Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Professor Layton and Pandora's Box (DS)
The second Layton adventure blends beautiful animation with a series of logic puzzles guaranteed to engage brains of all ages.
We were so excited by this game, and by its predecessor Professor Layton and the Curious Village, that we travelled all the way to Japan to meet its makers.
Wii Fit Plus (Wii)
The console that can do anything now offers this improved structured fitness course, complete with yoga classes. It's brilliantly executed, and it has the power to make you feel guilty.
Want to know what Nintendo has planned next? Check out our June interview with Nintendo boss Satoru Iwata.
Guitar Hero/Rock Band (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii)
The play-along genre really deserves a feature in its own right, but both of these series are great fun, and the instruments required to play are interchangeable (on the same console).
Check the track listings for individual preferences before you buy. Beatles Rock Band (see video link) and Lego Rock Band are both available.
Just Dance (Wii)
Before play-along and sing-along, there was dance-along. Here is the latest Wii version of an arcade staple.
To see a truly appalling video of Times Online staff playing Just Dance, follow the link above.
Forza Motorsport 3 (Xbox 360)
While the world awaits the PlayStation's Gran Turismo 5, Forza on the 360 is just about the most realistic racing sim you can buy. One for serious petrolheads.
Wii Sports Resort (Wii)
Sky-diving, fencing, archery and more; it's all here in a package that combines Nintendo's propensity for cuteness with its ability to make even the dullest games seem fun.
Rabbids Go Home (Wii)
The latest in the series that includes two Rayman Raving Rabbids titles. None of them will disappoint, though for party fun the earlier games are a better bet with their stupid tasks such as cow-tossing.
Mini Ninjas (DS, PS3, Wii, Xbox 360)
A fabulous little Zelda-like adventure game in which you chase around the Japanese countryside liberating animals that have been turned into baddies. Great for adults and kids, though could benefit from a multi-player mode.
Lego Star Wars: Complete Saga (Wii)
The Lego games, which now include Batman, Indiana Jones and even Rock Band titles, are all great fun, but Star Wars remains the pick of the bunch. Familiarity with the films is a prerequisite.
Brain Training (DS)
With the backing of a Japanese professor, Nintendo re-aligned handheld gaming for an older generation with this collection of puzzles designed to maintain and improve mental agility.
Known as Brain Age in the United States, where the trailer comes from.
A platform game with a twist: you draw your own solution to a level on the DS screen, and the built-in dictionary brings it to life. Addictive and entertaining.
Amazing Adventures: The Forgotten Ruins (DS)
A puzzle game that works equally well played casually or for hours at a stretch. It involves solving a variety of puzzles in order to get at a bigger mystery.
FIFA 10 (PS3, Xbox 360)
Electronic Arts' football series just about shoulder-charges the Pro-Evolution Soccer competition in our book. The 2010 version provides a plethora of AI tweaks, though not enough to justify the purchase price over the excellent FIFA 09.
Madden NFL 2010 (PS3, Xbox 360)
Another venerable sports series from Electronic Arts, Madden really does seem to get better with every iteration, and this new version is tougher and more authentic than ever before.
Ashes 2009 (PS3, Xbox 360)
Codemasters' first cricket game since the last Brian Lara in 2007 is the best cricket game on the next generation consoles, though there is still room for improvement.
Grand Slam Tennis (Wii)
This EA game may lack the graphical excellence of their efforts on the high-def consoles, but the Wii control system more than makes up for it.
Compatibility with Wii MotionPlus means that accuracy is unprecedented.
Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time (PS3)
We are highlighting the latest in the extraterrestrial platform and puzzle series, but any game that bears their name is a guaranteed hoot.
Inventive, brilliantly designed and executed and lovely to look at, the Ratchet and Clank games are one of the Sony console's best kept secrets. Watch the trailer and admire.
One of the best of the late crop of games released for the last-generation PS2, Okami works equally well on the Wii. This mythical adventure relies, uniquely, on the power of calligraphy to get you out of trouble, and the storyline drags you right in.
Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games (Wii, DS)
Brilliant family fun, especially if you have a Wii Fit Balance Board, used here for snowboarding and ski-ing.
Once the real sports have been successfully completed, you can unlock Mario Kart style versions of them too.
Little Big Planet (PS3/PSP)
The pioneering British title that gave the world Sackboy is an addictive platform adventure that really comes into its own when you create your own levels and share them online.
Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure (Wii)
This Japanese cartoon puzzler and platform game is a forgotten gem, with intriguing puzzles and a classic desert-island setting.
Sony’s console-based karaoke system is now available in flavours that include Motown, Queen (see video), Take That, Abba and many more.
Addicts are now filming and uploading their own performances via the PlayStation Network. Lord preserve us. Available with mics and without.
Augmented reality comes into the home with this stunning game, designed to fascinate children and baffle adults.
Create your Eyepet, who (thanks to the PS3 camera) then runs around your real living room and builds objects you draw for him.
New Super Mario Bros Wii (Wii)
Mario, Luigi and friends are back in 2D, but with a twist. This time, up to four people can play on one screen, adding competitive fun to the Mario mix for the first time.
Lips: Number One Hits (Xbox 360)
The Xbox take on karaoke lacks the variety but is strong on tracks. This one includes Barbie Girl, Heart of Glass, Karma Chameleon and over 30 more.
New tracks can be downloaded. Available with mics and without.
More karaoke, this time for the Wii, with 30 instantly recognisable songs here to massacre. Available with mics and without. Confusingly, U-Sing, from Universal, does much the same job, but comes with only one mic.
Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)
The Brooklyn plumber takes off for outer space, and a platform game that will bend your brain out of shape as it plays with gravity and physics.
While we’re on the subject of Mario on the Wii, may we also suggest Super Paper Mario, and the all-new New Super Mario Bros Wii (above), which brings four-player multi-player to the party? Buy any one of them and you won’t regret it.
Mario Kart (DS and Wii)
This is the game that can make racing fans out of the most determined car hater, and both DS and Wii versions are absolutely brilliant, with multiplayer modes that never lose their fun. On the Wii, the chance to compete against players from all over the world is irresistible and brilliantly presented. Be warned, though: you will lose.
The Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess (Wii)
The only Japanese role-playing series that is almost as popular here as in its home country, Zelda offers a unique combination of great story, cute characters and brain teasers that is as addictive as it is enjoyable.
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS)
We make no apologies for putting a second Zelda game in this mix, since Link’s first outing on the DS was so good it made you rethink what was possible on the console. From the moment you blew out the torches, you were hooked.
A new Zelda game, Spirit Tracks, is out on the DS on December 11, and from brief glimpses earlier this year, it looks the business.
GAMES FOR ADULTS
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (PS3, Xbox 360)
The first Modern Warfare game was good, but the new one racks the realism up a notch, and has generated more than its fair share of controversy in the process.
As a first-person shooter, it’s challenging, but what really sets it apart is the power of its story-telling, which brings the brutal dilemmas of the modern world into sharp focus.
Left 4 Dead 1 and 2 (Xbox 360)
There is no real plot to Left 4 Dead, other than being stuck in the middle of a zombie outbreak.
You join up with three other people online and kill zombies. You get to a safe house where you fill up on health and ammo and kill some more zombies.
These are not the 1970s version of the undead that lumber around at a snail's pace, but the noughties incarnation that run full tilt at you, hoping to snack on your brains. What's not to love?
Grand Theft Auto IV (PS3, Xbox 360)
How could we ignore the game that showed us what next-generation consoles were capable of?
Of course, the morality of a world in which you must commit crimes to get to the top is dubious, to say the least. Still, exploring the meticulously re-created New York City can take almost as much time as exploring the real thing.
The recently released expansion pack set Episodes from Liberty City contains two extra storylines that are almost extra games themselves. In particular, we recommend The Ballad of Gay Tony, and our recent interview with its main writer, Dan Houser .
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (DS, PSP)
The handheld companion to GTA IV is a great game in its own right, with hidden subtleties that can take time to appreciate.
On the DS in particular, the touchscreen adds a new dimension to GTA’s mean streets. Back in March, we caught up with its developers in Leeds.
Batman: Arkham Asylum (PS3, Xbox 360)
The Dark Knight, as re-imagined for the recent Christopher Nolan films, gets the game he deserves with this entertaining prison-set rampage through a gallery of grotesque villains. Great fun.
God of War Chains of Olympus (PSP)
The handheld Sony console doesn’t have much in the way of must-have software, but the portable version of the myth-based beat-em-up was so good that you forgot you were playing on a portable device.
Bioshock (PS3, Xbox 360)
The rules of the first-person shooter were rewritten in this atmospheric sub-aquatic adventure, which plays differently each time you switch it on.
The sequel, Bioshock 2, is due in February next year. Need I say that it’s one of the most eagerly awaited games of the year?
Halo ODST (Xbox 360)
A lot like Halo 3, with a little bit of the early Bungie game Marathon smashed in for good measure, says our Halo correspondent, Michael Moran. This is a good thing.
You are Cole, wrongly identified as the terrorist who destroyed Empire City.
You are mysteriously endowed with incredible agility and resilience, and you can drain electricity from streetlights, machines and car batteries, then release it in violent but controlled bursts. It’s a blast.
Resident Evil 5 (PS3, Xbox 360)
The latest instalment of the zombie-plague saga with a brain is a blast, complete with zombies on motorbikes.
Uncharted 1 and 2 (PS3)
The closest that video games have come to producing a genuine action thriller, the Uncharted games grab you from the outset and don’t let go.
The first game is now available at a bargain price.
Killzone 2 (PS3)
The good guys of the ISA take the fight to the Helghans in this challenging sequel, which is still one of the best shooters on the PS3.
Dead Space (PS3, Xbox 360)
Yet another shooting game, this time on a space station where monsters are rampaging and the only language they understand is a bullet through the head. Atmospheric and very violent.
Gears of War 2 (Xbox 360)
A highly enjoyable combat sequel, with an impressive coop mode and great visuals. One of the best games of 2008.
House of the Dead: Overkill (Wii)
Sometimes you want your horror shooters to contain tactical subtleties and ask the big questions.
Sometimes, all you want is a big gun, lots of zombies to blast, and a knowing sense of humour about all the carnage. This is one of the latter.
Resistance 2 (PS3)
The sequel to one of the PS3's most controversial titles, the game plays out in the same alternative universe where the Second World War was cut short by an alien invasion.
The Chimera are everywhere, and you've got to kill them.
The Orange Box (PS3, Xbox 360)
Stunning value for money package from the develop Valve, which gives you five games in one box.
Our pick of the titles is Team Fortress 2, though older gamers will be happy to revisit Half Life 2.
Prince of Persia (PS3, Xbox 360)
Not as impressive or as enthralling as Assassin's Creed, from the same studio, this is still a well crafted, beautifully designed modern version of a game that is rightly regarded as a classic.
Assassin's Creed 2 (PS3, Xbox 360)
One of the best games of 2009, this sequel to the graphically impressive but flawed first game brings us forward in time to Renaissance Italy, and plunges you right into the heart of a struggle for power.
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (PS3, Xbox 360)
We were torn between this and Fable 2 for a fantasy adventure, but the tragic experience of one Times reviewer, who spent two sleepless nights playing this before suffering a system crash and the loss of all data, swung it for us.