
Sleepers like Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords are part of what makes gaming so exciting. Here we have a humble fusion of casual Bejewelled-style puzzle gaming and the classic RPG elements that are so coveted by more avid gamers. The result is a game that is surprisingly deep and immensely fun, acting as proof that “casual” and “hardcore” gamers aren’t as different as many may believe. The commercial success of this game has relied almost entirely by word-of-mouth, and we’re thinking momentum still has room to build.
16. Mass Effect—Xbox 360
With Mass Effect, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic developer BioWare has sought out to create its own sci-fi epic, and this first installment is about as good of a start that you can hope for. Planned as a trilogy, Mass Effect's strong points include above-average voice acting, script and story, and a dialogue tree that offers up some “oh s***!” moments, particularly when choosing negative responses. It also begs to be played again and again, not just to get a better grasp of the intricacies of the story, but because each time you play, it offers a pretty unique experience. Judging by its sales—473,000 in the US in its first 10 days—the gaming public isn’t too turned off by the fact this BioWare space RPG doesn’t bear the Star Wars license.
15. Assassin’s Creed—PS3, Xbox 360
Ubisoft, Ubisoft Montreal
The star of Assassin’s Creed isn’t necessarily the main character Altaïr, but rather the utterly convincing world that breathes around him. The 12th-century virtual world offers huge cities teeming with masses of inhabitants going about their business. Layered on top of that is the wonderfully crafted sound, which is both mesmerizing and functional. We shouldn’t forget to mention that the game’s setting and premise stand out as quite unique. Ubisoft announced last week the game had sold 2.5 million in a month, so we can’t wait to see what else Ubisoft Montreal is capable of when the inevitable sequel arrives.
14. Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction—PS3
SCEA, Insomniac Games
With last year’s Resistance: Fall of Man, Insomniac Games demonstrated that its importance to the PlayStation brand wasn’t limited to last generation’s hardware. The more whimsical Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction again illustrates what makes Insomniac a great asset to not only Sony, but to PS3 owners everywhere, as the developer has now twice validated a system that could use a helping hand. In typical form for an R&C game, Tools of Destruction offers up a multitude of inventive weapons that are fun, hilarious, and overall extremely satisfying to use. Throw on a strong dose of humor and a great story, and Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction is yet another fine addition to the series.
13. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune—PS3
SCEA, Naughty Dog
Naughty Dog, creator of mascot-driven games like Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter, has finally shown that it can put a human in a lead role, and the resulting game can be just as good--if not better--than any of the developer's previous efforts. Uncharted is one of those games that combines tried-and-true gameplay from previously released games, lumps them into a cohesive whole and polishes everything to an attractive sheen. The tuned gameplay combined with the pulp magazine-inspired story and excellent graphics make this a must-own for PS3 owners.
12. Metroid Prime 3: Corruption—Wii
Nintendo, Retro Studios
In many ways, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption is the pinnacle of the Prime series. It's also what we’ve always imagined a first-person Metroid game could be. Much of this is thanks to Retro Studios’ implementation of the Wii Remote, which feels much more like an arm-mounted cannon than any old analog stick could ever dream. Its accuracy is rivaled only by the PC’s mouse/keboard combo. Refinements in level design, gameplay and weaponry come together to make this the most accessible and most outright fun Metroid Prime to date.
If past FPS games have done little to cure your inferiority complex, look no further than Crysis. Your muscle suit gives you superhero-like abilities that can be accessed at any time, given you have enough energy to use them. Jump higher, run faster, become more bulletproof; it all comes in handy when you’re fighting humans, or otherworldly invaders. Sure, the game’s maximum settings are at this moment laughing at the computer you’re reading this article on, but thankfully even the mid-range settings make for gorgeous visuals. The only thing we lament is that Crysis ends so soon—but can’t that be said of most great games?