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Holiday Wish List: 2004 — Day Two

By Michael David Sims
28 November 2004 — Hello and welcome to day two of our five-day journey examining the 30 hottest games of the holiday season. If you want a look at the six games profiled yesterday, you'll have to scroll down to the bottom to find the link.

To quote myself from yesterday: For the sake of simplicity, all of the titles will be listed alphabetically and each will be assigned a numerical grade ranging from 1 to 4 (see the explanation below). And all of the games listed had to be published (or have to have a release date) between September 1 and December 24.

The Grades:
1 = Put it on your list, and hope you haven't been too naughty.
2 = Take the money aunts and uncles stuffed into cards, and buy it on the 26th.
3 = Beg your parents for it... even if you don't live with them anymore.
4 = Screw waiting! Buy it now!

And with that very brief introduction over, let's see what games are on tap today.

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Title: Grand Theft Auto Advance
System: GBA
Rating: M
Release Date: October 25
Grade: 2

Look! It's the little (and violent) game that no one thought they'd ever see! In that wake of Grand Theft Auto III, many Nintendo gamers demanded their own version of the PS2 exclusive. And Nintendo seemed happy to oblige by bringing GTA III to the GBA. However, the title was cancelled (for whatever reason games are cancelled), and most of us quickly forgot about it (if we ever knew about it in the first place). Jump ahead a few years and, thanks to developer Digital Eclipse, the handheld, top-down murder sprees can finally begin! In this brand new adventure (set in the timeline and world of GTA III), you play a mobster who's been framed for the murder of his own partner, and it's up to you to figure out who really killed Vinnie before someone puts a bullet in the back of your head.

An aside: I understand Nintendo's desire to coincide the release of Grand Theft Auto Advance with the next game on this list, but I can't figure out why they didn't hold off just a few more weeks and release it as one of the launch titles for the Nintendo DS. Not only would that have helped boost sales, but Digital Eclipse wouldn't have been forced to use the top-down style of gameplay that the series has long since abandoned.

Title: Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
System: PS2
Rating: M
Release Date: October 25
Grade: 4

Do I really need to write a preview of this game? Chances are you've already been to the store and purchased this one. If you haven't, well, my guess is you either don't own a PS2, payday is still a few days off, you're underage and your parents don't condone M-rated games, or you're homeless. (Am I right...? I know I am.) But none of those lame excuses are good enough to not own this game.

Set in the early 90s, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas will be everything gamers expect from the franchise (rampaging murder sprees, carjackings, foul language, sex; you know, fun stuff) and adds the ability to swim (FINALLY!), four-person drive-bys, and bicycles (bicycles?). In addition, you'll be able to customize Carl (your on-screen avatar) with haircuts, tattoos and clothing, making him uniquely yours.

Why are you still reading this? Go buy the damn game! NOW!

Title: Half-Life 2
System: PC
Rating: M
Release Date: November 16
Grade: 4

How long have we been waiting for this one? After numerous delays (one that was caused by the theft of the source code), Half-Life 2 is finally here to titillate gamers across the globe. Fans of FPSs have already pre-ordered this one or (just in case you're reading this after the release date) own it. But why should non-PC gamers jump onto this bandwagon? For one, if games are to ever establish themselves as art, Half-Life 2 will be one of the titles that leads the way. With stunning realism, faces seem to come alive and environments breathe with rust and decay. Besides its sheer (and often grotesque) beauty, the gameplay is near perfect. Objects react as they would in the real world (with accurate mass), and the computer AI is ultra-deadly. Games like Half-Life 2 only come around once in a great while, making missing them a crime.

Just let it be known that you need a very powerful machine to run this one. So if you do plan on buying it, make sure to check the specs first and (if need be) purchase a new videocard as well.

Title: Halo 2
System: Xbox
Rating: M
Release Date: November 9
Grade: 4

Take everything I said about Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and drop it here... minus the hookers and tattoos of course. Hands down, Halo 2 is the most anticipated game of the season, so much so that even non-Xbox owners and haters of FPSs have been drawn into the proverbial (but in this case, very real) hype machine.

Picking up exactly where the first game left off, Halo 2 finds Master Chief (that's you) blowing the crap out of the Covenant (that's the bad guys) once again. This time, however, those little alien freaks have made their way to Earth and are ruining life for everyone. (Thanks a lot, you alien freaks!) If you should tire of shooting aliens in the face, boot-up the ol' Xbox Live and take your aggression out on random players across the world! Yes, unlike Halo, the sequel is Xbox Live compatible, allowing for endless replayability and sleepless nights. (Goodbye, sleep. I'll miss you.)

If you don't have an Xbox or Xbox Live, now might be the time to buy 'em, 'cause once this puppy hits store shelves, everyone and their mamma will be playing this sucker. And you don't want to be left out in the cold... do you?

Title: Jak 3
System: PS2
Rating: T
Release Date: November 9
Grade: 4

Oh boy! November 9th is going to be a very expensive day, isn't it? Not only do Halo 2 and Jak 3 see the light of day, but so do two more games that will be featured in parts four and five of this series. Better start saving my money now. (Wait... after looking at all 30 games, it looks like November is going to burst my bank. Damn. Better takeout a loan.)

Anyway, Jak 3 will be the final game in the Jak & Daxter trilogy, and kudos to Sony and Naughty Dog for going out on top. Too many franchises have been sucked into the abyss of crappy sequels due to corporate greed (Mega Man, Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter to name a scant three), so it's refreshing to see these beloved characters retire (so to speak) while in their prime.

But what makes this franchise so special? First and foremost, the compelling story that treats the characters respectfully and fleshes them out into living, breathing beings that we care about in the end. (Unlike many other beloved mascots, including a certain plumber.) Second, as if a second is needed, would be the vast environments, loads of weapons, and seriously fun gameplay. What more could a gamer want?

Title: Katamari Damacy
System: PS2
Rating: E
Release Date: September 21
Grade: 3

So you're thinking, What the Hell is Katamari Damacy, and how in the world did a game I've never heard of make its way onto this list? Right? Well let me say this: Just because you've never heard of a game, doesn’t mean it's not worth picking up. Nor does it mean it's crap. One look at Ico and The Mark of Kri proves that. Allow me to step off of my soapbox.

Much better. So, what's the deal with this game? Basically, you're a small prince (Prince of the Cosmos to be exact) whose father (the King of All Cosmos) accidentally destroyed all of the stars, and he (the king) has assigned you (the prince) to collect random garbage so he can propel said heaps of garbage into the vastness of space. Each ball becomes a brand new star that lights up the night sky once more. Yeah — it's weird. Want weirder? As the missions progress, your ball becomes larger. The larger the ball becomes, the more crap it can collect — including animals, people (!) and buildings.

But why is this strange game on this list? First, it's fun. What's that...? Graphics weren't mentioned first? Exactly. The graphics are nothing to write home about (and trust me, no one will be writing home about these graphics), which doesn't really matter because the developers put all of their time and effort into make this unique experience just that — an experience. Much like bar tramps, many games nowadays rely too heavily on their good looks to carry you through what is an otherwise forgettable experience. Whereas Katamari Damacy is all about fun and majorly addictive gameplay. Like any other addictive game, Katamari appears simple on the surface but reveals its true nature after a few levels, but, as I've said before, by then you're hooked and can't pull yourself away. As if that wasn't reason enough to snag this one, the $20 tag should finalize the deal — that's if you can find this one in stores.

Tomorrow we look at five Nintendo exclusives (what could they be?) and one solid stealth title that's sure to be a mega hit.

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Day One :: Day Two :: Day Three :: Day Four :: Day Five


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