Holiday Buyer's Guide 2003: Ask Santa for games where you won't shoot your eye out, but somebody else's.
'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except for your nephew, niece, son or daughter that was 'sposed to be asleep. Why were they stirring? Anticipation. You remember what it was like on Christmas Eve. You would spend all night trying to guess what your parents were getting you, only to worry that they'd picked the wrong model car, the wrong color or last year's hot thing.
Well, to help you out as you shop for the game player in your life, we here at Gaming Target have compiled a list of some of the hottest games from this year. Peruse the list. Weigh your options. Find the right gift. Trust us, we wouldn't steer you wrong.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (Xbox) from LucasArtsKnights of the Old Republic is everything to nearly everyone. Not only is it the best game to bear the Star Wars name in a long time, but it is also the best role-playing game to grace a video game console in almost as long. Not only does it play well, but it is packed full of dry humor and outstanding storytelling. While an absolute must-have for any Star Wars fan, this game bridges gaps and appeals to game players of all shapes and sizes.
Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne (PS2, Xbox) from Rockstar GamesWhile the original Max Payne broke gameplay barriers, Max Payne 2 is taking the approach of breaking storytelling boundaries. This isn't a game for kids, but the combination of action, mature themes, and noir storytelling will compel most game players to play the game into the wee hours of the morning. Everything that the original game did, this sequel does better. It's a shame the the Matrix sequels didn't fare as well.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (PS2, Xbox, GameCube) from Ubi Soft
The Prince of Persia series goes back a long way. I mean, the original first appeared on Macs fourteen years ago. This new title is breaking ground for action/platform titles everywhere with a fantastic time rewinding game ploy. Combining high production values with outstanding gameplay is always a formula for success. Throw in a classic franchise with loyal fans and it becomes a sure thing. You don't want to pass up a sure thing, do you?
Beyond Good & Evil (PS2, Xbox, GameCube) from Ubi Soft
Beyone Good & Evil is a action/adventure title, the likes of which can only be compared to the most recent Legend of Zelda titles. The game has a great visual style and characterization and takes advantage of the imagination of Michel Ancel (the creator of the famed Rayman series). The game excels where most would find disaster and, while it doesn't feature the familiar faces you'll see in it's competitors, it competes with the heaviest hitters out there. Besides, in a holiday season without a new Zelda title, Beyond Good & Evil is the next best thing.
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga (GBA) from NintendoSo, it's not the Mario game we were asking for this fall, but Mario & Luigi: Superstart Saga breaks new ground for our adventuresome plumbers. Borrowing more from Mario RPG and Paper Mario than it does from Super Mario Sunshine, Mario & Luigi bridges the gap between platform titles and role-playing-games. By breaking the mold, M&L will teach an entirely new generation that there is more to playing games then jumping on top of your enemies. It even teaches the simple, but often overlooked, principle of teamwork.
True Crime: Streets of L.A. (PS2, Xbox, GameCube) from ActivisionThis is another title that isn't necessarily fit for the little kiddies, but the game rocks and is a great way to release frustration. With a more robust fighting engine and more coherent story then the Grand Theft Auto games, True Crime: Streets of L.A. will draw players in and push them to take down one more criminal. It exposes us to the seamy underbelly of Los Angeles, several hundred square miles of it. Heck maybe it will even inspire a few people to take up a life of fighting crime. That theory might be a little far-fetched, but it's almost a guarantee that players will enjoy the game.
Viewtiful Joe (GameCube) from Capcom
It's fast, colorful, difficult, original, and fun. It's Viewtiful. Viewtiful Joe mixes the golden days of video games with the improved graphics and styles of today. With fast action-packed gameplay, a beautiful cel-shaded graphical system, and a moderately high level of difficulty, Viewtiful Joe is one of the best games to come out of the year 2003. A great pickup this holiday season, whether is be for someone else, or yourself.
Mario Kart: Double Dash (GameCube) from NintendoMario Kart: Double Dash is a must buy for the Nintendo loyalist in the family. The game offers great nostalgia factor by starring the who's who of Mario games, including Peach, Donkey Kong, Bowser, Wario, Waluigi, Baby Mario and Luigi, Yoshi, and of course, Mario. Double Dash also has great controls, sounds and graphics. There are a bunch of modes for multiplayer, including Battle, Grand Prix, and Time Trial. Although the single-player experience is kind of dry, the multiplayer is incredibly fun and will entertain Mario's fans until the next Mario Kart.
Jak II (PS2) from SCEA
Changing the content of a well-known platform entry isn't easy, especially when its former title was just about perfect in every way. For Jak II, Naughty Dog did just that. They went and turned the platform genre upside down in the company's latest action and platforming hybrid -- the sequel to one of 2001's best PlayStation 2 games ever, Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy. Influencing the game and its story with a shadier world and characters, the gameplay engine is now based off of Rockstar's own open-ended universe from last year's and the year before mega successful 3D Grand Theft Auto releases, where Jak can now steal vehicles and shoot at anyone he so pleases. Equipping Jak now with a new appearance, new weapons (short and long ranged blaster weapons), new abilities (with Dark Eco powers, Jak can now perform devastating attacks against many foes at once), and even a voice with which to spit words with, Jak II is an evolved look at a probable platform trend other games of the future are sure to follow up on.
Gladius (PS2, Xbox, GameCube) from LucasArts
LucasArts' Gladius, a combination of Final Fantasy Tactics and Gladiator (sort of...), won't give the gift of incredibly fast-paced action and overwhelming graphics. However, tactical RPGs give the gift of incredibly long gameplay in abundance (it took me an entire college semester to get through Final Fantasy Tactics...), and Gladius is no different. It's not just long in length, though -- it has an incredible depth of options, customizable features and fighting styles, so you'll definitely spend lots of time exploring all the possibilities the game has to offer. The experience is packaged in a Roman-inspired world based on just the right combination of myth and history. Gladius' slower pace may not be for everyone, but the highest compliment I can give the game is this: I have to stop playing it now, as I have another game to get through and review. But I do so very reluctantly -- I want to keep playing Gladius! That's the truest test of a game -- is it fun to play, and do you want to keep playing it?
Madden NFL 2004 (PS2, Xbox, GameCube) from Electronic Arts
How far does Madden NFL 2004 reach? If you ask the Atlanta Falcons, pretty far. The Falcons, once Super Blow contenders, could easily lay the blame for their awful season on the Madden Curse - just days after Madden '04 released, superstar quarterback Mike Vick broke his leg and cost the team a chance at the big time, for this year anyway. Thankfully, Falcons fans can just play the new edition of Madden, without fear of broken legs and other vile injuries - and millions do just that every day - be it online with the PlayStation 2, or using their money-management skills to build your NFL franchise into a Yankee-esque powerhouse, rolling in the dough to buy anyone you choose. The core of Madden remains mostly unchanged, but if it's not broke, don't be fixing it! Arguably Madden NFL 2004 is the most authentic and exciting football game around, with a wealth of options to keep you playing until the next version releases. Owner mode will not only challenge your on-field skills, but your savvy with building new stadiums, keeping your fanbase pleased, and making sure to rip off the drunks by charging hefty amounts for alcohol. The new EA Sports Bio will track your stats across all EA games, unlocking goodies to help you gain the advantage or unlock secret teams and or stadiums. For a football fan (and a sad, depressed Falcons fan), Madden NFL 2004 is about as good as it gets for pigskin action, no matter what the console.
Final Fantasy X-2 (PS2) Square EnixIf you need convincing that Final Fantasy X-2 is going to be worth your purchase, its clear you have never played a true Final Fantasy game before. As the first "sequel" in the series' history, X-2 follows the story of FFX heroine Yuna as she travels through Spira. Featuring the replay value, strong gameplay, jaw dropping graphics and riveting story that fans of the series have come to expect, this game is a worthy follow-up to what is potentially the best Playstation 2 game to date.
SOCOM II: U.S. Navy SEALs (PS2) from SCEA SOCOM took us online for the first time last year only to return with a sequel full of improvements in its single and multiplayer portions. Though SOCOM II won't be able to sway those uninterested in shooting games or be in rech of those underage for the actual army, it's definitely worth purchasing along with the console's modem if you haven't already picked one up. So, if you're planning to play games online with your PS2 and posses a broadband connection, be sure to salute SOCOM II as you're one and only commander during the remaining holiday days off.
Need for Speed: Underground (PS2, Xbox, GameCube) from Electronic Arts
NSFU is the ultimate game for the racer (or ricer) at heart who loves customizing cars but doesn't have the serious cash required to do so. One of this year's best arcade racing games, Underground lets you upgrade your car's performance parts as well as awarding you style points for an insane amount of visual mods such as new spoilers, body kits, rims, ground FX, paint jobs, decals and more. Combine the uncanny customization with the kickin' graphics and proven NFS racing style and you've got yourself a must have game.